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March 31, 2010

KIPP visitor's critique, KIPP leader's response

Jay Matthews:

A reader signing in as "suegjoyce" recently posted a comment on this blog describing her visit to a KIPP middle school "in the Delta." KIPP is the Knowledge Is Power Program, the most successful charter school network in the country and the subject of my most recent book. I was pleased to see suegjoyce's comment, since I have been urging readers curious about KIPP to ignore the myths they read on the Internet and instead visit a KIPP school. The vast majority of people I have encountered online with negative opinions of KIPP give no indication that they have ever been inside one of those schools, so she was setting a good example.

She had some critical things to say. She was not specific about which KIPP middle school she visited, but only one has the word "Delta" in its title, the KIPP Delta College Preparatory School in Helena-West Helena, Ark. So I asked Scott Shirey, executive director of the KIPP schools in that area, to respond. Neither Scott nor I know how to reach suegjoyce, but if she sees this and has more to say, I would be delighted to post her thoughts prominently on the blog.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 3:05 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

2010 Madison School Board Candidate Forum

Thanks to Jeff Henriques for recording this event.

Beth Moss and Maya Cole are running unopposed while Tom Farley faces James Howard in the one contested seat.

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Many educators greatly admire the wide range of human achievements over the millennia and want their students to know about them. However, there are those, like the Dean of the Education School at a major east coast university, who told me that: "The myth of individual greatness is a myth." Translated, I suppose that might be rendered: "Individual greatness is a myth (squared)."

Why is it that so many of our teachers and others in education are, as it were, in the "clay feet" business, anxious to have our students know that human beings who accomplished wonderful things also had flaws, like the rest of us? As they emphasize the flaws, trying to encourage students to believe that they are just fine the way they are now, with their self-esteem and perhaps a couple of the multiple intelligences, they seem to teach that there is no need for them to seek out challenges or to emulate the great men and women who have gone before.

One of the first major problems with this, apart from its essential mendacity, is that it deprives students of the knowledge and understanding of what these people have accomplished in spite of their human failings. So that helps students remain ignorant as well as with less ambition.

It is undeniable, of course, that Washington had false teeth, sometimes lost his temper, and wanted to be a leader (sin of ambition). Jefferson, in addition to his accomplishments, including the Declaration of Independence, the University of Virginia, the Louisiana Purchase and some other things, may or may not have been too close to his wife's half-sister after his wife died. Hamilton, while he may have helped get the nation on its feet, loved a woman or women to whom he was not married, and it is rumored that nice old world-class scientist Benjamin Franklin was also fond of women (shocking!).

The volume of information about the large and small failings is great, almost enough to allow educators so inclined to spend enough time on them almost to exclude an equal quantity of magnificent individual achievements. Perhaps for an educator who was in the bottom of his graduating class, it may be some comfort to focus on the faults of great individuals, so that his own modest accomplishments may grow in comparison?

In any case, even the new national standards for reading include only short "informational texts" which pretty much guarantees for the students of educators who follow them that they will have very little understanding of the difficulties overcome and the greatness achieved by so many of their fellow human beings over time.

Alfred North Whitehead wrote that: "Moral education is impossible apart from the habitual vision of greatness." What Education School did he go to, I wonder?

Peter Gibbon, author of a book on heroes, regularly visits our high schools in an effort to counter this mania for the denigration of wonderful human beings, past and present.

Surely it would be worth our while to look again at the advantages of teaching our students of history about the many many people worthy of their admiration, however small their instructor may appear by comparison.

Malvolio was seriously misled in his take on the meaning of the message he was given, that: "Some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them," but his author, the greatest playwright in the English language, surely deserves, as do thousands of others, the attention of our students, even if he did leave the second-best bed to his wife in his will.

Let us give some thought to the motivation and competence of those among our educators who, whether they are leftovers of the American Red Guards of the 1960s or not, wish to advise our students of history especially, not to "trust anyone over thirty."

After all, in order to serve our students well, even educators should consider growing up after a while, shouldn't they?


"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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Sally Blount, Kellogg School of Management's new dean, says being a middle child makes her perfect for the role

The Economist:

SALLY BLOUNT, unveiled today as the new dean of Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, describes her appointment as a return to her intellectual home. The school was where, as a PhD student, she did much of her work in the fields of psychology and economics.

But other than a sense of going back to her roots, the main reason she was drawn to Kellogg, she says, is its reputation as a collaborative institution. "I am a middle child," she explains. "So it's in my DNA, this collaborative approach."

Collaborative leadership is a model whose time appears to have come in business as well as business education. The days of the imperial CEO bestriding an organisation, browbeating the company with the force of his personality, became suddenly unfashionable at around the same time that sub-prime mortgages did. But, perhaps unusually for academia, which can be famous for its backbiting, teamwork has long been a characteristic of Kellogg.

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Michigan can do more with less for our schools


Michigan can harness innovation as a way to do more with less in K-12 education, even though that challenge may seem overwhelming. At a time when new investments in our K-12 system are not likely, Michigan must face the daunting task of improving student achievement and increasing graduation rates with fewer financial resources.

To date, K-12 education has yet to realize the full potential of using online learning to improve how educators teach and how students learn. Nearly every sector of our economy is now turning to information and communications technologies to reduce costs and improve efficiencies. Education is not alone in its need to manage scarce resources, maintain relevance and succeed in today's new global economy.

Research has shown online learning is academically effective and can provide meaningful alternatives for students who have a need for greater flexibility with their education due to individual learning styles, health conditions, employment responsibilities, lack of success with traditional school environments, or desire to be working early at the college level. Online learning needs to be part of the broader policy discussion related to restructuring public education during this prolonged budget crisis. Economic arguments in addition to the latest research on student learning support this position.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:44 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Traditional schools aren't working. Let's move learning online.

Katherine Mangu-Ward:

Deep within America's collective consciousness, there is a little red schoolhouse. Inside, obedient children sit in rows, eagerly absorbing lessons as a kind, wise teacher writes on the blackboard. Shiny apples are offered as tokens of respect and gratitude.

The reality of American education is often quite different. Beige classrooms are filled with note-passers and texters, who casually ignore teachers struggling to make it to the end of the 50-minute period. Smart kids are bored, and slower kids are left behind. Anxiety about standardized tests is high, and scores are consistently low. National surveys find that parents despair over the quality of education in the United States -- and they're right to, as test results confirm again and again.

But just as most Americans disapprove of congressional shenanigans while harboring some affection for their own representative, parents tend to say that their child's teacher is pretty good. Most people have mixed feelings about their own school days, but our national romance with teachers is deep and long-standing. Which is why the idea of kids staring at computers instead of teachers makes parents and politicians extremely nervous.

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A Brave Public School Teacher Speaks Up on Trading Salary Growth for Layoffs

New Jersey Left Behind:

New Jersey Newsroom has reprinted NJEA President Keshishian's editorial on how Gov. Christie's call to local bargaining units to accept pay freezes is merely a way to distract voters from focusing on his non-renewal of the "millionaire's tax." The piece is then followed by comments, including this one from a NJ public school teacher.

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Maryland Senate Votes to Increase the Dropout Age from 16 to 18

John Wagner:

It's become a common lament this session among lobbyists and journalists and other Annapolis insiders: not much is happening.

Perhaps, but in case anyone missed it, two bills with major implications for Maryland education policy cleared the Senate on Wednesday without much fanfare.

One would gradually raise the state's dropout age from 16 to 18. The other would create a new tax credit with the hope of stemming the tide of Catholic school closures. Debate over both measures has been heavily colored by concerns over the state's fiscal situation. Neither has made it through the House.

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More multigenerational families living together

Hope Yen:

Goodnight, John-Boy: Driven partly by job losses, more multigenerational families are choosing to live together as "boomerang kids" flock home and people help care for grandchildren or aging parents.

About 6.6 million U.S. households in 2009 had at least three generations of family members, an increase of 30 percent since 2000, according to census figures. When "multigenerational" is more broadly defined to include at least two adult generations, a record 49 million, or one in six people, live in such households, according to a study being released Thursday by the Pew Research Center.

The rise in multigenerational households is heavily influenced by economics, with many young adults known as "boomerang kids" moving back home with mom and dad because of limited job prospects and a housing crunch.

But extended life spans and increased options in home health and outpatient care over nursing homes have also played a role. So, too, has a recent wave of immigration of Hispanics and Asians, who are more likely to live with extended family.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:32 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Wisconsin's Race to Top bid deemed subpar

Amy Hetzner & Erin Richards:

Wisconsin's application for a share of $4.35 billion in federal education grants scored in the bottom half of 41 applicants, earning the equivalent of a C-minus grade by government reviewers.

The state's score sheet and the accompanying reviewer comments were released Monday after U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan revealed that Tennessee and Delaware won funding from the first phase of the Race to the Top competition, qualifying them for $500 million and $100 million, respectively, over the next four years.

All of the reviewers noted that few local teachers union leaders in Wisconsin had supported the state's application, and one noted that the statewide teachers union's support seemed "tepid." That was far short of expectations for competitive applications.

"Because teachers will play such a key role in the implementation of these efforts, their support is essential," one of Wisconsin's reviewers wrote in an evaluation of the state's application.

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March 30, 2010

Poor Strategy, Muddled Efforts and Strong Opposition Killed the Doyle-Barrett plan to Overhaul Milwaukee's Crisis Ridden Schools

Alan Borsuk:

It was an off-the-record conversation early last summer with a major figure in education politics in Wisconsin. I suggested that if a serious move was made to put the Milwaukee Public Schools under mayoral control, the outcome would be decided by a few specific people.
"Gwen Moore?" the source suggested.
No, but what an interesting thought. And it pointed to several key reasons that the proposal, when it came a couple months later from Gov. Jim Doyle and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, faltered from the start, never picked up momentum, and soon became a dead idea walking.
When Moore, the popular congresswoman who is influential among Milwaukee's African Americans, promptly came out against mayoral control, her decision pointed to three major flaws in the Doyle-Barrett plan:

*** There is almost no evidence that Doyle and Barrett prepared a strategy for building support for the idea before they went public. Was the fight even worth instigating if it had garnered so little support over the preceding years, and there was so little evidence anything had changed?

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Yale delays switch to Gmail

David Tidmarsh:

The changeover to Google as Yale's e-mail provider has been put on hold.

Information Technology Services has decided to postpone the University's move from the Horde Webmail service to Google Apps for Education, a suite of communication and collaboration tools for universities, pending a University-wide review process to seek input from faculty and students. After a series of meetings with faculty and administrators in February, ITS officials decided to put the move on hold, Deputy Provost for Science and Technology Steven Girvin said.

"There were enough concerns expressed by faculty that we felt more consultation and input from the community was necessary," he said in an e-mail to the News.

The idea to switch to Google Apps for Education -- which includes popular programs such as Gmail, Google Calendar and Google Docs -- arose during an ITS internal meeting around Christmas, computer science professor Michael Fischer said. After ITS notified faculty members and administrators of the plan in February, several expressed reservations about the move, and ITS officials decided to convene a committee to discuss the situation.

Google has been at the center of a number of recent controversies relating to privacy, security and intellectual property issues. The introduction of the Google Buzz social networking service in February, which automatically allowed Gmail users to view the contacts of members in their address books, raised concerns among privacy advocates. [White House Deputy CTO's ties with Google revealed via Buzz]

Interestingly, the Madison School District has used its website and Infinite Campus system to advocate on behalf of (private company) Google, for a fiber network deployment in Madison.

While I strongly support pervasive high speed networks, I don't agree with the District's advocacy, in this case. They should, simultaneously, link to privacy concerns, such as those expressed at Yale, regarding Google's services.

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Madison School Board gives proposed marketing campaign the ax

Gayle Worland:

In an effort to save money and save face, the Madison School Board has nixed its plans to launch a "positive branding" effort for the school district.

Board members voted unanimously earlier this month to shelve the idea of hiring a marketing firm to help sing the district's praises at a budgeted cost of $43,000 per year for two years. The vote took place during a discusssion of the district's looming budget deficit for the 2010-11 school year, at the time estimated at close to $30 million.

"If we're looking at as many millions of dollars in cuts as we are, it's a little much to ask the community to pay more property tax so that we can publicize our school district," School Board member Marj Passman said during the meeting.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 8:28 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Madison School District Administration PR on Budget Tax & Spending Discussions

Madison School District, via a kind reader's email:

Video Answers to Budget Questions
Answers from Superintendent Dan Nerad and Asst. Supt. for Business Services Erik Kass
Recorded on March 24

At their meeting on March 22, the Board of Education took actions related to the 2010-11 budget. What did they do regarding their use of taxing authority?

Much more on the 2010-2011 budget here.

Tangentially related with respect to ongoing tax & spending growth during the "Great Recession": What Does Greece Mean to You by John Mauldin.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 3:39 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Swedish School Choice - 1100 schools....


When I travelled to Sweden to report on their school system, I took some company - the Conservative party's policy document Raising the Bar, Closing the Gap - its action plan for raising standards in schools, creating more good school places and making opportunity more equal.

It describes an educational utopia, a land where new schools can open up anywhere to meet parental demand. Even better, the increased competition for pupils forces standards up. The blueprint is based on similar reforms introduced in Sweden in 1992 as part of a sweeping New Labour-style reform programme to give more choice in public services.

I thought it was really good that I could choose the new school. I had a choice
Mimmi Kindstrom

There are now more than 1,100 such schools in Sweden, funded by the state, but operated independently.

I visited one of them. Kallskollen was one of the very first to be set up when the Swedish education system went from being one of the most centrally controlled, to being one of the most liberal.

Fascinating. Tom Vander Ark has more, with a link to Kunskapsskolan (Translation)

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History of School Reform Offers Glimmer of Hope

Laura Impellizzeri:

"Saving Schools: From Horace Mann to Virtual Learning" (Belknap Press, 336 pages, $25.95) by Paul E. Peterson: Education reformers have left the essential teacher-pupil relationship untouched for more than a century, fighting instead for changes outside the classroom: desegregation, teacher pay hikes, funding equality, increased testing, vouchers and changes in curriculum.

Harvard University government professor Paul Peterson argues that although many of those efforts have been well-intentioned, even noble, American schools haven't kept pace with changes in society. And they're just not very good.

In a compelling and enlightening narrative, "Saving Schools: From Horace Mann to Virtual Learning," Peterson traces a variety of reform movements by profiling their leaders or other key players. Horace Mann fostered public schools nationwide, creating a global model in the 19th century; in the early 1900s, John Dewey pushed for education that respected children as individuals and erased social strata; the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., in leading the civil rights movement, forced schools to start doing as courts and legislators told them; Albert Shanker pushed for better pay and conditions for teachers; a series of "rights" reformers tried to improve quality across the board, while a series of scholars measuring their work found precious little benefit, and that led to the "adequacy" and choice movements, including the push for publicly funded vouchers and charter schools, which together involve less than 10 percent of U.S. schoolchildren.

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Merkel seeks to defuse Turkish schools row

Delphine Strauss:

Angela Merkel on Monday sought to calm tensions over first-language schooling for Germany's Turkish immigrant community during a visit to Turkey aimed at strengthening trade ties and steadying a difficult bilateral relationship.

Some 3m Turks live in Germany and trade between the two countries is worth $23bn annually. But political sensitivities over the integration of migrants, and Ms Merkel's reluctance to back Turkey's European Union membership bid, frequently place strains on the partnership.

The latest irritant in the relationship was Ankara's request, revived shortly before the German chancellor's visit, to open Turkish-language secondary schools in Germany.

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What can policymakers learn from happiness research?

Elizabeth Kolbert:

In 1978, a trio of psychologists curious about happiness assembled two groups of subjects. In the first were winners of the Illinois state lottery. These men and women had received jackpots of between fifty thousand and a million dollars. In the second group were victims of devastating accidents. Some had been left paralyzed from the waist down. For the others, paralysis started at the neck.

The researchers asked the members of both groups a battery of questions about their lives. On a scale of "the best and worst things that could happen," how did the members of the first group rank becoming rich and the second wheelchair-bound? How happy had they been before these events? How about now? How happy did they expect to be in a couple of years? How much pleasure did they take in daily experiences such as talking with a friend, hearing a joke, or reading a magazine? (The lottery winners were also asked how much they enjoyed buying clothes, a question that was omitted in the case of the quadriplegics.) For a control, the psychologists assembled a third group, made up of Illinois residents selected at random from the phone book.

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Lawmakers Say Needs of Rural Schools Are Overlooked

Sam Dillon:

An Oklahoma senator complained that federal rules on teacher credentials had driven thousands of experienced educators out of rural schools. A North Carolina lawmaker complained that formulas for distributing federal education money favored big-city districts at the expense of poor students in small towns.

And a senator from Alaska wanted to know how school-turnaround strategies based on firing ineffective instructors would work in a remote village on the Bering Sea that she said already had tremendous teacher turnover.

Lawmakers who represent rural areas told Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in a hearing Wednesday that the No Child Left Behind law, as well as the Obama administration's blueprint for overhauling it, failed to take sufficiently into account the problems of rural schools, and their nine million students.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:42 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

School does not tolerate bullying

George Alexander Sistrunk:

am in the eighth grade and a student at Robert E. Howard Middle School. I have been attending the school since 2008. I'm writing to your newspaper in view of the recent allegations of bullying at the school. In all fairness, individual incidents of bullying can happen because they are hard to detect and manage. The reason for this is that bullying can take many forms.

Since being at the school, I have not personally seen anyone being bullied by another student. The security at Howard is good. Teachers monitor student activities while traveling to and from classes and at the end of the day. When teachers see something going on that should not be happening, they do their best to stop it.

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The Lie of the Liberal Arts Education

Jeff G.

This will be an especially personal post, but as it brings into sharp relief many of the ideas I've spent years writing about here, I figured it's worth sharing.

As many of you know, a few evenings ago I received the following email from one of my old creative writing professors:


Would you mind taking my name off your "about" page on Proteinwisdom? I've always liked you and your fiction, and your and [name redacted] impetus to make that conference happen, at that moment in time, did a great deal to speed this program along. I was also simply grateful to have you in the program when you came along, because you were-and are-a very smart and intellectual fiction writer, a rare commodity still, to this day. But I am more and more alarmed by the writings in this website of yours, and I do not want to be associated with it.

Brian Kiteley

Here's the context of that mention on my "about" page: "Some of the writers Jeff studied under are Rikki Ducornet, Beth Nugent, Brian Kiteley, and Brian Evenson.

My reply was terse:

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India's HRD Ministry to Develop Syllabus for Geospatial Studies

Press Trust of India:

n a bid to enhance innovative and technical education in India, Union HRD Ministry will develop a syllabus for geospatial information studies.

"Presently, we are working with Rolta in preparing a syllabus for geospatial study. It is being developed to create more workforce in the geospatial space as India is lacking speciality technical education. We are trying to expand more opportunities in the education space," HRD Minister Kapil Sibal told reporters on the sidelines of a CII meet here today.

Geospatial information studies focuses on the interface between human information constructs and spatial decision making.

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March 29, 2010

Delaware, Tennessee Win US Race to the Top Grants

Neil King, Jr.:

The Obama administration has decided to award just two states--Delaware and Tennessee--with hundreds of millions in education grants, the culmination of a hard-fought competition that originally drew applications from 40 states, according to people familiar with the decision.

That the administration has picked only two states, and passed up states like Florida and Louisiana that were widely seen as favorites, will surprise many in the education world.

The grants, the first of two rounds under the administration's $4.35 billion Race to the Top program, are designed to reward states that are pushing ahead on tough teaching standards to overhaul lagging schools.

The fact that just two states won will placate critics, who warned that the administration appeared to be watering down its own standards for the awards. Skeptics have also raised concerns that the Race to the Top program, a cornerstone of the administration's education policy, would reward states making big promises instead of only those best prepared to impose real change.

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Research concludes that students don't learn more science under Chicago Public Schools College-Prep-for-All Policy

Nicholas Montgomery & Elaine Allensworth:

A Chicago Public Schools policy that dramatically increased science requirements did not help students learn more science and actually may have hurt their college prospects, according to a new report from the Consortium on Chicago School Research at the University of Chicago.

The science policy was part of a larger CPS initiative to expose all students to a college-preparatory curriculum by increasing course requirements across a range of subjects.

Though CPS high school students took and passed more college-prep science courses under the new policy, overall performance in science classes did not improve, with five of every six students earning Cs or lower. College-going rates declined significantly among graduates with a B average or better in science, and they dipped for all students when researchers controlled for changes in student characteristics over time.

Commentary from Melissa Westbrook.

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Madison East High's theater doesn't do justice to school's rich performing arts tradition

Susan Troller:

When the curtain goes up at East High, the school's talented musicians, singers, dancers, actors and spoken-word artists have a well-deserved reputation for creating an enchanting world onstage. That's good, because East's real-life theater is one of the most awkward, uninspiring performance venues in the county, if not the state.

Consider the orange plastic bowling chairs, bolted to a concrete floor. These backbreakers may have been the height of utilitarian chic when East's original theater was remodeled in the early 1970s, but they're hardly conducive to long performances. In fact, after a two-hour play or a 90-minute concert, ardent fans have been heard quietly cursing the theater's discomfort even as they praise the quality of the performances.

Then there's the cramped, inadequate size of the theater, also a legacy of the remodeling that transformed the original, elegant Jazz Age theater with a 765-seat capacity into two study halls, one of which now doubles as the theater/auditorium.

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What does authentic learning mean, if anything?

Jay Matthews:

Those of us who wallow in educational jargon have all heard the term "authentic." It seems to mean lessons that connect to the real world, like a physics class visiting a nuclear power plant or an English class performing a play by Edward Albee.

But like all fashionable terms, its meaning can evolve, or be distorted, depending on your point of view. I often use it to describe the powerful effect of telling Advanced Placement students in inner city schools that they are preparing for the same exam that kids in the richest school in the suburbs are taking. That makes their studies seem more authentic. Am I misusing the word?

How do you use it? Is it important in schools? Or is it just another buzz word gone bad?

I raise this intriguing issue, which had not occurred to me before, because of an email from Carl Rosin, an English and interdisciplinary/gifted class teacher at Radnor High School, 12 miles west of Philadelphia:

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 4:13 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Advocating Online Curricular Options

Tom Vander Ark:

[Note: this unpublished paper was originally drafted in 2004 with Jim Shelton and draws heavily from the work of Paul Hill, Michael Barber, Michael Fullan, Kim Smith. Posting today, with a few updates, was inspired by a panel discussion yesterday including Paul Hill, Steve Adamowski, Garth Harries, Dacia Toll, and Andy Moffit]

The most important challenge in America today is creating systems of schools that work for all students, particularly low income and historically underserved groups. The goal of helping all students achieve at high levels is now decades old. We've made slow but steady progress in elementary literacy but secondary achievement levels and graduation rates remain stagnant. Hundreds of schools are helping most students achieve at high levels, but they remain largely random acts of innovation and heroic leadership. Few if any public school districts have achieved uniformly high performance and attainment levels. Building systems of schools that break the cycle of poverty and close the achievement/attainment gap remains critical to our economy, society and democracy.

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Is a College Education Essential for Americans?

PBS NewsHour:

GWEN IFILL: Finally tonight: Does the U.S. need more college graduates in its work force to remain competitive in the global economy? That was the central question at the kickoff of a new season of national debates hosted by the University of Virginia's Miller Center of Public Affairs.

Former Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings and Michael Lomax, president of the United Negro College Fund, argued that we need more college graduates. George Leef, director of research at the John William Pope Center for Higher Education in Raleigh, North Carolina, and Richard Vedder, professor of economics at Ohio University, argued that many jobs being created today don't require college degrees.

PAUL SOLMAN: Is it not the case that the United States needs to have a more and more sophisticated work force? Isn't it the case that, if other countries with whom we're competing are becoming more sophisticated, that that's a challenge to us, George?

GEORGE LEEF, director of research, John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy: Oh, it's a challenge, but putting more people through college is not the way to meet it.

At the margin -- remember, we're not talking here about are we going to educate most of the Americans who -- who have high skills and high aptitude, the high-SAT kids, the motivated students. They can -- they're going to go to college. The question is, are we going to get a few more at the margin into college?

That's what we're debating.

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Comments on School District Budget Transparency

Melissa Westbrook:

Meg Diaz pulled together a chart (which I will post later on) that shows some of the "foundation, institutions and private donor contributions to SPS for 2009-2010"). It's quite interesting reading to see how much some PTAs raise. There are some schools that have real money going through them like McGilvra PTA, $252,558 for a staffing grant, Laurelhurst PTA with $161,000, JSIS PTA, $280,000, Salmon Bay PTA $101,000). New School Foundation gave South Shore $1.2M.

Hey, bless all these people for raising this money and donating it.

But a lot of this says "PTA Supplemental Staffing". Again, the PTA is not there to backfill staff or fix buildings and it is very sad that this is what is happening. (I know at least one school that does not allow this because of the worry of it being sustainable and I'm sure it is quite a heavy worry for parents to keep up this level of fundraising.) Given that this is happening, I'm a little surprised at how little engagement and respect parents receive given that kind of support and largesse.

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2 Sisters Improve Reading Online

Tom Vander Ark:

When I was superintendent in Federal Way, two of our best reading teachers happened to be sisters, Gail Boushey and Joan Moser. I had the good fortune to run into them on a flight this week. They’ve published two great books, The Daily 5 most recently, and run an online professional development site, The Daily Cafe–a great business model and resource. It’s great to see a couple edupreneurs doing well by doing good.

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The Turnaround Myth: Failing schools are best shut down.

Wall Street Journal:

Like its predecessor, the Obama Administration is focusing its education policy on fixing failed schools. Education Secretary Arne Duncan calls for a "dramatic overhaul" of "dropout factories, where 50, 60, 70 percent of students" don't graduate. The intentions are good, but a new study shows that school turnarounds have a dismal record that doesn't warrant more reform effort.

"Much of the rhetoric on turnarounds is pie in the sky--more wishful thinking than a realistic assessment of what school reform can actually accomplish," writes Tom Loveless of the Brookings Institution. "It can be done but the odds are daunting" and "examples of large-scale, system-wide turnarounds are nonexistent."

Mr. Loveless looked at 1,100 schools in California and compared test scores from 1989 and 2009. "Of schools in the bottom quartile in 1989--the state's lowest performers--nearly two-thirds (63.4 percent) scored in the bottom quartile again in 2009," he writes. "The odds of a bottom quartile school's rising to the top quartile were about one in seventy (1.4 percent)." Of schools in the bottom 10% in 1989, only 3.5% reached the state average after 20 years.

Conversely, the best schools tended to remain that way. Sixty-three percent of the top performers in 1989 were still at the top in 2009, while only 2.4% had fallen to the bottom. School achievement, or lack thereof, is remarkably persistent, and California's worst schools were all the subject of numerous reform attempts in "finance, governance, curriculum, instruction, and assessment," writes Mr. Loveless, a former California public school teacher.

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Teen gets carpal tunnel from texting, wants iPhone

Chris Matyszczyk:

A 100-a-day habit isn't good for you. Everyone knows that. It's just hard, sometimes, to explain it to kids who think it's so cool.

Cigarettes? Lord, no, those things smell. We're talking texting.

According to ABC News, 16-year-old Annie Levitz from Mundelein, Ill., began to sense a little disharmony in her hands. They would feel tingly, numb, or merely hurt like hell. Had she been practicing her free throws in preparation for March Madness? Had she been attempting to become Mundelein's Chopin? If only. Levitz had merely been texting her friends up to 100 times a day.

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10 Competencies for Every Graduate

Joshua Kim:

Every job is a technology job. Technology is baked into each aspect of work. Social media means that everyone in an organization is a communicator, everyone is a salesperson.

As the technical infrastructure continues an inexorable movement towards a service, sourced from without, skills to utilize technology higher up the value chain will be the only ones that pay a professional wage. Just as the word processor replaced the secretary, lightweight authoring tools and social media publishing platforms will replace Web and media specialists for all but the highest fidelity (and revenue generating) tasks.

I'm not saying the media and Web jobs will disappear, rather we will all be expected to create multimedia work in digital format and share / interact with digital tools. Today's NYTimes reporter who writes, but also podcasts and creates short videos, (think David Pogue), provides a glimpse into all of our futures.

What would you choose as the 10 competencies that every college graduate must bring to the job market?

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Iowa Association of School Boards dismisses Kilcrease

Clark Kauffman:

Maxine Kilcrease's stint as the head of the Iowa Association of School Boards began one year ago with her breaking down and crying during a mock job interview, and it ended Thursday when she was fired for alleged misconduct.

Just 10 months ago, the association's directors praised Kilcrease for her "experience in financial management."

On Friday, a different board president denounced Kilcrease for misleading the board about finances, raising her salary to $367,000 without board approval and circumventing bidding requirements for purchases.

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Parents question Florida Senate education bill, say effective teachers could be lost

Katie Tammen:

Teachers aren't the only ones talking about a proposed bill that will change the way they are evaluated and paid.

Parents talk about it when they pick up their children from school, at extracurricular activities and at church. Some of them are unfamiliar with the particulars of the bill, while others have written legislators to ask them to vote against the bill.

Few of them support it.

"I just do not feel like that is something that is going to help our kids or our education system in Florida," said Amy Moye, who has two children at Bluewater Elementary School. "I think it's going to hurt us in the long run. I am all for removing ineffective teachers from the classroom, but I think there are other ways to do it, and this is going to remove good teachers from the classroom."

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March 28, 2010

Wisconsin Reading test scores are terrible, but let's not write black kids off

Eugene Kane:

Black fourth-graders in Wisconsin are bringing up the rear in national reading tests for the nation's schoolchildren, according to a recent government report.

This news has led to another round of the usual handwringing, head-shaking and general consternation about the state of public education in cities like Milwaukee, where the largest population of black students lives.

For many, the main concern about failing black students is the assumption many won't be able to contribute productively to society because of their lack of reading skills. In that event, some fear, failing black students will eventually end up behind bars.

If that happens, some will have their education continue with people like James Patterson.

Patterson is an education specialist with the Racine Youthful Offender Correctional Facility, where inmates 15 to 24 are held for various juvenile and adult offenses. During their time at the facility, many inmates attend classes and work toward earning a high school equivalency diploma.

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More on Diane Ravitch & School Choice

Alan Borsuk:

Milwaukee, in the strongly revised opinion of Diane Ravitch, is almost a textbook example for showing that the prediction that the tide of school choice will lift all educational boats is wrong.

"One might wonder about how much (Milwaukee Public Schools) is coming apart at the seams because of the competition," Ravitch said in a telephone conversation. "The competition was supposed to make things better."

A few years ago, Ravitch was a prominent voice for that latter sentiment. But in a way that has caused a stir in education circles nationwide, she now has come down emphatically in the opposite camp when it comes to private school vouchers, charter schools and the testing-based accountability regimen that is at the heart of the No Child Left Behind education law.

Those ideas just haven't worked, she argues in "The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education." It is time to return to emphasizing better curriculum and instruction as the key to better success, she says, and it is time for emphasizing the needs of the mainstream of public school students.

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Weather to Go to College

Uri Simonsohn:

Does current utility bias predictions of future utility for high stakes decisions? Here I provide field evidence consistent with such Projection Bias in one of life's most thought-about decisions: college enrolment. After arguing and documenting with survey evidence that cloudiness increases the appeal of academic activities, I analyse the enrolment decisions of 1,284 prospective students who visited a university known for its academic strengths and recreational weaknesses. Consistent with the notion that current weather conditions influence decisions about future academic activities, I find that an increase in cloudcover of one standard deviation on the day of the visit is associated with an increase in the probability of enrolment of 9 percentage points.

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NJEA responds to Christie's heavy criticism

Tom Hester, Sr.:

Under public pressure from Gov. Chris Christie to renegotiate contracts with local school boards and being accused by him as part of the problem of high education costs and not part of the solution, the 200,000-member state teachers' union criticized him in return Friday.

New Jersey Education Association President Barbara Keshishian said Christie has chosen the welfare of residents who earn over $400,000 annually over full school funding for the benefit of children.

"The choice could not be more stark: tax cuts for millionaires, or full school funding for New Jersey kids,'' Keshishian said. "Just a few weeks into his term Governor Christie has staked out his position, slashing nearly $1.5 billion from state aid to schools and higher education.

"At the same time, he has rejected out of hand any consideration of reinstating a very modest tax on the very wealthiest New Jersey residents, those making more than $400,000 per year,'' she said. "Last year, that surcharge generated nearly $1 billion in revenue for the state, enough to close much of the hole that his reckless budget opened in local school budgets.''

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Facebook privacy policy shift fires critics

David Gelles:

Facebook on Friday announced another round of changes to its privacy policy, including amendments that could allow the site to share user information automatically with third-party websites.

Certain websites could soon be "pre-approved" by Facebook, so that if a user is logged into Facebook and then visits the third-party website, it would receive information including the "names, profile pictures, gender, user IDs, connections and any content shared using the Everyone privacy setting" of a user and his or her friends.

The sites might be able to retain that information "to the extent permitted under their terms of service or privacy policies".

Facebook said it would introduce the feature with a small group of partners and offer new controls for users to opt out.

However, the company could face resistance by users and advocates who see such a move as another invasion of privacy.

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Senate Votes to Overhaul Student-Loan Industry

Corey Boles:

The Senate voted to implement a major shakeup of the student loan industry Thursday, in a move that will lead to the most dramatic changes in the way college loans will be made since the Clinton era.

Under the proposal, all private lenders will be banned from originating student loans, with the federal Department of Education stepping in to become the sole provider of loans through a government-backed program.

The overhaul bill still needs to clear the U.S. House once more before it is sent to President Barack Obama for his expected signature. The House is scheduled to consider the bill later Thursday, and Democratic leaders have expressed confidence that it should be approved in that vote.

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Why no Male Studies?

Daniel de Vise:

Lots of colleges have Women's Studies departments. Some pursue Gender Studies. What about Men's Studies?

I was just alerted to a web site that announces the following:

A gathering of academicians drawn from a range of disciplines will meet on April 7, 2010, at Wagner College, Staten Island, New York, to examine the declining state of the male, stemming from cataclysmic changes in today's culture, environment and global economy.

At first I wondered if it was a joke. Evidently it is not.

The colloquium will be led by Lionel Tiger, an anthropology professor at Rutgers University.

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Doubts About Diversity Training

Idea of the Day:

Today's idea: Though diversity training has been widely embraced by corporate America, there's little evidence so far that it works, sociologists find.

Work | In The Boston Globe, Drake Bennett reports on studies by researchers at Princeton, Yale, Columbia and elsewhere finding little empirical support for the idea that diversity training programs change attitudes or behavior. He describes one wide-ranging survey of more than 800 companies that points to what doesn't work, and what might:

Some training programs were more effective than others: Voluntary programs were better than mandatory ones, and those that focused on the threat of bias and harassment lawsuits were worse than those that did not. But even the better programs led only to marginal changes. And those that were mandatory or discussed lawsuits -- the vast majority of the programs the researchers examined -- slightly reduced the number of women and minorities in management. Required training and legalistic training both make people resentful, the authors suggest, and likely to rebel against what they've heard.

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Time to Pull the Plug on New Covenant Charter School

Peter Murphy:

It's never easy closing a school, but sometimes it needs to happen if policymakers take accountability issues seriously. District school closures, particularly outside New York City, are rare. By contrast, the unique accountability and oversight of charter schools is integral to the bargain they make, which includes the ultimate accountability of closing their doors for underperformance.

This has always been the case for charter schools, of which eight have been closed since 2004, when the initial schools first came up for their five-year charter renewal (another conversion charter was revoked in 2001).

In some instances, it's a close call whether or not to close a charter school. Like any school, charters can make mistakes and need more time to implement corrections to show better academic results. Charter school authorizers have typically granted additional time in the form of a short-term renewal of their charters. In most cases, short-term renewals were just the right approach, as these charters took the extra time to show better results to earn them a subsequent full five-year renewal.

Clusty Search: New Covenant Charter School - Albany, NY.

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Google Earth for Educators: 50 Exciting Ideas for the Classroom

Associate Degree:

Google Earth has opened up potential for students in classrooms around the globe with its bird's-eye view of the world. Whether you are a veteran teacher looking for new ways to teach old topics or you are a still an education student getting ready to make your debut in the classroom, these exciting ways to use Google Earth are sure to infuse your lessons with plenty of punch. Find ideas for any age student and a handful of virtual tours that will not only help you instruct your students, but might even teach you something along the way.


Younger students can have fun with these Google Earth lessons and ideas.

All Google users should be familiar with their privacy policies and the related controversies. More here.

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Principal Bans Hugs in Oregon Middle School

Allan Brettman:

A 'culture' of hugging that reportedly got out of control led an Oregon middle school principal to outlaw the displays of affection, reported.

After students would "scream and run down the hallway and jump into each other's arms," the school decided enough was enough and have halted hugs as well as other behaviors deemed detrimental to teaching and learning, reported.

Principal Allison Couch told that the ban came after a school bus incident resulted in a call to police, but did not describe what happened.

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Obama Retreats on Education Reform

Karl Rove:

"Teaching to the test" means teaching real skills.

In a week dominated by health care, President Barack Obama released a set of education proposals that break with ideals once articulated by Robert F. Kennedy.

Kennedy's view was that accountability is essential to educating every child. He expressed this view in 1965, while supporting an education reform initiative, saying "I do not think money in and of itself is necessarily the answer" to educational excellence. Instead, he hailed "good faith . . . effort to hold educators responsive to their constituencies and to make educational achievement the touchstone of success."

But rather than raising standards, the Obama administration is now proposing to gut No Child Left Behind's (NCLB) accountability framework. Enacted in 2002, NCLB requires that every school be held responsible for student achievement. Under the new proposal, up to 90% of schools can escape responsibility. Only 5% of the lowest-performing schools will be required to take action to raise poor test scores. And another 5% will be given a vague "warning" to shape up, but it is not yet clear what will happen if they don't.

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New York parents turn up heat on 'bake sales' ban

Jonathan Birchall:

New York city's standard-setting efforts to improve the heatlh of its citizens have provoked resistance in the past from bar owners, fastfood restaurants and global food and drink companies.

But this week it was the turn of parents selling muffins, brownies and spinach empanadas on the steps of City Hall.

About 300 people turned out to oppose new city regulations that in effect ban school "bake sales" - an all-American fundraising staple where students and parents sell homebaked cakes and cookies to fund museum trips and equip their sports teams.

The sales, which can raise as much as $500 a time, have fallen foul of efforts by the Department of Education to improve the nutritional quality of foods available in schools as part of its battle against rising levels of childhood obesity.

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'Gang whisperer' interprets for those wanting to help

Petula Dvorak:

The teens lean all the way back in their chairs, so low they're like tables. Hats are down tight; they won't take them off no matter how many times you ask.

Arms are crossed. They never look right at you. They're mean muggin'. Hoodies go up. You don't exist.

You can call them street kids, at-risk youths, gang members, crew members, juvenile delinquents, abused children, thugs, rebels, whatever.

When you're one of those people who are there to throw them a lifeline, to show them someone cares, to give them a chance, to try to make a tiny opening in that closed-off, scary world they are sealed shut in, sometimes all you can call them is frustrating.

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March 27, 2010

5 S.F. school principals under fire

Jill Tucker:

Five principals at the helm of struggling San Francisco schools will be forced within the next few weeks to make a gut-wrenching choice: Fight for their jobs - a battle that could cost their schools millions of dollars - or leave.

Last week, the principals found out their sites had been placed on the state's list of schools that are persistently the lowest-performing. Statewide, 188 schools are on the list, and each one can qualify for up to $2 million annually in federal grants for the next three years. But in exchange, they must undergo a major overhaul, starting with naming a new principal.

The schools have less than five months to come up with a reform plan, apply for the funding, and put everything in place by the first day of school in the fall.

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Illinois State Senate OKs school vouchers

Dave McKinney:

Parents with students in the lowest-performing elementary schools in Chicago could obtain vouchers to move their children into better-performing private schools under a plan that passed the Illinois Senate on Thursday.

The voucher legislation pushed by Sen. James Meeks (D-Chicago) passed 33-20, with three voting present, could affect thousands of children in the lowest-performing 10 percent of city schools. It now moves to the House.

"By passing this bill, we'll give 22,000 kids an opportunity to have a choice on whether or not they'll continue in their failing school or go to another non-public school within the city of Chicago," Meeks said.

"Just as we came up with and passed charter schools to help children, now is an opportunity to pass this bill so we can help more children escape the dismal realities of Chicago's public schools," Meeks said.

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The 3 Year MD

Scott Jaschik:

As the buzz continues to grow about three-year bachelor's degrees, Texas Tech University is starting a three-year M.D. program.

Two Canadian institutions -- McMaster University and the University of Calgary -- offer three-year M.D. options. In the United States, the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine offers a three-year option for a D.O. degree. But the unusual Texas Tech M.D. program could represent a significant move in efforts to encourage more medical students to go into primary care and to find ways to minimize the costs of medical education. And it may raise questions about the fourth year of most medical degrees.

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Lousy School Lunch Bill Closer to Passage

Jill Richardson:

Why do Democrats put their least loyal Senator in charge of one of their highest profile issues? Michelle Obama started her government-wide "Let's Move" program to improve children's health and nutrition, but Blanche Lincoln's the author of the Senate child nutrition bill that just passed out of the Senate Agriculture Committee yesterday. And Blanche Lincoln is no Michelle Obama. She's not even as progressive as Barack Obama, who called for $10 billion in new money over 10 years for child nutrition, a number Lincoln reduced by more than half.

To put that in easier to understand terms, Obama's proposal would have given up to $.18 in addition funds to each child's school lunch. Lincoln's bill gives each lunch $.06. Compare that to the School Nutrition Association's request to raise the current $2.68 "reimbursement rate" (the amount the federal government reimburses schools for each free lunch served to a low income child) by $.35 just to keep the quality of the lunches the same and make up for schools' current budgetary shortfall. School lunch reformer Ann Cooper calls for an extra $1 per lunch to actually make lunches healthy. So any amount under $.35 is no reform at all, and Lincoln gave us $.06.

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A Look at Arne Duncan's VIP List of Requests at Chicago Schools and the Effects of his Expansion of Charter Schools in Chicago

Amy Goodman & others, via a Laura Chern email:

When President Obama's Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, was the head of Chicago's Public Schools, his office kept a list of powerful, well-connected people who asked for help getting certain children into the city's best public schools. The list--long kept confidential--was disclosed this week by the Chicago Tribune. We speak with the Chicago Tribune reporter who broke the story and with two Chicago organizers about Duncan and his aggressive plan to expand charter schools. [includes rush transcript]

JUAN GONZALEZ: When President Obama's Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, was the head of Chicago's Public Schools, his office kept a list of powerful, well-connected people who asked for help getting certain children into the city's best public schools. The list--long held confidential--was disclosed this week by the Chicago Tribune.

The paper reports that the nearly forty pages of logs show admissions requests from twenty-five aldermen, Mayor Daley's office, the state House Speaker, the state attorney general, the former White House social secretary, and a former United States senator. The log noted "AD"--initials for Arne Duncan--as the person requesting help for ten students and a co-requestor about forty times.

A spokesman for Duncan denied any wrongdoing and said Duncan used the list, not to dole out rewards to insiders, but to shield principals from political interference.

AMY GOODMAN: Duncan was chief executive of the Chicago schools, the nation's third-largest school system, from 2001 to 2009. During that time, he oversaw implementation of a program known as Renaissance 2010. The program's aim was to close sixty schools and replace them with more than 100 charter schools. Now as President Obama's Education Secretary, Duncan is overseeing a push by the administration to aggressively expand charter schools across the country.

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Decision makes schools chief loathed and loved

Wayne Drash:

Superintendent Frances Gallo combed the classrooms of embattled Central Falls High School. Teachers and students were gone for the day. Gallo was hunting for a particular item: an effigy of President Obama.
She hoped the rumor of its existence wasn't true.

Gallo had fired all the high school teachers just a month earlier, igniting an educational maelstrom in Rhode Island's smallest and poorest community while winning praise from the president.

The teachers union lampooned her; hate mail flooded her inbox. For weeks, she'd prayed every morning for the soul of the man who wrote: "I wish cancer on your children and their children and that you live long enough to see them die."

It was one thing to take barbs from opponents -- another thing altogether if the division was infecting classrooms. Teachers assured the superintendent that the school battle wasn't seeping into lesson plans. So, when CNN asked her about the rumor of the effigy, Gallo took it upon herself to get to the bottom of it.

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War on Teachers Escalates

Christopher Paslay:

Last month's wholesale firing of 74 teachers at Central Falls High School in Rhode Island exemplified America's rising anti-teacher sentiment. Both President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan praised Superintendent Frances Gallo's decision, and Newsweek writers Evan Thomas and Pat Wingert called the firings a "notable breakthrough."

This is an excerpt from my commentary in today's Philadelphia Inquirer, "War on teachers escalates". Please click here to read the entire article. You can respond or provide feedback by clicking on the comment button below.

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Illinois considers a four-day school week to save money

Melanie Eversley

Illinois state senators are considering a measure already in place in other states that would allow school districts to convert to a four-day week, the Chicago Tribune writes.

State House members already have approved the plan, designed to help rural school districts save money, the paper said. California, Colorado and Arizona have adopted similar plans, the paper reported.

"We would save $100,000 or more a school year ... (if we) run the buses one less day a week," Mark Janesky, superintendent of the Jamaica School District, told the Tribune. "I turn the heat off an extra day a week. Your cafeteria is open one day less a week."

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Classroom fight as Texas rewrites textbooks

Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson:

America's classroom culture wars broke out again this week after a vote by the Texas Board of Education to rewrite the standards for high school social studies courses in the largest single US market for textbooks.

A conservative group on the board voted through revisions that opponents said would challenge the Founding Fathers' belief in the separation of church and state, play up Republican leadership and play down negative connotations about the word "capitalist" by replacing it with talk of the "free-enterprise society".

The dispute has sparked headlines around the country about a "Texas textbook massacre". It was featured by Jon Stewart, Comedy Central late-night television satirist, under the caption "Don't mess with textbooks", a reference to the state's old "Don't mess with Texas" bumper stickers.

For the publishing industry, however, the news is both wearily familiar and a sign of how much the textbook business has changed. Battles over subjects from evolution to Civil War history have become almost annual events, not least in Texas.

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Education lessons are lost on Obama

Steve Chapman:

I can't pinpoint the moment the Obama administration went wrong on the subject of education. But I can pinpoint the moment when it demonstrated it can't be taken seriously.

I can't pinpoint the moment when the Obama administration went wrong on the subject of education. But I can pinpoint the moment when it demonstrated that it can't be taken seriously.

It happened on Monday, March 15, when Education Secretary Arne Duncan was expounding to reporters about revising the No Child Left Behind law. The new policy, he asserted, "is going to revolutionize education in our country."

No, it's not. We have been at the task of education for a long time, and one thing we know is that you cannot revolutionize it. The American system of schooling is vast, complicated, self-protective, slow to change and even slower to improve.

On these points, No Child Left Behind, or NCLB, leaves no doubt. It was inaugurated with grand promises eight years ago. "As of this hour, America's schools will be on a new path of reform, and a new path of results," exulted President George W. Bush upon signing it.

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School Reform: The Next Test

The Economist:

HEALTH reform was supposed to be the crowning achievement of Barack Obama's first year as president. Instead it has riled Republicans, alienated leftists and exhausted everyone else. However, on March 15th Mr Obama presented Congress with a plan that ought to have a greater chance of support: reforming No Child Left Behind (NCLB), America's main federal education programme. Everyone agrees that America's public schools are floundering, and NCLB is widely considered to have failed.

NCLB, enacted in 2002, transformed education policy. It gave the federal government a crucial role in education, forcing states to set standards and hold their schools accountable for meeting them. Schools that failed to make progress would face financial sanctions. All students were to be proficient in reading and maths by 2014. George Bush championed the law; Congress supported it wholeheartedly.

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Incoming Irving (TX) schools chief discusses the challenges ahead

Katherine Leal Unmuth:

ana T. Bedden, 43, will begin his new job as Irving school superintendent in July.

Bedden currently leads the Richmond County School System in Augusta, Ga. He's also worked in school districts in Pennsylvania and Virginia.

The Florida native makes history as Irving's first black superintendent. He replaces Jack Singley, who led the district for 21 years.

Bedden has signed a three-year contract with the district at a base salary of $244,400.

Bedden answered questions in a telephone interview Wednesday. Here are excerpts from the discussion.

One challenge in Irving is a lack of parental involvement. How will you address this?

I try to be inclusive. Who's at the table so a community can feel they have a voice? We have to look at how we go about engagement. Are we always asking them to come to us, or do we take opportunities to go to them where they feel comfortable? It's creating access, but it's also educating.

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Some St. Cloud students start their school day before the dawn

Tim Post:

At 6:30 or 7:00 each morning, you may just be rolling out of bed or finishing up that first cup of coffee. But some students at St. Cloud Technical and Community College have already been in their first class of the day.

Because of a demand for courses in the health sciences, the school now offers a 6:30 a.m. anatomy course.

It's part of a nationwide trend. Because of skyrocketing enrollment, community colleges are scheduling classes at unusual times to squeeze more students in.

Things move quickly during Liz Burand's 6:30 a.m. physiology and anatomy course. She begins her pre-dawn class with a short quiz, then moves into a brief discussion about the cross-section of cells featured on the test.

After that, Burand runs a video showing an up-close, and rather gory, throat surgery.

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Professional fathers are downing tools to play with their children

The Economist:

S THE rich have got richer and those in work ever busier, people with children have discovered a new way of spending their money: on handymen to do the sorts of odd jobs fathers used to roll up their sleeves and take care of. Despite the recent recession, dads, it seems, would rather spend quality time with their offspring than put up shelves or fix dripping taps at the weekend. So their wives, themselves hard pressed, are hiring other men to change fuses and the like, thus making time to dine out, kick a football or visit museums en famille.

Domestic help has long been a mostly female preserve, involving nannies, cleaners and laundry maids. That is changing, according to a forthcoming study by Majella Kilkey of the University of Hull and Diane Perrons of the London School of Economics. The pair reckon that nowadays 39% of domestic helpers in Britain are men, up from 17% in the early 1990s; in London, many are also migrants. Many households hiring handymen already employ a small army of nannies, cleaners and gardeners.

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March 26, 2010

A High School Stu dent Speaks Out  - Why I Cheat

A High School Sophomore:

To start off, I'm a sopho more in a rel a tively pres ti gious pri vate insti tu tion; I have an IQ over 180. I don't need to cheat. But why wouldn't I. Hell, I don't bother on tests, I get all the answers right before most kids in my class, but the sheer volume of home work I receive every night is absolutely ridiculous! Tell me, if I'm already investing 8 hours in school, 2 in sports, 2 in other ECs, how in the hell do my teachers expect me to add 6 more hours to homework?

I'm not stupid, it's not a matter of me being slow with my work, there just aren't enough hours in a day for school, rugby practice, play rehearsal, and that much home work! I'll give a run-down of what I'm supposed to do tonight:

AP U.S. History: Take (meticulous) notes on chapters 40 - 43 (the end of the text, thank [insert deity here].) Prepare for in-class essay on anything that occurred during Roosevelt's presidency. Okay, so that's not so bad, but we still have another 6 classes to cover.

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Test time for Madison school board candidates James Howard and Tom Farley

Lynn Welch:

Madison voters will soon be put to a test, perhaps one of the more important ones they've faced in recent years. On April 6, they'll get to decide who will fill an open seat on the Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education during its biggest financial crisis.

It's apt, then, that the opposing candidates -- James Howard and Tom Farley -- also be put to the test. We gave them a series of essay questions on a range of pertinent topics, from how they'd cut the school budget to challenges they've faced with their own children in Madison schools.

Their answers, lightly edited for length and style, follow.

Isthmus: What are two specific programs you would suggest cutting or policies you would suggest changing due to ongoing budget challenges, and why?

Howard: In Wisconsin, for 17 years, since 1993, we have had a school funding plan that caps a school district's annual revenue increase at 2.1%, although the actual cost to run a school district has averaged 4% during those years. Secondly, the state of Wisconsin is supposed to pay two-thirds of the cost of schools. This has never happened. So I'd suggest lifting the revenue caps and legislating complete state funding of public education.

Farley: Certainly, the state's funding formulas and current economic cycles have had a major effect on this current budget crisis. However, budget challenges will be "ongoing" until the district addresses our own systemic issues. Policies regarding talented and gifted students should be based on national best practices. We should also address length of school year and school day, which are far too limiting and lag other countries.

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Personal Income Drops in 42 US States, 2.5% in Wisconsin; Not a great time to raise taxes

Sara Murray:

Personal income in 42 states fell in 2009, the Commerce Department said Thursday.

Nevada's 4.8% plunge was the steepest, as construction and tourism industries took a beating. Also hit hard: Wyoming, where incomes fell 3.9%.

Incomes stayed flat in two states and rose in six and the District of Columbia. West Virginia had the best showing with a 2.1% increase. In Maine, Kentucky and Hawaii, increased government benefits, such as unemployment insurance and Social Security, offset drops in earnings and property values.

Nationally, personal income from wages, dividends, rent, retirement plans and government benefits declined 1.7% last year, unadjusted for inflation. One bright spot: As the economy recovered, personal income was up in all 50 states in the fourth quarter compared with the third. Connecticut, again, had the highest per capita income of the 50 states at $54,397 in 2009. Mississippi ranked lowest at $30,103.

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Yet another reason for school reform

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:

Worst in the nation?

What an embarrassment.

More importantly, what a loss of young talent for our state.

Wisconsin must do better when it comes to teaching students - especially black students - to read.

Black fourth-graders in Wisconsin just posted the lowest reading scores among the 50 states and the District of Columbia, according to the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress.

Only 9 percent of black fourth-graders in Wisconsin performed at or above the proficient level. That compares to 38 percent of white fourth-graders, itself a discouraging number.

Those percentages increase to 38 percent for blacks and 75 percent for whites when fourth-graders who can read at a "basic" level are included.

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Truly a jury of their peers

Victoria Kim:

The teen court at Dorsey High School is one of 17 in Los Angeles County where students decide the cases of first-time juvenile offenders. The idea is to steer them away from more serious offenses.

The jury's decision on the 15-year-old scofflaw was swift and unanimous: Guilty. Then the 12 jurors moved on to the question of what consequences the vandal should face for his actions.

"I kinda wanna go pretty hard," volunteered one juror in a hooded sweat shirt and basketball shorts, gesturing with his arms. "He's reckless!"

A fellow juror, standing with arms crossed and head cocked, was a little more sympathetic.

"He's struggling," she says. "He doesn't have friends, so being the class clown is an easy way to make friends."

The defendant was convicted of misdemeanor vandalism for turning on the emergency showers in his middle school's science lab on a dare. The flooding did more than $2,000 in damage.

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Princeton researchers find that high-fructose corn syrup prompts considerably more weight gain

Hilary Parker:

A Princeton University research team has demonstrated that all sweeteners are not equal when it comes to weight gain: Rats with access to high-fructose corn syrup gained significantly more weight than those with access to table sugar, even when their overall caloric intake was the same.

In addition to causing significant weight gain in lab animals, long-term consumption of high-fructose corn syrup also led to abnormal increases in body fat, especially in the abdomen, and a rise in circulating blood fats called triglycerides. The researchers say the work sheds light on the factors contributing to obesity trends in the United States.

"Some people have claimed that high-fructose corn syrup is no different than other sweeteners when it comes to weight gain and obesity, but our results make it clear that this just isn't true, at least under the conditions of our tests," said psychology professor Bart Hoebel, who specializes in the neuroscience of appetite, weight and sugar addiction. "When rats are drinking high-fructose corn syrup at levels well below those in soda pop, they're becoming obese -- every single one, across the board. Even when rats are fed a high-fat diet, you don't see this; they don't all gain extra weight."

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Supporting Online Collaboration in Bandwidth-Challenged Areas

Patty Seybold:

Have you noticed the ways that your work patterns have changed over the past five years? Instant messaging, tweeting, SMS, email, and chat, combined with smartphones has enabled us to be "always on." It's now easy to strike up a collaborative working relationship across organizational and geographic boundaries--by messaging, emailing, conferencing, and sending pictures and files back and forth.

Everyone is now reachable much of the time by mobile phone. The modalities of collaboration are becoming richer, and, at the same time, more ad hoc. You can get a quick answer via Twitter, SMS or instant messaging.

Having recently returned from rural Africa, I was amazed by my ability to stay in touch through my Blackberry email in the remotest locations.

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The origins of selflessness: Fair play

The Economist:

FOR the evolutionarily minded, the existence of fairness is a puzzle. What biological advantage accrues to those who behave in a trusting and co-operative way with unrelated individuals? And when those encounters are one-off events with strangers it is even harder to explain why humans do not choose to behave selfishly. The standard answer is that people are born with an innate social psychology that is calibrated to the lives of their ancestors in the small-scale societies of the Palaeolithic. Fairness, in other words, is an evolutionary hangover from a time when most human relationships were with relatives with whom one shared a genetic interest and who it was generally, therefore, pointless to cheat.

The problem with this idea is that the concept of fairness varies a lot, depending on which society it happens to come from--something that does not sit well with the idea that it is an evolved psychological tool. Another suggestion, then, is that fairness is a social construct that emerged recently in response to cultural changes such as the development of trade. It may also, some suggest, be bound up with the rise of organised religion.

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Education chief closes struggling Texas school

Associated Press:

Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott ordered the closure Thursday of a small school district near Houston that has been plagued by years of poor performance on state academic tests.

Kendleton ISD, a 78-student district southwest of Houston that serves elementary students through the sixth grade, is scheduled to be annexed July 1 to the neighboring Lamar Consolidated school district. Scott's order is pending approval by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Kendleton received state ratings of "academically unacceptable" for the last four years, most recently due to poor performance on the writing portion of the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills. Previously, the ratings were caused by poor performance in reading, math and science.

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Education Funding Bias in Illinois: Lawsuit Filed

Michael Ciric:

In the State of Illinois, 65% of all education funding comes via property taxes. The state, meanwhile, contributes a measly 28%. Illinois' contribution ranks one of the lowest rates in the nation. Yet, Illinois is still $853.5 Million in arrears to school districts around the state.

Property Tax funding of school districts has long been a controversial issue. The biggest argument, against this method of funding, is that poorer communities must pay higher property taxes in order to meet the minimum cost of educating a student than the affluent ones. Each year, the state must establish a funding "foundation level". From that baseline and depending on property values, communities rely on different tax rates, along with expected state aid to arrive at the minimum cost of educating a student. This year that cost was determined to be $6,119 per pupil.

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Investors Buy Private Dana College in Neb.

Associated Press:

Dana College will soon join the handful of private colleges that have been sold in recent years and converted from nonprofit organizations to for-profit corporations, The Associated Press reported.

College officials announced Wednesday that a group of investors and an unnamed private equity firm agreed to buy the school in Blair, Nebraska. Terms of the deal, which is expected to close this summer, were not disclosed, the news service said.

Since 2004, 10 other private, nonprofit colleges have been sold and converted to for-profit enterprises, according to the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities. But that remains just a fraction of the nation's 1,600 private, nonprofit colleges, group spokesman Tony Pals told The Associated Press.

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At Stuyvesant, Interpreting Parent-Teacher Night

Susan Dominus:

They were too old to be high school students, but not old enough to be the parents. They were lingering near Room 236 at Stuyvesant High School, a group of 20 young people, all of them Asian, standing awkwardly together, waiting for the moment when their peripheral but crucial role would become clear to the main characters at the event, the vaunted parent-teacher night.

Two big signs at the school entrance, one written in Chinese, explained their mission: Parents in need of interpreters could find them by Room 236. (Teachers supervised the writing of the signs, noted Harvey Blumm, who coordinated the event, "so we'd know they didn't say, 'Go find a bathroom and stick your head in it.' ")

Sally Liu, 26, a university graduate student in film, came because she knew what it was like to be lost in a sea of English. Lin Lin Cheng, who is 18 and studying paleontology, had some extra time during her spring break. And Ying Lin, 19, an undergraduate interested in business, had always wanted to see the inside of Stuyvesant.

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More gauzy goals for US schools

George Will:

Doubling down on dubious bets is characteristic of compulsive gamblers and federal education policy.

The nation was essentially without such policy for grades K through 12, and better off for that, until 1965. In that year of liberals living exuberantly, they produced the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Now yet another president has announced yet another plan to fix education. His aspiration has a discouraging pedigree.

In 1983, three years after Jimmy Carter paid his debt to teachers' unions by creating the Education Department, a national commission declared America "a nation at risk": "If an unfriendly power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war." So in 1984, Ronald Reagan decreed improvements.

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Performance Evaluations - School Board

Charlie Mas:

With all of this talk about Performance Management I thought it would be a good time to review the Performance of the Board Directors and the Board as a whole. I know that the Board does their own self-assessment, but I can't find it. Besides, it is impossible for anyone to hold themselves accountable. I simply have no faith in self-policing.

For accountability purposes we need some objectively measurable outcomes for the Board job.

The Board job, as I have often written, has three components.

First is to serve as the elected representatives of the public. This includes:

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March 25, 2010

Big-City Test Scores on Rise, Report Says

Dakarai Aarons:

Students in the nation's urban school districts have improved markedly in mathematics and reading proficiency as measured both on state exams and the National Assessment of Educational Progress, according to a new report by the Washington-based Council of the Great City Schools.

Released today, the council's ninth annual "Beating the Odds" report looks at how students in urban districts stack up on state tests compared with students in their respective states as a whole. The report from the council, a Washington-based advocacy organization that represents more than five dozen of the nation's urban school districts, also uses NAEP data to compare scores of students in big-city districts with national averages.

Urban students showed progress on both sets of data, in some cases outstripping the performance of other students in their own states and nationwide, the report says.

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Florida Senate kills teacher tenure pay system; raises tied to student success

Josh Hafenbrack:

In a major shift, the salaries of Florida's 167,000 teachers could soon be tied to student test scores, rather than seniority and education level.

The state Senate on Wednesday approved a controversial bill by a 21-17 vote to dismantle teacher tenure, a decades-old system in which educators' pay is based on years of experience and whether they earn upper-level degrees.

New teachers hired after July 1 would work on one-year contracts and face dismissal if their students did not show learning gains on end-of-year exams for two years in any five-year period. For them, job security would be based soley on two factors: standardized scores and job reviews by principals. Existing teachers would have future pay raises tied to student scores and reviews but would keep their current job security.

"It takes a sledgehammer to the teaching profession," Sen. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, said Wednesday.

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Mesofacts: slowly changing facts

Samuel Arbesman:

This shows the cost of living in the U.S. over time. More visualizations of economic quantities over time can be found at Visualizing Economics.
Related: Your Reality is Out of Date.

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Books that Have Influenced Me the Most

Will Wilkinson:

Tyler started this nice meme. I'm a bit skeptical about the reliability of introspection and memory, and I think this kind of thing generally reflects one's favorite current self-construction rather than real influence, so I'll try to avoid that, but I won't entirely. I guess I'll do this roughly chronologically, and leave out the Bible and the Book of Mormon...

1. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster and Jules Feiffer. This book made me realize that it is possible to play with words and ideas. I can't even remember much of the story now. (Is it Milo?) What I remember is the revelation that it is possible to get a thrill from manipulating ideas and the words that express them.

2. Dune by Frank Herbert. The Dune books connected with me deeply as a teenager. They appealed, I think, to the sense that people have profound untapped powers that discipline can draw out; e.g., Mentats, Bene Gesserit. Also, it appealed to the fantasy that I might have special awesome hidden powers, like Paul Atreides, and that they might just sort of come to me, as a gift of fate, without the hassle of all that discipline. I think this book is why I was slightly crushed when I turned 18 and realized that not only was I not a prodigy, but I wasn't amazingly good at anything. I sometimes still chant the Litany against Fear when I'm especially nervous or panicking about something.

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Stanford Seeks to Create a New Breed of Engineer

John Wildermuth:

Stanford is training a new type of engineer for a fast-changing world and James Plummer wants to get the word out that students needn't be a total techie to apply.

"We're looking for kids who think of the world in terms of finding solutions to big problems, like global warming, international development, the environment," Plummer, dean of the School of Engineering, said in an interview. "We want to attract students ... who might have a wider world view" than those in the traditional math- and science-laden programs featured at the nation's top technical schools.

"We are not - and should not be - a technical institute," Plummer told the university's Faculty Senate last month. "If (students) come here, they can take advantage of all the other pieces of this campus, which are equally as good as the School of Engineering."

The approach has advantages when recruiting the kind of students Stanford wants, Plummer said. But it has also brought the engineering school some grief, both from the professional group that accredits it and from the employers who hire the graduates.

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Happy Meal is ageless: no decay in a year on a shelf

Cory Doctorow:

Joann Bruso, author of Baby Bites - Transforming A Picky Eater Into A Healthy Eater Book, a book on getting kids to overcome picky eating habits, has been blogging the half-life of a McDonald's Happy Meal that she bought a year ago. In the intervening year, the box of delight, plastic toys and food-like substances has experienced virtually no decay.

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The Fordham Institute's expert reviewers have analyzed the draft Common Core K-12 education standards (made public on March 10) according to rigorous criteria. Their analyses lead to a grade of A- for the draft mathematics standards and B for those in Eng

Sheila Byrd Carmichael, Chester E. Finn, Jr., Gabrielle Martino, Kathleen Porter-Magee, W. Stephen Wilson, Amber Winkler:

Two weeks ago, American education approached a possible turning point, when the National Governors Association (NGA) and Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) released drafts of proposed new academic standards in English language arts and math for kindergarten through high school. Already the object of much interest--and some controversy--these are standards that, once revised and finalized, will be candidates for adoption by individual states in place of those they're now using.

For months before they were made public, the "Common Core" standards were much discussed. Between now and April 2--the end of the public comment period on this draft--there will be plenty more. That is a healthy thing, both because the more thoughtful scrutiny these drafts receive, the better the final product is apt to be, and because the only way for these standards ever to gain traction in our far- flung, highly-decentralized, and loosely-coupled public education system is if peo- ple from all walks of life--parents, educators, employers, public officials, scholars, etc.--take part in reading, commenting, and shaping the final product.

But ought they gain traction? We think so. Assuming this draft only improves in the process of revision, the Common Core represents a rare opportunity for American K-12 education to re-boot. A chance to set forth, across state lines, a clear, ambi- tious, and actionable depiction of the essential skills, competencies, and knowledge that our young people should acquire in school and possess by the time they gradu- ate. Most big modern nations--including our allies and competitors--already have something like this for their education systems. If the U.S. does it well and if--this is a big if--the huge amount of work needed to operationalize these standards is earnestly undertaken in the months and years to follow, this country could find itself with far-better educated citizens than it has today. Many more of them will be "college- and career-ready" and that means the country as a whole will be stronger, safer, and more competitive.

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Reading scores stalled despite 'No Child Left Behind,' report finds

Nick Anderson & Bill Turque:

The nation's students are mired at a basic level of reading in fourth and eighth grades, their achievement in recent years largely stagnant, according to a federal report Wednesday that suggests a dwindling academic payoff from the landmark No Child Left Behind law.

But reading performance has climbed in D.C. elementary schools, a significant counterpoint to the national trend, even though the city's scores remain far below average.

The report from the National Assessment of Educational Progress showed that fourth-grade reading scores stalled after the law took effect in 2002, rose modestly in 2007, then stalled again in 2009. Eighth-grade scores showed a slight uptick since 2007 -- 1 point on a scale of 500 -- but no gain over the seven-year span when President George W. Bush's program for school reform was in high gear.

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Smart pill that helps children through puberty

Richard Alleyne:

Teenagers could become smarter just by taking a pill that stimulates a part of the brain that controls learning and memory, scientists say.

Researchers claim to have discovered the brain receptor that dictates how much people can learn - especially during the all important puberty years - and armed with that knowledge they could develop a smart pill to help teenagers expand their minds.

The receptor called alpha4-beta-delta appears to slow down learning when teenagers hit puberty.

Instead of parents spending tens of thousands of pounds on private school fees, they could give their teenagers a regular dose of steroids to negate its effect, researchers say.

The brain receptor develops in the hippocampus, which controls learning and memory, when children hit puberty.

But researchers say giving children a steroid can stop the receptor and boost teenagers' memory.

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Parents & The Detroit Public Schools

Marisa Schultz:

Less than five months after Detroit voters passed a $500.5 million school construction plan, nearly half of the 18 schools that were to be rebuilt or renovated are now headed for closure or plans for them have been altered.

The changes have outraged some supporters of the Proposal S bond who say they feel cheated for voting for a plan they were told would mean new construction or renovation in their neighborhood, but instead their schools will be shuttered as soon as this summer, according to the facilities plan released this week by Robert Bobb, emergency financial manager for Detroit Public Schools.

"It's a slap in the face to the community," said Tia Shepherd, whose children's schools, Cooley High School and Bethune Academy, were slated for $17 million in upgrades but now are closing. "Our community got shortchanged twice."

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Graduate students juggle parenthood with academic politics

Jenna Johnson:

University of Maryland graduate student Anupama Kothari went into labor on a Friday afternoon two years ago. After a Caesarean section, she was a first-time mother, with a baby girl with huge brown eyes.

But there wasn't much time to settle into motherhood, bond with her daughter or follow her doctor's orders to rest. Seven days later, Kothari was back at work on her doctorate in business and helping marketing professors with their research. Her body ached in protest.

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Wyo education leaders not impressed with federal education law

Tom Lacock:

The proposed overhaul of No Child Left Behind is prompting concern from the Wyoming teachers' union.

President Barack Obama last week announced his administration would revamp the federal education law, officially known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), during an upcoming re-authorization process. The Wyoming Education Association sees the rewrite as both promising and troubling.

"The blueprint earns a grade of incomplete," WEA President Kathryn Valido said. "There are a lot of areas that need to be re-thought. There are some pieces in it that are a step in the right direction, but the overemphasis on one or two test scores to determine the effectiveness of a teacher or a school doesn't make sense."

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Why young women are showing off their shopping sprees in online videos called "hauls."

Marisa Meltzer:

Somewhere in America's suburbs, 16-year-old Blair sits in her pink-walled bedroom and shows off a slew of recent purchases from the fast-fashion chain Forever 21. She bought a black blouse, a slouchy cardigan, and $6.99 jeans. "OK, so normally it would bother me if my jeans didn't have any detail on the rear end," Blair says.

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Schools use referendums to balance budgets

Gina Duwe:

When Parkview Superintendent Steve Lutzke talks to fellow superintendents, the question isn't, "Are you going to referendum?"

The question is, "When are you going to referendum?"

Declining enrollments and increasing costs that exceed revenue limits plague the Orfordville-based Parkview School District and its neighbor to the west, Brodhead. The results are referendums in both districts April 6 asking voters for permission to exceed state revenue caps.

"They have a lot of company," said John Ashley, executive director of the Wisconsin Association of School Boards.

Parkview and Brodhead join 34 other districts in the state planning 48 referendums on next month's ballot. Of those, 26 referendums are to exceed revenue caps.

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A School District PTA Tax?

Melissa Westbrook:

Thanks to Julie for the alert about Rep. Reuven Carlyle blog thread about the so-called PTA tax that the district is levying on funds raised by PTAs (3.3%). The district hasn't even publicly announced this but it has been confirmed by several school principals. Shame on the district for not even having the courage of their convictions to publicly say this.

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North Carolina Teacher Suspended After Writing 'Loser' on Girl's School Work


A North Carolina teacher reportedly has been suspended after being accused of writing "loser" on a sixth grade student's school work.

A parent accused Enka Middle School teacher Rex Roland of writing "-20% for being a LOSER" on an assignment done by her daughter, after she had already complained about him writing the word "loser" on previous assignments.

Roland apologized, saying using that kind of language is his way of relating to his students, but the woman said she thinks it's his way of bullying her daughter, the Associate Press reported.

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March 24, 2010

Wisconsin's fourth-grade readers lose ground on NAEP Test

Amy Hetzner:

The latest scorecard gauging how well Wisconsin's students read compared with their classmates in other states showed little change from previous years, but the rest of the nation's fourth-graders have been catching up and Wisconsin's black students now rank behind those in every other state.

"Holding steady is not good enough," state schools Superintendent Tony Evers said about the results. "Despite increasing poverty that has a negative impact on student learning, we must do more to improve the reading achievement of all students in Wisconsin."

Fourth-graders in Wisconsin posted an average score of 220 on the 500-point reading test administered in 2009 as part of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as the nation's report card. That represented a three-point drop from two years before and translated to a 33% proficiency rate.

It also matched the national average score for fourth-graders. In 1994, Wisconsin students bested the nation's fourth-grade average by 12 points.

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James Howard Endorsed for the Madison School Board

The Capital Times:

Across decades of interviewing candidates for the Madison School Board, the members of The Capital Times editorial board have talked with dozens of able contenders -- and a few not-so-able ones.

We have endorsed liberals and conservatives, friends and foes of the teachers union, veteran board members and newcomers -- always in response to a basic question: Which candidate would make the most valuable contribution to the seven-member board that sets the direction for what has been, is and we hope will always remain one of the finest urban school districts in the nation?

With this history providing a sense of perspective, we can say without a doubt that we have rarely if ever encountered a first-time candidate as impressive as James Howard.

Wisconsin State Journal:
James Howard is best prepared for the challenging job of serving on the Madison School Board.

Voters should support him in the April 6 election.

Howard, 56, a research economist, says he's trained and committed to analyzing data before making decisions. He'll bring that strong trait to a School Board that has sometimes let emotion get the best of it.

A good example is the difficult issue of consolidating schools with low enrollments to save money during tight times. The School Board backed down from its smart vote in 2007 to consolidate elementary schools on the Near East Side.

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Districts need short-term power to raise taxes without voters' approval, Minnesota Rep. Greiling says

Megan Boldt:

School administrators are staring down a triple-barreled threat.

State aid for schools is frozen. Minnesota is borrowing more than $2 billion in funding promised to schools to help balance the books, forcing districts to dip into their reserves and take out loans. And lawmakers still need to fill in an additional $1 billion shortfall.

So does that mean school districts should have more authority to raise property taxes without voter approval? Some education leaders believe so. The notion has been batted around for years but never gained traction.

"In any other year, I would be horrified by the idea," said Rep. Mindy Greiling, DFL-Roseville. "But I will consider this as a short-term solution. Education funding should be from the state. But schools need a lifeline right now."

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Gifted education important for students

Bellevue Reporter

The Bellevue School District has many hard choices to make in the next few weeks. There is only one item on the district survey that has to do with basic education--the enrichment program. As mentioned in last week's front-page article in the Bellevue Reporter, swimming and other athletics groups could be removed from the budget. Cutting any athletic program would be tragic. Music and art are also being considered. Neither of these should be taken out of our curriculum, either. Music is well known to help students with mathematics, and art cultivates the creative side of students, which helps them in their writing ability. However, to cut a program that is part of a child's basic education, harms that child.

Bellevue has been a leader in the area of special education as well as "highly capable" learning programs. One of two stated BSD goals is to "Extend learning for those that currently meet or exceed standard," of which enrichment falls into. Students in enrichment are designated as special needs children. They learn differently and think differently from other children, just like children at the other end of the spectrum learn and think differently. As a special needs group, enrichment becomes part of these children's basic education curriculum. The enrichment program is vital to these children's basic education. Without it, they will suffer.

According to the Morland Report on gifted children in 1972, "because the majority of gifted children's school adjustment problems occur between kindergarten and fourth grade, about half of gifted children became 'mental dropouts' at around 10 years of age."

The result of this report was the creation of the Office of the Gifted and Talented in the US Office of Education. In this sense, gifted and talented refers directly to academics. All children are gifted in different ways. We don't hold back a star football player and take away his programs because he is gifted athletically and is exceeding athletic norms. Instead we try to develop his football talent and hire top notch football coaches. It should be the same for academically gifted children. We do not want any of our children to mentally drop out of school and we need to meet all children's needs.

Because the needs of highly capable children are different from the needs of other children, we need the enrichment program in our schools. Thomas Jefferson said, "Nothing is more unequal than equal treatment of unequal people."

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Bill opens College threat assessments to public view

Tonia Moxley:

The legislation lets the public see the workings of teams that identify threats of violence at colleges and universities.

The workings of college and university threat assessment teams would be opened to the public after violent incidents under a compromise bill passed by the General Assembly.

The compromise came after weeks of negotiations between legislators and open government advocates and now goes to Gov. Bob McDonnell, who is expected to act on it before April 21. The governor may sign, veto or amend the bill.

"It's a good outcome for everyone," Virginia Press Association Executive Director Ginger Stanley said of the legislation.

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Driven Young Man With a Basketball Mission

Daniel Libit:

De La Salle and Foreman High Schools battled for the 4A state basketball sectional semifinals March 10 in a packed Maywood gym, but in many ways, the most interesting action was unfolding in the north bleachers. There, two rows up from the floor, Daniel Poneman held court in his usual fashion.

Every few moments, Mr. Poneman stood up to greet someone he knew, and by the end of the evening, it seemed as if he had exchanged handshakes and hugs with half of those in attendance. The gym was one giant flowchart before him. Even as Mr. Poneman tracked the action, a recruiter from Purdue, a local basketball legend, and a former Foreman coach who has since moved to Niles North High School all passed -- very noticed -- before Mr. Poneman's well-trained eyes.

"I really wouldn't call him a scout," said Nate Pomeday, an assistant coach at Oregon State. "I would call him more of a professional networker."

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The takeover takedown

Charlie Sykes:

Even in a year of notable failures-from the stimulus to health care reform-the collapse of efforts to reform the Milwaukee Public Schools stands out as an epic flop. As veteran education reporter Alan J. Borsuk writes in our cover story, the stars seemingly were aligned for a mayoral takeover of the dysfunctional system.

"[Y]ou had the president of the United States, the secretary of education, the governor of Wisconsin and the mayor of Milwaukee-all Democrats-coming down firmly for what they wanted to see happen in the Democratic-controlled Wisconsin Legislature.
"And they didn't prevail."

The debate over the mayoral takeover, writes Borsuk, "could have been a real chance to discuss how to energize the deeply troubled MPS system. It could have been a catalyst for re-energizing the whole subject of improving education in Milwaukee. "Instead, it became a plodding tour of why things don't change easily in Milwaukee...."

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Charter pros, foes sharpen knives

Daniel Massey:

Amid a sea of moms and dads wearing T-shirts declaring themselves "Proud charter parents" and kids waving handmade signs that read, "I am College Bound," Daniel Clark grabbed a microphone at P.S. 92 in Harlem earlier this month and told the more than 150 people gathered for a Department of Education hearing that his son Daniel Jr. and four friends now proudly call themselves the "Geek Five."

Mr. Clark says his son was a "super slacker" before he arrived at the Democracy Prep charter school two and half years ago. But the eighth grader "now goes around telling everyone he's going to be mayor--and he believes it."

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Duncan's staff kept list of politicians' school requests

Azam Ahmed and Stephanie Banchero:

While many Chicago parents took formal routes to land their children in the best schools, the well-connected also sought help through a shadowy appeals system created in recent years under former schools chief Arne Duncan.

Whispers have long swirled that some children get spots in the city's premier schools based on whom their parents know. But a list maintained over several years in Duncan's office and obtained by the Tribune lends further evidence to those charges. Duncan is now secretary of education under President Barack Obama.

The log is a compilation of politicians and influential business people who interceded on behalf of children during Duncan's tenure. It includes 25 aldermen, Mayor Richard Daley's office, House Speaker Michael Madigan, his daughter Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, former White House social secretary Desiree Rogers and former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun.

Non-connected parents, such as those who sought spots for their special-needs child or who were new to the city, also appear on the log. But the politically connected make up about three-quarters of those making requests in the documents obtained by the Tribune.

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D.C. Schools Chanceller Rhee taps media adviser Anita Dunn to help improve image

Bill Turque:

Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee, whose image has been frayed by a series of high-profile news controversies, is turning to former White House communications director and veteran Democratic media consultant Anita Dunn for help.

A D.C. schools spokeswoman confirmed Friday that the agency is negotiating a contract with Dunn's firm, Squier Knapp Dunn. The objective is to more effectively handle the heavy load of local and national news media attention that Rhee attracts and to help roll out major stories to greater strategic advantage. The spokeswoman said Dunn has devoted time to District school issues but would not elaborate.

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RTI and Gifted - Revisited

Tamara Fisher:

A few months back, I wrote here at "Teacher Magazine" about RTI ("Response to Intervention") and its possible implications for and adaptations for gifted students. The response to that post has been really interesting and I've enjoyed hearing from so many of you about how RTI is being adapted to included the gifted population in your schools. I wanted to take a moment today to post a couple updates for you regarding happenings since I last wrote about the topic.

First, ASCD contacted me a couple months ago wanting to interview me about RTI and Gifted Education. The transcript of the interview is now available online and includes some great new links at the bottom with relevant RTI/GT information.

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Commentary: It's change or die for the Detroit Public Schools

Nolan Finley:

Robert Bobb's vision for radically restructuring Detroit's failing education system is validated by the decision of Kansas City to shutter half of its schools.

Bobb intends to tear apart the Detroit Public Schools and rebuild the district on a foundation of small, nimble schools that are responsive to the needs of all children and fully accountable for how students perform. Everything will change, from how schools are managed to how teachers teach, and schools that don't perform will be quickly shut down.
His proposals are raising howls from the special interests that benefit from keeping things as they are, as well as from some parents who aren't willing to endure the sacrifice -- closed schools and more rigorous standards -- to make the changes possible.

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Adult learning budgets to be slashed, further education colleges warn

Jessica Shepherd:

Further education colleges in England face 16% cuts to adult learning classes over the next academic year, it was claimed today, triggering fears that scores of courses will close.

Some 43 principals told a poll conducted by the Association of Colleges that their adult learning budgets would be slashed by 25%. On average, colleges said they would see a 16% reduction.

The association said the cuts equated to about £200m and could lead to dozens of basic numeracy and literacy courses, as well as A-level, GCSE and vocational classes for adults, being suspended.

The government has pledged to spend more than £3.5bn on further education and skills in 2010-11, but also said it would cut £340m from the sector in this period.

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Understanding Teachers Contracts

Andrew Rotherham & Elena Silva:

Whether it's the contentious multi-year negotiations over the teachers contract in Washington, D.C., or the debates in many states over competing for Race to the Top funds, teachers contracts are at the center of the education reform debate today. Once of interest only to education insiders, contract issues and calls for reform are now widespread. High profile editorial boards at major newspapers including The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal regularly weigh-in on the topic. Articles in magazines like The New Yorker detail the effects of various contract provisions and processes.1 National voices as diverse as former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and current Secretary of Education Arne Duncan are calling for more flexibility in how teachers are hired, fired, evaluated, and paid.

Despite increasing attention to contract reform, the public often has no idea what a typical teachers contract looks like. Although they are public documents, most contracts are not easily found on the Web sites of school districts or teachers unions; newspapers and local media do not publish them (and often offer only cursory coverage of the issues being discussed during collective bargaining negotiations).2 Meanwhile, those negotiations are often held out of public view, and the deals cut late at night. The documents themselves can be cumbersome, lawyerly, heavily influenced by side agreements and addendums, and generally hard for non-experts to figure out.

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Math Puts a Decision from M.I.T. in Context

Erik Bates:

Knowing pi to 30 digits is not something I regularly brag about. In fact, a teacher told me the length to which one can recite pi is inversely related to one's chances of obtaining a date. That may be true, but I thought it would at least increase my chances of receiving admission to M.I.T.

Befittingly, the university posted admission decisions on 3/14 at 1:59, the time of pi day universally enjoyed among fellow nerds.

Unfortunately, my logic proved incorrect, as I was not offered admittance into M.I.T.

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British Students 'Confused' On Historic Facts

Morning Edition:

Queen Elizabeth may seem ancient to school children, but did she really invent the telephone? Ten percent of British students think so, according to a survey of science knowledge. They also believe Sir Isaac Newton discovered fire, and Luke Skywalker was the first person on the moon.
It's not just the British. While on travel recently, a seatmate (probably 30) asked me where Denver and Chicago were on the map (we were flying to Denver). Another seatmate some time later mentioned that their retail business deals with many citizens who don't know the difference between horizontal and vertical...

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Fixing No Child Left Behind

Wall Street Journal:

The Obama Administration wants to revise the No Child Left Behind education law, which is understandable because the law has flaws. But it's too bad many of the proposed fixes would weaken the statute and undermine the Administration's twin goal of raising state education standards.

Some of the White House proposals make sense, such as the push for more charter schools that can focus on the specific needs of their student populations by operating outside of collective bargaining agreements. We also like using student test scores to measure an instructor's effectiveness and influence teacher pay. Both reforms are strongly opposed by the teachers unions, and Team Obama deserves credit for putting children ahead of the National Education Association.

Other parts of its proposal leave us scratching our heads. The Administration wants to junk NCLB's requirement that all students be proficient in reading and math by 2014 and replace it with an equally unrealistic goal of making all kids "college ready" by 2020. By this thinking, it's impossible to teach every kid to read at grade level within the next three years, but getting all of them ready for higher education six years later is doable.

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Obama's Education Proposal Still a Bottomless Bag

Neal McCluskey:

This morning the Obama Administration officially released its proposal for reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (aka, No Child Left Behind). The proposal is a mixed bag, and still one with a gaping hole in the bottom.

Among some generally positive things, the proposal would eliminate NCLB's ridiculous annual-yearly-progress and "proficiency" requirements, which have driven states to constantly change standards and tests to avoid having to help students achieve real proficiency. It would also end many of the myriad, wasteful categorical programs that infest the ESEA, though it's a pipedream to think members of Congress will actually give up all of their pet, vote-buying programs.

On the negative side of the register, the proposed reauthorization would force all states to either sign onto national mathematics and language-arts standards, or get a state college to certify their standards as "college and career ready." It would also set a goal of all students being college and career ready by 2020. But setting a single, national standard makes no logical sense because all kids have different needs and abilities; no one curriculum will ever optimally serve but a tiny minority of students.

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March 23, 2010

Will Issaquah Pick Poor Math Books?

Charlie Mas:

Issaquah and Sammamish are home to a well educated population, many of which are employed in professional and high tech occupations. Thus, it is surprising that the Issaquah School District administration is doing everything possible to place very poor math books in its schools.

Tomorrow (Wednesday, March 24) night the Issaquah School Board will vote on the administration's recommendation for the Discovering Math series in their high schools. These are very poor math texts:

(1) Found to be "unsound" by mathematicians hired the State Board of Education.
(2) Found to be inferior to a more traditional series (Holt) by pilot tests by the Bellevue School District
(3) That have been rejected by Bellevue, Lake Washington, North Shore, and Shoreline (to name only a few)
(4) Whose selection by the Seattle School District was found to be arbitrary and capricious by King County Judge Spector.
(5) That are classic, weak, inquiry or "reform" math textbooks that stress group work, student investigations, and calculator use over the acquisition of key math skills.

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Madison School District Outbound Open Enrollment Applications 2010-2011 School Year; As of 3/18/2010

Complete Report 36k PDF, via a kind reader:

The pattern of an increasing number of open enrollment transfer applications continued this spring. As of March, 18, 2010 there were 765 unique resident MMSD students applying to attend non-MMSD districts and schools. The ratio of number of leaver applications to enterer applications is now 5:1.

It is important to note that not all applications result in students actually changing their district or school of enrollment. For example, for the 2009-10 school year although 402 new open enrollment students were approved by both MMSD and the non-resident districts to attend the non-resident district, only 199 actually were enrolled in the non-resident district on the third Friday September 2009 membership count date. Still, the trend has been upward in the number of students leaving the district.

Related: 2009 Madison School District Outbound Open Enrollment Parent Survey.

A school district's student population affects its tax & spending authority.

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"Anything But Knowledge": "Why Johnny's Teacher Can't Teach"

from The Burden of Bad Ideas Heather Mac Donald, Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2000, pp. 82ff.

America's nearly last-place finish in the Third International Mathematics and Sciences Study of student achievement caused widespread consternation this February, except in the one place it should have mattered most: the nation's teacher education schools. Those schools have far more important things to do than worrying about test scores--things like stamping out racism in aspiring teachers. "Let's be honest," darkly commanded Professor Valerie Henning-Piedmont to a lecture hall of education students at Columbia University's Teachers College last February. "What labels do you place on young people based on your biases?" It would be difficult to imagine a less likely group of bigots than these idealistic young people, happily toting around their handbooks of multicultural education and their exposés of sexism in the classroom. But Teachers College knows better. It knows that most of its students, by virtue of being white, are complicitous in an unjust power structure.

The crusade against racism is just the latest irrelevancy to seize the nation's teacher education schools. For over eighty years, teacher education in America has been in the grip of an immutable dogma, responsible for endless educational nonsense. That dogma may be summed up in the phrase: Anything But Knowledge. Schools are about many things, teacher educators say (depending on the decade)--self-actualization, following one's joy, social adjustment, or multicultural sensitivity--but the one thing they are not about is knowledge. Oh, sure, educators will occasionally allow the word to pass their lips, but it is always in a compromised position, as in "constructing one's own knowledge," or "contextualized knowledge." Plain old knowledge, the kind passed down in books, the kind for which Faust sold his soul, that is out.

The education profession currently stands ready to tighten its already viselike grip on teacher credentialing, persuading both the federal government and the states to "professionalize" teaching further. In New York, as elsewhere, that means closing off routes to the classroom that do not pass through an education school. But before caving in to the educrats' pressure, we had better take a hard look at what education schools teach.

The course in "Curriculum and Teaching in Elementary Education" that Professor Anne Nelson (a pseudonym) teaches at the City College of New York is a good place to start. Dressed in a tailored brown suit, and with close-cropped hair, Nelson is a charismatic teacher, with a commanding repertoire of voices and personae. And yet, for all her obvious experience and common sense, her course is a remarkable exercise in vacuousness.

As with most education classes, the title of Professor Nelson's course doesn't give a clear sense of what it is about. Unfortunately, Professor Nelson doesn't either. The semester began, she said in a pre-class interview, by "building a community, rich of talk, in which students look at what they themselves are doing by in-class writing." On this, the third meeting of the semester, Professor Nelson said that she would be "getting the students to develop the subtext of what they're doing." I would soon discover why Professor Nelson was so vague.

"Developing the subtext" turns out to involve a chain reaction of solipsistic moments. After taking attendance and--most admirably--quickly checking the students' weekly handwriting practice, Professor Nelson begins the main work of the day: generating feather-light "texts," both written and oral, for immediate group analysis. She asks the students to write for seven minutes on each of three questions; "What excites me about teaching?" "What concerns me about teaching?" and then, the moment that brands this class as hopelessly steeped in the Anything But Knowledge credo: "What was it like to do this writing?"

This last question triggers a quickening volley of self-reflexive turns. After the students read aloud their predictable reflections on teaching, Professor Nelson asks: "What are you hearing?" A young man states the obvious: "Everyone seems to be reflecting on what their anxieties are." This is too straightforward an answer. Professor Nelson translates into ed-speak: "So writing gave you permission to think on paper about what's there." Ed-speak dresses up the most mundane processes in dramatic terminology--one doesn't just write, one is "given permission to think on paper"; one doesn't converse, one "negotiates meaning." Then, like a champion tennis player finishing off a set, Nelson reaches for the ultimate level of self-reflexivity and drives it home: "What was it like to listen to each other's responses?"

The self-reflection isn't over yet, however. The class next moves into small groups--along with in-class writing, the most pervasive gimmick in progressive classrooms today--to discuss a set of student-teaching guidelines. After ten minutes, Nelson interrupts the by-now lively and largely off-topic conversations, and asks: "Let's talk about how you felt in these small groups." The students are picking up ed-speak. "It shifted the comfort zone," reveals one. "It was just acceptance; I felt the vibe going through the group." Another adds: "I felt really comfortable; I had trust there." Nelson senses a "teachable moment." "Let's talk about that," she interjects. "We are building trust in this class; we are learning how to work with each other."

Now, let us note what this class was not: it was not about how to keep the attention of eight-year-olds or plan a lesson or make the Pilgrims real to first-graders. It did not, in other words, contain any material (with the exception of the student-teacher guidelines) from the outside world. Instead, it continuously spun its own subject matter out of itself. Like a relationship that consists of obsessively analyzing the relationship, the only content of the course was the course itself.

How did such navel-gazing come to be central to teacher education? It is the almost inevitable consequence of the Anything But Knowledge doctrine, born in a burst of quintessentially American anti-intellectual fervor in the wake of World War I. Educators within the federal government and at Columbia's Teachers College issued a clarion call to schools: cast off the traditional academic curriculum and start preparing young people for the demands of modern life. America is a forward-looking country, they boasted; what need have we for such impractical disciplines as Greek, Latin, and higher math? Instead, let the students then flooding the schools take such useful courses as family membership, hygiene, and the worthy use of leisure time. "Life adjustment," not wisdom or learning, was to be the goal of education.

The early decades of this century forged the central educational fallacy of our time: that one can think without having anything to think about. Knowledge is changing too fast to be transmitted usefully to students, argued William Heard Kilpatrick of Teachers College, the most influential American educator of the century; instead of teaching children dead facts and figures, schools should teach them "critical thinking," he wrote in 1925. What matters is not what you know, but whether you know how to look it up, so that you can be a "lifelong learner."

Two final doctrines rounded out the indelible legacy of progressivism. First, Harold Rugg's The Child-Centered School (1928) shifted the locus of power in the classroom from the teacher to the student. In a child-centered class, the child determines what he wants to learn. Forcing children into an existing curriculum inhibits their self-actualization, Rugg argued, just as forcing them into neat rows of chairs and desks inhibits their creativity. The teacher becomes an enabler, an advisor; not, heaven forbid, the transmitter of a pre-existing body of ideas, texts, or worst of all, facts. In today's jargon, the child should "construct" his own knowledge rather than passively receive it. Bu the late 1920s, students were moving their chairs around to form groups of "active learners" pursuing their own individual interests, and, instead of a curriculum, the student-centered classroom followed just one principle: "activity leading to further activity without badness," in Kilpatrick's words. Today's educators still present these seven-decades-old practices as cutting-edge.

As E.D. Hirsch observes, the child-centered doctrines grew out of the romantic idealization of children. If the child was, in Wordsworth's words, a "Mighty Prophet! Seer Blest!" then who needs teachers? But the Mighty Prophet emerged from student-centered schools ever more ignorant and incurious as the schools became more vacuous. By the 1940s and 1950s, schools were offering classes in how to put on nail polish and how to act on a date. The notion that learning should push students out of their narrow world had been lost.

The final cornerstone of progressive theory was the disdain for report cards and objective tests of knowledge. These inhibit authentic learning, Kilpatrick argued; and he carried the day, to the eternal joy of students everywhere.

The foregoing doctrines are complete bunk, but bunk that has survived virtually unchanged to the present. The notion that one can teach "metacognitive" thinking in the abstract is senseless. Students need to learn something to learn how to learn at all. The claim that prior knowledge is superfluous because one can always look it up, preferably on the Internet, is equally senseless. Effective research depends on preexisting knowledge. Moreover, if you don't know in what century the atomic bomb was dropped without rushing to an encyclopedia, you cannot fully participate in society. Lastly, Kilpatrick's influential assertion that knowledge was changing too fast to be taught presupposes a blinkered definition of knowledge that excludes the great works and enterprises of the past.

The rejection of testing rests on premises as flawed as the push for "critical thinking skills." Progressives argue that if tests exist, then teachers will "teach to the test"--a bad thing, in their view. But why would "teaching to a test" that asked for, say, the causes of the [U.S.] Civil War be bad for students? Additionally, progressives complain that testing provokes rote memorization--again, a bad thing. One of the most tragically influential education professors today, Columbia's Linda Darling-Hammond, director of the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future, an advocacy group for increased teacher "professionalization," gives a telling example of what she considers a criminally bad test in her hackneyed 1997 brief for progressive education, The Right to Learn. She points disdainfully to the following question from the 1995 New York State Regents Exam in biology (required for high school graduation) as "a rote recall of isolated facts and vocabulary terms": "The tissue which conducts organic food through a vascular plant is composed of: (1) Cambium cells; (2) Xylem cells; (3) Phloem cells; (4) Epidermal cells."

Only a know-nothing could be offended by so innocent a question. It never occurs to Darling-Hammond that there may be a joy in mastering the parts of a plant or the organelles of a cell, and that such memorization constitutes learning. Moreover, when, in the progressives' view, will a student ever be held accountable for such knowledge? Does Darling-Hammond believe that a student can pursue a career in, say, molecular biology or in medicine without it? And how else will that learning be demonstrated, if not in a test? But of course such testing will produce unequal results, and that is the real target of Darling-Hammond's animus.

Once you dismiss real knowledge as the goal of education, you have to find something else to do. That's why the Anything But Knowledge doctrine leads directly to Professor Nelson's odd course. In thousands of education schools across the country, teachers are generating little moments of meaning, which they then subject to instant replay. Educators call this "constructing knowledge," a fatuous label for something that is neither construction nor knowledge but mere game-playing. Teacher educators, though, posses a primitive relationship to words. They believe that if they just label something "critical thinking" or "community-building," these activities will magically occur...

The Anything But Knowledge credo leaves education professors and their acolytes free to concentrate on more pressing matters than how to teach the facts of history or the rules of sentence construction. "Community-building" is one of their most urgent concerns. Teacher educators conceive of their classes as sites of profound political engagement, out of which the new egalitarian order will emerge. A case in point is Columbia's required class, "Teaching English in Diverse Social and Cultural Contexts," taught by Professor Barbara Tenney (a pseudonym). "I want to work at a very conscious level with you to build community in this class," Tenney tells her attentive students on the first day of the semester this spring. "You can do it consciously, and you ought to do it in your own classes." Community-building starts by making nameplates for our desks. Then we all find a partner to interview about each other's "identity." Over the course of the semester, each student will conduct two more "identity" interviews with different partners. After the interview, the inevitable self-reflexive moment arrives, when Tenney asks: "How did it work?" This is a sign that we are on our way to "constructing knowledge."...

All this artificial "community-building," however gratifying to the professors, has nothing to do with learning. Learning is ultimately a solitary activity: we have only one brain, and at some point we must exercise it in private. One could learn an immense amount about Schubert's lieder or calculus without ever knowing the name of one's seatmate. Such a view is heresy to the education establishment, determined, as Rita Kramer has noted, to eradicate any opportunity for individual accomplishment, with its sinister risk of superior achievement. For the educrats, the group is the irreducible unit of learning. Fueling this principle is the gap in achievement between whites and Asians, on the one hand, and other minorities on the other. Unwilling to adopt the discipline and teaching practices that would help reduce the gap, the education establishment tries to conceal it under group projects....

The consequences of the Anything But Knowledge credo for intellectual standards have been dire. Education professors are remarkably casual when it comes to determining whether their students actually know anything, rarely asking them, for example, what can you tell us about the American Revolution? The ed schools incorrectly presume that students have learned everything they need to know in their other or previous college courses, and that the teacher certification exam will screen out people who didn't.

Even if college education were reliably rigorous and comprehensive, education majors aren't the students most likely to profit from it. Nationally, undergraduate education majors have lower SAT and ACT scores than students in any other program of study. Only 16 percent of education majors scored in the top quartile of 1992-1993 graduates, compared with 33 percent of humanities majors. Education majors were overrepresented in the bottom quartile, at 30 percent. In New York City, many education majors have an uncertain command of English--I saw one education student at City College repeatedly write "choce" for "choice"-- and appear altogether ill at ease in a classroom. To presume anything about this population without a rigorous content exit exam is unwarranted.

The laissez-faire attitude toward student knowledge rests on "principled" grounds, as well as on see-no-evil inertia. Many education professors embrace the facile post-structuralist view that knowledge is always political. "An education program can't have content [knowledge] specifics," explains Migdalia Romero, chair of Hunter College's Department of Curriculum and Teaching, "because then you have a point of view. Once you define exactly what finite knowledge is, it becomes a perspective." The notion that culture could possess a pre-political common store of texts and idea is anathema to the modern academic.

The most powerful dodge regurgitates William Heard Kilpatrick's classic "critical thinking" scam. Asked whether a future teacher should know the date of the 1812 war, Professor Romero replied: "Teaching and learning is not about dates, facts, and figures, but about developing critical thinking." When pressed if there were not some core facts that a teacher or student should know, she valiantly held her ground. "There are two ways of looking at teaching and learning," she replied. "Either you are imparting knowledge, giving an absolute knowledge base, or teaching and learning is about dialogue, a dialogue that helps to internalize and to raise questions." Though she offered the disclaimer "of course you need both," Romero added that teachers don't have to know everything, because they can always look things up....

Disregard for language runs deep in the teacher education profession, so much so that ed school professors tolerate glaring language deficiencies in schoolchildren. Last January, Manhattan's Park West High School shut down for a day, so that its faculty could bone up on progressive pedagogy. One of the more popular staff development seminars ws "Using Journals and Learning Logs." The presenters--two Park West teachers and a representative from the New York City Writing Project, an anti-grammar initiative run by the Lehman College's Education School--proudly passed around their students' journal writing, including the following representative entry on "Matriarchys v. pratiarchys [sic]": "The different between Matriarchys and patriarchys is that when the mother is in charge of the house. sometime the children do whatever they want. But sometimes the mother can do both roll as mother and as a father too and they can do it very good." A more personal entry described how the author met her boyfriend: "He said you are so kind I said you noticed and then he hit me on my head. I made-believe I was crying and when he came naire me I slaped him right in his head and than I my grandparients home and he was right behind me. Thats when he asked did I have a boyfriend."

The ubiquitous journal-writing cult holds that such writing should go uncorrected. Fortunately, some Park West teachers bridled at the notion. "At some point, the students go into the job market, and they're not being judged 'holistically,'" protested a black teacher, responding to the invocation of the state's "holistic" model for grading writing. Another teacher bemoaned the Board of Ed's failure to provide guidance on teaching grammar. "My kids are graduating without skills," he lamented.

Such views, however, were decidedly in the minority. "Grammar is related to purpose," soothed the Lehman College representative, educrat code for the proposition that asking students to write grammatically on topics they are not personally "invested in" is unrealistic. A Park West presenter burst out with a more direct explanation for his chilling indifference to student incompetence. "I'm not going to spend my life doing error diagnosis! I'm not going to spend my weekend on that!" Correcting papers used to be part of the necessary drudgery of a teacher's job. No more, with the advent of enlightened views about "self-expression" and "writing with intentionality."

However easygoing the educational establishment is regarding future teachers' knowledge of history, literature, and science, there is one topic that it assiduously monitors: their awareness of racism. To many teacher educators, such an awareness is the most important tool a young teacher can bring to the classroom. It cannot be developed too early. Rosa, a bouncy and enthusiastic junior at Hunter College, has completed only her first semester of education courses, but already she has mastered the most important lesson: American is a racist, imperialist country, most like, say, Nazi Germany. "We are lied to by the very institutions we have come to trust," she recalls from her first-semester reading. "It's all government that's inventing these lies, such as Western heritage."

The source of Rosa's newfound wisdom, Donald Macedo's Literacies of Power: What Americans Are Not Allowed to Know, is an execrable book by any measure. But given its target audience--impressionable education students--it comes close to being a crime. Widely assigned at Hunter, and in use in approximately 150 education schools nationally, it is an illiterate, barbarically ignorant Marxist-inspired screed against America. Macedo opens his first chapter, "Literacy for Stupidification: The Pedagogy of Big Lies," with a quote from Hitler and quickly segues to Ronald Reagan: "While busily calling out slogans from their patriotic vocabulary memory warehouse, these same Americans dutifully vote...for Ronald him a landslide victory...These same voters ascended [sic] to Bush's morally high-minded call to apply international laws against Saddam Hussein's tyranny and his invasion of Kuwait." Standing against this wave of ignorance and imperialism is a lone 12-year-old from Boston, whom Macedo celebrates for his courageous refusal to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

What does any of this have to do with teaching? Everything, it turns out. In the 1960s, educational progressivism took on an explicitly political cast: schools were to fight institutional racism and redistribute power. Today, Columbia's Teachers College holds workshops on cultural and political "oppression," in which students role-play ways to "usurp the existing power structure," and the New York State Regents happily call teachers "the ultimate change agents." To be a change agent, one must first learn to "critique" the existing social structure. Hence, the assignment of such propaganda as Macedo's book.

But Macedo is just one of the political tracts that Hunter force-fed the innocent Rosa in her first semester. She also learned about the evils of traditional children's stories from the education radical Herbert Kohl. In Should We Burn Babar? Kohl weighs the case for and against the dearly beloved children's classic, Babar the Elephant, noting in passing that it prevented him from "questioning the patriarchy earlier." He decides--but let Rosa expound the meaning of Kohl's book: "[Babar]'s like a children's book, right? [But] there's an underlying meaning about colonialism, about like colonialism, and is it OK, it's really like it's OK, but it's like really offensive to the people." Better burn Babar now!...

Though the current diversity battle cry is "All students can learn," the educationists continually lower expectations of what they should learn. No longer are students expected to learn all their multiplication tables in the third grade, as has been traditional. But while American educators come up with various theories about fixed cognitive phases to explain why our children should go slow, other nationalities trounce us. Sometimes, we're trounced in our own backyards, causing cognitive dissonance in local teachers.

A young student at Teachers College named Susan describes incredulously a Korean-run preschool in Queens. To her horror, the school, the Holy Mountain School, violates every progressive tenet: rather than being "student-centered" and allowing each child to do whatever he chooses, the school imposes a curriculum on the children, based on the alphabet. "Each week, the children get a different letter," Susan recalls grimly. Such an approach violates "whole language" doctrine, which holds that students can't "grasp the [alphabetic] symbols without the whole word or the meaning or any context in their lives." In Susan's words, Holy Mountain's further infractions include teaching its wildly international students only in English and failing to provide an "anti-bias multicultural curriculum." The result? By the end of preschool the children learn English and are writing words. Here is the true belief in the ability of all children to learn, for it is backed up by action....

Given progressive education's dismal record, all New Yorkers should tremble at what the Regents have in store for the state. The state's teacher education establishment, led by Columbia's Linda Darling-Hammond, has persuaded the Regents to make its monopoly on teacher credentialing total. Starting in 2003, according to the Regents plan steaming inexorably toward adoption, all teacher candidates must pass through an education school to be admitted to a classroom. We know, alas, what will happen to them there.

This power grab will be a disaster for children. By making ed school inescapable, the Regents will drive away every last educated adult who may not be willing to sit still for its foolishness but who could bring to the classroom unusual knowledge or experience. The nation's elite private schools are full of such people, and parents eagerly proffer tens of thousands of dollars to give their children the benefit of such skill and wisdom.

Amazingly, even the Regents, among the nation's most addled education bodies, sporadically acknowledge what works in the classroom. A Task Force on Teaching paper cites some of the factors that allow other countries to wallop us routinely in international tests: a high amount of lesson content (in other words, teacher-centered, not student-centered, learning), individual tracking of students, and a coherent curriculum. The state should cling steadfastly to its momentary insight, at odds with its usual policies, and discard its foolish plan to enshrine Anything But Knowledge as its sole education dogma. Instead of permanently establishing the teacher education status quo, it should search tirelessly for alternatives and for potential teachers with a firm grasp of subject matter and basic skills. Otherwise ed school claptrap will continue to stunt the intellectual growth of the Empire State's children.

[Heather Mac Donald graduated summa cum laude from Yale, and earned an M.A. at Cambridge University. She holds the J.D. degree from Stanford Law School, and is a John M. Olin Fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor to City Journal]

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10 things you won't learn in school

Marty Abbott & Michael Fisher:

You can learn a lot of things in the classroom.

A lot of the knowledge you'll glean comes in the form of facts (or "laws") on how and why certain things work. A few lessons involve behaviors, such as team work. On very rare occasions, one learns a life lesson.

But there are some things you'll never learn in the classroom. Hopefully, this will fill some of the gaps:

Ethical Challenges Occur More Frequently Than You Expect - Some engineering programs and a large number of business programs offer courses on ethics, but while these courses might expose the student to certain predicaments, they seldom help the student develop the muscle memory necessary to respond to ethical dilemmas.

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At Compton school, teen tutors and adult students learn from each other

Nicole Santa Cruz:

As part of a Compton Adult School tutoring program, adults trying to pass the California High School Exit Examination get an assist from Palos Verdes High students.

Brandy Rice eyed the test question.

She thought of what her tutor directed her to do: Read the entire sentence. Read all the answers.

Instead of playing multiple-choice roulette with the answers as she had so many times before, she followed the directions.

Rice, 26, was one of 20 Compton Adult School students in a tutoring program for the California High School Exit Examination. The tutors weren't teachers, but teenagers from Palos Verdes High School.

The tutors carpooled from the green, laid-back beach community on a hill to Compton every Saturday for five weeks. Most had never before been to Compton and weren't used to getting up at 7 a.m. on a weekend.

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Bill targets school board standards

Jim Walls:

The fallout from Clayton County schools' recent meltdown, in all likelihood, will drift down on Georgia's 179 other boards of education this summer.

Lawmakers are nearing final approval of a bill that would set minimum ethics standards for local school boards and empower the governor, in some cases, to remove members who can't adhere to them. It would take effect July 1.

The measure is a response to the Clayton school system being stripped of accreditation in 2008 over ethical breaches by several board members.

They met behind closed doors and berated staff in public. One worked behind the scenes to fire her son's football coach. Several aligned themselves with competing teachers' groups and voted along union lines.

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Supercool School wants to be the Ning of online education

Paul Boutin:

Supercool School, which allows anyone to create an online learning environment for which they can charge students, says it has a $450 million dollar total addressable market opportunity in the U.S. alone, with over two million potential customers.

Supercool founder Steli Efti told me what he's trying to create is the Ning of Education, allowing anyone to build their own educational site.

"We provide a white label platform that allows everyone to create and customize an online school," he said in an email. "The platform allows for social learning and real-time virtual classrooms and can be turned into a business by monetizing content and courses online."

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K-12 Job Trends Amidst Stimulus Funds: Early Findings

Marguerite Roza, Chris Lozier & Cristina Sepe, via a Deb Britt email:

In February 2009, with some 600,000 education jobs threatened by the worst fiscal downturn in decades, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) allocated about $100 billion to states. Topping the list of ARRA's goals was saving and creating jobs. Since then, states have had to provide quarterly estimates of ARRA-funded jobs, and yet these reports stop far short of telling the whole story on whether the stimulus plan is meeting its job goals. Some have voiced methodological concerns, and many have acknowledged that identifying those jobs paid for by ARRA funds does not imply that the jobs were indeed saved or created.

The larger question that has been left unanswered, however, is whether ARRA has indeed worked to stabilize education employment from what otherwise might have been heavy losses in the current fiscal environment. Or for some, a parallel question is whether ARRA has prompted states to grow their education workforce, thereby making them more vulnerable to a "funding cliff" with larger layoffs when ARRA ends. Answering these questions requires evidence of the greater trend in total K-12 jobs, not just the trends in ARRA-funded jobs.

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First choice for charters, second (or third) chance for players

Josh Barr:

Check out at the boys' basketball rosters for Friendship Collegiate and the Kamit Institute for Magnificent Achievers and the number of transfers on each team is striking. Nearly all of the players on both rosters started their high school careers elsewhere before transferring to one of the two D.C. public charter schools.

"We're cleaning up, we're the last stop," KIMA Coach Levet Brown said. "Do you think I could get a Eugene McCrory if he was doing well somewhere else?"

Indeed, McCrory -- who has committed to play for Seton Hall and was selected to play in the Capital Classic -- attended C.H. Flowers and Parkdale in Prince George's County and Paul VI Catholic in Fairfax during his first three years of high school.

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate Obama (US Government) Pays More Than Buffett as U.S. Risks AAA Rating

Daniel Kruger & Bryan Keogh:

The bond market is saying that it's safer to lend to Warren Buffett than Barack Obama.

Two-year notes sold by the billionaire's Berkshire Hathaway Inc. in February yield 3.5 basis points less than Treasuries of similar maturity, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Procter & Gamble Co., Johnson & Johnson and Lowe's Cos. debt also traded at lower yields in recent weeks, a situation former Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. chief fixed-income strategist Jack Malvey calls an "exceedingly rare" event in the history of the bond market.

The $2.59 trillion of Treasury Department sales since the start of 2009 have created a glut as the budget deficit swelled to a post-World War II-record 10 percent of the economy and raised concerns whether the U.S. deserves its AAA credit rating. The increased borrowing may also undermine the first-quarter rally in Treasuries as the economy improves.

"It's a slap upside the head of the government," said Mitchell Stapley, the chief fixed-income officer in Grand Rapids, Michigan, at Fifth Third Asset Management, which oversees $22 billion. "It could be the moment where hopefully you realize that risk is beginning to creep into your credit profile and the costs associated with that can be pretty scary."

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Moody's fears social unrest as AAA states implement austerity plans

Ambrose Evens-Pritchard:

The world's five biggest AAA-rated states are all at risk of soaring debt costs and will have to implement austerity plans that threaten "social cohnesion", according to a report on sovereign debt by Moody's.

The US rating agency said the US, the UK, Germany, France, and Spain are walking a tightrope as they try to bring public finances under control without nipping recovery in the bud. It warned of "substantial execution risk" in withdrawal of stimulus.

"Growth alone will not resolve an increasingly complicated debt equation. Preserving debt affordability at levels consistent with AAA ratings will invariably require fiscal adjustments of a magnitude that, in some cases, will test social cohesion," said Pierre Cailleteau, the chief author.

"We are not talking about revolution, but the severity of the crisis will force governments to make painful choices that expose weaknesses in society," he said.

If countries tighten too soon, they risk stifling recovery and making maters worse by eroding tax revenues: yet waiting too is "no less risky" as it would test market patience. "At the current elevated debt levels, a rise in the government's cost of funding can very quickly render debt much less affordable."

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Seattle Math Group Update

Martha McLaren:

Thanks to all the people who have written, expressing your support and dedication to this effort, and also to those who have so generously made financial donations. We are many, many people nationwide standing in solidarity in our commitment to make effective math education accessible to all students.

I apologize to those who have looked for news recently on this blog: I've been following other math ed news, but little has been happening directly regarding our lawsuit, so I haven't sat down to give updates.

In the last 6 weeks, there has been an outpouring of support for our lawsuit and its outcome, as well a surge of determination to deflect the tide of inquiry-based math instruction that has flooded so many of our schools. I've been very moved by letters from parents who have struggled (heroically, and often poignantly, it seems to me) to support their children in developing strong math skills despite curricula that they found confusing, unintelligible, and deeply discouraging. I strongly believe that, whether the Seattle School District's appeal of Judge Spector's decision succeeds or fails, the continuing legal action will only heighten public awareness of the tragic and devastating results of the nationwide inquiry-based math experiment. The public NEEDS TO KNOW about this debacle. I think/hope that our lawsuit and its aftermath are helping this to happen.

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Eye-Opener: NCAA's "Dirty Dozen" down to 4

Tom Weir:

Good morning. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan must be fairly pleased with the NCAA tournament results so far. Of the 12 teams he branded as unworthy of being in the tourney because of their graduation rates, eight have been knocked off.

Gone from the "Dirty Dozen" that didn't meet Duncan's standard of at least a 40% grad rate: Arkansas-Pine Bluff (29%), California (20%), Clemson (37%), Georgia Tech (38%), Louisville (38%), Maryland (8%), Missouri (36%), New Mexico State (36%).

Still alive in the Sweet 16: Baylor (36%), Kentucky (31%), Tennessee (30%), Washington (29%). Washington will be an underdog to West Virginia, as will be Tennessee to Ohio State. Baylor will be favored over St. Mary's, and the most interesting matchup of the minds will be Kentucky, facing the Ivy League's Cornell.

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"Are you a PC or a Mac?": an interview with Principal David Elliott on the tech focus of Seattle's Queen Anne Elementary

Mary Cropp:

Among piles of paperwork and shelves crowded with books on edu-topics, David Elliott's office at Coe Elementary is crammed with pictures of baseball teams he has coached, crayoned drawings, and letters with childish handwriting careening all over the page. There's a lot of stuff that he is going to need to haul out of here at the end of June when he moves to become principal at Queen Anne Elementary.

Elliott concedes that a recent shift in focus at this soon-to-open school, coupled with a lack of publicity, has a lot of parents scratching their heads about whether or not to enroll their child in this so called "Option School." And time is running out -- the Open Enrollment period will come to a close on March 31st. To that end, Elliott sat down with me earlier this week (full disclosure: my kids go to Coe Elementary) to discuss this new venture he is heading up. Elliot's answers to my questions are in italics.

At first Seattle Public Schools said that Queen Anne Elementary was going to be a Montessori school. Now it is going to have a "technology" focus. How did that change come about?

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Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures Under Ground - Introduction

Online Gallery:

This manuscript - one of the British Library's best - loved treasures - is the original version of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll, the pen-name of Charles Dodgson, an Oxford mathematician.

Dodgson was fond of children and became friends with Lorina, Alice and Edith Liddell, the young daughters of the Dean of his college, Christ Church. One summer's day in 1862 he entertained them on a boat trip with a story of Alice's adventures in a magical world entered through a rabbit-hole. The ten-year-old Alice was so entranced that she begged him to write it down for her. It took him some time to write out the tale - in a tiny, neat hand - and complete the 37 illustrations. Alice finally received the 90-page book, dedicated to 'a dear child, in memory of a summer day', in November 1864.

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School Districts Losing Public Support: Kansas City

Nicholas Riccardi:

The Kansas City, Mo., district is closing nearly half its campuses after 10 years of dwindling student population. It's what happens when a district loses support of the public it is meant to serve.

During the warm months, when students at Westport High School got too hot, they cooled down by moving to one of the many vacant classrooms on campus. It was one of the advantages of having 400 students assigned to a school that could hold 1,200.

The downside became apparent last week, though, when the Kansas City school board voted to close Westport and 25 other schools -- nearly half of the district's campuses.

Big-city districts shutter schools all the time. Cities such as Denver and Portland, Ore., have seen childless young families repopulate their urban cores and have adjusted accordingly.

But what is happening in Kansas City is different in scale than anywhere else in the country. It's an extreme example of what happens when a school system loses the support of the public it's meant to serve.

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The Decline in the Value of the British Pound Has Reduced the Cost of a Week at Oxford This Summer to $1,564

Arthur Frommer:

When the British Pound had a value of $2 and more (a couple of years ago), most American travelers -- even those in love with everything British -- found that they could no longer afford a week at Oxford University's famous summer courses for foreign adults. Those weeks each cost at least $2,000 per person, plus the cost of trans-Atlantic airfare, and the overall tab was simply too steep to consider.

We've been reminded by the PR rep for Oxford in the United States that the sharp recent decline in the value of the Pound (it now sells for about $1.50) has sharply altered the cost of a week in Oxford. Such weeks, including tuition, accommodation and all meals (everything except private bathrooms and occasional countryside excursions), usually cost £1,050, and that amount currently converts to only $1,564. Where else, Oxford asks, can you get a choice of 50 fascinating courses, accommodations, three copious meals daily, and evening entertainment, for $1,564 -- or little more than $200 a day?

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With the Lure of Generous Aid, Oklahoma State Beckons

Erik Bates:

The challenges of the impending college application process made themselves far too evident when our ACT proctor instructed, "Now fill in the bubbles to select four schools to which you would like your scores sent." It was March of my junior year, and I had scarcely seen four colleges in my life, let alone reviewed their application guidelines and exact mileage away from my front door.

Following standardized testing season, the deluge of information began flooding in -- from counselors, from teachers, and from students. Though the many resources available to applicants are often quite useful, at times I would have rather received one, detailed e-mail than a thousand vague ones.

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Principal, teacher clash on cheating

Jay Matthews:

Last week's column, full of practical suggestions on how to limit cheating, did not seem controversial to me. Many teachers sent their own ideas. Many recommended small adjustments, such as having the questions in different order for different students, to hinder copying.

So I was surprised to hear from Erich Martel, an Advanced Placement U.S. History teacher at Wilson High School in the District, that his principal, Peter Cahall, was critical of him doing that.

Martel's classroom, 18 by 25 feet, feels like shoebox to him. Some days he squeezes in 30 students, plus himself. That is 15 square feet per student, which Martel has been told is well below the district standard of 25 square feet. The cramped conditions led to a disagreement when Cahall assessed Martel's work under the school district's IMPACT teacher evaluation system.

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We don't know how to fix bad schools

Rod Dreher:

From Slate's review of Dianne Ravitch's new book, in which the former advocate of No Child Left Behind and charter schools admits they've failed. Excerpt:
The data, as Ravitch says, disappoints on other fronts, too--not least in failing to confirm high hopes for charter schools, whose freedom from union rules was supposed to make them success stories. To the shock of many (including Ravitch), they haven't been. And this isn't just according to researchers sympathetic to labor. A 2003 national study by the Department of Education (under George W. Bush) found that charter schools performed, on average, no better than traditional public schools. (The study was initially suppressed because it hadn't reached the desired conclusions.) Another study by two Stanford economists, financed by the Walton Family and Eli and Edythe Broad foundations (staunch charter supporters), involved an enormous sample, 70 percent of all charter students. It found that an astonishing 83 percent of charter schools were either no better or actually worse than traditional public schools serving similar populations. Indeed, the authors concluded that bad charter schools outnumber good ones by a ratio of roughly 2 to 1.

Obviously, some high-visibility success stories exist, such as the chain run by the Knowledge Is Power Program, or KIPP, which I've previously discussed here. But these are the decided exceptions, not the rule. And there's no evidence that a majority of eligible families are taking advantage of charters, good or bad. "While advocates of choice"--again, Ravitch included--"were certain that most families wanted only the chance to escape their neighborhood school, the first five years of NCLB demonstrated the opposite," she writes. In California, for example, less than 1 percent of students in failing schools actually sought a transfer. In Colorado, less than 2 percent did. If all this seems a little counterintuitive, Ravitch would be the first to agree. That's why she supported charters in the first place. But the evidence in their favor, she insists, simply hasn't materialized.

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March 22, 2010

Biases Said to Hinder Women in Math, Science

Tamar Lewin:

A report on the underrepresentation of women in science and math by the American Association of University Women, to be released today, found that although women have made gains, stereotypes and cultural biases still impede their success.

The report, "Why So Few?" supported by the National Science Foundation, examined decades of research to gather recommendations for drawing more women into science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the so-called STEM fields.

"We scanned the literature for research with immediate applicability," said Catherine Hill, the university women's research director and lead author of the report. "We found a lot of small things can make a difference, like a course in spatial skills for women going into engineering, or teaching children that math ability is not fixed, but grows with effort."

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When A Stands for Average: Students at the UW-Madison School of Education Receive Sky-High Grades. How Smart is That?

Marc Eisen:

Lake Wobegon has nothing on the UW-Madison School of Education. All of the children in Garrison Keillor's fictional Minnesota town are "above average." Well, in the School of Education they're all A students.

The 1,400 or so kids in the teacher-training department soared to a dizzying 3.91 grade point average on a four-point scale in the spring 2009 semester.

This was par for the course, so to speak. The eight departments in Education (see below) had an aggregate 3.69 grade point average, next to Pharmacy the highest among the UW's schools. Scrolling through the Registrar's online grade records is a discombobulating experience, if you hold to an old-school belief that average kids get C's and only the really high performers score A's.

Much like a modern-day middle school honors assembly, everybody's a winner at the UW School of Education. In its Department of Curriculum and Instruction (that's the teacher-training program), 96% of the undergraduates who received letter grades collected A's and a handful of A/B's. No fluke, another survey taken 12 years ago found almost exactly the same percentage.

A host of questions are prompted by the appearance of such brilliance. Can all these apprentice teachers really be that smart? Is there no difference in their abilities? Why do the grades of education majors far outstrip the grades of students in the physical sciences and mathematics? (Take a look at the chart below.)

The UW-Madison School of Education has no small amount of influence on the Madison School District.

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The foibles of progressive schooling prompt a search for a better alternative

Warren Kozak:

Here's how my formal education began: On a September morning in 1957, my mother and I walked the block and a half to 53rd Street School on Milwaukee's northwest side. We went to the school office, she filled out some forms, said goodbye and "see you at lunch." Here was another Kozak for the Milwaukee Public Schools to educate.

There was, of course, no choice, which made the entire process much simpler. Since we weren't Catholic, the parochial alternative wasn't an option, and if there were any private schools in Milwaukee at the time (there was one), I'm sure my parents never considered it.

There was good reason for my parents' carefree attitude. The public school system in Milwaukee circa 1957 was first-rate. The teachers were committed professionals. The curriculum had not changed appreciably since my parents' day. They were satisfied with their experience and found the public schools perfectly adequate for their children.

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Preschool education: Should it be extended?

Laura Bruno:

One by one the preschoolers washed their hands after having their milk and snacks and sat on a rug, waiting for teacher Jill Dunlop 001 ? 0008.00 00001to introduce the letter of the day.

Using a Hippopotamus hand puppet, Dunlop sounded out the letter "h" and asked the five children, ages 3 to 5, to each identify words such as house, horse and hammer from various pictures on her easel. The abilities of the children ranged from 4-year-old Emma, who can write her name, to 3-year-old Kimberly, a native Spanish speaker who is so painfully shy she doesn't speak a word during the 2 1/2 hour class.

At Butler's Aaron Decker School, these preschoolers are learning to become students three days a week this year, down from five days last year. Local voters rejected the school budget last year, forcing cuts, including the preschool program. Federal stimulus funding was used to restore the limited program, so it's unclear if the program will survive next year.

"We're trying to hold on as much as we can. Three days is better than no days," said Virginia Scala, Decker's principal.

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Meaningful Academic Work

Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review
22 March 2010

In Outliers [2008], Malcolm Gladwell writes [p. 149-159] that: "...three things--autonomy, complexity and a connection between effort and reward--are, most people agree, the three qualities that work has to have if it is to be satisfying...Work that fulfills these three criteria is meaningful." (emphasis in the original)

One of the perennial complaints of students in our schools is that they will never make use of what they are learning, and as for the work they are asked to do, they often say: "Why do we have to learn/do/put up with this?" In short, they often see the homework/schoolwork they are given to do as not very fulfilling or meaningful.

In this article I will argue that reading good history books and writing serious history research papers provide the sort of work which students do find meaningful, worth doing, and not as hard to imagine as having some future use.

In a June 3, 1990 column in The New York Times, Albert Shanker, President of the American Federation of Teachers, wrote:

"...It is also worth thinking about as we consider how to reform our education system. As we've known for a long time, factory workers who never saw the completed product and worked on only a small part of it soon became bored and demoralized, But when they were allowed to see the whole process--or better yet become involved in it--productivity and morale improved. Students are no different. When we chop up the work they do into little bits--history facts and vocabulary and grammar rules to be learned--it's no wonder that they are bored and disengaged. The achievement of The Concord Review's authors offers a different model of learning. Maybe it's time for us to take it seriously."
His point has value twenty years later. Even the current CCSSO National Standards recommend merely snippets of readings, called "informational texts," and "literacy skills" for our students, which, if that is all they get, will likely bore them and disengage them for the reasons that Mr. Shanker pointed out.

Students who read "little bits" of history books have nothing like the engagement and interest that comes from reading the whole book, just as students who "find the main idea" and write little "personal essays," or five-paragraph essays, or short "college" essays, will have nothing comparable to the satisfaction that comes from working on and completing a serious history research paper.

Barbara McClay, a homescholar from Tennessee, while she was in high school, wrote a paper on the "Winter War" between Finland and the Soviet Union. In an interview she was asked why she chose that topic:

"I've been interested in Finland for four years or so, and I had read a book (William Trotter's A Frozen Hell) that interested me greatly on the Winter War; after reading the book, I often asked people if they had ever heard of the Winter War. To my surprise, not only had few of them heard about it, but their whole impression of Finnish-Soviet relations was almost completely different from the one I had received from the book. So there was a sense of indignation alongside my interest in Finland in general and the Winter War in particular: here was this truly magnificent story, and no one cared about it. Or knew about it, at least.

"And it is a magnificent story, whether anyone cares about it or not; it's the stuff legends are made of, really, even down to the fact that Finland lost. And a sad one, too, both for Finland and for the Soviet soldiers destroyed by Soviet incompetence. And there's so much my paper couldn't even begin to go into; the whole political angle, for instance, which is very interesting, but not really what I wanted to write about. But the story as a whole, with all of its heroes and villains and absurdities--it's amazing. Even if it were as famous as Thermopylae, and not as relatively obscure an event as it is, it would still be worth writing about.

"So what interested me, really, was the drama, the pathos, the heroism, all from this little ignored country in Northern Europe. What keeps a country fighting against an enemy it has no hope of defeating? What makes us instantly feel a connection with it?"

Perhaps this will give a feeling for the degree of engagement a young student can find in reading a good nonfiction history book and writing a serious [8,500-word, plus endnotes and bibliography] history research paper. [The Concord Review, 17/3 Spring 2007]

Now, before I get a lot of messages informing me that our American public high school students, even Seniors, are incapable of reading nonfiction books and writing 8,500 words on any topic, allow me to suggest that, if true, it may be because we need to put in place our "Page Per Year Plan," which would give students practice, every year in school, in writing about something other than themselves. Thus, a first grader could assemble a one-page paper with one source, a fifth grader a five-page paper with five sources, a ninth grade student a nine-page with nine sources, and so on, and in that way, each and every Senior in our high schools could write a twelve-page paper [or better] with twelve sources [or better] about some historical topic.

By the time that Senior finished that paper, she/he would probably know more about that topic than anyone else in the building, and that would indeed be a source of engagement and satisfaction, in addition to providing great "readiness" for college and career writing tasks.

As one of our authors wrote:

...Yet of all my assignments in high school, none has been so academically and intellectually rewarding as my research papers for history. As young mathematicians and scientists, we cannot hope to comprehend any material that approaches the cutting edge. As young literary scholars, we know that our interpretations will almost never be original. But as young historians, we see a scope of inquiry so vast that somewhere, we must be able to find an idea all our own.
In writing this paper, I read almanacs until my head hurt. I read journal articles and books. I thought and debated and analyzed my notes. And finally, I had a synthesis that I could call my own. That experience--extracting a polished, original work from a heap of history--is one without which no student should leave high school."
This paper [5,500 words with endnotes and bibliography; Daniel Winik, The Concord Review, 12/4 Summer 2002] seems to have allowed this student to take a break from the boredom and disengagement which comes to so many whose school work is broken up into little bits and pieces and "informational texts" rather than actual books and term papers.

If I were made the U.S. Reading and Writing Czar at the Department of Education, I would ask students to read one complete history book [i.e. "cover-to-cover" as it was called back in the day] each year, too. When Jay Mathews of The Washington Post recently called for nonfiction book ideas for high school students, I suggested David McCullough's Mornings on Horseback, for Freshmen, David Hackett Fischer's Washington's Crossing for Sophomores, James McPherson's Battle Cry of Freedom for Juniors, and David McCullough's The Path Between the Seas for all Seniors. Naturally there could be big fights over titles even if we decided to have our high schools students read nonfiction books, but it would be tragic if the result was that they continue to read none of them. Remember the high school English teacher in New York state who insisted that her students read a nonfiction book chosen from the New York Times nonfiction bestseller list, and a big group of her female students chose The Autobiography of Paris Hilton...

When I was teaching United States History to Sophomores at the public high school in Concord, Massachusetts in the 1980s, I used to assign a 5-7-page paper (at the time I did not know what high schools students could actually accomplish, if they were allowed to work hard) on the Presidents. My reasoning was that every President has just about every problem of the day arrive on his desk, and a paper on a President would be a way of learning about the history of that day. Students drew names, and one boy was lucky enough to draw John F. Kennedy, a real coup. He was quite bright, so, on a whim, I gave him my copy of Arthur Schleshinger, Jr.'s A Thousand Days. He looked at it, and said, "I can't read this." But, he took it with him and wrote a very good paper and gave the book back to me. Several years later, when he was a Junior at Yale, he wrote to thank me. He said he was very glad I had made him read that first complete history book, because it helped his confidence, etc. Now, I didn't make him read it, he made himself read it. I would never have known if he read it or not. I didn't ask him.

But it made me think about the possibility of assigning complete history books to our high school students.

After I began The Concord Review in 1987, I had occasion to write an article now and then, for Education Week and others, in which I argued for the value of having high school students read complete nonfiction books and write real history research papers, both for the intrinsic value of such efforts and for their contribution to the student's preparation for "college and career."

Then, in 2004, The National Endowment for the Arts spent $300,000 on a survey of the reading of fiction by Americans, including young Americans. They concluded that it was declining, but it made me wonder if anyone would fund a much smaller study of the reading of nonfiction by students in our high schools, and I wrote a Commentary in Education Week ["Bibliophobia" October 4, 2006] asking about that.

No funding was forthcoming and still no one seems to know (or care much) whether our students typically leave with their high school diploma in hand but never having read a single complete history book. We don't know how many of our students have never had the chance to make themselves read such a book, so that when they get to college they can be glad they had that preparation, like my old student.

As E.D. Hirsch and Daniel Willingham have pointed out so often, it takes knowledge to enrich understanding and the less knowledge a student has the more difficult it is for her/him to understand what she/he is reading in school. Complete history books are a great source of knowledge, of course, and they naturally provide more background to help our students understand more and more difficult reading material as they are asked to become "college and career ready."

Reading a complete history book is a challenge for a student who has never read one before, just as writing a history research paper is a challenge to a student who has never been asked to do one, but we might consider why we put off such challenges until students find themselves (more than one million a year now, according to the Diploma to Nowhere report) pushed into remedial courses when they arrive at college.

It may be argued that not every student will respond to such an academic challenge, and of course no student will if never given the challenge, but I have found several thousand high school students, from 44 states and 36 other countries, who did:

"Before, I had never been much of a history student, and I did not have much more than a passing interest for the subject. However, as I began writing the paper, the myriad of facts, the entanglement of human relations, and the general excitement of the subject fired my imagination and my mind. Knowing that to submit to The Concord Review, I would have to work towards an extremely high standard, I tried to channel my newly found interest into the paper. I deliberately chose a more fiery, contentious, and generally more engaging style of writing than I was normally used to, so that my paper would better suit my thesis. The draft, however, lacked proper flow and consistency, and so when I wrote the final copy, I restructured the entire paper, reordering the points, writing an entirely new introduction, refining the conclusion, and doing more research to cover areas of the paper that seemed lacking. I replaced almost half of the content with new writing, and managed to focus the thesis into a more sustained, more forceful argument. You received that final result, which was far better than the draft had been.

In the end, working on that history paper, ["Political Machines," Erich Suh, The Concord Review, 12/4, Summer 2002, 5,800 words] inspired by the high standard set by The Concord Review, reinvigorated my interest not only in history, but also in writing, reading and the rest of the humanities. I am now more confident in my writing ability, and I do not shy from difficult academic challenges. My academic and intellectual life was truly altered by my experience with that paper, and the Review played no small role! Without the Review, I would not have put so much work into the paper. I would not have had the heart to revise so thoroughly; instead I would have altered my paper only slightly, enough to make the final paper a low 'A', but nothing very great. Your Concord Review set forth a goal towards which I toiled, and it was a very fulfilling, life-changing experience."

If this is such a great idea, and does so much good for students' engagement and academic preparation, why don't we do it? When I was teaching--again, back in the day 26 years ago--I noticed in one classroom a set of Profiles in Courage, and I asked my colleagues about them. They said they had bought the set and handed them out, but the students never read them, so they stopped handing them out.

This is a reminder of the death of the book report. If we do not require our students to read real books and write about them (with consequences for a failure to do so), they will not do that reading and writing, and, as a result, their learning will be diminished, their historical knowledge will be a topic for jokes, and they will not be able to write well enough either to handle college work or hold down a demanding new job.

As teachers and edupundits surrender on those requirements, students suffer. There is a saying outside the training facility for United States Marine Corps drill instructors, which says, in effect, "I will train my recruits with such diligence that if they are killed in combat, it will not be because I failed to prepare them."

I do realize that college and good jobs are not combat (of course there are now many combat jobs too) but they do provide challenges for which too many of our high school graduates are clearly not ready.

Some teachers complain, with good reason, that they don't have the time to monitor students as they read books, write book reports and work on serious history research papers, and that is why they can't ask students to do those essential (and meaningful) tasks. Even after they realize that the great bulk of the time spent on complete nonfiction books and good long term papers is the student's time, they still have a point about the demands on their time.

Many (with five classes) now do not have the time to guide such work and to assess it carefully for all their students, but I would ask them (and their administrators) to look at the time put aside each week at their high school for tackling and blocking practice in football or layup drills in basketball or for band rehearsal, etc., etc., and I suggest that perhaps reading books and writing serious term papers are worth some extra time as well, and that the administrators of the system, if they have an interest in the competence of our students in reading and writing, should consider making teacher time available during the school day, week, and year, for work on these tasks, which have to be almost as essential as blocking and tackling for our students' futures.


"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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The World Needs All Kinds of Minds

Ted Talks:

Temple Grandin, diagnosed with autism as a child, talks about how her mind works -- sharing her ability to "think in pictures," which helps her solve problems that neurotypical brains might miss. She makes the case that the world needs people on the autism spectrum: visual thinkers, pattern thinkers, verbal thinkers, and all kinds of smart geeky kids.

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Rules on Writing

Molly Young:

Deep down, we know the rules of writing. Or the rule, rather, which is that there are no rules. That's it. That's the takeaway point from any collection of advice, any Paris Review interview and any book on writing, whether it be Stephen King's "On Writing" or Joyce Carol Oates's "The Faith of a Writer" (both excellent, by the way, but only as useful as a reader chooses to make them).

Despite this fact, writers continue to write about writing and readers continue to read them. In honour of Elmore Leonard's contribution to the genre, "Elmore Leonard's 10 Rules of Writing", the Guardian recently compiled a massive list of writing rules from Margaret Atwood, Zadie Smith, Annie Proulx, Jeanette Winterson, Colm Tóibín and many other authors generous enough to add their voices to the chorus.

Among the most common bits of advice: write every day, rewrite often, read your work out loud, read a lot of books and don't write for posterity. Standards aside, the advice generally breaks down into three categories: the practical, the idiosyncratic and the contradictory. From Margaret Atwood we learn to use pencils on airplanes because pens leak. From Elmore Leonard we learn that adverbs stink, prologues are annoying and the weather is boring. Jonathan Franzen advises us to write in the third person, usually.

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Tweak Hartford's Teacher Seniority System To Preserve School Strengths

Hartford Courant:

It is easy to get drawn into the union-management aspects of public education and forget that the schools are there for the kids. What the kids need are stars in the classroom: great teachers.

With that in mind, the public should support the effort by Hartford school leaders to change from a system of district-wide teacher seniority to one of school-based seniority.

The city's Board of Education voted Tuesday to ask the State Board of Education to step in and change this contractual guarantee. The state board has the authority to intervene in low-achieving schools to alter a union contract, but to date has never done so.

Under the current rules, the least experienced teachers are the first to be laid off and can be "bumped" by more experienced teachers from any school in the district. This can result in a disruptive shuffle of teachers among various schools.

Supporters of the proposed change say this endangers the quality of specialty schools, where particular themes or methods require teachers to have special qualifications or training.

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PCSB School Performance Reports

District of Columbia Public Charter School Board 2009:

The D.C. Public charter school board (Pcsb) has produced a detailed annual performance report for each school under its oversight since 1999. Each school report provides a school profile, including enrollment, attendance and discipline, demographic, graduation and college acceptance data; a review of the Pcsb's evaluations of each school's academic, financial, compliance and governance performance, as well as board actions; test data, and each school's self- described unique accomplishments. the reports are intended to be a resource for consumer decision-making and public accountability. the notes on page 5 and 6 explain each section of the school performance report and the source of the data, as appropriate.

the 2009 school Performance reports include data collected during the 2008-2009 school year. as the sole chartering authority in Washington, D.C., the D.C. Public charter school board remains committed to its role as a partner in the city-wide effort to raise student academic achievement and improve public education in D.c., by providing families with quality public charter school options.

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"Don't blame teachers unions for our failing schools"

For the motion: Kate McLaughlin, Gary Smuts, Randi Weingarten Against the motion: Terry Moe, Rod Paige, Larry Sand Moderator: John Donvan:

Before the debate:

After the debate:
Robert Rozenkranz: Thank you all very much for coming. It's my pleasure to welcome you. My job in these evenings is to frame the debate. And we thought this one would be interesting because it seems like unions would be acting in their own self interest and in the interest of their members. In the context of public education, this might mean fighting to have the highest number of dues paying members at the highest possible levels of pay and benefits. With the greatest possible jobs security. It implies resistance to technological innovation, to charter schools, to measuring and rewarding merit and to dismissals for almost any reason at all. Qualifications, defined as degrees from teacher's colleges, trump subject matter expertise. Seniority trumps classroom performance. Individual teachers, perhaps the overwhelming majority of them do care about their students but the union's job is to advocate for teachers, not for education. But is that a reason to blame teachers unions for failing schools? The right way to think about this is to hold all other variables constant. Failing schools are often in failing neighborhoods where crime and drugs are common and two parent families are rare. Children may not be taught at home to restrain their impulses or to work now for rewards in the future, or the value and importance of education. Even the most able students might find it hard to progress in classrooms dominated by students of lesser ability who may be disinterested at best and disruptive at worse. In these difficult conditions, maybe teachers know better than remote administrators what their students need and the unions give them an effective voice. Maybe unions do have their own agenda. But is that really the problem? Is there strong statistical evidence that incentive pay improves classroom performance? Or is that charter schools produce better results? Or that strong unions spell weak educational outcomes, holding everything else constant? That it seems to us is the correct way to frame tonight's debate, why we expect it will give you ample reason to think twice.

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Learning Without Schools: Four Points To Free Yourself From The Educational Get-Certified Mantra

Robin Good:

I guess we can agree: the world is changing at an increasingly faster pace, and the volume of information is growing at an explosive rate.

Change is the name of the game these days and who lives and works off the Internet knows how true this indeed is. But... how are we preparing and equipping our younger generations to live and to cope with such fast-paced scenario-changing realities and with the vast amount of information we drink-in and get exposed to without any crap-filtering skills?
Excerpted from my guest night at Teemu Arina's Dicole OZ in Helsinski, here are some of my strong, uncensored thoughts about school and academic education in general.

In this four-point recipe I state what I think are the some of the key new attitudes we need to consider taking if we want to truly help some of your younger generations move to a higher level of intellectual and pragmatical acumen, beyond the one that most get from our present academic system.

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Fall 2011 could be end for Alabama tuition plan

Phillip Rawls:

Alabama's prepaid college tuition plan appears unable to pay tuition beyond the fall semester of 2011 and still have enough money to provide refunds to the 44,000 participants, administrators said.

For leaders of the Save Alabama PACT parents group, that creates the need for the Legislature to find a solution in the current legislative session.

Patti Lambert of Decatur, the group's co-founder, said she would prefer a solution in the Statehouse rather than the courthouse, but members may have no choice but to join a handful of parents who have already sued the state to demand the program keep its promise of full tuition.

"I suspect we will be forced to. We are certainly not going to wait until we have no room to maneuver," Lambert said in an interview Tuesday.

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Incoming Milwaukee Public Schools' chief Thornton gives clues to his priorities

Alan Borsuk:

Gregory Thornton wants to fly pretty much below the radar right now.

The incoming superintendent of Milwaukee Public Schools says he doesn't take over until July 1, he doesn't want to interfere with the current superintendent, William Andrekopoulos, and he's just beginning to know the people and issues in his visits to Milwaukee. So he doesn't want to get too specific or out front with what he wants to do with his new job.

But talk to him for 75 minutes in a private room at a cafe and you begin to see where he wants to go, and it includes places that might please some who didn't favor him being hired and displease some who did.

In short: If you like what Michael Bonds is doing as president of the School Board, there's a strong chance you'll like Thornton.

Bonds has become a strong force within MPS in the year since he became head of the nine-member board. He is assertive, firm and smart politically. He wants the board to have more power over MPS, and that's happening. He was at the center of the fight to stop Gov. Jim Doyle and Mayor Tom Barrett's bid to switch to mayoral control of MPS, and he's winning.

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I Won't Buy Toys. Unless I Really Want Them.

Stephen Kreider Yoder, Isaac Yoder & Levi Yoder:

This is uncomfortable for me, but it's time we talked about adult toys.

The kind we can talk about, I mean: the nonessentials in our golf bags and cellphone cases, in our kitchens and garages.

Grown-ups' toys are a parent-teen money issue, I'd argue, because we send signals to our children about financial behavior when we buy big-screen TVs or iPhones or new cars.

It's an uncomfortable issue because I'm conflicted: My upbringing makes frugality my dominant instinct, but I also like gadgets, tools, cameras and other indefensibles.

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Teachers Skeptical Of Obama's Education Plan

All Things Considered:

President Obama is proposing a massive rewrite of the No Child Left Behind policy. But many teachers are skeptical. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, says the president's plan gives teachers full responsibility but no authority.

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Public Education Reform: Still Separate But Not Equal in 2010

Tamara Holder:

In 1954, Brown v. Board of Education (of Topeka) ruled that separate was not equal. The ruling allowed for the integration of students from all races and socio-economic status to receive an equal education under the same roof. But now, America's public school system is in shambles, and the poorest kids are the only ones underneath the rubble. (For example, Chicago's public schools have dwindled from 75,000 students to 25,000 students, thanks to charter schools and private schools.)

No Child Left Behind was a complete failure.

Now, it is the duty of the administration to fix America's destroyed public education system.

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March 21, 2010

How brains learn to see: Pawan Sinha

Ted Talks:

Pawan Sinha details his groundbreaking research into how the brain's visual system develops. Sinha and his team provide free vision-restoring treatment to children born blind, and then study how their brains learn to interpret visual data. The work offers insights into neuroscience, engineering and even autism.

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The Case for Saturday School

Chester Finn:

Kids in China already attend school 41 days a year more than students in the U.S. Now, schools across the country are cutting back to four-day weeks. Chester E. Finn Jr. on how to build a smarter education system.

"He who labors diligently need never despair, for all things are accomplished by diligence and labor." --Menander

How many days a year did the future Alexander the Great study with Aristotle? Did Socrates teach Plato on Saturdays as well as weekdays? During summer's heat and winter's chill?

Though such details remain shrouded in mystery, historians have unearthed some information about education in ancient times. Spartans famously put their children through a rigorous public education system, although the focus was on military training rather than reading and writing. Students in Mesopotamia attended their schools from sunrise to sunset.

In the face of budget shortfalls, school districts in many parts of the United States today are moving toward four-day weeks. This is despite evidence that longer school weeks and years can improve academic performance. Schoolchildren in China attend school 41 days a year more than most young Americans--and receive 30% more hours of instruction. Schools in Singapore operate 40 weeks a year. Saturday classes are the norm in Korea and other Asian countries--and Japanese authorities are having second thoughts about their 1998 decision to cease Saturday-morning instruction. This additional time spent learning is one big reason that youngsters from many Asian nations routinely out-score their American counterparts on international tests of science and math.

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The New Public Option

Michael Bendetson:

How has the United States responded to this global challenge in education? We continue to lower our standards. While No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was a major step in education reform, it has inadvertently created a system where states continue to lower the expectations bar. In 2007, only 18% of Mississippi students scored proficient in the standardized national reading test. However, 88% scored proficient in the standardized state reading test. While Mississippi can be considered an extreme, a Department of Education report acknowledged, "state-defined proficiency standards are often far lower than proficiency standards on the NAEP." While under this system test scores have improved slightly, our student's education level has remained constant. As states are under enormous pressure to show improvements in test scores, standards are lowered. While politicians avoid future trouble, our children inherit it.

Even our once seemingly monopoly on higher education has eroded in recent years. While ranking 2nd in the world in older adults with a college diploma, the U.S. has slipped to 8th in the world in young adults with a college diploma. As other countries continue to provide numerous incentives for their students to attend universities, the United States seems content in allowing higher education to climb ever higher out of the reach of ordinary Americans. Furthermore, China and other Asian countries have created a higher education system that is far more useful in equipping its students with the needs to survive in a 21st century economy. More than 50 percent of undergraduate degrees awarded in China are in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math, compared to just 16 percent in the United States. While we are focused on creating litigators and lawyers, China and our competitors are creating the entrepreneurs and engineers of the future.

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British boy receives pioneering stem cell surgery - from his own cells


British and Italian doctors have carried out groundbreaking surgery to rebuild the windpipe of a 10-year-old British boy using stem cells developed within his own body, they said.

In an operation Monday lasting nearly nine hours, doctors at London's Great Ormond Street children's hospital implanted the boy with a donor trachea, or windpipe, that had been stripped of its cells and injected with his own.

Over the next month, doctors expect the boy's bone marrow stem cells to begin transforming themselves within his body into tracheal cells -- a process that, if successful, could lead to a revolution in regenerative medicine.

The new organ should not be rejected by the boy's immune system, a risk in traditional transplants, because the cells are derived from his own tissue.

"This procedure is different in a number of ways, and we believe it's a real milestone," said Professor Martin Birchall, head of translational regenerative medicine at University College London.

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Academics and state wealth

David Shaffer & David Wright:

Even before the current recession hit, the competitive challenges of a global economy were putting ever more pressure on the economic development efforts mounted by state governments across the country.
States that once could dangle their low costs of doing business to lure industry from other states have suddenly faced competition from even lower-cost places such as China and Southeast Asia. Many have been scrambling to catch up with ever-growing packages of tax incentives and grants - so much so that critics have fretted about "an economic war between the states," as the organization Good Jobs Now calls it.

But while states scramble, the ground has shifted beneath them. The economic development contest is changing.

Traditional economic development efforts have focused on leveraging money, in one guise or another. Some states had lower costs and lower taxes to brag about - money. Some emphasized helping new industry by improving roads and water and sewers - money. Some tried to make up for high costs by offering various grants and tax breaks - in other words, money.

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Despite Gains, Albany Charter School Is Told to Close

Trip Gabriel:

ccountability is a mantra of the charter school movement. Students sign pledges at some schools to do their homework, and teachers owe their jobs to students' gains on tests.

Attrition rates have been criticized, but Mr. Jean-Baptiste said, "We attract more than the amount of students we lose."

But as New York State moves to shut down an 11-year-old charter school in Albany, whose test scores it acknowledges beat the city's public schools last year, it is apparent that holding schools themselves accountable is not always so easy, or bloodless, as numbers on a page.

The principal, teachers and families of the New Covenant school have mounted a furious defense, citing rising achievement as well as their fears for the loss of a safe harbor from chaotic homes and streets, where teachers deliver homework to parents who are in jail to keep them involved, and the dean of students chases gang members from a nearby park.

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Should schools use seclusion rooms, restraints?

Shawn Doherty:

By age 2 Donovan Richards was kicked out of day care for hitting. At age 3, he was obsessed with dinosaurs and utterly uninterested in other children. At 4, he was hospitalized for mania after he threatened to kill himself with his toy sword. And by 5, he was on medicine for bipolar and autism spectrum disorders. One doctor told Paula Buege her son would end up in an institution. Buege vowed to help him remain at home and go to public school in Middleton instead.

He was a handful there. School records from a grim stretch in November 2001 show Donovan, then 7, was given frequent timeouts and suspended several days in a row. "Donovan was being escorted to the calming room. When the special education aide tried to remove a ball from the room, Donovan lay on the ball and bit the EA on the wrist. He also hit her arm with the door when she was trying to get out of the room," read one report. The next school day, Donovan threw wood chips in a classmate's face and was put into the "quiet" room again. "He repeatedly kicked the wall and slammed the window with great force, spit on walls and shouted profanity," his teacher wrote.

Followup article here.

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March 20, 2010

Teenager is Tasered at Madison Memorial High School

Wisconsin State Journal:

A 16-year-old Madison boy hiding in a bathroom at Memorial High School was Tasered and arrested Friday morning after he acted combative toward police.

The teenage student, who was not supposed to be inside the school at 201 S. Gammon Road, was found just before noon in the bathroom and was non-compliant and confrontational toward an assistant principal and a Madison Police Department educational resource officer, police said.

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University Finances: The posh, the poor and the pushed

The Economist:

TREASURE the things that are difficult to attain, urges a Chinese motto. It is sage advice that the body which distributes money to English universities seems to be following. On March 17th it said that, although there was less cash in the pot than last year, it would spend less on shiny new buildings (and propping up ancient ones) so that it could afford more for first-rate research and the harder sorts of teaching.

Like other public services, universities have enjoyed a funding boom for more than a decade. Their total income doubled between 1997 and 2009, whereas student numbers increased by just 20%. Academic pay rose and spending on the stuff that motivates many of them--that is, research--rocketed. Wise financial officers squirrelled away money into physical assets such as student accommodation.

Now the public coffers are empty and deals must be done. Excellent research will be funded and mediocre work left to fend for itself. Science, technology, engineering and medicine will prosper at the expense of other subjects. Universities that attract students from poor families who are hard to recruit and liable to drop out will be rewarded for their efforts, albeit not enough to cover their full cost. All this will allow excellence to flourish but choke those in the middle.

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Need Help with an article on Cyber Bullying

Via a Maggie Ginsberg-Schutz email:

Families and/or kids needed to discuss personal experience with cyber bullying. A reporter for a local print publication is putting together an in-depth look at electronic aggression and kids/teens. She is looking for real stories that go beyond the statistics. First names only (unless you're comfortable giving more), along with some general information like age and area (for example, "12-year-old John from Verona"). Unfortunately, time is crunched. If you have a personal experience with harassment, humiliation, or bullying on MySpace, Facebook, blogs, Twitter, text messaging, or something similar, please contact Maggie at 608-437-4659 or as soon as possible.

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Detroit Plan Would Close 45 Schools

Susan Saulny:

In a continuing overhaul of one of the most troubled school systems in the nation, officials in Detroit on Wednesday announced a plan to close 45 of 172 public schools at the end of the academic year. The move is the latest in a string of efforts aimed at rescuing an academically failing district in the midst of a financial crisis.

Detroit has closed more than 100 schools since 2004, yet still has more than 50,000 excess seats throughout the system.

Robert C. Bobb, the emergency manager appointed last year by Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm to take control of the schools, proposed the closings, which would eliminate as many as 2,100 jobs, in the face of a deficit expected to peak at $316.6 million and a dwindling student population.

Only 3 percent of Detroit fourth graders were proficient in math on the last National Assessment of Educational Progress, an annual test of basic skills. The district is the largest in Michigan, with 87,000 students, most of whom are poor and black.

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One Classroom, From Sea to Shining Sea

Susan Jacoby:

AMERICAN public education, a perennial whipping boy for both the political right and left, is once again making news in ways that show how difficult it will be to cure what ails the nation's schools.

Only last week, President Obama declared that every high school graduate must be fully prepared for college or a job (who knew?) and called for significant changes in the No Child Left Behind law. In Kansas City, Mo., officials voted to close nearly half the public schools there to save money. And the Texas Board of Education approved a new social studies curriculum playing down the separation of church and state and even eliminating Thomas Jefferson -- the author of that malignant phrase, "wall of separation" -- from a list of revolutionary writers.

Each of these seemingly unrelated developments is part of a crazy quilt created by one of America's most cherished and unexamined traditions: local and state control of public education. Schooling had been naturally decentralized in the Colonial era -- with Puritan New England having a huge head start on the other colonies by the late 1600s -- and, in deference to the de facto system of community control already in place, the Constitution made no mention of education. No one in either party today has the courage to say it, but what made sense for a sparsely settled continent at the dawn of the Republic is ill suited to the needs of a 21st-century nation competing in a global economy.

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Wisconsin tax collections fall again

Mike Ivey:

An increase in tobacco and corporate tax collections early in 2010 has helped Wisconsin stay out of an even bigger budget hole.

New figures from the Wisconsin Department of Revenue show that overall tax collections continue to fall because of the recession, although there are some positive trends.

Income taxes, the largest single source of revenue for the state, fell 8.7 percent on an adjusted basis for January and February 2010 compared to the same two months in 2009. The state is reporting $878 million in income tax collections so far in 2010 vs. $962 million in 2009.

Sales tax, the second largest source of revenue, fell 5.3 percent in the first two months of 2010 to $648 million vs. $684 million in 2009.

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More Than 40 Detroit Schools to Close in June

Associated Press:

Doors are expected to shut on more than a quarter of Detroit's 172 public schools in June as the district fights through steadily declining enrollment and a budget deficit of more than $219 million, an emergency financial manager said Wednesday.

Three aging, traditional and underpopulated high schools would be among the 44 proposed closures. Another six schools are to be closed in June 2011, followed by seven more a year later, emergency financial manager Robert Bobb said Wednesday. This summer's closings also include a support building.

The proposed closures are part of a $1 billion, five-year plan to shrink a struggling school district while improving education, test scores and student safety in a city whose population has declined with each decade. The 2010 U.S. Census is expected to show that fewer than 900,000 people now live in Detroit.

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March 19, 2010

Discussing the Madison School District's 2010-2011 Budget

Don Severson & Vicki McKenna on WIBA AM Radio: 23MB mp3 audio.

Much more on the 2010-2011 budget here.

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Highest & Lowest States for Property Taxes: Dane County, WI (Madison) is ranked 53rd as a % of Income

AOL Real Estate:

Hoping for lower property taxes? Head south. A 2009 Tax Foundation ranking shows that the 10 states with the lowest property taxes are all in the South. The homeowners there pay, on average, less than $1,000 a year in property taxes, while those in the East can pay more than six times as much.

A Tax Foundation map of states (pictured) shows 16 states, highlighted in blue, where residents pay in property taxes 1.2% or greater of their home's value. The 19 white states fall between 0.65% and 1.20%, while the 15 yellow states pay the least.a

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A Setback for Educational Civil Rights

Theodore Hesburgh:

I cannot believe that a Democratic administration will let this injustice of killing D.C. vouchers stand.

When President Dwight D. Eisenhower asked me to become one of the founding members of the newly formed U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, African-Americans drank at separate water fountains and our schools were segregated. A decade later, when people came together to march against these injustices, the idea that a black man could ever be elected president of the United States was still something for dreamers. My experience with that great movement gives me a particular appreciation for the historic importance of the presidency of Barack Obama--and the new dreams that his example will inspire in our young.

If Martin Luther King Jr. told me once, he told me a hundred times that the key to solving our country's race problem is plain as day: Find decent schools for our kids. So I was especially heartened to hear Education Secretary Arne Duncan repeatedly call education the "civil rights issue of our generation." Millions of our children--disproportionately poor and minority--remain trapped in failing public schools that condemn them to lives on the fringe of the American Dream.

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Why Isn't Everybody Learning Online?

Tom Vander Ark:

Pretty good free online K-12 learning options exist in most states, so why aren't more students learning online? There are more than 2 million students learning online and that's growing by more than 30% annually, but there are five significant barriers to more rapid adoption:
  1. Babysitting: Don't underestimate the custodial aspect of school--it's nice to have a place to send the kids every day. Homeschooling continues to grow aided by online learning but will never exceed 10% because most folks don't want their kids around all day every day or just can't afford to stay home.
  2. Money & Jobs: At the request of employee groups, the Louisiana state board recently rejected three high quality virtual charter applications. Districts don't want to lose enrollment revenue and unions don't want to lose jobs.
  3. Tradition: Layers of policies stand in the way of learning online starting with seat time requirements--butts in seats for 180 hours with a locally certificated teacher plowing through an adopted textbook.
There are likely many opportunities to offer online learning options for our students, particularly in tight budget times.

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High schools should dare to measure success differently

Jay Matthews:

On my blog,, I gush over my many genius ideas, worthy of the Nobel Prize for education writing if there was one. Here is a sample from last month:

"Why not take the Collegiate Learning Assessment, a new essay exam that measures analysis and critical thinking, and apply it to high schools? Some colleges give it to all of their freshmen, and then again to that class when they are seniors, and see how much value their professors at that college have added. We could do the same for high schools, with maybe a somewhat less strenuous version."

Readers usually ignore these eruptions of ego. But after I posted that idea, a young man named Chris Jackson e-mailed me that his organization had thought of it four years ago and had it up and running. Very cheeky, I thought, but also intriguing. I never thought anyone would try such a daring concept. If your high school's seniors didn't score much better than your freshmen, what would you do? What schools would have the courage to put themselves to that test or, even worse, quantify the level of their failure, as the program does?

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The education president

Chicago Tribune:

Rhode Island's Central Falls High School faces a world of problems. Not quite half of the freshmen class of 2005 went on to graduate last year. A little more than half of the juniors passed a state reading test. In math, just 7 percent passed.

Superintendent Frances Gallo asked her teachers to step up, to help her turn around their failing school. She asked them to teach 25 minutes more each day. She asked them to tutor the kids, to eat lunch once a week with the kids, to spend more time learning how to teach effectively.

She also offered to increase their pay. Teachers at Central Falls do well: $72,000 to $78,000 a year. Gallo offered them a $3,400 bump.

The teachers union said no.

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West Virginia To Turn School Buses Into Ticket Machines

The Newspaper:

Faced with a $120 million budget deficit, West Virginia lawmakers are turning to school buses to bring in desperately needed revenue. The House of Delegates voted 98-0 Saturday to give final approval to House Bill 4223 which allows county school boards to deploy buses to issue $500 automated tickets. The proposal becomes law with the signature of Governor Joe Manchin (D).

"Every county board of education is hereby authorized to mount a camera on any school bus for the purpose of enforcing this section or for any other lawful purpose," House Bill 4223 states.

Private companies have been traveling to school boards around the country offering to install the cameras at no cost. The company would then issue tickets, collect on the fines and deposit a significant cut of the profits into the school board's bank account with no work required on the school's part. The Italian firm Elsag, for example, ran a test of the system in New York state last year. West Virginia's law, however, would require photographing the driver when issuing the citations. For the first ticket, a thirty-day license suspension is mandatory, with a judge having discretion to impose a six-month jail sentence. After a third ticket is mailed, jail time is mandatory. Arizona currently is the only state that jails vehicle owners based solely on the evidence provided by a ticket camera.

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Education Reform: Has Obama Found a Bipartisan Issue?

Alex Altman:

When the bare-knuckled brawl over health-care reform finally wraps up, and the Obama Administration pivots to less divisive topics, education reform may be one of the few issues capable of drawing bipartisan support. The Obama Administration's proposed overhaul of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) could resonate with Republicans, many of whom have been disappointed with the results of George W. Bush's signature education initiative. Obama's blueprint, which was sent to Congress March 15, sets forth an ambitious national standard --that by 2020, all students graduate high school ready for college or a career -- but leaves the specifics on how to achieve this goal up to state and local authorities. "Yes, we set a high bar," President Obama said in his weekly radio address. "But we also provide educators the flexibility to reach it."

With more than 1 million high school students dropping out every year and the U.S. lagging behind many of its competitors on achievement benchmarks, no one can argue with the need to better prepare students for college and beyond. NCLB, which earned broad bipartisan majorities when the legislation passed in 2002, has drawn praise for shining a light on achievement gaps by forcing the nation's 99,000 public schools to disaggregate student data. But the legislation's emphasis on accountability and standardized testing has had some unintended results. By requiring schools to demonstrate adequate yearly progress -- toward a goal of 100% proficiency in reading and math by 2014 -- Bush's landmark bill has led many districts to narrow their curricula and some states to lower their standards in order to meet annual targets.

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March 18, 2010

State & Local Tax Increases vs Teacher Union Pay Increases: New Jersey

New Jersey Left Behind:

Here's the bottom line: it is now mathematically impossible for school districts to sustain annual salary increases of 4-5% and fully subsidized health benefits, historically the proud mantle swaddling NJEA's wide shoulders. Call it a sea change, call it a paradigm shift, call it a zero-sum game, call it (if you're Barbara Keshishian, NJEA Pres.) a "political vendetta." The times they have a-changed.

Where does this leave local school boards and NJEA affiliates? So much depends on whether local bargaining units are able to exercise some autonomy and collaborate with school district officials on producing agreements that are fair to teachers and within legislative fiscal constraints. Will locals be able to disentangle themselves from the lockstep of NJEA's directives? Is there hope that public education in Jersey can have a relatively healthy adjustment to a new fiscal austerity, a shared vision, a new kind of calculus in assessing appropriate compensation?

These calculations are not limited to New Jersey.

It's important to remember how much Wisconsin State K-12 spending has grown over the past 25 years, as this chart illustrates:

Many organizations, public and private, are using this period of change to evaluate their major services and determine the effectiveness of all expenditures. Public school districts are no different. It will be interesting to see how this plays out locally.

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Video Report on the Madison School District's Budget: Raising Fees for Adult Programs

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

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Madison's $30M Spending Increase & Tax Gap Rhetoric Dissected

School Board Vice President Lucy Mathiak:

So what does this mean? Well, assuming that the board will use its levying authority under the referendum and the state funding formula, the gap is smaller than the reported (and internalized) $30 million. It is probably more like the $17 million in state aid cuts plus the $1.2 million in budget items for which there is no funding source. Or, by higher math, c. $18.2 million BEFORE the board makes its budget adjustments and amendments. (This process will take place between now and the final vote on May 4, and will likely involve a combination of cuts recommended by administration and cuts proposed by the board.)

This means that the draconian school closings and massive staff layoffs reported earlier are unlikely to happen. Indeed, the board added one cut to the list at Monday's meeting when it voted to cut $43,000 in funding budgeted to produce a communication plan.

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Tiny school's fate roils rural California district

Louis Sahagun:

Class divisions fuel furor over a plan to close college-prep academy in the eastern Sierra Nevada. 'The situation has unleashed pandemonium,' says the district's superintendent.

When Eastern Sierra Unified School District Supt. Don Clark stared down a projected budget deficit, he did what school administrators across the nation have had to do: consider laying off teachers and closing campuses.

But that decision, in a rural district sprawled along U.S. 395 between the snowy Sierra and the deserts of Nevada, has exposed deep resentments between parents of students in traditional high schools and those with teenagers in a college-prep academy designed for high achievers.

The trouble started a week ago when Clark announced that the district, facing a budget shortfall of $1.8 million, was considering laying off more than a dozen teachers and closing the 15-year-old Eastern Sierra Academy, among other measures.

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Princeton School District's Budget Math: Cajole Teacher Unions into Accepting Contract Concessions

New Jersey Left Behind:

Princeton Township Public Schools offers a template on what will most likely occur across many districts on the heels of Gov. Christie's budget: an effort by school boards to cajole local unions into accepting contract concessions. With cuts of up to 5% of total school budgets, increases in health benefits, and annual salary increases ranging in the mid-4%, there's no other way to find the money. Other costs - supplies, utilities, transportation - are not fungible.

A few quick facts about Princeton, a 3,500-student school district with sky-high test scores. The annual cost per pupil there is $18,340 compared to a state average of $15,168. (These are 2008-2009 figures from the state database.) The median teacher salary is $69,829 plus benefits. The state median salary is $59,545 plus benefits. Costs of benefits in Princeton come to 23% of each teacher's salary.

Princeton's "User Friendly Budget".

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Pepsi Says No To Full Calorie Soda Sales in Schools, by 2012

Associated Press:

PepsiCo Inc. said Tuesday it will remove full-calorie sweetened drinks from schools in more than 200 countries by 2012, marking the first such move by a major soft-drink producer.

PepsiCo announced its plan the same day first lady Michelle Obama urged major companies to put less fat, salt and sugar in foods and reduce marketing of unhealthy products to children. Pepsi, the world's second-biggest soft-drink maker, and Coca-Cola Co., the biggest, adopted guidelines to stop selling sugary drinks in U.S. schools in 2006.

The World Heart Federation has been urging soft-drink makers for the past year to remove sugary beverages from schools. The group is looking to fight a rise in childhood obesity, which can lead to diabetes and other ailments.

PepsiCo's move is what the group had been seeking because it affects students through age 18, said Pekka Puska, president of the World Heart Federation, made up of heart associations around the world. In an interview from Finland, Dr. Puska said he hopes other companies feel pressured to take similar steps. "It may be not so well known in the U.S. how intensive the marketing of soft drinks is in so many countries,'' he said. Developing countries such as Mexico are particularly affected, he added.

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Quality Schools

Charlie Mas:

It has been, for some time now, the District's contention that they are working to "make every school a quality school". This is a significant goal of the Strategic Plan, "Excellence for All", and a pre-requisite for the New Student Assignment Plan.

So one might wonder how the District defines a "quality school". In fact, many more than one might wonder about it. The entire freakin' city might wonder about it. Well, they can just go on wondering because the District doesn't have an answer.

That's right. They have been ostensibly working for two years now towards a goal that they have not defined. Although the District defines accountability as having objectively measurable goals and insists that everyone is accountable, there are no objectively measurable goals tied to the definition of a "quality school". This would appear to be an intentional effort to evade accountability. Not only are there no objectively measurable goals, there are no metrics, no benchmarks, and no assessments. Nice, eh?

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It starts with good teachers

Los Angeles Times Editorial:

Congratulations to the panel of teachers, administrators and parents who put together groundbreaking proposals on smarter ways to hire, pay, evaluate and fire teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Improbable as it is that many of the proposals will be adopted by the school board, which is heavily influenced by the teachers union, they have opened a conversation sought by parents and school reformers, and that conversation is unlikely to be silenced until major changes are made.

We have long supported some of these recommendations: Not allowing seniority to rule which teachers are laid off. Expanding the probationary period before teachers get tenure. Including test scores and parent and student opinions in teacher evaluations. Paying more for excellent teachers who are willing to work in low-performing schools.

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Education magic bullets are often blanks

Joseph Staub:

Those who wonder why California was excluded from the first round of federal Race to the Top grants would do well to examine their own commentary for clues. It is typical of editorials and other articles on this topic to speak in general terms -- to throw out noble-sounding phrases that, in the end, don't offer specifics. The Times' March 4 editorial, "Another setback for California schools," reflects this kind of commentary.

Take, for example, The Times' assertion that "district administrators, not union contracts," should determine teacher assignments in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Really? If you were a teacher, would you completely trust administrators to always make good assignment decisions? The same people who inspired the term "dance of the lemons" as incompetent (and sometimes criminal) administrators were transferred from one school to another by their downtown buddies? Would you want to be forced to an overcrowded school terrorized by crime and violence, hobbled by a lack of supplies and a crumbling infrastructure, in a neighborhood beset by a multitude of social ills, with only a district administrator to count on for support and security? Most administrators are talented, committed and fair, but too many are none of those things.

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New MIT study on student cheating

Valerie Strauss:

What surprised me most about a new study on cheating at MIT--which concludes that copying homework can lead to lower grades--was that students cheat at the prestigious school, which only admits brainy kids who don't need to.

But of course, students cheat everywhere, even at the best schools; witness the recent grade-changing scandal at high-achieving Churchill High School, and, for that matter, the computer hacking scandal at high-achieving Whitman High School last year. Both are in Montgomery County and both are among the best secondary schools in the country.

In fact, according to the book, "Cheating in School: What we Know and What We Can Do," by Stephen F. David, Patrick F. Drinan and Tricia Bertram Gallant, there are students cheating everywhere--from elementary to graduate school, rich and poor schools, public and private.

The authors define cheating as "acts committed by students that deceive, mislead or fool the teacher into thinking that the academic work submitted by the student was a student's own work."

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Obama Retreats on Education Reform

Karl Rove:

In a week dominated by health care, President Barack Obama released a set of education proposals that break with ideals once articulated by Robert F. Kennedy.

Kennedy's view was that accountability is essential to educating every child. He expressed this view in 1965, while supporting an education reform initiative, saying "I do not think money in and of itself is necessarily the answer" to educational excellence. Instead, he hailed "good faith . . . effort to hold educators responsive to their constituencies and to make educational achievement the touchstone of success."

But rather than raising standards, the Obama administration is now proposing to gut No Child Left Behind's (NCLB) accountability framework. Enacted in 2002, NCLB requires that every school be held responsible for student achievement. Under the new proposal, up to 90% of schools can escape responsibility. Only 5% of the lowest-performing schools will be required to take action to raise poor test scores. And another 5% will be given a vague "warning" to shape up, but it is not yet clear what will happen if they don't.

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What Values Are Apparent in Your School Textbooks?

Holly Epstein Ojalvo:

Students: Take a look at some of the changes to the Texas curriculum, and then at a passage from your own American history or government textbook. Considering word choice and the inclusion and treatment of leaders and movements, what values and ideas do you think it conveys? What connotations do the terms used have for you? Tell us what ideas you think are expressed in how your textbook is written.

Adults, please note: Though, of course, anyone can be a "student" at any age, we ask that adults respect the intent of the Student Opinion question and refrain from posting here. There are many other places on the site for adults to post, while this is the only place that explicitly invites the voices of young people.

Math textbooks are an area ripe for this type of inquiry.

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Textbooks in Texas: Jefferson v Board of Education

The Economist:

THE good news is that more Texans are paying attention to social-studies lessons than ever before. The bad news is that they suddenly have cause. On March 12th, the state board of education voted for a series of changes to the state's history and social-sciences curricula. The changes look small enough--a word here and there, a new name included, maybe a different way of phrasing an issue. But the overall effect, if the changes are approved in May, will to be to yank public education to the right.

The board alluded to the controversial amendments in a polite press release: "All those who died at the Alamo will be discussed in seventh grade Texas history classes. Hip hop will not be part of the official curriculum standards." The most dramatic change is that Thomas Jefferson has gotten the boot. The conservatives on the board deemed him to be a suspiciously secular figure. The new guidelines would pay more fond attention to their favoured presidents, Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon. Phyllis Schlafly and the National Rifle Association are in. So are the Black Panthers.

Some of the oddest changes concern economics. Milton Friedman and Friedrich von Hayek will join Adam Smith, John Maynard Keynes, and Karl Marx. And the board decided that references to "capitalism" and the "free market" should be changed to say "free enterprise", because capitalism has a bad reputation at the moment. That decision is almost inexplicable. Capitalism has been through a rough patch, but surely the term itself is no more inflammatory than free enterprise.

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Madison School Board Candidate Issue Essays

Tom Farley School district must shift philosophy:

an Madison afford a new School Board member who requires time to understand the issues, study the research, or develop a good relationship with board members and union leaders? These are all certainly desirable objectives, and over time it is important that they occur. Yet these are exceptional times for Madison and its public school system.

The federal government has demanded that educational leaders in every community must start demonstrating a willingness to challenge the status quo, seek innovative solutions, and begin executing change management efforts. Only those school districts that show a willingness to radically alter their approaches to education, in order to achieve real results, will be supported and funded. The time has come to bring that level of leadership to the Madison School Board.

Management of the Madison School District cannot continue operating in its present form, or under its current philosophies. We have called for additional funding and referendums to increase taxes, and this has not produced the promised results. Clearly, it is not lack of money that hinders our education system; it is the system itself. That needs to change.

James Howard: We must make cuts, but not in classroom

As parents, teachers, taxpayers and voters evaluate the financial woes our Madison public schools face, there are several key points to keep in mind.

First, the taxpayers in our district have been very generous by passing several referendums that have helped close the gap between what schools can spend and what it really costs to educate our kids. However, due to the depressed economy voters are focused on direct family financial impacts and less on the indirect costs that result from any decline in quality of our public schools. Since the district is currently operating under a three-year recurring referendum, it would be a lot to ask of taxpayers to vote yes on a new referendum.

That means we must look elsewhere for answers on how to close what might be a gap of as much as $30 million. Let me be very clear as to where I wouldn't look: the classroom. We need to protect learning by keeping class sizes small; by funding initiatives that help at-risk children perform up to grade level in basic subjects; and by funding those things that make Madison schools so special, like programs in the arts and athletics.

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March 17, 2010

A $30 Million Puzzle 'Solution'? What We Have Here Is a Failure to Communicate

Like many citizens, journalists, and some of my fellow board members, I have been struggling to make sense of the projected $30 million budget or tax gap. Like others who have tried to understand how we got to the number "$30," I have tried several approaches to see if I could come to the same conclusion. Some of them focused on an unexpected major rise in spending, or, an unexpected or unexplained loss of revenue beyond the $17 million in state cuts. (See Susan Troller's Madison School's 'Budget Gap' is Really a Tax Gap, for example.)

The answers for the portion of the gap that I could not understand or explain kept coming back to the tax levy. District staff were patient and helpful in trying to answer my questions, but we still didn't understand each other. The shortest version of the tax levy explanation comes from the district's Budget Questions and Answers handout.

To recap, the MMSD $30 million budget gap has been explained thusly by
administration. There are two parts to the gap, $1.2 million in expenses that cannot be met, and $28.6 million shortfall from a combination of state funding cuts and tax levy. To date, administration has explained the gap thusly:

This gap is $28.6 million. This total is composed of three parts:

* $9.2 million cut in state aid the MMSD sustained this year;
* $7.8 million cut in state aid the district will sustain next year;
* $11.6 million of increased costs that come with levying authority - broken out in two parts:

-- $7.6 million of increased costs in order to deliver the same services next year that the MMSD is delivering this year, and which the state funding formula allows;

-- $4.0 million of increased costs and with levying authority from the approved 2008 referendum)

$28.6 million Tax Shortfall Total

For me, and for others, the sticking point has been the idea that additional levying authority through the referendum and the state funding formula, would add to the shortfall in funds to run our schools. That is, how could more funds turn into a funding loss? Or, put in mathematical terms, how could -17 + 11.6 become -28.6? My math is rusty, and I don't understand connected math, but it did seem to me that it was unlikely that a negative number would get larger after adding a positive number to it.

Full post on-line at

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Another Madison High School Option? Learn more on 3/25/2010 @ 7:00p.m.

via a Michelle Sharpswain email:

A group of parents is gathering information from Madison-area community members about whether or not parents would like to see another high school option in the area and, if so, what it might look like. Would it be an independent school or a charter school? Would it be a math and science academy, a performing arts school, an Expeditionary Learning school, or something else?

If you would like to share your ideas, wish list, or perspective, please join us for what is likely to be a stimulating conversation about possibilities. A discussion will take place Thursday evening, March 25th, at 7 p.m. at Wingra School (3200 Monroe St.). Please feel welcome to bring neighbors, family members, etc. who would like to participate.

Note: Wingra has very generously offered space for this conversation to take place. This is not a Wingra-sponsored event, nor is it a discussion about Wingra starting a high school.

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What's News: Monona Grove might be in the vanguard of Obama's education plans

Chris Murphy:

Monday's story from Susan Troller about standardized tests explains how large school districts like Madison and Milwaukee are interested in what small Monona Grove is doing because its program offers much more detailed results than the standard Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam (WKCE) and delivers them far more quickly. But it's also interesting to consider how Monona Grove might be in the vanguard of national changes in how students are taught and tested.

On Monday, President Barack Obama sent a blueprint to Congress for an overhaul of No Child Left Behind, the 2001 law pushed by President George W. Bush that ties federal funding to students' standardized test results. Annual testing would still be required under Obama's plan, but one major focus would change from meeting narrow grade-by-grade benchmarks and move toward achieving a common set of skills needed for life after high school, according to the Christian Science Monitor.

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Edu-Innovation, an Oxymoron?

Tom Vander Ark:

In preparation for the New Schools Summit, following are a few thoughts for a great group.

Acknowledging the difficulty of penetrating the complex decentralized maze of US public education, a New Schools regular asked a dinner gathering of notable reformers last week if education innovation was an oxymoron.

After a few laughs and couple hopeful responses, a former urban deputy superintendent dampened enthusiasm by reminding us not to underestimate the power of resistance from elaborate political bulwarks. Barriers to edupreneurs clearly deflect talent and investment from the sector.

Charter schools emerged in the 90's as an entry point that allowed edupreneurs to open mission-designed new schools, then to create mission-designed school networks. Kim Smith created New Schools Venture Fund (NSVF) to create an edupreneurial ecoysystem around schools, tools, and talent. NSVF supported the most important work in education over the last decade.

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Senate votes against reopening D.C. voucher program

Michael Birnbaum:

The D.C. voucher program's future appeared limited Tuesday after the Senate voted down a measure that would have reopened the initiative to new students.

The voucher program, which since 2004 has provided low-income D.C. students with as much as $7,500 in scholarships to attend private schools, has foundered in the Democratic-controlled Congress. President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan have signaled their opposition to the program, instead advocating charter schools as alternatives to poorly performing conventional public schools.

Tuesday's 55 to 42 vote was widely seen as one of the final chances for the program to be extended beyond the students who are already currently enrolled. Funding will continue for current students until they graduate high school, but has been cut off to new students for a year.

Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) introduced an amendment to a reauthorization bill for the Federal Aviation Administration that would have extended the voucher program for five years and funded it at $20 million a year, opening it to new students. The Senate killed Lieberman's attempt to amend a different bill earlier this month.

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MPS cuts list - though unlikely - includes eliminating athletics, early kindergarten

Erin Richards:

Instead of cutting what could be almost 400 teaching positions in Milwaukee Public Schools next year to balance the budget, the Milwaukee Board of School Directors could instead eliminate all athletics, the entire 3- and 4-year-old kindergarten program or all the school nurses, according to a new list of non-mandatory programs released by the district's central office.

Superintendent William Andrekopoulos said he has not recommended that the board cut any of the attention-grabbing, discretionary programs on the list - such as the $10 million the district spends to bus high school students around the city, or the $12 million it spends to fund art, music, foreign language and class-size reduction programs at the high schools. But, he said, it's important to make the board aware of non-mandatory areas it can trim or cut altogether.

The School Board will discuss the list of items included on the superintendent's informational report at a budget work session Thursday. Some of the items on the list include

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Are 'Early College' High Schools A Good Idea?

Eliza Krigman:

In recent years, high schools that are configured to provide students the opportunity to earn both a high-school diploma and a college associate's degree or up two years of credit toward a bachelor's degree have grown in popularity. The Early College High School Initiative, a private partnership made up of 13 member organizations, has started or redesigned more than 200 such schools since 2002. In addition, the National Center on Education and the Economy is spearheading a similar initiative. Dozens of public schools in eight states next fall will adopt a program that lets 10th-grade students test out of high school and go to community college. The first generation of these schools targeted low-income, minority students who were likely to be the first in their family to attend college.

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Pleasantville Blast

New Jersey Left Behind:

We looked at Pleasantville High School last week in the context of Diane Ravitch's new book, chosen at random among the cohort of segregated, impoverished, and failing Jersey schools. Coincidentally this challenged Abbott district made non-bloggy headlines s a day later because at that week's Board meeting Pleasantville Superintendent Gloria Grantham blasted away at teachers to the consternation of her Board, The Press of Atlantic City reports,
Grantham spoke at length Tuesday night about the benefits teachers get - vacation days, free health coverage, free professional development - and the effort they owe their students.

"This is not to hurt anyone, this is just to present the facts. We have got to do a better balancing act between what our students receive and what our adults receive," Grantham said. "They're benefiting pretty well from the opportunity to teach in our high school."

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Formula for better schools

Providence Journal:

For years, many people, including politicians and unions, have complained that Rhode Island is the only state without a school-funding formula. The public's distrust of the legislature, however, has made it difficult to proceed. Not without reason, people feared that vast amounts of money would be simply siphoned away, without accountability, to benefit teachers unions and other powerful interests, not students.

But now there seems hope that Rhode Island can move beyond such cynicism. State Education Commissioner Deborah Gist and the state Board of Regents have approved a plan more focused on students. The formula is now before the General Assembly.

Under their plan, state school-aid dollars would "follow the students" -- even to charter schools, public institutions that operate outside the red tape of standard schools and are sometimes anathema to teachers unions.

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The Academic Performance Tournament

David Motz:

For the fifth consecutive year, Inside Higher Ed presents its Academic Performance Tournament - a unique look at what the National Collegiate Athletic Association's Division I Men's Basketball Tournament would look like if teams advanced based solely on their outcomes in the classroom.

The winners were determined using the NCAA's Academic Progress Rate, a nationally comparable score that gives points to teams whose players stay in good academic standing and remain enrolled from semester to semester. When teams had the same Academic Progress Rates, the tie was broken using the NCAA's Graduation Success Rate - which, unlike the federal rate, considers transfers and does not punish teams whose athletes leave college before graduation if they leave in good academic standing.

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Colleges don't like senior slump in high school

Beth Harpaz:

OK, mom and dad. Remember your last semester of high school? Chances are you weren't freaking out about your AP chem class. Your prom plans may have mattered more than your 12th-grade GPA. And if you were headed to college, you were probably waiting to hear from just a couple of schools.

It's not like that today for college-bound high school seniors. They're cramming in AP classes for college credit. They're waiting to hear from 10 or 12 schools. And they can't shrug off homework, because many colleges make admission contingent on decent final grades.

"We have a policy to do 100 percent verification to ensure that final high school transcripts are received and reviewed," said Matt Whelan, assistant provost for admissions and financial aid at Stony Brook University in New York. "While it has been the exception, unfortunately, I have had the experience of sending letters to students informing them that because they did not successfully complete high school, they could were no longer admitted, and we rescinded both admission and financial aid."

College administrators around the country echoed Whelan's sentiments, from the University of Southern California, to Abilene Christian University in Texas, to Dartmouth, an Ivy League college in New Hampshire.

Not only do 12th graders feel pressure to keep up academically, but many also dedicate themselves to beloved teams, clubs and the performing arts.

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SFU pursues American accreditation

Erin Millar:

Simon Fraser University has applied for accreditation from the U.S. quality assurance board Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities. Being the first large research university in Canada to look south of the border for accreditation, the university's move highlights the fact that Canada lacks any national mechanism for assuring quality of post-secondary institutions.

Simon Fraser University (SFU) academic planning and budgeting director Glynn Nicholls, who is also accreditation project manager, explained that SFU's need for accreditation is related to its joining the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). The university became the first non-U.S. school to be a member of the 100-year-old sports organization when it was accepted as a member in July 2009. SFU's varsity teams will compete in the Great Northern Athletic Conference, which includes Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Montana and Idaho.

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The $2 Trillion Hole: Promised pensions benefits for public-sector employees represent a massive overhang that threatens the financial future of many cities and states.

Jonathan Laing:

LIKE A CALIFORNIA WILDFIRE, populist rage burns over bloated executive compensation and unrepentant avarice on Wall Street.

Deserving as these targets may or may not be, most Americans have ignored at their own peril a far bigger pocket of privilege -- the lush pensions that the 23 million active and retired state and local public employees, from cops and garbage collectors to city managers and teachers, have wangled from taxpayers.

Some 80% of these public employees are beneficiaries of defined-benefit plans under which monthly pension payments are guaranteed, no matter how stocks and other volatile assets backing the retirement plans perform. In contrast, most of the taxpayers footing the bill for these public-employee benefits (participants' contributions to these plans are typically modest) have been pushed by their employers into far less munificent defined-contribution plans and suffered the additional indignity of seeing their 401(k) accounts shrivel in the recent bear market in stocks.

And defined-contribution plans, unlike public pensions, have no protection against inflation. It's just too bad: Maybe some seniors will have to switch from filet mignon to dog food.

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March 16, 2010

Cheaters never prosper when teachers get in the way

Jay Matthews:

What should we do about the computer hackers at Winston Churchill High School in Montgomery County who changed dozens of grades? What is the solution to student cheating in general?

Research suggests that rising pressure to get into good colleges has led students to cut corners. One study cited by the Educational Testing Service said only about 20 percent of college students in the 1940s said they had cheated in high school, and the proportion is four times as large today.

Deemphasize the college race, some experts say, and much of this nonsense will go away. I have written for many years about research showing that adult success really doesn't depend on the prestige of one's alma mater. But that approach to easing cheating isn't going to get us far. Competition is too much a part of American culture. Also, college pressure tends to affect only the top 20 percent of students who seek selective schools (it's a higher percentage in the affluent Washington area) and not students who cheat for other reasons, such as laziness or boredom.

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They Spend WHAT? The Real Cost of Public Schools

Adam Schaeffer:

Although public schools are usually the biggest item in state and local budgets, spending figures provided by public school officials and reported in the media often leave out major costs of education and thus understate what is actually spent.

To document the phenomenon, this paper reviews district budgets and state records for the nation's five largest metro areas and the District of Columbia. It reveals that, on average, per-pupil spending in these areas is 44 percent higher than officially reported.

Real spending per pupil ranges from a low of nearly $12,000 in the Phoenix area schools to a high of nearly $27,000 in the New York metro area. The gap between real and reported per-pupil spending ranges from a low of 23 percent in the Chicago area to a high of 90 percent in the Los Angeles metro region.

To put public school spending in perspective, we compare it to estimated total expenditures in local private schools. We find that, in the areas studied, public schools are spending 93 percent more than the estimated median private school.

Madison spends $15,241.30 per student, according to the 2009-2010 Citizen's Budget.

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate:

Chris Giles & David Oakley:

Moody's Investor Service, the credit rating agency, will fire a warning shot at the US on Monday, saying that unless the country gets public finances into better shape than the Obama administration projects there would be "downward pressure" on its triple A credit rating.

Examining the administration's outlook for the federal budget deficit, the agency said: "If such a trajectory were to materialise, there would at some point be downward pressure on the triple A rating of the federal government."

It projects that the federal borrowing is so high that the interest payments on government debt will grow to more than 15 per cent of government revenues, about the same by the end of the decade as the previous 1980s peak.

This time the servicing burden would be harder to reverse, however, because it would not be caused by high interest rates but by high debt levels.

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Civil Rights Overreach Quotas for college prep courses?

Wall Street Journal:

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said last week that the Obama Administration will ramp up investigations of civil rights infractions in school districts, which might sound well and good. What it means in practice, however, is that his Office of Civil Rights (OCR) will revert to the Clinton Administration policy of equating statistical disparity with discrimination, which is troubling.

OCR oversees Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination by race, color or national origin in public schools and colleges that receive federal funding. In a speech last week, Mr. Duncan said that "in the last decade"--that's short for the Bush years--"the Office for Civil Rights has not been as vigilant as it should have been in combating racial and gender discrimination." He cited statistics showing that white students are more likely than their black peers to take Advanced Placement classes and less likely to be expelled from school.

Therefore, Mr. Duncan said, OCR "will collect and monitor data on equity." He added that the department will also conduct compliance reviews "to ensure that all students have equal access to educational opportunities" and to determine "whether districts and schools are disciplining students without regard to skin color."

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Unwelcome 'Help' from the Feds

Doug Lederman: 

WASHINGTON -- These have not been times of peace, love and understanding between the federal government and higher education accreditors. For several years now, spanning two presidential administrations, the agencies charged with assuring that colleges meet an acceptable level of quality have felt buffeted by shifting, escalating and, in their view, sometimes inappropriate demands from federal policy makers.

The conflict -- which in 2007 led Congress to block the Education Department from issuing accreditation regulations regarding student learning and blew up the department's process for assessing the accreditors themselves -- has cranked suspicion levels sky high, with accrediting officials on the lookout for signs of further encroachment into areas that have traditionally been off-limits for the government.

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What Stuck? Key EdReformer Question

Tom Vander Ark:

What Stuck? What faded? As an EdReformer, it's interesting to think about the investment of time and money with a little hindsight.

Seven years ago, Caprice Young chaired the LAUSD board. She went on to run the California charter association and is now CEO of KCDL, a leading virtual education provider. About her work as a board member in LA, Caprice observed that :

  • Buildings and charters stuck,
  • Reading and arts programs didn't.
When Caprice was elected, LA was about 200,000 seats short. The board she chaired initiated one of the largest building projects in the world--a $19 billion ten year effort. Those buildings, for good or bad, will mark the LA landscape for a generation to come.

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Research Reveals Early Signs of Autism in Some Kids

Bruce Bower:

Some infants headed for a diagnosis of autism, or autism spectrum disorder as it's officially known, can be reliably identified at 14 months old based on the presence of five key behavior problems, according to an ongoing long-term study described March 11 at the International Conference on Infant Studies.

These social, communication and motor difficulties broadly align with psychiatric criteria for diagnosing autism spectrum disorder in children at around age 3, said psychologist Rebecca Landa of the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore. In her investigation, the presence of all five behaviors at 14 months predicted an eventual diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder in 15 of 16 children.

"That's much better than clinical judgment at predicting autism," Landa noted.

Her five predictors of autism spectrum disorders among 14-month-olds at high risk for developing this condition include a lack of response to others' attempts to engage them in play, infrequent attempts to initiate joint activities, few types of consonants produced when trying to communicate vocally, problems in responding to vocal requests and a keen interest in repetitive acts, such as staring at a toy while twirling it

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New Jersey Governor Proposes 2.5% Tax Increase Limits & Spending Cuts

Claire Heininger & Josh Margolin:

The governor's $29.3 billion budget will shave $2.9 billion off state spending from last year, about a 9 percent drop. The cuts include reductions in aid to municipalities and school districts, said two officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity ahead of the announcement.

Unlike the current 4 percent limit, the new "hard" 2.5 percent cap on municipal, school and county property tax levies would be all-encompassing, without exceptions for such essentials as rising health insurance or debt payments. The tax could be raised higher only if local voters grant their approval in referendums. The state also would be constitutionally barred from increasing its own spending on direct state services by more than 2.5 percent per year.

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Obama Flaw: Achievement Gap

Jay Matthews:

Also, I see a problem in the president using the achievement gap as a measure of schools in his suggested revisions. This could mean that a wonderfully diverse school like T.C. Williams High in Alexandria, a recent subject on this blog, would be motivated to ignore its best students, who want to get even better, and focus all its money and time on those at the bottom of the achievement scale so they can narrow the gap. That is not a good idea, and I hope the president will get it out of his proposal.

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Many Nations Passing U.S. in Education, Expert Says

Sam Dillon:

One of the world's foremost experts on comparing national school systems told lawmakers on Tuesday that many other countries were surpassing the United States in educational attainment, including Canada, where he said 15-year-old students were, on average, more than one school year ahead of American 15-year-olds.

America's education advantage, unrivaled in the years after World War II, is eroding quickly as a greater proportion of students in more and more countries graduate from high school and college and score higher on achievement tests than students in the United States, said Andreas Schleicher, a senior education official at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris, which helps coordinate policies for 30 of the world's richest countries.

"Among O.E.C.D. countries, only New Zealand, Spain, Turkey and Mexico now have lower high school completion rates than the U.S.," Mr. Schleicher said. About 7 in 10 American students get a high school diploma.

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March 15, 2010

Monona Grove School District (WI) uses ACT-related tests to boost academic performance

Susan Troller:

Test early, test often, and make sure the results you get are meaningful to students, teachers and parents.

Although that may sound simple, in the last three years it's become a mantra in the Monona Grove School District that's helping all middle and high school students increase their skills, whether they're heading to college or a career. The program, based on using ACT-related tests, is helping to establish the suburban Dane County district as a leader in educational innovation in Wisconsin.

In fact, Monona Grove recently hosted a half-day session for administrators and board members from Milwaukee and Madison who were interested in learning more about Monona Grove's experiences and how the school community is responding to the program. In a pilot program this spring in Madison, students in eighth grade at Sherman Middle School will take ACT's Explore test for younger students. At Memorial, freshmen will take the Explore test.

Known primarily as a college entrance examination, ACT Inc. also provides a battery of other tests for younger students. Monona Grove is using these tests -- the Explore tests for grades 8 and 9, and the Plan tests for grades 10 and 11 -- to paint an annual picture of each student's academic skills and what he or she needs to focus on to be ready to take on the challenges of post-secondary education or the work force. The tests are given midway through the first semester, and results are ready a month later.

"We're very, very interested in what Monona Grove is doing," says Pam Nash, assistant superintendent for secondary education for the Madison district. "We've heard our state is looking at ACT as a possible replacement for the WKCE (Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam), and the intrinsic reliability of the ACT is well known. The WKCE is so unrelated to the students. The scores come in so late, it's not useful.

The Madison School District's "Value Added Assessment" program uses data from the oft-criticized WKCE.

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Students' success in Milwaukee Public high school a matter of expectations

Alan Borsuk:

One key to the successful small high schools, almost without exception, is that they grew from the ground up. They weren't created by some order from above. The people involved in launching the school knew what they wanted, were willing to do the hugely demanding work of making the school a reality and committed to continually working on improving what they did.

Montessori High fits that description. A charter school staffed by MPS employees, it is led by three teachers with no conventional principal. It is one of just a handful of Montessori high school programs in the U.S., and an even smaller number that combine the Montessori style of learning, with emphasis on individual development, with rigorous International Baccalaureate courses.

The environment in the school is somewhat casual, but serious. For example, 10 couches set the atmosphere for Chip Johnston's history class, where the lively discussion on a recent morning dealt with reacting to the statement, "Liberty means responsibility." Overall at the school, there is a strong emphasis on arts, on projects involving real-world issues, and on working with partners or in small groups.

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Why is Obama Unafraid of the Teacher Unions?

Greg Forster:

Two extraordinary things happened in the world of education recently. Taken together, they're powerful confirmation of just how precipitously the teachers' unions are declining in power and influence. Yet I can see a very plausible outcome in which we conservatives fumble the ball on the one yard line -- and hand them back their power.

First, a Rhode Island school district decided it was fed up with chronic failure at one of the state's (and probably the country's) worst schools, and announced it would fire every single teacher at the school. In an industry where pretty much nobody ever gets fired for anything, that was an earthquake.

Then something even more amazing occurred: President Obama gave the firings an unambiguous endorsement. Noting that only 7 percent of the school's 11th graders pass the state math test, he remarked: "If a school continues to fail its students year after year after year, if it doesn't show signs of improvement, then there's got to be a sense of accountability."

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A consolidation in the Dodgeland School district that may be paying dividends

Barry Adams:

Count the Dodgeland School District in central Dodge County as among those that have closed schools in outlying communities. Voters in 2001 approved a $17 million referendum to construct one school facility on Juneau's south side to house all of the district's students from kindergarten through 12th grade.

That meant closing a middle school in Reeseville and an elementary school in Lowell. An elementary school in Clyman had closed in the late 1990s, according to Superintendent Annette Thompson.

She said trying to adequately fund the previous school arrangement in today's fiscal environment would be difficult. The change has been for the better.

"It was a hard transition, but we recognized that to be the most cost-effective, we needed a facility that meets the needs of all students," Thompson said. "I think we're moving in a really positive direction."

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The Push-Back on Charter Schools

Geoffrey Canada, Harlem Children's Zone, Richard D. Kahlenberg, Century Foundation, Jeffrey Henig and Luis Huerta, Teachers College, Columbia, Michael Goldstein, Match Charter Public School:

Two recent New York Times articles have described opposition to the thriving charter school movement in Harlem. An influential state senator, Bill Perkins, whose district has nearly 20 charter schools, is trying to block their expansion. Some public schools in the neighborhood are also fighting back, marketing themselves to compete with the charters.

This is a New York battle, but charter schools -- a cornerstone of the Obama administration's education strategy -- are facing resistance across the country, as they become more popular and as traditional public schools compete for money. The education scholar Diane Ravitch, once a booster of the movement, is now an outspoken critic.

What is causing the push-back on charter schools, beyond the local issues involved ? Critics say they are skimming off the best students, leaving the regular schools to deal with the rest? Is that a fair point?

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UC ordered to refund $38 million to professional degree students

Larry Gordon:

The university violated a pledge that fees would not rise during students' enrollments, a judge rules. The refunds will apply to students who began law, medicine, nursing and other programs in 2003.

The University of California must refund about $38 million to professional degree students who were illegally charged fee increases after they started school in 2003, a Superior Court judge in San Francisco ruled Friday.

UC is likely to appeal the decision, officials said.

In the ruling, Judge John E. Munter said that several thousand UC students in law, medicine, nursing and other programs were, in effect, promised that their professional school fees would not rise during their enrollments and that the university violated that pledge.

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No Education Silver Bullet

Dana Goldstein:

In the United States, the education debate has been framed as a zero-sum game. But a look at Finland, whose schools rank No. 1 in global surveys, shows that a national commitment to education can neutralize political debates over school reform.

Last spring, Timo Jaatinen, a Finnish high school teacher living in Virginia, was surfing Internet job boards looking for a position in his home country. After a few phone interviews, Jaatinen was offered a spot as an English and Swedish teacher at Alppila Upper Secondary School in Helsinki, a popular general education high school with a reputation for attracting students interested in the arts.

"The principal said, 'This job is yours,'" remembered Jaatinen, one of those young, dynamic teachers who you'd guess teenagers instinctively respect. "And then she said, 'Do you want to go to Rome?'"

Jaatinen was lucky. Alppila had scored well on the city of Helsinki's educational benchmarks for the 2007-2008 school year, and all the school's teachers were rewarded with modest salary bonuses and a free Italian vacation, to which new teachers were also invited. Jaatinen headed back to Finland to begin his new job and claim his trip.

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Prizes for Innovation

The Cooney Prizes:

The goal of the Cooney Center Prizes for Innovation is to identify, inspire, nurture, and scale breakthrough ideas in children's digital media and learning. The program will annually award cash prizes and provide ongoing business planning support and mentorship to a new generation of children's media entrepreneurs and visionaries.

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New data on how far boys are falling behind

Richard Whitmire:

Ask anyone about President Obama's track record and you'll hear the same: Not much movement on global warming, the domestic economy or health care. But there is one area in which Obama has already begun to move long-dormant mountains: education reform.

He has steered billions of dollars into education, which Education Secretary Arne Duncan has doled out in a carrot-and-stick approach that has forced states to promise reforms that were long thought impossible. For example, several state legislatures were "persuaded" -- okay, legally bribed -- into peeling back excessive teacher-protection laws.

Ultimately, however, Obama will be measured by his bottom line goal: for the United States to have the world's highest proportion of college graduates by the year 2020. Translated, that means jumping from the middle of the rankings of developed nations to the top in just 10 years.

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March 14, 2010

Wisconsin Charter Schools Conference in Madison March 22-23: many important keynote speakers, including politicians + important topics for education

Laurel Cavalluzzo 160K PDF:

Featured speakers at the conference include Greg Richmond, President and founding board member of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers and establisher of the Chicago Public School District's Charter Schools Office; Ursula Wright, the Chief Operating Officer for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools; Sarah Archibald of the Consortium for Policy Research in Education at UW-Madison and the Value-Added Research Center; and Richard Halverson, an associate professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Also speaking at the Conference will be:
  • State Senator John Lehman (D-Racine), Chair Senate Education Committee
  • State Senator Luther Olsen (R-Berlin), Ranking Minority Member, Senate Education
  • State Representative Sondy Pope-Roberts (D-Middleton), Chair, Assembly Education Committee
  • State Representative Brett Davis (R-Oregon), Ranking Minority Member, Assembly Education
The Conference will feature interactive sessions; hands-on examples of innovative learning in classrooms; networking; a coaching room open throughout the conference; and keynote speakers that highlight the importance of quality in and around each classroom, and the impact that quality has on the learning of students everywhere. More details are attached.

Thank you for your consideration and your help in getting word out! If you would like to attend on a press pass, please let me know and I will have one in your name at the registration area.

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Madison School District's 2009-2010 Citizen's Budget Released ($421,333,692 Gross Expenditures, $370,287,471 Net); an Increase of $2,917,912 from the preliminary $418,415,780 2009-2010 Budget

Superintendent Dan Nerad 75K PDF:

Attached to this memorandum you will find the final version of the 2009-10 Citizen's Budget. The Citizen's Budget is intended to present financial information to the community in a format that is more easily understood. The first report groups expenditures into categories outlined as follows:
  • In-School Operations
  • Curriculum & Teacher Development & Support
  • Facilities, Other Than Debt Service
  • Transportation
  • Food Service
  • Business Services
  • Human Resources
  • General Administration
  • Debt Service
  • District-Wide
  • MSCR
The second report associates revenue sources with the specific expenditure area they are meant to support. In those areas where revenues are dedicated for a specific purpose(ie. Food Services) the actual amount is represented. In many areas of the budget, revenues had to be prorated to expenditures based on the percentage that each specific expenditure bears of the total expenditure budget. It is also important to explain that property tax funds made up the difference between expenditures and all other sources of revenues. The revenues were broken out into categories as follows:
  • Local Non-Tax Revenue
  • Equalized & Categorical State Aid
  • Direct Federal Aid
  • Direct State Aid
  • Property Taxes
Both reports combined represent the 2009-10 Citizen's Budget.
Related: I'm glad to see this useful document finally available for the 2009-2010 school year. Thanks to the Madison School Board members who pushed for its release.

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Is Obama really dumping No Child Left Behind or just giving it a new name?

Maureen Downey:

President Obama outlined his own education vision Saturday, one that he hopes will replace the punitive elements of the sweeping No Child Left Behind Act and give schools more flexibility in bringing students up to speed. To convey the new focus, the law will get a new name, although it has not been announced. (I am sure a few of you will have some pithy suggestions.)

The president and Ed Secretary Arne Duncan have clearly heard the cries from the classrooms where teachers complained that they were teaching to the tests in a futile attempt to meet impossible and overly rigid standards. Details are few right now, but the president did outline a new direction that is supposed to be kinder, fairer and more realistic.

I am not sure that teachers will agree that the plan is more realistic and fairer as it still seems to have high expectations that schools will make strides with all students.

Nia-Malika Henderson:
President Barack Obama unveiled his plan for a sweeping overhaul of the nation's school system Saturday, proposing changes he says would shift emphasis from teaching to the test to a more nuanced assessment of judging school and student progress.

On Monday, Obama will submit his blueprint for reauthorizing the No Child Left Behind law to Congress, and he's given lawmakers a powerful incentive to take up the bill this year--his budget proposal includes a $1 billion bonus should new legislation land on his desk this year.

Obama's proposal would toss out the core of the Bush-era law, which calls for across-the-board proficiency from all students in reading and math by 2014, and instead emphasize revamped assessment tools that link teacher evaluations to student progress, and a goal of having students career and college ready upon graduation.

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The Key To Saving American Education: Retrain or Replace Teachers?

Evan Thomas & Pat Wingert:

I'm excited for the opportunity to "debate." The term violates my traditional sensibilities, but I'll try to get over it. What resolution should we discuss? Resolved: "The problem with education is teachers," as one online headline for your story read. Resolved: "The best way to deal with underperforming teachers is to fire them." Resolved: "Much of the ability to teach is innate," as the lead story in your package declares.

My reporting for The New York Times Magazine turned up counter-arguments to each of these declarations. But it also turned up many facts that appear in your story. Here are some premises we can probably agree on: The quality of teaching plays a major role in determining whether children learn. An upsetting number of teachers are not helping children learn as much as we want them to. A smaller group of teachers are actively impeding learning. It is insanely difficult to fire these bad teachers, and the teaching profession at large is an insanely isolated one in which it is not unusual for the only people who ever observe the professional at work to be 9 years old.

That said, the overwhelming conclusion of my reporting is that efforts to change this picture must go beyond simply firing the lowest performers. One reason is just plain money. Firing employees--in many professions, not just teaching--brings a lot of legal hurdles and therefore costs a lot of money. The bill is especially high for firing teachers; to fire underperforming teachers in New York City, Chancellor Joel Klein invested $1 million a year in a fleet of fancy attorneys tasked solely with this responsibility. In the two years the project has gone on so far, the city only fired three teachers charged with incompetence.

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Harvard study: Are weighted AP grades fair?

Debra Viadero:

To encourage high school students to tackle tougher academic classes, many schools assign bonus points to grades in Advanced Placement or honors courses. But schools' policies on whether students should receive a grade-point boost and by how much are all over the map.

My local public school district, for instance, used to add an extra third of a grade-point to students' AP course grades while the private high school on the other side of town would bump up students' grades by a full letter grade.

Since students from both schools would be applying to many of the same colleges, and essentially competing with one another, it didn't seem fair to me that the private school kids should get such a generous grade boost.

That's why I was heartened to come across a new study by a Harvard University researcher that takes a more systematic look at the practice of high school grade-weighting.

He found that for every increasing level of rigor in high school science, students' college course grades rose by an average of 2.4 points on a 100- point scale, where an A is 95 points and a B is worth 85 points and so on. In other words, the college grade for the former AP chemistry student would be expected to be 2.4 points higher than that of the typical student who took honors chemistry in high school. And the honors students' college grade, in turn, would be 2.4 points higher than that of the student who took regular chemistry.

Translating those numbers, and some other calculations, to a typical high school 1-to-4-point grade scale, Sadler estimates that students taking an honors science class in high school ought to get an extra half a point for their trouble, and that a B in an AP science course ought to be counted as an A for the purpose of high school grade-point averages.

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DC high school football team gets female coach

Joseph White:

The football players at Calvin Coolidge Senior High School, Mayor Adrian Fenty and a room full of cheering staff needed only one word to describe her: coach.

Natalie Randolph, a 29-year-old biology and environmental sciences teacher, was introduced Friday as the coach of the school's Coolidge Colts. She's believed to be the nation's only female head coach of a high school varsity football team.

"While I'm proud to be part of what this all means," Randolph said, "being female has nothing to do with it. I love football. I love football, I love teaching, I love these kids. My being female has nothing to do with my support and respect for my players on the field and in the classroom."

The news conference drew the kind of attention usually reserved for the Washington Redskins and was delayed nearly two hours so Fenty, who is up for re-election this year, could be there and proclaim "Natalie Randolph Day" in the city.

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Duncan wants 3 ratings for schools in education overhaul

Greg Toppo:

The Obama administration will ask Congress to toss out the two-tiered pass/fail school rating system of the No Child Left Behind education law and replace it with one that labels schools one of three ways: high-performing, needs improvement or chronically low-performing, according to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan.
President Obama announced the change Saturday during his weekly radio address, saying the administration plan sets "an ambitious goal: all students should graduate from high school prepared for college and a career - no matter who you are or where you come from. Achieving this goal will be difficult. It will take time. And it will require the skills, talents, and dedication of many: principals, teachers, parents, students. But this effort is essential for our children and for our country."

In a briefing Friday, Duncan told reporters he will give the high performers both freedom and financial incentives to stay that way.

"We want to get out of their way," Duncan said. "But we also want to learn from them."

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Taking a Look at Poverty From an Affluent Chicago Suburb

James Warren:

DuPage County typifies our penchant for caricature: In the collective mind it's white, homogeneous, middle class, well-to-do, Republican. But, as Elmhurst College is revealing with missionary zeal, it's also a case study in the often-hidden poverty around us.

S. Alan Ray was clueless about the county and the college before he applied to be president of Elmhurst, a liberal arts institution affiliated with the United Church of Christ. But his due diligence and vision convinced the trustees, and as president at the helm of the battleship that is any college, Mr. Ray is trying to steer 3,360-student Elmhurst down a path of service.

"The tables can be turned at any time -- it's an understanding I try to inculcate on campus," said Mr. Ray, a low-key, brainy and very focused former Roman Catholic seminarian with a doctorate in religion and a law degree.

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National School Standards, at Last

New York Times Editorial:

The countries that have left the United States behind in math and science education have one thing in common: They offer the same high education standards -- often the same curriculum -- from one end of the nation to the other. The United States relies on a generally mediocre patchwork of standards that vary, not just from state to state, but often from district to district. A child's education depends primarily on ZIP code.

That could eventually change if the states adopt the new rigorous standards proposed last week by the National Governors Association and a group representing state school superintendents. The proposal lays out clear, ambitious goals for what children should learn year to year and could change curriculums, tests and teacher training.

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Obama's contradictions on education

Valerie Strauss:

Among the 10 organizations to which President Obama donated his Nobel Prize Award are the United Negro College Fund, the Hispanic Scholarship Fund, the Appalachian Leadership and Education Foundation, the American Indian College Fund, and the Posse Foundation.

What do those groups -- each of which is receiving $125,000 of the total $1.4 million that he received -- have in common?

They all work to help underserved populations of young people get ready to attend and be successful in college.

Obama has said repeatedly that his education goal is to make sure that every child has a quality education and the opportunity to graduate from college -- and he displayed his commitment to that with his own award money.

Yet his education policies to this point cannot ever reach this goal. Nor can they do what he promised during the presidential campaign: Stop high-stakes standardized testing from driving our public education system.

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Average Faculty Salaries by Field and Rank at 4-Year Colleges and Universities, 2009-10

The Chronicle of Higher Education.

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March 13, 2010

Waukesha West wins Wisconsin academic decathlon

Amy Hetzner:

Waukesha West High School won its ninth straight title Friday at the Wisconsin Academic Decathlon in Wisconsin Dells, earning a trip to next month's national competition.

The team scored 46,428.3 points out of a possible 60,000, placed first in the Super Quiz relay and earned the top team award for all 10 featured subjects, said decathlon director Molly Ritchie.

In academic decathlon, nine student teams go head to head in a series of tests on academic subjects, interviews and essays. Each team includes three students with A-grade averages, three with B averages and three C students.

Twenty teams competed in the state competition, based on their performance at local and regional events.

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Obama's plan for education reform: short on specifics, so far

Patrik Jonsson:

In Saturday's address, Obama called for Congress to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which in 2002 became known as the No Child Left Behind Act.

With a goal of having every child read at grade level by 2014, No Child Left Behind has been criticized by current Education Secretary Arne Duncan as "utopian" and as failing to properly reward schools for progress. One change under his proposed legislative blueprint, Obama said, would be that schools that perform well would be rewarded, while underperforming schools would face tough consequences.

A focus on education reform may be a politically astute move for the president and fellow Democrats in Congress, some of whom face difficult elections in the fall. Education reform, unlike financial regulatory reform or new environmental laws, is a kitchen-table issue that many Americans support.

"The announcement's timing suggests Obama is looking beyond the health care proposal that still lingers in Congress, has delayed the president's international trip next week, and threatens his party's electoral prospects in November," writes the Associated Press.

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Where's the school funding fix?

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:

So much for school funding reform.

Gov. Jim Doyle has dropped his broad proposal, and state lawmakers aren't forwarding any of their own ideas for fixing the system.

Once again our leaders have lobbed this festering problem onto the "too hard to fix" pile. Consequently, Wisconsin remains stuck with a funding system that's outdated and unfair.

Wisconsin's next governor needs to make this huge issue a priority during the fall campaign, with specific plans voters can assess.

The state's "three-legged stool" of school financing -- revenue caps, two-thirds state funding, and limits on teacher raises -- has fallen over because state leaders kicked out two of the legs.

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Our Stand on Standards

Jim Stergios:

Seems our report and the release of the common core standards draft have set off a lot of interest in Massachusetts’ view, and especially in Pioneer’s take on the national standards effort. See Jay Greene’s blog for a long string of comments. Here is a bit of a longish overview of some of the issues we see in this from the Massachusetts and the national perspective. First, the Mass perspective:

1. Standards are the lifeblood of student achievement in public schools; and that includes even those site-based managed schools that are based on parental choice. You all know the stories of charters and voucher programs that don't deliver the kind of transformational improvement we all want. In MA, our charters for the most part are of a higher quality than elsewhere and far outperform their district counterparts. In part that is because of the great upfront business planning/vetting and accountability/closure processes (yes, regulation), but it is even more because MA has set really high academic standards, assessments, and teacher testing. Charters are effective at attaining goals but you have to set high academic goals for them to be good schools with high-achieving students. Arizona, with its numerous but too often lower quality charter schools, take note.

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On the Barricades at Shimer

Emily Smith:

Are you going back to the wars?"

"Not a war . . . a family dispute." So said Carson Holloway, a board member at Shimer College, responding to a student's half-joking remark. At this unique college, which calls itself "the 'Great Books' school of Chicago," a struggle over academic authority has been raging recently, rife with 1960s-style undertones. The school's embattled president, Tom Lindsay, is facing ideological opposition from faculty and students. Yet he thinks that the resolution of tensions at Shimer could serve as a "bellwether" for colleges nationwide, where for the past 50 years political agendas have too often contaminated the quality of a liberal-arts education.

Everyone at Shimer believes in a great-books education, through which students study the profound questions of Western thought and civilization. The "family dispute" is over how to govern this great-books school. Should a community of scholars call the shots, as it has done over the past 30 years? Or should the school be run by a chief executive, as the college's president thinks? Is Shimer a Greek-style polis, as many Shimerians believe? Or does it need to function more like a corporation, as the president contends?

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Grier has opened door to system of great Houston schools

Chris Barbic & Mike Feinberg:

In his 2010 State of the Schools address, Houston Independent School District Superintendent Terry Grier commented on the district's relationship with the public charter schools we founded more than a decade ago, YES Prep and KIPP. Grier referred to the relationship as a partnership as well as a competition, stating that HISD is ready to "get busy" in order to ensure parents are not leaving failing HISD schools to attend YES Prep, KIPP or other high-performing charters in Houston. We could not be more pleased to hear these comments from Grier. In fact, we've been hoping for many years that our existence would indeed result in this type of relationship with HISD and a superintendent ready to "get busy" and compete. The recent changes that Grier and the board have implemented regarding a longer calendar and focus on human capital show that they are committed to this idea.

YES Prep and KIPP were both born inside HISD in the mid-1990s when we were both classroom teachers in underserved communities in search of a better way to educate our students. We had a number of theories we wanted to test about what it would take to educate our students in a way that would allow them to compete with students from our city's very best schools. What we learned in those early years was that for us to have the freedom to be experimental, nimble and fleet-footed, for us to be able to make sometimes unorthodox decisions in the best interest of our students, we would need to leave HISD's political bureaucracy to operate as independent public charter schools.

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: 52 Million (36%) of Tax Returns Pay Zero Income Tax


A record number of the 142 million tax returns filed in 2008 resulted in no tax payment, according to a Tax Foundation analysis of IRS data. That means the tax filers got back every dollar that had been withheld from their paychecks, and often more. Roughly 51.6 million tax returns, or 36.3 percent, were filed by such "nonpayers," people whose exemptions, deductions and credits wiped out any federal income tax due.

A family of four earning more than $50,000 can have no income tax liability after taking the standard deduction and the child tax credit.

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A Turning Point on Education Reform

Chester Finn:

If the nation's education system finally makes a meaningful turn for the better, March 10 may very well mark the turning point.

On Wednesday, two influential organizations of state leaders -- the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers -- released drafts of new "common core" academic standards for American schools, covering English and math from kindergarten through 12th grade. The standards are intended -- if states embrace them, teachers teach them and children study hard -- to prepare tomorrow's young people to be "college- and career-ready" by the end of high school and to help the U.S. become more internationally competitive.

A closely related development will soon occur, when Education Secretary Arne Duncan unveils a program that will let states compete for up to $350 million in federal funds to develop new tests "aligned" with the new standards.

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March 12, 2010

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Wisconsin's Lost Emoloyment Decade

Stateline Staff:

California has fewer people in its workforce today than it did in 1999. For Alabama and Indiana, 1993 is the last time the employment ranks were so thin. And for Michigan -- unquestionably the nation's hardest-hit state in terms of unemployment -- 4.1 million people have jobs today. That's the smallest total since August of 1987, when Ronald Reagan was president.
Those grim statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor are highlighted by The Christian Science Monitor in a notable item today (March 11) that takes a long-term look at the national unemployment crisis. In all, 12 states now have a smaller total workforce than they did a decade ago, The Monitor reports.

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Madison School Leaders Consider Late Tuesday High School Start for Teacher Collaboration

Gayle Worland:

High school students would have an extra hour to sleep on Tuesday mornings next year under a plan being considered by the Madison School District and the teachers union.

Officials are in negotiations to make Tuesdays a "late start" day for students at East, West, Memorial and possibly La Follette High Schools in 2010-11 to give teachers a morning hour to collaborate with colleagues.

"Collaboration among professionals is like cross-fertilization," John Matthews, executive director of Madison Teachers Inc., said Thursday. The weekly sessions could give teachers a chance to discuss "what is a better way to approach a subject, a concept, what works with this kid and his individual learning style, etc."


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The School Board Job

Charlie Mas:

I don't know what job the members of the school board came to do. I don't know what job they think they are doing. But I do know what job they aren't doing: they aren't doing the Board job.

The Board job begins with serving as the elected representatives of the public. But the Board members aren't representing the public's voice in Seattle Public Schools. They certainly aren't advocating for the public's perspective. We know that they aren't because if they were, we would hear them begin their sentences with the words: "My constituents want... " and they don't. We don't hear them say "My constituents want equitable access to language immersion programs." or "My constituents want equitable access to Montessori programs." or "My constituents want access to a real Spectrum program for their Spectrum-eligible children." or "My constituents want reduced class sizes." We aren't hearing that. And we sure aren't hearing them follow these statements with "So let's make it happen for them."

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Can you lead a school system if you can't write a clear sentence?

Maureen Downey:

In a provocative Detroit News column, columnist Laura Berman describes the troubling case of Detroit school board president Otis Mathis. Mathis appears to be a decent man admired by his colleagues. He is fair and open. He can also barely construct a sentence, as Berman shows by sharing his e-mails.

One Mathis example that she provides:

If you saw Sunday's Free Press that shown Robert Bobb the emergency financial manager for Detroit Public Schools, move Mark Twain to Boynton which have three times the number seats then students and was one of the reason's he gave for closing school to many empty seats.
Mathis does not deny his writing problems or his weak education record and speaks openly with Berman about them. He says his own struggles and deficiencies don't disqualify him from leading a school system that shares many of those same struggles and shortcomings on an epic scale.

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Does the Size of a School Matter?

Herbert J. Walberg, Don Soifer, Leonie Haimson, Valerie E. Lee, professor, Rudy Crew:

Facing low enrollment and a $50 million budget deficit, the Kansas City Board of Education announced on Wednesday that it would close almost half of the city's public schools. The "Right-Size" plan will mean closing 28 of the city's 61 schools and eliminating 700 out of 3,000 jobs.

National education experts have said that the Kansas City schools were not responding to demographic changes and academic failure. District officials say the closings will improve achievement by allowing the system to focus its resources.

How much does school size matter? And what are the lessons learned from Kansas City?

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What's next after K.C. school closures?

Barbara Shelley:

Faced with a deficit and troubled school system, Kansas City's Board of Education voted to close 28 out of 61 schools. Barbara Shelley, columnist for the Kansas City Star, talks with Kai Ryssdal about what led to the decision and its impact.


KAI RYSSDAL: The board of education in Kansas City, Mo., took a vote last night on how to save their city's long-troubled school system. It was close. But by the end of the evening a plan to shut down 28 of the district's 61 schools and lay off 700 people did pass. The vote was 5-4. The district says the plan should cut $50 million from the budget.

Barbara Shelley is a columnist for the Kansas City Star. She's been writing about schools there and the city itself for quite a while. Barb, it's good to have you with us.

BARBARA SHELLEY: Good to be here.

RYSSDAL: What's the reaction in town today after this announcement?

SHELLEY: Well, I think you have two different reactions. You have the reaction from people that are going to be directly affected. And that's the families and the teachers and the students. And there's a lot of anguish in that group. You have another reaction from I would say business types and people that see this as a hope that a smaller, more streamlined school district will mean better performance and a better academic potential for the district.

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Andrew Rotherham:

Big front page story in the WaPo todayabout a debate over getting rid of congressional "earmarks" for for-profit entities. But is the problem that for-profits can get earmarks or that the earmark process is just not very meritorious in its selection regardless of the tax status of the recipient? Plenty of for-profits will continue to get federal money through a variety of avenues. Meanwhile, not every non-profit is a model of efficiency, virtue, or effectiveness.

In K-12, and education more generally, we have a similar problem when it comes to thinking about quality.

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Obama-Care Meets Obama-Ed

Peter Wood:

Of President Obama's three big takeovers--cap 'n trade, health care, and higher ed--higher ed has garnered the least public attention. That may change now that the administration is attempting to impose its wishes by legislative trickery.

The health care bill that the Democrats hope to pass by "reconciliation" to avoid the normal Senatorial voting procedure is now being amended to include the administration's Big Grab on federal student loans. If this works, we will have one bill in which the federal government not only takes primary control of American health care but also simultaneously takes practical control of American higher education.

Some background: last September, The Wall Street Journal ("The Quietest Trillion") gave an early heads-up to the administration's then-plan to move the Department of Education from a 20 percent to an 80 percent share of the student loan market. A bill passed the House that month that would have eliminated private lenders from the federally guaranteed student loan market by July 1, 2010. It came with a promise that taxpayers would save some $87 billion from substituting a government-run service for the rough-and-tumble of private lenders. In October, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan sent a letter to colleges and universities across the country advising them to get their institutions ready for a 2010 implementation of the new rules, dubbed "Direct Lending." College officials, some House Democrats, and a few Republicans expressed their uneasiness at the new plan.

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Teachers Union Tops List of California Political Spenders

Patrick McGreevy:

Fifteen special interest groups including casino operators, drug firms and unions for teachers and public employees spent more than $1 billion during the last decade trying to influence California public officials and voters, the state's watchdog agency reported today.
The money went for lobbying, campaign contributions to state politicians and ballot measure campaigns to get voters to advance the groups' agendas, according to the report by the state Fair Political Practices Commission.

``This tsunami of special interest spending drowns out the voices of average voters, and intimidates political opponents and elected officials alike,'' said Commission Chairman Ross Johnson, a former state senator.

The Wisconsin Education Association Council also tops the Badger State's lobbying expenditures.

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March 11, 2010

State-of-the-art sports facility is a boon for Sun Prairie High School

Jim Polzin:

The massive field house inside Sun Prairie's new high school, which is scheduled to open in the fall, is a facility that can serve a great number of purposes.

As athletic director Jim McClowry is quick to point out, its primary benefit is that of a spacious classroom for physical education students that eliminates overcrowding and gives teachers myriad options of activities to include in the curriculum.

There's also the obvious advantage to the school district's student-athletes, who will have a breathtaking venue to call home.

But there's an ancillary benefit to having a large facility with ample parking, and plenty of other bells and whistles, that has McClowry excited about the future.

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School Districts vs. A Good Math Education

Charlie Mas:

If you are a parent in cities such as Bellevue, Issaquah or Seattle, your kids are being short-changed--being provided an inferior math education that could cripple their future aspirations--and you need to act. This blog will tell the story of an unresponsive and wrong-headed educational bureaucracies that are dead set on continuing in the current direction. And it will tell the story of how this disaster can be turned around. Parent or not, your future depends on dealing with the problem.

Let me provide you with a view from the battlefield of the math "wars", including some information that is generally not known publicly, or has been actively suppressed by the educational establishment. Of lawsuits and locking parents out of decision making.

I know that some of you would rather that I only talk about weather, but the future of my discipline and of our highly technological society depends on mathematically literate students. Increasingly, I am finding bright students unable to complete a major in atmospheric sciences. All their lives they wanted to be a meteorologist and problems with math had ended their dreams. Most of them had excellent math grades in high school. I have talked in the past about problems with reform or discovery math; an unproven ideology-based instructional approach in vogue among the educational establishment. An approach based on student's "discovering" math principles, group learning, heavy use of calculators, lack of practice and skills building, and heavy use of superficial "spiraling" of subject matter. As I have noted before in this blog, there is no competent research that shows that this approach works and plenty to show that it doesn't. But I have covered much of this already in earlier blogs.

Related: Math Forum audio / video.

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Kansas City Adopts Plan to Close Nearly Half Its Schools

Susan Saulny:

The Kansas City Board of Education voted Wednesday night to close almost half of the city's public schools, accepting a sweeping and contentious plan to shrink the system in the face of dwindling enrollment, budget cuts and a $50 million deficit.

In a 5-to-4 vote, the members endorsed the Right-Size plan, proposed by the schools superintendent, John Covington, to close 28 of the city's 61 schools and cut 700 of 3,000 jobs, including those of 285 teachers. The closings are expected to save $50 million, erasing the deficit from the $300 million budget.

"We must make sacrifices," said board member Joel Pelofsky, speaking in favor of the plan before the vote. "Unite in favor of our children."

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Gates Funds Aid University of Oregon's College-Prep Efforts

University of Oregon:

Developing a set of core content standards to prepare high school students with the academic foundation and skills necessary to succeed on any college campus is the goal of a new initiative at the University of Oregon.

Specifically targeted are the subject areas of mathematics and English, as well as a set of career-oriented two-year certificate programs.

David T. Conley, a professor of education and founder and chief executive officer of the non-profit Educational Policy Improvement Center (EPIC), will lead the ambitious project, which is partially funded by a $794,000 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The Seattle-based foundation announced in February a $19.5 million package of 15 grants to develop and launch new instructional tools and assessments to assure college readiness across the nation. Other support for the UO project comes from the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association as part of the Common Core State Standards Initiative.

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Hillsborough teachers will soon be rated by their peers

Dong-Phuong Nguyen

Starting as early as this fall, every Hillsborough County schoolteacher will be subject to ratings by his or her peers.

The School Board on Tuesday unanimously approved the move as part of a reform effort under way to improve schools through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The board's vote dedicates $360,000 to an online training course for the peer evaluation system that, by 2013, will help determine whether teachers qualify for tenure or merit pay.

Within a month or so, teachers will be able to see how the system works in real life. The optional six-hour course by national teacher evaluation expert Charlotte Danielson includes an overview and video clips from actual classrooms where similar evaluations have been used.

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: US Sales Taxes Hit Record High

William P. Barrett:

Shopping blues: Top tax 12%. Chicago's 10.25% highest big-city rate. More Internet tax fights loom.

While President Obama's push to raise federal income taxes for the wealthy gets lots of attention, the continuing upward creep in the sales tax rates imposed by state and local governments has gotten less notice.

But Vertex Inc., which calculates sales tax for Internet sellers, reports that the average general sales tax rate nationwide reached 8.629% at the end of 2009, the highest since the Berwyn, Pa., company started tracking data in 1982. That was up a nickel on a taxable $100 purchase from a year earlier and up nearly 40 cents for the decade. The highest sales tax rate in the country now stands at 12%.

During 2009 seven states and the District of Columbia raised sales tax rates, with one jurisdiction--North Carolina--actually doing it twice. Only four states hiked rates in 2008 and only one in 2007. Given state budget problems, the 2009 state sales tax increases aren't surprising. States have also been raising income tax rates on the wealthy and on corporations and boosting excise taxes on alcohol and tobacco. With states now facing record budget shortfalls, more tax increases seem likely.

There has been discussion regarding the shift of school additional school spending to the sales tax.

Related: Federal Withholding Tax Revenues.

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The World's Most Beautiful College Campuses

Pascal Le Draoulec:

Architects and designers pick the most attractive schools.


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Feds examine LA schools' English learner program

Associated Press:

The U.S. Education Department is planning to examine the Los Angeles Unified School District's low achieving English-language learning program to determine whether those students are being denied a fair education.
The department's Office for Civil Rights will investigate whether the nation's second-largest school district is complying with federal civil rights laws with regard to English-language learners, who comprise about a third of the district's 688,000 pupils, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The inquiry was sparked by the low academic achievement of the district's English learners. Only 3 percent are proficient in high-school math and English.

Problems in LAUSD's English-language learning program were highlighted last fall in a study by the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute.

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March 10, 2010

Why We Must Fire Bad Teachers


The relative decline of American education at the elementary- and high-school levels has long been a national embarrassment as well as a threat to the nation's future. Once upon a time, American students tested better than any other students in the world. Now, ranked against European schoolchildren, America does about as well as Lithuania, behind at least 10 other nations. Within the United States, the achievement gap between white students and poor and minority students stubbornly persists--and as the population of disadvantaged students grows, overall scores continue to sag.

For much of this time--roughly the last half century--professional educators believed that if they could only find the right pedagogy, the right method of instruction, all would be well. They tried New Math, open classrooms, Whole Language--but nothing seemed to achieve significant or lasting improvements.

Yet in recent years researchers have discovered something that may seem obvious, but for many reasons was overlooked or denied. What really makes a difference, what matters more than the class size or the textbook, the teaching method or the technology, or even the curriculum, is the quality of the teacher. Much of the ability to teach is innate--an ability to inspire young minds as well as control unruly classrooms that some people instinctively possess (and some people definitely do not). Teaching can be taught, to some degree, but not the way many graduate schools of education do it, with a lot of insipid or marginally relevant theorizing and pedagogy. In any case the research shows that within about five years, you can generally tell who is a good teacher and who is not

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Draft US K-12 "Core Standards" Available for Comment

National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and Council of Chief State School Officers:

As part of the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI), the draft K-12 standards are now available for public comment. These draft standards, developed in collaboration with teachers, school administrators, and experts, seek to provide a clear and consistent framework to prepare our children for college and the workforce.

Governors and state commissioners of education from 48 states, 2 territories and the District of Columbia committed to developing a common core of state standards in English-language arts and mathematics for grades K-12. This is a state-led effort coordinated by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO).

The NGA Center and CCSSO have received feedback from national organizations representing, but not limited to teachers, postsecondary education (including community colleges), civil rights groups, English language learners, and students with disabilities. These standards are now open for public comment until Friday, April 2.

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Governors, state school superintendents to propose common academic standards

Nick Anderson:

The nation's governors and state school chiefs will propose standards Wednesday for what students should learn in English and math, from kindergarten through high school, a crucial step in President Obama's campaign to raise academic standards across the country.

The blueprint aims to replace a hodgepodge of state benchmarks with common standards. The president has aggressively encouraged the states' action as a key to improving troubled schools and keeping the nation competitive. Instituting new academic standards would reverberate in textbooks, curriculum, teacher training and student learning from coast to coast.

Fourth-graders, for example, would be expected to explain major differences between poetry and prose and to refer to such elements as stanza, verse, rhythm and meter when writing or speaking about a poem. Eighth-graders would be expected to use linear equations to solve for an unknown and explain a proof of the Pythagorean theorem on properties of a right triangle -- cornerstones of algebra and geometry.

"It's hugely significant," said Michael Cohen, a former Clinton education official, who is president of the standards advocacy organization Achieve. "The states recognize they ought to have very consistent expectations for what their students should learn."

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Jordan, Utah school board looks to rein in time spent on comments

Rosemary Winters:

After a rowdy, four-hour meeting last month, the Jordan School District Board is considering tightening its policy on public comments.

A proposal for tonight's Board of Education meeting would make a number of changes to the district's rules regarding public participation at board meetings, including limiting the time spent on comments. At the last board meeting, hundreds of people showed up to protest a proposal to lay off 500 workers, including 250 teachers. The board's regular agenda was suspended to make time for four hours of comment.

"It cannot continue to do that every meeting, or the district will come to a halt," Jordan spokeswoman Melinda Colton wrote in an e-mail, noting that people also can chime in via letters, e-mails and phone calls. "The board feels it needs to restore decorum to its board meetings. Their meetings are meetings held in public, not public hearings."

Robin Frodge, president of the Jordan Education Association, said she hopes the board keeps in mind the importance of public input. "One of the primary purposes for public meetings is to conduct business in front of the public and to also take public response on board actions," Frodge said.

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Spending at Co-Located New York Schools

Kim Gittleson:

Buried on the Department of Education's website is a page that lists per pupil spending on a school-wide, district-wide, and system-wide basis. Using this information, as well as expense data from the 2007-2008 audits and the recent Independent Budget Office report, we compared spending by charter schools and traditional public schools that are located in the same building.

We found that charter schools spent $365 less per pupil than their co-located traditional public schools in 2007-2008. You can see our calculations in a workbook here.

Some notes on our methodology:

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List of California's lowest-performing schools released

Katy Murphy:

Five schools in Oakland, five in Hayward and one in San Lorenzo are among 188 statewide that have been deemed "persistently lowest-achieving" on a preliminary list released Monday by state education officials.

The unwelcome distinction was given to schools that posted low scores on reading and math tests in the past three years and that have shown little improvement, based on the state education department's analysis.

In Hayward, that includes all three of the city's high schools.

The schools will eventually be required to make one of four interventions set forth by the federal government, including the replacement of the principal and staff, closure and charter conversion, state officials said Monday. Those who wish to receive federal school improvement grant funds must do so by this fall; otherwise, the timeline is unspecified.

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We must right-size KC School District, now

Airick Leonard West:

At first glance, the right-sizing of the Kansas City School District just feels wrong.

It feels wrong to close more schools in struggling neighborhoods, to punish scholars with longer bus rides home, to let teachers go with little more than "we wish we didn't have to," to take beautiful buildings that stood for community and put boards in their windows, to ask families to bear the burden of a solution after years of school boards -- which now include myself -- failing to fix the problems. In the storm of controversy, it is easy to overlook what is right in the journey we are on.

Beyond all that may feel wrong, there is so much that is right in our district and with the right-sizing plan. We should celebrate that our superintendent has led a thoughtful, data-driven, six-month, three-stage process to arrive at the plan.

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Notes on the Alliance for Education Teacher Quality Survey

Melissa Westbrook:

just finally got around to looking over the Alliance for Education survey called "Teaching Quality Community Survey". What were they thinking? (Sorry to be a little late to this party but I was out of town last week.) I'm not going to even provide a link. I answered every question "don't know" so I could read through the whole thing.

Just from a survey standpoint, it's a mess. There are multiple values in questions starting with the very first one. It's about (1) redesigning the salary schedule AND (2) eliminating coursework incentives AND (3) "reallocating pay to target the district's challenges and priorities." What?!? You can't write a survey question like that.

Question two has a classic "leading the reader" form using phrases like "redouble efforts" and "as attempted by the current superintendent". How does the reader know this actually DID happen? Also, the "latest" negotiations haven't even formally started; is the district showing its hand here?

And it goes on and on. "Gather teacher data so that teachers are equitably distributed among schools." So elsewhere they want to eliminate pay for more education for teachers but at the same time in this question they want to spread the number of teachers who do have more education more equitably among the schools?

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School cuts: Size matters

Savannah Morning News:

Savannah-Chatham school board should consider temporary increases to class size.

LOCAL SCHOOL officials say everything is on the table when it comes to cutting the budget, but there are some measures that would be a bit less painful.

For instance, the Savannah-Chatham Board of Education should consider a temporary increase in class sizes.

While the state last year increased class size regulations marginally, the local system remains, on average, about two or three students below those limits. There is more leeway in elementary schools, with class sizes closer to state limits in the middle and upper grades.

More students per class will likely mean more stress on educators. However, this move can be easily undone when the economy (and school tax revenue) improves.

Superintendent Thomas Lockamy said that out of the system's roughly 3,200 teaching positions, some 300 to 400 come vacant at the end of each year through resignations or retirement.

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Pressed by Charters, Public Schools Try Marketing

Jennifer Medina:

Rafaela Espinal held her first poolside chat last summer, offering cheese, crackers and apple cider to draw people to hear her pitch.

She keeps a handful of brochures in her purse, and also gives a few to her daughter before she leaves for school each morning. She painted signs on the windows of her Chrysler minivan, turning it into a mobile advertisement.

It is all an effort to build awareness for her product, which is not new, but is in need of an image makeover: a public school in Harlem.

As charter schools have grown around the country, both in number and in popularity, public school principals like Ms. Espinal are being forced to compete for bodies or risk having their schools closed. So among their many challenges, some of these principals, who had never given much thought to attracting students, have been spending considerable time toiling over ways to market their schools. They are revamping school logos, encouraging students and teachers to wear T-shirts emblazoned with the new designs. They emphasize their after-school programs as an alternative to the extended days at many charter schools. A few have worked with professional marketing firms to create sophisticated Web sites and blogs.

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Making Tough Choices for Higher Education

James Warren:

Faculty and staff members at the University of Illinois at Chicago will take an anger-fueled field trip on Monday to visit a growing, bedeviled species: financially beleaguered politicians. One can predict the topics of discussion -- and those likely to be avoided.

Several hundred people from the university will fan out and both rally and lobby local and state officials, including Gov. Patrick J. Quinn, about the state budget mess and against the near certainty of more cuts and increased tuition.

They're calling it "A Day of Education in Defense of Public Education," and participants will make virtue out of necessity, venting on one of four furlough days mandated for the rest of the school year. Central topics include the $500 million that the state owes the University of Illinois for a fiscal year that's almost over.

Dick Simpson, the decidedly sober but deceptively passionate head of the U.I.C. political science department, said he had not seen this much on-campus emotion and faculty mobilization since the campus was closed after the 1970 shootings of students at Kent State University by members of the Ohio National Guard.

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March 9, 2010

10th Annual Wisconsin Charter Schools Conference, March 22-23 at the Monona Terrace in Madison.

via an Ingrid Beamsley email:

Attendees will glean new ideas and insights from those who are part of charter schools. Charter schools work as "learning laboratories" and are anxious to share insights and best practices that can be applied to traditional public schools. Whether you're looking to network at our larger sessions, or if you prefer to sit down one-on-one in a more private setting with someone who can answer your questions, we can make it happen for you at this year's conference.

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Wisconsin Governor Doyle drops plan on school funding

Jason Stein:

The reason, spokesman Adam Collins said Monday, is that focus shifted to pursuing federal stimulus money for education and a lack of interest from state lawmakers in the proposal.

But the top leaders of the Senate and Assembly and the chairs of their education committees said Doyle never put forward a bill or detailed specifics for them to evaluate and that the last contact from his aides on the issue was about a year ago.

"More finger-pointing on education reforms from the administration without a proposal that has strong public support isn't going to help Wisconsin students," Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker (D-Weston) said in a statement.

The news amounts to the latest setback for the Democratic governor as he seeks to build on his legacy before the Legislature finishes its regular business April 22. Fellow Democrats in the Legislature already have rejected Doyle's plans to put the mayor in charge of the Milwaukee Public Schools and have called for changes to a sweeping proposal to limit greenhouse gases and boost renewable energy.

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Schools' New Math: the Four-Day Week

Chris Herring:

A small but growing number of school districts across the country are moving to a four-day week, in a shift they hope will help close gaping budget holes and stave off teacher layoffs, but that critics fear could hurt students' education.

State legislators and local school boards are giving administrators greater flexibility to set their academic calendars, making the four-day slate possible. But education experts say little research exists to show the impact of shortened weeks on learning. The missed hours are typically made up by lengthening remaining school days.

Of the nearly 15,000-plus districts nationwide, more than 100 in at least 17 states currently use the four-day system, according to data culled from the Education Commission of the States. Dozens of other districts are contemplating making the change in the next year--a shift that is apt to create new challenges for working parents as well as thousands of school employees.

The heightened interest in an abbreviated school week comes as the Obama administration prepares to plow $4.35 billion in extra federal funds into underperforming schools. The administration has been advocating for a stronger school system in a bid to make the U.S. more academically competitive on a global basis.

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Ed chief: Agency to review equal access at schools

Bob Johnson:

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Monday the federal government will become more vigilant to make sure students have equal access and opportunity to everything ranging from college prep classes to science and engineering programs.

"We are going to reinvigorate civil rights enforcement," Duncan said on a historic Selma bridge to commemorate the 45th anniversary of a bloody confrontation between voting rights demonstrators and state troopers.

Duncan said the department also will issue a series of guidelines to public schools and colleges addressing fairness and equity issues.

"The truth is that, in the last decade, the office for civil rights has not been as vigilant as it should be. That is about to change," Duncan said.

Duncan spoke to a crowd about 400 people on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in observance of "Bloody Sunday," the day in 1965 when several hundred civil rights protesters were beaten by state troopers as they crossed the span over the Alabama River, bound for Montgomery.

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Carl Dorvil: A Great American Story

Tom Vander Ark:

Carl Dorvil started Group Excellence in his SMU dorm room. The son of Haitian immigrants, Carl never took his education for granted. He was the first African American president of his high school and balanced four jobs while completing a triple major and starting a business as an undergraduate.

Some good advice from the founder of Macaroni Grill led Carl to pursue an MBA. But when his professor saw the revenue projection for Group Excellence, he suggested a semester off to work on the business.

Carl finished his MBA in 2008, but the break allowed him to build a great business. Today Group Excellence (GE) employs 500 people in four cities and serves over 10,000 Texas students. GE provides tutoring services to struggling low-income students. Dorvil says, "The knowledge that I gained from business school propelled GE into becoming one of the most respected tutoring companies under the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act."

In one Dallas middle school, math scores shot up from 12% to more than 60% passing the state test only 8 months after activating the GE program.

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Loud noises pose hearing-loss risk to kids

Joyce Cohen:

For football fans, the indelible image of last month's Super Bowl might have been quarterback Drew Brees' fourth-quarter touchdown pass that put the New Orleans Saints ahead for good. But for audiologists around the nation, the highlight came after the game - when Brees, in a shower of confetti, held aloft his 1-year-old son, Baylen.

The boy was wearing what looked like the headphones worn by his father's coaches on the sideline, but they were actually low-cost, low-tech earmuffs meant to protect his hearing from the stadium's roar.

Specialists say such safeguards are critical for young ears in a deafening world. Hearing loss from exposure to loud noises is cumulative and irreversible; if such exposure starts in infancy, children can live "half their lives with hearing loss," said Brian Fligor, director of diagnostic audiology at Children's Hospital Boston.

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Home schooling: Why some countries welcome children being taught at home and others don't

The Economist:

UNLIKE many of the "huddled masses yearning to breathe free" that have sought refuge in America, the Romeike family comes from a comfortable place: Bissingen an der Teck, a town in south-western Germany. Yet on January 26th an American immigration judge granted the Romeikes--a piano teacher, his wife and five children--political asylum, accepting their case that difficulties with home schooling their children created a reasonable fear of persecution.

Under Germany's stringent rules, home schooling is allowed only in exceptional circumstances. Before emigrating, Mr and Mrs Romeike had been fined some €12,000 ($17,000); policemen had arrived at their house and forcibly taken their children to school. The Romeikes feared that the youngsters might soon be removed by the state.

In September 2006 the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Germany was within its rights to follow this approach. Schools represented society, it judged, and it was in the children's interest to become part of that society. The parents' right to raise their offspring did not go as far as depriving their children of the social experience of school.

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War on Soft Drinks Bubbles out of Schools

Michelle Miller:

When former President Bill Clinton enlisted the beverage industries in fighting childhood obesity, he did not expect so much progress in just four years.

"I have to admit I'm stunned by the results," Clinton said. "There has been an 88 percent reduction in the total beveraged calories shipped to schools."

CBS News correspondent Michelle Miller report the industry is now selling healthier - instead of high calorie - drinks to students. Still not good enough, say public health officials.

A growing number of cities and states want to reduce adult consumption of sugary drinks by taxing them. New York has revived a proposal to impose a penny per ounce tax on sweetened beverages. Colorado has already levied such as tax. So has Illinois. California is considering it.

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The Legal Requirement of Public Input

Charlie Mas:

Dan has been working hard snooping around in the RCW. It's pretty amazing what you can find in there if you look.

Here's what he found: RCW 28A.320.015

School boards of directors -- Powers -- Notice of adoption of policy.

(1) The board of directors of each school district may exercise the following:

(a) The broad discretionary power to determine and adopt written policies not in conflict with other law that provide for the development and implementation of programs, activities, services, or practices that the board determines will:

(i) Promote the education and daily physical activity of kindergarten through twelfth grade students in the public schools; or

(ii) Promote the effective, efficient, or safe management and operation of the school district;

(b) Such powers as are expressly authorized by law; and

(c) Such powers as are necessarily or fairly implied in the powers expressly authorized by law.

(2) Before adopting a policy under subsection (1)(a) of this section, the school district board of directors shall comply with the notice requirements of the open public meetings act, chapter 42.30 RCW, and shall in addition include in that notice a statement that sets forth or reasonably describes the proposed policy. The board of directors shall provide a reasonable opportunity for public written and oral comment and consideration of the comment by the board of directors.

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That Other Government Takeover: Higher Education Act

Wall Street Journal:

Everyone knows Democrats are planning to use the budget reconciliation process to get ObamaCare through the Senate. Less well known is that Democrats are plotting add-ons to that bill to get other liberal priorities enacted--programs that could never attract 60 votes.

One of these controversial measures rewrites the Higher Education Act to ban private companies from offering federally guaranteed student loans as of this July. Congress has already passed laws in recent years discouraging private lenders from making loans without a federal guarantee. But most college financial-aid departments still want private companies to originate and service the guaranteed loans. That's because the alternative--a public option run by the Department of Education--has been distinguished by its Soviet-style customer service.

The Democratic plan is to make this public option the only option mere days before colleges send out their financial aid packages to incoming students. The House and Senate budget committees issued instructions last year to look for savings in the student-lending program, so the Democrats have prepared in advance their excuse to jam these changes through the reconciliation process.

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Teachers union rips Florida Senator Thrasher's education bill

Brandon Larrabee:

The state's largest teachers union ripped into a proposed overhaul of teacher contracts Monday, saying the bill represented an effort to score political points instead of serious education reform.

"It attacks the very people who work in our school system each and every day as opposed to giving them the resources that are needed to succeed," said Andy Ford, president of the Florida Education Association, at a news conference called to slam the proposal from Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine.

Thrasher's bill, filed last week, would base half of a teacher's salary on student performance while extending to five years the period during which a new teacher can be fired at the end of each school year without cause.

It would also dismantle teacher tenure in the three counties, including Duval County, where it exists as well as other employment protections in other parts of the state. In most parts of the state, teachers can obtain a "professional service contract" after three or four years and can only be fired for cause.

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Algebra in Wonderland

Melanie Bayley:

SINCE "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" was published, in 1865, scholars have noted how its characters are based on real people in the life of its author, Charles Dodgson, who wrote under the name Lewis Carroll. Alice is Alice Pleasance Liddell, the daughter of an Oxford dean; the Lory and Eaglet are Alice's sisters Lorina and Edith; Dodgson himself, a stutterer, is the Dodo ("Do-Do-Dodgson").

But Alice's adventures with the Caterpillar, the Mad Hatter, the Cheshire Cat and so on have often been assumed to be based purely on wild imagination. Just fantastical tales for children -- and, as such, ideal material for the fanciful movie director Tim Burton, whose "Alice in Wonderland" opened on Friday.

Yet Dodgson most likely had real models for the strange happenings in Wonderland, too. He was a tutor in mathematics at Christ Church, Oxford, and Alice's search for a beautiful garden can be neatly interpreted as a mishmash of satire directed at the advances taking place in Dodgson's field.

In the mid-19th century, mathematics was rapidly blossoming into what it is today: a finely honed language for describing the conceptual relations between things. Dodgson found the radical new math illogical and lacking in intellectual rigor. In "Alice," he attacked some of the new ideas as nonsense -- using a technique familiar from Euclid's proofs, reductio ad absurdum, where the validity of an idea is tested by taking its premises to their logical extreme.

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Officials Allow Sex Offender to Live Near School

Gerry Shih:

A convicted sex offender has moved into a home across the street from Wildwood Elementary School in Piedmont, infuriating parents, who are asking school officials and the police why the 2006 state law mandating a minimum distance of 2,000 feet between schools and the residences of sex offenders is not being enforced.

But the Piedmont police, on the advice of county and state law enforcement officials, say there is nothing they can do.

On Feb. 12, James F. Donnelly, 71, a convicted sex offender, registered his new address as 256 Wildwood Avenue, where a blue-hued house overlooks Piedmont, Oakland's upscale, uphill neighbor.

Shortly after Mr. Donnelly filed his registration, Chief John Hunt of the Piedmont police realized that the house was almost directly across from the school.

"We said, Wait, this can't be, somebody dropped the ball," Chief Hunt said in an interview.

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Patricia Travers, Violinist Who Vanished, Dies at 82

Margalit Fox:

At 11, the violinist Patricia Travers made her first solo appearance with the New York Philharmonic, playing Lalo's "Symphonie Espagnole" with "a purity of tone, breadth of line and immersion in her task," as a critic for The New York Times wrote in 1939.

At 13, she appeared in "There's Magic in Music," a Hollywood comedy set in a music camp. Released in 1941 and starring Allan Jones, the film features Patricia, chosen by audition from hundreds of child performers, playing with passionate intensity.

In her early 20s, for the Columbia label, she made the first complete recording of Charles Ives's Sonata No.2 for Violin and Piano, a modern American work requiring a mature musical intelligence.

Not long afterward, she disappeared.

Between the ages of 10 and 23, Ms. Travers appeared with many of the world's leading orchestras, including the New York, London and Berlin Philharmonics and the Boston and Chicago Symphonies. She performed on national radio broadcasts, gave premieres of music written expressly for her and made several well-received records.

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Interpol called in to investigate kidnapping of British schoolboy

Dean Nelson, Farzana Fiaz & Ben Leach:

Sahil Saeed, five, was seized by gunmen on Thursday hours before he was due to fly home to Oldham with his father after visiting his sick grandmother in Jhelum, Punjab

His father, RajaNaqqash Saeed, claimed he had been tortured by four armed men who left with his son and demanded a £100,000 ransom.

Rehman Malik, Pakistan's interior minister, said that Interpol had been asked to help with the investigation but warned the kidnappers that police were closing in.

His comments came after four Pakistani police officers were suspended after initially failing to respond to the family's emergency call. Police in the city have said they have made no progress with the case.

Rehman Malik also gave his backing to claims that the kidnapping was an "inside job" by disgruntled relations.

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March 8, 2010

Parents love it, but Wisconsin's open enrollment option puts school districts on edge during tough economic times

Appleton Post-Crescent:

Zachary Dupland was a kindergartner at Menasha's Gegan Elementary School when his parents split up. His dad, Eric Dupland, moved to Appleton. His mom, Tauna Carson, moved to Neenah.

As part of their custody agreement, however, they opted to keep Zachary, now a third-grader, at a school in Menasha by applying for open enrollment.

His parents felt no reason existed to uproot him from his friends and teachers, at least until middle school.

"We wanted to avoid any more dramatic changes in his life," Eric Dupland said.

"This option has been wonderful for us," Carson said. "It has allowed us to do just what we need to do for Zachary."

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Milwaukee Mayor Advocates teacher Healthcare Cost Reform

Alan Borsuk:

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett is calling on Milwaukee Public Schools and union leaders to work quickly on ways to get more MPS employees to take less expensive health insurance.

In an interview, Barrett said, "I'm calling on the school district, on the School Board, on the representatives of the employees, to meet as quickly as possible to see if they can find a solution to stave off" what lies ahead for MPS, including projections of cuts in hundreds of teaching jobs and increases in average class size.

"I believe a big component of that is putting more people into the lower cost health care plan," he said. MPS offers two health plans, and about 80% of employees take one that costs $7,380 a year more for a family than the other plan.

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Fixing US STEM education is possible, but will take money

Todd Morton:

The state of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education in the United States has seen some unflattering appraisals in recent years, and deservedly so. In early February, the House of Representatives heard testimony on undergraduate and graduate education. The message from the panel, which included experts from academia, STEM-based industries, and the National Science Foundation (NSF), was clear: the problems in STEM education are well-known, and it's time to take action.

Both the hearing's charter and its chair, Daniel Lipinski (D-IL), pointed out the obvious problem in higher education: students start out interested, but the STEM programs are driving them away. As the National Academies described in its 2005 report Rising Above the Gathering Storm, successful STEM education is not just an academic pursuit--it's a necessity for competing in the knowledge-based economy that the United States had a key role in creating.

The potential for action comes thanks to the fact that the America COMPETES Act of 2007 is up for reauthorization. Its initial focus was on STEM education at the K-12 levels, but efforts at the undergraduate and graduate levels are needed to retain students to fill the jobs left vacant as baby boomers retire.

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From his sickbed, Jaime Escalante is still delivering

Esmeralda Bermudez:

There was a time in East Los Angeles when el maestro's el maestro's gruff voice bounced off his classroom walls. He roamed the aisles, he juggled oranges, he dressed in costumes, he punched the air; he called you names, he called your mom, he kicked you out, he lured you in; he danced, he boxed, he screamed, he whispered. He would do anything to get your attention.

"Ganas," he would say. "That's all you need. The desire to learn."

Nearly three decades later, Jaime Escalante finds himself far from Garfield High School in East Los Angeles, the place that made him internationally famous for turning a generation of low-income students into calculus whizzes. Twenty-two years have passed since his classroom exploits were captured in the film "Stand and Deliver."

He is 79 and hunched in a wheelchair at a cancer treatment center in Reno. It is cold outside, and the snow-capped mountains that crown the city where his son brought him three weeks ago on a bed in the back of an old van remind him of his native Bolivia.

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Soft-Drink Sales Drop in Schools, Group Says

Betsy McKay:

The main trade association representing Coca-Cola Co., PepsiCo Inc., and other beverage companies plans to release a report Monday showing that sales of soda and other drinks in U.S. secondary schools have dropped sharply since 2004, in a sign that efforts to improve nutrition in schools are progressing.

The report comes as first lady Michelle Obama is leading a campaign to combat childhood obesity and as Congress is poised to consider regulating the drinks allowed in school-vending machines.

Sales volume of beverages shipped to schools from bottlers fell 72% between the first semester of the 2004-05 school year and the first semester of the current academic year, according to the report, which was compiled for the American Beverage Association by economic research firm Keybridge Research LLC. The report showed a 95% decline in sales volume of full-calorie soft drinks, such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola, and a 94% decline in juice drinks. Full-calorie soft drinks accounted for just 6.8% of beverage volume shipped to schools last semester, while they made up 40% of the product mix in 2004.

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Education reformers making progress

Charles Davenport, Jr.:

ittle Johnny can't read or write because, in government schools, the interests of teachers' unions prevail over the interests of children. Unions may be beneficial to educators, but they are indifferent -- if not hostile -- to the intellectual development of children.

But education reformers nationwide are celebrating a rare victory for the kids. Last month in Rhode Island, Superintendant Frances Gallo fired the entire staff of Central Falls High School -- a total of 93 people. The grateful citizens of Central Falls have erected a billboard in Gallo's honor. Rightly so. Gallo, Rhode Island Education Commissioner Deborah Gist and the Central Falls school board (which approved the firings on a 5-2 vote) are an inspiration to the public school reform movement.

Central Falls High is one of the worst schools in Rhode Island. Only 45 percent of the students are proficient in reading, 29 percent in writing and, incredibly, only 4 percent in math. Compare those abysmal numbers to Rhode Island's (somewhat less embarrassing) statewide averages in the same subjects: 69, 42 and 27 percent, respectively. Furthermore, half of the students at Central Falls are failing every subject, and the school's graduation rate is 48 percent.

Only teachers' unions could defend such a spectacular failure. Several hundred bused-in, placard-waving educators and their union representatives showed up in Central Falls hours before the firings. "We are behind Central Falls teachers," proclaimed Mark Bostic of the American Federation of Teachers, "and we will be here as long as it takes to get justice." But on Tuesday, the Central Falls union publicly pledged to support Gallo's reforms, and she said she's willing to negotiate.

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In Harlem, Epicenter for Charter Schools, a Senator Wars Against Them

Jennifer Medina:

When hundreds of parents went to Albany last month to rally for charter schools, they were greeted by a parade of politicians offering encouragement and promises.

But when Bill Perkins, the state senator from Harlem who represents many of the parents, took the stage, they drowned him out with boos.

Some parents confronted him later in the vestibule outside the Senate chamber, demanding that he meet with them that afternoon and chanting "Move Bill, get out the way, get out the way," before he could even speak.

As advocates of charter schools, including the Bloomberg administration, try to persuade legislators to lift the limit on the number of such schools in the state, no one is as likely to stand in their way as Mr. Perkins, whose district encompasses nearly 20 charter schools. Several more are planned next year.

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: What's Wrong with the Public Sector?

Charlie Mas:

I read this comment on Crosscut and I just have to share it.

Here is a link to the original article. It was about the (lack of a) Republican party alternative to the state budget.

The comment came from Stuka at 8:44pm on Thursday, March 4. I won't quote all of it, but I absolutely want to share this part:

The fundamental problem with the public sector is not lack of taxes but lack of performance monitoring and improvement over time. Witness the public school system for evidence of the failure to monitor the quality of teachers, of teaching performance, of student performance, and of school performance. Same with the criminal-justice system: who is monitoring the quality of inmates produced by our prisons? The quality of justice by our judges and prosecutors? and the quality of policing by our police departments?

Unfortunately, we don't pay for outcomes, but for staffing levels at fixed salary levels. A secondary effect of good government seems to be sometimes adequate government. Maybe we ought to reward for performance instead. That will happen only when compensation is tied to performance and not taking up space in a bureaucracy until the bureaucrat can collect a pension for enduring the bureaucracy, a feat that may be quite difficult and challenging, but in and of itself, produces no output that citizens value.

I highly value the services that government intends to provide (unlike many Republicans), but am unwilling to pay (unlike many Democrats) for monopolistic and ineffective government bureaucracies that have no handle on how to be effective and efficient in what they're doing. This leaves me in a quandry since the demand for services is unceasing and the inertia of ineffective government is entrenched. Mostly I try to vote for anything that smacks of actual reward for performance, and vote against anything that looks like hoggish behavior (as in pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered).

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Bill Ayers and friends eat their young

Mike Petrilli:

Amidst the Race to the Top excitement this week, an important story may have gotten lost in the buzz. On Wednesday, my colleague Jamie Davies O'Leary, a 27 year-old Princeton grad, liberal Democrat, and Teach For America alumna described her surprise bookshop encounter with former Weatherman and lefty school reformer Bill Ayers.

If Bill Ayers and Fred and Mike Klonsky were 22 again, they would be signing up for Teach For America. The whole thing is worth reading (it's a great story) but note this passage in particular, about Ayers' talk:

[Ayers] answered a young woman's question about New York Teaching Fellows and Teach For America with a diatribe about how such programs can't fix public education and consist of a bunch of ivy leaguers and white missionaries more interested in a resume boost than in helping students. Whoa.


As someone who read Savage Inequalities years ago and attribute my decision to become a teacher partially to the social justice message, I almost felt embarrassed. But that was before I learned a bit of context, nuance, data, and evidence surrounding education policy debates. It's as if Bill Ayers hasn't been on the planet for the last two decades.

Almost as soon as Jamie's essay was posted, the Klonsky brothers (Fred and Mike--both longtime friends and associates of Ayers, both involved in progressive education causes) went after her. Fred posted a missive titled, "File under misguided sense of one's own importance." Mike tweeted that her depiction of the encounter was a "fantasy."

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Grades continue to climb, but does it matter?

Todd Findelmeyer:

Grades awarded to undergraduates attending college in the United States have gone up significantly in the past couple decades according to a report titled "Grading in American Colleges and Universities," which was published in the Teachers College Record.

The article was written by UW-Madison graduate Stuart Rojstaczer and Christopher Healy, an associate professor of computer science at Furman University. Rojstaczer is a retired professor of geophysics at Duke University and the creator of, a website that tracks grading trends.

Rojstaczer has posted a free copy of the article on his Forty Questions blog.

The report analyzes decades of grading patters at American four-year institutions and notes that "grading has evolved in an ad hoc way into identifiable patterns at the national level. The mean grade point average of a school is highly dependent on the average quality of its student body and whether it is public or private. Relative to other schools, public commuter and engineering schools grade harshly. Superimposed on these trends is a nationwide rise in grades over time of roughly 0.1 change in GPA per decade."

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Cops vs Kids

Bob Herbert:

If you don't think the police in New York City need to be reined in, consider the way the cops and their agents are treating youngsters in the city's schools.

In March 2009, a girl and a boy in the sixth grade at the Hunts Point School in the Bronx were fooling around and each drew a line on the other's desk with an erasable marker. The teacher told them to erase the lines, and the kids went to get tissues. This blew up into a major offense when school safety officers became involved.

The safety officers, who have been accused in many instances of mistreating children, are peace officers assigned to the schools. They wear uniforms, work for the New York Police Department and have the power to detain, search, handcuff and arrest students. They do not carry guns.

In this case, the officers seized the two pupils and handcuffed them. Before long, an armed police officer showed up to question the youngsters. The girl asked for her mother and began to cry. Tears were no defense in the minds of the brave New York City law enforcers surrounding this errant child. They were determined to keep the city safe from sixth graders armed with Magic Markers.

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Building a Better Teacher

Elizabeth Green:

ON A WINTER DAY five years ago, Doug Lemov realized he had a problem. After a successful career as a teacher, a principal and a charter-school founder, he was working as a consultant, hired by troubled schools eager -- desperate, in some cases -- for Lemov to tell them what to do to get better. There was no shortage of prescriptions at the time for how to cure the poor performance that plagued so many American schools. Proponents of No Child Left Behind saw standardized testing as a solution. President Bush also championed a billion-dollar program to encourage schools to adopt reading curriculums with an emphasis on phonics. Others argued for smaller classes or more parental involvement or more state financing.

Lemov himself pushed for data-driven programs that would diagnose individual students' strengths and weaknesses. But as he went from school to school that winter, he was getting the sinking feeling that there was something deeper he wasn't reaching. On that particular day, he made a depressing visit to a school in Syracuse, N.Y., that was like so many he'd seen before: "a dispiriting exercise in good people failing," as he described it to me recently. Sometimes Lemov could diagnose problems as soon as he walked in the door. But not here. Student test scores had dipped so low that administrators worried the state might close down the school. But the teachers seemed to care about their students. They sat down with them on the floor to read and picked activities that should have engaged them. The classes were small. The school had rigorous academic standards and state-of-the-art curriculums and used a software program to analyze test results for each student, pinpointing which skills she still needed to work on.

But when it came to actual teaching, the daily task of getting students to learn, the school floundered. Students disobeyed teachers' instructions, and class discussions veered away from the lesson plans. In one class Lemov observed, the teacher spent several minutes debating a student about why he didn't have a pencil. Another divided her students into two groups to practice multiplication together, only to watch them turn to the more interesting work of chatting. A single quiet student soldiered on with the problems. As Lemov drove from Syracuse back to his home in Albany, he tried to figure out what he could do to help. He knew how to advise schools to adopt a better curriculum or raise standards or develop better communication channels between teachers and principals. But he realized that he had no clue how to advise schools about their main event: how to teach.

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: More on the Battle Between Public Sector Compensation/Benefits and Tax Increases

David Warren:

Yet when we speak of "entitlements," or more precisely, against them, the first thing we face is public sector entitlements -- in Canada as in every other western or quasi-western country. The troubles the Greeks are now experiencing with their civil service, which is in a position to bring the country to a halt, is a warning for the road ahead.

And forget Greece, look at California. There one may see in clear North American daylight what a vast unspeakable public bankruptcy looks like. It was not an inevitable thing. Gentle reader need only compare, candidly, California with Texas -- which is flourishing, and whose voters know why. Economic decline is a choice, not a fate, and it has everything to do with big, intrusive government.

Said reader and I could argue till death about the numbers, playing selectively with the statistics; yet what is obvious remains obvious. Among the games at which I am most inclined to sneer, is the percentage of almost any published budget that is assigned to "administrative costs" -- in departments that are essentially all administration.

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OxyContin and youth

Ed Treleven:

When a Verona High School student had a headache last month, he asked his friends for Tylenol or Advil to relieve the pain. But what he unwittingly took was an OxyContin pill that one of his friends slipped him.

The prescription painkiller sent the student to the school nurse's office, and his friend received what Verona School District Superintendent Dean Gorrell will only call "appropriate disciplinary action."

The story, disclosed in a recent note from the district to parents, underscores the cavalier attitude some teens take toward the powerful and addictive drug.

The consequences can be tragic. A 14-year-old girl in Rock County faces a possible reckless homicide charge for giving her grandmother's oxycodone-- the generic form of OxyContin -- to a friend, who died last month from an overdose of the drug.

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March 7, 2010

Get back in bid for better schools

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:

To no great surprise, Wisconsin will not be one of the handful of states leading a national push to transform public education.

President Barack Obama announced Thursday that Wisconsin failed to survive even a preliminary round of competition for billions of dollars in federal innovation grants.

It's a huge disappointment - especially since Obama came to Madison last fall to officially launch the nationwide effort, which he calls a "Race to the Top."

It's not yet clear why Wisconsin didn't make the cut. That's because the U.S. Department of Education hasn't released our state's scores and comments from the judges.

Yet Gov. Jim Doyle's criticism Thursday of the entrenched Milwaukee School Board and reform-averse state lawmakers was dead-on. The Legislature's failure to shake up the failing Milwaukee public school district had to hurt our state's bid for as much as $254 million in Race to the Top funds.

At the same time, Rep. Brett Davis' criticism of Doyle and the Democratic-run Legislature for kowtowing to the big teachers union was equally apt. The Wisconsin Education Association Council has long resisted big changes in public education, including pay for performance. And the teachers union spent more - by far - on lobbying last year than any other special interest group at the state Capitol.

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Public School District Referendum Marketing

One of the reasons I place Google ads on this site (they generate very little money) is to periodically observe what type of advertisements their algorithms place around the content. I found this ad supporting a Brodhead referendum interesting, in that it links directly to the District's website. The link includes "doubleclick" tracking logic.

Perhaps the District is paying for the ad campaign from their operating funds, or an advocacy group is funding it?

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Teacher Unions Trade High Health Care Costs for Members: "Simple Change Could Ease Milwaukee Public Schools' Budget Crunch"

Alan Borsuk:

But changing benefits is, of course, a matter for labor negotiations, and the unions, particularly the Milwaukee Teachers' Education Association, don't want to change what they have.

Union's response

Mike Langyel, president of the MTEA, said in a lengthy telephone conversation that the union just does not accept that there would be any savings by shifting more, if not all, employees to the lower cost plan. He called the notion that money could be saved this way "a fantasy" and accused Bonds and Superintendent William Andrekopoulos of engaging in "a theatrical production" aimed at making teachers scapegoats for MPS' problems.

He said teachers earned their health insurance by accepting lower wage increases, going back more than 20 years, and members feel strongly about the Aetna plan. Langyel also questioned the honesty of the administration's cost figures, although he did not give any specific instance that he believed was wrong.

"This is a calculated attempt by this administration to provide false choices," Langyel said. "This will not solve the funding problems of this district one bit. . . .  The needs of this district are not going to be met on the backs of those people who are already sacrificing to be Milwaukee teachers."

Langyel said that if all MPS employees were on the HMO plan, that would drive up the costs of that plan to a point that might eliminate the claimed savings. MPS administrators agree that the actual results of such a switch are not known and most likely would be less than the simple calculation that yielded the $47 million figure. Many older employees with higher health care costs are now on the Aetna plan, for one thing. But they do not agree there would be no savings.

This strategy is not unique to Milwaukee.

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Seattle Public Schools Appeal Discovery Math Implementation Court Loss

Martha McLaren:

Today we received notice of the Seattle School District's decision to appeal the Decision of Judge Spector which required the SPS board to reconsider its high school math text adoption vote.

I am deeply disappointed that SPS will funnel more resources into this appeal, which, I suspect, will be more costly than following the judge's instruction to reconsider.

Our attorney tells me: ".... I'll put in a notice of appearance, and then we wait for the District to complete the record by having the documents and transcripts transmitted to the Court of Appeals. They write the first brief, due 45 days after the record is complete.

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Federal pay ahead of private industry

Dennis Cauchon:

Federal employees earn higher average salaries than private-sector workers in more than eight out of 10 occupations, a USA TODAY analysis of federal data finds.
Accountants, nurses, chemists, surveyors, cooks, clerks and janitors are among the wide range of jobs that get paid more on average in the federal government than in the private sector.

Overall, federal workers earned an average salary of $67,691 in 2008 for occupations that exist both in government and the private sector, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. The average pay for the same mix of jobs in the private sector was $60,046 in 2008, the most recent data available.

These salary figures do not include the value of health, pension and other benefits, which averaged $40,785 per federal employee in 2008 vs. $9,882 per private worker, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

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Rhode Island teacher firings, a Race to the Top case study

Bridgette Wallis:

One of the first high-profile examples of President Obama's public education reforms comes from Rhode Island, a participant in Race to the Top (RttT).

Superintendent Frances Gallo, overseeing the persistently failing Central Falls High School, decided to fire all the school's teachers after the teacher union proved to be the road block to reform. The superintendent was set to initiate an intervention program at the high school which involved many changes including a longer school day, lunch with the students, and more after school tutoring. The union rejected the proposal because there was not enough monetary compensation attached. Because the intervention plan was refused, the superintendent had to resort to a different model of school reform - the turnaround model -- which involves firing the majority of the faculty and staff. Deborah Gist, Rhode Island's new education commissioner approved the turnaround model for the school.

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A Charter Friendly Superintendent

Jay Matthews:

Zina McGowan-Thomas, the energetic public information officer for St. Mary's County public schools, sends me many announcements and news releases that I am tempted to delete, as I do most e-mails from local school districts. I know this is a bad idea, because sometimes you will find, in the smallest bulletin, something astonishing, like such as the e-mail she sent me a few weeks ago about the Chesapeake Public Charter School.

She told me and her long list of contacts that the school was about to have an open house. Ho-hum. All schools have open houses. Wait a minute: McGowan-Thomas works for a public school district with 27 schools and 17,000 students. Her job is to spread information about them, not a charter school. To most public school employees in the United States, charter schools are the enemy. Finding McGowan-Thomas promoting a charter school event is like seeing your local post office displaying a FedEx poster.

Charter schools are independent public schools that use tax dollars but do not have to follow a lot of school district rules. They can have different hours, different textbooks, different teaching methods and whatever else appeals to the teachers and parents who have gotten permission to set them up.

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40,000 Teachers Give Their Views on Education Reform in "Primary Sources: America's Teachers on America's Schools"

Sarah Trabucci:

Teachers call for engaging curriculum, supportive leadership, clear standards common across states in survey by Scholastic Inc. and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Scholastic Inc. and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation today released Primary Sources: America's Teachers on America's Schools, a landmark report presenting the results of a national survey of more than 40,000 public school teachers in grades pre-K to 12. The survey reveals that, while teachers have high expectations for their students, they overwhelmingly agree that too many students are leaving unprepared for success beyond high school. Primary Sources reveals teachers' thoughtful, nuanced views on issues at the heart of education reform - from performance pay and standardized tests to academic standards and teacher evaluation. Teacher responses reveal five powerful solutions to raise student achievement.

"Teachers are a critical part of preparing our children for the future, and their voices are an essential addition to the national debate on education," said Margery Mayer, Executive Vice President and President, Scholastic Education. "At Scholastic, we work daily with teachers and we know that they have powerful ideas on how best to tackle the challenges facing our schools. Since teachers are the frontline of delivering education in the classroom, the reform movement will not succeed without their active support. Primary Sources is a step in ensuring that teachers' voices are a part of this important conversation."

Jay Matthews has more.

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Michigan 6-Year-Old Suspended From School for Making Gun With Hand


Michigan boy reportedly has been suspended from school for curling his hand into the shape of a gun and pointing it at another student.

Erin Jammer, said her son, Mason, was just playing around when he made the gesture Wednesday, the Grand Rapids Press reported.

"I do think it's harsh for a six-year-old. He's six and he just likes to play. Maybe what you could do is take his recess away. He's only six and he doesn't understand any of this," Erin Jammer said.

But officials at Jefferson Elementary School said the behavior made other students uncomfortable, and they suspended Mason for the remainder of the week, the paper reported.

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March 6, 2010

Rhode Island School Shake-Up Is Embraced by the President

Steven Greenhouse & Sam Dillon:

A Rhode Island school board's decision to fire the entire faculty of a poorly performing school, and President Obama's endorsement of the action, has stirred a storm of reaction nationwide, with teachers condemning it as an insult and conservatives hailing it as a watershed moment of school accountability.

The decision by school authorities in Central Falls to fire the 93 teachers and staff members has assumed special significance because hundreds of other school districts across the nation could face similarly hard choices in coming weeks, as a $3.5 billion federal school turnaround program kicks into gear.

While there is fierce disagreement over whether the firings were good or bad, there is widespread agreement that the decision would have lasting ripples on the nation's education debate -- especially because Mr. Obama seized on the move to show his eagerness to take bold action to improve failing schools filled with poor students.

"This is the first example of tough love under the Obama regime, and that's what makes it significant," said Michael J. Petrilli, a vice president at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute in Washington, an educational research and advocacy organization.

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KIPP helps worst students, study says

Jay Matthews:

Among the many controversies surrounding the Knowledge Is Power Program, the nation's most successful charter school network, is the suggestion that KIPP scores look good because their weakest students drop out. A new and unusually careful survey has found that in the case of at least one KIPP school, that's not true.

Last year I wrote a book, "Work Hard. Be Nice," about KIPP co-founders Dave Levin and Mike Feinberg. I promised readers who think this makes me biased that I would mention this in future columns on KIPP. I don't think I'm biased, but I am obsessed. I think KIPP--and schools like it--are the most interesting phenomenon to emerge in public education in my lifetime. I make sure that all important developments in KIPPland--both good and bad--are reported here.

The new study, "Who Benefits From KIPP," [[[this link is to a page that makes you pay for the report. The link to the report directly for free is, but I could not copy and paste it. Yet the WSJ managed to use it as a link in a blog post. Maybe our experts can figure this out.]]]was done by Joshua D. Angrist, Parag A. Pathak and Christopher R. Walters of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Susan M. Dynarski of the University of Michigan and Thomas J. Kane of Harvard University, for the National Bureau of Economic Research. It is the first to use a randomized control group method to determine the effects of KIPP's long school days, energetic teaching and strong work ethic on fifth- through eighth-graders.

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As public education goes, so goes California

San Jose Mercury News Editorial:

How appropriate that, as one of the biggest education protests in history unfurled across the state, California's application for a Race to the Top school reform grant was rejected by federal officials. Could there possibly be a louder wake-up call?

Given the chaos and infighting that muddied the state's halting attempt to qualify for Race to the Top, the rejection is no surprise. But if education funding continues to decline, and if turf battles continue to prevent real reform, it's not just students who will suffer. California's greatness is at risk.

For much of the late 20th century, our public schools, colleges and universities were the envy of the nation, driving an economic boom that made the Golden State a global power. It's no coincidence that this happened when taxpayers' commitment to education was at its zenith.

That support has been declining for years, and the results are alarming.

Community colleges are required to accept everyone, but next fall, they'll turn away some 200,000 students because they can't afford to offer enough classes. With unemployment around 12 percent, what will those students -- with only a high school diploma -- do while waiting for a spot on campus?

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Teachers as reformers: L.A. Unified teachers won the right to run several new or underperforming schools. Can they pull it off?

Los Angeles Times Editorial:

Los Angeles schools did not undergo the transformation we had expected from the Public School Choice initiative, which in its first year opened more than 30 new or underperforming public schools to outside management. Top-notch charter operators applied for relatively few schools and then were removed from the running at the last minute. The school board once again mired itself in political maneuvers instead of putting students first.

What transformation there was came, more surprisingly, from the teachers. They agreed to allow and create more pilot schools, which are similar to charter schools but employ district personnel. They formed partnerships and, with the help of their union, United Teachers Los Angeles, drew up their own, often strong applications for revamping schools. It would be wrong to underestimate the effort and skills needed to pull this off. The time frame was short and the list of requirements long. Unlike charter operators, which submit such applications as a matter of course, the teachers had no particular background for this work. They met with parents who have long fumed that the schools discourage their participation. They listened. They responded.

This is a tremendous step in a school district where, too often, teachers and their union have not been the agents of change but impediments to it. In fact, had the process worked as it was supposed to, the reform initiative would have served as a much stronger application for federal Race to the Top funds than anything the Legislature came up with.

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate & Local Property Tax Increase Rhetoric

Walter Alarkon:

President Barack Obama's budget will lead to deficits averaging nearly $1 trillion over the next decade, the CBO estimated Friday.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) said President Barack Obama's budget would lead to annual deficits averaging nearly $1 trillion for the next decade.

The estimates are for larger deficits than the budget shortfalls expected by the White House.

Annual deficits under Obama's budget plan would be about $976 billion from 2011 through 2020, according to a CBO analysis of Obama's plan released Friday.

Susan Troller:
Madison school 'budget gap' really a tax gap

Try "tax gap" or "revenue problem." These are terms that Superintendent Dan Nerad -- who is slated to offer his budget recommendations to the School Board on March 8 -- and other school district players are starting to use to describe the financial troubles the district is facing.

What's commonly been defined as the district's budget gap in the past -- the difference between the cost to continue existing programs and salaries and what the district is allowed to tax under state revenue caps -- is actually $1.2 million. That's the amount the district would still have to cut if the board were willing to tax to the maximum amount allowed under the state revenue limits. (And in past years, Madison and almost every other district in the state have taxed to the limit.) But if you add in the drop in revenue from the state -- about $17 million for the 2010-2011 budget -- the gap grows to $18.2 million.

It's fair to ask then, what makes up the other $11.6 million that the administration calls the $29.8 million 2010-2011 budget gap? In a rather unorthodox manner, Nerad and company are including two other figures: $4 million in levying authority the district was granted through the 2008 referendum and $7.6 million in levying authority within the revenue limit formula.

Confused? You're not alone. It's got many folks scratching their heads. But the bottom line is this: Although the district has the authority to raise property taxes up to $312 on an average $250,000 home, it's unlikely the board would want to reap that amount of revenue ($11.6 million) from increased taxes. Large property tax hikes -- never popular -- are particularly painful in the current economy.

The Madison School District has yet to release consistent total spending numbers for the current 2009/2010 budget or a total budget number for 2010-2011. Continuing to look at and emphasize in terms of public relations, only one part of the puzzle: property taxes seems ill advised.

The Madison School District Administration has posted 2010-2011 "Budget Gap" notes and links here, largely related to the property tax, again. only one part of the picture. For reference, here's a link to the now defunct 2007-2008 Citizen's Budget.

Doug Erickson has more:

Madison school administrators laid out a grim list of possible cuts big and small Friday that School Board members can use as a starting point to solve a nearly $30 million hole in next year's budget.

The options range from the politically painless -- restructuring debt, cutting postage costs -- to the always explosive teacher layoffs and school closings.

But the school-closing option, which would close Lake View, Lindbergh and Mendota elementary schools on the city's North Side as part of a consolidation plan, already appears to be a nonstarter. A majority of board members said they won't go there.

"It's dead in the water for me," said Lucy Mathiak, board vice president.

President Arlene Silveira said the option is not on the table for her, either. Ditto for board members Marj Passman and Maya Cole, who said she immediately crossed out the option with a red pen.

Board members could decide to raise taxes enough to cover almost all of the $30 million, or they could opt to not raise taxes at all and cut $30 million. Neither option is considered palatable to board members or most residents, so some combination of the two is expected.

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Frosh will need to show writing skills

Anne Simons, via a kind reader's email:

Seniors will have to "show evidence of their writing" in order to graduate, beginning with the class of 2013, Dean of the College Katherine Bergeron will announce Thursday.

"All students are expected to work on their writing both in general courses and in their concentration," Bergeron wrote in an e-mail to be sent to students Thursday. Sophomores will have to reflect on their writing in their concentration forms, according to the letter.
The changes come out of recommendations from the Task Force on Undergraduate Education, Bergeron told The Herald. Based on the findings of an external review and discussions with faculty and academic committees, the College Writing Advisory Board and the College Curriculum Council collaborated on a new, clearer delineation of the expectations of writing at Brown, she said.

Bergeron's letter ends with a statement on writing, explaining why it is an important skill for all graduates. "Writing is not only a medium through which we communicate and persuade; it is also a means for expanding our capacities to think clearly," she wrote.

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Fire the teachers? When schools fail, it may work

Ray Henry:

When all the teachers were fired from Central Falls High School last week in a sweeping effort at school reform, their superintendent gave them a taste of the accountability President Barack Obama says is necessary.

It is a strategy that has been used elsewhere, such as in Chicago and Los Angeles. But while there have been some improvements in test scores, schools where most teachers have been replaced still grapple with problems of poverty and discipline. Even advocates of the approach say firing a teaching staff is just one of several crucial steps that must be taken to turn around a school.

Central Falls teachers have appealed the firings and both they and the administration are now indicating a willingness to go back to the table to avoid mass firings. Teachers say wholesale firings unfairly target instructors who work with impoverished children who have been neglected for years.

"We believe the teachers have been scapegoated here," American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said of the Central Falls firings this week.

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March 5, 2010


The Economist:

Killed, aborted or neglected, at least 100m girls have disappeared--and the number is rising

IMAGINE you are one half of a young couple expecting your first child in a fast-growing, poor country. You are part of the new middle class; your income is rising; you want a small family. But traditional mores hold sway around you, most important in the preference for sons over daughters. Perhaps hard physical labour is still needed for the family to make its living. Perhaps only sons may inherit land. Perhaps a daughter is deemed to join another family on marriage and you want someone to care for you when you are old. Perhaps she needs a dowry.

Now imagine that you have had an ultrasound scan; it costs $12, but you can afford that. The scan says the unborn child is a girl. You yourself would prefer a boy; the rest of your family clamours for one. You would never dream of killing a baby daughter, as they do out in the villages. But an abortion seems different. What do you do?

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"Clearly what's needed and lacking in the district is a curriculum.''

New Jersey Left Behind:

That's a real quote. The speaker is Asbury Park School District's new superintendent Denise Lowe, who says that "major changes have to be made to the schools or the school district will cease to exist, " according to the Asbury Park Press. Enrollment is dropping because students are leaving for parochial schools and charter schools, so she's put together a five-year plan to improve achievement.

She's got her work cut out for her. Asbury Park High School, for example, with 478 kids, has a 45.7% mobility rate. (The state average is 9.6%.) 72% of students failed the 11th grade HSPA test in language arts and 86.1% failed the math portion. Average SAT scores are 325 in math and 330 in verbal. Attendance rates in 9th grade are 83%. A whopping 64.6% of kids never pass the HSPA and end up taking the Special Review Assessment, a back-door-to-diploma-route that is impossible to fail. The total comparative cost per pupil? $24,428. (DOE data here.)

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We only get one chance to educate our children


The East Providence School Committee can step off the main stage. Their formerly astounding move to cut teacher pay and increase benefit co-pays is no longer the most dramatic school administration move in the state.

Sure, it got a little national attention. But did the president talk about it?


But he had something to say about the situation in Central Falls this week, where the entire high school teaching staff was recently fired by the superintendent. It is not easy to make this long story short, but here goes: The snowball that resulted in the firings rolled downhill from Washington, DC to Central Falls. President Obama's education secretary, Arne Duncan, asked the states to identify their lowest-performing schools. RI Education Commissioner Deborah Gist did just that. Her list included Central Falls High School, where barely half of the students graduate and hardly any of them can pass the math standards tests. She told the superintendent there to implement one of four federally mandated changes. The superintendent chose to negotiate a plan in which teachers would spend more time with the students outside of class and do a couple weeks of training in the summer.

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Media Use by Teens and Adolescents Continues to Explode


Has the time come for parents to pull the plug on mobile media?

A recent study completed by the Kaiser Family Foundation brought little in the way of surprises for those who work with children. But just to set the record straight, the foundation found that daily media use among children and teens is up dramatically even when compared to just five years ago.

With mobile devices providing nonstop internet availability, it is easy to see that entertainment media has never been more accessible than it is right now. The results of the Kaiser survey reveals that children, particularly minority youth, are taking advantage of that access.

But for parents and educators, the key question should not be simply how much time is actually spent with media. Instead, the issue should center upon what effect such consumption has on the mental, emotional and academic development of our youngsters.

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Jordan School District seeks ruling on seniority layoffs could bring spate of lawsuits

Lisa Schencker & Katie Drake:

The Jordan School Board is asking a state judge to rule on how seniority must be calculated for its employees as it plans to lay off about 500 staff members and educators.

Without clarification about how seniority should be considered, the district could face liability in numerous potential lawsuits, the 3rd District Court complaint said. It names the Jordan Education Association (JEA) and the Jordan Classified Education Association, and has been assigned to Judge Joseph Fratto.

Whatever the judge determines could well decide who among Jordan's teachers would be most vulnerable to layoffs.

The Jordan board, in the face of a projected $30 million shortfall, has decided to cut about 500 jobs, including 200 to 250 teachers. When terminating workers, school districts in Utah must abide by a "last in, first out" policy that provides job security to those with the most seniority.

The board now plans to eliminate employees in each school based on the number of years they have worked for the district. In other words, the jobs of those teachers with the least district seniority in each school would be at risk.

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March 4, 2010

A Decent Education

Chicago Tribune Editorial:

When state Sen. James Meeks asks fellow Democrats to give education vouchers to kids who attend some of the worst schools in Chicago, the legislators often tell him they don't want to divert dollars from public education.

Meeks' response: "If the public schools are not doing their job, why do you want to continue to reward them with money?"

Good question.

We have yet to hear a good answer.

Meeks is trying valiantly to shake up the status quo in public education, and we stand with him in that effort. He is pushing a solid plan to create a voucher program for Chicago. The Senate's executive subcommittee on education is set to discuss the bill on Wednesday.

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17 states to fight dismal college completion rates

Jessie Bonner:

More than a dozen states have formed an alliance to battle dismal college completion rates and figure out how to get more students to follow through and earn their diplomas.

Stan Jones, Indiana's former commissioner for higher education, is leading the effort with about $12 million in startup money from several national nonprofits including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

About one in every two Americans who start college never finish, said Jones, who founded Complete College America, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit, last year.

The U.S. has focused on access to higher education for the past several decades, and states need to turn their focus toward how many students actually graduate after they get in, even if it means using a funding structure that is based on degree completion instead of attendance, Jones said Tuesday.

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DFER Report on Accountability Systems

Complete PDF Report via Democrats for Education Reform:

I think it is very difficult for a person who lives in a community to know whether, in fact, his educational system is what it should be, whether if you compare his community to a neighboring community they are doing everything they should be, whether the people that are operating the educational system in a state or local community are as good as they should be.
... I wonder if we couldn't have some kind of system of reporting ... through some testing system that would be established [by] which the people at the local community would know periodically ... what progress had been made."

Senator Robert Kennedy,
U.S. Senate hearing, 1965

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Survey: Supportive leadership helps retain top teachers

Nick Anderson:

A national survey of more than 40,000 public school teachers suggests that while higher salaries are far more likely than performance pay to help keep top talent in the classroom, supportive leadership trumps financial incentives.

The survey, funded by a philanthropy active in education reform, also shows that teachers have mixed feelings about proposals for new academic standards: Slightly more than half think that establishing common standards across all states would have a strong or very strong impact on student achievement, but two-thirds believe the rigor of standards in their own state is "about right."

The survey, to be released Wednesday, was sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in collaboration with the publisher Scholastic Inc. Harris Interactive canvassed the teachers via telephone and online questionnaires from March 2009 to June 2009, as the Obama administration was developing strategies to promote higher standards and more sophisticated use of test data to improve achievement and reward effective teachers.

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Ravitch Is Right... and Wrong

Alan Gottlieb:

I spent part of the last two weekends reading Diane Ravitch's new book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System. It's part polemic and part confessional.

Ravitch, once an ardent supporter of charter schools, accountability and other market-based reforms, has done a dramatic, highly public 180-degree turn. She now says these approaches will destroy public education if allowed to continue unfettered.

A former federal education official (under Bush I and Clinton) and an influential writer and thinker on education, Ravitch's change of heart is attracting national notice, and with good reason.

Her book, while exhibiting some of the new convert's zeal and bombast, contains thought-provoking stuff. While I don't agree with some of her conclusions, and though she paints some people as villains who don't deserve the abuse, she also makes some compelling arguments that those of us pushing some of the reforms she now abhors would be wise to ponder.

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The key to education

Harriet Brown:

I wish to take issue with some of the assumptions made by the four teachers who were interviewed concerning the Gates Foundation grant ("Teachers in transition," Views, Feb. 28).

It was said several times that good parenting is essential for children's success in school. Not true! My two brothers and I grew up in a totally dysfunctional home, filled with constant criticism, hatred, anger, punishment, a mostly absent father, and one in which our mother constantly set us one against the other. There were no books, no magazines, no art on the walls and certainly no love or encouragement. Never once did we hear, "I'm proud of you!" or "Good job!"

We should have been poster children for not succeeding in school, but we weren't. Today, my older brother is a medical doctor. My younger brother has two master's degrees and is a life-long learner with a huge book collection. I started and completed my BA in English at age 25, with two toddlers to care for and no help from anyone, graduated in three years and had a successful career. We all still read voraciously.

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School Salary & Benefit Growth Driving Budget "Cuts"

New Jersey Left Behind:

NJEA President Barbara Keshishian has a news release out today slamming Gov. Christie's seizure of $475 million in local district surplus accounts. Add to that a possible 15% cut in state aid, she intones, and it's a "doomsday scenario for families" which will have "a devastating impact next fall, with many [districts] forced to lay off teachers and staff, cut academic programs or raise taxes."

Fair enough. Local school districts are frantically calculating draconian cuts to accommodate projected shortfalls. But here's the missing link in her jeremiad: those cuts are driven less by loss of surplus and state aid than by payroll and benefits increases radically out of sync with economic realities and private sector compensation. However, the solution's pretty simple: NJEA should direct its local affiliates to proffer a one-year freeze on salaries, and encourage small contributions to health benefits.

Here's an example. District A has a budget of $50 million. Typically 75% of those costs are payroll and benefits, or $37.5 million. If NJEA would exercise meaningful leadership and promote flat salaries for one year, those lay-offs, academic cuts, and tax raises would be almost entirely mitigated.

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Calling the Parents When a College Student Drinks

Lisa Belkin:

I visited my college-freshman son last week, and over pizza we talked about drinking. Part of pledging a fraternity means being the sober designated driver, I learned, and I was relieved that the the idea had become ingrained in college culture. Kids get it that driving while drinking is dangerous, right? Not exactly, he corrected. What they get is that a single D.U.I. means expulsion, and that's a concept students respect.

So schools have the tools to stop students from drinking altogether, at least those who are under-age and breaking the law, I suggested. Just throw the book at anyone who gets caught?

He didn't think that sounded like a good idea.

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March 3, 2010

Push to strengthen environmental education is gaining traction and a Look at Madison's 300 Acre School Forest

Mary Ellen Gabriel, via a kind reader's email:

Two dozen seventh-graders from Jefferson Middle School toil up a stony ridge on snowshoes, in the heart of the Madison School Forest. At the top they peel off into small groups and stand gazing upward at a twiggy village of giant nests, silhouetted against a pure-blue sky.

"How many do you see in your tree?" calls Nancy Sheehan, a school forest naturalist. The kids in her group count seven great blue heron nests in the bare branches of one towering white oak. They also record data about the tree, including its GPS location, which they'll turn over to the Department of Natural Resources as part of ongoing monitoring of this heron rookery near the Sugar River in southwest Verona.

"This is your chance to do some real science," Sheehan tells them. "Herons are extremely sensitive creatures. If this landscape continues to suit them, they'll come back again in spring. That's why your work today is important."

Seventh-grader Amos Kalder's cheeks are red with cold (and exercise) as he gazes upward at the rookery: "Dude, it'd be so cool to see these nests with all the herons in them. There'd be like 50 birds sitting in the sky."

The school forest is a real blessing, one in which I had an opportunity to participate in some years ago. I hope every classroom visits.

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A Once Great American Scholar

Tom Vander Ark:

Last week I attended Education Industry Days in a hotel between the AFT and the NEA-a bit ironic, don't you think?. On the opening day, the front page of the USA Today reported that public sector union members now outnumber private sector members-we are well protected from ourselves.

The once respected scholar Diane Ravitch has joined the unions in monopoly protection-no choice, no market, no testing. She nearly made me crash my car in Phoenix this morning during her ridiculous back-to-the future NPR interview suggesting a return to free-for-all teach what-ever-however past. A former conservative, she now shuns markets, choice, testing-basically everything necessary to drive performance at scale. Hard to follow the logic of how her proposals would make things better for low income kids.

If you care about equality and excellence, see Education Equality Project and their case for accountability. Folks like Ravitch complain about accountability but don't offer an alternative that has a reliable chance for making this significantly better for low income kids.

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50 State Report on College Readiness

Daniel de Vise:

Many states have made measurable progress in recent years toward the elusive goal of college readiness, according to a new report by the nonprofit Achieve.

Maryland, Virginia and the District have made more progress than some, but less than most. Each state has achieved only one of five college-readiness goals identified in the report.

"What started off as isolated efforts among a few states five years ago has produced a national consensus: All students should receive a quality education that prepares them to succeed in college, career and life," said Mike Cohen, Achieve's president, in a release.

Achieve's fifth annual "Closing the Expectations Gap" report finds that the majority of states, 31, now have high school standards in English and mathematics that align with the expectations of colleges and business. (Meaning that collegiate and business officials were involved in drafting the standards and approved the final product.) In 2005, by contrast, only three states had such standards.

Complete report here, which mentions:
Four additional states: new Hampshire, New Mexico, Wisconsin and Wyoming reported plans to administer college and career ready assessments, although their plans are not yet developed enough to include in the table on page 16.

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Blaska's Blog says let education compete for business

David Blaska:

Government-run, union-controlled education is as antiquated in 21st Century America as a mimeograph machine and as outdated as the New Deal.

The entire history of this great country is choice -- except in the all-important field of education, wherein one size shall fit all.

Imagine an America restricted to one mobile cell phone provider, one television station, never mind cable or satellite, one car insurance company -- that is the government-monopoly education system.

Confreres, here is change you can believe in. In the previous blog, I engaged in a colloquy with the delusional Matt Logan, who encourages us law and order types to volunteer for school breakfast. I'm game, but think we'd be welcome?

Imagine the Blaska Man grabbing the empty belt loop of a gangsta wannabe and saying, "Time-out, young fella."

The kid would laugh at my time out as they laugh at the teachers' time outs and the squire of Stately Blaska Manor would be brought up on charges of belt-loop grabbing with intent to instill values.

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Yo, Ho, Ho, and a Digital Scrum

Jeffrey Young:

History shows that intellectual property is more complex than either its creators or copiers care to admit, says a Chicago scholar

The history of publishing is swimming with pirates--far more than Adrian Johns expected when he started hunting through the archives for them. And he thinks their stories may hold keys to understanding the latest battles over digital publishing--and the future of the book.

Johns, a historian at the University of Chicago, has done much of his hunting from his office here, which is packed so high with books that the professor bought a rolling ladder to keep them in easy reach. He can rattle off a long list of noted pirates through the years:

Alexander Pope accused "pyrates" of publishing unauthorized copies of his work in the 18th century. At the beginning of the 19th century, a man known as the "king of the pirates" used the then-new technology of photolithography to spread cheap reprints of popular sheet music. In the 1950s, a pirate music label named Jolly Roger issued recordings by Louis Armstrong and other jazz greats from LP's that the major labels were no longer publishing. A similar label put out opera recordings smuggled from the Soviet bloc.

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The Substitute: After more than 30 years, he was going back to school. This time, he'd be in charge. Sort of.

Rob Hiaasen:

I was fingerprinted and cleared of any state or federal wrongdoing. No record of forgery, arson, maiming, child-selling or keeping a disorderly house -- although I dodged a bullet with the last one. There are usually dishes in the sink and laundry unfolded (how do you fold fitted sheets?). Despite my domestic transgressions, I was invited to attend an orientation for substitute teachers. The word "mandatory" was used, but I preferred to think of myself as invited.

Either way, Plan B was under way.

If you need another sign of the country's unemployment, attend an orientation for substitute teachers -- if you can get a seat. It was standing room only at a Baltimore County public high school, as I sat with pencil and paper taking notes on the dangers of blood-borne pathogens, how to keep students on task, how to be positive but not overly friendly, and how to get paid $82.92 for a day's work. Younger and older people were there, but more middle-aged men attended than I had expected. Guess that's why this unemployment streak has been nicknamed a man-cession.

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Margaret Spellings defends 'No Child Left Behind'

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School choice - an overrated concept

Francis Gilbert:

As a teacher for 20 years, I can tell parents that with their support children can flourish anywhere

The agony of waiting is over. Yesterday was national offer day, when parents learnt if their children had got into their favoured secondary schools. Unfortunately, as many as 100,000 children and their families have been bitterly disappointed.

As a teacher who has taught at various comprehensives for 20 years, I know that means a lot of tears and pain. I have seen parents who hit the bottle and come raging on to the school premises, demanding that the school takes their child; parents who do nothing but pester the school secretaries on the phone or by email; and parents who have just given up in despair, despite the fact that they have good grounds to appeal.

The main things parents should remember is not to descend into a great panic, and to review their situation dispassionately. What many don't grasp is that if they fail to meet the admissions criteria of a school, children won't get in, no matter how wonderful. The government has a strict admissions code that means schools have little room for manoeuvre: they can no longer just pick pupils they like the look of.

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Few States To Qualify For Grants

Neil King:

The Obama administration will inform most states on Thursday that they didn't make the grade to receive billions of dollars in education funding.

Forty states, plus the District of Columbia, submitted applications in January to compete in the $4.35 billion Race to the Top program, which President Barack Obama describes as central to his push to improve local education standards.

The idea is to reward states that show the greatest willingness to push innovation through tough testing standards, data collection, teacher training and plans to overhaul failing schools.

The Department of Education turned to a panel of outside judges to help pick finalists and winners according to an elaborate scoring system, and on Thursday, Education Secretary Arne Duncan will announce finalists for the first of two rounds of funding. Administration officials declined to comment, but people familiar with the deliberations said as few as five states could actually qualify when the first round of winners is announced in April.

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Seeking the Definition of a "Quality School"

Southeast Seattle for an Excellent Education:

SES4EE requests

1. SPS to publicly define a Quality School (as stated in SPS Strategic Plan Vision 2008) which will include objective measures of that quality.

2. SPS to compare each SE School to that definition of a Quality School and make those results available in a public manner.

3. For each school that does not fall within the parameter of a Quality School, SPS to provide

a. a public, written Plan with specific deadlines and timeframe to make that school a Quality School.

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Teachers Criticise Australia's National Education Curriculum

Big Pond News:

Teachers have criticised the federal government's draft national education curriculum, saying such a document alone won't improve educational outcomes.

Australian Education Union president Angelo Gavrielatos says they're also disappointed because there should have been more teacher involvement in the curriculum's development.

Mr Gavrielatos says a curriculum document alone won't improve educational outcomes and what teachers need are more resources.

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Knewton launches adaptive-learning SAT Prep Course

Matt Bowman:

Knewton, an online test prep company that uses adaptive learning to boost scores on standardized tests, announced today the launch of its new SAT prep course. The company already provides prep courses for the GMAT and LSAT, and now hopes to tap the market of high-pressure parents and overachieving high school students.

The SAT prep course will include live instructors, educational videos and real-time feedback on students' performance in specific SAT concepts. Overbearing parents can also track their children's progress with a set of tools designed for them. The course costs $490, (there's a $290 intro offer).

The courses use adaptive learning technology--a method that serves up questions and resources according to students' needs based on their past performance. The concept is taken from adaptive learning tests, which serve questions that get harder or easier, depending on a student's answers. In fact, Knewton's two chief test designers, Len Swanson and Robert McKinley, helped design those tests: Swanson wrote the scoring algorithms for the adaptive learning tests used by the Educational Testing Service (ETS), which administers the SAT, GRE, and AP tests, and McKinley wrote the algorithms for the ACT.

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Leaders Program Suffers for Lack of Milwaukee Public Schools Support

Alan Borsuk:

A startling ebb tide has been building in recent days across the Milwaukee Public Schools system, as principals and school councils make plans for next year.

Schools losing two teachers. Six teachers. A dozen teachers. More cuts in music, gym and art teachers, as well as librarians. Class sizes increasing - some principals say they are facing 25 or 30 in first-grade classes, with no aides for the teachers. High school classes that could reach 50 or more in some high schools. ("That's not a classroom, that's a lecture hall," one principal said.)

Here's one important part of that tide: New Leaders for New Schools will not launch a new class this summer to be trained as principals in MPS.

New Leaders is one of the hot acts in American education. Like Teach for America, the New Teacher Project and a few similar efforts, it is a hard-driving effort to bring talent into administrative and teaching positions in urban schools across the country.

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Getting Tough in Kansas City

Frederick Hess:

Across the nation, districts are only enduring the first phase of what is likely a several-year stretch of tough budgets. Why? First, property taxes account for so much of school spending, residential real estate prices are only now bottoming, commercial properties will be falling into 2011, and states adjust valuation on a rolling basis. This means the impact of the real estate bubble likely won't fully play out until 2014 or so. Second, thus far, districts have been cushioned by more than $100 billion in stimulus funds. Third, going forward, K-12 is going to be competing with demands for Medicaid, transportation, public safety, and higher education--all of which have been squeezed and will be hungry for fresh dollars when the economy recovers. And, fourth, massively underfunded state and local pension plans will require states to redirect dollars from operations. All of this means that the funding "cliff" looming in 2010 to 2011 is steeper and likely to be with us longer than most district leaders have publicly acknowledged.

Early responses to this situation have been inadequate, to put it mildly. Districts first took out the scalpel and turned up thermostats, delayed textbook purchases, and reduced maintenance. Now they're boosting class sizes, raising fees, and zeroing out support staff and freshmen athletics. It's going to take a lot more for districts to thrive in their new fiscal reality. It would behoove them to take a page from the playbook of new Kansas City Superintendent John Covington.

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Five Decades of Federal Spending

Chris Edwards:

The chart below shows federal spending in three component parts over the last five decades. It includes Obama's proposed spending in 2011. Here are a few thoughts on the recent spending trends:

Defense: In the post-9/11 years, defense spending bumped up to a higher plateau of around 4 percent of GDP. But now we have jumped to an even higher level of around 4.9 percent of GDP.

Interest: The Federal Reserve's easy money policies reduced federal interest payments in recent years. That is coming to an end. Obama's budget shows that interest payments will start rising rapidly next year and hit 3 percent of GDP by 2015. And that's an optimistic projection.

Nondefense: This category includes all other federal spending. After a steady decline during the Clinton years to 12.9 percent of GDP, President Bush pushed up nondefense spending to a higher plateau of around 14.5 percent. Then came the recession and financial crisis, and the Bush-Obama tag team hiked spending to an even higher level of around 19 percent of GDP. That level of nondefense spending is almost double the level in 1970 measured as a share of the economy.

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More schools add online class options to traditional schedules

Erin Richards:

When Lindsey Lecus heads to the library for her literature studies class at Fritsche Middle School, she checks the assignments posted by her teacher in Maine and may enter a discussion forum with a classmate in Switzerland.

It's the second online English class Lecus has taken thanks to Fritsche's partnership with an international provider of online courses, and the seventh-grader said she likes the fact that she can work ahead of the traditional curriculum and earn credits toward high school.

In Milwaukee and elsewhere, more middle and high schools are starting to offer online classes to students during the day in place of one or more face-to-face classes.

Fully virtual schools in Wisconsin continue to attract students who pursue their entire educations through the Internet, but adding online classes to the options students have during a traditional school day is a trend that may combine the best of both worlds.

Advocates say students learn to work independently and can take harder courses in preparation for college while also getting in-school support from teachers and peers.

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Life Among the 'Yakkity Yaks'

Bari Weiss:

'Who do you think made the first stone spear?" asks Temple Grandin. "That wasn't the yakkity yaks sitting around the campfire. It was some Asperger sitting in the back of a cave figuring out how to chip rocks into spearheads. Without some autistic traits you wouldn't even have a recording device to record this conversation on."

As many as one in 110 American children are affected by autism spectrum disorders, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Boys are four times more likely to be diagnosed than girls. But what causes this developmental disorder, characterized by severe social disconnection and communication impairment, remains a mystery.

Nevertheless, with aggressive early intervention and tremendous discipline many people with autism can lead productive, even remarkable, lives. And Ms. Grandin--doctor of animal science, ground-breaking cattle expert, easily the most famous autistic woman in the world--is one of them.

Earlier this month, HBO released a film about her to critical acclaim. Claire Danes captures her with such precision that Ms. Grandin tells me watching the movie feels like "a weird time machine" to the 1960s and '70s and that it shows "exactly how my mind works."

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March 2, 2010

Spring reading: The Demise of the Venerable Codex, or Bound Book....

Tim Martin:

The demise of the venerable codex, or bound book, has been predicted at least since 1899, when HG Wells in The Sleeper Awakes envisaged the entire corpus of human literature reduced to a mini-library of "peculiar double cylinders" that would be viewable on a screen. More informed commentators have been arguing since the computer became domesticised in the 1980s that it would herald the end of print but, each time, the predicted end of days has rolled around with no sign of an apocalypse. As the joke goes, books are still cheap, robust and portable, and the battery life is great.

Most of us are in no hurry to see them go. This week the UK's early version of World Book Day rolls around with its freight of £1 children's books (the rest of the world gets around to it on April 23). Meanwhile, Oxford has just launched upon the public its lavish Companion to the Book, a vast work of reference seven years in the making in which some 400 scholars chart the forms that books have taken since mankind began scratching out characters.

But it seems reasonable to think that change is afoot. At the time of writing, an American court is in the process of reconsidering the settlement that Google reached with the Authors Guild in 2008, allowing the company to digitise thousands of books, including many still in copyright. The case has caused heated debate - court documents this week revealed that more than 6,500 authors, many well-known, have decided to opt out of the Google settlement. The case continues: its outcome promises to transform the way in which we view and access information. If Google has its way, one of the world's largest companies will end up with unchallenged distribution rights over one of the world's largest book collections.

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Doyle: Each Wisconsin Covenant scholar will get $250 or more

Ryan Foley:

High school students who complete a new Wisconsin program to promote college attendance will be eligible for annual grants worth $250 to $2,500 for their first two years of college, Gov. Jim Doyle said Monday.

Doyle also said Wisconsin Covenant scholars would be eligible for additional aid during their final two years, with the amounts depending on the availability of funding. He said he was unhappy his administration had issued a proposal while he was traveling overseas in December to limit the grants to two years.

Under the revised proposal Doyle submitted to the Legislature on Monday, the poorest Wisconsin Covenant scholars will receive $2,500 grants _ $1,000 from the state and $1,500 from a private foundation _ during each of their first two years in college.

Those with higher family incomes _ up to $80,000 in some cases _ will receive between $1,000 and $1,500, he said. All others who complete the Covenant challenge will receive $250, an amount one Republican critic mocked as paltry.

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District May End North Carolina Economic Busing Program

Robbie Brown:

When Rosemarie Wilson moved her family to a wealthy suburb of Raleigh a couple of years ago, the biggest attraction was the prestige of the local public schools. Then she started talking to neighbors.

Don't believe the hype, they warned. Many were considering private schools. All pointed to an unusual desegregation policy, begun in 2000, in which some children from wealthy neighborhoods were bused to schools in poorer areas, and vice versa, to create economically diverse classrooms.

"Children from the 450 houses in our subdivision were being bused all across the city," said Ms. Wilson, for whom the final affront was a proposal by the Wake County Board of Education to send her two daughters to schools 17 miles from home.

So she vented her anger at the polls, helping elect four new Republican-backed education board members last fall. Now in the majority, those board members are trying to make good on campaign promises to end Wake's nationally recognized income-based busing policy.

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2009-2010 Madison School District Equity Report

Complete Report 700K PDF

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Teacher Layoffs: Rethinking "Last-Hired, First-Fired" Policies

National Council on Teacher Quality:

In September of 2009, Washington, DC, schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee laid off nearly 400 teachers, citing a serious shortfall in funds for the DC school system. The move, coming as it did after Washington hired more than 900 new teachers in the summer of 2009, made jaws drop -- some in outrage, some in awe. But the controversy was due only partly to the fact that Rhee axed jobs so close on the heels of a hiring spree; she also took full advantage of a clause in DC regulation that made "school needs," not seniority, the determining factor in who would be laid off.

Approve of Rhee's move or not, the highly scrutinized and controversial layoffs spotlight an important question: what factors should be considered when school districts must decide who will stay and who will go?

In the past year, cash-strapped districts have been handing out pink slips by the hundreds, and some, by the thousands. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that nearly 60,000 teachers were laid off in 2009. State budget gaps and deficit projections, with federal stimulus funding already spent, suggest more of the same for 2010. Some observers expect current cuts to come faster even than those of the 1970s, when the baby boom generation waned, emptying out schools across the country.

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Obama's unfortunate comments on teacher firings

Valerie Strauss:

I have an uncle who was for years a Chicago public school teacher. Passionate and articulate about his subject, biology, Arnie cared a great deal about whether the kids learned in his class.

But here's the disturbing thing he recalls about his career:

In the years that his classes were filled with kids from poor, broken homes who didn't eat or sleep with any regularity, he worried that he wasn't nearly as effective as he wanted to be. He reached some of the kids, sometimes, with some material, but not enough to his liking, no matter what he did or how hard he tried.

When he changed schools and suddenly was teaching kids from middle-class families who valued education, he instantly became a brilliant teacher. His students progressed at a fast clip, and everything he did seemed to work.

What some school reformers seem to forget is that the kids' circumstances outside school affect their class performance: how much they eat, how much they sleep, how many words they heard when they were young, how many books were made available to them, the abilities and the disabilities with which they were born, etc.

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The Dictionary of Old English explores the brutality and elegance of our ancestral tongue.

Ammon Shea:

"Dictionaries are like watches, the worst is better than none, and the best cannot be expected to go quite true." So said Samuel Johnson, according to James Boswell--and if any man can get away with making a pithy, slightly nonsensical, yet somehow illuminating statement about the merits of dictionaries, repositories of our language, it is Johnson.

Watches and other kinds of clocks may not "go quite true" yet, but they have managed to attain such a degree of exactness that the point is largely moot. The most accurate form of timekeeper available today, a cesium fountain atomic clock, is expected to become inaccurate by no more than a single second over the next fifty-plus million years (although it is by no means clear what other clock might be used to judge the world's most accurate timekeeper).

What of dictionaries? Have they been improved to the same extent as clocks? Is there somewhere a dictionary that is expected to be wrong by only one word in the next fifty million years?

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Idaho School Budgets Face 7.5 Percent Cut in 2011

Business Week:

Idaho schools will likely make do with 7.5 percent less in total funding next year, according to a plan that includes reducing salaries for first-year teachers.

The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee aims to give schools $128 million less in fiscal year 2011 than they're getting this year from all funding sources. State general fund spending is due to drop 1.4 percent, to $1.21 billion.

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March 1, 2010

A Partial Madison School District Budget Update, Lacks Total Spending Numbers

Madison School District Superintendent Dan Nerad 292K PDF:

In November of 2008 the district was given voter approval for a three year operating referendum: $5 million in 2009-2010, $4 million in 2010-2011, and $4 million in 2011-2012, The approved operating referendum has a shared cost plan between property tax payers and the district.

During the fall adoption of the 2009-2010 budget the Board of Education worked to reduce the impact for property tax payers by eliminating costs, implementing new revenues, and utilizing fund balance (see Appendix A). The Wisconsin State 2009-2011 budget impacted the district funding significantly in the fall of2009-2010 and will again have an impact on the 2010-2011 projections.

The district and PMA Financial Network, Inc, have worked to prepare a five year financial forecast beginning with the 2010-2011 budget year, which is attached in pgs 1-2.

2010-2011 Projection Assumptions:
The following items are included in the Budget Projection:
1. The budget holds resources in place and maintains programs and services.
2. October enrollment projections
3. Salary and Benefits - Teacher salary projections are based on their current settlement, and all other units are at a projected increase consistent with recent contract settlements.
4. Supplies & Materials - A 1% (~$275,000) projection was applied to supply and material budgets each year
5. Revenues - The district utilized revenue limit and equalization aid calculations based on the 2009-2011 State Budget. All other revenues remained constant.
6. Grants - Only Entitlement Grants are included in the forecasted budget. Example ARRA funds are not included as they are· not sustainable funds.
7. Debt - The forecast includes a projection for the WRS refinancing as of January 26th Attached on pgs 3-4 is a current Debt Schedule for the District which includes thecurrently restructured debt and the estimated WRS refinanced debt.
8. The 4-k program revenues, expenditures and enrollment have been added to the
projections beginning in 2011-2012.

Much more on the budget, including some total budget numbers via a Board Member's (Ed Hughes) comment. The recent State of The District presentation lacked total budget numbers (it presented property taxes, which are certainly important, but not the whole story). There has not been a 2009-2010 citizen's budget, nor have I seen a proposed 2010-2011 version. This should be part of all tax and spending discussions.

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More on the Madison School District High School's Use of Small Learning Communities & A Bit of Deja Vu - A Bruce King Brief Evaluation

Pam Nash 4.5MB PDF:

Introduction and Overview
1. Background and Overview Daniel A. Nerad, Superintendent of Schools

Prior to the fall of 2008, MMSD high schools functioned as four separate autonomous high schools, with minimal focus on working collaboratively across the district to address student educational needs.

In 2008 MMSD received a Federal Smaller Learning Communities for $5.3 million dollars over a five year period. The purpose of that grant is to support the large changes necessary to:

  • Increase student achievement for all students.
  • Increase and improve student to student relationships and student to adult relationships.
  • Improve post-secondary outcomes for all students.
District administration, along with school leadership and school staff, have examined the research that shows that fundamental change in education can only be accomplished by creating the opportunity for teachers to talk with one another regarding their instructional practice. The central theme and approach for REaL has been to improve and enhance instructional practice through collaboration in order to increase stndent achievement. Special attention has been paid to ensure the work is done in a cross - district, interdepartmental and collaborative manner. Central to the work, are district and school based discussions focused on what skills and knowledge students need to know and be able to do, in order to be prepared for post-secondary education and work. Systemized discussions regarding curriculum aligll1nent, course offerings, assessment systems, behavioral expectations and 21 st century skills are occurring across all four high schools and at the district level.

Collaborative professional development has been established to ensure that the work capitalizes on the expertise of current staff, furthers best practices that are already occurring within the MMSD high school classrooms, and enhances the skills of individuals at all levels from administration to classroom teachers needed. Our work to date has laid the foundation for further and more in-depth work to occur.

While we are at the formative stages of our work, evidence shows that success is occurring at the school level. Feedback from principals indicates that district meetings, school buildings and classrooms are feeling more collaborative and positive, there is increased participation by teachers in school based decisions, and school climate has improved as evidenced by a significant reduction in behavior referrals.

This report provides a summary of the REaL Grant since fall of2008 and includes:
1. Work completed across all four high schools.
2. School specific work completed.
3. District work completed.
4. REaL evaluation
5. Future implications

In addition the following attachments are included:
1. Individual REaL School Action Plans for 09-10
2. REaL District Action for 09-10
3. ACT EP AS Overview and Implementation Plan
4. AVID Overview
5. Templates used for curriculum and course alignment
6. Individual Learning Plan summary and implementation plan
7. National Student Clearninghouse StudentTracker System
8. Student Action Research example questions

2. Presenters

  • Pam Nash, Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Schools
  • Darwin Hernandez, East High School AVID Student
  • Jaquise Gardner, La Follette High School AVID Student
  • Mary Kelley, East High School
  • Joe Gothard, La Follette High School
  • Bruce Dahmen, Memorial High School
  • Ed Holmes, West High School
  • Melody Marpohl, West High School ESL Teacher
3. Action requested of the BOE

The report is an update, providing information on progress of MMSD High Schools and district initiatives in meeting grant goals and outlines future directions for MMSD High schools and district initiatives based on work completed to date.

MMSD has contracted with an outside evaluator, Bruce King, UW-Madison. Below are the initial observations submitted by Mr. King:

The REaL evaluation will ultimately report on the extent of progress toward the three main grant goals. Yearly work focuses on major REaL activities at or across the high schools through both qualitative and quantitative methods and provides schools and the district with formative evaluation and feedback. During the first two years ofthe project, the evaluation is also collecting baseline data to inform summative reports in later years of the grant. We can make several observations about implementation ofthe grant goals across the district.

These include:

Observation 1: Professional development experiences have been goal oriented and focused. On a recent survey of the staff at the four high schools, 80% of responding teachers reported that their professional development experiences in 2009-10 were closely connected to the schools' improvement plans. In addition, the focus of these efforts is similar to the kinds of experiences that have led to changes in student achievement at other highly successful schools (e.g., Universal Design, instructional leadership, and literacy across the curriculum).

Observation 2: Teacher collaboration is a focal point for REaL grant professional development. However, teachers don't have enough time to meet together, and Professional Collaboration Time (PCT) will be an important structure to help sustain professional development over time.

Observation 3: School and district facilitators have increased their capacity to lead collaborative, site-based professional development. In order for teachers to collaborate better, skills in facilitation and group processes should continue to be enhanced.

Observation 4: Implementing EP AS is a positive step for increasing post-secondary access and creating a common assessment program for all students.

Observation 5: There has been improved attention to and focus on key initiatives. Over two- thirds ofteachers completing the survey believed that the focus of their current initiatives addresses the needs of students in their classroom. At the same time, a persisting dilemma is prioritizing and doing a few things well rather than implementing too many initiatives at once.

Observation 6: One of the important focus areas is building capacity for instructional leadership, work carried out in conjunction with the Wallace project's UW Educational Leadership faculty. Progress on this front has varied across the four schools.

Observation 7: District offices are working together more collaboratively than in the past, both with each other and the high schools, in support of the grant goals.

Is it likely that the four high schools will be significantly different in four more years?

Given the focus on cultivating teacher leadership that has guided the grant from the outset, the likelihood is strong that staff will embrace the work energetically as their capacity increases. At the same time, the ultimate success ofthe grant will depend on whether teachers, administrators, anddistrict personnel continue to focus on improving instruction and assessment practices to deliver a rigorous core curriculum for all and on nurturing truly smaller environments where students are known well.


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Playing along with the Mozart effect
If you want music to sharpen your senses, boost your ability to focus and perhaps even improve your memory, you need to be a participant, not just a listener.

Melissa Healy:

Five months after we are conceived, music begins to capture our attention and wire our brains for a lifetime of aural experience. At the other end of life, musical memories can be imprinted on the brain so indelibly that they can be retrieved, perfectly intact, from the depths of a mind ravaged by Alzheimer's disease.

In between, music can puncture stress, dissipate anger and comfort us in sadness.

As if all that weren't enough, for years parents have been seduced by even loftier promises from an industry hawking the recorded music of Mozart and other classical composers as a means to ensure brilliant babies.

But for all its beauty, power and capacity to move, researchers have concluded that music is little more than ear candy for the brain if it is consumed only passively. If you want music to sharpen your senses, boost your ability to focus and perhaps even improve your memory, the latest word from science is you'll need more than hype and a loaded iPod.

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What happens to Madison's bad teachers?

Lynn Welch:

It's absurd to believe anyone wants ineffective teachers in any classroom.

So when President Barack Obama, in a speech last fall at Madison's Wright Middle School, called for "moving bad teachers out of the classroom, once they've been given an opportunity to do it right," the remark drew enormous applause. Such a pledge is integral to the president's commitment to strengthen public education.

But this part of Obama's Race to the Top agenda for schools has occasioned much nervousness. Educators and policymakers, school boards and school communities have questions and genuine concern about what it means. What, exactly, is a bad teacher, and how, specifically, do you go about removing him or her from a classroom?

Many other questions follow. Do we have a "bad teacher" problem in Madison? Does the current evaluation system allow Madison to employ teachers who don't make the grade? Is our system broken and does it need Obama's fix?

A look into the issue reveals a system that is far from perfect or transparent. But Madison school board President Arlene Silveira agrees it's an issue that must be addressed.

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United STATES Coalition for World Class Math!

via a Jill Gladstone email:

The Florida State DOE posted (leaked) the January 13th confidential draft of the Common Core Standards in their Race to the Top Application. Thank you Florida!

Read them here:

January 13th Draft of Common Core Mathematics.pdf

January 13th Draft of Common English-language Arts.pdf

A few of NJ Coalition for World Class Math's Major Concerns on Jan. 13, 2010 Mathematics draft:

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Class War How public servants became our masters

Steven Greenhut:

In April 2008, The Orange County Register published a bombshell of an investigation about a license plate program for California government workers and their families. Drivers of nearly 1 million cars and light trucks--out of a total 22 million vehicles registered statewide--were protected by a "shield" in the state records system between their license plate numbers and their home addresses. There were, the newspaper found, great practical benefits to this secrecy.

"Vehicles with protected license plates can run through dozens of intersections controlled by red light cameras with impunity," the Register's Jennifer Muir reported. "Parking citations issued to vehicles with protected plates are often dismissed because the process necessary to pierce the shield is too cumbersome. Some patrol officers let drivers with protected plates off with a warning because the plates signal that drivers are 'one of their own' or related to someone who is."

The plate program started in 1978 with the seemingly unobjectionable purpose of protecting the personal addresses of officials who deal directly with criminals. Police argued that the bad guys could call the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), get addresses for officers, and use the information to harm them or their family members. There was no rash of such incidents, only the possibility that they could take place.

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Portland School Board approves new contract with district teachers

Kimberly Melton:

The Portland School Board this morning unanimously approved a three-year contract between Portland Public Schools and the district's nearly 4,000 teachers.

The new contract gives teachers a 2 percent cost-of-living pay increase in 2008-09 and in 2010-11. For 2009-10, teachers will receive no pay raise. The district gained the ability to extend the student day, which means additional support and tutoring classes could be available to kids before or after school.

"The important message is that we're trying to balance the challenges of the economy with being fair to our teachers," board co-chair Trudy Sargent said after the vote, "and I think the 0 percent cola in the current year, which has been a really tough year for everybody ... that was an important place to balance the budget and teachers were willing to sacrifice in that year."

Added schools Supt. Carole Smith: "We hit a sweet spot of being able to both protect services to students and reflect the tough economic times that we're in."

The Portland School Board voted unanimously Saturday to approve a three-year contract between Portland Public Schools and the Portland Association of Teachers, ending a negotiation that has stretched on for more than a year and a half.

"This agreement allows us to live within our means," said Portland School Board co-chair Trudy Sargent in a prepared statement Saturday. She said it garners two goals: It "increases instructional time for students and honors the good work of educators in Portland Public Schools," Sargent said.

Key details of the approved contract agreement include:

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

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And the Orchestra Played On

Joanne Lipman:

The other day, I found myself rummaging through a closet, searching for my old viola. This wasn't how I'd planned to spend the afternoon. I hadn't given a thought to the instrument in years. I barely remembered where it was, much less how to play it. But I had just gotten word that my childhood music teacher, Jerry Kupchynsky -- "Mr. K." to his students -- had died.

In East Brunswick, N.J., where I grew up, nobody was feared more than Mr. K. He ran the town's music department with a ferocity never before seen in our quiet corner of suburbia. In his impenetrably thick Ukrainian accent, he would berate us for being out of tune, our elbows in the wrong position, our counting out of sync.

"Cellos sound like hippopotamus rising from bottom of river," he would yell during orchestra rehearsals. Wayward violinists played "like mahnyiak," while hapless gum chewers "look like cow chewing cud." He would rehearse us until our fingers were callused, then interrupt us with "Stop that cheekin plocking!"

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 3:13 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

An Update on the Madison School District's Efforts to Increase Teacher Use of the "Infinite Campus" Student Portal

Superintendent Dan Nerad 2.1MB PDF:

The Board of Education has shown concern with current levels of participation among staff, parents, and students in the use of the Infinite Campus student information system. This concern comes despite many efforts to engage the stakeholders with various professional development opportunities and promotional campaigns over the past three years. In December 2009, the Board was provided a summary from a staff survey conducted on the topic explaining why staff had been reluctant to use the teacher tools. That report is found as an attachment to this report (see Attachment 1).

A survey of Wisconsin school districts was completed to determine the standards for teacher use of student information system technologies in the state. The survey gathered information about the use of grade book, lesson planners, and parent and student portals. Responses were collected and analyzed from over 20 Wisconsin districts. Nearly all responding districts report either a requirement for online grade book use, or have close to 100 percent participation. (See Attachment 2).

Describe the action requested of the BOE
The administration is requesting that the Board of Education take action in support of the proposed action steps to enhance the overall use of the teacher and portal tools among our stakeholders.

The proposed time line for full teacher use of grade level appropriate Infinite Campus teacher tools is: High school teachers - 2011-2012 End of 4th Quarter, Middle school teachers - 2010-2011 End of 4th Quarter, Elementary school teachers - End of 4th Quarter, 2011-2012 (calendar feature only)

Fascinating tone. I support the Board's efforts to substantially increase usage of this system. If it cannot be used across all teachers, the system should be abandoned as the District, parents and stakeholders end up paying at least twice in terms of cost and time due to duplicate processes and systems.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:55 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Problem children should be helped, not excluded, says schools report

Anushka Asthana:

The system of excluding badly behaved pupils from school should be abolished because it punishes the most vulnerable children, a major new report on education has concluded, writes Anushka Asthana.

The study, by the thinktank Demos, says that difficult children are being pushed out of schools too often and finds that exclusions do not solve behavioural problems. Instead, they are linked to very poor results and in three out of four cases relate to children with special educational needs who should receive additional support. The report finds that 27% of children with autism have been excluded from school.

Sonia Sodha, co-author of the report, said: "Most other countries do not permanently exclude children from school in the same way we do. Instead of helping these children, we are punishing and then banishing them."

The report comes as figures from the Conservatives show that 1,000 pupils are excluded or suspended for physical and verbal assaults every day. Speaking at the Tory party spring conference, Michael Gove, shadow children's secretary, promised that in power he would make it easier for teachers to remove violent and disruptive pupils.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:44 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Starting them young: Nursery schools are the latest front-line in the Scandinavian integration debate

The Economist:

N SOFT, southern countries, snow is enough to close schools. In Sweden--a place that lives by the maxim that "There is no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes"--fresh snow is a cue to send 18-month-olds into the playground, tottering around in snowsuits and bobble hats. It is an impressive sight at any time. But it is particularly striking in a Stockholm playground filled with Somali toddlers, squeaking as they queue for sledge-rides.

The playground belongs to Karin Danielsson, a headmistress in Tensta, a Stockholm suburb with a large immigrant population. Mrs Danielsson calls her municipal preschool "a school for democracy". In keeping with Swedish mores, even young children may choose which activities to join or where to play. All pupils' opinions are heard, but they are then taught that the group's wishes must also be heeded.

Swedes take preschool seriously. Though education is not compulsory until seven, more than 80% of two-year-olds are enrolled in preschool, and many begin earlier. Among European countries only Denmark has higher enrolment rates at that age.

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29 students being evaluated after pepper spray incident at DC school

Paul Duggan:

wenty-nine students at the private Lab School in Northwest Washington were taken to hospitals Friday morning, most of them for precautionary reasons, after someone apparently discharged a canister of pepper spray in the campus' high school building, the D.C. fire department and a school spokesman said.

The incident occurred about 9:30 a.m. in a building that houses 147 high school students and other students in the fifth through eighth grades, school spokesman Edison Lee said. He said a separate building for children in the first through fourth grades was not affected.

The Lab School, in the 4700 block of River Road NW, specializes in educating youngsters with moderate to severe learning disabilities.

Edison and fire department spokesman Pete Piringer said school officials called for help after someone apparently discharged the pepper spray in a classroom on the second floor, where high school students attend classes. All the youngsters who were taken to hospitals are high school students. The younger students in the high school building attend classes on lower floors.

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