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September 30, 2010

4-year-old kindergarten could be money-loser for Madison preschools

Gayle Worland

As the director of a Madison pre-school, Sarah Dill believes all four-year-olds should have a chance for an education at that age.
But if the Madison School District launches a free pre-kindergarten program for four-year-olds as anticipated next fall, it could cost Dill's Meeting House Nursery School $50,000 a year.

That's because the district may not pay the nonprofit pre-school -- one of dozens being considered for participation in the new program -- its full cost of offering the education, which is now borne by parents. To close the gap, Meeting House might have to hike tuition costs for its younger students.

"It's a huge chunk of money," said Dill. "Fifty-thousand may not sound like a lot to some corporations, but for us, that's big. And we're now going to have to sell it to our families that, 'If you're willing to pay a little bit more when they're two and three, hang in there with us and when they're four, it will be free for you.'"

It's one of the financial tradeoffs of a public/private 4K program that has been in the works off and on for nearly a decade. There's a good chance the district will have to ask property taxpayers to help foot the start-up costs of 4K. Parents are still unsure about how it will all work -- and some preschool providers are unsure of 4K's effect on the bottom line.

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An Emphasis on Adult Employment

Andrew Coulson:

This week, President Obama called for the hiring of 10,000 new teachers to beef up math and science achievement. Meanwhile, in America, Earth, Sol-System, public school employment has grown 10 times faster than enrollment for 40 years (see chart), while achievement at the end of high school has stagnated in math and declined in science (see other chart).

Either the president is badly misinformed about our education system or he thinks that promising to hire another 10,000 teachers union members is politically advantageous-in which case he would seem to be badly misinformed about the present political climate. Or he lives in an alternate universe in which Kirk and Spock have facial hair and government monopolies are efficient. It's hard to say.

Related: Madison School District 2010-2011 Budget Update: $5,100,000 Fund Balance Increase since June, 2009; Property Taxes to Increase 9+%, and Ripon Superintendent Richard Zimman:
"Beware of legacy practices (most of what we do every day is the maintenance of the status quo), @12:40 minutes into the talk - the very public institutions intended for student learning has become focused instead on adult employment. I say that as an employee. Adult practices and attitudes have become embedded in organizational culture governed by strict regulations and union contracts that dictate most of what occurs inside schools today. Any impetus to change direction or structure is met with swift and stiff resistance. It's as if we are stuck in a time warp keeping a 19th century school model on life support in an attempt to meet 21st century demands." Zimman went on to discuss the Wisconsin DPI's vigorous enforcement of teacher licensing practices and provided some unfortunate math & science teacher examples (including the "impossibility" of meeting the demand for such teachers (about 14 minutes)). He further cited exploding teacher salary, benefit and retiree costs eating instructional dollars ("Similar to GM"; "worry" about the children given this situation).
Janet Mertz:
Thanks much for taking the time from your busy schedule to respond to our letter below. I am delighted to note your serious interest in the topic of how to obtain middle school teachers who are highly qualified to teach mathematics to the MMSD's students so that all might succeed. We are all in agreement with the District's laudable goal of having all students complete algebra I/geometry or integrated algebra I/geometry by the end of 10th grade. One essential component necessary for achieving this goal is having teachers who are highly competent to teach 6th- through 8th-grade mathematics to our students so they will be well prepared for high school-level mathematics when they arrive in high school.

The primary point on which we seem to disagree is how best to obtain such highly qualified middle school math teachers. It is my strong belief that the MMSD will never succeed in fully staffing all of our middle schools with excellent math teachers, especially in a timely manner, if the primary mechanism for doing so is to provide additional, voluntary math ed opportunities to the District's K-8 generalists who are currently teaching mathematics in our middle schools. The District currently has a small number of math-certified middle school teachers. It undoubtedly has some additional K-8 generalists who already are or could readily become terrific middle school math teachers with a couple of hundred hours of additional math ed training. However, I sincerely doubt we could ever train dozens of additional K-8 generalists to the level of content knowledge necessary to be outstanding middle school math teachers so that ALL of our middle school students could be taught mathematics by such teachers.

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South Carolina College Tuition Summit

Josh Dawsey

College tuition in South Carolina has skyrocketed in recent years, rising to troublesome rates that place financial hardship on many South Carolina families.

In fact, tuition rates have increased by 143 percent since 1999. Compare that to income growth of 50 percent and an inflation rate of 29 percent. They're the highest in the Southeast.

Simply put, there are problems that need solutions.

On those facts, all parties agreed during Tuesday's higher education summit at Midlands Technical College.

But how do you fix it?

That's the question Gov. Mark Sanford, college leaders and others in a packed auditorium debated for more than two hours. There was no shortage of opinions.

And there was certainly no shortage of tension and numbers discrepancies as leaders readily admitted they were dealing with complex issues without a foolproof solution.

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Education Reform Goes Mainstream

Jay Green:

I have no idea why a bunch of ed reformers are so gloomy.  Matt has already observed how Rick Hess and Mike Petrilli can't seem to enjoy the moment when ed reform ideas go mainstream.  Now Liam Julian is joining the poopy parade, lamenting that the new crop of naive reformers are doomed to fail just as past ones have, and "it never works out." And continuing the gloomy theme, Rick is worrying that school choice (in the form of vouchers) over-promised and under-delivered, losing the support of people like Sol Stern.  That may be, but as a graduate student observed to me today, choice (in the form of vouchers) may have lost Sol Stern, but choice (in the form of charters) just gained Oprah, the Today Show, and the Democratic Party platform.    Overall, he thought that was a pretty good trade, especially since he had to look up who Sol Stern was.

Let's review.  It is now commonly accepted among mainstream elites -- from Oprah to Matt Lauer to Arne Duncan -- that simply pouring more money into the public school system will not produce the results we want.  It is now commonly accepted that the teacher unions have been a significant barrier to school improvement by protecting ineffective teachers and opposing meaningful reforms.  It is now commonly accepted that parents should have a say in where their children go to school and this choice will push traditional public schools to improve.  It is now commonly accepted that we have to address the incentives in the school system to recruit, retain, and motivate the best educators.

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Congress in the Classroom

The Dirksen Center's monthly enewsletter, via a Cindy Koeppel email:

Sketches of famous and not-so-famous Senators and Representatives

Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives
Ichord, Richard II (1926-1992), a Representative from Missouri; born in Licking, Texas County, Mo., June 27, 1926; B.S., University of Missouri, 1949; J.D., University of Missouri, 1952; United States Navy, 1944-1946; lawyer, private practice; member of the Missouri state house of representatives, 1952-1960, speaker pro tempore, 1957, speaker, 1959; elected as a Democrat to the Eighty-seventh and to the nine succeeding Congresses (January 3, 1961-January 3, 1981); chair, Committee on Un-American Activities (Ninety-first Congress); chair, Committee on Internal Security, formerly Committee on Un-American Activities (Ninety-first through Ninety-third Congresses); was not a candidate for reelection to the Ninety-seventh Congress in 1980; professional advocate; died on December 25, 1992, in Nevada, Mo.; interment in Pinelawn Cemetery, Houston, Mo.

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Will Anyone at NBC Ask About the 216?

Conn Carroll

There are plenty of issues the journalists at NBC could be asking about but aren't: the silent push toward national standards, the assault on for-profit learning, the waste in education spending. But most galling is NBC's continued refusal to ask about the Obama administration's war on school choice. The closest accountability moment came when an audience member asked President Obama a question on the Today Show:
Viewer: "As a father of two very delightful and seemingly very bright daughters, I wanted to know whether or not you think that Malia and Sasha would get the same high-quality, rigorous education in a D.C. public school, as compared to their very elite private academy that they're attending now?"Obama: "I'll be blunt with you. The answer's 'no' right now. The D.C. public school systems are struggling. Now, they have made some important strides over the years to move in the direction of reform; there are some terrific individual schools in the D.C. system. And that's true by the way in every city across the country. In my hometown of Chicago there are some great public schools that are on par with any private school in the country. But it goes to the point Matt and I were talking about earlier. A lot of times you've got to test in, or it's a lottery pick for you to be able to get into those schools and so those options are not available for enough children. I'll be very honest with you. Given my position, if I wanted to find a great public school for Malia and Sasha to be in, we could probably maneuver to do it. But the broader problem is: For a mom or a dad who are working hard but don't have a bunch of connections, don't have a choice in terms of where they live, they should be getting the same quality education as anybody else, and they don't have that yet."
This would have been a great opportunity for Matt Lauer to ask about the 216. Who are the 216? Like each of the families in Waiting for Superman, thousands of parents in Washington, D.C., are dying to get their children out of violent and non-functioning local public schools and into alternatives like the Sidwell School that President Obama chooses to send his kids too. One-thousand-seven-hundred low-income D.C. school children have attended private schools with the help of the $7,500 scholarships awarded through this D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program.
Neal McCluskey:
But the reforms don't seem promising. Sure, RTTT got some states to lift caps on charter schools and eliminate some barriers to evaluating teachers using student test scores. For the most part, though, RTTT just prodded states to promise to plan to make reforms, and even things like lifting charter caps do little good when the problems go much deeper. Indeed, the only thing of real substance RTTT has done is coerce states into adopting national curriculum standards, pushing us a big step closer to complete federal domination of our schools. That's especially problematic because special interests like teacher unions love nothing more than one-stop shopping.

But isn't the President taking on the unions?

Hardly. While he has lightly scolded unions for protecting bad teachers, he has given them huge money-hugs to sooth their hurt feelings. Moreover, perhaps to further heal their emotional ouchies, on Today he offered union-hack rhetoric about teachers, going on about how they should be "honored" above almost all other professions, and how selfless and hard working they are.

Now, lots of teachers work hard and care very much about kids, but shouldn't individual Americans get to decide how much they want to honor a profession, and how much they are willing to pay for the services of a given professional? Of course they should -- who's to say definitively whether a good teacher is more valuable than, say, a good architect? - but when government controls education, it decides what teachers "should" get paid.

Unfortunately, the President chose to seriously inflate how long and intensively teachers work, saying they work so hard they are downright "heroic." No doubt many do work very long hours, but research shows that the average teacher does not. A recent "time diary" study found that during the school year teachers work only only about 7.3 hours on weekdays- including work on and off campus -- and 2 hours on weekends. That's 18 fewer minutes per day than the average person in a less "heroic" professional job. Oh, and on an hourly basis teachers get paid more than accountants, nurses, and insurance unerwriters.

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UK Med School Students Get a New Prescription: iPhones

Christina Warren

The University of Leeds announced it will be issuing iPhones to all fourth and fifth-year medical students. The always-connected nature of smartphones coupled with the burgeoning app marketplace has made smartphones an increasingly attractive learning tool.

According to the university, this is the first time a UK medical school has issued smartphones to its students. The 520 students in the medical program will each be loaned a 16GB iPhone 3GS for the remainder of their education.

The phones will be preloaded with apps and textbooks designed to keep students informed, help them take notes and test their knowledge. Students will also be able to download any other apps from the App Store.

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Education Reform a Risky Business: Fenty


Leaders must be willing to take political risks in order to improve schools, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty said at an NBC "Education Nation" panel discussion in New York Tuesday.

Fenty's choice of tough reformer Michelle Rhee as chancellor of D.C. schools wound up being a main issue, along with his personality, in his bid for a second term, which he lost.

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Cal Thomas: Politicians allow public education to fail kids

Cal Thomas:

"Waiting for Superman" is the new film by documentary filmmaker Davis Guggenheim, director of "An Inconvenient Truth," and it should be mandatory viewing for every member of Congress.
As a synopsis on the Fandango movie site says, this film "explores the tragic ways in which the American public education system is failing our nation's children. ..."
Not only do we see children and their parents on the edge of their seats during a lottery that will determine who gets the educational equivalent of a "get out of jail free" card, we also watch the crestfallen faces of those who don't draw the magic numbers for decent schools, a better education and, thus, a hope for the future. Is this how a poor child's destiny should be decided, by lottery?

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Signal on D.C. education reform from Gray's camp

Jay Matthews

On Sunday, the All Opinions Are Local page of ran a commentary by former D.C. Council member Kevin P. Chavous. I am rerunning it because I think it has unusual importance as we look toward the future of D.C. schools under Vincent Gray. The piece doesn't indicate ties to Gray. Nor does the identification of Chavous that ran with the piece. But Chavous is close to the presumptive mayor and the commentary provides many clues to what Gray might try to do.

I realize this is a throwback to my China-watching days, reading more into an editorial than it seems to say. But Gray has expressed his support for charters, a theme of Chavous's piece, so there are clear links between Gray and this line of thought. Chavous is worth reading in any case, and it is important to note that he is probably the best-informed and best-connected person in the Gray camp on educational innovation and education policy issues.

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September 29, 2010

Parental Reform

Michael Jensen

There's a lot of buzz about education this week. Most of it coinciding with a new documentary that explores the failures of the American public education system. But as a classic cynic, I also suspect the education discussion is a well-timed diversion from the economy -- just before the November elections.
Regardless of the motive, there is ample reason to discuss education in America and our slide from education excellence as measured against other nations. The new documentary "Waiting For Superman" has created a stir primarily because it calls into account the teachers' unions for resisting changes in education reform while protecting their union membership.

President Obama, who depends on union donations for his political survival, even weighed in on the teachers' unions by saying they too must be accountable if reform is to occur. Those words from this President are both shocking and appropriate.

The Obama administration has touted their Race to the Top initiative for education with mixed results in the early going. That program most certainly cannot match the No Child Left Behind program for ineptitude.

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Booker hopes Newark can be a national laboratory for education reform

Patricia Alex

Failing schools in Newark may be shuttered, charter schools expanded and private money used to boost salaries and provide merit bonuses to teachers, Mayor Cory Booker said Tuesday.

The city can be a national laboratory for education reform thanks in part to an unprecedented $100 million pledge from the founder of Facebook, Booker said. The mayor provided broad outlines of the reform plan during a meeting with The Record's editorial board.

And he signaled a willingness to take on the city teachers union and what he called a "clogged" and bloated bureaucracy in the state's largest school district.

"If you're failing my children, get out of the way," Booker said.

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Viva La Rhee-volución

Elizabeth Bloom

There was a significant election on September 14. No, it wasn't the primary for a senate seat, or even for a governorship. It did, however, have ramifications for Washington, D.C. and for the nation.

I'm talking about the Democratic primary for the office of mayor of the District of Columbia. Council Chairman Vince C. Gray defeated incumbent Mayor Adrian Fenty in convincing fashion. This election was significant because it could mean the forced or voluntary departure of the D.C. Public School system's controversial chancellor, Michelle A. Rhee.

Rhee, a former Teach for America corps member and founder of a non-profit that recruits teachers for public schools, took over the school system after Fenty became mayor in 2007. Fenty had written legislation giving him mayoral control over the schools and asked Rhee to run the system. She became chancellor on the condition that Fenty would give her the political cover necessary to make unpopular reforms in the country's worst school system.

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Best Value Law Schools

National Jurist:

With tuitions up, and lawyer salaries stagnant, its more important than ever for law schools to deliver a good value. We crunched the numbers to identify the best value law schools for 2010.

Even though Jennifer Keegan had gone to Florida State as an undergraduate, she wasn't ready to enter law school at the same university without looking around at other places.

"I had a long list of 15 schools including private schools and schools outside the state, because I like trying new things," she said. "But when I looked at all the factors - actual cost, the amount of career placement, the bar passage rate -- I crossed many of the places off my list. FSU had all the things I wanted at an incredibly good cost."

She's now a first-year law student at Florida State.

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Governor Seeks Pay and Tenure Changes in New Jersey Education Overhaul

Terrence Dopp

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said he wants to link public school teachers' pay and tenure to their students' performance, and to make it easier for districts to fire their worst educators.

"Pay should go to the people who have earned it," he said today in a town hall meeting in Old Bridge Township. Tenure has become "a sclerosis that coats the veins of our school system."

Christie, a Republican who has said the state's education system is costly and failing many children, plans to administratively overhaul the process of teacher performance evaluations and to spend $20 million during the next two years improving a database that tracks them. He also proposed expanding teacher training and "alternative routes" to becoming a principal.

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

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The irony behind Obama's Sidwell/D.C. schools remarks

Valerie Strauss:

There is some irony behind President Obama's comment that his daughters could not get as fine an academic experience in a D.C. public school as they do at private Sidwell Friends School: His education policies promote some practices that Sidwell wouldn't dream of adopting.

Obama sparked a heated debate when he said during an interview with NBC's Matt Lauer that schools in the D.C. public system were making progress but were not as good as Sidwell.

My colleague, Jay Mathews, wrote on his Class Struggle blog that Obama was wrong. Jay said that there are some D.C. schools that are "just as good in every important way," and the important ways he cites are setting high standards and having excellent teachers.

There are indeed teachers in the city schools that are as fine as any teachers at Sidwell, and some D.C. schools set extremely high standards for kids. But high standards and fine teachers do not alone make a great school, not if the fine teachers aren't given the support and resources they need to help the kids meet the high standards. And, some of these fine teachers have told me, they aren't.

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"In bigger cities, youth sport is overorganized and overcoached," Dr. Côté says.

Austin Kelley, via a Diane Harrington email

Growing up among the 1,341 people in Taylorsville, Miss., Oakland Raiders quarterback Jason Campbell probably didn't encounter the best coaches or the greatest competition. Which probably helped him reach the NFL. Studies show that small towns are better breeding grounds for athletes than cities, and sports psychologists are using these data to question our ideas about talent development.

Only one-in-four Americans come from towns of fewer than 50,000 people, but nearly half of NFL players and PGA golfers do, according to two recent studies. The small-town figures for golf and baseball are just under 40%. The studies use 1980 Census figures because they most closely represented the birth year of pro athletes.

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Household income plunged in 2009

Carol Morello and Dan Keating:

Three out of 10 children in the nation's capital were living in poverty last year, with the number of poor African American children rising at a breathtaking rate, according to census statistics released Tuesday.

Among black children in the city, childhood poverty shot up to 43 percent, from 36 percent in 2008 and 31 percent in 2007. That was a much sharper increase than the two percentage-point jump, to 36 percent, among poor black children nationwide last year.

The number of poor minority children also rose in many parts of the Washington suburbs, including Montgomery , Alexandria, Arlington and the northern half of Fairfax County.

But the District, where unemployment has risen to nearly 30 percent in Ward 8, had the most sobering rise. Last year, there were more than 30,000 black children living in poverty in the city, almost 7,000 more than two years before, according to Census Bureau data.

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Baltimore Ends Linking Pay to Years of Employment (Tenure)

Liz Bowie & Erica Green

The Baltimore school district and its teachers union have struck a landmark agreement that would end the longtime practice of linking pay to years of employment and place the city at the forefront of a national reform effort, according to sources familiar with the pact.

The two sides have discussed a pay system that would reward skills and effectiveness and are expected to announce the details of the agreement Wednesday.

Experts in teacher compensation said Baltimore was poised to become one of only a handful of places in the country, including Washington, D.C., New Haven, Conn., and Pittsburgh, that have moved toward paying teachers for performance as a way to improve the quality of education in their schools. The Obama administration has been pressing for such changes.

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Rick Scott's education plan would cut taxes, increase private school vouchers

Marc Caputo and Sergio Bustos:

Pledging to cut taxes and increase school choice for parents, Republican Rick Scott rolled out his education plan Tuesday in what could presage a long fight with the state's teachers union.

"Parents ought to have a right to choose a school for their kids," said Scott. ''Competition is good."

To accomplish his education plan, Scott wants to increase taxpayer-backed private school scholarships, charter schools, home schooling and virtual, online education. At the same time, Scott wants to trim $1.4 billion in property taxes for schools and cut up to $700 million more in corporate income taxes -- a main vehicle to fund a state educational voucher program.

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September 28, 2010

How High Schools Become Exemplary: Ways That Leadership Raises Achievement and Narrows Gaps by Improving Instruction in 15 Public High Schools

The Achievement Gap Initiative at Harvard University, via a kind reader:

In early 2009, the Achievement Gap Initiative (AGI) at Harvard University identified fifteen high schools with unusually strong evidence of student learning as measured by gains on standardized state exams. The schools had improved over a period of years. Most were racially and socioeconomically diverse. The AGI invited leaders of the identified schools to a two-day conference in June of 2009 to explain how their schools achieved such outstanding results.1 This report, How High Schools Become Exemplary, reviews and summarizes the presentations. The featured schools come from Massachusetts, Ohio, Illinois, Maryland, Texas, and Washington, DC. Each chapter here details how leaders engaged other adults in successful efforts to improve learning outcomes. The central theme is that schools improved performance by striving relentlessly to improve instruction.

Located at the boundary between adolescence and adulthood, high schools are critically important institutions. Unfortunately, they are the most stubborn part of the K-12 system to reform--the most impervious to change.2 In his recent book, So Much Reform, So Little Change, Charles Payne discusses the difficulty of reforming elementary schools and then comments that "The problems of elementary schools are exacerbated in high schools."3 High schools tend to be fragmented organizations in which order is sometimes challenging to maintain and where responsibility for improving instruction resides mainly in isolated academic departments and classrooms. Principals are often distracted by crises. Many defer routinely to the subject-matter expertise of department leaders, seldom interfering with how departments monitor, evaluate, or attempt to improve teaching and learning.

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How parents ruin sports for kids

Linda  Thomas:

Listen to this report
Did you watch kids play football or soccer this weekend? You might be ruining sports for your kids without even realizing it. A lot of their attitudes toward the game depends on what you say to the them, on the car ride home.

"You should have done this. You should have done that. Next time do this. Hey, let's work on this. Hey, when we get home let's work on that," says Mike Bergstrom. "My child could have had the greatest game of their life, and what they really wanted to do was hear dad say, 'I'm so proud of you. There's nothing I like more than watching you play. I'm so proud of you.' And I didn't say that enough.

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4,100 Students Prove 'Small Is Better' Rule Wrong

Sam Dillon

A decade ago, Brockton High School was a case study in failure. Teachers and administrators often voiced the unofficial school motto in hallway chitchat: students have a right to fail if they want. And many of them did -- only a quarter of the students passed statewide exams. One in three dropped out.

Then Susan Szachowicz and a handful of fellow teachers decided to take action. They persuaded administrators to let them organize a schoolwide campaign that involved reading and writing lessons into every class in all subjects, including gym.

Their efforts paid off quickly. In 2001 testing, more students passed the state tests after failing the year before than at any other school in Massachusetts. The gains continued. This year and last, Brockton outperformed 90 percent of Massachusetts high schools. And its turnaround is getting new attention in a report, "How High Schools Become Exemplary," published last month by Ronald F. Ferguson, an economist at Harvard who researches the minority achievement gap.

Related: Small Learning Communities and English 10.

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An Interview with Christopher Woodhead: About Ofsted

Michael F. Shaughnessy, via email

5) What are the main problems that the educational system in Britain currently faces?

Again, see above. It isn't inadequate funding that ultimately explains poor standards in our schools. It is the progressive, child centred, ideas which are peddled by teacher trainers and administrators. The educational enterprise should initiate the young into the best that has been thought and written. At present we are far from this ideal in the UK. The great and the good who pontificate about education seem to believe that the curriculum can be personalised and that the subjective and ill-informed views of pupils matter more than the authority of the teacher and, beyond the teacher, of the disciplines into which the young should be initiated

6) Let's talk about children with special needs- How well prepared is the average teacher in England to provide quality instruction for these students?

It depends what you mean by special educational needs. For the last thirty years it has been assumed that one in five children will have a special educational need at some point in their school career. I think this is nonsense. Properly taught, most children can cope, up to a point, with a basic curriculum and most teachers, properly trained, can teach such children. There are, of course, children who have real needs, physical, emotional and/or intellectual. I do not think that mainstream teachers can reasonably be expected to deal with the problems such children experience. The last Government shut down many of the special schools which used to exist for these children. This was a tragedy.

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An analysis of Colorado's failed Race to the Top application

Nancy Mitchell:

Colorado's failed bid for $175 million in federal Race to the Top funding was hampered by concern about the state's flat achievement data and fear that union opposition would prevent the spread of reform.

Evaluators also docked points for what they describe as the state's vague plans to ensure effective teachers and principals are in the neediest schools.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan on Tuesday announced winners of the federal grant competition, awarding nearly $3.4 billion to nine states and the District of Columbia. Colorado placed 17th out of 19 applicants for Round 2 of the Race to the Top; the state also was a finalist, but not a winner, in Round 1 of the contest earlier this year.

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An Interview with Richard D. Kahlenberg: College and Other Issues

Michael F. Shaughnessy, via email

3) Why, in your mind is the book important, and why are the issues important?

There have been dozens of books written about racial affirmative action, but this is the first full-length book devoted to a larger affirmative action program based on lineage. The first part of the book includes chapters on the history of legacy preferences, their current use, whether they in fact help in fundraising (as supporters claim), and their impact on students of color. The second part of the book looks at legal theories and political reforms to curtail legacy preferences.

I think the issue is important because our public and private colleges and universities, which are heavily supported with taxpayer subsidies, are supposed to be serving the public interest. Instead, thousands of hard working students are bumped aside every year at selective institutions because of a system that discriminates based on ancestry. This practice is fundamentally unAmerican in my view.

4) How exactly do you define " legacy " and are there any specific colleges or universities that seem to hold " legacy " as a variable of importance?

Legacy preferences provide an admissions advantage to the children (and sometimes the grandchildren and siblings) of alumni. They are used at roughly 3/4 of selective national universities and virtually all selective liberal arts colleges. Among highly selective universities, controlling for grades and test scores, a given student's chances of being admitted are 20 percentage points higher if they are legacies. We have a list of those national universities that use and do not use legacy preferences in a chapter by Chad Coffman that is available on our website.

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The iPad Project: How It's Going

Frasier Speirs:

So many people have asked me to explain the educational impact of the iPad. I simply can't yet get to grips with everything that's happening. Put simply, the iPad deployment has transformed our school. Not evenly and not everywhere yet, but it's coming.

There are stages to technology adoption. Two important stages are 'replacement' and 'transformation'. With replacement, you take an existing resource and replace it with an essentially identical digital resource. Think of a paper textbook replaced by the same textbook in PDF form. That's not to be sniffed at - there are big advantages to that.

What we're reaching in some classes is the transformation stage. We're seeing the iPad completely change the way that certain subjects are taught. Our best example so far is Art. I will write and share more about what we're doing in Art over time but it's fair to say that it is already far beyond anything I expected in the first year, let alone the first month.

At this point, all I can give you are some practical anecdotes which, I hope, will give you a flavour of the change.

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Jane Austen Manuscripts

Oxford and King's College:

Jane Austen's Fiction Manuscripts is a three-year AHRC-funded research project. It is a joint project of the University of Oxford and King's College London.

Aims and Objectives
To create a digital resource reuniting all the known holograph surviving manuscripts of Austen's fiction in an unprecedented virtual collection.
To provide for the first time full descriptions of, transcriptions of, analysis of, and commentary on the manuscripts in the archive, including details of erasures, handwriting, paper quality, watermarks, ink, binding structures, and any ancillary materials held with the holographs as aspects of their physical integrity or provenance.

To develop complex interlinking of the virtual collection to allow systematic comparison of the manuscripts under a number of headings representing both their intellectual and physical states.

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Time for Seattle Public Schools and teachers to partner in steps toward reform

Seattle Times:

SEATTLE Public Schools is right to push for a better, more honest way of evaluating teachers, even at the risk of a strike.

Tense contract negotiations between the district and the Seattle Education Association underscore the enormous opportunity at stake. Both sides agree the current system used to judge teachers is weak and unreliable. Ineffective teachers are ignored or shuffled to other schools to become other parents' nightmare. Excellent teachers languish in a system that has no means to recognize or reward them.

The union leadership called for a few tweaks. But the district proposed a revamped system using student growth, as measured by test scores. Supporters of the status quo have tried to downplay the other forms of appraisal that would be used. They include student growth measurements selected by the teacher, principal observations of instruction and peer reviews. Also, student input at the high-school level.

Much more an value added assessment, here.

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Meeting of the Minds

William Howell, Martin West and Paul Peterson:

Democrats and Republicans in Washington, D.C., are more polarized today than they have been in nearly a century. And among the general public, party identification remains the single most powerful predictor of people's opinions about a wide range of policy issues. Given this environment, reaching consensus on almost any issue of consequence would appear difficult. And when it comes to education policy, which does a particularly good job of stirring people's passions, opportunities for advancing meaningful policy reform would appear entirely fleeting.
Against this backdrop, the results of the 2010 Education Next-Program on Education Policy and Governance (PEPG) Survey are encouraging. With the exceptions of school spending and teacher tenure, the divisions between ordinary Democrats and Republicans on education policy matters are quite minor. To be sure, disagreements among Americans continue to linger. Indeed, with the exception of student and school accountability measures, Americans as a whole do not stand steadfastly behind any single reform proposal. Yet the most salient divisions appear to be within, not between, the political parties. And we find growing support for several strategies put forward in recent years by leaders of both political parties--most notably online education and merit pay.
Nearly 2,800 respondents participated in the 2010 Education Next-PEPG Survey, which was administered in May and June of 2010 (see sidebar for survey methodology). In addition to a nationally representative sample of American adults, the survey included representative samples of two populations of special interest: 1) public school teachers and 2) adults living in neighborhoods in which one or more charter schools are located. With a large number of respondents, we were able, in many cases, to pose differently worded questions to two or more randomly chosen groups. So doing, we were able to evaluate the extent to which expressed opinions change when a person is informed of certain facts, told about the president's position on an issue, or simply asked about a topic in a different way.

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September 27, 2010

Wisconsin Education: Sounding the Alarm: A Wakeup Call With Directions

Frederick Hess & Oliva Meeks

There was a time when Wisconsin was a leader in school reform, and it wasn't that long ago. All you have to do is go two decades back, and the state's performance on reading and math assessments put its students in the nation's upper tier. The 1990 Milwaukee Parental Choice Program was heralded as a watershed for school choice, and today, it is the nation's largest school voucher program. Wisconsin was also an early adopter of charter schooling, and its SAGE class-size-reduction program gained national attention in the 1990s.

In the current education landscape, those days of innovation seem a long way off.

Wisconsin is no longer mentioned as an education innovator in the same breath as states like Louisiana, Tennessee, or Colorado. Wisconsin has also seen a tremendous erosion of its once-impressive math and reading performance. In 1990, Wisconsin outperformed 76% of the states in eighth-grade math scores. Today, Wisconsin has fallen to the middle of the pack. In reading, the decline has been even more precipitous.1 And all of this has happened in spite of the fact that statewide per-pupil spending has risen from $7,749 per student in 1990 to $10,041 in 2007 (in constant 2007 dollars), proving that just throwing money at a problem will not solve it.2

Perhaps the most vexing statistic is the racial divide - 93% of white students graduated high school in 2009 statewide, compared to only 66% of African-American students.3 This is a divide that no state or country can tolerate if it intends to remain functioning, let alone successful. The situation is most grim in Milwaukee, where only one-third of African-American tenth-graders--34%--are proficient in reading compared to 67% among their white classmates; in math, 19% of African-American students are proficient compared to 56% of white students.4

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A Reluctant No Vote on the Edgewater TID; Madison School Board Votes No on the Edgewater TIF

Madison School Board Member Ed Hughes:

That brings us to Edgewater.  In brief, my position is that I respect the decisions the City makes with respect to the use of a TID, but just don't ask the School District to subsidize a project.  To my mind, the School District would be subsidizing a project if, using appropriate valuation techniques, we conclude that the value of potential property tax revenue foregone as a result of investment in a project exceeds the value of potential additional property tax revenue the project is expected to generate.

In other words, for a project like Edgewater, there is a City investment.  This investment can be measured in terms of property tax revenues foregone.  Using an appropriate discount rate, we can place a present value on that stream of foregone property tax revenues.  Let's call that present value X.

A project like Edgewater will result in increased property values and so in increased future property tax revenues.  We can also place a present value on the projected future stream of increased property tax revenues the project generates.  Let's call that present value Y.

If Y > X, then the project makes financial sense and, generally, there is no reason for the School District to complain about it.   However, if X > Y, then the deal is a financial loser, and the School District would in effect be called upon to subsidize the shortfall in revenues.

So, for Edgewater, is X > Y, or Y > X?  Fortunately, City Comptroller Dean Brasser and his staff have provided helpful data that allow us to address that question.

The City says that without the Edgewater amendment, TID #32 is projected to close in 2017.  With the closure, the increment in value in the properties included within the TID would be restored to the property tax rolls.  This addition would result in a broader base of property value from which to collect property taxes, and so would result in a property tax decrease for all other property owners, all else equal.  The City calculates that, in the absence of the Edgewater amendment, the closure of TID # 32 in 2017 would result in a property tax savings on the average Madison home of about $35, beginning in 2018.

Gayle Worland:
The Madison School Board voted unanimously Monday against supporting an expansion of the State Street tax incremental financing (TIF) district that would deliver $16 million in public assistance to the proposed $98 million Edgewater hotel redevelopment.

School board member Lucy Mathiak, the school district's representative to the city's TIF Review Board, cast doubt on school board approval last month, when she said that taking more properties off the tax rolls for the Edgewater project would be difficult for local taxing entities, such as Madison public schools, to bear.

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Lessons from the Chessboard

Stephanie Banchero

At a school for troubled kids on this city's tough North Side, life's lessons are learned on a chessboard.

In Room 103, Marqwon, 16 years old, kicked out of his regular school for bringing in a nail-studded piece of wood, tapped his forefinger in the air as he mapped out his next six moves.

Across the board, 15-year-old Joann, sent here after throwing a punch at a classmate, was losing the match and wasn't happy about it.

"You're just embarrassing me," she said, toppling her king with a smack. "You know it's over."

Her action coaxed chess instructor Bill Thompson to the table. "Let's not give up," he said. "Let's think of a way to get out of this."

Chess has been a part of after-school programs for at least 40 years, but mainly in the suburbs. In the last decade, it has exploded in popularity in urban areas as research showed that students who play chess do better on achievement exams, especially math.

But few schools offer chess as an academic subject--and fewer still require it, especially for students already labeled as troublemakers, like the ones here.

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Make Way for Merit Pay

Wisconsin State Journal

Deborah Kenny, CEO of the successful and innovative Harlem Village Academies charter schools in one of the poorest parts of New York City, summed up the need for change in a Wall Street Journal guest column last week:

"We need to stop treating teachers like industrial-era workers and start treating them like professionals," she wrote.

Kenny lets her teachers choose their own textbooks and design their own courses. But they are then held accountable for how their students perform. So far, the results are promising, with test scores among the best in the nation for math, science and social studies.

Many teachers mistakenly fear that test scores will be the sole determinant of merit. Under most systems being proposed, gains in test scores would be one of several factors. A teacher might get a bonus, for example, for taking on a leadership role in mentoring beginning teachers.

In Washington, D.C., the most effective teachers are now eligible to earn almost twice what they used to make, thanks to merit pay.

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Madison water experts downplay manganese/intelligence report

Ron Seely:

The author of a new Canadian study linking manganese in drinking water to lower intelligence levels in children said the research should prompt tougher regulation of the metal, which has been a concern in Madison's public water supply.
Drinking water experts in Madison said the study is one of the first important scientific looks at connections between manganese and human health. But water officials also said the report should be viewed in the context of extensive efforts by the utility the last four years to reduce the city's manganese levels.
"I think that here, when we talk about manganese, we're seeing levels that are more appropriately an aesthetic concern," said Joseph Grande, water quality manager for the Madison Water Utility. "We're seeing tremendously lower levels of manganese."

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Why do schools use 2-D teaching in a 3-D world?

Peter Halacsy:

American schools are using two-dimensional communication in a 3-D world. All one needs to do is view the YouTube video of a toddler quickly mastering an iPad to understand the problem, and the solution.

American education is linear, but the rest of a student's world isn't. Watch young people hunting knowledge at a computer, and you won't see them moving along a straight line (as textbooks or slide presentations do). You'll see them zooming in and out, leaping from hyperlink to hyperlink, remixing knowledge on the fly. This type of learning is brain candy to young people, and they don't get enough in school. As one T-shirt recently seen in a New York City school says, "It's Not ADD - I'm Just Not Listening."

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San Francisco's New Student Assignment Plan

Jill Tucker:

The new plan (PDF), a more nuanced approach that's been in the works for more than four years, hopes to balance the needs of struggling students and the desire for proximity.

Like the old system, the version the school board will take up Tuesday will give parents a choice of schools and rank families based on established priorities whenever demand for a school is greater than the space available.

The assignment scheme varies depending on whether a child is in elementary, middle or high school.

The board established the school assignment process in March. Since then, the district has been hammering out the details, such as the attendance areas for each school.

If those details are approved Tuesday, district officials will use the new system beginning in the 2011-12 school year for kindergarten, sixth- and ninth-grade school assignments.

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Harry Potter and the Future of Textbooks

Ben Betts:

The Daily Prophet is the newspaper of choice for the discerning witch or wizard, this much we all know. With moving pictures and articles on every topic of interest, the Prophet is a fine advance on the offerings afforded to us muggles.

Or is it? You see I'm increasingly of the opinion that JK Rowling aimed too low with her imagination on this part. She couldn't foresee the way in which things like newspapers and textbooks would really be consumed if the magic (read: technology) was widely available.

To take you further in to the future of textbooks, I first have to take you back, way back...

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Putting Newark Mayor Booker in charge of city schools will incite legal action, experts say

Jessica Calefati:

If Cory Booker even thinks of making a decision affecting Newark schools, he and Gov. Chris Christie will find themselves in a lawsuit faster than you can say Facebook, the head of the Education Law Center said yesterday.

David Sciarra, a veteran of numerous court battles involving public education, said it would be "improper and illegal" for Christie to formally offer Booker any authority to make decisions about the Newark Public Schools. Sciarra was lead counsel on the historic -- and successful -- Abbott suit filed in 1997 against the state to provide more funding for its neediest schools.

"I have no doubt appropriate legal action would be taken on behalf of the residents of Newark to challenge such a move in court," Sciarra said.

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This is a lot of talk about Eric Bledsoe's grades

I wonder if, when he was sitting in that fateful Algebra3 class in high school, Eric Bledsoe ever imagined this equation: u + A = UK2K.

Something feels wrong when so much time, interest and intensity is focused on one kid's grade in a math class. I know people who spent more time lately thinking about the former University of Kentucky basketball player's Algebra3 grade than they did their own kids' grades. Come to think of it, I was probably one of them.

Today, UK's victories (including No.2,000) that were earned last season with Eric Bledsoe's help look safe.

Though an independent legal investigation found it was "not credible" for a teacher to have changed Eric Bledsoe's senior year grade in Algebra3 from a C to an A, the teacher told investigators that Eric Bledsoe did makeup work to raise his grade, and Birmingham superintendent Craig Witherspoon said he hadn't seen anything to suggest the transcript should be changed now.

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How to Raise Boys Who Read

When I was a young boy, America's elite schools and universities were almost entirely reserved for males. That seems incredible now, in an era when headlines suggest that boys are largely unfit for the classroom. In particular, they can't read.

According to a recent report from the Center on Education Policy, for example, substantially more boys than girls score below the proficiency level on the annual National Assessment of Educational Progress reading test. This disparity goes back to 1992, and in some states the percentage of boys proficient in reading is now more than ten points below that of girls. The male-female reading gap is found in every socio-economic and ethnic category, including the children of white, college-educated parents.

The good news is that influential people have noticed this problem. The bad news is that many of them have perfectly awful ideas for solving it.

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There's room to improve Wisconsin students' college readiness

Alan Borsuk:

(I can't resist digressing to recount how I was in a math class for high-performing seniors at a major Milwaukee high school several years ago. Let's do some warm-up questions, the teacher said. One of them was: One-third rounds off to what percentage and what decimal value? Yes, 33% and .33. A good question for, maybe, sixth-graders, in my opinion. And these were kids taking Advanced Placement courses in other subjects! Perhaps I should point out that 31% is less than a third.)

Here's another fact: Wisconsin law requires only 13 credits to get a high school diploma, the lowest total in the country, according to the state Department of Public Instruction. Permit me to repeat that: The lowest total in the country. True, probably every school district in the state requires more than, oh, about three courses a year in high school, and no teen with hopes for university admission or for success in pursuing a wide array of other options would take such a light load. Nonetheless, this does say something about where the bar is set by the state.

All of which is to say, college readiness is a serious concern nationwide, and don't think Wisconsin is not part of that picture. It's not enough to graduate from high school or even to get into college. How are students going to do when they get there?

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September 26, 2010

Thank you from Singapore

From: Oliver Kim
Date: September 26, 2010 5:17:44 AM EDT
Subject: Thank you from Singapore

Dear Mr. Fitzhugh,

Thank you for publishing my essay on the Maginot Line in this year's fall issue of The Concord Review. Receiving your letter was at once joyous and humbling.

From the rise of the standardized test as a measure of academic success, to the subordination and disappearance of the long-form essay in the high school curriculum, the humanities appear to be losing ground in education. In light of the numerous competitions and accolades available to students of math and the hard sciences, options for students of the humanities, especially history, are comparatively few. The Concord Review stands alone as an exemplar for quality writing by lovers of history.

Thanks to your hard work, my school has all freshman students write a long-form historical essay based on the model of the essays that appear in The Concord Review. All students of AP European History are required to do the same, and, even in those classes that do not require long-form essays, The Concord Review is employed as a standard of quality and academic rigor. Though I cannot speak for my whole school, I can say that, anecdotally, this project has sparked historical curiosity and illuminated unexplored talents in my classmates.

Again, thank you for publishing my essay. I hope that the Review will find a solution to its financial woes and continue inspiring future generations of historians.

Warm regards,

Oliver Kim
Singapore American School [Class of 2011]

The Concord Review.

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We can measure teacher effectiveness, objectively and transparently Read more: Richmond County Daily Journal - We can measure teacher effectiveness objectively and transparently

Terry Stoops

Is it possible to measure teacher effectiveness? For decades, public school principals have subjected teachers to a battery of observations and evaluations purportedly designed to assess the quality of classroom instruction. Rather than yield appreciable information, however, these kinds of teacher assessments merely served as one of the few formal requirements needed to attain lifetime job security, also known as tenure.

On the other hand, the "value-added" method of teacher evaluation continues to show promise as an objective and reliable assessment of teacher quality. Value-added analysis uses standardized tests to estimate teacher effectiveness. This powerful evaluation method employs advanced statistical techniques to project the future performance of individual students based on their past performance. The difference between the projected and actual performance of students determines the value added or subtracted by the teacher.

Value-added analysis has upended the conventional wisdom on teacher quality. For years, public school advocacy groups complained that the most talented teachers snub minority and low-income schools by migrating to less challenging and higher paying schools in culturally and economically homogeneous suburbs.

Terry Stoops is director of education studies at The John Locke Foundation.

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The List: Five of the best campus novels

David Lodge

The campus novel emerged as higher education expanded and novelists increasingly took day jobs in universities. Inherently comic and satirical, it is focused on the lives of academic staff rather than their students, and explores the gap between the high ideals of the institution and the human weaknesses of its members. As the new academic year begins, here are five of the best.

1. The Groves of Academe (1952) by Mary McCarthy

Can claim to be the first campus novel. The plot, like that of many of its successors, turns on the question of whether the central character will keep his job. Henry Mulcahy, an idle, irresponsible, middle-aged Irish-American instructor at a small liberal arts college, is deservedly denied tenure but manages to exploit the weakness and vanity of his colleagues so that they defend his cause. McCarthy's mordant wit is a joy throughout.

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Jefferson County, Colorado schools to increase some teachers' pay to more than $100,000 Read more: Jeffco schools to increase some teachers' pay to more than $100,000

Jeremy Meyer

Top-level teachers in select Jefferson County schools could be paid more than $100,000 a year under a pilot program funded by a new $32.8 million federal grant.
The program would make some educators working in a handful of high-poverty schools the highest-paid public school teachers in Colorado.

Jefferson County's pilot pay system will roll out in the 2011-12 academic year in a few schools -- changing the base pay of all teachers, providing up to $10,000 in annual performance bonuses and creating "master teachers."

"We're changing the norms," said Superintendent Cindy Stevenson. "The profession has to change. If we don't do it, someone else will do it to us."

Jefferson County and Colorado Springs District 11 learned Thursday that they were among 62 winners in 27 states of the federal Teacher Incentive Fund grants, which support performance-pay plans in high-need schools.

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Refocus Wisconsin: "Milwaukee Public Schools: Losing Our Best"

Christian Schneider

As part of our Refocus Wisconsin project, we have commissioned a number of local filmmakers to make short films about government and politics in Wisconsin. Each video represents a different aspect of Wisconsin government through the eyes of our independent filmmakers, and more are on their way.

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Changes to the Madison School District Student Conduct and Discipline Plan

16 Page PDF:

Attached please find a proposed DRAFT of the Student Conduct and Discipline Plan, The revisions noted in the DRAFT are for the following purposes:

1) Correct a reference to Madison City Ordinance 39,03(2)(t) 2) Add a reference to the Phoenix Program as an alternative to proceeding to an expulsion hearing

Specifically, on page 1 please note that the reference to fornler Madison City Ordinance 3,23(2)(t) has been amended to Madison City Ordinance 39.03(2)(t), This was necessitated by alterations in the numbering associated with Madison City Ordinances,
On pages 4-5 please note that language was added in order to allow the Superintendent or appropriate instructional Assistant Superintendent to consider and implement an "abeyance option" as an approved method of modifying a recommendation 'for possible expulsion,

Also on page 5 please note that language has been added detailing specific violations of the code of conduct which, if committed, would preclude a pupil from being eligible to participate in the abeyance option. The added language also indicates that a student's participation in an abeyance option is not a guaranteed right and is within the discretion of the Superintendent or instructional Assistant Superintendent. Finally, the added language also provides a brief explanation of the "abeyance program,"

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Nicholas Lehman

A hundred years ago, eight and a half per cent of American seventeen-year-olds had a high-school degree, and two per cent of twenty-three-year-olds had a college degree. Now, on any given weekday morning, you will find something like fifty million Americans, about a sixth of the population, sitting under the roof of a public-school building, and twenty million more are students or on the faculty or the staff of an institution of higher learning. Education is nowhere mentioned in the Constitution; the creation of the world's first system of universal public education--from kindergarten through high school--and of mass higher education is one of the great achievements of American democracy. It embodies a faith in the capabilities of ordinary people that the Founders simply didn't have.

It is also, like democracy itself, loose, shaggy, and inefficient, full of redundancies and conflicting goals. It serves many constituencies and interest groups, each of which, in the manner of the parable of the blind men and the elephant, sees its purpose differently. But, by the fundamental test of attractiveness to students and their families, the system--which is one of the world's most ethnically diverse and decentralized--is, as a whole, succeeding. Enrollment in charter schools is growing rapidly, but so is enrollment in old-fashioned public schools, and enrollments are rising at all levels. Those who complete a higher education still do better economically. Measures of how much American students are learning--compared to the past, and compared to students in other countries--are holding steady, for the most part, even as more people are going to school.

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Audit: San Francisco schools outdated on special ed

Jill Tucker

The $122 million San Francisco schools spend on its 6,300 special education students fails to consistently address the needs of those children, too often needlessly segregating them in special classrooms and disproportionately diagnosing disabilities based on race, an independent audit found.

The auditors called the district's services outdated and counterproductive to the belief that all students can and should succeed in school and called for a massive rethinking of how disabled students are assigned to schools and how they are served when they get there.

Currently, many special education students are clustered in schools designated for specific disabilities, the auditors noted.

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September 25, 2010

Four Kids, Four Languages, One World

Patchworks Films:

At a time when 31 states have passed "English Only" laws, four pioneering families put their children in public schools where, from the first day of kindergarten, their teachers speak mostly Chinese or Spanish.

Speaking in Tongues follows four diverse kids on a journey to become bilingual. This charming story will challenge you to rethink the skills that Americans need in the 21st century.

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The Problem With Kaleem Caire's (Madison Preparatory IB Charter School) Plan

Forward Lookout:

Before I get into this, Kaleem Caire, who is going to be on Oprah later today, does have a point in that the minority achievement gap in Madison and in Wisconsin is very troubling. Madison and Wisconsin need to do a lot better job making sure all students have opportunities to excel...

But I don't think his solution is going to do much good:

a male-only charter school using a rigorous curriculum geared toward boys of color in grades 6 through 12
There are two issues I have with this proposal:

1. A segregated school? Really? Seriously? Yeah, okay it's only targeted towards boys of color and not strictly segregated, but's not a good idea. It doesn't matter what the motivations are, segregating by race is unwise...and is race even the right way to look at this? What about economics?

Much more on the Madison Preparatory Academy here.

The Forward Lookout writer(s) appear to suggest that Caire work within the current system to address the achievement gap. An optimist all around, I believe that to be a challenging strategy, for any large organization.

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Homeschooling: Achieving Techno-Literacy

Kevin Kelly

This past year my wife and I home-schooled our eighth-grade son. One school day, he and I decided we would make fire the old way -- out of nothing but plant materials and our own hustle. Our son watched a seemingly endless series of instructional survival videos on YouTube as part of his research. He chose the bow method based on our physics class about friction. He then constructed a bow from a branch in the woods, carved a stick for the spindle and added a fiber string. It was mighty tough going. We spent hours refining the apparatus. He was surprised by the enormous amount of bodily energy required to focus onto a very small spot, and how a minuscule, nearly invisible bit of fuel, once sparked, can quickly amplify into a flame and then a fire. Chemistry, physics, history and gym all in one lesson. And, man, when you are 13 years old and Prometheus, it's exhilarating!

Now that the year is done, I am struck that the fancy technology supposedly crucial to an up-to-the-minute education was not a major factor in its success.


Technology will change faster than we can teach it. My son studied the popular programming language C++ in his home-school year; that knowledge could be economically useless soon. The accelerating pace of technology means his eventual adult career does not exist yet. Of course it won't be taught in school. But technological smartness can be. Here is the kind of literacy that we tried to impart:

• Every new technology will bite back. The more powerful its gifts, the more powerfully it can be abused. Look for its costs.

• Technologies improve so fast you should postpone getting anything you need until the last second. Get comfortable with the fact that anything you buy is already obsolete.

• Before you can master a device, program or invention, it will be superseded; you will always be a beginner. Get good at it.

• Be suspicious of any technology that requires walls. If you can fix it, modify it or hack it yourself, that is a good sign.

• The proper response to a stupid technology is to make a better one, just as the proper response to a stupid idea is not to outlaw it but to replace it with a better idea.

• Every technology is biased by its embedded defaults: what does it assume?

• Nobody has any idea of what a new invention will really be good for. The crucial question is, what happens when everyone has one?

• The older the technology, the more likely it will continue to be useful.

• Find the minimum amount of technology that will maximize your options.

Kevin Kelly's blog.

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Correlating Federal Spending and College Tuition

Political Calculations

When we discovered that the average cost of tuition at four-year higher education institutions was largely pacing the growth of total federal government spending in the United States, that was a very surprising result. The reason why that's surprising is because of how most universities are funded.

According to Table 5 of the Digest of Education Statistics 2009, as of the 2007-08 school year, there were 2,675 Title IV degree-granting institutions (aka "colleges and universities") in the U.S. Of these, 653 were public institutions (mainly state universities) and the remaining 2,022 were private institutions.

But it is the size of the institutions that matters, not their numbers. In the U.S., 92 of the top 100 universities by enrollment are public, state-supported universities and 77% of all college students attend state-supported institutions. As a result, we would then expect the average tuition figures for four-year public institutions to closely follow state-level government spending and not the federal government's total level spending from year-to-year.

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The School of Hard Drives

Deborah Solomon:

This interview is for a special issue on education and technology, so let me start by asking you about computers in classrooms. As the secretary of education, do you think every kid in America needs a computer?
I think every student needs access to technology, and I think technology can be a hugely important vehicle to help level the playing field. Whether it's in an inner-city school or a rural community, I want those students to have a chance to take A.P. biology and A.P. physics and marine biology.

What does that have to do with having a computer?
We have thousands of students today taking online classes. We actually have virtual schools today.

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Superintendent gets major money from Lee Schools to leave for new job

WINK news

New fallout after word that Lee County School Superintendent Dr. James Browder will get more than $300,000 for leaving the district.

Dr. Browder's contract with the School Board was re-negotiated in 2008 to include a severance package if either party cut ties in the four-year deal. Now, as he's looking to end things early, we're learning he'll get paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to pack up.

The latest contract states Browder's entitled to two years pay if either the School Board, or he, ends his superintendent run.

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Milwaukee Public Schools get $10 million to try bonuses

The U.S. Department of Education on Thursday awarded Milwaukee Public Schools a $10 million grant to experiment with allowing teachers and principals in 16 city schools to earn bonus pay based on their performance, a progressive but controversial practice that's gained traction in other districts around the country.

The award gives a nod to Wisconsin in the aftermath of several failed local and state applications for other federal education grant competitions, such as Race to the Top and the Promise Neighborhood initiative.

Performance-based pay, which creates financial incentives in a salary schedule traditionally determined by years of experience and level of education, aims to reward and retain high-performing staff.

But the practice receives a cool reception from many teachers' unions because it's difficult to isolate and accurately assess teachers and administrators' performance, especially when it comes to how much of that performance influenced student achievement.

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State study suggests Georgia teachers are not fleeing classroom. Stability highest in rural areas.

Maureen Downey

The Governor's Office of Student Achievement released interesting data on teacher retention in Georgia, showing the exodus out of the classroom is not that great.

The GOSA report includes teachers who leave the profession but return to the classroom later or take other education jobs. That broader view shows many more teachers staying in the field than had been assumed.

"This analysis is important because its findings clearly refute the long-held notion that half of Georgia's teachers leave the profession within five years," said GOSA executive director Kathleen Mathers. "Instead, by appropriately broadening the definition of retention, we've learned that nearly 75 percent of Georgia's new teachers remain in public education after five years."

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Me, Myself and My Stranger: Understanding the Neuroscience of Selfhood

Ferris Jabr

Where are you right now? Maybe you are at home, the office or a coffee shop--but such responses provide only a partial answer to the question at hand. Asked another way, what is the location of your "self" as you read this sentence? Like most people, you probably have a strong sense that your conscious self is housed within your physical body, regardless of your surroundings.

But sometimes this spatial self-location goes awry. During a so-called out-of-body experience, for example, one's self seems to be transported outside the physical body into a surreal perspective--some people even believe they are viewing their bodies from above, as though their true selves were floating. In a related experience, people with a delusion known as somatoparaphrenia disown one of their limbs or confuse another person's limb for their own. Such warped perceptions help researchers understand the neuroscience of selfhood.

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Atlanta school board minority fires back: "Join us in saying yes to the rule of law and no to an illegal coup d'état."

Maureen Downey

he 5-4 split on the Atlanta Board of Education is getting wider with this letter to the community by the four-member faction opposed to the change in leadership:

Dear Concerned Atlanta Citizen:

Atlanta's native son, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Nobel Peace Prize Winner and graduate of tlanta Public School's Booker T. Washington High School) said, "I am not interested in power for power's sake, but I'm interested in power that is moral, that is right and that is good."

We four stand united in our opposition to the September 13 purported election of Khaatim Sheerer El as Chair and Yolanda Johnson as Vice Chair of the Atlanta School Board, not because we are interested in power for power's sake, but because we believe the election violated the law and is detrimental to the well-being of Atlanta's students. Moreover, we believe that this election and the behaviors linked with it, place student achievement secondary to personal agendas. We are concerned that this action will trigger an investigation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) of its accreditation of the Atlanta Public School System. Finally, we believe that even the perception of a dysfunctional Board will hinder the system's ability to attract and retain a quality Superintendent. That should be of utmost concern to all those who value the welfare of this city and its students.

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Report: Poor science education impairs U.S. economy

Dan Vergano

Stagnant scientific education imperils U.S. economic leadership, says a report by leading business and science figures.

Released Thursday at a congressional briefing attended by senators and congressmen of both parties, the report updates a 2005 science education report that led to moves to double federal research funding.

Nevertheless, the "Rising Above the Gathering Storm" review finds little improvement in U.S. elementary and secondary technical education since then.

"Our nation's outlook has worsened," concludes the report panel headed by former Lockheed Martin chief Norman Augustine. The report "paints a daunting outlook for America if it were to continue on the perilous path it has been following":

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Affirmative Action for the Rich

Richard D. Kahlenberg

The use of race-based affirmative action in higher education has given rise to hundreds of books and law review articles, numerous court decisions, and several state initiatives to ban the practice. However, surprisingly little has been said or written or done to challenge a larger, longstanding "affirmative action" program that tends to benefit wealthy whites: legacy preferences for the children of alumni.

Affirmative Action for the Rich sketches the origins of legacy preferences, examines the philosophical issues they raise, outlines the extent of their use today, studies their impact on university fundraising, and reviews their implications for civil rights. In addition, the book outlines two new theories challenging the legality of legacy preferences, examines how a judge might review those claims, and assesses public policy options for curtailing alumni preferences.

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2010 United States Blue Ribbon Schools

US Department of Education:

Blue Ribbon Schools must meet either of two criteria:

High performing schools: Regardless of the school's demographics or percentage of students from disadvantaged backgrounds, the school is high performing. These are schools that are ranked among a state's highest performing schools as measured by state assessments in both reading (English language arts) and mathematics or that score at the highest performance level on tests referenced by national norms in at least the most recent year tested.

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September 24, 2010

Madison School District 2010-2011 Budget Update: $5,100,000 Fund Balance Increase since June, 2009; Property Taxes to Increase 9+%

685K PDF: Fall Budget Assumption Update.

The district received $51,169,349 in Equalization Aid in 2009-10. The 2010-11 Spring Amended Preliminary budget projected the district's Equalization Aid to be $43,761,095. On July 1 the district received an Equalization Aid projection from the Department ofPublic Instruction for $45,330,641. This equates to a projected increase in aid o f $1,569,546 from the 2010-11 Spring Amended Preliminary budget.

On October 15 the district will receive an updated and certified Equalization Aid calculation for the current fiscal year from the Department o f Public Instruction.


An adequate Fund Balance is necessary for the successful fiscal operation ofthe district. Maintaining a sufficient operating reserve allows the district to minimize short-term borrowing, reduce financing costs, and safeguard against unanticipated and unrealized revenues. The District's financial condition remains strong and maintains a MIG I rating by Moody's Investor Service.

On June 30, 2009 the District General Fund Balance was $35.3 million (6/30/2010 Fund Balance was $44,490,453.59, page 13). The 2009-10 was projected to utilize $2.6 million ofthe District's General Fund Balance, but due to revenues exceeding expenditures in 2009-10 an additional un-audited $5.1 million will be added to the District's General Fund Balance. The major areas making up this $5.1 million are as follows:

Page 19 discusses the property tax rate (9+%) and levy (5+%) increases.

I did not immediately see a revised 2010-2011 2010-2011 total revenue forecast in this document.

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Comments on Zuckerberg's $100M for Newark Schools

New Jersey Left Behind

Everyone's abuzz over Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's donation of $100 million to Newark Public Schools on the condition that the State turn over control to Mayor Cory Booker. Here's some choice quotes:

From detractors of the donation:
Joseph Del Grosso, president of the Newark Teachers Union, (fresh from his guest appearance on Jersey Shore [JK!]): "Vouchers is not going to happen."

David Sciarra, Executive Director of Education Law Center: "It would be improper under the law for the governor to try to delegate authority to the mayor."

Related: Number of Kids on Waiting Lists for Newark Charter Schools and

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Waiting for the Teacher's Union

Joel Klein

If you do one thing this weekend, go see Davis Guggenheim's latest documentary, Waiting for Superman, which opens in theaters across the country today. The film, which has been met with well-deserved critical acclaim, paints a blunt and at times heartbreaking picture of the state of public education in America, told through the stories of families fighting to get their children into safe, high-performing schools.

First, it's a terrific film. But more importantly, it has helped catapult the debate on education reform to the national stage.

It's not surprising that the film is making many people uncomfortable. The truth is harsh. It's easier to turn away than to watch a crying mom clutch a losing lottery ticket that just cost her child a spot at a top-performing charter school.

What is surprising is that some--including the teachers' unions--are railing against the film, dismissing it as anti-teacher and pro-charter school propaganda.

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Waiting for Solutions

Ruth Starkman

"He's a rockstar," says documentary director Davis Guggenheim of Geoffrey Canada, president and CEO of the Harlem Children's Zone in Harlem, New York, an organization that endeavors to increase high school and college graduation rates among students in Harlem. Mr. Canada appears as one of the few catalysts of educational reform in Guggenheim's provocative new documentary Waiting for Superman about America's notoriously crisis-ridden public school system.

According to Guggenheim, America's public schools are in desperate need of rockstar teachers and administrators visionaries like Geoffrey Canada. No one watching the charismatic Mr. Canada or hearing about his accomplishments would disagree, as the documentary records Canada's successes and follows the lives of several talented American children, whose education and future lives hang in balance.

Guggenheim invites viewers' outrage as he presents the shocking statistics that most Americans already know: our once great public schools are failing our young people and no one seems prepared to take bold steps toward change. Waiting for Superman is also a character-driven tear-jerker, elaborating the desperation of several American children, Anthony, Francisco, Bianca, Daisy, and Emily, from a variety of backgrounds, both middle class and disadvantaged, African American, Latino, white in California, New York and Washington. These children occupy the center of the story, but nothing about their fate gives cause for cheer. Instead, the documentary devotes most of its energy to what it sees as the cause for their troubles, the political impasse of American education.

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New Jersey districts to post teacher evaluations online

A report card on local teachers will soon be posted on school district websites around the state.

The information will not identify specific teachers but will give parents and taxpayers a basic overview of how many teachers in their schools are effectively teaching their students, based on standards set by the local districts.

The teacher and principal evaluation reports are a requirement of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Then-Gov. Jon S. Corzine allocated $1 billion of the state's stimulus money to school districts. One of the strings attached to that aid was that districts would have to post on their school websites the results of local teacher evaluations.

The U.S. Department of Education is scheduled to do an audit of New Jersey's compliance with the law Oct. 19, state DOE officials said. Districts have been asked to have their data posted online by Oct. 15.

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Books and Papers

Office of Admissions and Financial Aid

September 15, 2010

Mr. Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review
730 Boston Post Road, Suite 24
Sudbury, Massachusetts 01776 USA

Dear Will,

We agree with your argument that high school students who have read a complete nonfiction book or two, and written a serious research paper or two, will be better prepared for college academic work than those who have not.

The Concord Review, founded in 1987, remains the only journal in the world for the academic papers of secondary students, and we in the Admissions Office here are always glad to see reprints of papers which students have had published in the Review and which they send to us as part of their application materials. Over the years, more than 10% (103) of these authors have come to college at Harvard.

Since 1998, when it started, we have been supporters of your National Writing Board, which is still unique in supplying independent three-page assessments of the research papers of secondary students. The NWB reports also provide a useful addition to the college application materials of high school students who are seeking admission to selective colleges.

For all our undergraduates, even those in the sciences, such competence, both in reading nonfiction books and in the writing of serious research papers, is essential for academic success. Some of our high schools now place too little emphasis on this, but The Concord Review and the National Writing Board are doing a national service in encouraging our secondary students, and their teachers, to spend more time and effort on developing these abilities.


William R. Fitzsimmons
Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid

Administrative Office: 86 Brattle Street • Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138


"Teach by Example"
Will Fitzhugh [founder]
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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Is College Worth It?

Laura McKenna:

The College Board hits back against critics who complain about the rising costs of higher education with a report that shows the economic benefits of college. Here are a couple of the charts that are being widely distributed.

What is missing from the analysis is the breakdown by private and public college. Does a $50,000 tuition education at Sarah Lawrence give you a better return than a state college?

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America's inclusive model

David Jones

IT is widely acknowledged that expanding Australian higher education means increasing diversity. But how, why and by how much?

A focused look at the most diverse higher education system in the world may suggest some answers.

Diversity was and is the key to the early and extraordinary growth of mass, then universal, higher education in the US, a nation that continues to provide higher education for an extraordinary proportion of its population.

Insistent demand for higher education has been felt for a half century. Australian higher education, based on British precedents and practices, responded as Britain did: by expanding the size and number of capital-intensive, high teaching and research cost universities. Attempts to create another tier of institutions, polytechnics or colleges of advanced education, in which less noble subjects and students would be served at lower cost, were defeated by academic drift. All are universities now. Unit costs are high, funding sources limited, unconventional subjects, students and institutions still suspect.

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The Face of Private-School Growth, Familiar-Looking but Profit-Making

Jenny Anderson

The British International School of New York offers spacious waterfront classrooms, small computers encased in rubber for small people who tend to drop them, and a pool for the once-a-week swimming classes required for all students.

But there is nothing within its halls or on its Web site that indicates what differentiates British International from the teeming masses of expensive private schools in New York: It is run for profit.

It is one of a small number of large for-profit schools that have opened recently or plan to open in New York City next year. While they are a speck on the city's private-school landscape, for-profit schools are practically the only significant primary and secondary institutions to have started up in the last decade, and may represent the future of private-school growth.

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June Jordan high school: success or failure?

Jill Tucker:

June Jordan School for Equity has been touted as a shining star of San Francisco public high schools and a national example of how limiting enrollment and tailoring instruction to the needs of individuals can push struggling students into college.

The school, which opened seven years ago, boasts small class sizes and an adviser for every 16 students, plus a college counselor. June Jordan's funding of more than $11,000 for each of the 241 students, which comes from public and private sources, exceeds what most other district students get.

The school board loves it. So do many parents and students.

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Rand Paul's idea to kill education agency would affect poor most

Halimah Abdullah

Students from poor families would feel the most pain if calls by Kentucky Republican U.S. Senate candidate Rand Paul and fellow Tea Party movement conservatives to abolish the U.S. Department of Education are successful, officials and policy experts say.

"Although federal funding makes up a comparatively small portion of the total funding for public (preschool-12th grade) education in Kentucky, many of our schools rely heavily on these monies to serve their most at-risk students," said Lisa Gross, spokeswoman with the Kentucky Department of Education.

States traditionally get 10 percent of their education dollars from the federal government -- $429 million in Kentucky, according to the state.

In Fayette County, that translates to $25 million, nearly 65 percent of which is used to help level the academic playing field for disadvantaged and challenged students through smaller class sizes, reading and math enrichment programs, and classroom assistants.

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September 23, 2010

Do Students Listen to Others' Views?

Allie Grasgreen

The world of academe is generally considered a marketplace of ideas. But its customers may do more one-stop shopping than browsing the aisles.

Campus constituencies across the country are skeptical of their institutions' emphasis on -- and consideration of -- diverse viewpoints both in the classroom and on campus generally, according to a report released Thursday by the Association of American Colleges and Universities.

The surveyed groups -- students, faculty, academic administrators and student affairs professionals -- reported a need for more institutional focus on taking other people's perspectives seriously. There was also a general consensus that for the most part, individuals do not strive to encourage, and sometimes do not even consider, listening to diverse perspectives. (The groups were generally more forgiving to themselves than to each other, however.)

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Mandarin Immersion gives Verona kids an ear for Chinese

Seth Jovaag:

Before kids arrived for their first day at Verona's newest charter school two weeks ago, their parents got a couple warnings.

First, your kids will be tired after school. And second, they can't learn Chinese in a day.

The Verona Area International School, located within a single classroom at Stoner Prairie Elementary School, is the first public school in Wisconsin to teach kids in both English and Chinese. Twenty-two students in grades K-1 spend the first half of each day together hearing nothing but Mandarin before switching back to English for afternoon lessons.

The prospect of getting 5- and 6-year-olds to listen to a foreign language for hours at a time might sound daunting, but the school's part-time director, Sally Parks, said Monday that so far, kids don't seem discouraged.

"They are so adaptable," Parks said. "They seem to pick it up so quickly.

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Does Merit Pay Work (Redux)?

Yet another study, this one from Vanderbilt University's National Center on Performance Incentives (boy that's specific) in the Times.
The study released Tuesday by Vanderbilt University's National Center on Performance Incentives researchers found that students in classrooms where teachers received bonuses saw the same gains as the classes where educators got no incentive.

"I think most people agree today that the current way in which we compensate teachers is broken," said Matthew Springer, executive director of the Vanderbilt center and lead researcher on the study. "But we don't know what the better way is yet.

They state that 5-8th grade teachers in Nashville public schools over 3 years from 2007-2009 could make between $5k-$15K annually, depending on how their students tested.

A bit issue here as in a study in Florida is that you are talking about individual bonuses which tend to pit teachers against each other. Maybe merit pay would be better for team-based teaching or school-wide merit pay. Does merit pay make a mediocre teacher try harder? Can money alone do that or would a school/district need to add more professional development to kick it up?

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One way to fix U.S. schools

Laurene Powell Jobs & Carlos Watson:

Anyone who thinks America has academic talent to spare isn't paying attention.

We used to lead the world in the percentage of our population with college degrees. Now we're No. 14. Global competition is getting tougher, and having an educated work force is vital to our long-term prospects. To keep up, we're importing highly skilled immigrants from around the world. At the same time, however, we make it difficult for thousands of young people who grow up here to attend college and illegal for them to get jobs.

This status quo appears designed to create a permanent underclass and set back our nation's competitiveness.

Congress can fix this problem -- and enrich America's human capital -- by passing the DREAM Act. This legislation, which the Senate is due to consider Tuesday, would provide temporary residence for many undocumented kids brought to the United States as small children who have completed high school. It then offers a path to legal permanent status if they attend college or serve in the military.

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Mind the Gaps: How College Readiness Narrows Achievement Gaps in College Success


ACT is committed to college and career readiness and success for all students and our latest research report, Mind the Gaps: How College Readiness Narrows Achievement Gaps in College Success, looks at the steps that can be taken to improve college and career readiness and success among underserved populations. As a nation we must close the achievement gap across racial/ethnic and family income groups. The data in this report shows the types of policies that work to improve college and career readiness and success.
More here.

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Local Debts Defy Easy Solution; Madison Debt Triples in the Past Decade

David Wessel:

Bankruptcy has become an acceptable and, in many cases, successful way for debt-burdened companies and consumers to get a fresh start. Airlines do it. Auto companies do it. Retailers do it. More than 1.6 million American households are expected to do it this year.

Buckling under crippling debts, state and local governments are unlikely to file for bankruptcy, but the alternatives could be worse, says WSJ's David Wessel.

But reneging on debts remains a rarity among U.S. state and municipal governments. Fewer than 250 of the nation's 89,000 local governmental units have filed for bankruptcy since 1980.

Recent close calls in Harrisburg, Pa., and Central Falls, R.I., spark predictions that the next phase of the financial crisis will be a tsunami of municipal bankruptcies and defaults. Muni-bond experts at rating agencies and bankruptcy lawyers assure us that isn't likely.

We've learned in the past few years to be skeptical of such assurances, but the experts probably are right on this one. Not because state and local finances are in good shape--they aren't--but because Chapter 9 of the bankruptcy code, the one that applies to local governments, is so unwieldy.

Dean Mosiman: City government borrowing triple 10 years ago.

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I missed a mutiny at APS. But is a "public engagement task force" a bold change of course or a sign of a sinking ship?

Maureen Downey

In my week in New Hampshire, I missed a mutiny on the Atlanta Board of Education that resulted in a new chair, Khaatim Sherrer El, and vice chair, Yolanda Johnson.The pair replaces former leaders LaChandra Butler Burks and Cecily Harsch-Kinnane. (The takeover and a change in policy to make it easier to oust leadership are now under legal challenge so consider this the opening act to a long-running drama.)

I still wonder about the worth of school boards, created at a time when schools were smaller, more local and less important to the nation's viability. The APS board members behind the coup d'état contend that the move was necessary to restore public accountability, but I think it simply reflects a power scramble, as is the case with most of these fissures.

In my first jobs, I covered local government in several towns, including city councils, planning and zoning boards and school boards. Zoning boards were the most efficient. City councils were the most dramatic. School boards were the most divisive.

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Connecting schoolchildren to healthier food

Nancy Ettenheim

One of the many outrages perpetrated under the Reagan administration was the proposal to classify ketchup as a vegetable for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's subsidized school lunch program. If it weren't so sad for the kids who depended on school lunches for an integral part of their daily meals, it would have been funny.

The truth is, school-provided lunches have never been great. Who can forget overcooked canned vegetables and gray mystery meat?

As pendulums swing, that stuff was supplanted by fried and greasy hamburgers, pizza and tons of fattening junk food for our already overweight kids to consume. Well, there's a movement afoot to change all of that, and one of the epicenters of that movement is here in Wisconsin, in the small, southwestern city of Viroqua. A consortium of farmers, educators and high school kids is out to change the way students connect to food and the sourcing of food.

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Education Reform Urgent, Evers' Ability to Advance Changes Uncertain

Christian D'Andrea

Change in education is coming, says State Superintendent Tony Evers - but we can't tell you exactly what that change will be until after November's elections.

Evers, speaking at his second annual State of Education address last week, discussed the work he's done in the past year as well as his intentions for the 2010-2011 school year. The address laid out the state's goals in areas like funding, graduation requirements, teacher certification, and standardized testing.

The speech expressed the superintendent's pride in Wisconsin's public schools, but also discussed his plans to improve education in the next year. These plans included:

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September 22, 2010

Marketing vs Substantive Change in the Madison School District

Madison School Board Member Lucy Mathiak, via email:

These are just some of the issues that I believe can and must be addressed, not by more study, not by review, not by task forces, but by changes in our daily practice as a district. There are other areas that need similar focus, too. The above issues are used to illustrate the seriousness and depth of the issues that cannot be explained away as simple differences of perception. These issues, and the others like them, require thought, a desire to change, and a willingness to get over our dwindling reputation as a strong district to get to the work that must take place if we are to guarantee our strength into the future.

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A Teacher Quality Manifesto: What happens to bright teachers stuck in schools that don't have the right to hire by performance and build a culture of excellence? They quit.

Deborah Kenny

The documentary "Waiting for 'Superman'" (hitting theaters this Friday) and President Obama's Race to the Top competition have focused the national education debate on one question: How can we ensure a quality teacher in every classroom?

So far the answer has centered on accountability: standards, testing, data and evaluations. Accountability is critical. Without it, children's lives are ruined, and as educators we should not be allowed to keep our jobs if students aren't learning.

But accountability alone misses a more fundamental issue. If we want to elevate teacher quality in our country, we need to stop treating teachers like industrial-era workers and start treating them like professionals.

For the last seven years at Harlem Village Academies, we've been obsessed with teacher quality. Our strategy from the start was to attract talented people, create an environment where they could develop into great teachers, and hold them accountable. We were confident the results would follow.

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The Amazing College Debt Bubble Teaching One Student Costs Only $1,456 A Year?

Andrew Gillen

News that student loan debt, at $830 billion, exceeded credit card debt for the first time has sparked renewed interest in the financing of college and its implications for students. Largely ignored in the discussion, however, is the shadow debt, which consists of unorthodox methods of borrowing for college, including home equity loans and lines of credit, retirement account loans, credit card debt, and run-of-the-mill bank loans. Because these borrowing instruments often have many alternative uses, we have to rely on surveys to determine how much of the total amount borrowed in each category is devoted to paying for college. The most comprehensive such survey is conducted by Sallie Mae and Gallup. Their findings indicate that shadow debt adds just under $30 billion to the annual borrowing for higher education (see this link for more details on the calculation). As shown in the table below, when this is added to the $96 billion in college specific loans, we can conclude that Americans borrow roughly $126 billion a year to pay for college.

CAU_table.gifOf course, there are a number of caveats to this number. To begin with, this is at best a back of the envelope calculation, and better data would allow for a more accurate picture to be painted. In addition, some of this may not be borrowing in the normal sense of the term. For instance, some well off families may pay for tuition on a credit card to receive the rewards associated with their card, and then pay off the balance immediately. There is also the fact that some of the education borrowing is not used solely for education. I knew people who used student loan money to purchase a car, or a big screen TV, and even breast implants. At the same time, not counted are informal loans from family and friends. Thus, $126 billion is the best estimate we have for the amount of money that Americans borrow for college.

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An Even More Inconvenient Truth Al Gore's movie director takes on the public schools.

William McGurn

In 111 piercing minutes of film, Davis Guggenheim offers something that reams of foundation reports, endless pieces of bipartisan legislation and oceans of newspaper ink never have: a stunning liberal exposé of a system that consigns American children who most need a decent education to our most destructive public schools.

Nor does he exempt himself from this corrupt bargain. The man who produced both the Barack Obama short for the 2008 Democratic Convention and Al Gore's Academy Award-winning documentary about global warming offers an inconvenient truth of his own. Each morning, Mr. Guggenheim shows, he drives by three public schools until he gets to the nice private school where he deposits his own children. In so doing, he accuses himself of "betraying the ideals I thought I lived by."

His new film, "Waiting for 'Superman,'" is his own attempt to right that balance with a focus on those he calls "other people's children." At the Washington, D.C., premiere last Wednesday, Education Secretary Arne Duncan called it "a Rosa Parks moment." New York Magazine suggests it might be "the Inconvenient Truth of education, an eye-opening, debate-defining, socially catalytic cultural artifact."

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PA school board pays $33K settlement for searching kid's phone and referring seminude self-portraits to DA for criminal prosecution

Cory Doctorow

Pennsylvania's Tunkhannock Area School District has settled a lawsuit brought by the ACLU on behalf of NN, a student whose mobile phone was searched by her principal. The principal dug through several screens' worth of menus to discover some partial nude photos of NN, as well as a blurry full nude that NN had intended for her long-term boyfriend. This may or may not have been advisable, but I'm with NN and the ACLU: it wasn't the principal's place to go digging through her phone for the pix. And the principal certainly shouldn't have done what he did next: turn the photos over to the DA's office for criminal prosecution (you see, the principal believed that in taking pictures of herself, a minor, NN became a child pornographer).

The school district settled for $33K (which sounds like the ACLU's legal fees), and another suit against the DA remains ongoing. As a result of the settlement, the Pennsylvania School Boards Association is developing guidelines for searching students' phones.

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Leaving the Middle Behind

John Gurda:

Twenty-five years is not a particularly long time, even by American standards. A quarter-century is barely enough for a single generation to grow from infancy to adulthood--hardly an epoch in the annals of the republic. And yet in that blink of an eye, that snap of the fingers, the world can change on a multitude of levels.
Consider the shifts of the most recent quarter-century. In 1985, unless you were in the military, there were no cell phones, much less cell phones that took pictures. There were no iPods, no DVDs, and the first minivans were still under warranty. Some fixtures of American life have slipped beneath the waves since 1985--typewriters, card catalogs, long-distance bills--and we have grown accustomed to such new features as Google, bar codes, and Viagra.

From the technological to the pharmaceutical, these innovations are global in nature, but there have been equally impressive developments on the state level. Wisconsin has experienced transformative changes in the last quarter-century, tectonic shifts that have moved the state materially from its traditional base. Even 25 or 30 years ago, it was possible, if you didn't look too closely, to maintain an image of Wisconsin rooted in the 19th century. For decades there were nearly as many cows as people in the state, and the standard postcard of America's Dairyland was a bucolic scene of contented Holsteins grazing in spring-fed pastures under a clear blue sky.

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Virtual classmates forge real friendships

Becky Vevea:

They are classmates - and strangers.

And they are standing attentively in the lobby of the Mitchell Park Domes.

"What makes these buildings so unique?" asked Paula Zamiatowski, education coordinator at the Domes.

"The nature inside," one girl said.

"Their shape," said another boy.

The students Zamiatowski led through the three beehive-shaped glass buildings that sit just south of I-94 were from an equally unique place - a virtual school.

Students from Wisconsin Connections Academy, a kindergarten through eighth-grade public school that operates almost entirely over the Internet and is chartered through the Appleton School District, took a field trip to learn about the world's ecosystems and interact with the classmates they may have never met. About 400 students are enrolled at WCA, and roughly 100 of those are from southeastern Wisconsin, said school spokeswoman Lauren Olstad.

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It's hard to believe this is happening in America. Now, how far will Bill Gates go to fix it? Plus, the one-woman tornado at the center of a Washington, D.C., storm.

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What Americans really think about public schools

Valerie Strauss

Though it has become something of a sport to bash public education, a new poll shows that most Americans actually think highly of their neighborhood public schools and have trust in teachers.

The Obama administration's education agenda gets mixed reviews in the 2010 poll by the Gallup organization and Phi Delta Kappa, a global association of education professionals. The PDK/Gallup poll has been conducted with Gallup annually since 1969.

Here are highlights of the poll, published by Kappan Magazine and available here:

  • Americans believe the most important national education program should be improving the quality of teaching. Developing demanding standards, creating better tests, and improving the nation's lowest-performing schools were rated significantly lower.
  • Seventy-one percent of Americans say they have trust and confidence in teachers, with a greater percentage (78 percent) of public school parents registering confidence. Two out of three Americans would support their child's decision to teach in the public schools for a career.

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Going Back To the Old School

Steve Tuttle:

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. And along with memories, venerable buildings must be saved.

When my kids started complaining recently about having to go back to school, I told them the same thing my parents used to tell me: "You're going to look back on these days as the best of your lives." Sometimes I find my mouth saying other shockingly unhip dad stuff like, "Are you trying to heat the whole outdoors!?" when they leave the door open, or "If your friend jumped off a bridge, would you jump off a bridge?" (I say that whenever they're thinking about jumping off a bridge somewhere.) Anyway, I was reminded of my sage advice this week when I got the rare chance to walk inside my old elementary school in rural Virginia for the first time in decades. The original building was built in 1916, and the whole place closed down in 1989. But on this day, part of the Millboro School was open for just a few hours during a fundraiser to help transform the complex into a community center and perhaps an old folks' home.

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September 21, 2010

Urban League of Greater Madison CEO invited to Oprah Winfrey Show

Kaleem Caire, via email:

September 21, 2010

Dear Friends & Colleagues,

Today, our President & CEO, Kaleem Caire, was invited to participate in a taping of the Oprah Winfrey Show as a member of the studio audience for a town hall discussion Ms. Winfrey is having on education reform as a follow-up to her show yesterday on the critically acclaimed documentary, "Waiting for Superman." The film is directed by award winning filmmaker, David Guggenheim, the creative genius behind AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH.

Ms. Winfrey has invited leaders in education, along with parents, community, business leaders, and students to discuss what needs to be done to fix America's public schools. The full format has not yet been shared but guests have also been invited to view a showing of Waiting for Superman Thursday evening at her studio. The show will air this Friday afternoon. If anything should change, we will let you know.

Considering just 7 percent of Madison's African American graduating seniors in the class of 2010 who completed the ACT college entrance exam were considered "college ready" by the test-maker (93 percent were deemed "not ready"), it is more important now than ever that the Urban League, our local school districts, local leaders, and other organizations move swiftly and deliberately to implement solutions that can move our children from low performance to high performance. It is even more important that we provide our children with schools that will prepare them to succeed in the economy of the future . With the right approaches, we believe our education community can get the job done!

We look forward to working with our partners at the United Way of Dane County, Madison Metropolitan School District, Boys & Girls Clubs of Dane County, YMCA of Dane County, Madison Community Foundation, Great Lakes Higher Education, and many others to get our youth on the right track.

Madison Prep 2012

Whatever it Takes!

Much more on the proposed Charter IB Madison Preparatory Academy here.

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On Waiting for Superman

Sarah Lacy:

Whether it's this post or Oprah, today may be the first time you hear of the movie "Waiting for Superman" but it won't be the last. A flood of pissed-off parents, Charter Schools and reformers and deep-pocketed billionaires and millionaires will make sure of that.

But the other reason you'll keep hearing about this documentary on the state of America's public education system is that it's just a really great documentary.

I've never quite understood how the public school system of the wealthiest country in the world-one where every President pledges to "fix" education and one where education spending continually goes up-could be so intractably horrible. The problem seems too big, bloated, complex and confusing to even have a smart debate around, much less try to fix. Fortunately, since I'm not a parent, it's an issue where I can just throw up my hands, assume any politician saying they'll fix it is lying, and start saving for the private school I'll one day need when I do have kids.

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'I Hate School' Extreme Edition What 'School Refusal' Means and How to Fix It

Andrea Petersen:

What child hasn't dreaded September, the end of summer and the return to school. But for some kids, the prospect of school produces a level of fear so intense that it is immobilizing, resulting in what's known as school-refusal behavior.

These are the kids who may be absent for weeks or months. Some may cry or scream for hours every morning in an effort to resist leaving home. Others may hide out in the nurse's office. Some kids who miss school are simply truant--they'd just rather be doing something else. But in about two-thirds of cases, a psychiatric problem, most commonly an anxiety disorder, is the cause, according to research led by Christopher A. Kearney, professor and director of clinical training at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Anywhere from 5% to 28% of children will exhibit some degree of school-refusal behavior at some point, including truancy, according to Dr. Kearney, a leading authority on the behavior, and other experts. For kids with anxiety-fueled school refusal, the fear is real and can take time to overcome. Families may struggle for months to help a child get back into the classroom. Ignoring the problem, or failing to deal with it completely, can lead to more-serious problems later on.

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Attracting and retaining top talent in US teaching: Only 23 percent of entering teachers come from the top third of their graduating class. What would it take to do better?


Helping teachers to lift student achievement more effectively has become a major theme in US education. Most efforts that are now in their early stages or being planned focus either on building the skills of teachers already in the classroom or on retaining the best and dismissing the least effective performers. The question of who should actually teach and how the nation's schools might attract more young people from the top tier of college graduates, as part of a systematic effort to improve teaching in the United States, has received comparatively little attention.

McKinsey's experience with school systems in more than 50 countries suggests that this is an important gap in the US debate. In a new report, Closing the talent gap: Attracting and retaining top-third graduates to careers in teaching, we review the experiences of the world's top-performing systems, in Finland, Singapore, and South Korea. These countries recruit 100 percent of their teacher corps from the top third of the academic cohort. Along with strong training and good working conditions, this extraordinary selectivity is part of an integrated system that promotes the prestige of teaching--and has achieved extraordinary results. In the United States, by contrast, only 23 percent of new teachers come from the top third, and just 14 percent of new teachers who come from the top third work in high-poverty schools, where attracting and retaining talented people is particularly difficult. The report asks what it would take to emulate nations that systematically recruit top students to teaching if the United States decided that it was worthwhile to do so.

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Can Big City Superintendents Fix Troubled Schools?

Jim Stergios:

When Adrian Fenty was elected as the mayor of Washington DC, he worked relentlessly to gain control of the DC school board. After all, the DC public schools cost so much more than your average public school and they were among the nation's worst performers. In 2007 he appointed Michelle Rhee as the Public School Chancellor, who immediately took some of the toughest actions one could imagine to turn around the schools, including mass principal and teacher firings, numerous school closures, strict accountability measures, and strong outreach to recruit new energetic teachers and lots more foundation funding for her school (and really district) "turnaround" efforts.

Above are just some of the magazine cover and lead article pictures of Michelle Rhee. These images speak volumes about attitudes on education reform, and perhaps some of the motivations of education reformers. Not all of it is pretty. They speak to the excitement about the possibilities for change--that's good. They say something about the urgency for reform--that is, too. But they also point to the view that kids are waiting for a "Superman" (as Geoffrey Canada has put). Some people are motivated by the need to be a warrior or savior of kids, and specially of kids who are disadvantaged. That can be good, but it can also be really self-righteous, easily pigeon-holed and needlessly divisive. It can also lead to a fawning view among fellow-travelers (see this Charlie Rose interview from 2008 and note Rose's questions and attitude).

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Great Schools? Not Without Great Teachers

Sarah Archibald:

ere is one of the great disconnects of our time: 60 percent of Wisconsin citizens rated the public schools in the state, with the exception of Milwaukee, as excellent or good. Two years ago, that number was even higher--just under 70 percent. People don't seem to believe anything is holding education back in Wisconsin. But there are times when fact interferes with perception and--bad news here--this is one of those times. When compared to 17 other large urban districts including Chicago and New York City, Milwaukee's students are in the back of the pack--only Detroit's students score lower in math and reading in fourth and eighth grades. Largely driven by the abysmal performance of many of Milwaukee's public schools, our state has the most persistent gap in achievement between black and white students in the country.

This isn't just a Milwaukee problem; it's a state problem. And the problems don't end there.

Wisconsin employs more than 50,000 teachers, at an annual cost of approximately $3.65 billion,1 and yet it has no common means of measuring teacher effectiveness. The majority of these teachers have a continuing contract, which is another word for tenure -- meaning, with few exceptions, they have that job for life if they want it. This might not be such a bad thing if teachers had to demonstrate their effectiveness in the classroom to get this lifelong contract--but they don't. To put this in context, is your job guaranteed for life? And if it is, did you have to prove your ability in your job to get it?

Somehow, it has come to pass that most teachers are immune from the realities of the workplace that every other citizen faces. Can you imagine another profession in which it is against the law to fire someone from their job because they are not achieving the desired outcome?

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Do jobs fuel education, or does education fuel jobs?

Jim Galloway:

Tomorrow's taping of Georgia Public Broadcasting's "Prime Time Politics" focuses on education - which required a review of last week's joint appearance by two candidates for governor at an event sponsored by the Professional Association of Georgia Educators.

One thing the session made obvious: Public education may present the deepest philosophical difference between Democrat Roy Barnes and Republican Nathan Deal. It is a chicken-and-egg gap. They disagree on what comes first.

At last Thursday's forum, Barnes was very clear - and passionate - in his timeline. Education begets economic development, which begets jobs, he declared.

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College Rankings


The NEWSWEEK College Rankings are tailored to address the real concerns of parents and prospective students. There is no single "best" school, since different students look for different things, and the rankings reflect that. Read about our methodology here, then read why some experts think college rankings are overrated here.

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All ready for school. Can I go too, please?

Susie Boyt:

Although obsessed with all things theatrical, this column tries to eschew any mention of celebrities. But when out of the blue Barry Manilow invites you to lunch because he likes something you've written, it's not so easy keeping it under your hat.

We sat for a few hours in the pink and gold dining room of a fancy hotel, talking about our passions. He said something I've never heard anyone say before: "I think it's a great idea if you end up doing for a living what you were happiest doing at 14." He was happiest writing songs and singing, he said, and me? I was happiest doing my homework, sitting at a trestle table looking longingly and with great approval at my collection of pencils and glue sticks, rattling my little cough sweet tin filled with ink cartridges, joyfully greeting each fresh white sheet of my preferred Oxford file paper (the one with narrow grey lines and sky-blue margins) with a mild frisson and then filling it with writing. Sixty per cent carthorse, 40 per cent thoroughbred, I got results. I put so much into my homework. I think it even got the teachers down a little bit.

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A Private Matter: Am I hurting my local public schools - and hurting America--by sending my kids to expensive private schools?

Patty & Standy Stonesifer:

My family lives on the west side of Los Angeles. I face the same choice as many urban families: Will the kids attend public or private schools? Should one minimize opportunities for one's own child in service to the greater good?

In our desire to protect our children physically and academically, we send them to very expensive schools that are inherently segregated ethnically and economically. We, being white, educated, and comparatively affluent, are the agenda-setters in society. The agenda does not include fierce protection of the public school system we value in general terms but abandon in our own specific cases.

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Sustaining a Great Public University

Mike Knetter & Gwen Eudey:

Wisconsin faces a conundrum: Just when thestate and its citizens need a research universitymost to attract outside funding, fuel job growth, equip individuals to compete in a more knowledge-intensive labor market, and help spawn our own technology-intensive companies-- the state is finding it harder to fund the university. There is, however, a logical solution.
Precisely because research universities are able to create much more economic value in today's economy, they have the potential to be more self-reliant. This essay describes the value of a great research university to the state and the regulatory changes needed to enable the growth of that asset without imposing a greater burden on taxpayers.

The ability of UW -Madison to maximize its contribution to Wisconsin's economy will require a new partnership between the university, the state, students, and alumni. The state and university will need to reduce regulations and increase flexibility in order to reduce costs and improve quality and efficiency.

UW-Madison students and alumni, who, because of their skills and education, are among the main beneficiaries of the recent economic trends, will need to assume greater responsibility for the operating costs in the future through higher tuition and philanthropy. UW-Madison will need greater autonomy to set and retain tuition and manage enrollment, while being held accountable for preserving the core values of educational and research quality, access and affordability that are vital to a public university.

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Three years after landmark court decision, Louisville still struggles with school desegregation

Robert Barnes:

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. made it sound so simple that day in 2007, when he and four other members of the Supreme Court declared that this city's efforts to desegregate its schools violated the Constitution.

"The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race," Roberts wrote, "is to stop discriminating on the basis of race."

But life has been anything but simple for school officials here. They have steadfastly - or stubbornly, depending on the point of view - tried to maintain integrated classrooms despite the court's command that officials not consider race when assigning children to schools.

Consultants were hired, lawyers retained, census data scrubbed, boundaries redrawn, more buses bought, more routes proposed, new school choices offered and more lawsuits defended.

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UC Berkeley's sports dilemma

San Francisco Chronicle:

Credit Cal with taking up a third-rail topic: the runaway costs of college sports. After trimming academics, the campus heeded an outcry and ordered up a study on its athletic department.

The fix-it suggestions include the usual: more fundraising, better management and a call for thrift in the face of a $10 million-and-rising yearly deficit. There's another idea in the report written by alumni and faculty leaders: Consider cutting five to seven teams from Berkeley's roster of 27 sports squads.

Campus higher-ups may make a decision within the next two weeks on cutting teams. If it happens, it will be an emotional, complicated but necessary calculation. Sports knit the campus together. Headlines and broadcasts give Cal visibility. Check-writing alums start out donating to athletics, but later contribute bigger sums to academic causes and building projects. These benefits can't be ignored.

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Program boosts community college transfers

Daniel de Vise:

A Community College Transfer Initiative launched four years ago by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation greatly increased the volume of students transferring from community colleges to eight selective four-year colleges.

By supporting the transfer process at receiving schools, the initiative dramatically boosted community college transfers to some of the nation's most prestigious schools: Amherst College, Bucknell University, Cornell University, Mount Holyoke College, the University of California, Berkeley, the University of Michigan, the University of North Carolina and the University of Southern California. A report on the initiative, "Partnerships that Promote Success," was released this month.

Among the eight schools, the initiative yielded 550 transfers in the 2007-08 academic year. By 2009-10, transfer enrollment had risen to 1,723.

The University of Michigan enrolled 1,104 community college transfers as of 2009-10; Mount Holyoke, 275; Berkeley, 245; Cornell, 113.

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September 20, 2010

5 Madison School Board Goals

Madison School Board (6/21/2010 consensus vote):

  1. We need an improved, ongoing process to develop a five-year budget plan that focuses on key issues and considers worst-case possibilities. Encourage more participation of teachers & staff in decision-making.
  2. We need to study post-secondary outcomes of all our students. Determine successful practices for meeting the needs of struggling students, high- achieving students, and students with special needs. Determine better student assessments and retaining more families. Study the approach at Shabazz (reaching students) especially when looking at transitions.
    Improve the MMSD diversity situation. MMSD should recruit locally or within midwestern region. Success is measured by relationship to eLF data. White men should always help develop this goal.
  3. Board and administration need to build a culture of accuracy and accountability. The board relies on administration for accurate information to make decisions. Board needs to make clear, respectful and timely requestsandexpectresults. Administrationneedstoacknowledge,clarify intent, check for accuracy, and respond with accurate, appropriate, complete datal information.
  4. Program and Services Evaluations
    Need to develop sound methods for evaluating programs and business services and implement plans to improve professional performance, evaluations could be external. Those evaluations should yield information and data that can be used to make decisions.
A useful, succinct one page set of priorities.

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Memo to the Media on Open Enrollment: When We (The Madison School Board) Unanimously Reject a Proposal, That Means We Don't Support It

Madison School Board Member Ed Hughes:

The Board discussed the issue. Individual members expressed concern about the 3% cap, suggesting that this wasn't the way for us to deal with the open enrollment issue. I was one of those who spoke against the proposal. The Board voted unanimously to support the other two proposed changes to WASB policy, but not the 3% cap. This amounted to a unanimous rejection of the 3% limit. (A video of the Board meeting can be found here. The WASB discussion begins about 48 minutes in.)

From the Board's perspective, the endorsement of the proposal regarding financial stability wasn't seen as one that had much bearing on our district. But we'd like support from other districts on our push for a fiscally neutral exchange of state dollars, and so we were willing to support proposals important to other districts, like this one, as a way of building a coalition for fresh consideration of open enrollment issues by the WASB.

The "financial stability" proposal certainly wasn't intended by us as a dagger to the heart of the open enrollment policy; I don't suppose that it was ever the intent of the legislators who supported the open enrollment statute that the policy could render school districts financially unstable.

The State Journal never reported that the Board rejected the 3% cap proposal. It ran letters to the editor on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday that all seemed premised on the assumption that we had in fact supported such a cap. The Wednesday letter said in part, "[T]he Madison School District's answer to its shortcomings is to build a Berlin wall, preventing students from leaving." From the Thursday letter, "Unfortunately, instead of looking inward to address the problems and issues causing flight from Madison schools, the School Board would rather maintain the status quo and use the coercive force of government to prevent its customers from fleeing for what they think is a better value." From Friday's letter: "So the way you stem the tide of students wanting to leave the Madison School District is to change the rules so that not so many can leave? That makes perfect Madison School Board logic." (The State Journal also ran a letter to the editor on Friday that was more supportive of the district.)

Much more on outbound open enrollment and the Madison School Board here.

I'm glad Ed continues to write online. I continue to have reservations about the "financial stability" angle since it can be interpreted (assuming it becomes law.... what are the odds?) any way the Board deems necessary. Further, I agree with Ed that there are certainly more pressing matters at hand.

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Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity

Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity:

With concern about rising deficits and debt taking center stage in Washington right now, President Obama has formed the bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, led by Republican former Senator Alan Simpson and Democrat former Clinton Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles, to make its own recommendations on how to ensure a sound fiscal future for our country. As the Commission deliberates between now and the release of its recommendations on December 1,Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity believes that one critical issue for the Commission and policymakers to consider is how efforts to rein in deficits and manage the budget will impact low-income and poor people.

That’s why, over the coming months, Spotlight will present a diversity of views from policymakers, economists, and many others from across the spectrum to discuss the work of the Commission and how its recommendations will (or should) affect low-income individuals. Entitled “Poverty, Opportunity, and the Deficit,” the series will include the following commentaries:

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Closing the Racial Achievement Gap: Learning from Florida's Reforms

Matthew Ladner & Lindsey Burke, via a kind reader's email:

Abstract: An education gap between white students and their black and Hispanic peers is something to which most Americans have become accustomed. But this racial division of education--and hence of prospects for the future-- is nothing less than tragic. The good news is that the racial divide in learning is a problem that can be fixed. Of course, it can only be fixed if education reform is approached in a common sense and innovative way. Continuing to repeat the largely failed national policies and ever-increasing spending of the past decades is surely not commonsense. One state, Florida, has demonstrated that meaningful academic improvement--for students of all races and economic backgrounds--is possible. In 1999, Florida enacted far-reaching K-12 education reform that includes public and private school choice, charter schools, virtual education, performance-based pay for teachers, grading of schools and districts, annual tests, curbing social promotion, and alternative teacher certification. As a result of parental choice, higher standards, accountability, and flexibility, Florida's Hispanic students are now outperforming or tied with the overall average for all students in 31 states. It is vital that national and state policymakers take the lessons of Florida's success to heart. The future of millions of American children depends on it.

For years, policymakers around the country have looked for ways to address the racial achievement gap in K-12 education. Despite significant increases in education spending at all levels and the federal government's ever-increasing role in education, national academic achievement has remained relatively flat, graduation rates have stagnated around 70 percent, and racial disparities persist. Many states have enacted policies to address racial disparities in academic achievement and attainment, but the changes have been largely piecemeal.

One state, however, has demonstrated that meaningful improvement is possible. In 1999, Florida enacted a series of far-reaching K-12 education reforms that have increased academic achievement for all students and substantially narrowed the racial achievement gap. Today, Florida's Hispanic and black students outscore many statewide reading averages for all students.

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Learning by Playing: Video Games in the Classroom

Sara Corbett:

One morning last winter I watched a middle-school teacher named Al Doyle give a lesson, though not your typical lesson. This was New York City, a noncharter public school in an old building on a nondescript street near Gramercy Park, inside an ordinary room that looked a lot like all the other rooms around it, with fluorescent lights and linoleum floors and steam-driven radiators that hissed and clanked endlessly.

Doyle was, at 54, a veteran teacher and had logged 32 years in schools all over Manhattan, where he primarily taught art and computer graphics. In the school, which was called Quest to Learn, he was teaching a class, Sports for the Mind, which every student attended three times a week. It was described in a jargony flourish on the school's Web site as "a primary space of practice attuned to new media literacies, which are multimodal and multicultural, operating as they do within specific contexts for specific purposes." What it was, really, was a class in technology and game design.

The lesson that day was on enemy movement, and the enemy was a dastardly collection of spiky-headed robots roving inside a computer game. The students -- a pack of about 20 boisterous sixth graders -- were meant to observe how the robots moved, then chart any patterns they saw on pieces of graph paper. Later in the class period, working on laptops, they would design their own games. For the moment, though, they were spectators.

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To combat poverty, get Africa's children to school

Gordon Brown:

As developed countries strive for post-crisis growth, Africa is on the verge of an economic leap forward. A $1,500bn economy, the continent is ready to leave the third world. Its resources, both natural and human, are untapped. Foreign investment is at last beginning to flow. Its leading nations are even competing to join the fast-developing "Bric" countries. But as will be clear at today's millennium development goals summit in New York, while Africa is close to a breakthrough it has not happened yet.

Any African advance will depend on three crucial factors. First, a wider opening to trade, given that 80 per cent of current exports remains in oil and agriculture. Second, a new African common market is needed. Only regional integration can overcome the fact that only a 10th of Africa's trade is within Africa itself. Finally, better infrastructure: African road capacity is half that of Latin America and less than a third of Asia's.

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Schooling the next Minnsesota governor on education We need to find stable funding and look to experts no matter their politics.

Craig Roen:

In 20 years, will Minnesota's public school system be among the best in the world, or will it be an also-ran? In 20 years, will Minnesota's next governor be remembered as a courageous visionary, or as a partisan who presided over the decline of our highly educated workforce?

Make no mistake: We are at a historic crossroads. The Minnesota Miracle, with its legacy of a world-class public school system and workforce, is on its way to becoming part of a bygone era. The world is ever more competitive, and a well-educated workforce is our only assurance that Minnesota will prosper in the future. Bumper-sticker slogans and rigid ideologies are no substitute for a well-informed and well-thought-out set of education policies. The next governor must rise above petty politics and the "reform du jour" in order to lead the state to higher ground.

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Tacoma middle-schoolers all in uniforms

Associated Press:

All nine middle schools in the Tacoma School District now have something in common - their students were school uniforms.

The News Tribune says this fall Jason Lee Middle School became the last to require uniforms. Most schools require polo shirts or school-logo sweat shirts - some allow jeans, others don't.

Many parents say the uniforms make life easier - there's no drama about what to wear, costs are lower and there's no peer pressure to wear expensive, popular brands. Others say the uniforms limit the kids' personal freedom.

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Furious father confronts daughter's school bus bullies

Erin Migdol:

The father of an 11-year-old bullying victim threatened to kill his daughter's tormenters after joining her on her Florida school bus.

James Jones took his daughter, who has cerebral palsy, onto her school bus and told her to point out the bullies. Then, he said he would kill them.

"I'm gonna (expletive) you up -- this is my daughter, and I will kill the (expletive) who fought her," Jones said.

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September 19, 2010

Madison School Board's vote (to limit Outbound Open Enrollment) hurts kids -- and the city

Chris Rickert:

Open enrollment allows students to go to schools outside their district. If "school choice" and "vouchers" are the buzz words popping into your head right now, you're probably not alone. When the legislation passed in 1997, it was in the same ballpark as those two old Republican saws. Open enrollment supposedly introduces choice to the public education "marketplace," forcing districts to compete and get better.

Democrats typically see such policies as the first step toward balkanizing the public schools into the haves and have-nots, when they should be a hallmark of a society in which any kid can become president.

Open enrollment has not shown a particularly good light on Madison in recent years. More kids have been transferring out than in, with the net loss last year 435 students. The resolution the school board passed Monday calls on the state to allow districts to limit the students that could leave under open enrollment "if the school board believes the fiscal stability of the district is threatened."

Clearly, district leaders feel open enrollment is a fiscal threat; their analysis shows it created about a $2.7 million hole in the district budget last school year.

Much more on the Madison School District's attempt to limit outbound open enrollment here.

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On the Web, Children Face Intensive Tracking

Steve Stecklow:

A Wall Street Journal investigation into online privacy has found that popular children's websites install more tracking technologies on personal computers than do the top websites aimed at adults.

The Journal examined 50 sites popular with U.S. teens and children to see what tracking tools they installed on a test computer. As a group, the sites placed 4,123 "cookies," "beacons" and other pieces of tracking technology. That is 30% more than were found in an analysis of the 50 most popular U.S. sites overall, which are generally aimed at adults.

The most prolific site:, which helps teens customize their social-networking pages, installed 248 tracking tools. Its operator described the site as a "hobby" and said the tracking tools come from advertisers., an education site for young children, installed the fewest, five.

The research is part of a Journal investigation into the expanding business of tracking people's activities online and selling details about their behavior and personal interests.

The tiny tracking tools are used by data-collection companies to follow people as they surf the Internet and to build profiles detailing their online activities, which advertisers and others buy. The profiles don't include names, but can include age, tastes, hobbies, shopping habits, race, likelihood to post comments and general location, such as city.

Check your Google "preferences" here.

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California needs more charter schools

Alan Bonsteel:

The California Department of Education issued a news release Monday touting 10 years of uninterrupted progress on the Academic Performance Index. By contrast, on the test that researchers use to evaluate real performance, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, California students' scores have been flat during that same time.

Why the big difference? The main test on which the API is based, the STAR, has never been secure, and teachers can teach to the exact questions on it, or even hand out the correct answers in test sessions that are not proctored by outside authorities. By contrast, the NAEP is a secure test, and because it carries no financial incentives, there is no motivation to game the system.

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Philadelphia's District and charter high schools: How are they doing?

The Notebook:

The Notebook gathered data including enrollment, student demographics, attendance, and test scores. You can sort through the information in an Excel sheet or view a PDF of the center spread of data from the print edition.

Key to data for District schools

SAT, PSSA scores: for 2009 from Pennsylvania Department of Education.
Graduation rates: Rates are as determined in 2009 for entering 9th graders from fall 2005, from School District of Philadelphia. Students are attributed to their 9th grade school.

All other data are reported by the School District of Philadelphia for the 2009-10 school year.


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Learning from the Fenty Loss: $1M Spent By Teacher Unions to Defeat Him

Michael Lomax, President and CEO of the United Negro College Fund:

There's a lesson here for education reformers in other cities. Real education reform is disruptive. You can't make an omelet without breaking eggs. Beloved teachers lose their jobs. Neighborhood schools that have anchored communities are closed or reconstituted. But with the disruption comes a rebirth of education, a rising tide that lifts all parts of the community.

Education reformers need to make that case. They need to make it to the parents who have the largest stake in quality education: their children's futures. They need to make it not only to foundations and editorial writers but also to neighborhood leaders, small-business entrepreneurs, and ministers and their flocks. In other words, they need to make it to the people with whose support reform will not only succeed but take root.
Michelle Rhee in Politico:

Yesterday’s election results were devastating – devastating. Not for me, because I’ll be fine. And not even for Fenty, because he’ll be fine, too. It was devastating for the children of Washington, D.C.," Rhee said during the discussion. "The biggest tragedy that could come from [the] election results is if the lesson that people take from this is that we should pull back. … That is not the right lesson for this reform movement. We cannot retreat now. If anything, what the reform community needs to take out of yesterday’s election is: Now is the time to lean forward, be more aggressive, and be more adamant about what we’re doing.
via New Jersey Left Behind.

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Adrian Fenty loss worries education reformers

Kendra Marr:

Mayor Adrian Fenty staked his career on overhauling the District of Columbia's education system with Obama-style reforms -- closing dozens of failing schools and firing hundreds of teachers.

Then the teachers struck back.

Fenty's defeat this week -- due in no small part to community and teachers union resistance to his education push -- is emerging as a cautionary tale for education reformers, who fear that it could cause others to back away from aggressive reform programs swept into the mainstream by President Barack Obama's "Race to the Top."

His downfall, observers fret, serves notice to officeholders coast to coast that they could suffer Fenty's fate if they embark on that ambitious brand of school reform championed by Fenty and his controversial schools chief Michelle Rhee.

"This is a real wake-up call for the Obama administration," said Richard Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation who studies teachers unions. "The emphasis on firing teachers which was central to Rhee's approach -- she stood in a picture on the cover of Time magazine with a broom. That doesn't seem to resonate with voters."

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John Legend surprises class with lesson on race, education

Mary Beth Marklein

Students enrolled this semester in "Education in Black America" at Howard University got their reward Thursday morning for slogging to campus instead of sleeping in: About 10 minutes into class, singer-songwriter John Legend strode in. No introduction needed.
"Surprise, surprise," Legend said, as cellphones came out and cameras flashed. "I'm glad you didn't skip class today."

Legend, 31, was guest professor as part of an mtvU program called Stand In, in which big names such as Bill Gates and Madonna show up unannounced and teach a class on a subject they care about.

For Legend, a Grammy Award winner who grew up in poverty, that subject is education reform -- a key theme of the just-released Waiting for Superman documentary, for which he wrote a song. So it made sense to arrange with professor Greg Carr to appear in Carr's class, which was discussing the education of ex-slaves when the knock at the door came.


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10 Things I Wish a Teacher Had Told Me

Miss Brave:

Happy back to school! In honor of my officially becoming a tenured teacher (take that, new value-added teacher data reports to determine tenure), I present to you 10 Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me When I Started Teaching.

1. Don't sweat the small stuff.
You put your students' names on everything in your room only to find out that some of them are spelled wrong on your class list. Or some of them moved away and you're getting three more instead. And now you don't have enough little birthday cakes to complete your class chart! Something like this will inevitably happen in the first week of school. But the truth is, the only person who will notice is you -- and if you resent the fact that you're going to stay at school until 6 pm redoing it, you're just going to make yourself miserable.

2. If you can put off until tomorrow what you planned on doing might want to think about it.

I realize this sounds an awful lot like procrastination, which to most teachers is a dirty, dirty word. But as a new teacher, you're going to be staying in your classroom until nightfall anyway. Your classroom is going to become a time-sucking vacuum of dry erase markers and despair. (That was poetic, no?) So if you really, really wanted to plan out your entire week's worth of math lessons, but it's after 5 pm and you've got at least an inkling of what you're going to do tomorrow -- go home. You'll take care of tomorrow tomorrow; tonight, you have to take care of you.

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Brain Teasers for Gifted Kids

Carol Fertig:

Looking for a puzzles to exercise the minds of your students? Are you in search of interactive puzzles for your kids at home? Post a puzzle a day or a puzzle a week in your classroom. Present a puzzle to your kids while driving in the car. Create a puzzle corner at home or at school.

The Internet is full of games and puzzles that work the brain and help kids think outside the box. Just search on such terms as "brainteasers" or "puzzles." Here are just a few sites that will keep you and your gifted kids occupied for a good long time.

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'Times Higher Education' Releases New Rankings, but Will They Appease Skeptics?

Aisha Labi:

On Thursday the London-based Times Higher Education releases its new, and heavily hyped, World University Rankings. Nearly a year in the making, the rankings have been highly anticipated, if only to determine whether the magazine has truly delivered on its promise: to create an evaluation system based primarily on reliable, and quantifiable, measures of quality rather than on subjective values, such as reputational surveys.

Times Higher Education produced rankings for the first time this year without the collaboration of Quacquarelli Symonds Limited. Along with the Shanghai Jiao Tong University rankings, the World University Rankings that Times Higher Education and QS published together from 2004 until last year have become the most closely watched and influential university rankings in the world.

Quacquarelli Symonds has continued to produce those rankings, now called the QS World University Rankings, and is partnering with U.S. News and World Report for their publication in the United States.

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September 18, 2010

The Black-White Achievement Gap: When Progress Stopped

Paul Barton & Richard Coley, via a Richard Askey email:

There is widespread awareness that there is a very substantial gap between the educational achievement of the White and the Black population in our nation, and that the gap is as old as the nation itself.

This report is about changes in the size of that gap, beginning with the first signs of a narrowing that occurred at the start of the last century, and continuing on to the end of the first decade of the present century. In tracking the gap in test scores, the report begins with the 1970s and 1980s, when the new National Assessment of Educational Progress began to give us our first national data on student achievement.

That period is important because it witnessed a substantial narrowing of the gap in the subjects of reading and mathematics. This period of progress in closing the achievement gap received much attention from some of the nation's top researchers, driven by the idea that perhaps we could learn some lessons that
could be repeated.

Next, there are the decades since the late 1980s, in which there has been no clear trend in the gap, or sustained period of change in the gap, one way or another. While there has been considerable investigation of the gap that remained, little advance in knowledge has occurred as attention was directed to alternating small declines and small gains, interspersed with periods of no change.

Paul Barton and Richard Coley drop back in time to the beginning of the 20th century when the gap in educational attainment started to narrow, and bring us to the startling and ironic conclusion that progress generally halted for those born around the mid-1960s, a time when landmark legislative victories heralded an end to racial discrimination. Had those things that were helping to close the gap stopped, or had they been overshadowed by new adversities that were not remedied by gaining equality before the law? Unfortunately, no comprehensive modeling by researchers is available that might identify and quantify the culprits, nor is it likely that there will ever be. The authors draw on the knowledge base that is available, from whatever schools of scholarship that have made relevant investigations, whether they be historians, or sociologists, or economists, or practitioners. Barton and Coley explore topics that remain sensitive in public discussion in their search for answers.

A lot of suspects are rounded up, and their pictures are posted for public view. Ultimately, readers will have to turn to their own good judgment. The report informs the judgments that have to be made, for there is no escaping the fact that failure to re-start progress is an unacceptable and dangerous prospect for the nation.

Michael T. Nettles.
Senior Vice President .
Policy Evaluation and Research Center

The nation's attention has been -- and remains -- riveted on the persistent Black-White gap in the achievement of our elementary and secondary school students. Each year when the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) releases "the nation's report card," the front-page news focuses on whether scores are rising or falling and whether the achievement gap is changing. Speculation is rife as to whether any change is some indication of either the success or failure of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act and other efforts in our local-state-federal education system.

The nation's efforts to address the achievement gap have a long history. Expectations increased with the Brown v. Board of Education desegregation decision in 1954 and with passage of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) in 1965, which focused on the inequality of school resources. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 spiked optimism for progress in education and in society at large. And most recently, NCLB was purposeful in its requirement to "disaggregate" the average achievement scores of state accountability programs to expose the inequality that had to be addressed.

This report is about understanding the periods of progress and the periods of stagnation in changes in the achievement gap that have occurred over the past several decades. We try to understand what might have contributed to the progress as well as probe the reasons that may account for the progress halting, in the hope of finding some clues and possible directions for moving forward in narrowing the achievement gap.

The report can also be downloaded here.

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Serious ideas from State of Education speech. Seriously.

Susan Troller:

For instance, he's the only state elected official to actually and seriously float a proposal to repair the broken state funding system for schools. He promises the proposal for his "Funding for Our Future" will be ready to introduce to lawmakers this fall and will include details on its impact on the state's 424 school districts.

Evers also is interested in the potential of charter schools. Let's be open and supportive about education alternatives, he says, but mindful of what's already working well in public schools.

And he says qualified 11th and 12th graders should be allowed to move directly on to post-secondary education or training if they wish. Dual enrollment opportunites for high school age students attending college and technical schools will require a shift in thinking that shares turf and breaks down barriers, making seamless education -- pre-K through post-secondary -- a reality instead of some distant dream, according to Evers.

As to Evers' comments on teacher testing, he joins a national conversation that has been sparked, in part, by the Obama administration as well as research that shows the single universal element in improved student performance is teacher quality. We recently featured a story about concerns over teacher evaluation based on student performance and test scores, and the issue has been a potent topic elsewhere, as well.

The proof, as always, is in the pudding, or substance.

Melissa Westbrook wrote a very useful and timely article on education reform:

I think many ed reformers rightly say, "Kids can't wait." I agree.

There is nothing more depressing than realizing that any change that might be good will likely come AFTER your child ages out of elementary, middle or high school. Not to say that we don't do things for the greater good or the future greater good but as a parent, you want for your child now. Of course, we are told that change needs to happen now but the reality is what it might or might not produce in results is years off. (Which matters not to Bill Gates or President Obama because their children are in private schools.)

All this leads to wonder about our teachers and what this change will mean. A reader, Lendlees, passed on a link to a story that appeared in the LA Times about their teacher ratings. (You may recall that the LA Times got the classroom test scores for every single teacher in Los Angeles and published them in ranked order.)

Susan Troller notes that Wisconsin's oft criticized WKCE (on which Madison's value added assessment program is based) will be replaced - by 2014:
Evers also promised that the much maligned Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam, used to test student proficiency in 3rd through 6th, 8th and 10th grades, is on its way out. By 2014, there will be a much better assessment of student proficiency to take its place, Evers says, and he should know. He's become a leading figure in the push for national core education standards, and for effective means for measuring student progress.

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Money Is Not What Schools Need Competition is the answer.

John Stossel:

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan recently claimed: "Districts around the country have literally been cutting for five, six, seven years in a row. And, many of them, you know, are through, you know, fat, through flesh and into bone ... ."

Really? They cut spending five to seven consecutive years?

Give me a break!

Andrew Coulson, director of the Cato Institute's Center for Educational Freedom, writes that out of 14,000 school districts in the United States, just seven have cut their budgets seven years in a row. How about five years in a row? Just 87. That's a fraction of 1 percent in each case.

Duncan may be pandering to his constituency, or he may actually be fooled by how school districts (and other government agencies) talk about budget cuts. When normal people hear about a budget cut, we assume the amount of money to be spent is less than the previous year's allocation. But that's not what bureaucrats mean.

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Missouri auditor affirms KC district's drastic steps

Joe Robertson:

After two dozen school closings and more than 1,000 job cuts in the Kansas City School District, Missouri Auditor Susan Montee issued a reassuring message Thursday night.

Drastic measures were indeed necessary.

Without them, the district would have been in a "financially distressed position," Montee said.

In a prelude to a full audit report, the state retraced the old ground of poor financial decisions.

Many people, aware of the ongoing audit, had been asking the auditor's office if the wholesale cuts were necessary, Montee said.

She jumped out early with a partial report, she said, "because it might help people's confidence in the district."

Complete auditor's report; 223K PDF.

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Harlem Children's Zone Gets $20 Million Gift

Sharon Otterman:

Geoffrey Canada of the Harlem Children's Zone is having a good month.

Already one of the best known charter school operators in the nation, his schools and community service projects are about to move even more to center stage with the release next week of a documentary about the need for change in American education, "Waiting for Superman," that highlights his efforts. (An Oprah appearance also is planned.)

From Washington, President Obama and the federal education department will soon announce 20 $500,000 start-up grants to communities around the country to replicate the best-practices of Mr. Canada's approach. Called Promise Neighborhoods, their goal is to create integrated networks of educational and social services for adults and children.

And the Harlem Children's Zone -- which raised about $50 million last year -- just received a $20 million contribution from Goldman Sachs Gives, a fund supported by the investment company and its partners, to build a new school building in a public housing project in Harlem, the organization announced on Thursday.

Goldman Sachs and its employees live today because of the massive taxpayer Wall Street bailout.

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Teachers union helped unseat Washington, DC Mayor Fenty

Ben Smith:

The American Federation of Teachers spent heavily to unseat Washington, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty and to put the brakes on his aggressive efforts to shake up the city's schools system.

The national union spent roughly $1 million in contributions to a labor-backed independent expenditure campaign -- also supported by the public workers union AFSCME -- and on its own extensive political operation, a Democratic political consultant familiar with the details of the spending told POLITICO. The spending suggests that the vote -- while not a referendum on Fenty's attempt to shake up the school system -- was deeply shaped by that policy. And while the teachers union has been careful not to claim the scalps of Fenty and his schools chancellor, Michelle Rhee, the election may serve as a political shot across the bows of other urban officials considering similar policies.

The union's president, Randi Weingarten, sought to downplay its role in the election, and denied that the union had targeted Rhee.

"For our members in Washington, it was what it was for other Washingtonians - about jobs, about the economy, about the city," said Weingarten. "This was not a proxy vote on Michelle Rhee."

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Struggling students + best teachers = success

David Permutt:

Dignitaries rarely come to Sterling Elementary School.

It's at the end of the Lynx light rail line off South Boulevard, a 7-year-old building near Pineville sprawled among a smattering of small houses. All but five students are African-American or Latino; 91 percent receive free or reduced-price lunches.

Yet it is the transformation inside that brought U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Gov. Bev Perdue to Sterling Elementary on Wednesday.

Three years ago, only 34.6 percent of Sterling's students passed end-of-grade reading tests. A year later, after a plan to improve poorly performing schools took effect, 58.9 percent passed. Math scores were more dramatic: 52.4 percent passed three years ago; 83.7 percent a year later.

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Hartland shuffles school grades

Amy Hetzner:

Some quick one-liners from Hartland North Elementary School Principal Pat Thome can sum up the difference between his school now and one year ago.

"There's nobody over 3½ feet tall," he said. "I'm the only guy who comes to work, and there's 450 people wanting to give you a hug every day."

Over the summer, both elementary schools in the Hartland-Lakeside School District transitioned from serving students in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade to serving half those grades. North got the students in pre-kindergarten through second grade while Hartland South Elementary School, less than two miles away, now has students in only third through fifth grades.

It's a structure that other southeastern Wisconsin school districts have studied - most recently the Whitnall School District - but few have adopted. Among the obstacles to such changes are concerns voiced by parents about losing their neighborhood schools and the addition of a transition between school buildings in the middle of a child's elementary years.

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Madison schools produce more National Merit semifinalists than any other district in state

Wisconsin State Journal:

Madison public schools produced more National Merit Scholarship semifinalists than any other school district in the state again this year.

Thirty-nine students from Madison East, West, La Follette and Memorial high schools, along with 10 other Madison seniors who receive home schooling or attend Edgewood High or Abundant Life Christian School, are among 16,000 students nationwide to receive the honor. The semifinalists, who represent fewer than 1 percent of U.S. high school seniors, will continue to compete for some 8,400 National Merit scholarships worth more than $36 million to be announced next spring.

View individual state cut scores, by year here. In 2010, Minnesota's cut score was 215, Illinois' 214, Iowa 209 and Michigan 209. Wisconsin's was 207.

Congratulations all around!

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Harsh lesson for charter school supporters

Erik Engquist & Jeremy Smerd:

Tuesday's primary was a disaster for charter school proponents and their hedge fund backers. They funded three insurgent state Senate candidates, only to see them lose by huge margins to incumbents viewed as hostile to charter schools: Sen. Bill Perkins in Manhattan, Sen. Velmanette Montgomery in Brooklyn and Sen. Shirley Huntley in Queens.

"If you're going to make a statement, you have to either win or be competitive, because if you get crushed it sends the opposite message," one legislator says. "People are going to believe that this is a paper tiger."

Wall Street and the financial services industry made a similar gamble by investing in insurgent Reshma Saujani against Rep. Carolyn Maloney, who supported the sweeping financial regulation bill and won passage of credit card reforms that will curb banks' profits. Saujani raised more than $1.3 million but won only 19% of the vote in an Upper East Side district where support for Wall Street is thought to be greater than elsewhere.

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Worcester Teachers seek contract

Jacqueline Reis:

A short time after approximately 150 teachers chanted at full volume last night that they wanted a contract NOW, Mayor Joseph C. O'Brien announced that the School Committee will ask the state Labor Relations Board to appoint a mediator.

The city's approximately 3,000 teachers have been without a contract since school started in fall 2009, and they filled last night's School Committee meeting to hear the union's president, Leonard A. Zalauskas, speak to the committee. "We are eager to participate in a solution, but we don't want to take a pay cut," he said.

He said teachers asked to work extended hours should be paid their same hourly rate, but noted that the group's demands are not all about money. The union, the Educational Association of Worcester, also wants a "safe and healthy learning environment" for its members, including environmental health and an effective disciplinary system for students, and a say in teachers' own professional development, he said.

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September 17, 2010

Wisconsin School Finance Reform Climate: 16% Health Care Spending Growth & Local Lobbying

Jason Stein & Patrick Marley:

The state health department is requesting $675 million more from state taxpayers in the next two-year budget to maintain services such as Wisconsin's health care programs for the poor, elderly and disabled, according to budget estimates released Thursday.

That figure, included in a budget request by the state Department of Health Services, shows how difficult it will be for the next governor to balance a budget that already faces a $2.7 billion projected shortfall over two years.

One of the chief reasons the state faces the steep increase in costs is because federal economic stimulus money for health care programs will dry up before the 2011-'13 budget starts July 1.

That scheduled decrease in funding would come even as high unemployment lingers, driving many families into poverty and keeping enrollment in the programs relatively high. State Health Services Secretary Karen Timberlake said the state needs to find a way to keep health care for those who need it.

"People need this program in a way many of them never expected to," she said.

But maintaining health programs at existing levels could cost even more than the $675 million increase over two years - a 16% jump - now projected in the budget request, which will be handled by the next governor and Legislature.

Dane County Board Urges State Action on School Reform 194K PDF via a TJ Mertz email:
This evening the Dane County Board of Supervisors enthusiastically approved a resolution urging the Wisconsin Legislature to make comprehensive changes in the way schools are funded. The Board encouraged the Legislature to consider revenue sources other than the local property tax to support the diverse needs of students and school districts.
"I hear over and over again from Dane County residents that investing in education is a priority, said County Board Supervisor Melissa Sargent, District 18, the primary sponsor of the resolution. "However, people tell me they do not like the overreliance on property taxes to fund education - pitting homeowners against children," she added.
For the last 17 years, the state funding formula has produced annual shortfalls resulting in program cuts to schools. In 2009-2010, cuts in state aid resulted in a net loss of over $14 million in state support for students in Dane County, shifting the cost of education increasingly to property taxpayers. More and more districts are forced to rely on either program cuts or sometimes divisive referenda. In fact, voters rejected school referendums in five districts Tuesday, while just two were approved.
"The future of our children and our community is dependent on the development of an equitable system for funding public education; a system the recognizes the diverse needs of our children and does not put the funding burden on the backs of our taxpayers, said Madison Metropolitan School
Board member Arlene Silvera. "I appreciate the leadership of the County Board in raising awareness of this critical need and in lobbying our state legislators to make this happen," she said.
Jeffery Ziegler a Member of the Marshall Public School District Board of Education and Jim Cavanaugh, President of the South Central Federation of Labor, both emphasized the need to get the attention of state officials in statements supporting the resolution. Ziegler described how state inaction has forced Board Members to make decisions that harm education.
State legislators can apparently decide to just not make the tough decisions that need to be made. School boards have a responsibility to keep our schools functioning and delivering the best education they can under the circumstances, knowing full well that those decisions will have a negative effect on the education of the children in their community.
Cavanaugh observed that the consensus that reform is needed has not led to action and pointed to the important role local governmental bodies can play in changing this by following the lead of the Dane County Board
"Legislators of all political stripes acknowledge that Wisconsin's system for funding public schools is broken. Yet, there doesn't appear to be the political will to address this very complicated issue. Perhaps they need a nudge from the various local units of government."
In passing this resolution, Dane County is taking the lead on a critical statewide issue. Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools (WAES) board member Thomas J. Mertz said that WAES thanked the Dane County Board and said that WAES will seek similar resolutions from communities around the state in the coming months.
"All around Wisconsin districts are hurting and we've been working hard to bring the need for reform to the attention of state officials," said WAES board member Thomas J. Mertz. "Hearing from local officials might do the trick," he concluded.
Gubernertorial candidates Tom Barrett (Clusty) and Scott Walker (Clusty) on education.

The current economic climate certainly requires that choices be made.

Perhaps this is part of the problem.

Finally, The Economist on taxes.

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13 Writing Tips

Chuck Palahniuk:

Twenty years ago, a friend and I walked around downtown Portland at Christmas. The big department stores: Meier and Frank... Fredrick and Nelson... Nordstroms... their big display windows each held a simple, pretty scene: a mannequin wearing clothes or a perfume bottle sitting in fake snow. But the windows at the J.J. Newberry's store, damn, they were crammed with dolls and tinsel and spatulas and screwdriver sets and pillows, vacuum cleaners, plastic hangers, gerbils, silk flowers, candy - you get the point. Each of the hundreds of different objects was priced with a faded circle of red cardboard. And walking past, my friend, Laurie, took a long look and said, "Their window-dressing philosophy must be: 'If the window doesn't look quite right - put more in'."

She said the perfect comment at the perfect moment, and I remember it two decades later because it made me laugh. Those other, pretty display windows... I'm sure they were stylist and tasteful, but I have no real memory of how they looked.

For this essay, my goal is to put more in. To put together a kind-of Christmas stocking of ideas, with the hope that something will be useful. Or like packing the gift boxes for readers, putting in candy and a squirrel and a book and some toys and a necklace, I'm hoping that enough variety will guarantee that something here will occur as completely asinine, but something else might be perfect.

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California School Boards Association reveals exec's severance deal

Melody Gutierrez:

Nearly two months after the California School Boards Association faced public scrutiny over its top executive's pay, the non-profit released details this week of its severance agreement with Scott Plotkin.

CSBA paid $43,000 to cut ties with Plotkin and recognize him for "his long years of service" to the organization, according to a statement Tuesday by the CSBA board of directors.

Plotkin retired Sept. 1 after admitting to using a company credit card to withdraw cash at area casinos.

He earned $403,955 in 2009 -- much more than executive directors at similar nonprofits -- including nearly $75,000 in bonuses and other compensation.

CSBA is not a government agency but is indirectly funded by taxpayers. Much of its budget comes from membership dues and other fees paid by public school districts.

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Evaluate teachers so we can pay them what they're worth

Dick Startz:

Teachers are seriously underpaid, but the public won't support paying the good teachers more without tools to evaluate them. Teachers ought to be leading the way in designing fair evaluation systems.

Linking teacher evaluation to pay is an increasingly hot button issue in Washington state and around the nation. Too much talk is about evaluation and too little about compensation. Sure, teacher evaluation is important. But it's the wagging tail, not the dog. Evaluation schemes won't attract and keep great people in front of the class unless positive evaluations bring meaningful financial rewards.

Teachers make an enormous difference in what children learn. Every parent knows teachers matter. Extensive scientific evidence backs up the importance of teachers to education outcomes. One oft-cited statistic is that a good teacher moves students up one-and-a-half grade levels in a single year. Students of a poor teacher learn only half a year's material.

To reward good teachers we need to identify them. Evaluation should focus on measuring what students learn and then associating student learning measurements with the teachers who taught them.

Charlie Mas comments on Startz's (who has a book on the way) article.

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UW-Madison students, faculty struggle with plagiarism in Internet era

Todd Finkelmeyer:

When UW-Madison chemistry lecturer Jeanine Batterton accused 42 students last fall of plagiarism on a written lab assignment in Chem 104, she was floored by the range of "bizarre excuses" offered by the undergraduates.

Some contended that cutting and pasting information out of Wikipedia -- the Web-based, user-generated encyclopedia -- was OK because no single author writes the entries.

Others argued that since the assignment was a group project, and since they didn't write the part of the report in question, how could she punish them for any wrongdoing?

One student even told Batterton that when he was caught copying homework answers in another class, the professor let him re-do the assignment -- so why couldn't she do the same?

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A College Closes for Good as Rescue Plan Is Rejected

Luaren Etter:

As colleges open for the fall semester, the Lutheran school on a grassy hill overlooking town will sit empty for the first time in 126 years.

Dana College closed abruptly in June after a long financial struggle. The fate of the private, 600-student liberal-arts school mirrors that of many small colleges whose challenges became more pronounced during the recession. But some officials at Dana think the school was also an innocent victim of a crackdown on for-profit colleges.

Investors proposed to buy Dana and turn it into a profitable operation. But an accrediting agency effectively pulled the lifeline away by denying the college's application to change ownership. Such accrediting agencies were facing pressure from federal education officials, who accused some of being too lenient in certifying for-profit schools with lax standards. Officials said such schools often pushed students to take on heavy debt loads without preparing them for careers.

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California Board of Education addresses teacher evaluation issue

Teresa Watanabe:

The state Board of Education took up the controversial issue of teacher evaluations Wednesday, unanimously voting to create an online database to share information about local, state and national efforts to measure educators' effectiveness.

The board also asked the Los Angeles, Long Beach and Fresno school districts to propose specific ways the state can support local efforts to create more meaningful evaluation tools, including the value-added method of using students' test scores to rate teacher performance.

"This is a huge step forward," said board member Ben Austin, who proposed the resolution at the Sacramento meeting. "Including value-added as a component is just common sense, if we take seriously the notion that education is about kids and not grownups."

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Helena-West Helena (Arkansas) School District deemed financially distressed

John Lyon:

The state Board of Education voted unanimously today to add the Helena-West Helena School District to the state's list of fiscally distressed districts.

The board took the action because of declining fund balances and internal control problems that were identified in an audit. Declining enrollment has reduced the state funding the district receives, but expenditures have not been reduced accordingly, state education officials said.

"From 2007 to 2010 they've lost about 564 students," said Bill Goff, the state Education Department's assistant commissioner fiscal and administrative services. "A $6,000 per student, that's about $3.4 million."

The state Department of Education notified the district in July that it would be recommended for fiscal distress status. The district did not appeal.

Superintendent Willie Williams told the board the district is working with a financial consultant to reorganize personnel and make other changes to reduce expenditures. He said the district also is addressing the audit findings, which included reimbursement to school board members for non-business-related travel, restaurant bills and alcoholic beverages.

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September 16, 2010

Monona Grove School District's Teacher Contract Negotiations (Since 2009)

Peter Sobol:

What are the sticking points in the current negotiations?

Post-employment benefits and the salary-benefit package are two big items on which there is no agreement. Current post-employment benefits for teachers include a payment of a stipend (Teacher Emeritus Program (TEP)) which is equal to a teacher's highest annual salary and is paid out over a period of three years in equal installments. In addition to this and to the regular monthly pension benefit received by the teacher from WRS, full health insurance and the major share of the cost of dental insurance are paid by the District until the retired teacher reaches the age of 70. In the event of the death of the retiree prior to reaching the age of 70, the surviving spouse continues to be eligible for the District's group health insurance coverage until the date the retiree would have reached age 70 at the retiree's spouse expense.

The School Board's current proposal for post-employment benefits is proposal #6 in the Initial Board of Education Proposals to the Monona Grove Education Association (linked here). There is no corresponding initial or counter-proposal from the MGEA; its position is to maintain the existing benefits described in the previous paragraph.

The School Board's current salary and benefit package proposal is an increase of 3.9% for 2009-10 and 3.7% for 2010-11. The MGEA's current total package proposal is an increase of 5.4% for 2009-10 and 5.3% for 2010-11 and includes an average teacher salary increase of 4.2% for 2009-10 and 4.1% for 2010-11. These percentages reflect what's known as "cast forward" costing and do not include the cost of horizontal lane movement on the salary schedule or the post-employment benefit costs of retirees.

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A Look at Madison's Use of Value Added Assessment

Lynn Welch:

In the two years Madison has collected and shared value-added numbers, it has seen some patterns emerging in elementary school math learning. But when compared with other districts, such as Milwaukee, Kiefer says there's much less variation in the value- added scores of schools within the Madison district.

"You don't see the variation because we do a fairly good job at making sure all staff has the same professional development," he says.

Proponents of the value-added approach agree the data would be more useful if the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction were to establish a statewide value-added system. DPI is instead developing an assessment system to look at school-wide trends and improve instruction for individual students.


But some question whether value-added data truly benefits all students, or is geared toward closing the gap between high- and low-performing students.

"Will the MMSD use new assessments...of students' progress to match instruction levels with demonstrated learning levels?" asks Lorie Raihala, a Madison parent who is part of a group seeking better programming for high-achieving ninth- and 10th-graders at West High School. "So far the district has not done this."

Others are leery of adding another measurement tool. David Wasserman, a teacher at Sennett Middle School and part of a planning group pushing to open Badger Rock Middle School, a green charter (see sidebar), made national news a few years ago when he refused to administer a mandatory statewide test. He still feels that a broad, student-centered evaluation model that takes multiple assessments into account gives the best picture.

"Assessment," he says, "shouldn't drive learning."

Notes and links on "Value Added Assessment", and the oft-criticized WKCE, on which it is based, here.

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Madison's Attempts to Limit Outbound Open Enrollment: A Discussion with Vicki McKenna & Don Severson

two mp3 audio files, via a kind reader's email: 30mb. The open enrollment conversation begins at about 19:40 in this first mp3 file and continues in the second (33mb) mp3 file.

Much more on outbound open enrollment here.

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New Jersey's Interdistrict School Choice Program

New Jersey Left Behind:

Give a round of applause to the Assembly for passing A-355, which makes the pilot Interdistrict School Choice program permanent. What's not to like? Kids in failing schools can cross district lines to attend a more successful school (see NJ Left Behind previous coverage here and here). And those more successful schools, according to a report from Rutgers, are almost unanimous in their support of the Program and their reports of its positive fiscal and educational impact.
Related: Outbound open enrollment in the Madison School District.

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Report: More women than men in U.S. earned doctorates last year for first time

Daniel de Vise:

For the first time, more women than men in the United States received doctoral degrees last year, the culmination of decades of change in the status of women at colleges nationwide.

The number of women at every level of academia has been rising for decades. Women now hold a nearly 3-to-2 majority in undergraduate and graduate education. Doctoral study was the last holdout - the only remaining area of higher education that still had an enduring male majority.

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Cheating Charter Schools Some teachers are apparently more deserving than others

The Wall Street Journal:

President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan have made charter schools a big part of their reform agenda, but the pushback from unions has been fierce. Perhaps that explains why the new $10 billion federal teacher bailout will be dispensed in a way that discriminates against charters.

The Administration's initial guidance excluded many charter school teachers, even though charters are public schools. The Department of Education said money from the Education Jobs Fund could go only to teachers and others employed by a local education agency or school district.

"A charter school," says the department, "may not use Ed Jobs funds to pay for the compensation and benefits of employees of a charter management organization or an educational management organization who provide school-level educational and related services in the charter school." Many charter school teachers are employees of management firms rather than the school district, so the guidelines would have excluded more than 1,000 charters nationwide (serving around 400,000 students) from the cash.

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Lancaster Teacher Union Negotiations

Brian Wallace:

Teachers and school district officials are bracing for what could be a bruising year of negotiations over new contracts for about 3,000 teachers.

Both sides say the weak economy and increasing financial pressures on schools will likely make contract talks more challenging in 2010-11 than in years past.

"It will be very difficult," said Paul Gottlieb, a negotiator for the Pennsylvania State Education Association. "The economic situation puts pressure on everybody on both sides."

Gottlieb is the PSEA representative for Octorara School District, one of four districts -- along with Warwick, Penn Manor and School District of Lancaster -- that soon will begin negotiations to replace or extend teacher contracts that expire at the end of the school year.

Teachers with Lancaster-Lebanon Intermediate Unit 13 and Lancaster County Career & Technology Center also are working under contracts that expire June 30, 2011.
Two other school districts -- Manheim Central and Solanco -- have been negotiating since last school year to replace or extend contracts that expired over the summer.

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Houston School Board to vote on tighter conflict of interest rules

Ericka Mellon:

The Houston school board plans to vote Thursday on a stricter conflict of interest policy that would apply to all employees, rather than just higher-paid administrative staff. The proposal would forbid all employees from accepting any "gift, favor, loan, service, entertainment or anything of more than token value" from any HISD vendor or someone seeking to do business with the district. Allowed are coffee mugs, key chains, caps and other "trinkets."

Employees also are prohibited from accepting meals exceeding $100 in a year from any vendor or prospective vendor. Employees must report meals that exceed $50 per year. In addition, employees must report to the district any personal financial or business interests that "in any way creates a substantial conflict with the proper discharge of assigned duties and responsibilities or that creates a conflict with the best of the District."

HISD's current conflict of interest policy is similar except that it applies only to administrative employees above pay grade 14. (I'm checking with the district on that salary amount.) Ann Best, the district's chief human resources officer, told the school board Monday that the change was designed to ensure "that we're holding every single person accountable to the same standard."

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Digital books engage students during test drive

Jill Tucker:

The drudgery of solving for X flew out the door of a Presidio Middle School classroom Friday as the giddy students traded in their back-breaking algebra textbooks for an iPad touch screen filled with integers and equations that came to life with the flick of a finger.

The San Francisco eighth-graders are among 400 California middle school students participating in a pilot study funded by textbook publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on the use of digital textbooks. The results will help determine whether the high-tech version educates schoolchildren as well or better than its wood-pulp predecessors.

While it's not hard to imagine classrooms full of such devices in the not-so-distant future, the novelty was not lost on many of the adults in the classroom Friday.

Remember this day, district officials told the students.

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California Online School Seeks Students, Tax Dollars

Ben Adler:

A school district near Sacramento, Calif., is looking outside the box for new revenue sources in these harsh budget times. Elk Grove Unified has opened up its own Virtual Academy offering complete online curricula for grades kindergarten through 12.

Officials hope to attract home-school students and children from other districts, plus the state tax dollars that come with them. But this kind of online education is also raising some red flags.

The New Virtual Academy

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Managing Expectations of Costly Kids

Sue Shellenbarger:

At 10, Grace Morgan is a young fashionista and takes pains to dress in the latest styles. But her mom, Amy, works part-time and her husband was recently laid off, leaving little room in the family budget for designer-brand clothes.

So Grace didn't ask her mom to open her wallet this fall to buy clothes. Instead, she sold a stack of her own old jeans and shirts at a rummage sale and paired the proceeds with discount coupons to get the stylish jeggings and tops she wanted for school, says her mother, of Lake in the Hills, Ill. Grace is learning "we have to make choices with our money," she says.

The cost of raising kids is continuing to rise. A middle-income family can expect to shell out nearly a quarter of a million dollars, or $222,360, to raise a baby born in 2009 to age 18, according to the Department of Agriculture. That is up about 1.4% from 2007, before the recession began--and it doesn't include college costs.

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A Mixed Welcome For Chinese-Americans, a long road to acceptance--even to public schooling.

Melanie Kirkpatrick:

In the 1960s, when she was in her 90s, Mamie Tape Lowe liked to tell her great-grandchildren the story of her first day of school in San Francisco in 1884. On a warm day in September, Mamie's mother dressed her in a checkered pinafore, tied a ribbon in her hair and took her to the Spring Valley Primary School on Union Street. When they arrived, the principal, Jennie Hurley, refused to let her in. In Mamie's telling, "they said all the 'pigtails' would be coming" if they admitted Mamie. But her father "fought like heck" and sued the board of education. Mamie's great-grandchildren, who were fifth- generation Americans, marveled that there was a time when Chinese-American children were denied an education or had to attend a separate school for "Orientals."

The lawsuit filed by her father on Mamie's behalf--eventually decided by the California Supreme Court a year later--is a little-known landmark in the history of Chinese in America, but it is at the center of the most interesting chapter in "The Lucky Ones" by Columbia University historian Mae Ngai. "The Lucky Ones" follows three generations of the Tape family, from the 1860s, when Mamie's parents arrived in San Francisco from China, to 1943, when the exclusion laws were lifted and Chinese in America achieved full democratic rights. Ms. Ngai uses the Tape family's history as a vehicle to describe the emergence of a Chinese-American middle class in an era when the vast majority of Chinese immigrants were illiterate male "coolies."

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Politics Lesson for D.C. Schools Chief?

Louise Radnofsky:

Vincent Gray's victory in Washington, D.C.'s mayoral contest means an uncertain future the highest-profile figure in District politics: schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, who became a national symbol of school reform.

Rhee was appointed by the current mayor, Adrian Fenty, and her overhaul of the education system became a main issue in the Fenty-Gray race. Last night's victory means that Gray, who faces no Republican opposition in heavily Democratic Washington, has a virtual lock on the November election.

She campaigned for Fenty, telling voters that a vote for him was a vote for her staying in her job. During the campaign, Gray said that if he won, he would talk to Rhee and consider whether they can work together, and early today promised to move forward with school reform. "Make no mistake: school reform will move forward in a Gray administration," Gray said.

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September 15, 2010

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: US military chief warns on Federal spending

Edward Luce & Daniel Dombey:

The Pentagon needs to take prompt action to bring its spending under control to stave off the kind of "drastic" defence cuts afflicting Britain and Germany, according to Mike Mullen, the most senior US military official.

Referring to the 20 per cent or more cuts recently announced by America's key European allies, Admiral Mullen said the Pentagon only had a limited time in which to act before similar changes would be imposed upon the country, given the sharply rising level of US national debt.

"If we do not figure out how to manage ourselves inside this growing challenge [of fiscal austerity] then I do worry that it won't be too long before those kinds of cuts will be part of our future as well, and that would be very dangerous," Admiral Mullen said in a View from DC video interview with the Financial Times.

The Pentagon raising a flag on debt and spending is rather remarkable. Related: State and company officials should heed message from Harley vote.

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The Bubble: Higher Education's Precarious Hold on Consumer Confidence

Peter Wood:

Is American higher education caught in the 21st century equivalent of the Dutch tulip mania? On February 3, 1636, the contract price of tulip bulbs traded in Haarlem collapsed. The prices for the fancier multi-colored varieties had been driven up to crazy heights by futures speculators. The reckoning that followed has, of course, become everyone's favorite metaphor for subsequent "bubbles"--those aberrations of the market in which people vastly overvalue a good because they believe its price will only continue to soar. We have had in recent memory a tech bubble and a real estate bubble, both on a scale to make seventeenth century Dutch tulips blush for shame.

Could American higher education be in the same fix? In the last few years an increasing number of observers speaking from distinct perspectives have converged on this idea. The outlines are simple. The price of attaining a college degree has skyrocketed while the rewards of attaining a college degree have slumped. Sooner or later, people will notice that they are being asked to spend a great deal of money for a meager result. If enough people notice this and consequently decide not to spend at comparable levels and to seek lower priced alternatives--daisies instead of tulips--the bubble will burst.

Defenders of the current system point to reasons why this won't happen. My own view is that we are indeed facing a bubble, but before turning to that prognosis, it helps to start with the counter-arguments. There are many in higher ed who see no bubble and who read the tulip leaves differently.

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Heed lesson on education reform from Massachusetts

Alan Borsuk:

Wisconsin has showed little muscle when it comes to motivating students, teachers or schools to achieve ambitious academic goals.

Massachusetts provides a particularly striking comparison to Wisconsin. Just 15 to 20 years ago, Massachusetts and Wisconsin were fairly even. Since then, Massachusetts has moved forward substantially. The state has led the nation in reading and math scores in the National Assessment of Educational Progress in recent years. A recent New York Times article said, "Many regard (Massachusetts) as having the nation's best education system." And Boston is widely regarded as a leader in tackling urban school issues.

So what explains the successes in Massachusetts and Boston?

There is nearly universal agreement that the key is "the grand bargain" struck in the Bay State's legislature in 1993. At heart, it was a simple deal: Give schools more money and demand better results.

A multibillion-dollar infusion of state aid to schools righted inequities between have- and have-not school districts. But along with the money came one of the nation's most rigorous sets of standards for what children were expected to learn, and a demanding state testing system, the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS).

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Interest in Texas school contests fired up Curriculum disputes raise board's profile

Gary Sharrer:

Cesar Chavez is not on the fall election ballot. Neither is Thomas Jefferson. And Texans will not actually get a say in the teaching of evolution in public schools or how to handle sex education.

Voters, however, will help shape the State Board of Education. And nearly everyone agrees that Texans are paying closer attention to the once low-profile board after the 15 members attracted state and national attention for their controversial pursuit of new science and social studies curriculum standards.

Two key contested races in the Nov. 2 general election will determine whether Texans prefer traditional values as seen by supporters of Republican incumbent Ken Mercer, of San Antonio, and candidate Marsha Farney, of Georgetown. Democrats in those races are looking for voters to reject what they call the politicization of education for nearly 5 million public school children.

The board in recent years has been divided largely among seven Republican social conservatives voting as a bloc, five Democrats and three Republicans often considered swing votes.

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Despite Rhee's missteps, her egalitarian vision for schools inspires

Courtland Milloy:

From its birth in 1790, the District has inspired grand visions of a more perfect union among diverse peoples. Even the landscape has been infused with our common striving; a design by French architect Pierre L'Enfant intended "principally to connect each part of the city," as he put it, "by making the real distance less from place to place."

On the eve of Tuesday's Democratic primary in the District, I'd like to revisit one of the more compelling visions of what a city of knitted souls might look like. The question for voters: How do we get there?

From a commentary by D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee that appeared in the Feb. 8 issue of Spotlight on Poverty and Education:

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Battle Over Class Room As a $578 Million City School Opens in Los Angeles, Charters Press For More Space

Tamara Audi:

The scruffy rooftop basketball court of the Larchmont School, a small charter school packed into one floor of an 83-year-old building, offers a breathtaking view of the city's priciest new gem: the $578 million Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools.

"It's beautiful, isn't it?" said Larchmont's executive director Brian Johnson, gazing at the gleaming green rectangular structure surrounded by pristine athletic fields and rows of stately palm trees.

The new public-school complex has drawn criticism for its cost at a time when Los Angeles city schools have laid off thousands of teachers to help plug its $640 million budget gap.

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New teacher applauds Michelle Rhee's quick response to problem

Jay Matthews:

Anthony Priest is one of those personnel office surprises -- a 44-year-old just starting as a teacher. He has two degrees in engineering from Georgia Tech and a master's in business administration. He does marathons and triathlons. In 2008, he was project manager for the redevelopment of a 300,000-square-foot D.C. office building.

But he decided it would be more interesting to teach math, so he accepted an assignment at one of the most chaotic public schools in the region, Spingarn High in Northeast Washington. Since then, he says, he has had many adventures, including a first-hand look at the inspiring and results-oriented (at least to him) management practices of D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee.

His first contact with Rhee concerned the broken lock on his classroom door. Spingarn has hall walkers, students and non-students who stroll its long corridors and rarely go to class. Every day they would open the door to Priest's classroom, walk in, and yell at his students or him. There were threats, thefts, even assaults. The school's security guards were ineffective. He asked the principal several times to have the door fixed so he that could control his students better.

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Public workers' generous benefits come at a price State law makes it difficult to make any changes in health benefits without approval of the unions

Guy Boulton & Jason Stein:

The rich health benefits enjoyed by workers in the public sector are becoming an increasingly inviting target as cities, counties and school districts struggle with continual budget deficits.

The numbers explain why:

The Milwaukee Public Schools district spends as much as $26,846 a year to provide family coverage for a teacher. The City of Milwaukee spends a bit less than $21,000, and Milwaukee County spends $17,800 to $19,400. The state's cost is slightly less than $20,000 a year for employees in the Milwaukee area.

That's after subtracting the employee's share of the premium, which can range from nothing to $2,160 a year.

In contrast, family coverage from private and public employers costs $13,770 on average nationally and workers on average pay nearly $4,000 of that.

Several forces contribute to the gap between public and private sectors. For one, state law prohibits many public employees from striking and that prohibition comes at a price of ensuring fairness for those employees. In addition, many public workers accept lower salaries in exchange for generous health care benefits.

Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker, a Republican gubernatorial candidate, and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, the Democratic candidate, each have proposals to lower health benefit costs.

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Oscar Winner Guggenheim Fights Malaise in "Superman"

Brian Brooks:

Guggenheim at moments became emotional, choking up as he spoke about one of the girls, Daisy, he profiles in his latest film, "Waiting for Superman," which exposes the breakdown in American education.

"I've watched this movie 40 times and I watch Daisy in East Los Angeles and she's motivated, smart and her father works as a truck driver, while her mother cleans hospital rooms. She wants to be a doctor and her parents have hope. They believe that if they do their part that America will do its part."

At the core of "Superman" is whether America has the will and courage to face up to its spiraling public education system. While it has been generally accepted that education in America has faced a frightening decline, with statistics to back up that fear, Guggenheim ("An Inconvenient Truth") hopes that the film will motivate people to believe that a crisis that may appear intractable can be reformed and improved despite the perception that it is a system stymied by entrenched paralysis.

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September 14, 2010

"They have the power, but I don't think anyone has looked at this. So [once again], I'm the angry black man." interviews Kaleem Caire about the proposed Madison Preparatory Academy, via a kind reader:

In Caire's mind, kids can't wait. Consider the data he cites from the ACT District Profile Report for the Madison Metropolitan School District's 2010 graduating class:

Of students taking the ACT, average test scores differed significantly between African Americans and white students:

English Math Reading Science Composite
African Americans 16.3 18.0 17.1 18.4 17.6
Caucasian/White 25.1 25.6 25.8 24.8 25.4

The percent of students meeting ACT College Readiness Benchmark Scores, broken out by ethnicity, for the 2010 graduating class seems more alarming:

Total Tested English (18) Math (22) Reading (21) Science (24)
All Students 1,122 81% 68% 71% 51%
African Americans 76 38% 24% 25% 9%
Caucasian/White 733 90% 77% 79% 60%
Hispanic 71 59% 39% 45% 18%
Asian/Pacific Isl. 119 67% 65% 61% 45%

Numbers like these fuel Caire's fire, and his vision for The Madison Preparatory Academy for Young Men. "I'm amazed that [the primarily white leadership in the city] hasn't looked at this data and said, 'wow!' They have the power, but I don't think anyone has looked at this. So [once again], I'm the angry black man."

Caire understands the challenges that lie ahead. By November, he needs to formally propose the idea to the School Board, after which he will seek a planning grant from the Department of Public Instruction. He anticipates other hurdles along the way. Among them, a misconstrued conception. "Madison believes it's creative, but the reality is, it's not innovative." Will the community accept this idea, or sit back and wait, he wonders.

Second: The resources to do it. "We can survive largely on what the school system can give us [once we're up and running], but there's seed money you need to get to that point."

Third: The teacher's union response. "No one knows what that will be," Caire said. "The school board and district are so influenced by the teacher's union, which represents teachers. We represent kids. To me, it's not, 'teachers at all costs,' it's 'kids first.' We'll see where our philosophies line up." He added that the Urban League and those behind the Charter School idea are not at all opposed to the teacher's union, but the Prep School's design includes, for example, a school day longer than the teacher's contract allows. "This isn't about compensation," he said of the contract, "it's about commitment. We don't want red tape caught up in this, and we want to guarantee long-term success."

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

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Time for a FREEZE! Janesville teacher contract.

John Eyster:

Time for a FREEZE! Janesville teacher contract.

ONE ALSO OUGHT TO READ VERY CAREFULLY the report on COMPENSATION settlement negotiated! First and foremost, even a FREEZE on salary would NOT BE A TRUE FREEZE on compensation! While a freeze would impact an across the board increase in the salary schedule, it would NOT impact two other factors which INCREASE teacher compensation year-by-year.

First, the "seniority" or "experience" move on the salary schedule and second, the pay provided when "they hit continuing-education milestones." The Gazette article reports that about 57% of the teachers would get the longevity increase. There is no data cited on "continuing-education milestone" increases.

Where is the data about the significant increase in FRINGE BENEFITS for teachers with the increase in HEALTH INSURANCE COSTS for the District? The District is self-insured. The shocking announcement of $2 million in UNexpected costs with $1 million coming from the teacher COMPENSATION package in the new contract and $1 million coming from increase in costs for health insurance. Is this $1 million NOT an increase in TOTAL COMPENSATION for teachers? WHY is it NOT reported in the Gazette article? WHY has it NOT been clarified by the district? How much compensation increase is that for each teacher?

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Teacher turnover is a disadvantaged school problem, not a charter school problem

Betheny Gross, Michael DeArmond, via a Deb Britt email:

Recent research and media reports have raised serious concerns about teacher turnover rates in charter schools. But it isn't exactly clear why teacher turnover rates might be high in charter schools: is it a consequence of their less regulated labor market, or is it the types of students and neighborhoods where they tend to operate?

This study tracked the careers of 956 newly hired charter school teachers and 19,695 newly hired traditional public school teachers in Wisconsin between 1998 and 2006. Although not representative of the charter school sector overall, the study's analysis of Wisconsin's charter school sector provides some important clues about the nature of teacher turnover in charter schools: (1) high teacher turnover rates in Wisconsin's charter schools are mostly a function of teacher characteristics (young and inexperienced) and school contexts (poor and urban), rather than a "charter effect," and (2) teachers in Wisconsin's urban charter schools are less likely to leave their schools than similar teachers in urban traditional public schools.

To better understand teachers' motivations for leaving and staying, researchers turned to national data from the U.S. Department of Education's 1999-00 Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS) and 2000-01 Teacher Follow-up Survey (TFS). The SASS-TFS asked traditional public school teachers and charter school teachers who left their schools why they left. In response, teachers in both sectors pointed to a lack of administrative support, poor working conditions, and low salaries. However, compared to traditional public school teachers, charter school teachers were more likely to say that they left because of a lack of job security and the expansive nature of their work.

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Model preschool program emphasizes inclusion for children with disabilities

Shawn Doherty:

It is 8:30 on a crisp September morning, the start of a busy day for preschoolers at the Waisman Center's Early Childhood Program, a nationally renowned laboratory school.

At a piano in the gym, a teacher holds a 4-year-old named Michael in her lap and helps him tap out "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star." She speaks to him using both sign language and a singsong voice. Several other boys driving toy cars swerve around another teacher doing duty as traffic cop. A student teacher is coloring at a table with students. In a corner of the gym, two girls are playing house. "This is your bed, Baby Kitty. Go to sleep right NOW!" one of them says. A tiny child with big brown eyes, named Caroline, curls up on a mat and pretends to sleep.

Michael, distracted by the noisy traffic behind him, wriggles out of Kerri Lynch's lap and runs up to the boys in cars, making guttural sounds. The boys ignore him and continue to whiz past. Lynch waves down an especially energetic driver in a red T-shirt who has snagged the school's popular police car. "Michael is talking to you," she says, holding Michael, who is clearly becoming frustrated. She puts Michael's face between her hands gently so that he makes eye contact with the other child and encourages him to try to speak again. The other boy listens carefully as the teacher translates: "Michael is wondering when he can have a turn?"

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City schools' trust problem

Jack Stollsteimer:

The recent news that the Philadelphia School District has seen its number of "persistently dangerous" schools drop by 20 percent should be cause for optimism. Disciplinary policy changes that I advocated while I was the state safe schools advocate, which were implemented with the strong support of Mayor Nutter and Superintendent Arlene Ackerman in 2008, may be having the hoped-for effect.

With most matters in the school district, however, every step forward is accompanied by at least one step backward. While the superintendent once stood up to members of the School Reform Commission who had long abetted the violence, she has since failed to back up her antiviolence policies with concrete action.

Ackerman's ham-handed reaction to the victimization of Asian students at South Philadelphia High School is only the most obvious example. Continued cuts in alternative education programs for disruptive students are equally disappointing, as was the elimination of order-enforcing "climate managers" in neighborhood schools that need more capable adults, not fewer.

It's hard for longtime observers of the district to believe the data and trust that it's turned the corner on violence, partly because we've been lied to before. The district has supposedly had a "zero tolerance" policy on violence since 2002, but it failed to expel anyone for any offense between 2005 and 2009. The district reported school violence was on the decline from 2001 to 2006, but The Inquirer found that it had vastly underreported the data.

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Testing, the Chinese Way

Elisabeth Rosenthal

When my children were 6 and 8, taking tests was as much a part of the rhythm of their school day as tag at recess or listening to stories at circle time. There were the "mad minute" math quizzes twice each week, with the results elaborately graphed. There were regular spelling quizzes. Even today I have my daughter's minutely graded third-grade science exams, with grades like 23/25 or A minus.

We were living in China, where their school blended a mostly Western elementary school curriculum with the emphasis on discipline and testing that typifies Asian educational styles. In Asia, such a march of tests for young children was regarded as normal, and not evil or particularly anxiety provoking. That made for some interesting culture clashes. I remember nearly constant tension between the Asian parents, who wanted still more tests and homework, and the Western parents, who were more concerned with whether their kids were having fun -- and wanted less.

I still have occasional nightmares about a miserable summer vacation spent force-feeding flash cards into the brain of my 5-year-old son -- who was clearly not "ready" to read, but through herculean effort and tears, learned anyway. Reading was simply a requirement for progressing from kindergarten to first grade. How could he take tests and do worksheets if he couldn't read the questions?

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Companies Favor Big State Schools With One-Stop Shopping for Graduates With Necessary Skills

Teri Evans

State universities have become the favorite of companies recruiting new hires because their big student populations and focus on teaching practical skills gives the companies more bang for their recruiting buck.

Under pressure to cut costs and streamline their hiring efforts, recruiting managers find it's more efficient to focus on fewer large schools and forge deeper relationships with them, according to a Wall Street Journal survey of top corporate recruiters whose companies last year hired 43,000 new graduates. Big state schools Pennsylvania State University, Texas A&M University and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign were the top three picks among recruiters surveyed.

Recruiters say graduates of top public universities are often among the most prepared and well-rounded academically, and companies have found they fit well into their corporate cultures and over time have the best track record in their firms.

Employers also like schools where they can form partnerships that allow them to work with professors and their students, giving them an inside track when it comes time to make offers for internships and jobs.

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RTTT Scoring is Distorted by Politics

Jay Greene

No one should be shocked that the "peer-review" process for Race to the Top is distorted by political considerations, especially since we at JPGB (among others) have been warning about it for months. But it is nice to see someone actually document the existence and magnitude of the distortion.

One of my students at the University of Arkansas, Dan Bowen, conducted an analysis that was featured in AEI's Education Stimulus Watch. It predicted each state's RTTT "peer-review" score based on independent ratings of state reform efforts by Education Week's Quality Counts and others. It then also considered whether political considerations were systematically related to a state doing significantly better or worse in the "peer-review" process than would be predicted by those independent ratings. Dan found that states with hotly contested Senate or gubernatorial contests received significantly higher scores:

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Handwriting program worth writing home about

The handwriting workshop at Meriter Hospital is much more than penmanship drills.

The 8-week program for elementary students focuses on areas such as upper body strength and stability and eye-hand coordination. Some students took the hour-long class, which was held once a week, in the summer to be more prepared for school this fall. Two more evening workshops for students grades second through fifth will start Sept. 28.

"Handwriting is really important," said Noah Walker, 7, a second grader at Cottage Grove Elementary School. "It won't be all scribbly."

At a recent session, Noah practiced throwing animal-shaped bean bags against the wall. Later he practiced writing with a vibrating pen to work on grip strength and to make the task more enjoyable.

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D.C. schools unveil teacher-pay bonus plan

Michael Birnbaum

D.C. schools officials detailed for the first time Friday how teachers can qualify for the performance-based pay increases that could vault them into the ranks of the country's best-paid public school educators.

The increases, which come in two forms, are targeted toward teachers who receive the best evaluations. The programs are voluntary, and teachers who participate give up certain job protections.

Those ranked highly effective may be eligible for as much as $25,000 in one-time bonuses, with the amount determined by student performance and other factors. Those ranked highly effective for two years in a row could see their base pay rise by as much as $26,000 a year.

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Black Male Grad Rates: Despair, And A Ray Of Hope


In the past few weeks, more than 400,000 young black men entered American high schools as freshmen. Four years from now, fewer than half of them will get diplomas.

That's according to a new study from the Schott Foundation for Public Education. It found that only 47 percent of black male students entering high school in 2003 graduated in 2008. For white males, the graduation rate was 78 percent.

Dr. John Jackson, the foundation's president and CEO, tells NPR's Guy Raz that those numbers are dismal largely because of the lack of resources in schools with high black populations. He says that when young black men are given opportunities to learn in schools with more resources, they perform well.

Not Necessarily Black And White

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Next Wisconsin governor faces big deficit Candidates promise tax cuts amid $2.7 billion shortfall

Jason Stein & Patrick Marley

The state faces a looming $2.7 billion budget shortfall, but that hasn't kept candidates for governor from piling on with what are likely to be hundreds of millions of dollars in new commitments to cut taxes or increase spending.

All the major candidates have put forward plans to rein in spending, but by making added pledges like tax cuts, the candidates are adding to the challenge they'll face as the state's top executive.

The most aggressive are the two Republican candidates, former U.S. Rep. Mark Neumann and Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker who, without specific figures, are promising hefty tax cuts in their first budget as governor and some possible increases in spending on roads and bridges.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, a Democrat, has made more modest pledges totaling at least tens of millions of dollars in the form of targeted tax cuts and spending to create jobs. So far, he has offered the most detailed plans about his proposed spending cuts, although serious questions have been raised about some of that proposed saving.

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Asian-American Students Show Gains on SAT

Stephanie Banchero:

High-school students' performance last year on the SAT college-entrance exam remained generally unchanged from the previous year, except for Asian-American students who continue to post notable gains and outperform all other students.

Overall, the average scores for the class of 2010 in critical reading remained at 501, in math it climbed from 515 to 516, in writing it dropped from 493 to 492. The combined scores match last year's tally, which was the lowest total since the writing exam was added to the SAT in 2006.

The only bright spot was the performance of the nation's Asian-American students. They posted a three-point gain in reading, four-point jump in math and six-point gain in writing over their 2009 scores.

The SAT news comes a few weeks after the results of the other college entrance exam, the ACT, revealed that only one-quarter of the nation's high-school students possessed the academic skills necessary to pass entry-level college courses. Taken together, the test scores suggest a continued stagnation of high-school performance and highlight the challenge the Obama administration faces in its efforts to boost the nation's college-graduation total.

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Shaking Up Higher Ed

Tom Ashbrook:

Is it time to remake American higher education? Columbia University's Mark Taylor says it's time to end tenure and bring on a revolution. He joins us.

American higher education - with its vigorous colleges and universities - has long been the pride of the nation, the engine of the economy, the envy of the world.

Now, it's got issues. Soaring costs, structural questions, competition abroad. We had a Wall Street bubble and bust. A housing bubble and bust.

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September 13, 2010

9/14/2010 City of Madison + Madison School Board Committee Meeting

City of Madison PDF, via a kind reader's email:

Update: Gang-Related Issues

Update: Safe Routes to School Discussion:

Easement Around Chavez Elementary School

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Hong Kong pupils shine in top Asian maths contest

Lana Lam

Two primary school pupils from Hong Kong won the top awards in one of Asia's most prestigious maths competitions.

It's the first time that any Hong Kong pupil has won a grand champion award at the International Mathematics Contest which was held in Singapore last month. About 1,000 pupils competed in the event which sees teams from the mainland, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Indonesia, South Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand battling it out in algebra, geometry, statistics and measurements.

Nine-year-old boy Li Ka-wing scored the highest marks in the Primary Three category and 11-year-old girl Lam Ho-yan was the best pupil for the Primary Five exams.

They both train at the Hong Kong Mathematical Olympiad School in Kowloon which offers intensive maths coaching.

"Each year, there are good results. However this year, it was very special," the school's principal, Pinky Lam Sui-ping, said. Every year, thousands of Hong Kong pupils applied to compete in the event by sitting online tests, she said.

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America's Ruling Class -- And the Perils of Revolution

As over-leveraged investment houses began to fail in September 2008, the leaders of the Republican and Democratic parties, of major corporations, and opinion leaders stretching from the National Review magazine (and the Wall Street Journal) on the right to the Nation magazine on the left, agreed that spending some $700 billion to buy the investors' "toxic assets" was the only alternative to the U.S. economy's "systemic collapse." In this, President George W. Bush and his would-be Republican successor John McCain agreed with the Democratic candidate, Barack Obama. Many, if not most, people around them also agreed upon the eventual commitment of some 10 trillion nonexistent dollars in ways unprecedented in America. They explained neither the difference between the assets' nominal and real values, nor precisely why letting the market find the latter would collapse America. The public objected immediately, by margins of three or four to one.

When this majority discovered that virtually no one in a position of power in either party or with a national voice would take their objections seriously, that decisions about their money were being made in bipartisan backroom deals with interested parties, and that the laws on these matters were being voted by people who had not read them, the term "political class" came into use. Then, after those in power changed their plans from buying toxic assets to buying up equity in banks and major industries but refused to explain why, when they reasserted their right to decide ad hoc on these and so many other matters, supposing them to be beyond the general public's understanding, the American people started referring to those in and around government as the "ruling class." And in fact Republican and Democratic office holders and their retinues show a similar presumption to dominate and fewer differences in tastes, habits, opinions, and sources of income among one another than between both and the rest of the country. They think, look, and act as a class.

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Bill Gates Stirs Up the Education Debate in Toronto

Michael Cieply

Mild-mannered, soft-spoken, and beaming broadly, the Microsoft chairman Bill Gates looked every bit the benevolent businessman as he took the stage at the Toronto International Film Festival on Saturday evening, to help plug the education-reform documentary "Waiting for 'Superman.'" Mr. Gates appears in the film, and, with his wife Melinda, heads a foundation that has invested heavily in improvements to education. But his aw-shucks manner couldn't hide the fact that some of the proposals he tossed off on stage at the Winter Garden theater here were volatile stuff. "We're investing in building these evaluation systems," Mr. Gates said. He was referring to systems that would evaluate the performance of public school teachers, with an eye toward ending the current tenure system under which many teachers now work, and providing a way to weed out the worst teachers, while, perhaps, rewarding the best. He also mentioned, at least twice, changes to teacher pension systems.

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Changing schools from the bottom up, and top down

Alan Borsuk

I was never into the 1970s British TV series "Upstairs, Downstairs," where the big shots lived upstairs, the servants lived downstairs, and there was all this dramatic interaction. (I preferred the "Sesame Street" version, where one of the Muppets ran up and down the stairs, loudly proclaiming what he was doing.)

But it sure does seem like we're having vivid episodes of "Upstairs, Downstairs" when it comes to education now. An increasing and huge amount of the action is occurring upstairs, on the federal and state levels, while local control of schools by folks downstairs, like school board members, counts for less and less. The vitality of local control, a Wisconsin tradition for decades, is seeping away. And the staff downstairs - teachers, in other words - are feeling more than a bit put upon.

A few years ago, you would not have expected what is going on now. In the 1980s, President Ronald Reagan came close to succeeding in eliminating the U.S. Department of Education on the grounds that the federal government shouldn't have much role in that area. In the 1990s, President Bill Clinton suggested national tests in reading and math so children across the country were measured by the same standards. The idea went nowhere.

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New Superintendent: Taking on Milwaukee Public Schools

Erin Richards:

He's got their attention, but only for a few minutes. A few precious minutes to teach in a position that is otherwise layers removed from teaching. Right now, these are his students.

The adults in the room are also intrigued. The new superintendent is an outsider leading a district where staff morale and student achievement are at an all-time low. He arrived on the heels of a fierce debate about mayoral control that polarized the city. His predecessors - including the last superintendent of eight years - have found little success. He's inherited reports that show the district's financial operations and human resource practices need serious improvement.

In addition, there's a $55 million hole in the budget, hundreds of teachers on layoff, 40,000 empty seats in mothballed buildings and a union committed to health care benefits the district can't afford. Teachers are working under a contract that expired in 2009.

And then there are the children. At Starms, all of them on the floor are black, like Thornton, and they are facing tremendous odds. The achievement gap in Wisconsin between white and black students is one of the highest in the nation. African-American fourth-graders in MPS have lower reading scores than their peers anywhere else in the country, even lower than kids in rural Mississippi or Alabama.

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Candidates for governor debate what ails education

Mike Kaszuba & Corey Mitchell:

Debating education for the first time, Minnesota's three major candidates for governor on Friday differed significantly over how to repair what they described as an ailing system.

Republican Tom Emmer, using the occasion to disclose more of his overall budget plan, said he would hold education spending to existing levels and move funds used for child care programs to those that would prepare children for kindergarten. Emmer said he would delay repaying $1.4 billion owed to the state's public schools until 2014.

DFL candidate Mark Dayton, in contrast, pledged to increase education money every year as governor and repay the funds owed, while the Independence Party's Tom Horner stressed the need for innovation.

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Colleges: Where the money goes

Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus

At Pomona College, a top-flight liberal arts school, this year's sticker price for tuition and fees is a hefty $38,394 (not including room and board). Even after adjusting for inflation, that comes to 2.9 times what Pomona was charging a generation ago, in 1980.

This kind of massive tuition increase is the norm. In New England, Williams College charges $41,434, or an inflation-adjusted 3.2 times what it did 30 years ago. USC's current tab of $41,022 is a 3.6 multiple of its 1980 bill.

Tuition at public universities, in a time of ailing state budgets, has risen at an even faster rate. The University of Illinois' current $13,658 is six times its 1980 rate after adjusting for inflation. San Jose State's $6,250 is a whopping 11 times more.

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Lucky breaks as juvenile kept Latin Kings leader free Barragan, a homicide suspect on the lam, was convicted in Children's Court but sentence was stayed

John Diedrich:

When it came to violent crime, Armando Barragan started young, shooting up a van of rival gang members at age 14 and, eight months later, attacking a Milwaukee police officer, trying to grab his gun.

The crimes landed Barragan in the juvenile justice system, but he got breaks that kept him on the street, where he committed new crimes, according to Children's Court records and police reports reviewed by the Journal Sentinel.

Barragan quickly rose to become a leader of the Latin Kings and was charged with ordering the execution of a man who tried to stop a fight outside a Cudahy gas station in 2003 - one of six homicides or attempted homicides he was investigated for by the time he was 18.

The Journal Sentinel reported in July that miscommunication between federal and state authorities resulted in missing a chance to arrest Barragan in a courtroom before he fled to Mexico and became one of the U.S. Marshals Service's most wanted fugitives.

Court documents show Barragan could have - and probably should have - been behind bars in April 2003, when Kevin Hirschfield was shot to death outside the gas station. He was free because of breaks he received, first from a judge and later from police, according to court records and interviews.

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Bay View students bringing history to life

Tom Tolan

In days gone by, before Milwaukee Public Schools undertook the busing of its students to promote racial integration, just about everybody in Bay View went to Bay View High School.

Today, the school has students from all over town, and so for area old-timers, it's lost its identity with their neighborhood.

"People who fondly remember Bay View High School have been in mourning that their school no longer exists," says Kathy Mulvey, president of the Bay View Historical Society.

That's why she is so enthusiastic about a special course at the high school, created by staff from Discovery World science museum - a program that has four students this weekend collecting stories and artifacts from old Bay View at the Beulah Brinton House, the historical society's headquarters.

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September 12, 2010

No Nonfiction Books, No Research Papers

From the Ed.Gov Toolbox Executive Summary (C. Adelman)

"The academic intensity of the student's high school curriculum still counts more than anything else in precollegiate history in providing momentum toward completing a bachelor's degree. At the highest level of a 31-level scale describing this academic intensity (see Appendix F), one finds students who, through grade 12 in1992, had accumulated:

3.75 or more Carnegie units of English
3.75 or more Carnegie units of mathematics
highest mathematics of either calculus, precalculus, or trigonometry
2.5 or more Carnegie units of science or more than 2.0 Carnegie units of core
laboratory science (biology, chemistry, and physics)
more than 2.0 Carnegie Units of foreign languages
more than 2.0 Carnegie Units of history and social studies
1.0 or more Carnegie Units of computer science
more than one Advanced Placement course
no remedial English; no remedial mathematics

These are minimums. In fact, students who reached this level of academic curriculum intensity accumulated much more than these threshold criteria (see table F1), and 95 percent of these students earned bachelor's degrees (41 also percent earned master's, first professional, or doctoral degrees) by December 2000.

Provided that high schools offer these courses, students are encouraged or required to take them, and, in the case of electives, students choose to take them, just about everybody could accumulate this portfolio....."


[How is it that the reading of complete nonfiction books (which will be asked for in college) and

the writing of serious research papers (which will be asked for in college), never seem to penetrate

these maxims about Recommended Curriculum for College and Career Readiness? (At least the International

Baccalaureate Curriculum requires an Extended Essay for the Diploma...)

The world wonders.

Will Fitzhugh

"Teach by Example"
Will Fitzhugh [founder]
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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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Urban Plight: Vanishing Upward Mobility

Joel Kotkin:

Boosters still maintain that big cities remain unique centers for social uplift, but evidence suggests this is increasingly no longer the case.

Since the beginnings of civilization, cities have been crucibles of progress both for societies and individuals. A great city, wrote Rene Descartes in the seventeenth century, represented "an inventory of the possible," a place where people could create their own futures and lift up their families.

What characterized great cities such as Amsterdam--and, later, places such as London, New York , Chicago, and Tokyo--was the size of their property-owning middle class. This was a class whose roots, for the most part, lay in the peasantry or artisan class, and later among industrial workers. Their ascension into the ranks of the bourgeoisie, petit or haute, epitomized the opportunities for social advancement created uniquely by cities.

In the twenty-first century--the first in which the majority of people will live in cities--this unique link between urbanism and upward mobility is under threat. Urban boosters still maintain that big cities remain unique centers for social uplift, but evidence suggests this is increasingly no longer the case.

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It's Time To Listen To Teachers On Issues Of Education

John Ostenburg

Why is it that the last people listened to regarding problems in public education are the ones who deal with it on the front line day after day?

Chicago's Renaissance 2010 education plan came onto the charts back in 2004. Immediately, classroom teachers pointed out its many flaws. Were they listened to? Of course not. Instead, Mayor Richard M. Daley and now U.S. Secretary of Education -- then Chicago Public Schools Chief Executive Officer -- Arne Duncan pushed ahead with a program that had come not from the educational community, but rather from the business community.

Lest anyone forget, that's the same business community that has demonstrated questionable wisdom in the world of finance, ultimately leading the United States into its current economic crisis.

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Some say bypassing a higher education is smarter than paying for a degree

Sarah Kaufman

Across the region and around the country, parents are kissing their college-bound kids -- and potentially up to $200,000 in tuition, room and board -- goodbye.

Especially in the supremely well-educated Washington area, this is expected. It's a rite of passage, part of an orderly progression toward success.

Or is it . . . herd mentality?

Hear this, high achievers: If you crunch the numbers, some experts say, college is a bad investment.

"You've been fooled into thinking there's no other way for my kid to get a job . . . or learn critical thinking or make social connections," hedge fund manager James Altucher says.

Altucher, president of Formula Capital, says he sees people making bad investment decisions all the time -- and one of them is paying for college.

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2 Sides on Charter Schools Add Cash to New York Races

Javier Hernandez

Mark H. Pollard was a little-known candidate for New York State Senate in Brooklyn facing the herculean feat of ousting a 26-year incumbent. But then he got an unexpected telephone call saying that a group of wealthy investors who supported charter schools wanted to meet with him.

So in June, Mr. Pollard, a Democrat, found himself in Manhattan, sipping wine on a Park Avenue patio with people whose names he can no longer recall. Then "the checks started rolling in," he said, and by July he had received more than $100,000.

"They made my campaign viable," said Mr. Pollard, a lawyer who supports the charter school movement. The windfall has made him a legitimate contender, allowing him to hire a veteran campaign manager and print thousands of pamphlets.

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Misguided use of microchip technology

San Francisco Chronicle

Officials with Contra Costa County's Head Start program were frustrated. In order to meet federal requirements, they had to take attendance every hour.

These and other administrative tasks were taking up a lot of teachers' time - between one and three hours a day per teacher - and using up a lot of the program's limited funds.

We sympathize with their pain. An hourly attendance requirement is indeed burdensome, and it's a useless distraction from the very important work that Head Start does - preparing low-income preschoolers for school. But we can't support what those officials did next, which was to implement a microchip tracking program for those very young children.

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Where do graduates end up doing unskilled work? And earning most?

The Economist:

ACADEMIC qualifications' value in the workplace is a big issue for students, policymakers and taxpayers, especially as the rising numbers of students in higher education make them less distinctive. In the latest annual report on education by the OECD, a rich-country think-tank, the answer is clear: the pay-off from tertiary education is still good, both for the individual and the economy. Most graduates take jobs fitting their qualifications, earn more than non-graduates, and thus tend to pay more in taxes.

The workforce is smartening up. In the OECD 35% of the 25- to 34-year-old workforce has completed tertiary education, compared with 20% of the cohort approaching retirement. Countries such as Japan and South Korea have invested so heavily in educating their young that more than half now hold post-school qualifications. Norway, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands are close behind. Andreas Schleicher, the OECD's chief of education research, reckons that these countries may well become more competitive as a result.

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Korean Education chief vows fair opportunities

Kang Shin-who:

Minister of Education, Science and Technology Lee Ju-ho said Friday he will give top priority to creating a fairer education environment for the second half of the Lee Myung-bak government.

"I believe every student should have an equal opportunity to learn. I am not talking about uniform equal society. I mean children from poor families also should have the chance to receive quality education," Lee said.

Mentioning the college admission system, the lawmaker-turned-minister said he plans to order an investigation into universities to confirm whether children of professors or school staff have been given special treatment in the process.

"In order to fix a holistic admission system at colleges, we need three important values: trust, fairness and the specialty of admissions officers. On top of this, we will seek student diversity," he said.

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San Ramon Valley Unified School District Candidate Q&A: Rachel Hurd

Jennifer Wadsworth

What is the primary reason you are running for this office?

Education is the most important thing a community provides for its youth to ensure that they grow up to be productive members of society. I am running for re-election because I want to continue to help shape and influence the quality of the educational experience of students in our schools. I want all children in our schools to graduate prepared to be productive, engaged and fulfilled citizens with viable options for their futures.

What will be your single most important priority if you get elected?

My most important priority is to ensure that we provide a quality educational experience for each of our students by continuing to improve student learning and engagement, within the constraint of maintaining our fiscal solvency. There may be different opinions about how to improve student learning and engagement, especially with limited resources. It's important that the values and concerns of all stakeholders-students, parents, staff (at all levels and in all functions), and community members-be considered as the district sets direction and aligns initiatives. We also need to acknowledge and work positively with the natural tension between district direction and site-based initiative.

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Yikes! Kids to judge healthy food options

Susan Troller

The REAP Food Group will stage what sounds like a pretty daunting culinary challenge that should be fun to watch at its Food for Thought Festival at the end of September. On Saturday, Sept. 24, three local chefs will join three local school principals as kitchen collaborators, working together to plan and prepare a healthy, nutritious, child-friendly meal that will be judged by the harshest critics around: school age kids themselves.

And that's not all. The intrepid cooks must do it all on a budget, under a deadline and in front of an audience. School cooks would say it's almost as hard as what they face daily in the lunchroom.

"I know they will be hard on us," chef Steve Eriksen says of the young judges. Eriksen is one of the contestants and associate team leader for the kitchen at Madison's Whole Foods grocery store. "What you get out of children's mouths is brutal honesty."

But Eriksen says he has a secret weapon as he prepares for the competition: his 3-year-old daughter, Ella, who is a picky eater. "If we can make something that I think Ella will eat, any kid will like it," he says with a grin.

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Learning the right lessons There's nothing wrong with profiting from education

The Economist:

"UNTIL recently, I thought that there would never again be an opportunity to be involved with an industry as socially destructive as the subprime mortgage industry," said Steve Eisman, a hedge-fund manager who made a lot of money during the financial crisis by shorting bank shares, to Congress in June. "I was wrong. The for-profit education industry has proven equal to the task."

America's for-profit colleges are under fire (see article), and the Obama administration is preparing tough new regulations for them. Although recent scandals suggest higher education needs to be better regulated, discriminating against the for-profit sector could do wider damage.

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September 11, 2010

ACLU sues California for allowing school districts to charge fees

Jason Song:

The suit alleges that more than 30 districts require students and their families to pay for books and other basic supplies that are supposed to be provided at no cost.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the state of California on Friday for allowing school districts to charge students for books, uniforms, classes and other basic supplies.

The suit, filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, alleges that more than 30 districts require students and their families to pay for basic supplies that are supposed to be provided at no cost. Districts cited in the lawsuit include Beverly Hills, Burbank and Long Beach.

The Los Angeles Unified School District was not named in the suit, although "we have heard anecdotal reports about Los Angeles," Mark Rosenbaum, chief counsel for the ACLU of Southern California, said at a morning news conference.

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Wisconsin State Journal Removes This Story

The Madison School District's Ken Syke via email:


I've been made aware of the entry on the School Info Systems site about La Follette student taking gun to school. That story has been retracted by and thus the story excerpt on the the SIS site is not supported any longer. It's our understanding that this story will remain retracted.

Thus we request that the story excerpt be pulled from the School Info Systems site.

Thank you.

I phoned (608) 252-6120 the Wisconsin State Journal (part of Capital Newspapers, which owns and spoke with Jason (I did not ask his last name) today at about 2:20p.m. I asked about the status of this story [Dane County Case Number: 2010CF001460, Police call data via Crime Reports COMMUNITY POLICING 03 Sep 2010 1 BLOCK ASH ST Distance: 0 miles Identifier: 201000252977 Suspicious Vehicle Agency: City of Madison]. He spoke with another person, returned to the phone and said that a police officer phoned the reporter, Sandy Cullen and said the report she mentioned was incorrect. They then took the article down. I asked him to email me this summary, which I will post upon receipt.

Links from the original post:


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Racial Disparity on Education in Wisconsin: Wisconsin is "Getting Taken to School on Reading Results by SEC States"

Brian Schimming interviews Dr. Matthew Ladner via a kind reader: 28mbp mp3 file.

The biggest opportunity we have is to "get more bang for our buck". The mp3 file includes an interesting discussion on Florida's approach to public information on school performance. Ladner also mentioned teacher certification reform, particularly in math & science.

New education report card grades student success:

Today the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) released a new book that provides a simple, direct way of comparing the effectiveness of public education in every state. I co-authored the Report Card on American Education: Ranking State K-12 Performance, Progress and Reform with Goldwater Institute Senior Fellow Dan Lips and school choice expert Andrew LeFevre. ALEC is distributing the book to state lawmakers across the country.

For the Report Card, we rank all 50 states and the District of Columbia based on student test scores and learning gains on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). We focused in particular on the scores of low-income students who were not in special education programs from 2003 to 2009, the years in which all jurisdictions took the tests used by NAEP.

Our rankings give the same weight to overall performance (which states had the highest test scores) and overall gains (which states made the most progress over time). The table below shows the rankings:

Clusty Search: Matthew Ladner

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Union challenges proposed Florida class-size amendment

Lee Logan:

A proposed ballot amendment to ease Florida's class-size requirements was challenged in court Wednesday by the state's largest teachers union, but the judge made no decision.

The Florida Education Association argued the summary that will appear on the November ballot doesn't fully explain Amendment 8's effect. It tells voters that the class-size caps will change, the union's lawyer said, but it doesn't explain how that change likely will reduce money to schools.

``That change inescapably changes the funding,'' said Ron Meyer, a lawyer for the union.

``The voter doesn't see that. The voter doesn't know that. The voter shouldn't guess at that.''

A lawyer for the state attorney general's office, which is defending the amendment, said it is clear to voters that the new caps would save money.

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Facing heavy-handed government regulation, America's for-profit colleges are reforming themselves

The Economist:

"EGREGIOUS, outrageous, violated everything we stand for": Don Graham's denunciation of recent activities by some employees of his own firm is stark. On August 4th a report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found evidence of deceptive recruitment tactics by 15 of America's leading for-profit colleges, including one operated by Kaplan, which accounts for the bulk of the profits of Mr Graham's Washington Post Company. Some of the colleges, which also included the giant University of Phoenix, insisted that the incidents--which ranged from misleading potential students about tuition costs and likely post-graduation salaries to encouraging them to file fraudulent loan applications--were isolated. But the mood is turning against them.

For-profit colleges, which range from beauty schools to institutions that resemble traditional universities, were already under attack. In June Steve Eisman, a hedge-fund manager who made a lot of money during the financial crisis by shorting bank shares, told Congress that the for-profit education business was as destructive as the subprime mortgage industry. Congress already seems eager to add to regulations that the government plans to introduce in November.

The markets sense weakness in the industry. Shares in Apollo Group, which owns the University of Phoenix, are worth half what they were at the start of 2009. The Washington Post Company has lost nearly one-third of its value since April. Shares in Corinthian Colleges have fallen 70% in the same spell.

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Public Schools Face Lawsuit Over Fees

Sam Dillon:

Public schools across the nation, many facing budget shortfalls, have been charging students fees to use textbooks or to take required tests or courses.

Now a civil liberties group is suing California over those proliferating fees, arguing that the state has failed to protect the right to a free public education. Experts said it was the first case of its kind, and could tempt parents in other states to file similar suits.

In the suit, to be filed in a state court in Los Angeles on Friday, the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California names 35 school districts across California that list on their Web sites the fees their schools charge for courses including art, home economics and music, for Advanced Placement tests and for materials including gym uniforms.

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Narcisse outlines his Iowa education goals

Staci Hupp:

Jonathan Narcisse, the Iowa Party candidate for governor, said Wednesday that parents and teachers, not the federal government, are the key to making Iowa schools great again.

Federal involvement in schools "has diminished the excellence of education in our state in general and placed in peril urban education in Iowa," Narcisse said.

His speech at Culture Inc., a Des Moines nonprofit youth program that emphasizes the arts, came less than a week after a state report showed a quarter of Iowa schools were labeled "in need of assistance," or failing, based on math and reading test scores under the federal No Child Left Behind law.

Narcisse, 46, a former Des Moines school board member, blamed the federal law for a culture in which fearful teachers "teach to the test" and students are deprived of a "real education."

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September 10, 2010

Madison School District's Attempt to Limit Outbound Open Enrollment, via a WASB Policy Recommendation

Fascinating: I don't think this will help. The Madison School District 55K PDF:

WASB Policy Modifications Related to Open Enrollment Recommended changes to the current WASB resolution on open enrollment (Policy 3.77):

Current f.: The options for the districts to limit the number of students leaving the school district under the open enrollment program, if the school board believes that number is large enough to threaten the viability of the district.

Proposed f.: The option for the districts to limit the number of students leaving the school district under the open enrollment program, if the school board believes the fiscal stability of the district is threatened.

Rationale - As school districts are confronted by a combination of revenue limits and declining state aid, fiscal issues are overriding attention paid to the educational programs offered to our children. The law originally limited open enrollment transfers to 3% of a district's total enrollment and was designed to provide parents with enrollment options for their students.

Now, districts lack the flexibility or capacity to adjust to large scale student population shifts. Districts already fiscally weakened by nearly two decades of revenue limits, and more recently, cuts to general state aids - particularly in small, rural districts - are left with the options of dissolving the district, or Draconian cuts to the educational program.

Current i.: The WASB supports a clarification in state statutes to limit the number of students enrolling in nonreSident school districts to 10 percent of the resident district membership.

Proposed i.: The WASB supports limiting the number of students enrolling in nonresident school districts to 3 percent of the resident district membership.

Rationale - The law originally capped open enrollment to 3% of a district's total enrollment. This change returns control of open enrollment transfers to locally elected school board members. If districts choose to limit open enrollment transfers to less than 3%, correspondingly, a district would have to use the same method/policy for accepting students through open enrollment. **********

Proposed i: The WASB supports a fiscally neutral exchange of state dollars in open enrollment transfers.

Rationale - Current law requires that a sending district pay the receiving school district approximately $6,500. The $6,500 payment is the estimated statewide cost of educating a student; however, in practice this amount doesn't really reflect the costs of educating a student in the receiving district, or takes into account the loss of revenue to the sending district.

The law could be changed by lowering the dollar amount to $5,000, or the amount of state aid per pupil received by the sending district in the prior year, whichever is less.
While the WASB supports public school open enrollment, participation in the program should not be a fiscal hardship. The current state/nation fiscal climate and local economic circumstances confronted by school districts, has dramatically changed the fiscal equation and requires modifications to the state's open enrollment law.

Approved by the School Board of: Madison Metropolitan School District Date: 9/13/10
kt:4tf,s;:.C~ Signed: (Board President)

Related: Madison School Board Discussion: Private/Parochial, Open Enrollment Leave, Open Enrollment Enter, Home Based Parent Surveys.

The essential question: do these proposed open enrollment changes benefit students, or adult employment?

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Federal Bailout for Schools Could Hurt More Than Help

Wisconsin State Senator Mike Ellis:

Recently, school districts across the state learned they were set to receive millions of dollars in federal funds to retain, rehire or hire new educational support staff. While this infusion of cash may seem appealing to districts that have had to lay off employees, the requirements on how this money can be used contain a potential trap that can ensnare district budgets in lingering deficits for years to come.

Specifically, the federal guidelines state that these one-time funds must be used to cover on-going expenditures - they can only be used for compensation, benefits and related expenses for school employees. That's exactly how structural deficits are built. To understand the potential pitfalls for schools, just look at the state's recent budget history.

A History of Deficits

State government has been mired in bad budgets for a decade now. It is a bipartisan problem that has been practiced by Democratic and Republican governors and legislatures alike.

Throughout the 1990s, the economy was strong and revenues consistently grew faster than had been projected when the budgets were put together. Budget surpluses were a regular occurrence. Politicians got complacent, creating costly new programs, confident that revenues would grow enough to cover their excess. There were always a few legislators, however, who warned that the day would come when the revenues stopped flowing as wildly as they were and the surpluses would vanish. The surpluses were one-time revenues that should never be used to pay for ongoing expenditures.


School Districts Beware

Now school districts across Wisconsin could fall into the same trap if they're not careful. Those federal dollars look promising now, but don't count on them being there again next year. Every employee that is rehired, every new employee hired with these federal dollars, faces the very real prospect of losing that job next year when the money runs out.

The state is broke. In our current budget, state support of schools was cut by more than $300 million and we still face a $1.2 billion deficit in 2011, so don't look for state government to fill the hole. The only other recourse is the property tax and in this economy when people all over Wisconsin are struggling to stay in their homes, that would be folly.

The history of state budgeting in the last decade should be a valuable history lesson for school boards and administrators all across Wisconsin - one-time money can never sustain ongoing spending. It will only lead to digging an ever-increasing hole of deficit year after year. It's time for government - and that includes school districts - to do what hard-working families across the state have already done. Face the facts. Make do with less.

Locally, the Madison School District's 2010-2011 budget will raise property taxes by about 10%.

Related: K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Wisconsin State and Local Debt Rose Faster Than Federal Debt During 1990-2009 Average Annual Increase in State Debt, 7.8%; Local Debt, 7.3%.

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New Program Provides Basic Health Care For Madison School District Students


The year-round program covers annual physical exams, primary care office visits at the assigned clinic, including visits when the child is sick, as well as some prescription medicines.

"It's a new program so I think I signed up 12 families probably in a couple weeks time at the end of school last year," she said.

The program starts with the school nurse in every school in the district. The nurse identifies students based on two main criteria: they don't have any health insurance and do not qualify for any state programs like Badger Care.

The nurse then forwards an application for the program to the health care provider that has been paired up with the school. The health care provider then contacts the student's parents.

The program is available to undocumented students. MMSD Superintendent Dan Nerad defends this decision by citing the U.S. Supreme Court case that requires schools to educate all children regardless of immigration status.

"These are children that have needs and we have an obligation to educate them both legally and ethically and morally but underscoring it's a legal obligation first and foremost for us," he said. "And when kids aren't well they need to be taken care of."

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Gates Foundation Acknowledges Flaws in Report

Associated Press:

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has taken another step toward increased transparency, acknowledging in its annual report that the world's largest charitable foundation is too secretive and hard to work with.

The report, posted online Tuesday, includes the usual financial information and a look at the foundation's plans. But it also offers a glimpse of the organization's attempts to be more open.

CEO Jeff Raikes draws attention in the report to a grantee survey that gave the foundation poor marks for communicating its goals and strategies, and for confusing people with its complicated grant-making process.

Mr. Raikes originally released the survey results in June--a day before Bill Gates made headlines for launching a campaign with investor Warren Buffett to get other American billionaires to give at least half their wealth to charity.

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Free Online School Curriculum Draws $11 Million in Funding

Tomio Geron:

or public schools looking to improve their curricula, it's hard to argue with a free product.

That has proved to be a good thing for Web-based education company Everfi, which has raised $11 million in Series A financing from New Enterprise Associates and Eric Schmidt's TomorrowVentures, as well as angels including Michael Chasen, chief executive of Blackboard, which sells a learning management system.

Everfi provides Web-based learning programs for students, particularly in public schools, focusing on subjects that are not covered in traditional courses, such as nutrition and wellness, personal finance and student loan management.

The company's curriculum is different from the traditional textbook model because it includes 3-D animated gaming-oriented applications. For example, for a lesson about stocks, students virtually visit the New York Stock Exchange and learn how to make a trade, while for a section about student loans, students virtually go to a college campus and learn how to fill out forms and the like.

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Dear alma mater: I can't pay

Rick Karlin:

At New York's colleges and universities, the arrival of a new school year brings anticipation tinged with anxiety. For many students, the second emotion is prompted by one nagging question: How am I going to pay for this?

Many of them won't be able to find an answer. The Higher Education Services Corp., which services and collects federally backed college loans in New York, has almost $2 billion worth of defaulted debt on its hands.

As of July 1, HESC listed 145,437 accounts with $1,983,922,931 in college loans that had gone into default. That's up from last year, when there were 144,216 borrowers for a total of $1,895,211,727 by the end of July.

In 1991, the defaulted sum was just $230 million.

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Visualizing the U.S. Higher Education Bubble

seeking alpha:

Is there really a bubble in US higher education?

Today, one way or another, we're going to find out! First, let's define just what a bubble is:

An economic bubble exists whenever the price of an asset that may be freely exchanged in a well-established market first soars then plummets over a sustained period of time at rates that are decoupled from the rate of growth of the income that might be realized from either owning or holding the asset.
Here, we'll consider the asset to be one year of college education at a four-year institution, whose price is given by the cost of tuition and any required fees for attendance.

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Desk Arrest Stirs Protest

Sean Gardiner:

In February, 12-year-old Alexa Gonzalez doodled on her desk in social studies class at her junior high school in Forest Hills: "Lexi was here 2/1/10" and "I Love my babis, Abby & Faith."

Ms. Gonzalez was escorted to the dean's office where school safety officers had her empty her backpack, take off her shoes and sweater and then searched her pockets. The New York Police Department was then called and four officers arrived, arrested her then walked her out of the school with her wrists handcuffed behind her back as classmates looked on. Her mother was told she would have to report to family court on vandalism charges.

The severity of authorities' reaction has turned Ms. Gonzalez, who was using an erasable marker, into the poster child for a student rights movement that wants more transparency on the suspensions, expulsions and arrests in each school. A protest rally, sponsored by the New York Civil Liberties Union and student rights groups, was held at the Board of Education building behind City Hall on Tuesday calling on law makers to pass the so-called Student Safety Act. It would provide detailed data of disciplinary action taken by the School Safety Division, which is part of the NYPD, by race, sex, age, disability and socioeconomic status.

Both the city's Department of Education and NYPD have conceded their officers overreacted in Ms. Gonzalez's case and didn't act within their guidelines.

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Top 10 Colleges Where the Pursuit of Knowledge Goes Beyond the Classroom


For most college students, there's a differentiation between life inside the classroom and out; there's a time to be cerebral and then there's the other 22 hours of the day. But these aren't most college students. We looked for schools that cater to students who happily spend all their waking hours in pursuit of intellectual stimulation, questioning life, challenging the status quo, and letting their curiosity run wild. 30,000 student votes later, we've identified the Top 10 Schools where being a "nerd" (as they often, and lovingly, refer to themselves) is truly the norm.

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September 9, 2010

On Superintendent Ealuations

Charlie Mas:

It is shocking to hear that almost no one in Seattle Public Schools had a job description, had regular performance reviews, or even had any set criteria for a performance review. That represents a grosteque failure of management at just about every level of District management, but primarily at the top. I don't know why people think that Raj Manhas was in any way capable, because the CACIEE final report was basically a catalog of his utter failure to fulfill any part of his responsibilities. Joseph Olchefske was no better, and John Stanford started the whole thing by failing/refusing to take on a quality assurance role when he de-centralized decision-making. I certainly appluad the Superintendent for introducing management to Seattle Public Schools. But the REAL focus of her Performance Management effort is schools. Not teachers and principals so much as schools taken a whole.

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Transparency

Sunlight Foundation:

We've taken data from other federal reporting systems and compared it with the data found in across three categories: Consistency, Completeness and Timeliness. How close are the reported dollar amounts to the yearly estimates? How many of the required fields are filled out in each record? And how long did it take the agency to report the money once it was allocated to a project?
The inability to keep track and report on public expenditures does not inspire confidence. Related: Madison district got $23M from taxpayers for aging schools; where did it go?. More here. I've not seen any additional information on the potential audit of Madison's most recent maintenance referendum.

The College Station School District publishes all annual expenditures via their check registers.

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Notre Dame launches eReader study, creates first paperless course

Shannon Chapla:

"This has become known as the iPad class," Corey Angst, assistant professor of management at the University of Notre Dame, told his students on their first day of class Aug. 24. "It's actually's 'Project Management.'"

A member of Notre Dame's ePublishing Working Group, Angst is debuting the University's first and only class taught using Apple's new wireless tablet computer to replace traditional textbooks. The course is part of a unique, year-long Notre Dame study of eReaders, and Angst is conducting the first phase using iPads, which just went on sale to the public in April.

"One unique thing we are doing is conducting research on the iPad," Angst says. "We want to know whether students feel the iPads are useful and how they plan to use them. I want them to tell me, 'I found this great app that does such and such. I want this to be organic...We have an online Wiki discussion group where students can share their ideas."

The working group participants are from a broad array of colleges and departments, including the Mendoza College of Business, Notre Dame Law School, College of Arts and Letters, First Year of Studies, Hesburgh Libraries, Office of Information Technologies, Hammes Notre Dame Bookstore, Office of Sustainability, Notre Dame Press and Office of Institutional Equity.

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Japan fattens textbooks to reverse sliding rank

Malcolm Foster:

When Mio Honzawa starts fifth grade next April, her textbooks will be thicker.

Alarmed that its children are falling behind those in rivals such as South Korea and Hong Kong, Japan is adding about 1,200 pages to elementary school textbooks. The textbooks across all subjects for six years of elementary school now total about 4,900 pages, and will go up to nearly 6,100.

In a move that has divided educators and experts, Japan is going back to basics after a 10-year experiment in "pressure-free education," which encouraged more application of knowledge and less rote memorization.

"I think it's a good move. Compared to the education I got, I'm kind of shocked at the level my children are receiving," said Keiko Honzawa, a Tokyo resident and mother of Mio and her seventh-grade brother.

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Mass. should be pioneering online learning, not restricting it

Marty Walz & Will Browsnberger:

THIS WEEK marks the start of the school year. Unfortunately, Massachusetts students are returning to classrooms that haven't changed much since their parents and grandparents attended. Meanwhile, students in other states are taking advantage of a learning opportunity that students here are denied -- online education.

Massachusetts should be in the forefront of using computers and the Internet to change where, when, and how students learn. We have the expertise to lead in virtual education, but the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has restricted school district efforts to introduce virtual schools.

The education reform act approved by the Legislature in January makes it easy for districts to create virtual schools. Of course, we don't envision a future in which online learning replaces brick-and-mortar public schools. Face-to-face peer contact and personal teacher mentoring will always be an important part of learning, especially at the lower grades. However, an increasing portion of learning can occur online with the support of peers and with less direct supervision by teachers. In the long run, this may be the only way to significantly expand learning time within the state's economic constraints.

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Why 17-year-olds' scores have stalled since the '70s

Jay Matthews:

Robert J. Samuelson, the Newsweek and Washington Post economics columnist, edited my first news story. We were both college sophomores. I was trying out for the student newspaper. He was already a seasoned reporter and editor on the staff. He tossed the typewritten sheets back to me and said to try again.

I did as I was told. I learned much from him during that first encounter, as I have continued to do during our long friendship. He enlightens me even on topics in my specialty, such as his latest column in the Post, "The failure of school reform."

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Plenty of university graduates are working in low-skilled jobs

The Economist:

Young people often worry whether the qualification for which they are studying will stand them in good stead in the workplace. According to the OECD, college and university leavers are better placed in the labour market than their less educated peers, but this advantage is not even in all countries. Young graduates living in Spain are particularly likely to end up taking low-skilled work, while those in Luxembourg rarely take anything other than a graduate job. American and British students appear to have the biggest incentive to study: British graduates aged 25-34 earn $57,000 on average. Their Swedish peers earn $37,400.

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"Digital Maoism"; Jaron Lanier, a pioneer of virtual-reality technology, has more recently become an outspoken critic of online social media

The Economist:

FROM "Wikinomics" to "Cognitive Surplus" to "Crowdsourcing", there is no shortage of books lauding the "Web 2.0" era and celebrating the online collaboration, interaction and sharing that it makes possible. Today anyone can publish a blog or put a video on YouTube, and thousands of online volunteers can collectively produce an operating system like Linux or an encyclopedia like Wikipedia. Isn't that great?

No, says Jaron Lanier, a technologist, musician and polymath who is best known for his pioneering work in the field of virtual reality. His book, "You Are Not A Gadget: A Manifesto", published earlier this year, is a provocative attack on many of the internet's sacred cows. Mr Lanier lays into the Web 2.0 culture, arguing that what passes for creativity today is really just endlessly rehashed content and that the "fake friendship" of social networks "is just bait laid by the lords of the clouds to lure hypothetical advertisers". For Mr Lanier there is no wisdom of crowds, only a cruel mob. "Anonymous blog comments, vapid video pranks and lightweight mash-ups may seem trivial and harmless," he writes, "but as a whole, this widespread practice of fragmentary, impersonal communication has demeaned personal interaction."

If this criticism of Google, Facebook, Twitter and Wikipedia had come from an outsider--a dyed-in-the-wool technophobe--then nobody would have paid much attention. But Mr Lanier's denunciation of internet groupthink as "digital Maoism" carries more weight because of his career at technology's cutting edge.

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Who's That Texting Your Kids in Class 66% of the Time? Parents

Austin Carr:

The days of getting caught talking in class are over--and so aren't the days of even getting caught.

According to a new survey by app developer textPlus, which surveyed more than 600 of its users aged 13 to 17, texting is more rampant than ever in the classroom. A whopping 42.5% of teens admit to texting during class, and more than half of those say they text sometimes or constantly. What's more, nearly 80% of students say they've never gotten in trouble for texting during class, suggesting the eyes-down, cell-under-the-desk method is slipping past even your most yard-stick taunting school teachers.

With more than 42% of teens admitting to bringing a cell phone or iPod Touch to class, isn't it time schools start cracking down? And if technology is to become more a part of education, how will teachers ever track students who are already able to pull off using these devices when they're not supposed to? As more and more gadgets enter the classroom, won't it just make it easier to find distractions?

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Six candidates eye three open Berryessa school board seats

Shannon Barry:

With three seats open in this November's election for the Berryessa Union School District Board of Trustees, twice that number are vying to fill those spots.

The candidates, two of whom are incumbents, have a diverse range of experience with various accomplishments.

David Cohen
Cohen, 42, is a Berryessa school board member and has been since 2006. He is one of the candidates running as an incumbent this year.

With a second-grade daughter and 4-year-old son who will be entering the district next year, Cohen said he brings two valuable perspectives: that of a parent and previous school board member.

"The little bit of a difference is I've been on the board ... I've seen the pressure on people to make decisions," he said. But also Cohen's "children will be affected by the decisions made."

When Cohen joined the district four years ago he campaigned under a platform to make sure music, art and counselors were maintained since not all students learn the same way.

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September 8, 2010

La Follette student charged in gang-related gun incident

Sandy Cullen:

A La Follette High School student who police say was involved in a gang-related, armed altercation Friday outside West High School was charged Wednesday with felony possession of a firearm in a school zone.

Uriel Duran-Martinez, 18, also was charged with misdemeanor disorderly conduct and cited for possession of marijuana, according to online Dane County Circuit Court records.

Court Commissioner W. Scott McAndrew ordered Duran-Martinez released from Dane County Jail on a signature bond.

According to Madison police:

Much more, here.

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Madison West High gang incident raises specter of retaliation

Sandy Cullen:

An armed altercation Friday outside West High School involving known and suspected members of two street gangs involved in an April homicide heightened concerns of possible retaliation, police and school officials said Tuesday.

Sgt. Amy Schwartz, who leads the Madison Police Department's Crime Prevention Gang Unit, said it is not known if members of the South Side Carnales gang went to the high school looking for members of the rival Clanton 14, or C-14 gang.

But staff at West and the city's three other main high schools and two middle schools were told Tuesday to determine if safety plans are needed for any students who might be at risk, said Luis Yudice, security coordinator for the Madison School District.

Police have not notified the School District of a specific threat against any student, Yudice said.

But authorities have been concerned about possible retaliation since the April 28 shooting death of Antonio Perez, 19, who police say founded Madison's C-14 gang several years ago while he was a high school student. Five people, who police say are associated with the South Side Carnales and MS-13 gangs, are charged in Perez's slaying. Two of them remain at large.

Related: Gangs & School Violence Forum audio / video.

A kind reader noted this quote from the article:

"But authorities have been concerned about possible retaliation since the April 28 shooting death of Antonio Perez, 19, who police say founded Madison's C-14 gang several years ago while he was a high school student."
Much more here.

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Debunking "Learning & Teaching Styles"

Benedict Carey:

For instance, instead of sticking to one study location, simply alternating the room where a person studies improves retention. So does studying distinct but related skills or concepts in one sitting, rather than focusing intensely on a single thing.

"We have known these principles for some time, and it's intriguing that schools don't pick them up, or that people don't learn them by trial and error," said Robert A. Bjork, a psychologist at the University of California, Los Angeles. "Instead, we walk around with all sorts of unexamined beliefs about what works that are mistaken."

Take the notion that children have specific learning styles, that some are "visual learners" and others are auditory; some are "left-brain" students, others "right-brain." In a recent review of the relevant research, published in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest, a team of psychologists found almost zero support for such ideas. "The contrast between the enormous popularity of the learning-styles approach within education and the lack of credible evidence for its utility is, in our opinion, striking and disturbing," the researchers concluded.

Ditto for teaching styles, researchers say. Some excellent instructors caper in front of the blackboard like summer-theater Falstaffs; others are reserved to the point of shyness. "We have yet to identify the common threads between teachers who create a constructive learning atmosphere," said Daniel T. Willingham, a psychologist at the University of Virginia and author of the book "Why Don't Students Like School?"

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Newark public schools need revolutionary reform

Shavar Jeffries:

Yet in Newark's public schools, as in many other urban districts, our children's endless talent meets headfirst with a stultifying bureaucracy that too often extinguishes rather than ignites their genius. It is beset with rules that ignore the individual talents of school leaders and teachers.

Its primary features -- tenure, lockstep pay, and seniority -- deny the complexity and creativity of effective teaching and learning, implying that teachers and principals are little more than interchangeable assemblyline workers. These practices instill performance-blindness into the fabric of our schools, dishonoring the talent, commitment and effort of our many good teachers and principals, whose excellence is systematically unrecognized and thus underappreciated. This both disrespects the notion of education as a sophisticated profession and produces a system in which student achievement is peripheral to the day-to-day operations of schools.

Simply put, our children have no limits; our schools have too many.

The future for our children depends on revolutionary school reform, executed relentlessly. Our children can no longer afford tinkering around the edges. This reform must include at least four elements:

•Reform of tenure and collective bargaining, including eliminating tenure for principals and significantly restricting it for teachers.

Clusty Search: Shavar Jeffries.

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Paying Third-Graders for Better Test Scores

Phil Izzo:

Efforts to improve education in the U.S. has included financial incentives for high-performing teachers and programs have targeted middle- and high-school students, but a recent study found success in giving money to kids as young as third grade who scored well on standardized tests.

In a paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research titled "Paying to Learn: The Effect of Financial Incentives on Elementary School Test Scores" Eric P. Bettinger of the Stanford School of Education looks at a program in the poor, Appalachian community of Coshocton, Ohio.

The pay-for-performance plan targeted third through sixth graders who took standardized tests in math, reading, writing, science, and social studies. The students could earn up to $100 -- $20 per score of Advanced in each test. Students who scored proficient were awarded $15 per test. In order to make sure the proceeds went directly to the students, payment was made in "Coshocton Children's Bucks," which could only be redeemed by kids for children's items. Participation in the program was randomized based on a lottery as specified by Robert Simpson, a local factory owner, who financed the effort.

The program showed generally positive results, with the biggest gains coming in math. Students who were eligible for the payments improved about 0.15 standard deviations, a statistically significant result. Though there were small improvements shown for other subject areas, the difference wasn't statistically significant.

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Writer and financier get go-ahead for new UK schools

Richard Garner

Fears that the Government's "free" schools programme will be dominated by faith groups and create more segregation between religions were re-ignited yesterday. Five of the first 16 schools announced by Education Secretary Michael Gove will be faith-orientated - two Jewish, one Hindu, one Sikh and one Christian.

In two other cases, organisers say there will be a strong Christian influence but the school will not officially be a faith school. Two of the projects are proposed by the education charity ARK, which was set up by the hedge fund millionaire Arpad Busson. The author Toby Young was also given the green light for his proposal for a secondary school in Acton, west London, which will concentrate on the classics - every child will be expected to learn Latin at least up to GCSE level.

Under the Government's plans, parents, teachers, charities and faith groups are being encouraged to put in bids to run their own schools with state financial support. They will be able to determine their own curriculum and be free of local authority controls, but the British Humanist Association warned yesterday that they would also be free to promote religious intolerance.

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Thinking about Seattle School Board Elections

Melissa Westbrook

I've been giving thought to the School Board elections next year. I might run. I say that not for anyone to comment on but because I'm musing out loud on it. There are many reasons NOT to run but I have one main reason TO run.


To this day, I am mystified over the number of people who run for office that don't believe they have to explain anything to voters AFTER they are elected. And I'm talking here about people whose work is not done with a vote (like the Mayor) but people who have to work in a group (City Council, School Board).

I truly doubt that these people get challenged on every single vote but I'm sure people ask on some. Why would they not respond? If asked, what data or information did you use to make this decision, why can't they answer in specific? Why wouldn't you be accountable to explain how you came to your decision?

Locally, the April, 2011 school board election features two seats, currently occupied by Ed Hughes and Marj Passman.

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Keeping Track of the Kids

New York Times:

This is an era in which many devices are watching us. We carry about wireless phones that tell our service providers exactly where we are. Surveillance cameras blink down from corners and storefronts. Advertisers follow us effortlessly around the Internet. Still, plans in Contra Costa County, Calif., to tag preschoolers with radio frequency identification chips to keep track of their whereabouts at school seem to go too far.

The concern that school officials would use the ID chips to keep tabs on children's behavior -- and tag them perhaps as hyperactive or excessively passive -- seems overwrought. County officials point out that the tags will save money and allow teachers to devote less time to attendance paperwork and more time to their students. And the chips, which will be randomly assigned to different children every day, according to a county representative, will not carry personal information that could be intercepted by others.

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Where are the activists outraged over city's failing schools?

Shirley Stancato

When the Michigan Department of Education classified 41 schools in the Detroit Public Schools system as "failing" last month, I braced myself for a thunderous public outcry.

After all, it was only a few weeks ago that a very energized group descended on the Detroit City Council to loudly and angrily express themselves about education in Detroit. Surely these concerned citizens, having just voiced such a strong concern about education, would leap to action to demand that something be done to fix these "failing" schools now.

But that hasn't happened. The silence, as the old cliché goes, has been deafening.
Why would people who were so passionate and loud so recently remain silent about a report that shows our children are being severely shortchanged? Why would members of the school board who fought to preserve the status quo remain equally silent about such a devastating report?

After all, nothing is as important to our children's future as education. And nothing is more important to our future as a city than our young people.

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Has college sendoff always been so tough?

Martha Irvine

The hour when Ariana Kramer will begin her college career is fast approaching -- and her parents are in an office supply store, disagreeing about hanging files, of all things.

"She'll need them," her mother says.

"I don't think so," her dad counters.

Ariana, meanwhile, walks dreamily through the store, offering no opinion on this particular decision. She is, in fact, confident that she will have what she needs when she starts her freshman year at the University of Iowa.

She has mom, the family organizer, with her, and dad, the calm encourager. And they have "the list," which mom printed from one of those "what-you'll-need-at-college" websites.
New laptop. Check.

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UCLA business school to end public funding

Matthew Garrahan:

A leading business school in the University of California system is preparing to forgo public funding amid increasing uncertainty about the state's economic health and California's ability to pay for higher education.

The UCLA Anderson School of Management plans to fill the funding gap with money from private donors, bolstering a roster that includes business figures such as Larry Fink, the founder of BlackRock, and Bill Gross, the founder of Pimco.

Its decision to opt out, which is awaiting the approval of Mark Yudof, president of the UC system, is a clear indication of the broad changes that lie ahead for the network, which was established in the 1960s with a public mandate to provide world-class education to deserving students regardless of their ability to pay.

The system, which includes colleges in Berkeley and San Diego, is seen as one of California's jewels yet has struggled in recent years as the state has grappled with the recession and plunging tax revenues.

California faces a budget deficit of more than $19bn while the UC system itself has a funding shortfall of $800m, forcing schools and colleges in the network to cut classes and raise tuition fees. This has prompted a wave of protests on campuses across the state.

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September 7, 2010

School Voucher Breakout A bipartisan endorsement in Pennsylvania.

The Wall Street Journal

This is an encouraging season for education reform, and the latest development is a bipartisan political breakout on vouchers in the unlikely state of Pennsylvania.

Last month, and to widespread surprise, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Dan Onorato came out in support of school vouchers for underprivileged kids. Mr. Onorato said that education "grants"--he avoided the term vouchers--"would give low-income families in academically distressed communities direct choices about which schools their children should attend."

Mr. Onorato's Republican opponent, state Attorney General Tom Corbett, is also a strong backer of education choice, which means that come November Pennsylvania voters will get to choose between two candidates who are on record in support of a statewide school voucher program.

Mr. Onorato, the Allegheny County Executive, adopted his new position at the urging of state lawmaker Tony Williams, a voucher proponent whom he defeated in a May primary. The speculation is that Mr. Onorato, who trails Mr. Corbett in the polls, is looking to attract financial support from pro-voucher businessmen who backed Mr. Williams in the primary.

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The New Black Migration: The Suburbs or Bust

Steven Snead, via a kind reader

Recall now the biblical phrase, "from whence comes my help?" It mentions looking up to the hills and Detroiters are doing just that.

They are looking to the Hills of Bloomfield, Auburn Hills, and Rochester Hills. They are looking to the rich green lawns of Troy, Sterling Heights, Farmington, and Gross Pointe. And yes, they are looking to their excellent schools too.

I have no doubt that this mother's prayers have been duplicated by thousands of Detroit parents. The results of the 2010 census will no doubt show that minority populations have increased in suburban cities and overall population in Detroit will yet again hit an all time low. So while they desperately scramble to enroll their children in charter schools and suburban schools of choice, parents still have their compass set due north. Way north.

This is the New Black Migration. And if school leaders cannot devise a way to make the city schools a viable option for parents who want the best for their children, it will be a migration whose tide will know no end.

Clusty Search: Steven Snead.

Related: Madison Preparatory Academy.

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Private vs Public Education

Linda Thomas:

The lawn is meticulously manicured, as if the groundskeeper's tools include a cuticle scissors. Classic brick buildings, a bell tolling the hour and concrete lion statues almost convince me that I'm at an East Coast college. But this is Lakeside School in Northeast Seattle.

This is where super-achievers went to school - Bill Gates, Paul Allen and Craig McCaw to name a few. Many of Seattle's affluent families send their kids here for a challenging private education. With an acceptance rate of 24 percent, Lakeside is the most elite private high school in the Northwest. This photo of Bliss Hall was taken before the current renovation project started.

So what was I doing there? Just wandering, and wondering if my children would have a better start in life if they went to private schools.

"As someone who has experienced both public schooling and private schooling, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind: sending your child to a private school is one of the best decisions you can make for him or her," says Peter Rasmussen, a recent Lakeside alumnus. "In retrospect, if my parents made me pay my tuition all by myself, I would have. That's how valuable a Lakeside education is."

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Educate the public on teacher performance

The Daily News

The Los Angeles Times last week did what few, if any, school districts are willing to do -- analyze teacher performance over multiple years with the intent of making the results of that analysis available to teachers and parents, alike. Teacher union representatives have been quick to condemn the newspaper's plans to post this information online in a searchable database. But U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and no few teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District saw merit in the project, as do we.

Public education can benefit from more transparency. The disclosure of data on student achievement and teacher effectiveness can be a good thing -- for teachers, parents and American education.

"Too often our systems keep all of our teachers in the dark about the quality of their own work," Duncan told an audience in Little Rock, Ark. "In other fields, we talk about success constantly, with statistics and other measures to prove it. Why, in education, are we scared to talk about what success looks like?"

It seems a great many teachers have no such fear. Duncan noted that more than 2,000 Los Angeles teachers had called the Times last week to ask for their scores.

The concern has always been that achievement tests are not a reliable or complete measure of teacher eectiveness. It's a valid concern. Certainly, test scores are not a complete measure, and should never be used as such in decisions on hiring, firing or career advancement. Whether or not test scores can be a reliable, or fair, measure depends on how thorough and careful the analysis.

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Parents use 'digital' grounding as a 21st century disciplinary tool

Donna St. George

Not so long ago, teenagers in trouble got grounded. They lost their evenings out, maybe the keys to the family car. But lately the art of family discipline has begun to reflect our digital age.

Now parents seize cellphones, shut down Facebook pages, pull the plug on PlayStation.

That's how it went in Silver Spring last school year, when Iantha Carley's high-schooler got a midterm grade report that contained letters of the alphabet that were not A, B or C.

Carley decreed there would be no more Facebook until he delivered a report card with better grades. The result: six weeks offline. "He lived," Carley reports, "with no lasting damage."

Her approach has become increasingly common as technology has changed so much about growing up, including what teenagers value most. For the digital generation, the priority isn't always going out with friends. It's being with them - in text, online.

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Educational Gaps Limit Brazil's Reach

Alexai Barrionuevo

When Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was sworn in as Brazil's president in early 2003, he emotionally declared that he had finally earned his "first diploma" by becoming president of the country.

One of Brazil's least educated presidents -- Mr. da Silva completed only the fourth grade -- soon became one of its most beloved, lifting millions out of extreme poverty, stabilizing Brazil's economy and earning near-legendary status both at home and abroad.

But while Mr. da Silva has overcome his humble beginnings, his country is still grappling with its own. Perhaps more than any other challenge facing Brazil today, education is a stumbling block in its bid to accelerate its economy and establish itself as one of the world's most powerful nations, exposing a major weakness in its newfound armor.

"Unfortunately, in an era of global competition, the current state of education in Brazil means it is likely to fall behind other developing economies in the search for new investment and economic growth opportunities," the World Bank concluded in a 2008 report.

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An analysis of Tennessee School Performance

Education Consumers Foundation:

Tennessee schools are measured on two things: achievement, seen in standardized assessment and ACT results; and growth, reported through the state's value-added assessment system. For the first time, parents and other Tennessee citizens can plot the performance of their child's school and others across the district or state through the ECF's interactive Growth vs. Achievement Charts.

To view charts for each major grade level grouping, visit the following links:

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In a New Role, Teachers Move to Run Schools

Winnie Hu:

Shortly after landing at Malcolm X Shabazz High School as a Teach for America recruit, Dominique D. Lee grew disgusted with a system that produced ninth graders who could not name the seven continents or the governor of their state. He started wondering: What if I were in charge?

Three years later, Mr. Lee, at just 25, is getting a chance to find out. Today, Mr. Lee and five other teachers -- all veterans of Teach for America, a corps of college graduates who undergo five weeks of training and make a two-year commitment to teaching -- are running a public school here with 650 children from kindergarten through eighth grade.

As the doors opened on Thursday at Brick Avon Academy, they welcomed students not as novice teachers following orders from the central office, but as "teacher-leaders."

"This is a fantasy," Mr. Lee said. "It's six passionate people who came together and said: 'Enough is enough.' We're just tired of seeing failure."

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Camp trains students in classical theater acting

Pamela Cotant

A group of high school thespians sharpened their skills this summer at a camp where they worked with professional actors by day and then watched them perform at American Players Theatre at night.

The 27 students ages 13 to 17 attended Acting for Classical Theatre, an American Players Theatre residential camp. The annual six-day camp was based at Bethel Horizons Camp and Retreat Center in Dodgeville where the campers received their training and lodging.

On four nights, they traveled to the nearby American Players Theatre in Spring Green to watch Shakespearean plays. On another night, they received a backstage tour. When they got back to camp, they played theater games -- despite the late hour.

On the last day, parents and American Players Theatre employees were invited to watch the youth perform a shortened, 60-minute version of Hamlet on the American Players Theatre stage.

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September 6, 2010

States Test Out New Math Changes to Education Laws Kick In as School Year Begins; Makeover in Chicago

Stephanie Banchero:

When Marshall High School opens for the new school year Tuesday, it will have an almost entirely new teaching staff, a revamped curriculum and a $2 million infusion of federal money.

The students and teachers at Marshall--a hulking three-story building on the city's violent West Side known as much for its powerhouse basketball teams as its abysmal test scores--are among millions nationwide who will see changes this fall as part of President Barack Obama's push to overhaul K-12 public schools.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has used much of his $100 billion budget--almost twice what his recent predecessors had--to lure states into reshaping schools through programs such as Race to the Top and school transformations like the one Marshall is undergoing.

"Mainly, this is a year to lay a foundation for the long-term reforms that will get all students college-ready," said Gene Wilhoit, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, a nonpartisan group of state school chiefs.

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Teaching for a Shared Future: American Educators Need to Think Globally

Esther Wojcicki & Michael Levine, via a Kris Olds email:

American students' lack of knowledge about the world is unsettling.

According to surveys by National Geographic and Asia Society, young Americans are next to last in their knowledge of geography and current affairs compared to peers in eight other countries, and the overwhelming majority of college-bound seniors cannot find Afghanistan, Iraq or Israel on a world map.

Less than one half of today's high school students study a foreign language, and while a million study French, a language spoken by some 80 million worldwide, less than 75,000 study Chinese, a language spoken by some 1.3 billion. Minority students especially have little access to global topics taught in "higher performing" schools, ranging from languages and economics to exchanges, arts and cultural activities.

The typical teacher or supervisor is not prepared to address this gap: most educators have not taken any international courses and comparatively few participate in study abroad programs.

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Schools: The Disaster Movie A debate has been raging over why our education system is failing. A new documentary by the director of An Inconvenient Truth throws fuel on the fire.

John Heilemann:

The Harlem-based educator and activist Geoffrey Canada first met the filmmaker Davis Guggenheim in 2008, when Canada was in Los Angeles raising money for the Children's Defense Fund, which he chairs. Guggenheim told Canada that he was making a documentary about the crisis in America's schools and implored him to be in it. Canada had heard this pitch before, more times than he could count, from a stream of camera-toting do-gooders whose movies were destined to be seen by audiences smaller than the crowd on a rainy night at a Brooklyn Cyclones game. Canada replied to Guggenheim as he had to all the others: with a smile, a nod, and a distracted "Call my office," which translated to "Buzz off."

Then Guggenheim mentioned another film he'd made--An Inconvenient Truth--and Canada snapped to attention. "I had absolutely seen it," Canada recalls, "and I was stunned because it was so powerful that my wife told me we couldn't burn incandescent bulbs anymore. She didn't become a zealot; she just realized that [climate change] was serious and we have to do something." Canada agreed to be interviewed by Guggenheim, but still had his doubts. "I honestly didn't think you could make a movie to get people to care about the kids who are most at risk."

Two years later, Guggenheim's new film, Waiting for "Superman," is set to open in New York and Los Angeles on September 24, with a national release soon to follow. It arrives after a triumphal debut at Sundance and months of buzz-building screenings around the country, all designed to foster the impression that Guggenheim has uncorked a kind of sequel: the Inconvenient Truth of education, an eye-opening, debate-defining, socially catalytic cultural artifact.

Related: An increased emphasis on adult employment - Ripon Superintendent Richard Zimman's recent speech to the Madison Rotary Club and growing expenditures on adult to adult "professional development".

Everyone should see this film; Waiting for Superman. Madison's new Urban League President, Kaleem Caire hosted a screening of The Lottery last spring. (Thanks to Chan Stroman for correcting me on the movie name!)

Caire is driving the proposed Madison Preparatory Academy International Baccalaureate charter school initiative.

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Former student files second lawsuit over school webcam spying   Pa. school district left the photo-taking feature on after teen retrieved lost laptop

Greg Keizer:

Computerworld - Another student this week sued the suburban Philadelphia school district embroiled in allegations of spying on high schoolers using their school-issued laptops.
The lawsuit is the second aimed at the Lower Merion School District of Ardmore, Pa., which was first accused of spying on students by Blake Robbins and his parents, Michael and Holly Robbins, of Penn Valley, Pa. TheRobbins sued the district in February, after Blake was accused by a Harriton High School official of "improper behavior in his home" and shown a photograph taken by his laptop.
A report conducted by an investigator hired by the district later concluded that the cameras had snapped more than 30,000 photographs when school personnel triggered software designed to locate lost, missing or stolen laptops. The report blamed the district's IT staff for the fiasco, saying that a former head of the department had dismissed earlier concerns about privacy violations if the software was used.

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State Report Cards: Grading Schools Accurately?

Melissa Griffy Seaton:

The Ohio Department of Education grades schools each year. But, can parents be sure they are getting an accurate picture of their child's school?

The lines are blurred at best, and experts say it takes examining a school's results over time to enlarge the snapshot given by the state report cards.

Problem is, parents, educators and even state officials are sometimes caught relying too heavily on one specific area, be it how well students perform on a certain test or how a district performs with particular student groups, such as low income and minority.

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When Does Holding Teachers Accountable Go Too Far?

David Leonhardt:

The start of the school year brings another one of those nagging, often unquenchable worries of parenthood: How good will my child's teachers be? Teachers tend to have word-of-mouth reputations, of course. But it is hard to know how well those reputations match up with a teacher's actual abilities. Schools generally do not allow parents to see any part of a teacher's past evaluations, for instance. And there is nothing resembling a rigorous, Consumer Reports-like analysis of schools, let alone of individual teachers. For the most part, parents just have to hope for the best.

That, however, may be starting to change. A few months ago, a team of reporters at The Los Angeles Times and an education economist set out to create precisely such a consumer guide to education in Los Angeles. The reporters requested and received seven years of students' English and math elementary-school test scores from the school district. The economist then used a statistical technique called value-added analysis to see how much progress students had made, from one year to the next, under different third- through fifth-grade teachers. The variation was striking. Under some of the roughly 6,000 teachers, students made great strides year after year. Under others, often at the same school, students did not. The newspaper named a few teachers -- both stars and laggards -- and announced that it would release the approximate rankings for all teachers, along with their names.

The articles have caused an electric reaction. The president of the Los Angeles teachers union called for a boycott of the newspaper. But the union has also suggested it is willing to discuss whether such scores can become part of teachers' official evaluations. Meanwhile, more than 1,700 teachers have privately reviewed their scores online, and hundreds have left comments that will accompany them.

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Back to Basics: Get the Feds Out

Susan Ohanian:

Doug, a longtime science teacher in Alaska, makes this observation:

"It is really interesting to me that President Obama can let BP take the lead in cleaning up the disaster in the Gulf, and yet teachers have got hedge fund managers, mayors, think tank policy wonks, billionaire vulture capitalists, and no real education experts, calling the shots on public school "reform," with Arne Duncan as department head, whose teaching experience comes from volunteering at his mom's after school program (He actually says this, as if it means something!) mouthing a bunch of nonsense about educating our way to a better economy and making education the civil rights issue of our generation. Well, no. The economy tanked because of a monumental failure of government to regulate the financial industry, and manufacturing long ago moved out of the country. And before we can talk about civil rights, we need to straighten out some things with health care, endless war, mass incarceration, racism and immigration, and state-sponsored torture.

Borderland blog, June 16, 2010

When BP chief executive Tony Hayward appeared before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Chairman Henry Waxman said the Committee reviewed 30,000 documents related to the oil disaster and found "no evidence that you (Hayward) paid any attention to the tremendous risks BP was taking." Likewise no one at the National Governors Association, the Council of Chief State School Officers, or the House and Senate education committees etc. is paying any attention to the tremendous risks the U. S. Department of Education is taking with its money bribes to the states.

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An interview with Diane Ravitch

Columbus Education Association:

Dr. Diane Ravitch is a polarizing figure in the education world. From 1991-1993, Ravitch served as Assistant Secretary of Education in President George H.W. Bush's administration. Originally a strong proponent of school choice, vouchers and high-stakes testing, her views have changed considerably. She argues for her change of heart and in her new book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System.

It was recently announced that Dr. Ravitch will receive NEA's 2010 Friend of Education Award. CEA recently interviewed Dr. Ravitch about the role of teaching and learning in the age of accountability.

Let's say you were to walk into an elementary classroom in any school district ten years from now. If we stay on the present course set by NCLB, how will teaching and learning be different?

I think that there will be a great deal of drilling and teaching to the test. Most of the day will be spent on reading and mathematics. Kids will be encouraged to take lots and lots of test prep. This is happening now and I don't see any change in the foreseeable future. The secretary has said that 100 percent of all kids should be proficient. There doesn't seem to be an end date where this regime will conclude in victory. Now that so many states are tying teacher evaluation to test scores, it is predictable that we will have a system in which testing of basic skills is the basic purpose of education.

Mike Antonucci has more.

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Education Secretary Duncan's Race to Waste your Tax Dollars

Rachel Sheffield:

Mindless box-checking is just the beginning of RttT's problems. When Tuesday's results were announced, the New Jersey Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, was quick to claim that it was Gov. Christie's failure to get "buy in" from unions on the application that ultimately cost the state millions in federal cash. Specifically, Gov. Christie's insistence on not caving-in to union demands that he weaken the state's teacher accountability standards lost him far more points than the clerical error did. And New Jersey was not the only state to lose out because of the Obama administration's slavish devotion to teacher union votes and cash. Proven education reform leaders like Louisiana and Colorado also lost points and finished out of the money because their state's chosen reforms threatened union priorities. Meanwhile Hawaii (which the Data Quality Campaign ranked 17th for education data systems, which the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools ranked 34th for the strength of their charter laws, and which got a D- from the National Council on Teacher Quality) finished third and will receive $75 million. Oh, but they had 100% "buy in" from the unions. So much for Secretary Duncan's claim that RttT was committed to "putting the needs of children ahead of everyone else."

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Study finds capable children are their own best defense against abduction

Donna St. George

The children most at risk of attempted abduction by strangers are girls ages 10 to 14, many on their way to or from school, and they escape harm mostly through their own fast thinking or fierce resistance, according to a new national analysis.

Probing a crime that is infrequent but strikes fear in the hearts of parents as little else does, analysts from the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children found that children who encountered would-be abductors were usually alone, often in the late afternoon or early evening.

It's a chilling thought for working parents and all those who have asked children to hold hands tightly in crowds or to phone as soon as they get home from school. It calls to mind last year's killing of Somer Thompson, 7, snatched en route from school in Florida as she ran ahead of her siblings, and the highly publicized case of Elizabeth Smart, taken from her Utah bedroom at age 14.

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September 5, 2010

Teacher-Led School Trend Takes Detroit Public Schools

Marion Herbert:

Detroit is the next city to throw away the administrative reins and open the doors for an all-teacher-led school. Serving pre-K through eighth grade and roughly 450 students, the Palmer Park Preparatory Academy (P3A) will open in Detroit Public Schools this fall-- sans principal--replacing the Barbara Jordan Elementary School, which closed in spring 2010 to become a turnaround school after being identified as low performing. The school, which DPS students and families will apply to, is modeled after similar schools in Boston, Milwaukee, Denver and Los Angeles. P3A will partner with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt to form a robust, individualized curriculum.

The Detroit Public Schools teacher-led school development team with their reform partners, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Many teachers felt so passionately that they offered to sacrifice their tenure to prove they didn't fear the added responsibility of accountability, says Ann Crowley, DPS teacher and co-founder of the group Detroit Children First, an organization who had been vying for an all-teacher school for several years.

"Many excellent teachers felt they could get more for their children if they had a greater voice in the decisions that are made in their schools," says Crowley.

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Excellent schools tend to choose their pupils. Is there another way?

The Economist

PARENTS seeking the best education for their offspring often look to ancient institutions. Small wonder that schools run by either the Catholic church or the Church of England are often high on their list. Almost a quarter of all children in the state system attend a religious school, most of them Anglican- or Catholic-run primary schools.

In his drive to give parents more choice in educating their children, Tony Blair raised the profile of church schools by encouraging existing ones to expand and new ones to set up shop. The former prime minister was also keen on incorporating other religions into the state system. The first state-funded Muslim and Sikh schools opened soon after he took power, and the first Hindu school in 2008.

Mr Blair's successors have lacked his zeal, but religious schools continue to flourish. One reason is that their pupils tend to do better than others in exams. In 2009, 57% of them at around age 16 passed national exams (GCSEs) with acceptable grades, including those in maths and English, compared with 51% at non-religious state schools.

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7 strategies to avoid the college debt trap

Janet Bodnar

Is it worth it to pay $200,000 for a liberal arts education, especially if it means taking out loans? One of my 20-something Kiplinger colleagues answers bluntly: "If I had realized how much debt I was getting into, I would have gone to my state school instead of an expensive private college."

As important as education is in today's world, families need to find more affordable ways to pay for it. Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of and, has calculated that total student-loan debt exceeds revolving credit (mostly credit-card debt).

Here's my guide for parents about avoiding the student-debt trap:

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Schools' Role in Credit Cards

Matt Jarzemsky:

New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo announced a statewide investigation of credit-card companies marketing to college students through schools.

Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat running for governor of the state, said the investigation builds on his efforts to examine conflicts of interest in the student-lending industry generally, which led to nationwide changes. His campaign website touts the changes as one of his major accomplishments as attorney general.

Dozens of direct marketers and lenders were contacted in 2007 by Mr. Cuomo's office seeking documents and information on whether they used deceptive offers, fraudulent solicitations or illegal incentives to lure students into applying for loans or loan consolidations.

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State appeals court blocks school drug tests

In a ruling by California's chief justice nominee, a state appeals court has barred a school district from drug testing all students in extracurricular activities such as choir, the school band and Future Farmers of America.

The Shasta Union High School District in Northern California began the testing in 2008, saying the prospect of being disqualified from a favorite after-school activity would discourage youths from using drugs or alcohol.

The district noted that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2002 that random drug tests of all students in extracurricular programs did not violate the constitutional ban on unreasonable searches.

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Gang activity in Madison often flies under public radar

Wisconsin State Journal:

A few years ago, a Madison gang targeted a prominent detective for murder. That plot failed. But police say gangs have been responsible for at least three murders in the last three years.

Although there are now more than 1,100 gang members in the Madison area, they're not always visible. Nor is the connection between gangs and crime. Regardless, police and social workers say the gang problem here is real and they're actively trying to combat it.

Gangs & School violence forum audio / video.

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Broke--and Building the Most Expensive School in U.S. History

Allysia Finley

At $578 million--or about $140,000 per student--the 24-acre Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools complex in mid-Wilshire is the most expensive school ever constructed in U.S. history. To put the price in context, this city's Staples sports and entertainment center cost $375 million. To put it in a more important context, the school district is currently running a $640 million deficit and has had to lay off 3,000 teachers in the last two years. It also has one of the lowest graduation rates in the country and some of the worst test scores.

The K-12 complex isn't merely an overwrought paean to the nation's most celebrated liberal political family. It's a jarring reminder that money doesn't guarantee success--though it certainly beautifies failure.

The cluster of schools is situated on the premises of the old Ambassador Hotel where the New York senator and presidential candidate was shot in 1968. The school district insists that it chose the site not merely for sentimental reasons, but because it was the only space available in the area and the property was dirt cheap.

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How AP and IB mess up college enrollment

Jay Matthews:

Whiteflame128, a participant in my Admissions 101 discussion group, described what happened when he graduated from a Fairfax County high school and showed up for college enrollment with an entire freshman year's worth of credit from Advanced Placement courses and tests. "My advisor had absolutely no idea what to do with my schedule at orientation," he said.

Many students have encountered this problem, some of them in just the last few weeks in this enrollment season. All those extra credits, from AP or International Baccalaureate, don't fit easily into the standard college schedule. They force newcomers to compete with second-year students for limited space in second-year courses. They aggravate the need to take less favored courses just to maintain full-time status. They waste time and money. What do to about this is hard to figure out. Most of the colleges seem to throw up their hands.

Admissions 101 participant grcxx3 said "my son and I were just caught off-guard about how difficult it would be to schedule classes for that first year." Grcxxe said the AP, IB or local college dual enrollment her son took in high school meant he was "coming in with 18-plus hours of credit, much of which [could exempt him from] common freshman classes (like freshman English) and basic general ed classes that are often taken during the first year"

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September 4, 2010

Too often, students' parents get lost in the equation

Alan Borsuk

Vernita Otukoya said her son, Babatunde, was struggling in third grade last year. So she met with his teacher at Milwaukee's 53rd St. School.

"We made a plan, we stuck with it, we checked with each other on a regular basis," Otukoya said. The literacy coach at the school gave her books that her son could read. The teamwork and the focus on how to help Babatunde paid off.

"He actually made the honor roll" by the end of the school year, Otukoya said proudly as her son began his first day of fourth grade Wednesday.

Would that all stories of parent-teacher interaction were that positive. For that matter, would that there were a lot more stories of parent-teacher interaction at all.

There is no getting around the fact that the low level of parent involvement in helping children succeed in school is a huge impediment to educational success, especially in low-income communities.

That's true nationwide. It's true in Milwaukee. The teacher who has 30 kids and maybe five parents show up for conferences is a common and discouraging story.

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Irrepressible ed blogger beats "Jay Matthews" up, again

Jay Matthews:

In his most recent post he also hands me some ammo to fire back at him. He quotes an online letter to President Obama from a reader, Ira Socol. Socol is critical of the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP), as an example of the kind of charter school the president admires, and compares KIPP unfavorably---too rigid, too uncreative, too imperialist---to the Sidwell Friends School which Obama's daughters attend. This is reminiscent of a point made by the late, great Gerald W. Bracey at the beginning of the Obama administration.

Sadly, Socol makes the same mistake Jim has made many times. He cites as evidence for his views of teaching at KIPP and Sidwell some descriptions he found on their Web sites. Any good teacher would tell you that is no way to judge a school. Socol gives no indication he has ever spent time inside a KIPP school, or Sidwell. Neither has Jim, unless I have missed something. They are among the many KIPP critics who consider it sufficient to judge schools by what they read on the Internet.

I think they should visit the schools they write about and tell us what they see. All of the KIPP schools I know have an open door policy. There are 99 KIPP schools in 20 states and D.C., including one in each of the 20 largest cities except Phoenix. I have visited many KIPP schools and Sidwell. I think Socol, and Jim, will be surprised, once they get inside, at how little difference there is between the great teaching going on at both places.

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L.A. civic leaders urge LAUSD, union to revamp teacher evaluations

Jason Song

The group, including the presidents of the L.A. Area Chamber of Commerce and United Way of Greater L.A., urges the use of student test score data and more access to information about instructors for families.

A group of business and civic leaders is urging the Los Angeles school district and teachers union to quickly develop a new evaluation system that incorporates student test score data and gives families more access to information about instructors.

"This system should be transparent and the results of the teacher evaluations should be made available to parents," said a letter signed by former U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher, as well as the presidents of both the L.A. Area Chamber of Commerce and United Way of Greater L.A., and 18 other people.

The civic group also endorsed including value-added analysis -- a statistical method that links student test scores to their teachers -- in teacher performance reviews and cited a Times series on the subject as one reason they decided to weigh in.

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Lack of funding, high-speed Internet, counseling hampers Alaska students, group says Read more: Fairbanks Daily News-Miner - Lack of funding high speed Internet counseling hampers Alaska students group says

Christopher Esheleman:

A special advisory task force is meeting in Fairbanks to address poor retention and graduation rates in higher education.

The state Legislature created the group largely to address poor skills exhibited by many high school graduates entering college and vocational programs.

The task force, which includes education leaders, lawmakers and students, is meeting at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and hearing from education agencies.

Senate President Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak and one of the group's two chairmen, said the task force hopes to pinpoint enough potential solutions to buttress recommendations, due by April, for better preparing high school students for postsecondary education.

"No surprises here, we know the problems," Stevens said. Local funding shortfalls, heavy demand for remedial coursework after high school and a shortfall of student counseling services challenge school districts and the university, he said. Alaska would benefit from a standing education task force to keep studying those issues, he said.

Read more: Fairbanks Daily News-Miner - Lack of funding high speed Internet counseling hampers Alaska students group says

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Seattle Teacher Contract Gets National Attention

Melissa Westbrook

Interesting discussion on the teachers contract at the Daily Kos. From the thread (italics mine, bold theirs):
Wednesday afternoon the Seattle teachers' union (SEA) achieved a huge victory over the proponents of what is popularly (and erroneously) known as "education reform."

After many, many hours of hard negotiations, the SEA negotiators achieved a tentative contract with the district. What is remarkable about this contract is that:

  • Teachers' final evaluations will not depend on student test scores. * Teachers' jobs will not depend on student test scores.
  • Teachers' pay will not depend on student test scores.
This tentative agreement was reached despite intensive efforts by the Broad-Foundation-connected superintendent to insert test scores into all three of the above areas.
And actually, it is a real victory for the teachers (in terms of ridding themselves of what they did not want in the contract) and anyone who does not support the ed-reform push by wealthy foundations and the DOE.

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Block Scheduling - Is More of Less Cheating Students?

Rob Manwaring

In search of a quick fix to your school's dropout problem? This spring I visited a low performing high school AKA "dropout factory" that had recently made a lot of progress in improving its graduation rate. I wanted to know what it had been doing to improve. It turns out the biggest factor seemed to be their transition to a block schedule. I have not figured out if this is just a fad or is a trend, but I have since come across more and more high schools serving at risk students that have also recently made this transition. I had always thought that block scheduling was about providing more time for students in core subjects so that they could learn the material at a slower more in depth pass. It turns out that I was wrong and that in many cases the opposite might be happening.

Here is how it works. By redesigning the same number of instructional minutes in the school year, these high schools are able to move from offering students 6 courses a year to offering 8 courses a year. Now my initial assumption was that the school must adjust the total number of classes that a student needs to pass during his or her high school career in order to graduate. Not so. With the new block schedule, a student can simply fail more classes, and still graduate.

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Advice for kids on the first day of school

Brian Brehmer

I wrote a column in June that offered advice to the new superintendent of Milwaukee Public Schools. With the new school year beginning, I thought I would offer some advice to MPS students on their first day of class.

Good morning, students. On your first day of school, there are a million things going through your minds. I hate to do this to you, but I am going to add a few more things for you to think about.

First and foremost, take a look around. Do you see where you are? Make it a habit. Attend all of your classes each and every day. That is the only way you are going to get an education.

Second, do your homework. Don't just bring it home and back to school - actually do it. The only way you can get anything out of it is by actually doing your best to complete each and every assignment.

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Singapore's New Educational Initiatives


Minister Ng Eng Hen announced several education initiatives.

These include better infrastructure to support learning, new progression choices for Normal (Academic) students, new specialised schools for Normal (Technical) students, and an extension of the Integrated Programme to more schools .

A new medical school will start in 2013 and MOE will also fund a number of new places in new degree courses in NAFA and LASALLE.

Opening Remarks by Dr Ng Eng Hen at the National Day Rally Media Conference held at the MOE Function Room 31 August 2010.

Investing in All Learners, Creating New Opportunities and Pathways

Singapore's rapid progress has been made possible only through the sheer ability, tenacity and wits of its people.

We must nurture this critical human resource through education as it is our most precious asset. Singapore is fortunate to have a strong and respected education system and good teachers, which have resulted from persistent efforts in the last three decades.

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Good teachers, good students

Los Angeles Times Editorial

The role of test scores in evaluating teachers is a prickly and complicated issue, which is why California has been avoiding the conversation for so long. Fortunately, that procrastination is no longer possible after The Times took the bold step of analyzing standardized test scores in the Los Angeles Unified School District to see whether individual teachers appeared to be successful at raising their students' scores.

Given the current nationwide push to include test data in teacher evaluations, it was time to strip away the mystery about test scores and take a close look at what they are, what they show and don't show, and what teachers, administrators and the rest of us might learn from them. The Times' articles and online database rating nearly 6,000 elementary school teachers allow the examination to begin.

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September 3, 2010

Ouch! Madison schools are 'weak'? and College Station's School District

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial

Another national magazine says Madison is one of the nation's best cities in which to raise a family.

That's something to celebrate.

But Kiplinger's, a monthly business and personal finance periodical, also raps ours city schools as "weak" in its latest edition.

That's troubling.

"Madison city schools are weak relative to the suburban schools," the magazine wrote in its analysis of the pros and cons of living here with children.


The magazine apparently used average test scores to reach its conclusion. By that single measure, yes, Dane County's suburban schools tend to do better.

But the city schools have more challenges - higher concentrations of students in poverty, more students who speak little or no English when they enroll, more students with special needs.

None of those factors should be excuses. Yet they are reality.

And Madison, in some ways, is ahead of the 'burbs. It consistently graduates some of the highest-achieving students in the state. It offers far more kinds of classes and clubs. Its diverse student population can help prepare children for an increasingly diverse world.

Madison School Board member Ed Hughes compares WKCE scores, comments on the Kiplinger and Wisconsin State Journal article and wonders if anyone would move from Madison to College Station, TX [map], which Kiplinger's ranked above our local $15,241 2009/2010 per student public schools.

I compared Madison, WI to College Station, TX using a handy Census Bureau report.

93.8% of College Station residents over 25 are high school graduates, a bit higher than Madison's 92.4%.

58.1% of College Station residents over 25 have a bachelor's degree or higher, compared to Madison's 48.2%

Madison does have a higher median household and per capita income along with a population about three times that of College Station.

Turning to the public school districts, readers might be interested in having a look at both websites: the College Station Independent School District and the Madison Metropolitan School District. 75% of College Station students took the ACT (average score: 22.6) while 67% of Madison students took the exam and achieved a composite score of 24.2.

College Station publishes a useful set of individual school report cards, which include state and national test results along with attendance and dropout data.

College Station's 2009-2010 budget was $93,718.470, supporting 9,712 students = $9,649.76 per student. . They also publish an annual check register, allowing interested citizens to review expenditures.

Madison's 2009-2010 budget was $370,287,471 for 24,295 students = $15,241 per student, 57.9% higher than College Station.

College Station's A and M Consolidated High School offers 22 AP classes while Madison East offers 12, Memorial 25 (8 of which are provided by Florida Virtual...), LaFollette 13 and West 8.

College Station's "student profile" notes that the District is 59.3% white, 31.4% are economically disadvantaged while 10.3% are in talented and gifted.

Texas's 2010 National Merit Semifinalist cut score was 216 while Wisconsin's was 207. College Station's high school had 16 National Merit Semi-Finalists (the number might be 40 were College Station the same size as Madison and perhaps still higher with Wisconsin's lower cut score) during the most recent year while Madison's high schools had 57.

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Raising Minimalist Children in a Society of Excess


There is a growing trend toward minimalism and voluntary simplicity. I have written about it many times here. We made a huge leap towards minimalism and a more simple life last year. We moved from a large house in the suburbs to a small 1000 square foot house in the city. We downgraded to one car and we got rid of 50% of our belongings. You kind of have to when you move into a smaller place. It was a wonderful experience and has helped us see more clearly what kind of life we want to shape.

We are moving again to a better area of town and a slightly nicer home but it is only 300 square feet bigger and lucky for us that wiggle room translates into better closet space (so we can ditch our dressers), a dishwasher, and an extra bathroom. Once again we chose a place that is right next to one of the major Metro Parks because being close to nature is what we value. It was only after living so simply that we can move into this equally modest home and feel like we are living luxuriously. And because we don't want to move tons of stuff.. even if it is way less than what we had a year ago... we have given away or sold another 50% of our stuff.

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Public Schooling in Southeast Wisconsin 2009-2010

The Public Policy Forum PDF

For 24 consecutive years, the Public Policy Forum has compiled and analyzed data from southeastern Wisconsin's public school districts in order to better inform policymakers and the public about the effectiveness of the region's K-12 education system. This analysis of the 2009-10 academic year, like many of our previous reports, indicates cause for concern. Despite a consensus on the importance of quality schooling to the region's economic growth and quality of life, the data reveal a continued need for better educational outcomes.

The purpose of this report is to highlight the gaps and trends that reflect the region's educational progress and achievements, as well as areas that require renewed emphasis and improvement. The report examines several data sets that provide insight into the characteristics and achievement of school districts throughout the southeastern Wisconsin region, providing corresponding tables and charts for comparison and tracking. We hope this information is widely utilized by school administrators and policymakers in the new academic year.

A useful report!

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Robotic Nation

Marshall Brain

I went to McDonald's this weekend with the kids. We go to McDonald's to eat about once a week because it is a mile from the house and has an indoor play area. Our normal routine is to walk in to McDonald's, stand in line, order, stand around waiting for the order, sit down, eat and play.
On Sunday, this decades-old routine changed forever. When we walked in to McDonald's, an attractive woman in a suit greeted us and said, "Are you planning to visit the play area tonight?" The kids screamed, "Yeah!" "McDonald's has a new system that you can use to order your food right in the play area. Would you like to try it?" The kids screamed, "Yeah!"

The woman walks us over to a pair of kiosks in the play area. She starts to show me how the kiosks work and the kids scream, "We want to do it!" So I pull up a chair and the kids stand on it while the (extremely patient) woman in a suit walks the kids through the screens. David ordered his food, Irena ordered her food, I ordered my food. It's a simple system. Then it was time to pay. Interestingly, the kiosk only took cash in the form of bills. So I fed my bills into the machine. Then you take a little plastic number to set on your table and type the number in. The transaction is complete.

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Bill Dickens versus the Signaling Model of Education

Bryan Caplan

I take it that you think that nearly all of the value of schooling is signaling? I used to take that view too, but the accumulation of evidence that I've seen leads me to believe that isn't the case.

For one thing I find it very hard to believe that we would waste so many resources on a nearly unproductive enterprise. There are plenty of entrepreneurs out there trying to make money by selling cheaper, in time and money, versions of education and they aren't very successful. Mainstream schools have experimented with programmed learning, lectures on video, self-paced learning, etc. and none of the methods have caught on. Why wouldn't they if they worked?

Of course its hard to believe that reading novels and poems contributes much to ones productivity on the job. So how do I square curriculum content with my view that education is productive? Here goes:

1. Education isn't mainly about learning specific subject matter. Rather education is mainly about practicing the sort of self-discipline that is necessary to be productive in a modern work environment. High school allows you to practice showing up on time and doing what you are told. College allows you to practice and work out techniques that work for you that allow you to take on and complete on time complicated multi-part tasks in an environment where you have considerable freedom about how you spend your time. Some people may be more talented than others at this sort of thing (you come to mind as someone who is particularly talented at self-discipline), but this is also an acquired skill that one can develop with practice, and everyone needs to develop certain work habits that make one more productive at both types of tasks.

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Why are Alabama schools going broke?

Jon Miltimore:

Alabama made national headlines this week when 25 more schools reported they will likely have to extend lines of credit to remain open, in addition to the five schools that borrowed from banks last year.

According to a CNN report, Alabama schools suffer from a "combination of having the lowest per capita property tax collections in the nation ... a constitution that prohibits local governments from independently increasing taxes, and a state-funded education system with funds that stem almost exclusively from income and sales tax revenues."

Namely, Alabama schools are ailing due to inadequate funding. The reporter buttressed the thesis by pointing to the 20 percent cut in the state's education budget over the last three years.

"We're suffering. We are on a decline," Joe Morton, Alabama's state superintendent of education, told CNN.

But what Morton failed to note is that state education spending tripled in the decade-and-a-half preceding the economic downturn.

According to U.S. Census records, state education spending increased from $3.57 billion in 1992 to $10.65 billion in 2008.

Related: Wisconsin State Tax Based K-12 Spending Growth Far Exceeds University Funding

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The paper book is dead, long live the narrative

Nicholas Negroponte

Kindle owners buy twice as many books as non-Kindle owners. Just one of the many signs that while the paper book is dead, the narrative will live on.

If you are saying to yourself, "That sounds horrible. I hope books do not go away," I ask you to consider the world's poorest and most remote kids.

The manufactured book stunts learning, especially for those children. The last thing these children should have are physical books. They are too costly, too heavy, fall out-of-date and are sharable only in some common and limited physical space.

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Getting Beyond the Race to the Top

Laura Waters

A whole week of catharsis, yet the Garden State still agonizes over the loss of $400 million in Race To The Top money. Ex-Commissioner Bret Schundler is out on his keister -- amid calls for legislative hearings because of a botched question that pushed us into the losers' column by three points. (NJ came in 11th with 437.8 points; Ohio, the 10th of 10 winners, got 440.8.)

NJ Facebook Group: New Jersey Teachers United Against Governor Chris Christie's Pay Freeze

More pertinent is the NJ Department of Education's perceived ineptitude. During the presentation of our application to federal reviewers, five high-level DOE staffers were unable to conjure up basic fiscal information for 2008 and 2009, instead of the mistakenly/cravenly entered information on 2011. And that's after spending $500K on a consultant.

Was the incorrect answer a clerical error? Was it a ham-handed effort to elude accountability on state school aid cuts?

Final answer: it's irrelevant.

We didn't lose the Race To The Top by a grimace-inducing three points because of a whiffed answer valued at less than one-half percent of the total 500 points. We lost because our ambitious reform plans elicited lukewarm support from local school boards and superintendents (about half signed on) and ice-cold censure from NJEA affiliates.
For comparison's sake, New York State won and had buy-in from every local union president.

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Will the Book Survive Generation Text?

Carlin Romano

Over the next 10 years, scientific experts will be dealing with "extreme weather." No one knows how weird and dangerous it will get.

Moscow already faces Bahrain-like temperatures. Downpours swamp a fifth of Pakistan. President Mohamed Nasheed, of the Maldives, worries enough about future sea levels to hold a cabinet meeting underwater in scuba gear. (Don't miss this on YouTube!)

Parallel thinking should apply to a phenomenon of greater concern to readers here: "extreme academe." Think of it as the hysterical upgrading of ugly visions of the future already found in polite critiques of higher ed.

Back in 2003, for instance, former Harvard President Derek Bok, in Universities in the Marketplace: The Commercialization of Higher Education (Princeton University Press), drilled home the problem capsulized in his subtitle by noting that throughout the 1980s, deans and professors brought him "one proposition after another to exchange some piece or product of Harvard for money--often, quite substantial sums of money."

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We all must take part in education

Caryl Davis

I had the pleasure of teaching a group of Milwaukee Public Schools students this summer. And, yes, it was a pleasure. Classes were small - 15 students maximum - there was team-teaching and students and faculty had access to technology.

Many of the students were those who had not met math and literacy requirements during the 2009-'10 academic year. Some had let their behavior get in the way of their learning, so we were eager to provide some structure that would help them move forward.

By the end of the summer session, our data revealed that our students made gains in math and vocabulary acquisition. According to MPS standards, a 7% to 9% gain in math or literacy is acceptable. Many of our students had 10% to 60% gains.

I don't believe this progress would be possible with 40 students in a classroom, without access to technology or without extra adults in the classroom. We were able to give our students the individualized attention that they would not get in an overcrowded and understaffed classroom.

It is crucial that our educational leaders go back to the basics during the 2010-'11 school year. Education is a contact activity, and more contact is better.

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Galloping inflation in American college fees

The Economist

FOR decades, college fees have risen faster than Americans' ability to pay them. Median household income has grown by a factor of 6.5 in the past 40 years, but the cost of attending a state college has increased by a factor of 15 for in-state students and 24 for out-of-state students. The cost of attending a private college has increased by a factor of more than 13 (a year in the Ivy League will set you back $38,000, excluding bed and board). Academic inflation makes most other kinds look modest by comparison. Students may not be getting a good deal in return
Related: The Higher Education Bubble Dwarfs the Housing Bubble and Student Loan Debt > Credit Card Debt?

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Teachers: Evaluations need to go beyond test scores

Dave Murray:

With U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan this week advocating for transparency for teacher evaluations that include, in part, standardized test scores, the National Education Association weighed in today, asking members how they'd like to be measured.

NEA staffer Kevin Hart asked teachers to reply on the union's Facebook page, and reported some interesting answers.

"They believe a well-designed process can help them improve at their jobs and will ultimately benefit students," Hart wrote on the union's NEA Today website. "But teachers believe any evaluation process should be fair, consistently applied, and take into account the realities of their profession."

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Duncan's Invitation Just the Start of the Problem

Neal McCluskey:

o U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan invited every Education Department employee to attend Rev. Al Sharpton's Glenn Beck counter-rally. As David Boaz explained in the Examiner, it was a "highly inappropriate" thing to do, pushing people who are supposed to serve all Americans to support one side of a "political debate." But that's just the most obvious problem with Duncan's weekend doings.

Perhaps just as troubling as his rally-prodding is that Duncan declared education "the civil rights issue of our generation" at Sharpton's event. This only about a year after helping to kill an education program widely supported by many of the people he and Sharpton insist they want to empower. I'm talking, of course, about Washington, DC's, Opportunity Scholarship Program, a voucher program that was proven effective. But the heck with success -- Duncan and President Obama let the union-hated program die.

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U.S. education chief praises Manchester school

Beth Lamontangne Hall

Local education officials presented a glowing image of Bakersville Elementary School and the Manchester School District during a meeting with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on Tuesday morning.

Teachers told the secretary that faculty members love what they do and treat each other like family. Parents said their children feel comfortable in the welcoming school, and Superintendent Thomas Brennan thanked city officials for providing much needed resources for books and staff.

Duncan was at Bakersville, labeled a "persistently low-achieving school" by the state Department of Education, as part of his Courage in the Classroom tour throughout the state this week. On Monday, Duncan visited Keene State College, and on Tuesday afternoon, he headed to Portsmouth Naval Shipyard to talk to military families.

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September 2, 2010

A Look at the Small Learning Community Experiment

Alex Tabarrok:

Did Bill Gates waste a billion dollars because he failed to understand the formula for the standard deviation of the mean? Howard Wainer makes the case in the entertaining Picturing the Uncertain World (first chapter with the Gates story free here). The Gates Foundation certainly spent a lot of money, along with many others, pushing for smaller schools and a lot of the push came because people jumped to the wrong conclusion when they discovered that the smallest schools were consistently among the best performing schools.


States like North Carolina which reward schools for big performance gains without correcting for size end up rewarding small schools for random reasons. Worst yet, the focus on small schools may actually be counter-productive because large schools do have important advantages such as being able to offer more advanced classes and better facilities.

Schools2 All of this was laid out in 2002 in a wonderful paper I teach my students every year, Thomas Kane and Douglas Staiger's The Promise and Pitfalls of Using Imprecise School Accountability Measures.

In recent years Bill Gates and the Gates Foundation have acknowledged that their earlier emphasis on small schools was misplaced. Perhaps not coincidentally the Foundation recently hired Thomas Kane to be deputy director of its education programs.

Related: Small Learning Communities and English 10.

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My Reasons for Optimism on Education: Across the country, new institutions like charter schools are disproving the old assumption that economic circumstances determine outcomes.

Wendy Kopp

Last week, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced the latest winners of Race to the Top, the initiative he devised to leverage federal dollars to drive education reform at the state level. While no grant process is perfect, the competition drove a remarkable volume of new plans and even new laws designed to advance educational opportunity. Many states showed boldness--and I'm particularly excited that all 12 winning states mentioned Teach For America in their applications.

This fall marks Teach For America's 20th anniversary, and I have spent much of the summer reflecting on the sea change that has taken place in public education over the last two decades.

When we set out to recruit our first corps of teachers in 1990, it would be fair to say that there was no organized movement to ensure educational opportunity for all children in our nation. The prevailing assumption in most policy circles was that socioeconomic circumstances determined educational outcomes. Thus, it was unrealistic to expect teachers or schools to overcome the effects of poverty.

When Jaime Escalante led a class of East Los Angeles students to pass the AP calculus exam in 1982, the Educational Testing Service questioned the results, and Hollywood went on to make the hit movie "Stand and Deliver" about his success. Escalante was lionized as an outlier--not as someone whose example could be widely replicated.

Ms. Kopp is the founder and CEO of Teach For America. She is the author of the forthcoming book "A Chance to Make History: What Works and What Doesn't in Providing an Excellent Education for All" (PublicAffairs).

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Black parents must advocate for their children


All through the community, I have been hearing families express varying emotions about the beginning of a new school year this week. Some are glad for the relief from costly summer programs. Others are anxious about changes for their children who are moving from elementary to middle or middle to high school. One parent even shared how her daughter wakes up in the middle of the night asking questions about kindergarten.

At a recent United Way Days of Caring event in Middleton for more than 100 students from Madison-area Urban Ministry, Packers and Northport, lots of children expressed excitement over starting school again and appreciated the fun as well as the backpacks filled with school supplies that Middleton partners provided.

The schools where we send our children to learn and the people we ask to respect and teach them stir up a lot of emotions, just like an article about Wisconsin ACT scores stirred up a lot of emotions in me. ACT stands for American College Testing and the scores test are used to gain entrance into college, which translates for most Americans into an ability to live well economically or to become the institutionalized poor. Certainly the good news is that Wisconsin scored third in the nation and that Madison schools' scores went up slightly.

The bad news is when your look at the scores based on racial groups, once again in Madison, in Wisconsin and in the U.S., the scores of African-American students are the lowest.

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At East High School, 'Freshman Academy' is fun but has a serious purpose

Gayle Worland

It felt more like a day of summer camp than the first day of school, with team-building fun and games and youthful leaders in T-shirts and shorts.

But the goal of ninth-grade orientation Wednesday at Madison's East High School -- the school year's first day that's been labeled "Freshman Academy" -- was serious: to lower truancy rates, curb behavior problems and raise academic success of the incoming class of 2014.

As it's been in Madison for years, the first day of school in the city's public high schools was dedicated to welcoming only ninth-graders, an effort to help them find their way before the buildings become flooded with additional sophomores, juniors and seniors Thursday.

East's new take on that is based on Link Crew, a national program designed to bond newcomers with juniors and seniors, who throughout the year will serve as mentors and personal cheerleaders to a freshman group of about six students each.

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Teachers for Coverups The Wall Street Journal applauds the L.A. Times's decision to publish evaluations of public school teachers.

Wall Street Journal

The fight for teacher accountability is gaining traction around the country, and the latest evidence is that the unions are objecting to a newspaper bold enough to report . . . the news. That's the story out of Los Angeles, where on Sunday the Los Angeles Times published evaluations of some 6,000 city school teachers based on how well their students performed on standardized tests.

The paper is defending its publication of the database as a public service amid union boycott threats, and rightly so. Since 1990, K-12 education spending has grown by 191% and now consumes more than 40% of the state budget. The Cato Institute reports that L.A. spends almost $30,000 per pupil, including capital costs for school buildings, yet the high school graduation rate is 40.6%, the second worst among large school districts in the U.S.

After decades of measuring education results only by money spent, with little to show for it, parents are finally looking for an objective measure to judge teacher effectiveness. Taxpayers also deserve to know whether the money they're paying teachers is having any impact on learning or merely financing fat pay and pensions in return for mediocrity. The database generated 230,000 page views within hours of being published on the paper's website, so the public would appear to want this information.

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The L.A. Times Flunks L.A. Schoolteachers The newspaper takes on the two L.A. sacred cows--teachers and unions--and lives to print again!

Jack Shafer

Nobody but a schoolteacher or a union acolyte could criticize the Los Angeles Times' terrific package of stories--complete with searchable database--about teacher performance in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Union leader A.J. Duffy of the United Teachers Los Angeles stupidly called for a boycott of the Times. Boycotts can be sensible things, but threatening to boycott a newspaper is like threatening to throw it into a briar patch. Hell, Duffy might as well have volunteered to sell Times subscriptions, door-to-door, as to threaten a boycott. Doesn't he understand that the UTLA has no constituency outside its own members and lip service from members of other Los Angeles unions? Even they know the UTLA stands between them and a good education for their children.

Duffy further grouched that the Times was "leading people in a dangerous direction, making it seem like you can judge the quality of a teacher by ... a test." [Ellipsis in the original.] Gee, Mr. Duffy, aren't students judged by test results?

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten also knocked the Times for publishing the database that measures the performance of 6,000 elementary-school teachers. Weingarten went on to denounce the database as "incomplete data masked as comprehensive evaluations." Of course, had the Times analysis flattered teachers, Weingarten would be praising the results of the analysis.

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Wisconsin's Mind is on Education

Kenneth M. Goldstein and William G. Howell

Over half of Wisconsinites (51 percent) told us that they were paying either "a great deal" or "quite a bit" of attention to issues involving education. In national surveys, 38 percent of the American public as a whole. When asked about specific education reforms, moreover, Wisconsinites are as much as five times more likely to stake out a clear position either in support or opposition than is the American public. Assuming such differences aren't strictly an artifact of survey methodology, a possibility we will discuss, Wisconsinites seem to pay more attention to educational issues and revealed a greater willingness to offer their opinions on education and potential reforms. In other words, when it comes to education, the people of Wisconsin have strong views and that makes them different from the rest of the country.

Wisconsin residents reported higher levels of support for a variety of reforms--in particular vouchers, charter schools, online education, and merit pay--than does the nation as a whole. That said, opposition levels to these reforms were also as high or higher than the nation as a whole. Though they give their local schools slightly lower grades than does the American public, Wisconsin residents also claimed (correctly) that their students perform as well as or better than students in other states on standardized tests. And Wisconsin residents are just as enthusiastic about student accountability requirements as is the American public. And Wisconsinites have another thing in common with their fellow Americans: they vastly underestimate the actual amount of money that is spent each year on students in public schools.

There is another important element that can be taken from this poll. The divide between residents of Milwaukee and the rest of the state is deep. When asked about the quality of education in the state, Milwaukee residents offered significantly lower assessments than do residents statewide. In addition, city of Milwaukee residents distinguish themselves from other Wisconsinites for their higher levels of support for various education policy reforms.

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L.A. Unified board makes first statements about test score analysis of teachers

Jason Song

Los Angeles school board members made their first public statements Tuesday about evaluating teachers partially by analyzing student test scores, with most saying that the current system needs to be reworked and some adding that parents deserve more information about their children's teachers.

"As a parent, I think I have a right to know," said board member Nury Martinez, who added that she did not believe that the general public should be able to see a teacher's entire review.

Martinez also acknowledged that the district has lagged in updating its evaluation system.

"I also believe this conversation has taken way too long. I think we're talking years and years and years," she said. "We need to get the ball moving here."

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How to Reform the Failing Schools

Letters to the Editor

In "Steal This Movie, Too" (column, Aug. 25), Thomas L. Friedman is right to rejoice in those educators working from the bottom up.

I have been lucky enough to have enjoyed a career as a teaching artist in the Catskills and in New York City for many years. I see the really great teachers and administrators every day, and they have two important characteristics in common: they love and respect the children, and they love and are open to thought.

Everything else follows -- the expectations that the children really want to learn and will do well, the enthusiasm with which the educators seek out and bring new ideas to the classroom and are willing to listen to the students' theories, and the eagerness to bring others into the classroom to contribute other concepts. These educators should indeed be championed.

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Report Card on American Education: Ranking State K-12 Performance, Progress, and Reform

Dr. Matthew Ladner, Andrew T. LeFevre, and Dan Lip

ALEC's 16th edition of the Report Card on American Education contains a comprehensive overview of educational achievement levels (performance and gains for low-income students) for the 50 states and the District of Columbia (see full report for complete methodology). The Report Card details what education policies states currently have in place and provides a roadmap for legislators to follow to bring about educational excellence in their state.

With its foreword written by the former governor of Florida, Jeb Bush, this completely revised Report Card on American Education: Ranking State K-12 Performance, Progress, and Reform examines the reforms enacted under his tenure and how Florida has risen from consistently earning near-bottom scores to ranking third in the country.

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Look Ma, No Pedals! Ditch the Training Wheels? New Bikes Promise a Faster Way to Learn

Anjali Athavaley

Learning to ride a bike usually involves bumps, bruises, lots of practice--and back-breaking pain, too, if you're the parent running hunched over behind your child's wobbling cycle.

A new breed of bicycles that claims to help improve balance and allay jitters is changing how kids reach this childhood milestone. The bikes promote a simple strategy: ride without the pedals first.

Balance bikes--also called like-a-bikes and run bikes--are already widespread in Europe and are gaining popularity in the U.S. Bike makers say that children develop balance most effectively by sitting on the bike and walking with their feet flat on the ground and learning to pedal later. The bikes are generally meant for children ages two to five although some parents choose to buy them earlier.

Models cost from $50 to upwards of $200, or more than a regular kid's bike with pedals. And 4- and 5-year-olds may outgrow them pretty quickly, moving on to a real two-wheeler in less than a year.

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Missouri educators' salaries 2010

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Search by name, position, school district or salary range to find what Missouri taxpayers pay the state's teachers, principals and other educators. The data is current as of July 2010. The data shown here is the data released by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Errors should be reported to individual school districts and/or DESE. Teacher salaries are influenced by years of experience and education. Some people are listed twice because they work part time at more than one school.

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First virtual school in Mass. opens Thursday

Lyle Moran

As students in the state's first online-only public school, they will log onto a computer and find out what books they need to read and what new skills they should master.

The Massachusetts Virtual Academy opens in Greenfield on Thursday, not only as the first in the state, but also as the first virtual school in New England to serve students from kindergarten through high school.

At virtual school, the students will take all of their classes online and have a learning coach make sure they complete their assignments. A parent could be certified, for instance, to be the learning coach.

The student can work anytime of day and some may never see their teachers in person.

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Newark Schools Chief Out

Barbara Martinez

Gov. Chris Christie on Wednesday launched an effort to turn around one of the country's worst-performing school systems, informing Newark's schools superintendent that his three-year contract would not be renewed when it expires next year.

No successor was named to fill the job held by Clifford B. Janey, who was chosen by Mr. Christie's predecessor, Jon Corzine, at a salary that tops $280,000 a year.

In delivering the news to Mr. Janey, Mr. Christie also sent out a message that Newark would be a battleground to test some of his education-reform ideas, which have met with resistance from the teachers union. Because it is controlled by the state and not a local school board or mayor, Newark's school system is one of the few that allows Mr. Christie to be especially forceful in pursuing his agenda.

"Newark can and will be a national model for education reform and excellence," the governor said in a statement. The city's students "simply cannot wait any longer," he said, adding that the new leadership "will move quickly, aggressively and with accountability" to make changes to the schools.

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September 1, 2010

As the Madison school year starts, a pair of predicaments

Paul Fanlund, via a kind reader:

In fact, the changing face of Madison's school population comes up consistently in other interviews with public officials.

Police Chief Noble Wray commented recently that gang influences touch even some elementary schools, and Mayor Dave Cieslewicz expressed serious concern last week that the young families essential to the health and vitality of Madison are too often choosing to live outside the city based on perceptions of the city's schools.
Nerad says he saw the mayor's remarks, and agrees the challenge is real. While numbers for this fall will not be available for weeks, the number of students who live in Madison but leave the district for some alternative through "open enrollment" will likely continue to grow.

"For every one child that comes in there are two or three going out," Nerad says, a pattern he says he sees in other urban districts. "That is the challenge of quality urban districts touched geographically by quality suburban districts."

The number of "leavers" grew from 90 students as recently as 2000-01 to 613 last year, though the increase might be at least partly attributed to a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that greatly curtailed the ability of school districts to use race when deciding where students will go to school. In February 2008, the Madison School Board ended its long-standing practice of denying open enrollment requests if they would create a racial imbalance.

Two key reasons parents cited in a survey last year for moving children were the desire for better opportunities for gifted students and concerns about bullying and school safety. School Board member Lucy Mathiak told me last week that board members continue to hear those two concerns most often.

Nerad hears them too, and he says that while some Madison schools serve gifted students effectively, there needs to be more consistency across the district. On safety, he points to a recent district policy on bullying as evidence of focus on the problem, including emphasis on what he calls the "bystander" issue, in which witnesses need to report bullying in a way that has not happened often enough.

For all the vexing issues, though, Nerad says much is good about city schools and that perceptions are important. "Let's be careful not to stereotype the urban school district," he says. "There is a lot at stake here."

Related: the growth in outbound open enrollment from the Madison School District and ongoing budget issues, including a 10% hike in property taxes this year and questions over 2005 maintenance referendum spending.

The significant property tax hike and ongoing budget issues may be fodder for the upcoming April, 2011 school board election, where seats currently occupied by Ed Hughes and Marj Passman will be on the ballot.

Superintendent Nerad's statement on "ensuring that we have a stable middle class" is an important factor when considering K-12 tax and spending initiatives, particularly in the current "Great Recession" where housing values are flat or declining and the property tax appetite is increasing (The Tax Foundation, via TaxProf:

The Case-Shiller index, a popular measure of residential home values, shows a drop of almost 16% in home values across the country between 2007 and 2008. As property values fell, one might expect property tax collections to have fallen commensurately, but in most cases they did not.

Data on state and local taxes from the U.S. Census Bureau show that most states' property owners paid more in FY 2008 (July 1, 2007, through June 30, 2008) than they had the year before (see Table 1). Nationwide, property tax collections increased by more than 4%. In only four states were FY 2008's collections lower than in FY 2007: Michigan, South Carolina, Texas and Vermont. And in three states--Florida, Indiana and New Mexico--property tax collections rose more than 10%.

It will be interesting to see what the Madison school District's final 2010-2011 budget looks like. Spending and receipts generally increase throughout the year. This year, in particular, with additional borrowed federal tax dollars on the way, the District will have funds to grow spending, address the property tax increase or perhaps as is now increasingly common, spend more on adult to adult professional development.

Madison's K-12 environment is ripe for change. Perhaps the proposed Madison Preparatory Academy charter school will ignite the community.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 8:38 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Big incentive for school attendance: Cash

Elisa Crouch:

Stacey Wright had more than a dozen choices when it came to enrolling three of her children in an elementary school, from charters to magnets to traditional public schools in every corner of the city.

She chose Jefferson Elementary School, the brick St. Louis public school across the street. And for that, she may get $900.

For the first time, a local organization is offering parents a cash incentive to enroll their children at Jefferson. The money is limited to students who didn't attend the school last year. To get it, the kids must finish this semester with near-perfect attendance and receive no out-of-school suspensions; the parent must attend three PTO meetings. The program is being offered to families in three mixed-income housing complexes surrounding the school, where most of the students live.

Wright, an in-home caregiver, recently moved with her children to north St. Louis from Oxford, Miss. She's eager to get involved at Jefferson, located at Hogan and O'Fallon streets.

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Formula to Grade Teachers' Skill Gains in Use, and Critics

Sam Dillon

How good is one teacher compared with another?

A growing number of school districts have adopted a system called value-added modeling to answer that question, provoking battles from Washington to Los Angeles -- with some saying it is an effective method for increasing teacher accountability, and others arguing that it can give an inaccurate picture of teachers' work.

The system calculates the value teachers add to their students' achievement, based on changes in test scores from year to year and how the students perform compared with others in their grade.

People who analyze the data, making a few statistical assumptions, can produce a list ranking teachers from best to worst.

Use of value-added modeling is exploding nationwide. Hundreds of school systems, including those in Chicago, New York and Washington, are already using it to measure the performance of schools or teachers. Many more are expected to join them, partly because the Obama administration has prodded states and districts to develop more effective teacher-evaluation systems than traditional classroom observation by administrators.

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The Mystery Among Us Autism diagnoses are on the rise. The reasons are elusive, but understanding the disorder doesn't have to be

Mary Melton

Autism has hit L.A. harder than almost any other region of California, with diagnosed cases double or quadruple the state average in many instances, and at a time when our local schools and public health agencies have ever less funds to intervene. In the September issue of Los Angeles we tackle the subject of autism in L.A. While the causes of this public health crisis are elusive, understanding the disorder doesn't have to be. We offer practical advice for parents on what do after their son's or daughter's diagnosis and an etiquette handbook for friends and relatives (example: Do not say, "She's autistic? She looks normal."). We explore how the film industry has shaped--and misshaped--autism awareness, whether it's Elvis Presley as a singing physician who smothers autism with hugs in 1969's Change of Habit or Claire Danes's majestic work in HBO's Temple Grandin. Dustin Hoffman discusses the many realities that coalesced into his Oscar-winning role as Raymond Babbitt in Rain Man. We hear from warrior moms--or "AutMoms"--struggling for their children in Silver Lake and Compton, and from dads as diverse as Altadena poet Tony Peyser and former NFL quarterback Rodney Peete. Then there are firsthand accounts from adults with autism, among them Pulitzer-winning music critic Tim Page, who tells how he chooses not to wear prescription eyeglasses in order to dull the sensory assault that is Los Angeles.

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Teach computing, not Word

The Economist

The Royal Society, Britain's science academy, is curious as to why British youngsters seem to be going off studying computing at school. The number of people studying the subject has fallen by a third over the past four years, which is odd, considering how much boilerplate we get from the great and the good about the importance of computer literacy in today's wired world.

The RS is getting together with teaching outfits and the Royal Academy of Engineering. They intend to investigate the problem and produce a report. As is compulsory for anything to do with science in modern, cash-strapped Britain, the RS worries dutifully that having fewer kids studying computing will damage Britain's economy. Maybe. But I want to defend computing not because a good computing curriculum might raise GDP by a few percentages points, but because the subject deserves on its own merits to be part of any modern, liberal education.

Full disclosure: your correspondent is a huge computer nerd, and has been ever since he was in short trousers. I'm familiar with the problem the RS describes: when I was at secondary school over a decade ago, our computing classes were terribly dull. In fact, they weren't really about computing at all. They were about the quirks of Word, how to make pretty charts in Excel and the importance of backing up your files, the sorts of things taught on computers-for-the-clueless courses like the European Computer Driving Licence. In fact, the analogy with a driving licence illustrates the point nicely: for me, the classes were rather like going on an automotive engineering course, only to find it was all about how to perform hill starts and three-point turns. From talking to today's teenagers, it seems little has changed.

I fully agree. We should not be so focused on teaching powerpoint, or word. Each student should know essential html and an understanding of how to solve problems with computers, and create new opportunities.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:52 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Alone Together: My Autistic Son

Mary Melton

My six-year-old son is affectionate (a Southern granny couldn't give bigger hugs), funny (he looked at me one morning and declared, "Mama's hair is broke"), and bright (his memory is scary-sharp, and he can assemble a 250-piece puzzle five times faster than I can). He is also autistic.

We learned that Isaac had mild autism when he was three. A close friend asked my husband and me, "Do you notice how he flaps his hands? He has a lot of anxiety, too. I'm just wondering..." It had never crossed our minds. We just thought Isaac was eccentric, a late talker but a charmer. I Googled "autism symptoms" and sat at the computer in disbelief. Assessments followed. Out went his Montessori, where he was most often found safe in the lap of a teacher, far from the mayhem of Duck, Duck, Goose; in came a special-needs program with our school district. The teacher was kind but the classroom too large, the demands of the children too disparate. Isaac sat on his assigned carpet square, lined up for snacks, and absorbed nothing. He was slipping further into his obsessions--fountains, photographs, Dr. Seuss--and became so fettered by his fears of crying babies and barking dogs that it was hard to leave our house. During trips to the Getty or dinners at our local pizza joint, I bristled at the reproachful stares of strangers.

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

2 Oakland schools extend school day to 9 hours

Jill Tucker

School became a full-time job for sixth-graders at two Oakland middle schools where students clocked in on the first day of school Monday at 8 a.m. and headed home at 5 p.m., about three hours later than other students in the district.

The new nine-hour school day might sound like an adolescent nightmare, but district officials hope that more time in class will help boost the test scores of students at United for Success Academy and Elmhurst Community Preparatory School, both considered by the state to be among the 188 worst schools in California.

But keeping students in class an extra three hours won't come cheap, costing the district up to $2,400 more per school year for each of the 270 or so sixth-graders attending the schools. A nonprofit organization will run the extended program.

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

German Study Discovers Schadenfreude

Steve Huff

What you've always suspected is true: your elders kind of like it when you have to suck on the lemons of life experience. According to a study conducted by Drs. Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick of Ohio State and Matthias Hastall, from the Zeppelin University in Friedrichshafen, Germany, older folks are often shown in a negative light, derided as stodgy and absent-minded. So, says Dr. Knobloch-Westerwick, older folks in "a youth-centered culture" are grateful for what they see as "a boost in self-esteem." She continues: "That's why they prefer the negative stories about younger people, who are seen as having a higher status in our society." Knobloch-Westerwick and Hastall studied nearly 300 German adults, ages ranging from 18-30 and 55 to 60. They showed the adults a fake online news site and gave them a few moments to browse either negative or positive versions of several articles. Older test subjects tended to pick negative articles about younger people. In general, they had no interest in articles about people in their age group or older.

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First day preparations: Getting students to school and back home safely

Gayle Worland

As many students in the Madison School District head back to the classroom Wednesday, Sennett Middle School principal Colleen Lodholz hopes that upgrades outside her school will turn a "scary" traffic situation into a safer one.

A new pedestrian safety island, designed to give walkers a place to pause on Pflaum Road, plus rejuvenated bike lanes, crosswalks and a permanent speed board clocking motorists' miles-per-hour (still on order) are part of changes made there after an 11-year-old boy was hit by a car in a Sennett school crosswalk last year on the second day of the school year -- and is part of two big-ticket upgrades meant to help children get to school more safely.

Across the city, parents and principals are also taking measures to encourage safer drop-offs and pick-ups in front of schools as well as to urge parents and students to leave the car at home and walk to school.

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