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November 30, 2010

All Together Now? Educating high and low achievers in the same classroom

Michael Petrilli, via a kind reader's email:

The greatest challenge facing America's schools today isn't the budget crisis, or standardized testing, or "teacher quality." It's the enormous variation in the academic level of students coming into any given classroom. How we as a country handle this challenge says a lot about our values and priorities, for good and ill. Unfortunately, the issue has become enmeshed in polarizing arguments about race, class, excellence, and equity. What's needed instead is some honest, frank discussion about the trade-offs associated with any possible solution.

U.S. students are all over the map in terms of achievement (see Figure 1). By the 4th grade, public-school children who score among the top 10 percent of students on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) are reading at least six grade levels above those in the bottom 10 percent. For a teacher with both types of students in her classroom, that means trying to challenge kids ready for middle-school work while at the same time helping others to decode. Even differences between students at the 25th and at the 75th percentiles are huge--at least three grade levels. So if you're a teacher, how the heck do you deal with that?

Lots of related links:

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Badger Rock charter school decision delayed after Madison School Board learns of cost errors

Matthew DeFour:

The Madison School Board on Monday delayed approval of an agriculture-themed charter school by two weeks after learning the school could cost the district about $318,000 more than previously thought.

The board had been told Badger Rock Middle School, estimated to cost $596,000 in the 2011-12 school year, would be cost-neutral, but that prediction was based on erroneous information provided by district officials earlier this year. Superintendent Dan Nerad apologized for the error during Monday night's board meeting.

Erik Kass, assistant superintendent for business services, said his staff told the planning team for Badger Rock in February that it could budget $596,000 for the school.

But the district failed to account for an additional $310,000 needed to create 3.9 new positions in the district to accommodate the new school. The district also determined the school's proposed utilities budget was $8,000 too low.

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Defining a Great University

Robert Sternberg

When I was a student, then faculty member, then administrator at private universities -- a mere 40+ years -- land-grant institutions were not front and center in my consciousness. Having now moved to a land-grant institution, I have concluded they are one of the most precious if not always most highly visible resources this nation has.

Our nation needs to broaden what "greatness" in a university means. At the very least, we need to expand our conception of greatness to a multidimensional notion, not just a notion of unidimensional rankings as appear in certain magazines. Land-grant institutions, contrary to some popular beliefs, are not merely about agricultural development, but rather, about changing the world in a positive, meaningful, and enduring way. Land-grant institutions perhaps best represent the very core of what greatness means in American society -- namely, equal opportunity for all and, through it, the chance to make our society and the world a better place in which to live.

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Common Curriculum

K-12 curricula needs to be less expensive and of higher quality. Nearly all curricula used in schools and adopted by school districts is print based. The cost of printing keeps open source and small, innovative, for-profit projects from being widely available in print and thus, widely adopted by school districts. The fixed, static nature of print means writers can't get real time, detailed feedback on their work and can't change it to meet teacher's needs.

We make curricula free to create, drastically lowering the costs of production. We help developers make their curricula better by providing opportunities for teachers to give feedback on resources they use. By making curricula free to create and connecting developers to teachers, we lower costs and improve quality.

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Wisconsin Representative Nass hopes to cap UW tuition hikes at 4 percent

Todd Finkelmeyer

Rep. Steve Nass plans to introduce legislation in the coming year which would cap the amount tuition and most mandatory fees can be raised for those attending the state's public colleges and universities.

Nass on Tuesday was named chairman of the Assembly Colleges and Universities Committee for the 2011-12 legislative session.

This proposal by the Republican from the Town of La Grange could put UW System officials in a tight bind. In addition, the tuition cap idea isn't the only topic that came up in Campus Connection's wide-ranging phone conversation with Nass spokesman Mike Mikalsen that will likely ruffle the feathers of those with ties to higher education in the state.

Mikalsen also addressed: the famously poor relationship between Nass and UW System officials; "education" versus "indoctrination"; the potential for a "smart furlough" plan; and what the state's massive budget hole might mean for universities in the state.

"The real rubber is going to meet the road when it comes to budget issues," says Mikalsen. "If the UW System covers the table with ideas, it's going to be very helpful. If they come to the table saying, 'We're the economic engine for the state and you need to give us more money,' then it's going to be a difficult time in the next two years."

Perhaps most notably, Mikalsen says Nass plans to push for a measure which would cap -- likely at 4 percent -- the amount tuition and most fees could be raised at UW System schools.

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In praise of cultivation

Harry Eyres:

t's not often that Slow Lane can claim a scoop but I think I am the first to divulge the contents of a report that has just, rather mysteriously, arrived on my desk. It is called "The Future of BP" and it was commissioned by the UK government from Dr Stradivario Verdi, the noted entomologist and education tsar - until he was forced to step down from his position earlier this year because of damaging rumours about his relationship with a stag beetle.

Verdi calls not simply for a reorganisation of the company affected by a series of environmental and safety disasters culminating in the Deepwater Horizon spill but for a fundamental change in its philosophy. Amazingly, he suggests that BP in the future should be concerned not with making money for shareholders but with something he quaintly terms the public good. This would seem to imply a radical move away from environmentally damaging oil and gas exploration and refining into the development of renewable energy.

Only joking. This absurd caprice is, however, not really any more absurd, when you think about it, than the independent review of higher education and student finance commissioned by the UK government and chaired by the former chief executive of BP, Lord Browne - a businessman, not an educationalist.

How could he have spent much time in serious thought, research or discussion about the purposes of higher education when he was at the helm of one of the world's biggest corporations?

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How to Give Children the Gift of Investing

Jonnelle Marte

What present can you give a kid that will outlast the latest must-have toy or gadget? How about some stock in the company that makes it.

You can jump-start a young person's finances by giving him or her the gift of investing with stocks, bonds and mutual funds. Throw in some lessons on how the markets work -- and the common pitfalls investors face -- and you could end up giving them some financial savviness as well.

Getting kids investing early "allows them to accumulate knowledge over time on what can be a complex topic," says June Walbert, a certified financial planner based in San Antonio with financial-services firm USAA.

Individual Stocks. Does your 10-year-old nephew spend most of his free time playing videogames? Harness that interest by giving him stock in the videogame maker. A kid might be more interested in following a company's stock if it's linked to a brand he or she is familiar with, such as the company behind a favorite activity, toy, restaurant or snack food.

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Evers defends Wisconsin school finance plan as "fairness issue"


State schools Superintendent Tony Evers (left) says his proposed funding plan is a matter of fairness and transparency.

"Every child in the state of Wisconsin should be supported by some level of general aid," Evers said on Sunday's "UpFront with Mike Gousha," a statewide TV newsmagazine produced in conjunction with "That's not the case now. It's a pure fairness issue."

His plan calls for a $420 million funding boost over two years that would allow the state to pitch in at least $3,000 for every student in each district.

Evers said the increase would represent the smallest bump in terms of dollars or percent that the department has asked for in the past decade. He disputed accounts that the plan was "dead on arrival" in next year's Republican-run Legislature and said he's gotten good response to at least talking about the concept.

He said the major concerns so far have been the price tag, but there has been support for the overall policy.

Evers said his goal with the plan is to reduce the complexity in the school funding formula, increase transparency in the way schools are funded and "nudge the system" away from using property values as the basis for funding schools.

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Trying to steer strong teachers to weak schools

Alan Borsuk:

James Sonnenberg has a request for Gregory Thornton, the new superintendent of Milwaukee Public Schools: "Give me the best you have, to work with the children who need the most."

It's a logical request. Most business leaders put the most capable employees in the most demanding situations.

But it's also a very tough request, because, in general, that isn't the way it works in education, where quality flows uphill, away from the lowest-performing schools and students. As teachers build up experience, seniority and, experts generally say, competence, they head for higher-performing kids, higher-performing schools and, frequently, the suburbs.

Sonnenberg is the highly regarded principal of West Side Academy, an MPS kindergarten-through-eighth-grade school in a tough neighborhood, around N. 35th St. and W. Lisbon Ave. His pursuit of a strong teaching staff is one vignette in a story that runs deep in schools serving high-needs children all across the nation.

Sonnenberg has plenty of weight to put behind his quest for more star power on his teaching staff. Federal law calls for doing more to put good teachers in front of the kids most likely to falter. Research shows those children are likely to benefit the most from having star teachers. There is wide agreement that it is a worthy goal.

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Siblings Share Genes, But Rarely Personalities

Alix Spiegel

The fight happened a long time ago when they were still in school. But for both Tom and Eric Hoebbel, the fight was a defining event -- the kind of family story that gets trotted out for new acquaintances because it seems to convey something important.

Tom, as the story goes, was just back from college, and the two brothers were together in the kitchen late at night. They chatted aimlessly about school and sports. Then the conversation turned to money.

Tom's position was that money was inconsequential. "I said, 'I could just, you know, take out a dollar bill and burn it, and that wouldn't really matter,' " Tom says. But this idea horrified his brother. "A dollar bill is very valuable," says Eric. "Even if it's only $1, you can still do stuff with it."

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November 29, 2010

Seattle Public Schools: A teachable moment - Inaccurate District Administration Data

Reuven Carlyle

It's hard not to reflect carefully upon the Seattle Public School District's dramatic acknowledgement that a major data point used by parents, educators, school board members and others to highlight the district's quality is absolutely wrong. I have been thinking long and hard about this issue since it hit the newspaper last week. Without question, I have been one of the elected officials most guilty of perpetuating the (incorrect) data, and it doesn't feel good.

While there are some who will see a more cynical conspiracy, I see a profoundly troubling mistake that needs to be discussed openly and courageously in all corners of our community.

The real issue is obviously not that a mistake was made. The district's admission this week that a key piece of data is wildly inaccurate is more than an embarrassing glitch, it's a symbolic reflection of a more systematic challenge facing many elected boards statewide that have fiduciary obligations to oversee billions in tax dollars and policy but lack access to the professional, independent staff to do the job.

School districts across the state and nation are well versed in the inconsistent arrangement by which part-time, unpaid community leaders (who campaign for the job) are then expected to volunteer thousands of hours without the ability to get the answers to their tough questions that may run counter to professional staff interests. The real issue is that the district's administration didn't strive to aggressively correct the inaccuracy from day one. They need to ask themselves why and, hopefully, share the truth with the community.

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Building A New Culture Of Teaching And Learning

Dr. Tae

f you only watch one video on my site, make it this one.

Are schools designed to help people learn? Are colleges and universities really institutions of higher education? Do students actually learn any science in science classes? Can skateboarding give us a better model for teaching and learning? Watch this video to find out.

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Commentary on the Proposed Madison Preparatory Academy, a Charter School

Kaleem Caire, via email: Chris Rickert:

At some point in the next couple months, members of the Madison School Board are almost certain to be in the unlucky position of having to decide whether to admit what is most fairly characterized as a colossal failure.

Approving a charter for Urban League of Greater Madison President Kaleem Caire's all-boy, mostly black, non-union Madison Preparatory Academy will make it clear that, when it comes to many black schoolchildren, teachers have failed to teach, parents have failed to parent, and the rest of us have failed to do anything about either.

Reject the charter and risk the false hope that comes from thinking that all these children need is another program and more "outreach." A tweak here and a tweak there and we can all just keep on keeping on. Never mind that the approach hasn't seemed to work so far, and that if past is prologue, we already know this story's end.

Caire's model would be a radical departure for Madison. The district's two existing charter schools -- Wright Middle School and Nuestro Mundo -- don't exactly trample on hallowed educational ground. They employ union teachers and have the same number of school days and teaching hours as any other non-charter and "broadly follow our district policies in the vast majority of ways," said district spokesman Ken Syke.

Amber Walker:
I want to thank Kaleem Caire for coming home to Madison and making positive changes. If anyone can make an all-male charter school happen here, he can. The statistics in the article may be alarming to some, but not as alarming to the students and parents who are living these statistics.

I support integration, but how can it be true integration when the education gaps are so large? Who is benefiting? In my eyes, true integration in the school system would support the same quality of education, the same achievement expectations, the same disciplinary measures and so on.

Numbers don't lie, and what they tell us is that we need to go another route to ensure educational success for black males. If that means opening a charter school to intervene, then let's do it!

Sally Martyniak:
Instead of the headline "All-male charter school a tough sell," imagine this one, "Loss to society: Madison schools graduated only 52 percent of black male students in 2009." Then the reaction to the Urban League's plan to start a charter school intended to boost minority achievement might have been different.

Reaction in the article discussed all the reasons why people will or should oppose the idea of an all-male charter school, despite its benefits. Let's not talk about why we should be aghast at the cultural performance disparities in Madison's schools. And let's not talk about what we lose as a society when almost half of all black males attending Madison schools fail to graduate.

Marshall Smith:
The comments of John Matthews, head of the Madison teachers union, on charter schools are hyperbole. Saying that the Madison School Board will have no control is a cover for the union not having control.

We can't argue the importance of good teachers. But the idea that a degree in education, and a union membership, make you the only one capable of performing this role is specious. All of us are teachers, or have been taught meaningfully by individuals with teaching skills. Are we going to let successful teachers teach, or are we going to let their union dictate?

According to Carlo D'Este's book "Warlord: A Life of Winston Churchill at War," Churchill, during a lull in his career, learned bricklaying. Hearing this, the British Trade Union Council, in a public relations gesture, offered him a Master's card.

Douglas Alexander:
Madison Urban League President Kaleem Caire applied for a charter school for males because only 52 percent of black males graduate in Madison schools, while black males are suspended significantly more than the majority white students.

Before anyone responds, they should answer two questions:

  • Are you concerned about these statistics?
  • What are you doing about it?
Much more on the proposed IB Charter school: Madison Preparatory Academy.

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Emanuel Vows Fix For Chicago Math and English

Dan Mihalopoulos

Rahm Emanuel made a campaign promise last week that if elected mayor, he would install a new math and English language curriculum in Chicago's public schools by the end of his first term.

Mr. Emanuel said the new curriculum would be geared toward equipping students with the skills to meet the "common core standards" that education officials in Illinois and more than 40 other states have adopted. In imposing the new standards, the state has left up to the districts the question of how to try to meet those standards.

"I want us, the city of Chicago, to be the first city to adopt the curriculum that teaches toward the common standards," he said in an interview with the Chicago News Cooperative. "Nobody has taken on the initiative."

The effort would better prepare high school graduates for college or the workplace, he said.

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Schools in Ciudad Juarez targeted by extortionists

Associated Press

Authorities are beefing up security at schools in this border city after graffiti threatening attacks on students and teachers was scrawled on school grounds, state and local officials said Friday.

Officials have increased police patrols and are installing security cameras to prevent a repeat of last week's spate of threats that targeted five or six primary and secondary schools, said Claudio Gonzalez Ruiz, head of public safety in Ciudad Juarez.

In the messages, extortionists threatened to harm teachers and students if school administrators, or in some cases the teachers themselves, failed to pay up.

At the Rafael Velarde Elementary School, extortionists demanded to be given the 50,000-peso (about $4,000) prize of a fundraising raffle, administrators said. At other schools, messages demanded teachers fork over their Christmas bonuses.

Javier Gonzalez Mocken, who heads the city's education department, declined to provide any details about the exact nature of the threats. While some of the messages were written in graffiti on walls, others were scrawled on signs tacked up on school grounds or telephoned to officials, Gonzalez Mocken said.

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Pasco County school menus

St. Petersburg Times

Elementary breakfasts

All elementary breakfasts include a choice of one main fare item, one fruit or 100 percent fruit juice and one milk choice plus an option for cereal with graham crackers.

Monday: Whole wheat cinnamon bun or yogurt with graham crackers.

Tuesday: Breakfast burrito or Zac Omega bar.

Wednesday: Breakfast pizza or muffin loaf with cheese.

Pasco County Schools.

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Is it harder for affluent schools to have good character?

Jay Matthews

Samuel Casey Carter is, in a way, the Tom Paine of the movement to raise school achievement in low-income neighborhoods. He coined the term "no excuses schools" for those run by people who think that no matter how bad their students' family lives, with great teaching they should be able to learn just as much as kids from affluent suburban homes.

His new book, "On Purpose: How Great School Cultures Form Strong Character," puts this in an even wider context. He profiles a dozen schools that, he says, have set high expectations for personal attitudes and behavior and created both good people and good students.

This time, only four of the 12 schools Carter profiles are in low-income communities. Nearly all schools in all communities need some fixing, he says. They need to nourish student character if they want young intellects to grow.

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No More A's for Good Behavior

Peg Tyre

A few years ago, teachers at Ellis Middle School in Austin, Minn., might have said that their top students were easy to identify: they completed their homework and handed it in on time; were rarely tardy; sat in the front of the class; wrote legibly; and jumped at the chance to do extra-credit assignments.

But after poring over four years of data comparing semester grades with end-of-the-year test scores on state subject exams, the teachers at Ellis began to question whether they really knew who the smartest students were.

About 10 percent of the students who earned A's and B's in school stumbled during end-of-the-year exams. By contrast, about 10 percent of students who scraped along with C's, D's and even F's -- students who turned in homework late, never raised their hands and generally seemed turned off by school -- did better than their eager-to-please B+ classmates.

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Northville (Michigan) school board picks 5 superintendent candidates

Eric Larence, Christina Hall, Naomi Patton, Robin Erb and the Associated Press

The Northville school board named five finalists for its upcoming superintendent vacancy. Public interviews for the candidates will be at 6 and 8 p.m. Monday and Tuesday and 6 p.m. Wednesday at Northville High School.

The candidates are Catherine Cost, assistant superintendent of Farmington Public Schools; William DeFrance, superintendent of Eaton Rapids Public Schools; Mary Kay Gallagher, assistant superintendent of Northville Public Schools; Shawn Lewis-Lakin, superintendent of Manchester Public Schools, and Joseph Redden, educational management consultant and former superintendent of Cobb County Schools in Georgia.

The candidates are vying to replace Leonard Rezmierski, who is retiring in June after 20 years as superintendent of the 7,300-student district.

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Madison School District's Proposed Innovative and Alternative Program Committee

Superintendent Dan Nerad

The Innovative and Alternative Program Committee is charged with identifying alternative education and program needs and developing a plan to expand alternative programs and educational options. This will allow the district to articulate a direction and a plan for these types of programs which will be presentedto the Board of Education.
An open approach to alternative education models - an area Madison lags - is a good thing. A simple first step would be to address Janet Mertz's longstanding quest Credit for Non Madison School District Courses.

Related: A School Board Thinks Differently About Delivering Education, and spends less.

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Waterloo East High School Dress Code

Staci Hupp

Students face a test as they walk in the doors of Waterloo East High School each morning.

Their clothes must meet the definition of a school uniform enforced by adults who stand guard at the building entrances.

No shirt collar? No dress pants or skirts? No entry.

The routine will be familiar to every public school student in Waterloo by next year, if district officials win a battle to become the first in Iowa to require school uniforms.

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November 28, 2010

Vision for charter middle school project taking shape; Badger Rock Approval Materials for the Madison School Board

Dan Simmons

It will be a year-round middle school. And an urban farm. And a cafe with indoor and outdoor seating. And a neighborhood center. And an office space. And a home for small business.

Planners of the Resilience Research Center development have firmed up their vision and timeline for the nearly 4-acre parcel planned to start taking shape in January on the South Side, near the intersection of East Badger and Rimrock roads.

Now they're working with the city on a somewhat complicated task: Zone this!

"I don't know of many other projects that have this type of mix with commercial uses and a school on one site," said Heather Stouder of the city's planning division.

Much more on the proposed Badger Rock Middle School here

Complete 6.3MB Badger Rock Proposal.

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Madison School District Draft Superintendent Evaluation Documents

Beth Moss & James Howard 450K PDF

Attached is the final draft of the Superintendent evaluation document to be used for the summative or end -of-year evaluation to be voted on at the November 29 meeting. The document has two parts. The first part is the Superintendent of Schools Performance Expectations Standards Assessment, a rubric based on the following:
  1. The Superintendent Position Description, adopted Sept. 21, 2009; and
  2. Feedback from the formative (mid-year) evaluation for the Superintendent, July 2010
The second part of the evaluation involves feedback on the following elements:
  1. The Superintendent goals, approved December 15, 2009;
  2. Two elements from the additional evaluation framework identified by Mr. Howard: Diversity and Inclusion and Safety.
From the original draft sent to the Operational Support Committee on November 8, these are element numbers 3 and 4. In addition to approving a final version of the evaluation plan, the Board needs to discuss the date for evaluations to be submitted for compilation to the Board president and dates for a closed session meeting(s) to discuss the results. To complete the process by February, January 3, 2011 is the recommended date for submittal. January 10, 24, and 31 are possible meeting dates. During this period Board members also need to provide input on the Superintendent's goals for 2011.

If you have any questions, please email James or Beth.

Much more on the Superintendent evaluation, here. A side note: the lack of annual, substantive evaluations of former Superintendent Art Rainwater was an issue in mid 2000's school board races. Related: Who Does the Superintendent Work For?

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UW-Madison School of Education & Madison School District Contract for Professional Development School Supervisors/Coordinators

Susan Abplanalp & Brad Kose

MMSD has had a longstanding relationship with the University of Wisconsin- Madison in providing schools as sites for practicum and student teachers to learn throughout their two years in the School of Education. Each of these schools had an Instructional Resource Teacher who provided support to UW students as well as professional development for all school staff. The UW, school, and central office all shared costs of these positions.

Project Description: This agreement provides for the interchange of three teachers in an effort to further the goals of the Madison Professional Development School Partnership (PDS). The teachers will assume the duties and responsibilities of PDS Supervisors/ Coordinators for Memorial High School, West High School, and Midvale/Lincoln Elementary Schools. The teachers will provide assistance in curriculum development and evaluation to teachers at the identified schools; coordinate placement of practicum and student teachers assigned by UW-Madison; give workshops; hold regular seminars for practicum students, student teachers, and building teachers; and assist UW staff in research and curriculum development efforts involving the PDS program

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Annual Enrollment Report- School Enrollments and Capacities 2010

Superintendent Dan Nerad

The first attachment is a one-page overview summary of the past five years of enrollment history, the current year enrollment, and five years of projected enrollment by grade level. Overall, enrollment is generally flat for the district as a whole. However, enrollment has increased slightly for the past two (2) years. We project that this increase will continue for the next two years through 2012-13. After 2012-13 District overall enrollment K-12 will begin to decline slightly. Overall District enrollment has been remarkably stable since 1992 (minimum= 23,556 in 1992, maximum= 24,962 in 1998, average of 24,426 over the past 20 years.

By level, we project that only middle schools will continue to see increases in enrollment during the next five years whereas high and elementary schools will decline in enrollment. Elementary enrollments five years out are based largely on births 5 years prior. Births were at historical highs from 2004 to 2007 (over 3100 births in the City of Madison in each of those years, the highest since the mid 1960's). Births declined in 2008 (-8%) and 2009 (-13%) respectively from the 2007 high.

The second attachment shows the detailed K-12 enrollment history and projections for each school. Actual enrollment is displayed for 2006 to 2011. Projections are through 2015-16. Projection years are boldfaced. The precision of projections at a school level and for specific grade levels within a school are less accurate when compared to the district as a whole. Furthermore, projections are much less reliable for later years in the projection timeline. Also, the worksheet reflects various program and boundary changes that were implemented and this accounts for some large shifts within schools and programs from one year to the next.

Related: 11/2005: Where Have all The Students Gone, and Dane County Population Trends: 1990 -.

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Who's the Boss? Sorry, Kids. It Isn't You.

Jeff Opdyke

I picked up my 14-year-old son from school two weeks ago. I smiled at him. He laughed...and then he got mad.

That morning, an orthodontist had slapped braces on my teeth. I smiled to show my son, who is just weeks away from getting his braces off. While at first he thought it was funny that Dad had braces too, he quickly realized I'd gotten the clear braces; his are full-metal jacket.

"How much extra was that?" he asked. I told him $500. "Why didn't I get those? Why do I have to get the ugly braces and you get the ones that don't look as bad?" He was miffed, and raised the topic again with his mom that night.

Later, as I thought more about it, I started to realize that something is wrong with this picture. Why does my son believe -- no, assume -- that he and I should spend the same amount of money on our respective braces?

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Faiirfax County school redistricting plans draw protests from parents

Kevin Sieff:

Fairfax County is considering its most sweeping redistricting plan in several years as it seeks to balance booming enrollment at many elementary schools and the expected closure of one, Clifton Elementary.

The Southwestern Boundary Study, which the School Board authorized in September, contemplates four approaches to rebalancing populations within a school district that is growing swiftly but unevenly, with the heaviest growth along the Route 29 corridor through the heart of the county. The boundary changes, depending on what version of the plan is approved, could affect students in as many as 23 elementary schools.

"Some schools continue to be overcrowded and others are well under capacity. Neither is a good environment for learning," said Denise James, director of facilities planning services for Fairfax public schools.

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Wisconsin could learn a thing or two from Florida's school grading system

Alan Borsuk

I heard Jeb Bush give a talk a few months ago in Milwaukee about education policies that he promoted while he was governor of Florida from 1999 to 2007. I should have taken notes, because I think I was listening to at least a few of the pages from the playbook that will be used by Scott Walker when he becomes governor of Wisconsin in about five weeks.

I'm betting that is particularly true for the system of giving every school in the state a grade - A to F - each year. It's a centerpiece of the "A+ Schools" program that Bush championed in Florida. He credits the grading system with being a key driver of rising test scores over the last decade.

In his campaign platform, Walker called for launching a grading system for Wisconsin schools. He hasn't spelled out details, but Florida is the primary example of such a system, and Walker is an admirer of Bush. Walker also will have strong Republican majorities in both houses of the Legislature, and I can't think of any reason he won't succeed in turning what he said he would do into reality in the not-at-all-distant future.

So let's look at Florida's grading system on the assumption it is a lot like what will be used here.

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Saturday Morning Classes at Des Moines East High School

Associated Press

There's a new program at Des Moines East High School that requires students who skip classes to go to school on Saturday mornings.

The Des Moines Register reports that the new Saturday program started earlier this months. The program requires students to attend school from 8 to 11 a.m. on Saturday if they have five or more unexcused absences. The goal is for the students to make up for time lost from the classroom. Principal Dan Conner says students who don't come on Saturdays face discipline, including in-school suspension.

Much more, here: World Class Schools for Iowa?.

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Rhee still a factor in teacher elections

Bill Turque

Michelle A. Rhee is no longer chancellor of D.C. schools, but her presence still looms large over a Washington Teachers' Union election that is entering its final contentious days.

President George Parker faces a stiff reelection challenge from Nathan Saunders, the union's general vice president, who contends that Parker was too pliant in his dealings with Rhee. He cites the collective bargaining agreement Parker negotiated with Rhee, one that weakens traditional seniority and other job protections for teachers. Union members approved the contract in June.

Saunders also pledges to pursue legal, legislative and lobbying efforts to undo Rhee's signature initiative, the new IMPACT evaluation system that links some teacher appraisals to student test scores and can trigger dismissals for educators who don't meet certain classroom performance criteria.

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November 27, 2010

Mom, Dad, Can I Borrow $140,000?

The Wall Street Journal

Business is booming at the Bank of Mom and Dad.

As banks have tightened lending standards, growing numbers of families are stepping into the breach. But while intrafamily loans can yield significant financial rewards for lenders and borrowers, families must carefully assess the risks.

While many families handle the process in informal oral agreements, advisers urge clients to document such loans in written contracts, just as a bank would. This can also make it easier for families to comply with tax rules that require lenders to pay income tax on the interest they receive and allow borrowers with mortgages to deduct the interest payments they pay.

Some families choose to go through websites like Prosper and Lending Club, which match lenders and borrowers online--though they also set minimum interest rates.

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Unions knocking on charter school doors

Steve Gunn

It's become obvious in recent years that charter schools, with their unique and innovative approach to student instruction, are a source of great promise for our nation's troubled public education system.

That's why the recent decision by teachers at the Englewood on the Palisades Charter School to join the American Federation of Teachers is so frightening.

For years, our nation's powerful school-employee unions, like the AFT and the National Education Association, opposed the very concept of charter schools and pressured state governments to cap their numbers or shut them down altogether.

They simply didn't want the competition.

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College Best Values in Private Colleges Our top 200 schools deliver a high-quality education at an affordable price


Incensed at the price of a private-college education? On the face of it, you have every reason to be. The average cost of a year at a four-year private school has lately run about $36,000, compared with $21,000 a decade ago, according to the College Board. Over the same ten-year period, family incomes have mostly stagnated. Many parents wonder whether a private-school education is attainable at all, much less worth the price.

Don't grab the pitchforks yet, folks. Although the sticker price charged by private colleges may seem more suited to the Ancien Régime than to recession-weary families, the net price -- the cost after financial aid -- puts the total out-of-pocket cost, on average, closer to $22,000. And if you consider only tuition and fees, the net price (in inflation-adjusted dollars) is actually a bit less than it was a decade ago.

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Some parents object to West Chester schools' plan to cut busing costs

Dan Hardy

To save the West Chester Area School District a million dollars a year on transportation, some students will have to start the school day earlier next fall and many will have to walk farther to bus stops.

At one middle school, pupils will ride with high schoolers for the first time.

School board members and administrators defend the changes, approved this week, as needed to conserve money for classroom services. Some parents wonder whether the district is putting financial considerations ahead of children's welfare.

Let the belt-tightening - and the debate over what to cut - begin again.

Even after cutting millions of dollars this school year, the 11,817-student district is projecting a $6 million budget gap for next fiscal year, which will start July 1.

So the board voted unanimously Tuesday to eliminate some buses and fill others closer to capacity. School times were changed, more than 900 bus stops were tentatively eliminated, and some nonpublic-school routes that the district covers were merged with those of public school students. More than 950 children who walk less than a tenth of a mile to a bus stop would have a longer walk under the changes.

The West Chester School District plans to spend $203,848.400 for nearly 12,000 students during the 2010-2011 school year ($16,987.37 per student). Madison spent $15,241 per student during the 2009-2010 school year.

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The 'highly qualified' gap No Child Left Behind mandates such teachers in all U.S. schools. A new study shows that little progress has been made in meeting that requirement.

Los Angeles Times

While states and school districts hotly debate the issue of whether student test scores should be used to evaluate teachers, the nation has been virtually ignoring a more basic question: whether those teachers are even qualified in the first place. Too many of them aren't.

The No Child Left Behind Act mandated that all students be taught by "highly qualified" teachers. And although we disagree with many elements of that 2001 federal school reform act -- its rigidity, its use of the wrong measurements to assess student progress -- this provision always made more sense.

Among other things, a highly qualified teacher in the secondary schools is supposed to have expertise in the subject he or she teaches, whether that means having majored in the subject in college or having a credential to teach it. Ample research has found that students learn better when their teachers have such formal expertise. Yet a new report by the Education Trust, a nonprofit organization devoted to improving the educational lot of poor and minority students, shows that the problem is widespread and that little progress has been made.

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San Francisco considers full-time school board

Associated Press

Several San Francisco supervisors are proposing making members of the city's school board full-time workers with health benefits, a pension and salary of $50,000 each.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the four supervisors have put forth an amendment to the City Charter that would change the position from what is currently largely a volunteer job.

San Francisco's seven school board members get a $500 stipend, shared use of a district car and a life insurance policy, but no salary.

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November 26, 2010

Teachers in the firing line again

The Guardian

Is it any wonder that the government is besieged on all sides by the educational establishment, for it is falling into the trap of all previous governments for the past 30 years: blaming the teachers and the students for the ills of the nation (Bad teachers out, social mobility in: Gove outlines goals, 25 November).

Having been in the field of education as a teacher, deputy head of a large and successful comprehensive school and now an administration manager in another, I weep for teaching staff and children in this country. Teachers and state schools have been forced to obey the whims of successive administrations because they thought they knew better. Despite continual central interference, and constant change in examination systems, teachers delivered time and time again. Standards have improved, and teachers are somehow vilified for it instead of congratulated.

Now we have another set of Harrow, Eton, Westminster and Oxbridge boys who know better than the sensible, pragmatic and logical majority of headteachers, teachers and teaching assistants working out there in state schools up and down the country. This group of privileged career politicians now have the nerve to take us back to the 1950s. All secondary schools will be measured against each other in five subjects: English, maths, science, a foreign language and history or geography. All modular exams will be abolished in favour of one set of exams at the end. Well, isn't this progress! This is not suitable for all children; what about business, enterprise, design and technology skills? What about even giving a thought for the bottom 20%? What will happen to them? Do they care?

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Georgia and California take opposite poles in the debate over illegal immigrants and higher education

The Economist

IT BEGAN with a traffic violation. Last March Jessica Colotl, a 21-year-old political-science major at Kennesaw State University, was arrested for "impeding the flow of traffic". Cobb County authorities, who participate in a federal immigration-law enforcement programme, found that Ms Colotl was in the country illegally. She had entered with her parents when she was 10. She graduated from high school with an A average, and wanted to become a lawyer. Instead she will probably be deported in the spring, after she graduates.

And if Tom Rice gets his way, there will be no more Jessica Colotls. In October Georgia's Board of Regents, which oversees the state's public universities, banned illegal immigrants from the state's five most popular universities, and said that they cannot be admitted to the other 30 ahead of qualified legal residents, having found 501 undocumented students among the 310,000 enrolled in Georgia's public universities. For Mr Rice, a Republican state representative, this was not enough; he pre-filed a bill with the state's Assembly that would ban all illegals from public universities. If it passes when the legislature convenes in January (and it stands a good chance), Georgia will join South Carolina as the only states with such a ban.

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Statistical models may help school districts stretch their education dollars

Karel Holloway

Texas lawmakers, more than ever, are looking for a way to get the most bang for the buck in education.

And they may have found it.

Complex ratings have been developed by the state comptroller's office and at least one private company that provide a look at how much money is really needed to provide Texas students with a good education.

Faced with a record budget shortfall, the state will most likely have to consider cuts to education spending. School superintendents say any reduction in funding will lead to teacher layoffs and cuts to instructional programs. They argue they need more money, not less.

That's why looking at the data may become important in the debate. The systems show not only where students have the best academic performance but which districts spend the least to achieve those results.

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Broad Alum Busted in Seattle Public School Scandal for Lying to Advance Corporate Ed Reform

Jim Horn, via a Den Dempsey email

Brad Bernatek began his Broad Residency in Urban Education Cohort 2006 with Seattle Public Schools and became the chief honcho for accountability in 2008. From the Broad website:
Brad Bernatek serves [for now] as Director of Research, Evaluation and Assessment for Seattle Public Schools. In this role, Bernatek runs the department responsible for student statistics including enrollment, demographics, evaluation and standardized testing. During his Residency, Bernatek served the district as interim manager for research, evaluation and assessment and as special assistant to the chief operations officer.
When a new strategic plan was being put together in 2008 with the new superintendent, Maria Goodloe-Johnson (Broad Supt. Academy, Class of '03), the Broadies needed some really embarrassing piece of information about SPS that could be used to leverage the changes they wanted to initiate: ending the remains of the school integration plan killed by the Roberts Court in 2007, more testing, closing more schools, opening more corporate charters, longer school days, teacher pay and evaluations based on test scores, working to end tenure, and the bringing in Teach for America to replace professional faculty. In short, the disaster capitalists needed a disaster to bring about change before anyone could regain their composure.

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School Chief May Not Get Waiver

Barbara Martinez & Michael Howard Saul

David Steiner, the state education commissioner, has "serious concerns" about granting magazine executive Cathie Black the necessary waiver so that she can become the next New York City schools chancellor, according to a person familiar with his thinking.

The commissioner, however, would be more open to granting a waiver request if it includes a plan to pair Ms. Black with a strong deputy with educational experience, this person said.

Mr. Steiner "recognizes the leadership qualities" of Ms. Black, the person said, but education issues in New York City are so complex that when he "looks at this as a whole," his "initial inclination is to say no to the current waiver request," the person said.

A new poll released Tuesday from Quinnipiac University Polling Institute showed that 47% of city voters disapprove of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's appointment of Ms. Black, with 29% supporting the selection and 25% saying they are undecided. Voters with children in public schools disapprove of the appointment by an even higher margin, 62% to 25%.

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Indiana high schools struggle to improve

Lesley Stedman Weidenbener

More Hoosier schools are making progress toward state and federal student achievement standards, but high schools locally and across the state have failed to keep up with the gains made by elementary and middle schools, according to data released Tuesday by the Indiana Department of Education.

The problem with high schools boils down to "a combination of generally low performance and no significant improvement," Jeff Zaring, the department's chief of results and reform, told the State Board of Education.

As a result, the board voted to put three-quarters of Indiana's high schools into "academic watch" and "academic probation" categories based in part on standardized test scores and how they've changed over the past three years. Locally, that includes Henryville, Silver Creek, Borden, Clarksville, Charlestown, Jeffersonville, New Albany, North Harrison, Corydon Central and South Central high schools.

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UW chancellors call for civility on campuses

Sharif Durhams

Chancellors of the University of Wisconsin campuses released an open letter calling for civility Tuesday after a number of violent incidents on campuses this fall.

The incidents receiving the most media attention have included the death of a student at UW-Stout after an argument at a tavern. Two UW-Stout hockey players were charged with felony murder in that student's death. Also, three incidents at UW-Whitewater - two involving apparent anti-gay violence and vandalism in which the letters "KKK" were spray painted on cars.

Here's the text of the letter:

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Cedarburg School District will contact families who opted out of sex ed

Becky Vevea

Over the next few weeks, the Cedarburg School District will contact 111 families that did not return opt-in forms to have their children participate in sensitive issues of the human growth and development curriculum.

Last year, only a handful of parents opted their children out of the sex education curriculum.

In a move that caused controversy among community members, the Cedarburg School Board voted to reverse the process - mandating that parents had to specifically opt their children into the programming by signing a permission slip by Nov. 1. If no form was returned, it was assumed they opted out.

That change in policy drew the attention of the state Department of Public Instruction, which notified the district in a letter that it could face a legal challenge if the board didn't return to an opt-out policy. Since then the board has discussed the policy at its last two regular meetings.

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November 25, 2010

Schools Find Achievement Gap Tough To Close


Despite ongoing research and theorizing, the educational achievement of black boys and young black men continues to lag behind their white peers, nationwide. James Earl Davis of Temple University's College of Education and Pedro Noguera, author of The Trouble With Black Boys discuss.

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Superintendent/Student Ratios

New Jersey Left Behind

Everyone's talking about superintendent salary caps. The Record reports that the New Jersey Association of School Administrators filed a motion in State Superior Court claiming that just because Gov. Christie has proposed caps doesn't mean he can enforce them right now. The association also argues that Acting Commissioner Rochelle Hendricks "broke the law" by advising our 21 Executive County Superintendents to veto any contracts above the caps.

In other litigation, the Parsippany-Troy Hills School Board filed suit in the appellate division of Superior Court regarding the Morris County Executive County Superintendent's refusal to approve the new contract for Superintendent Le Roy Seitz, which will pay him $234,065 by the fifth year of the 5-year contract.

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Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distraction

Matt Richtel

On the eve of a pivotal academic year in Vishal Singh's life, he faces a stark choice on his bedroom desk: book or computer?

By all rights, Vishal, a bright 17-year-old, should already have finished the book, Kurt Vonnegut's "Cat's Cradle," his summer reading assignment. But he has managed 43 pages in two months.

He typically favors Facebook, YouTube and making digital videos. That is the case this August afternoon. Bypassing Vonnegut, he clicks over to YouTube, meaning that tomorrow he will enter his senior year of high school hoping to see an improvement in his grades, but without having completed his only summer homework.

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A new mess at Central Falls High in Rhode Island

Valeria Strauss

A new disciplinary program that stressed leniency has failed to rein in dozens of students who caused serious disruptions; kids who come to school or class late, or who have even threatened teachers, received minimal or no punishment, said a number of teachers, who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear of retaliation. Some teachers have reported being assaulted by students.

Teachers have made hundreds of referrals of students for disciplinary measures, but, some teachers said, the administration does little if anything in the way of punishment.

After first denying any problem, school officials have said part of the program would be reviewed. This admission occurred after a meeting with the Central Falls police chief, Capt. Col. Joseph Moran III, who is also head of the Rhode Island Police Chiefs' Association.

Some teachers also said they are some of their colleagues have been threatened and/or disciplined by administrators for merely disagreeing with policy, and that they believe the administrators are using some of the cameras installed in the school to monitor them.

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November 24, 2010

Evanston Township High seeks to diversify advanced classes

Diane Rado, via a kind reader's email:

When he scans the faces in his honors science courses at Evanston Township High School, chemistry teacher William Farmer can easily see who's missing: minority kids.

"Out of 26, you might have three nonwhite students," he said.

One of the most racially mixed high schools in Illinois, Evanston has a mission of embracing diversity and promoting equity and excellence for all students. But its own data show that few minority students make it into the school's most rigorous courses that will best prepare them for college and the future.

Honors classrooms dominated by white students have been common in Illinois and across the nation, a byproduct of a century-old and controversial tradition of tracking, or sorting, students into different levels of classes.

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Madison schools working with Metro to curb bad bus behavior

Matthew DeFour:

Responding to safety concerns about bullying, fights and unruly behavior on student bus routes, Metro Transit is working with the Madison School District to impose sanctions against disruptive students.
Starting as early as mid-January, Metro officials may limit bus access for students who misbehave in ways that don't currently result in penalties -- such as vandalism, throwing objects, horseplay, and loud or vulgar language.
Unruly students with unlimited bus passes could receive a limited pass that would only cover travel to and from school. Currently, those passes allow students to ride buses throughout the city at any time.
Though Metro now has cameras on all of its buses, students, particularly those in middle school, are still misbehaving, school district security coordinator Luis Yudice said. Some students are bullied to the point that they arm themselves with knives or join gangs for protection, he said.

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Madison Preparatory Academy School Board Presentation 12/6/2010

Kaleem Caire, via email:

The initial proposal for Madison Preparatory Academy for Young Men will be presented to the Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education's Planning and Development Committee on MONDAY, DECEMBER 6, 2010 at 6:00pm in the McDaniels Auditorium of the Doyle Administration Building (545 West Dayton St., Madison 53703). The committee is chaired by Ms. Arlene Silveira ( The Madison Prep proposal is the first agenda item for that evening's committee meeting so please be there at 6pm sharp. If you plan to provide public comment, please show up 15 minutes early (5:45pm) to sign-up!

Please show your support for Madison Prep by attending this meeting. Your presence in the audience is vital to demonstrating to the Board of Education the broad community support for Madison Prep. We look forward to you joining us for the very important milestone in Madison history!

The Mission

Madison Prep will provide a world class secondary education for young men that prepares them to think critically, communicate effectively, identify their purpose, and succeed in college, 21st century careers, leadership and life. For more information, see the attachments or contact Ms. Laura DeRoche at

Get Involved with Madison Prep
  • Curriculum & Instruction Team. This design team will develop a thorough understanding of the IB curriculum and define the curriculum of the school, including the core and non-core curriculum. They will also develop a thorough understanding of the Harkness teaching method, outline instructional best practices, and address teacher expectations and evaluation. Both teams will address special education and English Language Learners (ELL).
  • Governance, Leadership & Operation Team. This design team will help develop the school's operations plan, define the governing structure, and address the characteristics and expectations of the schools Head of School.
  • Facility Team. This team will be responsible for identify, planning, and securing a suitable facility for Madison Prep.
  • Budget, Finance & Fundraising Team. This team will be involved with developing Madison Prep's budget and fundraising plans, and will explore financing options for start-up, implementation, and the first four years of the school's operation."
  • Community Engagement & Support Team. This team will develop strategies and work to establish broad community support for Madison Prep, develop criteria for partnering with others, and establish partnerships that support teaching, learning, leadership, and community engagement.
Related: an interview with Kaleem Caire.

Madison Preparatory Academy Overview 600K PDF and executive summary.

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Bloomberg: Abolish Requirements for Schools Chancellor

Michael Howard Saul

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the state should abolish a law requiring that all school chiefs in New York have at least three years' experience in schools and hold a professional certificate in educational leadership. These background requirements can't adequately assess whether a candidate is poised to lead the nation's largest school system, he said Tuesday.

Earlier this month, Bloomberg selected Cathie Black, a media executive with no education experience or credentials, to succeed Joel Klein as the city's schools chancellor. The mayor is seeking a waiver for Black's appointment from David Steiner, the state's education commissioner.

A panel advising Steiner on the decision was slated to meet Tuesday to discuss Black's qualifications and come up with a recommendation. The education commissioner is empowered to grant a waiver for "exceptionally qualified persons," according to state law.

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Make college cost more

Shirley V. Svorny

Recent decisions by the California State University Board of Trustees and the University of California regents to increase student fees have been attacked by critics who insist that higher education subsidies are critical for California's economic growth and prosperity.

This is not true; the state's prosperity rests on public policies that encourage economic activity, not on heavy subsidies to higher education.

Moreover, artificially low fees attract some students to higher education who simply aren't suited to the academic rigors of a university. Ultimately, the presence of these lower-achieving students hurts those who are more academically inclined, as they end up in watered-down courses in which professors have to focus on bringing the low achievers along.

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Let each high school decide how to motivate students

Jay Matthews

Two demographically similar and academically impressive local high schools - Northwood in Montgomery County and West Potomac in Fairfax County - have been debating grades. Both schools have been accused of letting too many students pass their courses without learning the material.

This is in line with what millions of Americans say about schools in general. But they disagree over whom to blame. Unmotivated students? Lazy teachers? Cowardly administrators? Short-sighted parents?

I wonder if there isn't a way for all of these people to resolve the dispute by offering school choices that would approach grading and teaching in different ways. I know it sounds chaotic, but bear with me.

Last week in this column, Northwood math teacher Dan Stephens said he can't motivate his students if his school district lets them pass his course even when they flunk the final exam, written by the county to set a standard for all schools. Contradictory county rules say the test may count as only 25 percent of the final grade.

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How to help African-American males in school: Treat them like gifted students

Yvette Jackson

I wanted to cry when I read about the recent widely publicized report from the Council of Great City Schools about the underachievement of African-American males in our schools. Its findings bear repeating: African-American boys drop out at nearly twice the rate of white boys; their SAT scores are on average 104 points lower; and black men represented just 5 percent of college students in 2008.

When I was the executive director of instruction and professional development for the New York City Public Schools, I grew keenly aware of the challenges schools face in educating African-American males. For many reasons, far too many boys don't get the support at home or in the community they need to thrive as adults. Instead, that job falls almost completely on their schools. And that means it comes down to their teachers.

Driven by the intense focus on accountability, schools and teachers used standardized test scores to help identify and address student weaknesses. Over time, these deficits began to define far too many students so that all we saw were their deficits - particularly for African-American males. As a result, we began losing sight of these young boys' gifts and, as a consequence, stifled their talents.

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The Insanity Virus

Douglas Fox

Steven and David Elmore were born identical twins, but their first days in this world could not have been more different. David came home from the hospital after a week. Steven, born four minutes later, stayed behind in the ICU. For a month he hovered near death in an incubator, wracked with fever from what doctors called a dangerous viral infection. Even after Steven recovered, he lagged behind his twin. He lay awake but rarely cried. When his mother smiled at him, he stared back with blank eyes rather than mirroring her smiles as David did. And for several years after the boys began walking, it was Steven who often lost his balance, falling against tables or smashing his lip.

Those early differences might have faded into distant memory, but they gained new significance in light of the twins' subsequent lives. By the time Steven entered grade school, it appeared that he had hit his stride. The twins seemed to have equalized into the genetic carbon copies that they were: They wore the same shoulder-length, sandy-blond hair. They were both B+ students. They played basketball with the same friends. Steven Elmore had seemingly overcome his rough start. But then, at the age of 17, he began hearing voices.

The voices called from passing cars as Steven drove to work. They ridiculed his failure to find a girlfriend. Rolling up the car windows and blasting the radio did nothing to silence them. Other voices pursued Steven at home. Three voices called through the windows of his house: two angry men and one woman who begged the men to stop arguing. Another voice thrummed out of the stereo speakers, giving a running commentary on the songs of Steely Dan or Led Zeppelin, which Steven played at night after work. His nerves frayed and he broke down. Within weeks his outbursts landed him in a psychiatric hospital, where doctors determined he had schizophrenia.

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UK Teacher training reform is vital to Michael Gove's plans

Telegraph View

The Government's determination to repair Britain's educational system is becoming clearer by the day. This week, a White Paper will propose scrapping "bite-sized" GCSE examinations, which chop the qualification into modules that pupils can re-take in order to boost their grades. This move will cut the number of exams pupils have to sit - and, in doing so, increase academic rigour. That fact alone tells us something about Labour's wretched education policies: in the rest of the world, exams actually raise standards. In place of the dumbed-down courses will come GCSEs in which, to quote Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, pupils will be "examined on everything they have learnt at one time".

The White Paper will also address the gross devaluation of A-levels by cutting the number of modules; Ofsted inspections will focus more sharply on teaching standards; and trainee teachers will spend more time in the classroom and less in teacher training colleges in which tired, Left-wing theories of education hold sway.

This last proposal is extremely significant. Mr Gove's plans to improve education extend far beyond his championing of Free Schools. He aims to increase parental choice, restore discipline and ensure that lessons are devoted to academic subjects rather than politically correct children's entertainment. But introducing these reforms will be a huge challenge. They will not take root without the co-operation of this generation of teachers and the next.

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News Corp buys education software company

Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson

Rupert Murdoch is making his first significant foray into school rooms with the $360m acquisition of Wireless Generation, a US education technology company, just days after the chief of New York's schools announced he would join News Corp to scout for education deals.

News Corp, whose interests range from its 20th Century Fox film studio to a planned iPad-only newspaper, will buy 90 per cent of the privately-held New York-based company in cash from its founders, who will retain the remaining 10 per cent.

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Gov. Christie faces opposition from N.J. public school advocates in superintendent salary cap measure

Bob Braun

He was the very model of a modern Morris County Republican. He wore a dark suit under a gray Chesterfield overcoat with a black velvet collar. Hair, cropped military style. When he flipped open his cell phone, its backlit screen broadcast the familiar, stylized symbol of the GOP elephant.

Yet Joseph Ricca, the young schools superintendent in East Hanover, had just told Gov. Chris Christie, a rising Republican star, to back off.

"I don't think any level of government, whether in Washington or Trenton, has the right to dictate what someone can and cannot earn," said Ricca after testifying before a state hearing on the governor's plan to cap the salaries of school chiefs.

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November 23, 2010

Madison School District to shut access to East High stairwell where alleged assault took place

Matthew DeFour

The stairwell at East High School where an alleged sexual assault took place last week will soon be off limits to students except in emergencies, a Madison School District official said Tuesday.

The door at the top of the stairwell, which leads to a building exit, will be labeled as an emergency exit, and an alarm will sound if it is opened, security coordinator Luis Yudice said.

"We're talking about a comprehensive reassessment of building security at East," Yudice said. "This incident served as a reminder to other schools that we always need to be vigilant and alert."

The district also plans to add a sixth security officer to the school (other high schools have five), extra surveillance cameras and a visitor welcome center by January, as well as asking school staff to help patrol hallways.

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Poorest would have to travel furthest in Madison schools' 4K plan

Matthew DeFour

"It would be completely crazy to roll out this 4K plan that is supposed to really, fundamentally be about preparing children, especially underprivileged, and not have the centers in the neighborhoods that most need the service," School Board member Lucy Mathiak said.

Deputy superintendent Sue Abplanalp, who is coordinating implementation of the program, acknowledged some students will have to travel outside their school attendance areas to attend the nearest 4K program, "but it's not a long drive, especially if they're in contiguous areas."

"We will make it work," Abplanalp said. "We're very creative."

The school district is conducting its own analysis of how the distribution of day care providers and existing elementary school space will mesh under the new program. Some alternative programs may have to move to other schools to make room, but no final decisions have been made, Abplanalp said.

Detailed information has not been shared with the Madison School Board and is not expected to be ready before the board votes Monday on granting final funding approval for the program. The approval must happen then because the district plans to share information with the public in December before enrollment starts in February, Abplanalp said.

Much more on Madison's proposed 4K program, here. The District has a number of irons in the fire, as it were, including high school curricular changes, challenging reading results and 4K, among many others. Can 4K lift off effectively (both in terms of academics and costs)?

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Oakland leads self-help answer to blacks' crisis

Brenda Payton

Oakland will host the launch of an ambitious national initiative in two weeks to address the multifaceted crisis facing African American children, particularly boys.

Called "A New Way Forward: Healing What's Hurting Black America," it reflects growing alarm in the African American community over the dismal realities of too many African American children. A program to recruit mentors, it adopts a self-help approach that has a long tradition in the community. Yet, there is a conundrum here. As many of the ills are systemic - inadequate education, poverty, joblessness - how can the community heal itself?

The initiative cites disturbing, though known, statistics. Eighty percent of black fourth-graders read below grade level, and 56 percent are functionally illiterate. In some cities, 80 percent of African American young men drop out before finishing high school. Each day, 1,000 black children are arrested. One in eight African American males between 25 and 29 is incarcerated. It's an emergency of violence, chronic unemployment, deteriorating health, skyrocketing incarceration and increasing dropout rates.

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Poll shows misperceptions about Wisconsin budget

Karen Herzog

Four out of 10 Wisconsin residents want state aid to elementary and secondary schools to be protected from spending cuts, but most don't realize school aid is the biggest expense in the state budget, according to a new poll.

The Wisconsin Policy Research Institute telephone survey of 615 randomly selected Wisconsin adults last Monday through Wednesday revealed misperceptions about the state budget, which officials may need to correct as they grapple with the upcoming two-year budget, said George Lightbourn, president of the conservative think tank.

Thirty percent of those polled said they thought Medicaid insurance for lower income households was the top expense in the state budget; it actually ranks second by a large margin. Twenty-one percent picked the correct answer: aid for elementary and secondary schools.

Others who guessed the top expense incorrectly included 13% who picked transportation, 12% who picked aid to local government (shared revenue), and 10% who guessed higher education, all of which are considerably less expensive than aid to elementary and secondary schools.

The state faces a projected deficit of at least $2.2 billion in its upcoming two-year budget, assuming Governor-elect Scott Walker and lawmakers make spending cuts that have yet to happen - two more years of state employee furloughs, no pay raises, a virtual hiring freeze and belt tightening in state health programs, the Journal Sentinel reported Saturday.

Without that $1.1 billion in savings, the shortfall is projected at $3.3 billion.

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Teacher Runs into the Power of "Teach for America"

A Baltimore Teacher

I am writing simply to express my gratitude for your challenge of TFA. As a young teacher, committed to the teaching profession, hoping to make a career out of teaching in geographical areas where need is high, I had significant trouble finding a job in Baltimore City.

Even though I was fully certified, degreed in education, had student taught, and had ample years of educational experience under my belt, schools in one of America's most challenged school districts could not or would not hire me because I was not associated with a cohort program like TFA or our local Baltimore City Teacher Residency.

Because of the generosity of a caring and understanding principal, I was fortunate to find a job, though I had to fight for it. I am succeeding now and helping to close the achievement gap [in my classes] mostly due to my training and the fact that my commitment is to my students and to the profession and not to Wendy Kopp [founder of Teach for America].

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UK School sports cash plans criticised


Education Secretary Michael Gove's decision to end ring-fenced funding for school sports "quite frankly flew in the face" of the UK's commitment to a lasting sports legacy after the 2012 Olympic Games, Labour has claimed.

Shadow education secretary Andy Burnham said there was widespread disbelief over Mr Gove's £162 million cut in sports funding for English state schools.

And he seized on an Observer report that suggested Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Health Secretary Andrew Lansley had expressed concerns in Cabinet over the decision.

Mr Gove has insisted that overall spending in schools has increased and it is up to headteachers to decide their own priorities.

But Mr Burnham told Sky News' Sunday Live: "I remember the 1980s when school sports dried up and when I worked in government I was on a mission to rebuild it and that's what we've done in the last 10 years.

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Teachers' degree bonuses under fire

Donna Gordon Blankinship

Every year, American schools pay more than $8.6 billion in bonuses to teachers with master's degrees, even though the idea that a higher degree makes a teacher more effective has been mostly debunked.
Despite more than a decade of research showing the money has little impact on student achievement, state lawmakers and other officials have been reluctant to tackle this popular way for teachers to earn more money.

That could soon change, as local school districts around the country grapple with shrinking budgets.

Just last week, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said the economy has given the nation an opportunity to make dramatic improvements in the productivity of its education system and to do more of what works and less of what doesn't.

Duncan told the American Enterprise Institute on Wednesday that master's degree bonuses are an example of spending money on something that doesn't work.

On Friday, billionaire Bill Gates took aim at school budgets and the master's degree bonus.

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Professors sent back to school to brush up skills

Elaine Yau

More professors are being sent back to school to improve their teaching skills or have their promotion prospects linked to their classroom performance.

A new mandatory 30-hour course on teaching was launched by the University of Science and Technology for junior faculty in their first three years at the university.

And Baptist University has new assessment criteria that recognise teaching abilities, to break away from the tradition of using mostly research output as a yardstick for promotion. "Despite not having any formal training in education, academics can take up teaching in Hong Kong," said Professor Edmond Ko Inq-ming, a course facilitator at HKUST.

There is a need to improve the teaching qualification of academics, said Ko, who is a professor in chemical and bio-molecular engineering and an adviser to the University Grants Committee. "While senior faculty might not want to change, junior faculty is more responsive to changes," he said. "We want to better prepare them for their future job.

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Strife strains Atlanta school board

Kristina Torres and Heather Vogell

Atlanta schools Superintendent Beverly Hall's announcement that she will step aside when her contract ends June 30 comes at a time when the district is facing uncertainty on multiple fronts.

Feuding among city school board members, in which one faction of the board has sued the other over leadership changes, has caused the system's accrediting agency to say the board's capacity to govern is "in serious jeopardy."

The two sides have a court date Tuesday.

The system also faces two inquiries -- one by federal prosecutors, the other by special investigators appointed by Gov. Sonny Perdue -- into test cheating allegations that could bring criminal charges against school officials.

As the result of a related investigation, local officials reported more than 100 city educators to the state teacher certification body, although their cases are on hold until state investigators wrap up their work. That is expected to happen early next year.

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West Bend Charter school proposal at crossroads

A publicly funded school proposed by a Baptist pastor has gained support among School Board members despite objections by the district's administrators over the school's use of "a standard parochial curriculum with evangelical leanings."

The School Board is scheduled to vote Monday on whether to enter into contract negotiations with First Baptist Church Pastor Bruce Dunford over his plans to open Crossroads Academy as a charter school next school year.

The school would teach a traditional curriculum that includes more classical readings and would have a more structured discipline system than other public schools, Dunford said. The school also would support the values of a majority of the West Bend community, he said, in response to concerns that he's heard about bullying and a lack of modesty and morality in the public schools.

He said the school would be operated separately and not on the grounds of his church, where West Bend School Board member Tim Stepanski is a deacon. Unlike most charter schools in which staff is employed by the chartering district, Crossroads would be a so-called non-instrumentality charter school - one that employs its own staff and has more independence from the School Board on its curriculum and how it runs its day-to-day operations.

"I just simply believe the taxpayers, the parents of the community, should have options available to them," Dunford said. "There should be a quality education that conforms to the value standards, convictions, whatever you want to call it, of a large part of our community."

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: The Answer Is No

Jason Zengerle

His battle with the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA), over a proposed pay freeze and an increase in employee contributions to health benefits, has been particularly epic. "I came to Trenton ... and it's like coming to a new schoolyard," he says. "I looked around, and there were a bunch of people on the ground, all bloody and moaning, all beat up, and there was one person on the schoolyard standing ... When you see that one person standing up, that's the bully. And in New Jersey, that's the New Jersey teachers union." He has accused teachers of "ripping off" the state and treating their pupils like "drug mules" after some were sent home tasked with asking their parents how they would vote on the school budget. And the demonizing has worked. A November poll put Christie's in-state approval rating at 51 percent--30 points higher than the NJEA's.

Less than a year into his tenure, Christie is no longer just a popular governor; he has become a national Republican star. His focus on fiscal issues and his reluctance to wade into the culture wars--during his gubernatorial campaign, he declined Palin's offer to stump for him--have endeared him to members of the GOP's sane wing. "The breakthrough he's scoring in New Jersey is hugely promising," says David Frum, a conservative writer who fears that the Republican Party is being swallowed by the tea party. At the same time, Christie's combativeness has made him a popular figure with the tea party in a way that someone like Indiana governor Mitch Daniels--who's fought some of the same fiscal battles in his state but with the mien of an accountant--can only dream of. More than anything, Christie fills the longing, currently felt in all corners of the GOP (and beyond), for a stern taskmaster. "People just want to be treated like adults," Christie says. "They just want to be told the truth. They know we're in tough times, and they're willing to sacrifice. But they want shared sacrifice."

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African-centered education has a strong backer

Eugene Kane

Milwaukee educator Taki Raton sees the problem with failing black students in very stark terms.

For him, the issues are black and white with very little gray.

"Black people are the only ones who can teach black children, it's as simple as that," he told me, in no uncertain tones.

Raton, currently a writer and lecturer who runs an educational consulting firm, also founded Blyden Delany Academy, a well-respected private school, which operated under Milwaukee's choice program for 10 years. Raton closed the school a few years ago because of financial concerns, but while Blyden Delany was open, it was consistently praised by black parents in Milwaukee with children enrolled in the institution.

Raton doesn't think that was anything out of the ordinary. Blyden Delany was African-centered - some call it Afrocentric - in its approach to teaching black students. Raton and a legion of similarly minded black educators in Milwaukee and across the nation believe that distinction makes all the difference.

"We know what we're doing," he said, referring to African-centered schools in general. "We don't have the kind of problems other schools have because we're following a classical model for African-centered education."

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November 22, 2010

UW-Madison School of Education Lecture Series: Diane Ravitch, Daniel Nerad, Howard Fuller, Gregory Thornton, Michael Thompson, Adam Gamoran

Wisconsin Academy

t has been said that universal education for every citizen is a cornerstone of American democracy. The importance we attach to schooling and the attention we pay to educational issues are in evidence daily--from what we tell our children when they bring home their report cards to how we vote on school funding matters. Not a day goes by without accounts of perceived successes at "model schools," of remarkable teachers who made a difference, and of new public policy initiatives designed to deliver better results. But not a day goes by without reports about failures in education--poor test scores, questions surrounding teacher performance, and inadequate funding.

In "Education Is Fundamental," a special three-part Academy Evenings series brought to you in conjunction with the UW-Madison School of Education, leading historians, researchers, and administrators in the field of education come together to discuss the most important educational challenges facing Wisconsin--a picture of dysfunction but also innovation--and offer their ideas for repair.

Related: Adam Gamoran interview.

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: We can't afford deep budget cuts in Asheville education (11,631.37/student in 2009-2010)

Asheville Citizen Times

The North Carolina budget for the upcoming year is looming like a menacing storm cloud approaching on the horizon.

A funding hole of between $3 billion and $4 billion is anticipated.

Short of a rapid (and unexpected) economic turnaround that pumps more tax dollars into state coffers, it's a hole that will have to be closed.

It's how that hole will be closed, and the very nature of the state budget, that worries educators.

It ought to worry all of us.

For decades, North Carolina has made a quality public education system a priority, and indeed it's been the foundation of the state's economic policy as well. An educated citizenry is an educated work force, the coin of the realm for employers.

Education makes up the bulk of the state's budget. K-12 funding alone is the single biggest chunk of the budget, representing 35 percent of spending.

Buncombe County Schools' 2009-2010 budget was $290,784,230 for their 25,000 students. ($11,631.37 per student). Locally, Madison spent $15,241 per student in 2009-2010.

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Beyond Understanding

Andy Martin

I ought to have known better than to have lunch with a psychologist.

"Take you, for example," he said. "You are definitely autistic."


"I rest my case," he shot back. "Q.E.D."

His ironic point seemed to be that if I didn't instantly grasp his point -- which clearly I didn't -- then, at some level, I was exhibiting autistic tendencies.

Simon Baron-Cohen, for example, in his book "Mindblindness," argues that the whole raison d'être of consciousness is to be able to read other people's minds; autism, in this context, can be defined as an inability to "get" other people, hence "mindblind."

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Teaching for America

Melissa Westbrook

Three countries that outperform us -- Singapore, South Korea, Finland -- don't let anyone teach who doesn't come from the top third of their graduating class. And in South Korea, they refer to their teachers as 'nation builders.' "

Duncan's view is that challenging teachers to rise to new levels -- by using student achievement data in calculating salaries, by increasing competition through innovation and charters -- is not anti-teacher. It's taking the profession much more seriously and elevating it to where it should be. There are 3.2 million active teachers in America today. In the next decade, half (the baby boomers) will retire. How we recruit, train, support, evaluate and compensate their successors "is going to shape public education for the next 30 years," said Duncan. We have to get this right.

BUT he ends saying we also need...better parents. Turn off the tv, restrict the video and the phone and most important "elevate learning as the most important life skill." It's funny because some people might say teaching children empathy or kindness or honesty is more important but really those all relate to learning.

Tom Friedman:
Tony Wagner, the Harvard-based education expert and author of "The Global Achievement Gap," explains it this way. There are three basic skills that students need if they want to thrive in a knowledge economy: the ability to do critical thinking and problem-solving; the ability to communicate effectively; and the ability to collaborate.

If you look at the countries leading the pack in the tests that measure these skills (like Finland and Denmark), one thing stands out: they insist that their teachers come from the top one-third of their college graduating classes. As Wagner put it, "They took teaching from an assembly-line job to a knowledge-worker's job. They have invested massively in how they recruit, train and support teachers, to attract and retain the best."

Duncan disputes the notion that teachers' unions will always resist such changes. He points to the new "breakthrough" contracts in Washington, D.C., New Haven and Hillsborough County, Fla., where teachers have embraced higher performance standards in return for higher pay for the best performers.

"We have to reward excellence," he said. "We've been scared in education to talk about excellence. We treated everyone like interchangeable widgets. Just throw a kid in a class and throw a teacher in a class." This ignored the variation between teachers who were changing students' lives, and those who were not. "If you're doing a great job with students," he said, "we can't pay you enough."

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School districts evaluate merits of merit pay

They call it the War Room.

It looks like any other classroom inside Carrick High School, a sprawling structure that towers like a stone fortress over this working-class neighborhood on the city's south side. It's still dark out as 16 teachers and counselors - some clutching coffee or energy bars - sit in a circle, dissecting with brutal candor their students' performance.

In addition to their classroom duties, these teachers serve as advisers to every ninth- and 10th-grader in the school, and they show up 45 minutes before school starts each day to talk about where their students need to be. No punches are pulled; no feelings are spared.

As part of the Promise Readiness Corps, these teachers are eligible for financial bonuses.

In Pittsburgh, the Corps is one element of a new plan that overhauls the way the district hires, trains, evaluates, pays and dismisses teachers. Under a new performance-pay system, incoming district teachers whose students learn, on average, at 1.3 times their grade level can earn $100,000 a year within seven years of being hired.

Raising the quality of teaching in America has been a priority of President Barack Obama's administration, and reforms receiving the most attention right now include stronger teacher evaluation systems and financial incentives to attract, reward and retain quality educators.

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Dissecting change in Milwaukee School enrollments

Alan Borsuk

Like a glacier in a warming world, Milwaukee Public Schools keeps melting bit by bit.

But this year, don't blame the private school voucher program as the reason MPS lost another notch when it comes to attendance.

In fact, for the first time since 1997, the number of voucher students in the city is down from a year ago, although only by a small amount.

Look to charter schools not staffed by MPS teachers and to public schools in the suburbs if you want to find the growth markets for Milwaukee students getting publicly funded educations this year.

Milwaukee is one of the places in the nation where the definition of public education is getting reshaped the most. The voucher program, which allows more than 20,000 students to attend private schools, the vast majority of them religious, remains the biggest cause.

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Real problem with schools is the gap between rich and poor

Kenneth Davidson

Money for a populist ''boot camp'' is far better spent on teachers.

THERE is a crisis in public education and the policies of Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Premier John Brumby are making it worse. Both think that the growth of private schooling is a good thing because it promotes competition, which will improve the standards of state schools.

To this end, Gillard as education minister introduced the listing online of results of national student tests. This is designed to show up the poorest performing schools, which will motivate parents of government school students to select better performing schools for their children and pressure the teachers and the principals of the schools to shape up or ship out.

Politically, this approach presses the right button. It is popular because it targets state school teachers and their union, who are scapegoated for perceived failures in state education.

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November 21, 2010

Modern Parenting

Kate Rophie:

Last year, a friend of mine sent a shipment of green rubber flooring, at great impractical expense, to a villa in the south of France because she was worried that over the summer holiday her toddler would fall on the stone floor. Generations of French children may have made their way safely to adulthood, walking and falling and playing and dreaming on these very same stone floors, but that did not deter her in her determination to be safe. This was, I think, an extreme articulation of our generation's common fantasy: that we can control and perfect our children's environment. And lurking somewhere behind this strange and hopeless desire to create a perfect environment lies the even stranger and more hopeless idea of creating the perfect child.

Of course, for most of us, this perfect, safe, perpetually educational environment is unobtainable; an ineffable dream we can browse through in Dwell, or some other beautiful magazine, with the starkly perfect Oeuf toddler bed, the spotless nursery. Most of us do not raise our children amidst a sea of lovely and instructive wooden toys and soft cushiony rubber floors and healthy organic snacks, but the ideal exists and exerts its dubious influence.

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Crimes Rattle Madison Schools

Susan Troller, via a kind reader's email:

It's been a rough week in Madison schools, with the first degree sexual assault of a student in a stairwell at East High School and an alleged mugging at Jefferson Middle School.

The sexual assault occurred on Thursday afternoon, according to police reports. The 15-year-old victim knew the alleged assailant, also 15, and he was arrested and charged at school.

On Wednesday, two 13-year-old students at Jefferson allegedly mugged another student at his locker, grabbing him from behind and using force to try to steal his wallet. The police report noted that all three students fell to the floor. According to a letter sent to Jefferson parents on Friday, "the student yelled loudly, resisted the attempt and went immediately to report the incident. The students involved in the attempted theft were immediately identified and detained in the office."

The mugging was not reported to police until Thursday morning and Jefferson parents did not learn about the incident until two days after the incident. When police arrived at school on Thursday, they arrested two students in the attempted theft.

Parents at East were notified Thursday of the sexual assault.

Luis Yudice, Madison public schools safety chief, said it was unusual for police not to be notified as soon as the alleged strong arm robbery was reported to school officials.

Related: Gangs & School Violence Forum Audio & Video and police calls near Madison high schools 1996-2006.

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Teen Accused Of Sexual Assault At Madison's East High School

Channel3000, via a kind reader's email:

A Madison East High School student has been arrested and charged on suspicion of sexually assaulting another student on school grounds this week.
Madison police said the 15-year-old boy was arrested on a charge of first-degree sexual assault on Thursday after a 15-year-old girl reported the incident.

Dan Nerad, superintendent of the Madison Metropolitan School District, said while these cases are rare, they happen and it forces district officials to take a step back and look how this could have been prevented. Officials sent a letter home to parents to explain the incident and the district's next steps.

"We're going to work real hard to deal with it, we're going to work real hard to learn from it. We're going to work real hard to make any necessary changes after we have a change to review what all of these facts and circumstances are," Nerad said.

Nerad said that while there are things the district can do to prevent such incidents, he believes much more help is needed from the community. He said the fact that this type of activity has entered the school door should be a wake up call to society.

Related: Gangs & School Violence Forum Audio & Video and police calls near Madison high schools 1996-2006.

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Rhode Island's 3-tiered high school diploma system described

Jennifer Jordan, via a kind reader's email:

State education officials appear ready to move forward with their plan to establish a three-tier high school diploma system tied to student performance on state tests, and will start drafting changes to the regulations.

At a well-attended work session Thursday, the Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education discussed the details of the plan, which differs significantly from the regulations the Regents approved in 2008.

Regent Colleen Callahan expressed concerns with the proposal, saying it places too much weight on the standardized tests, which were not designed to be high-stakes or to determine what kind of diploma a student receives.

"I'm worried about tests being the determining factor, as opposed to other parts of the system," Callahan said, a reference to grades and student portfolios or projects.

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What Ready to Learn Really Means

Alfie Kohn

The phrase "ready to learn," frequently applied to young children, is rather odd when you stop to think about it, because the implication is that some kids aren't. Have you ever met a child who wasn't ready to learn -- or, for that matter, already learning like crazy? The term must mean something much more specific -- namely, that some children aren't yet able (or willing) to learn certain things or learn them in a certain way.

Specifically, it seems to be code for "prepared for traditional instruction." And yes, we'd have to concede that some kids are not ready to memorize their letters, numbers, and colors, or to practice academic skills on command. In fact, some children continue to resist for years since they'd rather be doing other kinds of learning. Can you blame them?

Then there's the question of when we expect children to be ready. Even if we narrow the notion of readiness to the acquisition of "phonemic awareness" as a prerequisite to reading in kindergarten or first grade, the concept is still iffy, but for different reasons.

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Colleges' own recruiting may push students to spread applications around

Daniel de Vise

A new analysis of college admissions trends confirms what most high school seniors already know: Colleges are receiving thousands more applications than ever before, and each student is applying to more schools.

"Application inflation" is one of the most widely discussed but poorly documented trends in college admissions. Applications rose 47 percent at public colleges and 70 percent at private colleges between fall 2001 and fall 2008, according to the National Association for College Admission Counseling in Arlington County.

In a new report, "Putting the College Admissions 'Arms Race' in Context," the group attempts to explain the unprecedented jump. Admissions officers point to a steady increase in the number of students applying to eight, 10 or 15 schools, particularly among top students courting selective colleges.

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: $2.2 billion Wisconsin deficit balloons to $3.3 billion without assumed spending cuts

Jason Stein

Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle's administration on Friday told Republican Governor-elect Scott Walker that he would have to cope with a $2.2 billion deficit in the state's upcoming two-year budget, but this brighter-than-expected forecast contained more than $1 billion in hidden pain.

To arrive at the favorable estimate, the Doyle administration's estimate assumed that Walker and lawmakers would make spending cuts that have yet to actually happen - two more years of state employee furloughs, no pay raises, a virtual hiring freeze and belt tightening in state health programs. Without that $1.1 billion in savings, the state's projected shortfall rises to $3.3 billion - a significant increase over previous estimates that put the gap at between $2.7 billion and $3.1 billion.

The shortfall and the efforts to close it could affect everything from schools and health care to local governments and taxpayers.

The "revenue projections released Friday underscore what Governor-elect Walker has said for months - the state of Wisconsin is facing very serious budget challenges," Walker transition director John Hiller said in a statement. "Further, we believe that the true budget shortfall is much higher than indicated by the projections released today."

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Atlanta Newspaper files complaint with state over school cheating scandal

Heather Vogell:

The AJC asked Attorney General Thurbert Baker to determine whether the district's denial in July of a request for the report was a criminal violation of the Georgia Open Records Act.

The newspaper's complaint calls the district's refusal to produce the report a "willful and premeditated violation."

"The purpose of the Open Records Act is to prevent government officials from burying information in this way," said Tom Clyde, an AJC attorney.

District spokesman Keith Bromery said Friday that officials were reviewing the complaint and would not comment.

The complaint comes amid federal and state probes into the falsification of hundreds of Atlanta students' scores, with dozens of GBI agents questioning teachers and administrators at schools across the district.

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A Dilemma For Schools Seeking To Reform

Sarah Karp:

On the eve of a Board of Education meeting in February where the death knell was to sound for five schools, Ron Huberman, the chief executive of Chicago Public Schools, granted an 11th-hour reprieve.

The low enrollment and poor academic record at Paderewski Elementary had made the South Side school a target for closing, and its students were being sent to Mason Elementary, the only nearby school that had higher test scores. Mr. Huberman said he changed his mind after walking from Paderewski to Mason and discovering that students would have to cross a wide intersection of four streets, a situation he concluded was too dangerous.

Although the pardon for Paderewski might have been a relief for some teachers, parents and students, it did not address the problems at a low-performing, underutilized school. Other poorly performing schools are also being spared as resistance to closing them has grown, confronting the next mayor with a longstanding question: What can be done with neighborhood schools where enrollment is shrinking and academic improvement is slow?

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November 20, 2010

A School Board Thinks Differently About Delivering Education, and spends less

Stephanie Simon

The school board in a wealthy suburban county south of Denver is considering letting parents use public funds to send their children to private schools--or take classes with private teachers--in a bid to rethink public education.

The proposals on the table in Douglas County constitute a bold step toward outsourcing a segment of public education, and also raise questions about whether the district can afford to lose any public funds to private educators.

Already hit hard by state cutbacks, the local board has cut $90 million from the budget over three years, leaving some principals pleading for family donations to buy math workbooks and copy paper.

"This is novel and interesting--and bound to be controversial," said Chester E. Finn Jr., president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative, educational think tank in Washington, D.C.


Douglas County School District board members are also considering letting students enrolled in public schools opt out of some classes in favor of district-approved alternatives offered at for-profit schools or by private-sector instructors. Students might skip high-school Spanish, for example, to take an advanced seminar in Chinese, or bypass physics to study with a rocket scientist, in person or online.

Another proposal under review calls for expanding publicly-funded services for families that home-school their children.

Superintendent Elizabeth Celania-Fagen said she is not sure which proposals she might support. But in a recent letter to parents of the district's 56,000 students, she said her leadership team "did not find the ideas alarming" and pledged the district would "set the stage for new thinking in education."

"These days, you can build a custom computer. You can get a custom latte at Starbucks," said board member Meghann Silverthorn. "Parents expect the same out of their educational system."

Related: The ongoing struggle for credit for non Madison School District courses.

Colorado's Douglas County School District spends $8512.74 per student ($476,977,336 for 56,031 students in 2009). Madison spent $15,241 per student in 2009, a whopping $6,728.26, 79% more than the "wealthy Denver suburbs".

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Bay State 12th-graders top nation in NAEP test results

Stewart Bishop

High school seniors in Massachusetts are ranked highest in the nation in reading and math ability, according to new test results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

The first state-specific results for Grade 12 in 2009 showed that Massachusetts students had the highest scaled score in both the reading and math exams. The Bay State was one of 11 states to participate in the pilot program for states to receive state-specific Grade 12 results.

In a ceremony at Medford High School, Governor Deval Patrick, surrounded by state education officials and hundreds of students, heralded the results as proof of the state's position as a leader in public education.

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The Shadow Education System

Douglas Crets

Entrepreneurs are working very hard to build education systems outside of the formal higher ed and public ed systems. One day, they will merge with the increasingly archaic structures of public ed, but for now, they will remain outside.

Is it possible that companies like this will form partnerships with or Facebook? University of Phoenix made $3.7 billion in 2009 [the source I used this morning was off by just a bit, this page says that the University of Phoenix made $3.9 billion in revenue, and a net income of US$598 million. The entire Apollo Group's revenue was $5 billion. Hat tip to Tom Vander Ark for the specifics and the links.], and that was during a recession. Facebook's revenue was only, ONLY, $800 million. Can you imagine what happens when Facebook puts a learning curriculum into its platform? Could they make more money than University of Phoenix? Could they offer a more adaptive and successful learning system than Duke University? If you think that knowledge and skills needed usually need to be utilized in the shorter term, then maybe. Maybe. If we truly live in a knowledge economy, then it will be our social value online that measures our ability to rise first to a challenge, be the first to be relied upon to fix the problem, and it will have less to do with our degree, than with how we treated someone in our day to day life.

That's why relationships are so important. That's why online and working out in the open is so important. You can exchange knowledge with strangers, send them contact lists, and if you don't use other people's knowledge for selfish benefit, and include people in your circle, then you will increase your social value among others.

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On the American Federation of Teachers president Rhonda "Randi" Weingarten's Compensation

J.P. Freire

American Federation of Teachers president Rhonda "Randi" Weingarten has issued a statement slamming proposed cuts from the congressional deficit commission for not pushing shared sacrifice among the wealthy, but an AFT spokesman has told The Examiner that Weingarten will not be taking a paycut from the total $428,284 she received in salary and benefits during fiscal year 2010.

Weingarten wrote of the proposed budget cuts from the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform:n

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Gates Urges School Budget Overhauls

Sam Dillon

Bill Gates, the founder and former chairman of Microsoft, has made education-related philanthropy a major focus since stepping down from his day-to-day role in the company in 2008.

His new area of interest: helping solve schools' money problems. In a speech on Friday, Mr. Gates -- who is gaining considerable clout in education circles -- plans to urge the 50 state superintendents of education to take difficult steps to restructure the nation's public education budgets, which have come under severe pressure in the economic downturn.

He suggests they end teacher pay increases based on seniority and on master's degrees, which he says are unrelated to teachers' ability to raise student achievement. He also urges an end to efforts to reduce class sizes. Instead, he suggests rewarding the most effective teachers with higher pay for taking on larger classes or teaching in needy schools.

"Of course, restructuring pay systems is like kicking a beehive" -- but restructure them anyway, Mr. Gates plans to tell the superintendents in his talk to the Council of Chief State School Officers, which opens a convention in Louisville on Friday.

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Future Teachers Most Likely to Cheat in College?

Andrew J. Coulson

This is of course the weakest of anecdotal evidence and no one should take it as gospel (particularly the seminary students who apparently also contract out papers to the same ghost writer). But let's say, for the sake of argument, that it's true--that ed school students are the most common consumers of fraudulent papers. How could we explain that?

There's no reason to believe that future teachers are any more ethically deficient than their peers in other fields, so that's an unlikely explanation. Could it be that ed school students are less well prepared for college? Certainly it's an uncomfortable truth that the SAT scores of those applying to ed school (both undergraduate and graduate) consistently rank below those of applicants to most other college programs. But it is also widely acknowledged that the academic standards of ed schools are commensurately below those of other college disciplines, so future teachers shouldn't have any more difficulty completing their assignments than students in other fields.

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On Mark Zuckerberg & Newark Schools

Marc Oestreich

When you set out to create Facebook (then "The Facebook") you didn't work within the confines of what was already there. You built what should be there.

You could easily have volunteered to work with the powers at Myspace, or funnel your venture capital into their infrastructure. After all, they had already built the full site, found an audience, and created a monopoly of sorts in the market for social networking. You could have simply recognized their dominance and bowed before it, but you didn't. You, my friend, are an inventor. You have been endowed with a natural affinity for understanding what the public needs... even when that doesn't yet exist. This is why its so surprising to see what you've done with your charitable giving.

What about the current public school system made you think an injection of $100 million would be beneficial? School spending per pupil has risen dramatically over the last 25 years with almost no resulting gain in achievement. Non-teacher staff positions in public schools have grown by almost 200 percent while enrollment has pushed up no more than 9 percent. Public schools are increasingly bureaucratic, increasingly resistant to change, and decreasingly useful.

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November 19, 2010

15-year-old boy arrested in sexual assault at Madison East High School had been arrested four times

Matthew DeFour & Ed Treleven, via a kind reader

The 15-year-old boy arrested Thursday for the alleged sexual assault of a 15-year-old girl at Madison East High School had been arrested four other times since March 2009, according to a county official.

The boy, who isn't being identified because he is a juvenile, was charged in a delinquency petition Friday with the adult equivalent of first-degree sexual assault of a child for the incident, which allegedly happened Wednesday in a stairwell at East.

Dane County Court Commissioner Marjorie Schuett on Friday ordered the boy kept at the juvenile jail for now, citing the "very serious allegations" he faces.

Juvenile Court Administrator John Bauman said the boy has been arrested in the past for disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, battery and disorderly conduct while armed.

"He's a young man who has significant issues," Bauman said.

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More Young Kids See Orthodontists, But Treatment Is No Guarantee of Teen Years Without Braces

Nancy Keates

Kids still getting visits from the Tooth Fairy are getting braces.

The number of children 17 and younger getting orthodontic treatment has grown 46% over the past decade to 3.8 million in 2008, the latest figure available from the American Association of Orthodontists. The association doesn't break the number down further by age, but Lee W. Graber, the Association's president, estimates that in his own practice 15% to 20% of the 7- to 10-year-olds he sees get treatment.

Parents' hope is that the more early treatment a child gets--that is, before all the adult teeth have come in--the less treatment the child will need later on. While that's true in some cases, what many parents don't realize is that for some of the most common orthodontic problems, early treatment offers no guarantees against a second round of treatment in the teenage years and may not save time or money.

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'Defend the Humanities'--a Dishonest Slogan

John Ellis

College foreign language and literature programs have been in decline for some time, first shrinking, then being consolidated with other departments, and now in a growing number of cases actually closed down. But the recent decision to eliminate French, Italian, Russian and Classics at SUNY Albany appears to have struck a nerve, and caused an outcry: "Defend the Humanities!"

It's a cry that has been heard many times in the past. As the segment of the university that has no direct link to a career-providing profession, the humanities have regularly been called upon to justify their usefulness, but the justification is easy to make, and it is an honorable one that instantly commands respect.

The case generally goes like this: exposure to the best of our civilization's achievements and thought gives us the trained minds of broadly educated people. We learn about ourselves by studying our history, and understanding how it has shaped us and the institutions we live by. As European civilization developed it produced a range of extraordinary thinkers who grappled memorably with questions that will always be with us, leaving a rich and varied legacy of outstanding thought on philosophical, ethical, religious, social and political matters. Its creative writers left a record of inspired reflection on human life and its challenges. Studying the humanities make us better prepared for civic life and for living itself, and better citizens.

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November 18, 2010

Where is the accountability for the Conn. State Dept. of Education?

Dr. Joseph A. Ricciotti:

Now that the mid-term elections are over and we will have a new governor in Hartford, the question of what impact this will have on the Connecticut State Department of Education in terms of its leadership and direction for the future looms larger than ever.

At a time when public education is attempting to survive from the misguided principles of educational leaders who are not educators, such as Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, former chancellor Michelle Rhee of Washington, D.C, and Joel Klein, chancellor of New York City Public Schools, there appears to be a paucity of leadership from the Connecticut State Department of Education. We hear very little, for example, from State Department of Education officials concerning what is the appropriate role of testing in the education of Connecticut children. There is massive abuse from the high-stakes standardized testing mania in the country including in the State of Connecticut where standardized testing is being used to evaluate school districts and now it is being taken a step further to include the evaluation of teacher performance as well. It is a well known fact that politicians' use of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and now Race To The Top (RTTT) for political gain has become rampant. Yet, our own State Department of Education responsible for the education and well being of all students in Connecticut public schools remains mysteriously quiet on this crucial topic.

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Paying Students to go to School in Ontario


The issue was first raised earlier this week by Chris Spence, the director of education for the Toronto District School Board when he sent out this question ...

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Math and reading test scores: Massachusetts excels, West Virginia lags

Stacy Teicher Khadaroo:

For the first time, the "Nation's Report Card" includes rich state-level data on the math and reading skills of America's 12th-graders.

Eleven states volunteered to have their results itemized in the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), allowing for comparisons across state lines and over time. Beyond the overall test scores, the state results also look at everything from achievement gaps between racial groups to the amount of reading the students do on a daily basis.

The data come at a time when the majority of states are trying to move toward a common set of reading and math standards, aimed at better ensuring that students graduate from high school with the skills they need for higher education or job training.

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America's Outmoded Approach to Education Credentials

Andrew  Rotherham:

What kind of credentials do you need to run a school district? Especially a really big one? Is a degree in education a better predictor of a superintendent's success than, say, a track record of turning around distressed companies? These are hot questions in the education world right now. Last week, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg surprised everyone (and that includes the senior leaders of his city's school system) by tapping publishing executive Cathleen Black to be the city's new school chancellor. By doing so, Bloomberg set in motion an arcane deliberation process. Because Black has not spent three years working in public schools -- in fact, her only education leadership experience consists of serving on an advisory board for a charter school in Harlem -- and because she also lacks the requisite 60 hours of graduate-school credits, she will need a waiver from the state in order to take charge of the city's 1,700 schools, 80,000 teachers and more than a million students.

It's understandable why some teachers and education advocates are objecting so vociferously to an outsider coming in to run such a massive system (though it should be noted that if the new chancellor pledged to undo the current reform efforts, many of these same people wouldn't care if Bloomberg had just hired Carrot Top as his new schools chief). If you've never worked in a school before, critics wonder, how can you oversee so many of them? But precisely because the New York district is so gargantuan, its chancellor needs a skill set far different from your average principal or teacher; the school system's annual budget of more than $21 billion exceeds the gross domestic product of nearly half the world's countries. Let me be clear, however, on two things: at this point, there's no way to tell if Black will be an effective leader of New York's mega-district. But what is lost in all the speculation about her is how outmoded -- and counterproductive -- American education's approach to credentials is in the first place.

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Seattle School Board considers request to pull 'Brave New World' from curriculum

Sean Collins Walsh

A request by a Seattle parent to have the 1931 novel "Brave New World" removed from Seattle Public Schools' literature curricula will be considered -- and possibly decided -- at a Seattle School Board meeting Wednesday evening.

Parent Sarah Sense-Wilson has persuaded Nathan Hale High School administrators to drop the distopian Aldous Huxley novel from its Language Arts class, which her daughter took last year. But she has not been as successful in her attempts to have the book removed from literature curricula districtwide.

Having been denied by Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson, Sense-Wilson will make her case this evening to the board, the final appeal under district rules.

Sense-Wilson, a Native American, said she and her daughter found the book offensive for its numerous uses of the word "savages."

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UW-Madison Education school hosts ceremony to celebrate building renovations

Jennifer Zettell

Everyday masses of students march up and down Bascom Hill at the University of Wisconsin and on their way, pass a piece of history.

Many students headed to class or exams Monday however, passed festivities taking place inside the more than 100-year-old Education Building.

To kick-off American Education Week, UW's School of Education planned a two-day event to showcase the renovation of the building, Dean Julie Underwood said.

In particular, the re-dedication of the building Monday morning brought together students, faculty, staff and alumni not only to celebrate the building, but those who made it possible.

UW alumni John and Tashia Morgridge donated $34 million to renovate the building, and those in attendance treated them to many standing ovations as well as thanks.

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Private-College Chiefs See Rise in Pay

Tamar Lewin

Thirty presidents of private colleges each earned more than $1 million in total compensation in 2008, up from 23 the previous year, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education's annual salary report.

Over all, though, 78 percent of presidents of private colleges had total compensation packages of less than $600,000 in 2008, and half earned less than $400,000. A year earlier, 82 percent earned less than $600,000, and 58 percent less than $400,000.

"As usual, there are a few outliers," said Jeffrey Selingo, editor of The Chronicle, which compiled compensation data from the tax filings of 448 private colleges with expenditures of more than $50 million. "When looking at the very big numbers, there's always a lot of reasons why those people got such high compensation packages."

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This Raging Fire

Bob Hebert

When I was a kid my Uncle Robert, for whom I was named, used to say that blacks needed to "fight on all fronts, at home and abroad."

By that he meant that while it was critically important to fight against racial injustice and oppression, it was just as important to support, nurture and fight on behalf of one's family and community.

Uncle Robert (my father always called him Jim -- don't ask) died many years ago, but he came to mind as I was going over the dismal information in a new report about the tragic conditions confronting a large portion of America's black population, especially black males.

We know by now, of course, that the situation is grave. We know that more than a third of black children live in poverty; that more than 70 percent are born to unwed mothers; that by the time they reach their mid-30s, a majority of black men without a high school diploma has spent time in prison. We know all this, but no one seems to know how to turn things around. No one has been able to stop this steady plunge of young black Americans into a socioeconomic abyss.

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How to deal with unruly students?

Caryl Davis:

MPS is in the throes of an alternative to suspensions - Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, or PBIS.

According to the Milwaukee Public Schools, the goal of PBIS is to "reduce classroom disruptions and student suspensions through a schoolwide systematic three-tiered response-to-intervention (RTI) approach." PBIS looks like adults in the school community offering positive verbal redirection and modeling positive conduct. The point: to teach students about positive behavior.

Some of the nearly 100 MPS schools that use the PBIS system this academic year have reported successes. Fewer suspensions are being reported. That's good news, right? Superintendent Gregory Thornton believes that "Finding ways to keep students in school instead of suspending them improves their chances of learning and improving academically," which minimizes disruptions and keeps kids in class.

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: N.J. school districts hit brick wall on raising superintendent salaries

Tracy Ness

A showdown is developing between some local Boards of Education and Gov. Chris Christie, whose latest move to control school spending by capping superintendents' salaries is rankling some school board members.

Several local school boards -- still reeling from slashed state aid, staff layoffs and the pending 2% tax cap -- are considering striking back by amending or renegotiating their superintendents' contracts before an anticipated Feb. 7 deadline to get around the cap and keep their superintendents in place.

But the situation keeps changing.

On Monday, acting Education Commissioner Rochelle Hendricks warned the executive county superintendents -- who have the final say on any renegotiated contracts -- not to approve any new contracts before the Feb. 7 deadline and directed them to inventory all superintendent contracts in their counties. And the Morris County Executive Superintendent Kathleen Serafino followed suit, asking the Parsippany Board of Education to rescind its recently approved five-year contract extension for its superintendent. What will happen next is anyone's guess.

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A School Fights for Life in Battered Haiti

Deborah Sontag

In mid-October, when fresh-faced girls in starched uniforms skipped through the gates of the Collège Classique Féminin to start the first post-earthquake school year, their desire to seek sanctuary inside was palpable.

Dashing off a street clogged with vendors hawking car mats and phone chargers, they reconnected with hugs and squeals. They cheered the absence of the stifling tents in which they studied last spring. And they all but embraced an administrator's warning that strict discipline would be reinstated after a lax period when "we all were traumatized."

Still, nothing felt normal. The school's door bore a frightening scarlet stamp, slapped there by government engineers who consider it unsafe. The semi-collapsed central building loomed menacingly over eight portable classrooms that clearly would not fit 13 grades. And the all-girl student body had dwindled to almost half its pre-disaster enrollment.

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: US muni bonds see biggest drop since 2008

Nicole Bullock

Municipal bonds had their biggest one-day sell-off yesterday since the height of the financial crisis, prompting some borrowers to delay financing plans.

The yields on triple A 10-year bonds rose 18 bps to 2.93 per cent, the largest one-day rise since October of 2008, according the MMD index, which is owned by Thomson Reuters.

Absolute yields, however, remain well below crisis-era levels.

The $2,800bn "muni" bond market where states and municipalities raise money has been under pressure over the past week amid a rise in the yields of benchmark US Treasury bonds, heavy bond sales and uncertainty about federal support for the market.

The market declines have made investors, who are mostly wealthy individuals benefiting from tax breaks on muni debt, nervous about an uptick in defaults. Munis historically have been a relatively safe place to invest, but budget deficits and underfunded public pensions have created widespread concern that local entities could struggle to pay their debts.

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13 communication and life tips that children teach us

Garr Reynolds

We can learn a lot from a child. Plenty of adults engage in childish behavior, but not enough adults allow themselves to truly become childlike and exhibit an approach and display behaviors that exemplify the very best of what being a child is all about. Obviously, the point is not that we should become literally like children in every way--a group of 4-year olds is not going to build the next space shuttle or find a cure for an infectious disease this year. But as an exercise in personal growth, looking at the innocent nature of a small child offers illuminating and practical suggestions for changing our approach to life and work as "serious adults," including the work of presenting, facilitating, and teaching. You could probably come up with 100 things children do that you'd like to be able to still do today--here are just 13.

(1) Be completely present in the moment. In the words of David M. Bader: "Be here now. Be someplace else later. Is that so complicated?" We adults are often living in the past (or have our heads in the future). Many adults carry around preconceptions, prejudices, and even anger about something that happened years ago--even hundreds of years ago before anyone they even know was born. And yet, very young children do not worry and fret about the past or the future. What matters most is this moment. "The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence," says Thich Nhat Hanh.

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November 17, 2010

New Teacher Education Program Headed to Eight States

Associated Press:

ALBANY, N.Y. -- Eight states are beginning a national pilot program to transform teacher education and preparation to emphasize far more infield, intensive training as is common practice in medical schools.

"Teaching, like medicine, is a profession of practice," said State University of New York Chancellor Nancy Zimpher, who is co-chairwomam of the expert panel that released a report on the recommended changes Tuesday in Washington. "Making clinical preparation the centerpiece of teacher education will transform the way we prepare teachers."

The pilot program developed by school and higher education officials with teachers unions to improve instruction is being done in California, Colorado, Louisiana, Maryland, Ohio, Oregon and Tennessee as well as New York. The states agreed to implement the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Panel on Clinical Preparation and Partnerships for Improved Student Learning created by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education.

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There Is No College Cost Crisis

Stanley Fish

There is no college cost crisis. That at least is the conclusion reached by the economists Robert B. Archibald and David H. Feldman in their new book, "Why Does College Cost So Much?" The title question is a teaser, for the book's message is that it doesn't. In fact, say the authors, "for most families higher education is more affordable than it was in the past."

Archibald and Feldman build their analysis of college costs in opposition to what they call the "new orthodoxy" or the "dysfunctionality narrative." In that narrative, repeated almost religiously by critics and politicians, colleges and universities have "drifted away from their social mission," surrendered to the false god of research, and engaged in an "arms race" for more prestigious scholars and ever-glitzier student unions. As a result, "their costs have sprawled out of control" and "the college degree, an essential entry ticket to the modern economy" has become "increasingly out of reach for families with middle-class incomes."

In short the conditions everyone ritually complains about have an internal cause: if colleges and universities find themselves in a bad financial place, they have only themselves and their irresponsible practices to blame.

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Parental responsibility touches nerve

Eugene Kane

The panel discussion at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee was timely.

The topic: Failing black males in the public schools.

On Saturday, educators, community leaders, students and one journalist gathered for a screening of a documentary, "Beyond the Bricks." The film, directed by Derek Koen, covers the academic struggles and dreams of two Newark, N.J., high school students trying to stay on the right track.

One is a bright young black male frustrated that his peers don't seem to appreciate doing well in school; the other is a disenchanted black student struggling to continue an education offering little stimulation.

It is a timely subject for a documentary, seeing how failing black students are in the news a lot these days due to a rash of reports that suggest black males are doing even worse than previously thought.

My appearance on the panel came before publication of my Sunday column, which also looked at the issue of failing black males and the parents who failed them.

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The Freshman 15

The Washington Post:

For everyday snacking, Oz and Jakubczak suggest these treats, which, eaten in moderation, don't add too many calories to the day's total:

3 Reduced-fat microwave popcorn. When you're studying, you munch unconsciously, Jakubczak says. Microwave popcorn is low enough in calories (about 20 per cup) that you can eat a lot. Bonus: Popcorn counts as a whole grain.

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Compensation of 30 Private-College Presidents Topped $1-Million in 2008

Andrea Fuller

Nearly four decades after Bernard Lander founded Touro College with a class of 35 students, the trustees decided that he had been underpaid during his tenure as president. To make up for the difference, they awarded him more than $4-million in deferred compensation in 2008.

Mr. Lander, who died in February at age 94, received a total compensation package of $4,786,830, making him the highest-earning private-college president, according to The Chronicle's review of federal tax documents from the 2008-9 fiscal year. The review, which included 448 chief executives, found 30 private college leaders who received more than $1-million in total compensation. In the previous year's report, 23 chief executives earned over $1-million.

The Internal Revenue Service overhauled the way it instructed colleges to report compensation for 2008. Colleges were asked to report salaries according to the calendar year, not the fiscal year, as in years past, meaning that some dollar amounts overlap with what was reported the previous year.

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Latino kids now majority in California's public schools

Will Kane

Latinos now make up a majority of California's public school students, cracking the 50 percent barrier for the first time in the state's history, according to data released Friday by the state Department of Education.

Almost 50.4 percent of the state's students in the 2009-10 school year identified themselves as Hispanic or Latino, up 1.36 percent from the previous year.

In comparison, 27 percent of California's 6.2 million students identified themselves as white, 9 percent as Asian and 7 percent as black. Students calling themselves Filipino, Pacific Islander, Native American or other total almost 7 percent.

While the result was no surprise to educators, experts say the shift underscores the huge impact Latinos already have on California's politics, economy and school system.

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Many Colleges Spend Big to Keep Former Campus Officials on Payrolls

Paul Fain and Emma L. Carew

Private-college presidents often have company at the top of the pay scale, including law-school deans, coaches, and medical-center staff. But another group of employees may also join them among the highest-paid on campus: former officials.

A Chronicle analysis found that 85 of the 419 private colleges included in this year's review of federal tax forms were paying at least one former official or key employee more than $200,000 in compensation in 2007-8.

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Illegal Immigrants Win Ruling on College Fees

Stu Woo

Illegal immigrants in California may continue to pay the lower in-state fees at public colleges and universities, the state's top court ruled Monday, a decision that saves them as much as $23,000 year.

The case was closely watched by several other states, including New York and Texas, which have similar laws that allow illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition. California residents technically pay no tuition to attend public colleges and universities, but instead pay fees that are the equivalent of tuition.

California's legislature in 2001 passed a law that let nonresidents attend state colleges at the in-state rate if they, among other things, attended a California high school for at least three years.

At University of California institutions the in-state fee is about $12,000 a year, and the out-of-state rate is $35,000. Students at California State University schools pay an in-state fee of about $5,000 a year, compared an out-of-state rate of roughly $13,000.

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You're Leaving? Sustainability and Succession in Charter Schools

Christine Campbell, via a Deb Britt email:

Seventy-one percent of charter school leaders surveyed for this study say they expect to leave their schools within five years. For the nation's 5,000 charter schools, this raises important questions. Who will be ready to take over? How will the school maintain its instructional program and culture from leader to leader? How does a school survive founder transitions? Where will new leaders come from and how can they be ready to lead existing schools?

The Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) at the University of Washington spent four years studying charter school teachers and leaders: CRPE's survey of 400 charter school leader respondents and fieldwork in 24 charter schools in California, Hawaii, and Texas has yielded important insights into these questions and the future of maturing charter schools.

CRPE's research finds that many charter schools are unprepared when it comes to leadership turnover. Only half of the charter school leaders surveyed for this study reported having succession plans in place, and many of those plans are weak. Though most school leaders affiliated with charter management organizations (CMOs) reported that their school had a succession plan, there was some confusion as to who would make final decisions--school leaders or CMO leaders. For the few schools with strong plans, two elements were common: the school leaders (all with prior business experience) had taken charge of future plans, and these schools were not in the midst of crisis.

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Duncan: Education System Must Reward Excellence

Sudeep Ready:

Education Secretary Arne Duncan asked business executives to pressure policymakers at every level of government to improve an education system that is falling behind the rest of the world.

The U.S., in a single generation, fell from first in the world in college graduates to ninth, Duncan told The Wall Street Journal's CEO Council. Too many students are dropping out of high school, he said. And in math and science education, at least 20 countries beat the U.S.

"We're simply not producing the citizens, the workers, that you guys need," Duncan said. "We have not had enough passion, enough push from the business community, and your collective voice is extraordinarily powerful."

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November 16, 2010

MacIver's Analysis of Superintendent Evers' School Funding Reform Plan

Christian D'Andrea

This would ensure that areas with greater concentrations of low-income families receive more funding in their classrooms.

However, history shows that this isn't a winning formula. While students from poorer family backgrounds present challenges in the classroom, greater financial support hasn't led to better results in Wisconsin. Milwaukee has the highest concentration of free and reduced-price lunch students in the state, as well as one of the highest per-pupil expenditure figures, spending an average of $16,730 per child according to DPI data. Madison, a city with similar low-income population issues, spent $16,393 on each student in 2009.

Conversely, other areas dealing with diverse student populations have shown better returns on their educational investments with less expenditure. Wauwatosa and Green Bay have produced more positive results in the classroom despite spending less. The districts spent just $12,098 and $13,041, respectively, per student in 2009.

Much more on the proposed changes to State of Wisconsin tax dollars for K-12 Districts, here.

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Higher Standards + More Practice for Teacher Training

Stephanie Banchero

A panel of education experts has called for an overhaul of U.S. teacher-preparation programs, including a greater emphasis on classroom training as well as tougher admission and graduation standards for those hoping to teach in elementary and secondary classrooms.

The panel's sweeping recommendations, released Tuesday, urge teacher-training programs to operate more like medical schools, which rely heavily on clinical experience.

Teacher candidates should spend more time in classrooms learning to teach--and proving that they can boost student achievement--before they earn a license to teach kindergarten through twelfth grade, the panel said.

"We need large, bold, systemic changes," said James Cibulka, president of the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education, the group that convened the expert panel. "As a nation, we are expecting all of our students to perform at high levels, so it follows that we need to expect more of our teachers as they enter the classroom."

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There are many suggestions that the best teachers have an obligation to teach in the worst schools. Perhaps they would be more likely to do so if they were granted a few privileges, such as the peremptory challenge available to lawyers in court trials....


Will Fitzhugh, The Concord Review

15 November 2010

The conductor pauses, waiting for the coughing to die down before he raises his baton. The surgeon looks over her team, making sure all are in place and ready to work, before she makes the first incision. The prosecuting attorney pauses to study the jury for a little while before making his opening statement.

All these highly trained people need certain conditions to be met before they can begin their vital work with the necessary confidence that it can be carried out well. If the audience is too noisy, the conductor must wait. If the team is not in their places, the surgeon will not begin. If the members of the jury have not been examined, the attorney will not have to present his case before them.

Only schoolteachers must start their classes in the absence of the calm and attention which are essential to the careful exchange of information and ideas. Only the schoolteacher must attempt the delicate surgery of attaching knowledge and removing ignorance, with no team to help. Only schoolteachers must accept all who are assigned to the class, without the benefit of the peremptory challenges the attorney may use to shape his audience, and give his case the benefit of the doubt.

The Sanskrit word for a teaching, sutra, is the source of the English word, suture, and indeed the stitching of learning to the understanding in young minds is a particularly delicate form of surgery. The teacher does not deal with meat, but with ideas and knowledge, attempting to remove misconceptions and provide truth. The teacher has to do this, not with one anaesthetized patient, and a team of five, but with twenty-five or thirty students and no help.

Those who attend concerts want to be quiet, so that they and their fellows can hear and appreciate the music. Those who come in for surgery want the doctor to have all the help she needs and to have her work under the very best possible conditions, because the outcome of the operation is vital to their interests. The legal system tries to weed out jurors with evident biases, and works in many ways to protect the process which allows both the prosecution and the defense to do their best within the law. The jury members have been made aware of the importance of their mission, and of their duty to attend and to decide with care.

Students, on the other hand, are constantly exposed to a fabulously rich popular culture which assures them that teachers are losers and so is anyone who takes the work of learning in school seriously. Too many single parents feel they have lost the power to influence their offspring, especially as they become adolescents, and many are in any case more concerned that their youngsters be happy and make friends, than that they respect and listen to their teachers, bring home a lot of homework, and do it in preparation for the serious academic work that awaits them the next day.

Students are led to believe that to reject authority and to neglect academic work are evidence of their independence, their rebellion against the dead hand of the older generation. We must of course make an exception here for those fortunate children, many but not all Asian, who reject this foolish idea, and instead apply themselves diligently to their studies, grateful for the effort of their teachers and for the magical opportunity of 12 years of free education.

But what they see as a privilege worthy of their very best efforts, many other students see as a burden, an wanted intrusion on their social and digital time of entertainment. A study of the Kaiser Foundation last year found that the average U.S. student spends more than six hours each day with some form, or combination of forms, of electronic entertainment, and the Indiana Study of High School Student Engagement studied 80,000 teenagers and found that 55% spent three hours or less each week on their homework and still managed to get As and Bs.

We hear stories about the seriousness of students in China and India, but we are inclined to ignore them, perhaps as the Romans discounted rumors about the Goths and the Visigoths until it was too late. We hear about our students doing more poorly in international academic competitions the longer they stay in school, but we prefer to think that our American character and our creativity will carry us through somehow, even as we can see with our own eyes how many of the things we use every day are "Made in China."

Part of the responsibility lies with our teachers in the schools, overburdened and unappreciated as they are. Their unions fight for better pay and working conditions, but say nothing about their academic work. Teachers, too, like lawyers, should demand peremptory challenges, so that they can say they will not be able to teach this one and that one, without damaging the work of the whole class. They, as much as the surgeons who are cutting meat, must be able to enforce close attention to the serious work of suturing learning in their classes. And like the conductor, they must be given the attention that is essential if the music of their teaching is to be heard and appreciated. Teachers who do not demand these conditions are simply saying that their academic work is not important enough to deserve such protections and conditions, and as a result, parents and students are encouraged to see it in the same light.

"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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The Shadow Scholar: The man who writes your students' papers tells his story

Editor's note: Ed Dante is a pseudonym for a writer who lives on the East Coast. Through a literary agent, he approached The Chronicle wanting to tell the story of how he makes a living writing papers for a custom-essay company and to describe the extent of student cheating he has observed. In the course of editing his article, The Chronicle reviewed correspondence Dante had with clients and some of the papers he had been paid to write. In the article published here, some details of the assignment he describes have been altered to protect the identity of the student.

The request came in by e-mail around 2 in the afternoon. It was from a previous customer, and she had urgent business. I quote her message here verbatim (if I had to put up with it, so should you): "You did me business ethics propsal for me I need propsal got approved pls can you will write me paper?"

I've gotten pretty good at interpreting this kind of correspondence. The client had attached a document from her professor with details about the paper. She needed the first section in a week. Seventy-five pages.

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Charters vs. Non-Charters in Newark

New Jersey Left Behind

Bruce Baker. Associate Professor in the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers and blogger at SchoolFinance101, looks at performance in 4th and 8th grade math of charter schools versus traditional public schools in NJ. In "Searching for Superguy in Jersey" he's created a statistical model for schools within urban centers and weighted achievement for free and reduced lunch rates, homelessness, rates, and student racial composition. His conclusion is fair and reasonable:
As you can see, there are plenty of charters and traditional public schools above the line, and below the line. The point here is by no means to bash charters. Rather, this is about being realistic about charters and more importantly realistic about the difficulty of truly overcoming the odds. It's not easy and any respectable charter school leader or teacher and any respectable traditional public school leader or teacher will likely confirm that. It's not about superguy. It's about hard work and sustained support; be it for charters or for traditional public schools.
Dr. Baker's scattergrams place both charters and non-charters at the high end of performance ("Beating the Odds") and low end ("Underperforming"). He also features Newark-specific scattergrams.

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Harvard Study Measures Wisconsin Student Performance in a Global Context

Christian D'Andrea

What do to 8th grade students in Wisconsin have in common with 8th grade students in Russia and Lithuania? They're just as likely to post advanced scores in math testing as their Eurasian counterparts.

A new study released by Harvard University measured how America's students stack up across the world in advanced knowledge of math and other school subjects. Not surprisingly, the results didn't weren't exactly encouraging for us Yankees. The United States ranked 31st out of 57 participating countries when it came to the percentage of students testing at an advanced level or better in 8th grade math. In all, 16 of those countries had at least twice as many advanced students than America, according to recent test data.

The report, authored by education policy stalwarts Eric Hanushek, Paul Peterson, and Ludger Woessman, dug even deeper to America's lag. The trio produced specific results for readers to compare individual states against the rest of the world. Wisconsin, despite ranking 11th in the country, fails to match up favorably against other developed countries.

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: The big givers: Teacher Unions, tribes, and real estate agents

Ben Smith

A readers sends on a link to's novel compilation of the top political donors of the 2007-8 cycle, novel in that it combines state and federal spending.

The results are striking: The biggest spender over all was the National Education Association, the bigger national teachers union, with nearly all of its $53.6 million spent on the state level. Six more of the top ten were gambling interests, at least five of them backing Indian casinos, again mostly at the state level.

SEIU comes in fifth, the National Association of Realtors comes in sixth.

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Verona's Badger Ridge students get lesson in new perspectives

Pamela Cotant

Oil pastels drawings now hanging in the Verona Public Library offer a new perspective on the city's landscape.

The artwork was created by eighth grade students in a drawing and painting class at Badger Ridge Middle School after being asked to choose an atypical point of view. Then they walked down Main Street armed with digital camera and took pictures of familiar sites.

In some cases, the students took a "worm's eye view."

"I was laying on the ground and I took the picture (shooting up)," said Sarah Guy, 14, who drew Park Bank.

While the photos were being developed, the class discussed how artists use colors expressively. This was the first introduction of oil pastels in the class and students were asked to choose a color scheme that diverted from the actual subjects.

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More students leaving failing schools

Associated Press

More parents in Southwest Washington are taking advantage of a federal law that allows them to transfer their kids out of failing schools.

The federal No Child Left Behind Act allows parents to bus their children from a "failing" school to another school at district expense.

More than 160 elementary students in the Longview and Kelso school districts are using the school choice provision of the law this year, The Daily News reported.

That's still a small percentage of the 5,510 students eligible to transfer in both school districts. But it's up sharply from the 24 Longview students who switched out of failing schools last year.

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Summary of the possible Forgery in Seattle Schools $800,000 New Tech contract approval

Dan Dempsey, via email

ssential background:
On 1-29-2010 the Superintendent received two memos from Eric M. Anderson, a Gates Data Fellow, in the Seattle Schools' Research, Evaluation, and Assessment division. Dr. Anderson is a real statistician and knows statistics well.

One of his two memos was more complete than the other. It analyzed 8 schools that someone else had given him to analyze. This memo was forwarded to the School Board on 2-02-2010. I shall refer to it as the Authentic Memo.

The other memo was not sent to the School Board. I refer to it as the Draft Memo, as it was less complete and was not sent to the school board.

The Superintendent claimed to have written the Action Report of 3-12-2010 using the Authentic Memo but this was untrue. She used the Draft Memo and thus deceived the Public and perhaps the Board as well.

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November 15, 2010

Wisconsin Education Superintendent Seeks 2-4% annual increases in redistributed state tax dollars, introduction of a poverty formula and a shift in Property Tax Credits

Many links as the school finance jockeying begins, prior to Governor Scott Walker's January, 2011 inauguration. Wisconsin's $3,000,000,000 deficit (and top 10 debt position) makes it unlikely that the K-12 world will see any funding growth.

Matthew DeFour

Evers plan relies on a 2 percent increase in school aid funding next year and a 4 percent increase the following year, a tough sell given the state's $3 billion deficit and the takeover of state government by Republicans, who have pledged budget cuts.

One major change calls for the transfer of about $900 million in property tax credits to general aid, which Evers said would make the system more transparent while having a negligible impact on property taxes. That's because the state imposes a limit on how much a district can raise its total revenue. An increase in state aid revenue would in most cases be offset by a decrease in the other primary revenue -- property taxes.

Thus the switch would mean school districts wouldn't have such large annual property tax increases compared to counties, cities and other municipalities, even though tax bills would remain virtually the same, said Todd Berry, executive director of the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance.

"Distributing the money through the school aid formula, from a pure policy sense, is probably more equitable than distributing it in its current tax credit form," Berry said. "The money will tend to help districts that tend to be poorer or middle-of-the-road."

Susan Troller
Inequities in the current system tend to punish public schools in areas like Madison and Wisconsin's northern lake districts because they have high property values combined with high poverty and special needs in their school populations. The current system doesn't account for differences in kids' needs when it doles out state aid.

Education policy makers as well as politicians on both sides of the aisle have talked school funding reform for over a dozen years but it's been a tough sell because most plans have created a system of winners and losers, pitting legislator against legislator, district against district.

Evers' plan, which calls for a 2 percent increase in school aid funding next year and a 4 percent increase the following year, as well as a transfer of about $900 million in property tax credits to general aid, addresses that issue of winners and losers. Over 90 percent of districts are receiving more funding under his proposal. But there aren't any district losers in Evers' plan, either, thanks to a provision that requests a tenth of a percent of the total state K-12 schools budget -- $7 million -- to apply to districts facing a revenue decline.

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%
Scott Bauer
Rewrite of Wisconsin school aid formula has cost
Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction:
The following printout provides school district level information related to the impact of State Superintendent Evers' Fair Funding proposal.

Specifically, the attachment to this document shows what each school district is receiving from the state for the following programs: (1) 2010-11 Certified General Aid; (2) 2009-10 School Levy Tax Credit; and (3) 2010-11 High Poverty Aid.

This information is compared to the potential impact of the State Superintendent's Fair Funding proposal, which is proposed to be effective in 2012-13, as if it had applied to 2010-11.

Specifically, the Fair Funding Proposal contains the following provisions:

Amy Hetzner
But the plan also asks for $420 million more over the next two years - a 2% increase in funding from the state for the 2011-'12 school year and 4% more for the following year - making it a tough sell in the Legislature.

State Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills), who will co-chair the powerful Joint Finance Committee, said she considered the proposal pretty much dead on arrival in the state Legislature, which will be under Republican control next year, without further changes.

"I think those goals are very admirable," said Darling, who has been briefed on the plan. "But, you know, it's a $6 billion budget just for education alone and we don't have the new money. I think we have to do better with less. That's just where we are."

On Friday, Governor-elect Scott Walker said his office had only recently received the proposal from the DPI and he had not had time to delve into its details or to speak with Evers. He said he hoped to use his budget to introduce proposals that would help school districts to control their costs, such as freeing them from state mandates and allowing school boards to switch their employees to the state health plan.

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Shakedown: The Current Conspiracy against the American Public School Parent, Student, and Teacher.

Dan Dempsey, via email

he above shakedown is similar to but not the same as

Shakedown: The Continuing Conspiracy Against the American Taxpayer (Hardcover)
by Steven Malanga.

In his book Mr. Malanga speaks of how the Government has financed an entire "Cottage Industry of Activists" for causes that advocate for what he sees as the Shakedown of the American taxpayer. I see that he makes a strong case and do not disagree with him.

I think a similar case can be built around

Shakedown: The Current Conspiracy against the American Public School Parent, Student, and Teacher.

This shakedown is financed by foundations and other forces (often business related) that finance the faux grassroots organizations that pose as pushing for Better Public Schools, while neglecting the significant data that shows what they advocate for is very ill advised.

The Obama/Duncan "Race to the Top" is a perfect example of this Shakedown. It is founded on attempting to define problems and then mandate particular actions as the solutions to these problems. The real problem with "RttT" is that while the problems defined may in fact be real, unfortunately the changes advocated are NOT solutions.

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No more waiting for (Wisconsin) school reform

Wisconsin State Journal

Wisconsin Gov.-elect Scott Walker hasn't seen the film "Waiting for Superman" yet, about America's struggling public school system. The demands of campaigning and now preparing to take office don't allow much time for movies.

But Walker did have "a good chat" with U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan last week. "In many ways," Walker told the State Journal, "our ideas on reform follow a similar path."

That's encouraging because Walker has a huge opportunity to reshape our state's schools. The incoming GOP governor needs to think big and act boldly, just as the Democratic president's impressive education secretary has.

Duncan last month called the release of "Waiting for Superman," by director Davis Guggenheim, "a Rosa Parks moment." Duncan hopes the vital film -- now playing at Sundance Cinemas in Madison -- will spark discussion and action aimed at the incredibly serious challenges facing public education.

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How Cities Pick School Chiefs, for All to See

Anemona Hartocollis

It is not always pretty. It may resemble a beauty pageant or a paintball contest more than a government exercise to determine how to go about educating a generation of children. But despite the unusual secrecy surrounding New York City's recent search for a convention-defying schools chancellor, other cities have managed to get unorthodox results through more orthodox means.

San Diego chose a retired Navy admiral to head its schools after putting him and two other finalists on television to talk about their vision. Pittsburgh picked a former Massachusetts legislator, and Denver selected a former telecommunications executive and political adviser in Hong Kong -- after putting them through a very public hazing.

"Going through a process like this did not create any major concerns for me," Bill Kowba, the retired Navy admiral, said Friday. "As we came up through the ranks in the Navy, there was a very strong embedded tradition of leadership and accountability and the public calling for responsibility for your actions."

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Palo Alto school board mulls next step for Chinese immersion program

Jesse Dungan

Palo Alto Unified School District trustees are weighing the future of the Chinese immersion program at Ohlone Elementary School and will soon decide whether to make the pilot program a permanent fixture.

The school board considered changing the program's status to "ongoing" at its meeting Tuesday and is now scheduled to vote on the matter Dec. 7. Before the program was approved in 2007, it sparked controversy with opponents arguing the district should offer foreign language classes to all elementary school students, not just some.

"There obviously was a lot of controversy when this program was adopted," Superintendent Kevin Skelly acknowledged Tuesday.

But district staff, program consultants, Ohlone Principal Bill Overton and others told the board the program has been largely successful, both with students' progress and the incorporation of the program into the Ohlone community. Skelly is recommending trustees change the program's status to "ongoing."

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San Francisco School Administrators Schemed to Take Money, Documents Say

Trey Bundy

A group of San Francisco Unified School District administrators, including an associate superintendent, engaged in a long-running scheme to funnel district money into their personal bank accounts via nonprofit community organizations, according to internal documents.

The administrators worked out of the Student Support Services Department, which partners with community organizations to provide thousands of San Francisco students with health education, substance abuse counseling, violence prevention, after-school activities and other services.

The scandal has stunned San Francisco educators and thrown Student Support Services into turmoil at a time when the district faces a $113 million deficit. Some vital student services have been threatened as investigators comb through millions of dollars of transactions dating back at least four years.

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Talking Numbers Counts For Kids' Math Skills


In almost every home and pre-school in America, young children are being taught how to recite the alphabet and how to say their numbers.

A new study by University of Chicago psychology professor Susan Levine finds that simply repeating the numbers isn't as good as helping kids understand what they mean.

According to her study, for children to develop the math skills they'll need later on in school, it is essential that parents spend time teaching their children the value of numbers by using concrete examples -- instead of just repeating them out loud.

"Just about all 2-year-olds can rattle off the sequence from one to 10," Levine tells Weekend All Things Considered host Guy Raz. "But then, if you ask them to give you three objects ... they'll just grab a handful."

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National formula 'to fund England's state schools'


The government is looking to centralise the way in which funding for England's 20,000 state schools is allocated.

Officials said this did not mean local authorities, now responsible for deciding funds, would be sidelined.

But the Department for Education is considering a "national funding formula" that could scale back their influence.

A White Paper will propose giving head teachers more freedom to decide priorities.

Ministers are planning to consult councils about the level of their involvement in the construction and operation of the formula and officials stressed the government wanted to work closely with them.

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Grading teachers is no easy assignment

Erin Richards

Norma Mortimer moves about her high school classroom with confidence born of 41 years' experience.

Directions to students are clear; she knows when to push for an answer and when to let a question hang.

The English teacher formerly taught music, composed and arranged marching band music, and performed at the Bristol Renaissance Faire.

"It all adds into what I bring to the classroom," she said.

Once every three years as a tenured teacher, performance evaluations provide her with feedback, something she looks forward to even though she knows she's not slipping.

Still, evaluations never flag what she considers her weakest area - teaching effectively when the class is in small groups. Last year, she never received her post-evaluation conference with the principal.

In the growing national debate on how to raise the quality of public school teaching in America, performance evaluations have become both a lightning rod and a sticking point.

Most evaluation systems in public schools provide little information to properly assess teachers' strengths and weaknesses. And because teachers are rarely dismissed over their performance, formal evaluations seldom carry much weight.

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November 14, 2010

Walker, GOP pledge to reform Wisconsin's approach to school funding

Matthew DeFour

Wisconsin's next governor has promised big changes for schools and taxpayers - from tying teacher pay raises to performance and giving each school a letter grade to expanding alternatives to public schools and helping school districts cut costs.

But the first challenge facing Republican Scott Walker and the GOP-controlled Legislature next year is closing a $3 billion deficit in the state's general fund, 44 percent of which covers K-12 education.

"I don't think anybody is going to, in the short run, be able to solve the budget problems without cutting state funding for K-12," said Andrew Reschovsky, a UW-Madison economics professor. "The current situation is unsustainable in the long run. There really is a crisis in how we fund schools."

State Superintendent Tony Evers this week is expected to kick-start the school spending debate by announcing the details of his plan to reform the state's complex education funding formula. In June, he said his proposal would move away from distributing aid based on property values and take into account factors such as student poverty - a move that could help districts such as Madison with high property wealth but also a lot of poor students.

The state cut $284 million, or 2.6 percent, from school aid in the current budget, resulting in an 8 percent reduction for Madison. The state also reduced the amount districts could increase revenues from $275 per pupil to $200 per pupil, which helped keep a lid on property taxes but forced districts to make budget cuts.

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The Radical School Reform You've Never Heard Of With 'parent trigger,' families can forcibly change failing schools.

David Feith

Debates about education these days tend to center on familiar terms like charter schools and merit pay. Now a new fault line is emerging: "parent trigger."

Like many radical ideas, parent trigger originated in California, as an innovation of a liberal activist group called Parent Revolution. The average student in Los Angeles has only a 50% chance of graduating high school and a 10% chance of attending college. It's a crisis, says Parent Revolution leader Ben Austin, that calls for "an unabashed and unapologetic transfer of raw power from the defenders of the status quo"--education officials and teachers unions--"to the parents."

Parent trigger, which became California law in January, is meant to facilitate that transfer of power through community organizing. Under the law, if 51% of parents in a failing school sign a petition, they can trigger a forcible transformation of the school--either by inviting a charter operator to take it over, by forcing certain administrative changes, or by shutting it down outright.

Schools are eligible for triggering if they have failed to make "adequate yearly progress," according to state standards, for four consecutive years. Today 1,300 of California's 10,000 schools qualify.

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Teachers' $500 Billion (and Growing) Pension Problem

Andrew Rotherham

Teacher pensions may not sound like a sexy or even high-profile issue, but keep reading: they're threatening the fiscal health of many states and could cost you -- yes, you -- thousands of dollars. And, like the savings-and-loan crisis at the end of the 1980s or the current housing-market mess, insiders see big trouble ahead in the next few years and are starting to sound warnings.

Today there is an almost $500 billion shortfall for funding teacher pensions, and that gap is growing. Why should you care? Because ultimately taxpayers are on the hook for that money. But the problem doesn't just end there. The way teacher pensions operate is badly suited to today's teacher workforce, where 30-year careers are no longer the norm. The current setup penalizes teachers who move between states, switch to private or public-charter schools that do not participate in the pension system or leave teaching altogether. Meanwhile, it becomes financial suicide for teachers to change careers after a certain point, even if they no longer want to teach or are not good at it.
(See 10 smarter ways to reach your retirement goals.)

But first, let's talk about the money. Teacher pensions are part of a larger set of benefits that states and cities offer public employees, including health care and pension programs for cops, garbage men and other public employees. The Pew Center on the States puts the total shortfall for these benefits at $1 trillion. You read that right: trillion with a t. Obviously, these are important benefits to offer, but the costs are out of hand.

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One-time funds to train 153 Oshkosh teachers to help students with math

Adam Rodewald

New spending approved by the Oshkosh school board would cover a gap in math tutoring services that has left four schools with inadequate help for struggling students since last year.

About 13 percent of Oshkosh elementary school students perform below grade level in math, said Director of Curriculum Shelly Muza.

That's better than the average Wisconsin district, which has about 25 percent of elementary students performing below grade level. But budget cuts in the 2009-10 academic year stripped Oakwood, Carl Traeger, Lakeside and Green Meadow schools of math support services after the board decided to fund the $295,000 program with federal Title I dollars - money given only to schools with higher rates of poverty - instead of general fund dollars.

The remaining math intervention teachers who work one-on-one with struggling students can barely keep up. The equivalent of 4.25 full-time teachers are split between about 570 students in 12 elementary schools, said Muza.

Two relate links: Math Forum Audio, Video & Links; Math Task Force.

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Madison schools have the chance to be bold in helping Spanish-speaking students

For most people, including me and probably much of the education establishment, this child's future would not appear particularly bright.

But for those willing to peek through the other end of the looking glass, he's ripe for a talented and gifted program that values advanced, often in-born academic gifts, but might do a better job respecting the advanced, real-world skills of its poorer, less-stereotypically successful students.

Elias is bilingual, after all, which by itself would go a long way toward qualifying him for jobs the rest of us English-only Americans could never hope to get in our rapidly diversifying society: urban newspaper reporter, Spanish-language television executive, United Nations translator.

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Feds Seek Education Transformation Through Technology

Elizabeth Montalbano

The Department of Education this week laid out a technology strategy to improve the U.S. educational system.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan released the National Education Technology Plan (NETP), which sets goals to achieve by 2015 for how technology can transform the way students learn.

Specifically, the plan -- titled "Transforming American Education: Learning Powered by Technology" -- outlines a blueprint for changing five aspects of education with technology: learning, assessment, teaching, infrastructure and productivity.

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The keys to New York City Schools' Chancellor Black's success

Joe Williams

New York City's public schools are dramatically better today than they were eight years ago, in large part thanks to the tireless work of Chancellor Joel Klein. But there's still a long way to go, and the city needs its next chancellor, Cathie Black, to chart a clear path forward, and quickly.

If Black wants to finish what Chancellor Klein started, she must work to make parents, teachers and the public feel invested in the process.

Chicago's Renaissance 2010 plan is an excellent example of this: It let the city's leaders explain to Chicogoans exactly what they hoped to accomplish, and then frame each reform, like closing schools, in the broader effort to improve the system. Mayor Cory Booker is starting a similar process in Newark.

But the key to Black's success -- and to school reform -- is how she addresses the five major challenges facing New York City's schools:

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Brains Like To Keep It Real

Catherine Clabby

Text and images may be king on the Internet, but people in a position to buy seem to prefer the real thing

In this age of fierce competition between Internet marketing and traditional retail, merchants want to know: Which approach stirs potential customers most?

Experiments by neuroeconomist Antonio Rangel and his colleagues suggest that the old pop song chorus--"Ain't nothing like the real thing, baby"--might have it right.

The findings could be relevant to more than shopping, however. They may give insight into the ways our brains assign value in the computational activity that is human choice.

"Whether the stimuli are physically present or not really affects the values you assign and the choices you make," says Rangel, a California Institute of Technology researcher who published the research results with his colleagues in the American Economic Review in September.

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Hartland Arrowhead High School responds to Title IX complaint

Arrowhead High School will pay for girls lacrosse and alpine skiing programs following an investigation by the U.S. Education Department's Office for Civil Rights, according to documents provided to the Journal Sentinel.

It was the second such major investigation into how the Waukesha County high school treats the athletic interests of boys and girls, protected under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, in the last four years.

According to an Oct. 29 letter from Jeffrey Turnbull with the OCR's Chicago office, the federal government concluded "that the District is not currently fully and effectively accommodating the interests and abilities of its girls."

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November 13, 2010

School Board Governance: Surrendor Dorothy, or Who Does the Superintendent Work For?

Charlie Mas

What would it be like if we just gave up? I suggest that it would essentially the same as it would be if we continued the struggle.

What would it be like if the superintendent didn't get any pushback on any of her initiatives? Despite all of the pushback, she has been able to move forward with just about everything that she has wanted to do, starting with the decision to co-locate Sealth and Denny. Elementary and middle school APP were split. Schools were closed. Schools were re-opened. Discover Math was adopted. Millions were spent on STEM, including $800,000 going to NTN. The District bought MAP. The District has paid through the nose for consultants including consultants for high school LA curriculum alignment, consultants for performance management, and consultants for a whole list of strategic plan initiatives.

What would it be like if no one followed up on unfilled promises? Not much different that it has been because she hasn't fulfilled many - if any - promises. The promises around the Denny/Sealth co-location have been broken. The promises around the Southeast Initiative were broken. The promises around the APP splits were broken. The promises around the school closures were broken. The promises around the school openings were broken. The promises around the math adoption were broken. The promises around curricular alignment were broken. The promises around the new student assignment plan were broken. The promises around capacity management were broken. The promises around the strategic plan were broken. All of the promises were broken and she has successfully evaded any kind of authentic community engagement.

More on "who does the Superintendent work for", here.

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Real ways to improve 'teacher effectiveness'

Sandra Dean,Valerie Ziegler

The Los Angeles Times decided in August to publish "teacher effectiveness" ratings using "value-added" test scores, an action that not only did a disservice to teachers but also to the children of California. The Times reduced the definition of quality teaching to a simplistic equation: Good teachers produce good test scores.

There is a simple, intuitive appeal to that formulation, but study after study demonstrates that scores on state tests, even using value-added measurement, are affected by too many factors to support simplistic conclusions about individual teachers.

That is not simply our opinion. Every major professional association of education researchers has said so. The National Academies and the Economics Policy Institute have said so as well.

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The Original Inhabitants of Crazy Town: Eliminating the Department of Education

Mike Antonucci

It’s with some amusement that I read the overheated debate about abolishing the U.S. Department of Education. For one thing, there is a vast difference between those who want to eliminate the federal role in education, and those who want to return ED to its former home in the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. But since neither of those things is going to happen, I guess it doesn’t matter if they are lumped together.

On the other hand, there are those who think getting rid of ED would “destroy public education as we know it,” and that those abolitionists are “strange bedfellows in Crazy Town.” This attitude only demonstrates the hopelessness of the task. If talk of eliminating or downgrading a Cabinet department is beyond the pale, maybe the Postmaster General should should be returned to his spot.

Less federalism in education would certainly be welcome, from my perspective.

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Houston's special ed program draws scrutiny

The Texas Education Agency has sent a conservator to the Houston school district to make sure it fixes problems in serving a group of students with disabilities.

The school district has come under state oversight after failing to correct multiple violations, such as not providing students with the instruction they were promised and giving too many children modified state exams.

The problems highlighted by the TEA focus only on the district's program for students with disabilities who are in the custody of residential facilities. Children who live in these private or state-run facilities -- which include group homes and residential treatment centers -- are away from their families. A 2005 court order requires the TEA to monitor how districts educate these children.

"Often times, these kids are so far away from their families that there's really no oversight if TEA isn't doing the job," said Maureen O'Connell, an attorney with the Southern Disability Law Center. O'Connell represented the children in the lawsuit brought against the TEA that led to the mandatory monitoring.

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Obama's New Digital Learning Plan: A Killer App

Fred Belmont

Education Secretary Arne Duncan unveiled the final version of the National Education Technology Plan on Tuesday -- proposals to use social networking, data collection and multi-media to get U.S. kids to learn more. According to Duncan, the plan -- almost two years in the making -- will help American education "transition to digital classrooms and transform learning" for the Facebook and IPhone generation and beyond.

As a middle school math teacher and a long-time union member, I had heard it all before. Dozens of "solutions du jour" have come and gone -- with little if any measurable improvement. I figured that this was one more attempt that was destined to fail.

As I read Duncan's speech about the plan, my skepticism evaporated. Not only could this plan prompt Democrats and Republicans in the incoming Congress to cross the aisle to focus on a crucial learning roadmap, but the plan -- and each of its five very specific goals -- makes sense!

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Busting a language barrier Some schools succeed with ESL students where others fail

Jennifer Anderson

When it's time to read at Whitman Elementary School, kids don't get to pick their favorite SpongeBob or Scooby Doo book from the rack.

Reading time here at this quiet little school in outer Southeast Portland is serious business, and for good reason: there are benchmarks to meet, levels to advance.

With one out of three students learning English as a second language at Whitman, Principal Lori Clark makes it a priority to boost literacy not just for those students, but also for every child, through intensive two-hour blocks of reading time each day. The blocks are staggered, to make the most of the school's two-and-a-half ESL teaching positions and one bilingual assistant.

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A Quality Teacher in Every Classroom: An Evaluation System that Works for California

National Board Resource Center

We are pleased to share our first report, A Quality Teacher in Every Classroom: An Evaluation System that Works for California.

This report, one in a series to be released by ACT, examines teacher evaluation. We chose to begin here because we believe that without a common understanding of what constitutes teaching quality and how teachers should be evaluated, any further conversation about improving teaching will be inconsequential. The recommendations in this report are drawn from research, analysis of existing policies, input from academic experts, and our own experiences as promoters of quality teaching. This report offers our recommendations on making teacher evaluation a more useful tool to advance the quality of teaching across California.

If you want to leave a comment or ask a question about the report, please visit our InterACT blog.

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November 12, 2010

The Six Major Components of the MMSD High School Plan

Madison School Board Member Ed Hughes

In an earlier post, I provided my understanding of the background of the protest at West High about the proposal for changes in the District's high school curriculum. I explained how the proposal was an outgrowth of the work that has gone on at the high schools for the last few years under the auspices of a federal grant, known as the REaL grant (for Relationships, Engagement and Learning).

That proposal, which will affect all four of the District's comprehensive high schools and is now known as the High School Career and College Readiness Plan, has since evolved somewhat, partially in response to the feedback that has been received and partially as a consequence of thinking the proposals through a bit more.

Here is where things currently stand.

The high school proposal should start a conversation that could last for a few years regarding a long-term, systematic review of our curriculum and the way it is delivered to serve the interests of all learners. What's currently on the table is more limited in scope, though it is intended to serve as the foundation for later work.

The principal problem the proposal is meant to address is that we currently don't have any district-defined academic standards at the high school level. There is no established set of expectations for what skills students should be learning in each subject area each year. Since we don't have any basic expectations, we also don't have any specific and consistent goals for accelerated learning. A corollary of this is that we really don't have many ways to hold a teacher accountable for the level of learning that goes on in his or her classroom. Also, we lack a system of assessments that would let us know how our students are progressing through high school.

Lots of related links:

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Q&A with Kaleem Caire: Why Madison needs a charter school aimed at African-American boys

Susan Troller:

CT: How will you bring boys who are already behind a couple of years or more up to grade level so they are fully prepared for college?

KC: One, we will have a longer school day, a longer school year. They will start about 7:30 and end about 5 o'clock. Tutoring will be built into our school program. It will be built into each schedule based on your academic performance. We're going to use ability grouping to tackle kids who are severely behind, who need more education. We'll do that if we can afford it by requiring Saturday school for young people who really need even additional enrichment and so we're going to do whatever it takes so we make sure they get what they need.

CT: What kind of commitment will Madison Prep require of parents or guardians?

KC: They have to sign a participation contract. These are non-binding contracts but it will clearly spell out what their expectations are of us and our expectations are of them. Parents will be given a grade for participation on the child's report card. There are ways for ALL parents to be involved. You know, some people have asked, 'What will you do if parents won't show up to a child's performance review?' Literally, we'll go set up our tables outside their houses and it will be kind of embarrassing but we'll do it because we won't allow our kids to be left behind.

CT: You've said you'd like to see more flexibility and innovation. Does that mean you'd like to run this school without a union contract?

Watch an interview with Kaleem here. Much more on Kaleem via this link.

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Encouraging Deep Learning

David Moltz

Many community college students do not engage in enough classroom activities that enhance their "broadly applicable thinking, reasoning and judgment skills," according to the latest Community College Survey of Student Engagement released today.

This year's release of the survey, now in its 10th year, draws from the responses of more than 400,000 community college students in 47 states, the Marshall Islands and the Canadian provinces of Nova Scotia and Ontario. In addition to the annual set of questions about their classroom and campus experiences, this year's respondents were asked specific questions about "deep learning" techniques -- defined as those "abilities that allow individuals to apply information, develop a coherent world view and interact in more meaningful ways."

The authors of this year's survey argue that the percentages of students who reported that they engaged "often or very often" in "deep learning" activities indicate that community colleges must do a better job of promoting them in the classroom if they hope to boost student performance.

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Is this the solution to the population crisis afflicting Hong Kong schools?

Elaine Yau and He Huifeng

Much has been written about mainland mothers giving birth in Hong Kong, yet little is known about what happens to the children once their parents take them home.

The number of babies born in Hong Kong to mainland parents surged from 2,070 in 2003 to 16,044 in 2006. The figure reached 29,766 last year - representing 45.5 per cent of all births in the city.

Despite such a sharp rise, the Census and Statistics Department has conducted just one rudimentary survey into the phenomenon.

Some 11,643 parents were polled between 2007 and 2009 at Immigration Department birth registries. They were asked whether and when their children would return to Hong Kong. A majority said their children would come back between the ages of three and 11.

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Gov. Christie slams Parsippany school board for approving superintendent salary above planned cap

Matt Friedman

Gov. Chris Christie today slammed Parsippany's school board for approving a salary for Superintendent LeRoy Seitz that is well above a cap set to take effect in a few months. But Christie was not sure if he could do anything to reverse the decision.

Christie, who was at a town hall meeting in Clifton, said the school board "cares more about whether a superintendent will take them out to lunch than protecting the taxpayers they were elected to serve," and that they ignore voters at their "political peril."

At a standing-room-only meeting Tuesday night, the board voted 6-2 to extend Seitz's contract by five years, with an average annual salary of $225,064. The contract was set to expire on July 1.

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Joel Klein, the New York City schools chancellor, is not a popular man among those who have spent their careers working in the school system--but, to judge by the reaction in the edu-blogosphere, any joy engendered by the announcement of his resignation was quickly extinguished when the identity of his successor became known. She is Cathie Black, a career magazine-industry executive with no work experience in education; in appointing her, Mayor Michael Bloomberg is showing that he doesn't trust educators, even those with reformist reputations, to run the school system. So the toxicity surrounding school reform isn't likely to disappear.

How Mayor Bloomberg feels about the school system isn't news anymore. What's most interesting about yesterday's announcement was not that Klein is leaving or that Black is replacing him, but that Klein is going to work for Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. to explore possibilities in education. Recently, two famous Wall Street short sellers, James Chanos and Steve Eisman, announced that they see a crash coming in the for-profit education sector, which is heavily dependent on online degrees paid for through federally guaranteed student loans. (For details, see the very viral PowerPoint and speech that Eisman delivered at an investment conference last May, called "Subprime Goes to College.") The shorts, and the Obama Administration, which is tightening student-loan eligibility, have driven down the prices of education stocks--including that of the Washington Post Company, which depends economically on Kaplan Inc., one of the leading for-profit education companies (and until recently the employer of Joel Klein's predecessor as New York schools chancellor, Harold Levy).

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Joel Klein's Report Card

The Wall Street Journal

Education reformers tend to react to the ferocious opposition of the status quo in one of two ways: Either they fade away in resignation, or they become even more radical. Joel Klein did the latter, which is why he leaves New York City's 1,600 public schools and 1.1 million students better than he found them.

A Democrat without education experience when he became schools chancellor in 2002, Mr. Klein began as a mainstream reformer. Raise standards, end social promotion, hire better teachers, promote charter schools. But as he was mugged by the reality of the K-12 public school establishment, he began to appreciate that real improvement requires more than change at the margin.

Thus he led the fight for far more school choice by creating charter school clusters, as in Harlem, that are changing the local culture of failure. Kids from as far away as Buffalo will benefit from his fight to lift the state charter cap, which increased to 460 schools from 200. Mr. Klein helped to expose the "rubber rooms" that let bad teachers live for years on the taxpayer dime while doing no work. He gave schools grades from A to F and pushed to close the bad ones, and he fought for merit pay in return for ending teacher tenure.

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Minneapolis Schools budget deficit could be double original estimate

Minneapolis school officials are warning of an even larger budget deficit next year than first expected.

District leaders had said next year's budget gap would exceed $20 million, but they now estimate it will be between $30 million and $45 million.

Peggy Ingison, the district's chief financial officer, said the deficits are the result of federal stimulus money that is running out, along with uncertain and likely less funding from the state and cuts are certain to affect classroom instruction and teaching jobs.

"We wouldn't be able to probably continue to totally protect the classroom with this level of cuts," Ingison said. "Neither will we be able to avoid, with such a significant portion of our budget related to wages and benefits, any staff reductions."

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College Board to revive its AP test in Italian

Daniel de Vise

The College Board announced on Wednesday the revival of the Advanced Placement test in Italian, setting the stage for a renaissance in the study of the language of Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci in U.S. high schools.

Italian teachers had feared nothing less than the demise of their discipline when the college-preparatory nonprofit organization eliminated AP Italian last year, saying the program was underfunded.

Wednesday's announcement signaled the success of a two-year lobbying campaign by advocates of Italian language and culture in U.S. schools. The turning point came when the Cuomo family, cast in the role of cultural ambassadors, secured a financial commitment from the Italian government.

"These things don't happen without that level of support. And we are very grateful to Prime Minister [Silvio] Berlusconi for that," said Margaret Cuomo, daughter of former New York governor Mario Cuomo and sister of Gov.-elect Andrew Cuomo.

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Schools Wary of Prep Powerhouses in Football

Harvey Araton

The fans in the home team rooting section were stunned when visiting Don Bosco Prep called a timeout with about two minutes remaining in the first half in an attempt to regain possession of the football.

Their version of "Friday Night Lights" was devolving into Friday Night Spite, a rerun of the 71-0 shellacking they had witnessed the year before. And when Bosco quarterback Gary Nova hit a receiver over the middle, in full stride, for an 80-yard touchdown with no time on the clock, the Clifton High School fans responded in full-throated frustration.

The booing started and someone yelled, "bush league," and another fan sarcastically encouraged Bosco to go for a 2-point conversion.

Instead, Bosco kicked the extra point and settled for a 48-0 halftime lead.

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I Really Did Think It Was the Right Time,' Klein Says

Javier Hernandez

During his eight years at the helm of New York City public schools, Joel I. Klein emerged as one of the city's most divisive figures. On Tuesday, he announced that he would step out of the limelight to become an executive vice president responsible for education and technology at Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation.

In a telephone interview shortly after announcing his resignation, Mr. Klein reflected on his time leading the country's largest school system and the frustrations and triumphs of his tenure.

Here is a transcript of the interview, condensed and edited for space.


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Committee vote may endanger Md. Race to Top grant

Michael Birnbaum

A Maryland legislative committee voted Monday to reject a new regulation requiring that half of teachers' evaluations be based on student progress, calling into question the future of a $250 million federal Race to the Top grant.

The move is a challenge to a core component of the education plan proposed by Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) and State Schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick in the spring. The federal money was awarded in part because Maryland promised that student progress would be such a large component of the evaluations, and President Obama has encouraged such changes.

But opponents of the policy, including the state's teachers unions, say that standardized tests are not designed to give information about teachers and that teachers should not be held responsible for outside factors that affect achievement.

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LA schools move toward evaluating teachers based on student performance

Connie Llanos

Los Angeles Unified officials took a big step forward Tuesday toward launching a new controversial method to evaluate teachers based on the performance of their students.

The school board approved two consultant contracts to study and develop the new teacher evaluation method, with a combined cost of up to $4.5 million.

One consultant will develop ways to evaluate teachers based on the test performance of their students over time, called the "value-added" method. The other will help develop new guidelines and "best practices" for teachers.

The value-added method compares student performance from one year to the next to evaluate a teacher's abilities. It has been sharply criticized by some union leaders and experts as flawed and unfair, but applauded by others, including President Barack Obama.

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A Girl, a School and Hope

Nicholas Kristof

Given today's economic difficulties, I thought I'd come to Pakistan to find Osama bin Laden, lug him back home in my duffel bag and declare him at American customs to pick up the $27 million reward.

More on that mission in a moment. First, another conundrum here in Pakistan:

The United States has provided $18 billion to Pakistan in aid since 9/11, yet Pakistan's government shelters the Afghan Taliban as it kills American soldiers and drains the American Treasury. Meanwhile, only 8 percent of Pakistanis have confidence in President Obama, according to the Pew Research Center. That's not even half as many as express confidence in bin Laden.

Meanwhile, Pakistan seeks postflood aid from Western taxpayers, yet barely taxes its own affluent citizens at home. And its feudal landholders have historically opposed good schools, for fear that poor Pakistanis -- if educated -- would object to oppression.

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November 11, 2010

Teaching Math to the Talented

Eric Hanushek, Paul E. Peterson and Ludger Woessmann

In Vancouver last winter, the United States proved its competitive spirit by winning more medals--gold, silver, and bronze--at the Winter Olympic Games than any other country, although the German member of our research team insists on pointing out that Canada and Germany both won more gold medals than the United States. But if there is some dispute about which Olympic medals to count, there is no question about American math performance: the United States does not deserve even a paper medal.

Maintaining our productivity as a nation depends importantly on developing a highly qualified cadre of scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, and other professionals. To realize that objective requires a system of schooling that produces students with advanced math and science skills. To see how well schools in the United States do at producing high-achieving math students, we compared the percentage of U.S. students in the high-school graduating Class of 2009 with advanced skills in mathematics to percentages of similarly high achievers in other countries.

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"We need entirely different schools to fit the needs of students, not the teachers and administrators," - Kaleem Caire

David Blaska on the recent Community Conversation on Education:

Caire was one of four main presenters, the others being Madison schools superintendent Dan Nerad, the dean of the UW-Madison School of Education, and -- sure enough -- Madison Teachers Inc. union president Mike Lipp.

Nerad was o.k. He got off a good line: "Children are the future but we are our children's future." He even quoted Sitting Bull but on first reference made certain to use his actual Native American name. This IS Madison, after all.

UW Education Dean Julie Underwood was atrocious -- a firm defender of the status quo denouncing the "slashing" of school budgets, "negative ads," and demanding that the community become "public school advocates." I.E., the whole liberal litany.

Say, Dean Julie, how about the community become advocates for teaching children -- in other words, the goal -- instead of a one-size-fits-all, government-ordained delivery mechanism? Isn't competition the American way?

Union apologist Mike Lipp reminded me of Welcome Back Kotter -- looks and mien. He could be humorous (I am certain he is a good teacher) but he spent his allotted time on the glories of that holy grail of education: the union's collective bargaining agreement. I expected an ethereal light beam to shine down on this holy writ, which Lipp lamented that he did not bring with him. His other purpose was to defuse the powerhouse documentary, "Waiting for Superman."

Indeed, it was that indictment of public education's "failure factories" and the hidebound me-first teachers unions that prompted Tuesday evening's "conversation." I wrote about it, and Kaleem Caire, here.

When Lipp was finished he returned to his table next to union hired gun John Matthews. No sense in sitting with parents and taxpayers.

When it came time for the participants to respond, one parent said of the four presenters that only Kaleem Caire took to heart the evening's admonition to "keep students as the focus." I think that was a little unfair to Nerad, who deserves credit for opening this can of worms, but otherwise right on target.

Caire reported that only 7% of African-American students tested as college-ready on the ACT test. For Latinos, the percentage is 14. Those are 2010 statistics -- for Madison schools. In these schools, 2,800 suspensions were handed down to black students -- of a total black enrollment of 5,300 students!

Related links: The Madison School District = General Motors; 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).
An interview with Kaleem Caire.

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How NOT to vote for school board & Who Does the Superintendent Report to

Last week, I voted for several people on the Montgomery County school board, one of the few times I ever thought about that body.

As an education writer, I try to stay away from school boards. I know that sounds odd, but over the years, I have found school board meetings to be as interesting, newsworthy and uplifting as visits to the dentist. I avoid them. I talk to teachers, principals, students and parents instead.

I feel guilty about that. School boards have a vital role in a democratic society. They are the link between us and our schools. If you have a complaint that the school system is not addressing, the school board is pretty much the only place to go. So why don't I make more of an effort to get to know its members?

The recent election reminded me of one reason. The public sources of information about school board members, such as news articles, voters guides and school district Web sites, rarely tell me the most important things to know about those being elected.

The most important decision school board members make is whom to hire as superintendent. Whether they vote for or against the superintendent's plans for improving schools is also crucial. Cities, including the District, have transferred that power over superintendents to mayors or city councils because their school boards were too distracted by political or personal feuds and failed to support even effective superintendents.

The Madison School District discussed Superintendent Nerad's review during their 11/8/2010 meeting. Watch the quite interesting discussion here, starting at about 83 minutes..

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Report: "Competency" Should Advance Students

Young people should be assessed and moved through K-12 education at their own pace, after evaluations have determined competencies, rather than the current policy of advancing learners based primarily on seat time, according to a new report published yesterday.

The report, When Failure is Not an Option: Designing Competency-Based Pathways for Next Generation Learners was released today by the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL). Support for the report was provided by the Nellie Mae Education Foundation.

The paper explores competency-based pathways, a necessary condition to realizing the potential of next generation learning. The report promotes a deeper understanding of K-12 education policies and practices for implementing student-centered learning through competency-based pathways through a scan of exemplars across the United States. Also touched on in the paper are the many explorations into next generation learning that are sweeping across the country, as well as the technological advancements that are opening up new student-centered, performance-based, "anytime, anywhere" educational opportunities.

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Washington Post's Kaplan Faces Growing Scrutiny

Stanley H. Kaplan started his tutoring business in the basement of his parents' Brooklyn home in 1938. As standardized tests became a bigger fixture of American education, his company became a national operation, preparing millions of students for the SAT, LSAT, MCATs and other tests.

Kaplan was still a test-prep company when the Washington Post Company bought it in 1984, after Richard D. Simmons, the president, convinced Katharine Graham of its potential for expansion and profits.

Over the last decade, Kaplan has moved aggressively into for-profit higher education, acquiring 75 small colleges and starting the huge online Kaplan University. Now, Kaplan higher education revenues eclipse not only the test-prep operations, but all the rest of the Washington Post Company's operations. And Kaplan's revenue grew 9 percent during the last quarter to $743.3 million -- with higher education revenues more than four times greater than those from test-prep -- helping its parent company more than triple its profits.

But over the last few months, Kaplan and other for-profit education companies have come under intense scrutiny from Congress, amid growing concerns that the industry leaves too many students mired in debt, and with credentials that provide little help in finding jobs.

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Young, Educated, and Unemployed: A New Generation of Kids Search for Work in their 20s

Amanda Fairbanks

The Lost Generation: What it's like for 20-somethings to go in search of meaningful work--and not find it.

Since January, for 35 hours a week, at a rate of $10 an hour, Luke Stacks has been working for a home-electronics chain. He answers the phone and attempts to coax callers into buying more stuff. This is not how he imagined he would be spending his late 20s.

Like a lot of us, Stacks was given a fairly straightforward version of how his life would unfold: He would go to college and study something he found interesting, graduate, and get a decent job. For a while, things went pretty much according to plan. Stacks, who now is 27, went to the University of Virginia, not far from where he grew up, majoring in American Studies. He later enrolled in a Ph.D. program at the University of Iowa, with the eventual goal of becoming a professor.

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Chicago Public Schools sees $700 mil. deficit next year

Rosalind Rossi

Two months into the school year, Chicago Board of Education officials Tuesday were already estimating next school year's deficit at $700 million.

Plus, the State of Illinois now owes the Chicago Public Schools more money than it did in August, when CPS officials scraped together enough cost savings, last-minute revenues and rainy-day reserve fund-raiding to balance the system's budget.

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November 10, 2010

Segregating the smart from the not-as-smart helps nobody

Chris Rickert

I've never been accused of having any talent worth nurturing in an Advanced Placement class, although I'm sure there are some who would say I have a gift for irritating people. (Unfortunately, they don't give out Rhodes Scholarships for that.)

So feel free to take what I'm about to say with a grain of salt, or a healthy dose of sour grapes on my part, but I question the utility of the way we challenge the young brainiacs among us.

Diving deeply into physics or fine arts might make for good rocket scientists and concert pianists, but it would also seem inevitably to exclude a certain less intense, yet broader range of experiences and the people they include.

My new Facebook friends and perhaps the most courteous political insurgents ever, Madison West seniors Joaquin Selva and Jacob Fiksel, admitted to something along those lines when I ran into them Wednesday at the school district's Community Conversation on Education.

Lots of related links:

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Response to WSJ Article: More Background, Additional Information, Long History of Advocacy

Lorie Raihala, via email

On Sunday, November 7, the Wisconsin State Journal featured a front-page article about the Madison School District's Talented and Gifted education services: "TAG, they're it." The story describes parents' frustration with the pace of reform since the Board of Education approved the new TAG Plan in August, 2009. It paints the TAG Plan as very ambitious and the parents as impatient-perhaps unreasonable-to expect such quick implementation.

The article includes a "Complaint Timeline" that starts with the approval of the TAG Plan, skips to the filing of the complaint on September 20, and proceeds from there to list the steps of the DPI audit.

Unfortunately, neither this timeline nor the WSJ article conveys the long history leading up to the parents' complaint. This story did not start with the 2009 TAG Plan. Rather, the 2009 TAG Plan came after almost two decades of the District violating State law for gifted education.

To provide better background, we would like to add more information and several key dates to the "Complaint Timeline."

November 2005: West High School administrators roll out their plan for English 10 at a PTSO meeting. Most of the 70 parents in attendance object to the school eliminating English electives and imposing a one-size-for-all curriculum on all students. Parents ask administrators to provide honors sections of English 10. They refuse. Parents ask administrators to evaluate and fix the problems with English 9 before implementing the same approach in 10th grade. They refuse. Parents appeal to the BOE to intervene; they remain silent. Meanwhile, parents have already been advocating for years to save the lone section of Accelerated Biology at West.

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Brainstorming session to improve Madison public education yields lots of ideas

Devin Rose

Hundreds of teachers, parents and students came together Tuesday night to discuss strategies -- which the Madison School District hopes to eventually act on -- to ensure quality education for all students.

Key ideas included hiring top teachers, encouraging parent involvement and meeting the needs of an increasingly diverse classroom.

"We are our children's future," said Superintendent Dan Nerad, adding strong children are essential for a strong community.

School officials who organized the event hoped the release of "Waiting for Superman," a documentary that examines the state of U.S. public education, would help spark conversation about improving the way students learn in Madison. Attendees were seated in small groups to brainstorm the successes and challenges of public education as well as improvements that need to be made.

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Should We Teach Kids to Play to Win?

Ilya Somin

Political scientist Barry Rubin has an interesting column criticizing the modern tendency to teach kids that playing to win is bad:
My son is playing on a local soccer team which has lost every one of its games, often by humiliating scores. The coach is a nice guy, but seems an archetype of contemporary thinking: he tells the kids not to care about whether they win, puts players at any positions they want, and doesn't listen to their suggestions.

He never criticizes a player or suggests how a player could do better. My son, bless him, once remarked to me: "How are you going to play better if nobody tells you what you're doing wrong?" The coach just tells them how well they are playing. Even after an 8-0 defeat, he told them they'd played a great game.

And of course, the league gives trophies to everyone, whether their team finishes in first or last place.....

[A]m I right in thinking that sports should prepare children for life, competition, the desire to win, and an understanding that not every individual has the same level of skills? A central element in that world is rewarding those who do better, which also offers an incentive for them and others to strive....

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Teacher's ed...

The Chicago Tribune

The most critical factor in a child's education outside the home is the quality of the teacher at the front of his or her classroom. A great teacher can lift a struggling student. A mediocre teacher can set a child back months if not years.

So which Illinois education schools are producing great teachers? And which aren't?

On Tuesday, the Washington-based National Council on Teacher Quality unveiled a no-punches-pulled report that evaluated 111 undergraduate and graduate programs in 53 education schools across Illinois.

The most disturbing finding: The state's largest producers of teachers -- Illinois State University and Northern Illinois University, -- earned poor marks. Illinois State, the report said, merited "exceptionally low grades in its undergraduate elementary and special education programs." Northern Illinois "did only slightly better, with weak grades in its undergraduate elementary and both its undergraduate and graduate special education program."

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Shocking School Achievement Gap for Black Males

Bill Whataker

The California Academy of Mathematics and Science in south Los Angeles is one of the top high schools in the country, and senior Danial Ceasar is one of its top students, reports CBS News correspondent Bill Whitaker. He's got an A average, and he's ambitious - he wants to be a psychiatrist.

"I'm looking at Berkeley and Stanford as my top schools," Danial said.

But here's a troubling sign of the times: achieving, black, male students like Danial are increasingly rare in America's schools.

"The overall academic achievement of African American males was appallingly low, not only in cities, but nationwide," said Michael Casserly, the executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools.

According to a new study released Tuesday by the Council of the Great City Schools, by fourth grade only 12 percent of black male students read at or above grade level, while 38 percent of white males do. By eighth grade it falls to just 9 percent for black males, 33 percent for whites. Black male students are almost twice as likely as white males to drop out of school. And in some big American cities the dropout rate is around 50 percent.

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Palo Alto board to vote on earlier school year start

Jesse Dugan

High school students in Palo Alto will take their winter break next month knowing they'll have final exams waiting for them when they return, but a school board vote tonight may change that practice for future classes.

Palo Alto Unified School District trustees will decide whether to start the 2011-12 and 2012-13 school years three days earlier than years past, allowing teachers to schedule exams before winter break instead of in mid-January. Students would start classes on Aug. 18 next year and Aug. 16 the following year.

"I think that high school students have for years expressed an interest in having finals before winter break," Superintendent Kevin Skelly said. "Many, if not most of the schools in our area, are having finals before winter break."

The proposal has split parents into different camps. The district had received nearly 430 e-mails on the controversial idea as of Oct. 26, the last time it discussed changing the school calendar.

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Seattle Schools' Strategic Plan & School Report Card

Seattle Public Schools:

t Seattle Public Schools, we truly believe in excellence for all. It's more than a saying; it's our commitment to this community and the name of our five-year strategic plan to ensure every child graduates ready for college, career and life.

Seattle Public Schools is providing detailed information on how each school, and the district overall, is performing. These reports also explain what we are doing to increase academic achievement and close the achievement gap in each school and across the district.

The second annual District Scorecard shows how our students are
performing across the district - from test scores to graduation rates. The Scorecard also shows how the district is performing operationally, in areas such as facilities, transportation and family satisfaction. District Scorecard

For the first time, we are issuing individual School Reports. We want to give parents, students and the community important information so we can all learn from and act on the data.

You can read about your school's academic growth, student climate, accountability, family and staff engagement, and overall school performance. We hope you also take time to read the narrative page,

Linda Shaw:
On Tuesday morning, Seattle Public Schools will unveil detailed new reports on 82 of its schools, and a new ranking system that rates each school on a scale of 1-5 based largely on test scores and whether those scores are moving up or down.

The reports, which will be posted on the school district's website about 10 a.m., will give parents and the public more information than ever before on the city's public schools.

In addition to test scores, each school's report includes data about attendance rates, average class size, percent of high-school students taking college classes and much more. The schools also outline their goals for the year and how they plan to achieve them.

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Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle says 10 percent of public school teachers would have lost their jobs without federal stimulus aid

The Truth-O-Meter

Lame-duck governor Jim Doyle's low popularity rating among Wisconsin voters guaranteed he would keep a low profile while Tom Barrett fought -- unsuccessfully -- to keep a Democrat in charge in Madison.

But that doesn't mean Doyle was silent.

In mid-October, Doyle was showcased on a BBC NewsHour radio feature that asked whether the United States needed a second shot of stimulus money from Washington.

Not surprisingly, Doyle defended President Barack Obama and blamed Republicans for creating an enormous fiscal mess that demanded an unpopular but necessary response -- the giant stimulus bill OK'd in early in 2009.

Doyle said stimulus grants helped keep schools functioning well, boosted road projects and showered funds on University of Wisconsin medical researchers. And he talked of how he has tried to sell the public on the measure's positive impact:

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India, US to hold annual education summit

Indian Express

Begining 2011, India and the US will hold annual summits to enhance collaboration in higher education. The first such summit, it will be headed by HRD Minister Kapil Sibal and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The summit will see members of the academia, industry, government and other stakeholders from the two nations discuss a range issues related to education, sources said, adding the details are yet to be worked out.

"We have decided to hold a Higher Education Summit next year. Cooperation in the education sector holds a great promise because no two other countries are better equipped to be partners in building the knowledge economy of the future," Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told his joint press conference with US President Barack Obama.

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Early thoughts on Joel Klein, Cathie Black and education reform in New York Yor

New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein stepped down today after eight years on the job and will be replaced by Hearst chairwoman Cathie Black. In the coming days, we'll see many assessments of Klein's legacy; what's clear is that he succeeded in projecting an image of order, organization and improvement in the nation's largest public school system, which educates 1 million children and employs 80,000 teachers. Klein oversaw the establishment of about 100 new charter schools; broke up large comprehensive high schools into smaller, themed schools; and raised the on-time high school graduation rate to 60 percent from about 44 percent in the class of 2004.

What's less clear is how well-prepared the typical New York City public school grad is for higher education or the workplace; much of the district's proudly touted gains on state tests disappeared earlier this year when New York declared the tests too easy and recalibrated proficiency rates. On NAEP, the only national test of students' skills, New York City fourth-graders have improved modestly, but eighth-graders are stagnant.a

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Taste of things to come: Do more with less, Gov.-elect Walker tells University of Wisconsin regents

Todd Finkelmeyer

Two days after the election, Gov.-elect Scott Walker was greeted with wide smiles, warm handshakes and a standing ovation during a short stop at the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents meeting.

Walker returned the love by telling the regents gathered at UW-Madison that "this is truly one of the greatest university systems in the world, not just the country. It's an honor to be here today."

But he soon got down to business, making it clear that with the state's massive budget hole, university leaders would be asked to do more with less.

"It isn't just always about more money," Walker said, noting that leaders would need to be flexible, innovative and creative to get the most out of limited resources.
Some believe any more cuts in state funding to the UW System will do significant harm to its 13 universities and 13 two-year colleges, but UW System leaders would be wise to start preparing for the worst, says Noel Radomski.

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N.J. activists, parents warn against promoting charter schools as fix for education system

Bob Braun

From Washington to Trenton to Newark, political leaders from both parties - including President Barack Obama and Gov. Chris Christie -- are promoting charter schools as an answer to perceived public school failure. And the privately run but publicly funded schools receive support from some of the wealthiest and most famous people on the planet.

But a few activists based in Princeton -- some charter school parents -- and a Rutgers researcher want their voices heard above the cheerleading. They warn charters are not panaceas.

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Russia - Prime Minister Vladimir Putin meets with Minister of Education and Science Andrei Fursenko


Vladimir Putin: Mr Fursenko, the programme for advancing education will expire this year, and the ministry has drafted a new document on this issue. Today, I would like to discuss some aspects of the newly drafted programme. First of all, this concerns the general school education system, as well as vocational education and specific criteria for evaluating the performance of educational establishments.

Andrei Fursenko: Mr Putin, first of all, the principles behind the new programme hinge on the part of the national education project that deals with the comprehensive development of education in the regions. I have told you why this project has turned out well. Therefore the new federal targeted programme stipulates the very same idea, namely, helping to establish regional centres of excellence, centres providing the best early childhood education and the best school education and training centres in the field of primary and secondary vocational education, including the retraining of adults.

The idea of the new programme is to encourage the regions to develop independently. This approach has already been tested, and we believe that assistance through a federal targeted programme will be most effective. In about a year we should switch over to national programmes that will encompass the entire educational system. But these specific guidelines may yield substantial results in the next 12 months.

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November 9, 2010

Madison grapples with how to serve 'Talented and Gifted'

Gayle Worland, via a kind reader's email:

Three times a week, Van Hise Elementary fifth-grader Eve Sidikman and two fellow students from her school board a bus bound for GEMS, the Madison school district's "Growing Elementary Math Students" program for students whose math abilities are so high they aren't challenged in a standard classroom.
Eve's bus also makes the rounds to Randall and Thoreau before pulling up to the curb at Shorewood Elementary, where Eve and her GEMS classmates have a two-hour math session taught by a member of the district's Talented and Gifted staff.

"She teaches it in a creative and fun way," Eve, who was placed in GEMS after her mother sought out and paid for a national test that proved Eve was capable of acing eighth-grade math, said of her teacher. "I think she's preparing us for our middle school years well."

The Madison School district is grappling with how best to serve students deemed "Talented and Gifted," or TAG in district shorthand -- partly to stem a talent drain through open enrollment, partly to satisfy a vocal group of dissatisfied parents, and partly to find more Eves who don't necessarily have a family with the financial means, determination and know-how to capitalize on their student's untapped talents.

District critics say change is happening too slowly -- something Superintendent Dan Nerad admits -- and programs like GEMS are few and far between. Advocates also acknowledge, however, there is skepticism of gifted services among both the public and educators at a time when so many students fail to meet even minimal standards.

Lots of related links: Watch, listen or read an interview with UW-Madison Education Professor Adam Gamoran. Gamoran was interviewed in Gayle Worland's article.

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Well Worth Reading: Wisconsin needs two big goals

Dave Baskerville

Having worked some 40 years in the business world, mostly abroad, with many leaders in business, politics and religion, I believe the most important ingredient for success is setting one or two ambitious, long-term goals that are routinely and publicly measured against the best in the world.

For Wisconsin, we only need two:

Raise our state's per capita income to 10 percent above Minnesota's by 2030.
In job and business creation over the next decade, Wisconsin is often predicted to be among the lowest 10 states. When I was a kid growing up in Madison, income in Wisconsin was some 10 percent higher than in Minnesota. Minnesota caught up to us in 1967, and now the average Minnesotan makes $4,500 more than the average Wisconsinite.

Lift the math, science and reading scores of all K-12, non-special education students in Wisconsin above world-class standards by 2030. (emphasis added)

Wisconsinites often believe we lose jobs because of lower wages elsewhere. In fact, it is often the abundance of skills (and subsidies and effort) that bring huge Intel research and development labs to Bangalore, Microsoft research centers to Beijing, and Advanced Micro Devices chip factories to Dresden.

Our educational standards are based relative to the United States. So even if we "successfully" accomplish all of our state educational goals, our kids would still be in the global minor leagues. How about targeting Finland and Singapore in math, South Korea and Japan in science, Canada in reading?

As the saying goes: "When one does not know where one is going, any road will do" (or not do).

Without clear scorecards, we citizens will have little ability to coerce and evaluate politicians and their excuses, rhetoric and laws from the right and left. If JFK had not set a "man on the moon" stretch target, would we have landed there? Do the Green Bay Packers have a chance at winning another Super Bowl if they never tack that goal to the locker room walls?

Clusty Search: Dave Baskerville.

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Lying to HS Students

Junia Yearwood

Failure to educate

The Boston school system is churning out illiterate students whose only skills are to pass predictable standard tests

I DID not attend a graduation ceremony in 25 years as a Boston public high school teacher. This was my silent protest against a skillfully choreographed mockery of an authentic education - a charade by adults who, knowingly or unwittingly, played games with other people's children.

I knew that most of my students who walked across the stage, amidst the cheers, whistles, camera flashes, and shout-outs from parents, family, and friends, were not functionally literate. They were unable to perform the minimum skills necessary to negotiate society: reading the local newspapers, filling out a job application, or following basic written instructions; even fewer had achieved empowering literacy enabling them to closely read, analyze, synthesize, and evaluate text.

However, they were all college bound - the ultimate goal of our school's vision statement-- clutching knapsacks stuffed with our symbols of academic success: multiple college acceptances, a high school diploma; an official transcript indicating they had passed the MCAS test and had met all graduation requirements; several glowing letters of recommendation from teachers and guidance counselors; and one compelling personal statement, their college essay.

They walked across the stage into a world that was unaware of the truth that scorched my soul --the truth that became clear the first day I entered West Roxbury High School in 1979 (my first assignment as a provisional 12th grade English teacher): the young men and women I was responsible for coaching the last leg of their academic journey could not write a complete sentence, a cohesive paragraph, or a well-developed essay on a given topic. I remember my pain and anger at this revelation and my struggle to reconcile the reality before me with my own high school experience, which had enabled me to negotiate the world of words--oral and written--independently, with relative ease and confidence.

For the ensuing 30-plus years, I witnessed how the system churned out academically unprepared students who lacked the skills needed to negotiate the rigors of serious scholarship, or those skills necessary to move in and up the corporate world.

We instituted tests and assessments, such as the MCAS, that required little exercise in critical thinking, for which most of the students were carefully coached to "pass.'' Teachers, instructors, and administrators made the test the curriculum, taught to the test, drilled for the test, coached for the test, taught strategies to take the test, and gave generous rewards (pizza parties) for passing the test. Students practiced, studied for, and passed the test--but remained illiterate.

I also bear witness to my students' ability to acquire a passing grade for mediocre work. A's and B's were given simply for passing in assignments (quality not a factor), for behaving well in class, for regular attendance, for completing homework assignments that were given a check mark but never read.

In addition, I have been a victim of the subtle and overt pressure exerted by students, parents, administrators, guidance counselors, coaches, and colleagues to give undeserving students passing grades, especially at graduation time, when the "walk across the stage'' frenzy is at its peak.

When all else failed, there were strategies for churning out seemingly academically prepared students. These were the ways around the official requirements: loopholes such as MCAS waivers; returning or deftly transferring students to Special Needs Programs--a practice usually initiated by concerned parents who wanted to avoid meeting the regular education requirements or to gain access to "testing accommodations''; and, Credit Recovery, the computer program that enabled the stragglers, those who were left behind, to catch up to the frontrunners in the Race to the Stage. Students were allowed to take Credit Recovery as a substitute for the course they failed, and by passing with a C, recover their credits.

Nevertheless, this past June, in the final year of my teaching career, I chose to attend my first graduation at the urgings of my students--the ones whose desire to learn, to become better readers and writers, and whose unrelenting hard work earned them a spot on the graduation list--and the admonition of a close friend who warned that my refusal to attend was an act of selfishness, of not thinking about my students who deserved the honor and respect signified by my presence.

At the ceremony I chose to be happy, in spite of the gnawing realization that nothing had changed in 32 years. We had continued playing games with other people's children.

Junia Yearwood, a guest columnist, is a retired Boston Public Schools teacher who taught at English High for 25 years.

© Copyright 2010 Globe Newspaper Company.

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The New Mexico PreK Evaluation: Impacts From the Fourth Year (2008-2009) of New Mexico's State-Funded PreK Program

Jason T. Hustedt, W. Steven Barnett, Kwanghee Jung, and Allison H. Friedman

The New Mexico PreK evaluation, from the 2008-2009 school year, finds positive impacts from the state-funded prekindergarten program for young children, consistent with previous findings. With statistically significant increases observed in vocabulary, math, and literacy scores for children participating in New Mexico PreK, the authors find New Mexico PreK is helping prepare young children for later school success. The New Mexico PreK initiative began in 2005 and has expanded rapidly. From the beginning, the National Institute for Early Education Research has been evaluating the program using the regression-discontinuity approach.
Related: Madison's planned 4K program.

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Financial Literacy - A Topic Every Parent Must Teach their Child


New site provides financial literacy curricula for parents, students, and educators.

Our sister site GoCollege has given a great deal of attention to the current student loan crisis. The problem is actually a very simple one, easy access to loans has led naïve students to borrow significant sums of money as they pursue their college degree.

The problem is that too many students are borrowing far too much and thus are literally mortgaging their entire future. I recently highlighted my concerns with what is happening in my own state where students are leaving the state university with some of the highest average debt levels in the country.

Unfortunately, financial literacy is not a typical topic generally taught in public schools. Thus, educating children about money and the concept of using credit in a healthy manner still falls upon parents. In essence, this is a subject where every family must employ the home-schooling concept.

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Schools -- The Ultimate Agents of Social Change

Meredith Ely

People get seriously defensive -- with good reason -- at blanket statements about teaching and curriculum standards, accountability in schools, and teacher union authority. When discussing reform, subtle nuances get lost in politicized rhetoric and very personal experiences. Reform is framed almost as a holy war against a lethargic, failing school system, and as a result we see an insurgency among educators who are working to the bone and given minimal resources.

We do not have a failing school system. We have a system that fails poor children. I am sure every district, wealthy or not, has a set of very legitimate obstacles, but in terms of reform, this is not about a flawed school system generally. Reform must be about the achievement gap.

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: California's Budget Agreement May Hurt School Credit Most, Moody's Says

Michael B. Marois

The budget agreement California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and lawmakers reached last month will have a "negative influence" on the credit of school districts more than on other parts of local government, Moody's Investors Service said.

School districts will face cash-flow problems because the state delayed or deferred subsidies they are owed, Moody's Senior Vice President Eric Hoffmann said in a report today. Counties and cities should be at less risk, he said.

Schwarzenegger signed the $86.6 billion budget Oct. 8 after lawmakers wrestled over an agreement for 100 days into the fiscal year, the longest the most populous U.S. state has ever gone without a spending plan. It eliminated a $19 billion deficit by cutting spending almost $8 billion, half of that from health and welfare programs administered by local governments. It also delayed paying more than $5 billion in subsidies to schools and community colleges.

"These new cross-fiscal year deferrals could particularly pose a challenge for school districts with narrow liquidity and outstanding tax and revenue anticipation notes due on June 30, the last day of their current fiscal year," Hoffman said in the report.

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Our View: Maine Governor Elect LePage will get a shot at reforming education

Maine Sunday Telegram

A lot of harsh words are thrown around during a campaign, and Gov.-elect Paul LePage was on the receiving end of many of them, particularly regarding his positions on education.

But now that the votes have been cast the rhetoric can die away. Although there is still considerable flesh that has to be added to the policy bones that LePage campaigned on, we like much of what he proposed in regards to education reform, which includes ideas that we have been championing for some time.

LePage supports public charter schools, funded from the same sources as traditional schools. Charter schools have a mixed track record, but the best ones serve as innovative laboratories for new approaches to teaching and learning.

They also offer school districts a way to pilot alternative programs, like schools that meet at night, during the weekend or combine with a vocational focus, which could bring dropouts back into education.

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Schools that go it alone do best - report

Jeevan Vasagar:

The most successful schools ignore government advice and set their own standards for effective teaching, according to a thinktank report published today.

The best schools have an "open culture", in which heads regularly pop into classrooms informally, the thinktank Reform says.

"The teachers view this as supportive rather than threatening ... the best schools foster an expectation and culture of perpetual improvement."

This change in culture leads to failing teachers either improving or leaving, the report says.

Being taught by a good teacher rather than a poor one improves a student's results by half a GCSE grade a subject, according to academic research quoted in the report.

By contrast, class size makes little difference.

Korea and Japan, which have bigger class sizes, do better at maths than pupils in England, according to Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) figures.

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Will Jerry Brown Rescue Public Education?

NBC Bay Area

The election is over, and yes, California has a new governor--well, actually a previous governor back for another turn.

Jerry Brown will return to the state's highest office but in a radically different political setting. Term limits, federal mandates, and tough requirements for raising taxes have created a political environment that makes it almost impossible for any governor to govern, yet that is what Brown must do.

Brown re-enters the office under conditions similar to those encountered by his predecessor, Arnold Schwarzenegger: fiscal crisis. To some, this almost sounds like the boy who cried wolf--surely we must have solved the revenue and spending problem
by now.

But we haven't. Current projections show California about $15 billion in the red for the new fiscal year, perhaps more. This after several years of draconian cutbacks.

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Indebted and Unrepentant

Fred Siegel

The big news from Tuesday's elections--the GOP's gains of 60-plus seats in the House, recapturing the majority that it lost in 2006--naturally makes one wonder about the divisions that the victories are likely to foment. Pundits are speculating on conflicts between the Tea Party and Republican regulars over spending; between the 25 remaining Blue Dog Democrats and the party's liberal leadership; and of course between the two parties over budgetary matters, which could lead to gridlock.

But another division is likely to compete for center stage in the next two years: the split between, on one side, California and New York--two states, deeply in debt, whose wealthy are beneficiaries of the global economy--and, on the other, the solvent states of the American interior that will be asked to bail them out. This geographic division will also pit the heartland's middle class and working class against the well-to-do of New York and California and their political allies in the public-sector unions.

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November 8, 2010

International Benchmarking: State Education Performance Standards

Gary W. Phillips, Ph.D., via a Richard Askey email

It is worth looking at the data to see how Wisconsin compares with some other states. Here is the mathematics comparison with Minnesota.

The "state" results are the percent of students ranked as proficient on the state test with the current cut scores being used. The international percent was obtained by using the state results on NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) and this was mapped by comparing levels of problems to the level on TIMSS, (Trends in Mathematics and Science Study).

Grade 4 Mathematics Percent proficient
State International
Wisconsin 74 45
Minnesota 68 55
Massachusetts 49 63

Grade 8 Mathematics

Wisconsin 73 33
Minnesota 56 41
Massachusetts 46 52

No, the Massachusetts scores were not reversed here. Their cut score levels are set higher than the TIMSS levels.

It is time for the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction to redo the cut score levels to make them realistic. Parents in Wisconsin are mature enough to be told the truth about how well their children are doing.

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Future teachers must show, not just tell, skills: Teacher Performance Assessment program

Chris Williams

Standing at the edge of a pond surrounded by her class of fourth-graders, Jasmine Zeppa filled a bucket with brown water and lectured her pupils on the science of observing and recording data. Many of the children seemed more interested in nearby geese, a passing jogger and the crunchy leaves underfoot.

Zeppa's own professor from St. Catherine University stood nearby and recorded video of it all.

"I think it went as well as it possibly could have, given her experience," the professor, Susan Gibbs Goetz, said. Her snap review: The 25-year-old Zeppa could have done a better job holding the students' attention, but did well building on past lessons.

Zeppa is among the first class of aspiring teachers who are getting ready for new, more demanding requirements to receive their teacher license. A new licensing system is being tested in 19 states that includes filming student teachers in their classroom and evaluating the video, also candidates must show they can prepare a lesson, tailor it to different levels of students and present it effectively.

Teacher Performance Assessment program

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Influence of teachers unions in question

Mitchell Landsberg

The groups have been slow to come to terms with the push for reform. Some see them as obstacles to change, and even union sympathizers agree that their voice in the education debate has been muted.

Teachers unions have a well-deserved reputation for exercising political clout. With a nearly unparalleled ability to raise cash and organize their ranks, they have elected school boards, influenced legislation and helped set the public school agenda in major American cities for decades.

Now, that clout is in question.

A nationwide school reform movement with bipartisan support has collided head-on with unions over three ideas that labor has long resisted: expansion of charter schools, the introduction of merit pay for teachers and the use of student test scores in teacher evaluations.

Even the long-held protections and prerogatives conferred by seniority and tenure no longer seem sacrosanct.

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Houston School District to hold meetings on special education program


The Houston Independent School District is holding ten public meetings during two days in November to gather feedback from parents and community members regarding the effectiveness of the district's special education program.

During the meetings, the public's input will be gathered on a series of questions which have been developed by the TEA to gather information on the effective operation and performance of special education programs throughout the State. The questions include:

One purpose of the Individuals with Disabilities with Education Act or IDEA is to strengthen the role of parents and ensure family participation in the education of their children. Within the context of the Houston Independent School District, how are parents involved in the educational process for their children?

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Highland Park High School uses new app to connect with students, parents

Jana Martin

Students and parents at Highland Park High School want to stay connected to their school's news, events and numerous activities.

And now they can. Because there's an app for that.

"[Last year], I was looking for extra things for my kids to do," said Kelly Snowden, an adviser for the school's broadcast and newspaper staff. "We started brainstorming ideas, first for a website and then the app."

In January, the advisers were approached by a media designer, Allan Restrepo, president of YOUniversal Ideas and parent to two students in the district. By fall, the school had introduced its new technology to students and parents.

Since its Sept. 3 kickoff, more than 1,500 people have downloaded the iPhone app, HPHS Media. The app is available to iPhone users, but plans are to expand to other brands of smart phones. The app also can be used with the iPod Touch and iPad.

The Highland Park School District spends $18,472 per student (6,649) via a $122,825,784 2010/2011 budget. Madison will spend $15,485 per student during the 2010-2011 budget year (24,471 students and a $378,948,997)

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Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels explains his plans for education in Indiana

Mitch Daniels

A wave of change and reform has finally begun moving across American public education. Across the political spectrum from President Obama rightward, people now agree that our children must learn much more than they are learning now, and that major change is necessary to enable them to do so. Only the most selfish special interests still insist on defending the status quo.

Indiana has led the nation in many areas lately. Fiscal responsibility, a pro-growth business climate, property tax reduction and infrastructure are good examples, but we can make no such claim about K-12 education. Only one in three Hoosier eighth-graders is able to pass the national reading and math tests; if we compare their scores to those of children in foreign countries, they look even worse.

It's not that we have made no headway. We have doubled the number of our 5-year-olds with access to full-day kindergarten, although a quarter still do not have it. We have strengthened the ability of teachers and principals to maintain classroom discipline by immunizing them from lawsuits. We have ended the "social promotion" of third-graders who cannot read to the fourth grade and almost certain failure in high school and life.

Much more on Mitch Daniels here.

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Big-ticket International education deals this week

Charu Sudan Kasturi

US President Barack Obama's visit to India is set to start to an unprecedented wave of back-to-back, big-ticket international education deals over the coming week aimed at making India a global education destination. India will sign key education pacts with Canada on Tuesday and the UK on Thursday after finalising projects with Obama's delegation on Monday, top government sources confirmed.

"Don't forget that the US, UK and Canada are countries that Indians have traditionally thronged for education. It is indicative of India's role in the global education scenario today that they are coming to India virtually in back-to-back trips we have never witnessed before," a senior government official said. "These countries need us as much as we need them."

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Scenes from the Obama Visit: Holy Name High School

Jonathan Weisman:

The setting: Holy Name High School, a small classroom with a sari-clad teacher, four boys and two girls in jackets and ties in front of environmental dioramas. Two girls presented an extremely well rehearsed rundown on their model of an eco-friendly village with a windmill.

"So let us work today for tomorrow," the kids all said in unison. A boy talked of forestry and asserted, "The government of India does not allow the felling of trees."

A paper mache black rock with a crying face was labeled "Black burnt carbon earth."

"You don't want to live on that," Mr. Obama said.

Oversized cigarettes were bound and wired, and marked RDX of Cancer (which is a frighteningly sophisticated way to say dynamite). A blue paper mache globe was sinking into a cardboard sea, with the label "Sinking Earth."

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November 7, 2010

Systemic changes coming for Wisconsin public school teachers

Alan Borsuk

An educational earthquake aimed at improving the effectiveness of teachers is rumbling across the nation.

So far, the quake is only beginning to affect Wisconsin. But the tremors of change are already being felt here, and more are coming.

In the process, a new world of teaching is being built.

Nationwide, the federal government and giant philanthropies such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are putting hundreds of millions of dollars into underwriting work in dozens of states and cities on better ways to select teachers, monitor their work and pay them.

President Barack Obama has taken on teachers unions - traditionally partisan allies - over teacher improvement issues, while many Republicans, including Wisconsin Governor-elect Scott Walker, say they support reform in teachers' pay.

National leaders of teachers unions, long opposed to change, are willing to talk about once-taboo subjects such as making it easier to get weak teachers out of classrooms.

Multiple factors have ushered in this new era. First, it is now widely understood that not only are teachers the most important school-related factor in student learning, but that teacher effectiveness varies drastically. Second, the recession - and the resulting stimulus package - gave Obama a chance to launch large programs focused on increasing teacher effectiveness. Third, data about students and teachers has improved greatly, providing better tools for figuring out the success of many teachers on an individual basis.

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Obama Pointedly Questioned by Students in India

Sheryl Stolberg:

MUMBAI — When Michelle Obama, the first lady, introduced her husband to a group of college students here Sunday, she urged them to ask him “tough questions.”

They did.

“What is your take or opinion about jihad?” came the first question for President Obama at a town hall-style meeting at St. Xavier’s College. Next up: queries about spirituality, Gandhi, the American midterm elections and his government’s negotiations with the Taliban.

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Wanted: Unsung high schools with strong college course programs

Jay Matthews

Other columnists spend the dark winter months reconnecting with their loved ones before a cozy fire or a richly laden holiday feast. I use that time to fill a spreadsheet with the names of high schools and their ratios of college-level tests to graduating seniors.

It doesn't sound like much fun, but it is to me. Since 1997, when I devised a way to compare all U.S. high schools based how much they encouraged students to take challenging courses and tests, that has been my winter work. I have published the ranked list called America's Best High Schools, based on my Challenge Index, in the spring.

I am working on a new list now, with a few twists. First, it will no longer be sponsored by Newsweek magazine, but by the Washington Post, and this Web site, The Washington Post Company, my employer for 39 years, just sold Newsweek, so I brought the list over here.

Second, I am going to include in the ranking calculations not only Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and Cambridge tests, which are standardized exams that come at the end of college-level courses given in high school, but also the final exams of what are called dual enrollment or concurrent enrollment courses. These are courses given by local colleges to high school students. The students either come to the college campuses for a part of the day or have college professors or specially trained instructors conduct the courses at their high school.

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T.S. Eliot and the Demise of the Literary Culture

Joseph Epstein

No one writing in the English language is likely to establish a reigning authority over poetry and criticism and literature in general as T.S. Eliot did between the early 1930s and his death in 1965 at the age of 77. Understatedly spectacular is the way Eliot's career strikes one today, at a time when, it is fair to say, poetry, even to bookish people, is of negligible interest and literary criticism chiefly a means to pursue academic tenure. Literary culture itself, if the sad truth be known, seems to be slowly but decisively shutting down.

The fame Eliot achieved in his lifetime is unfathomable for a poet, or indeed any American or English writer, in our day. In 1956, Eliot lectured on "The Function of Criticism" in a gymnasium at the University of Minnesota to a crowd estimated at 15,000 people. "I do not believe," he remarked afterward, "there are fifteen thousand people in the entire world who are interested in criticism." Eight years earlier, in 1948, he won the Nobel Prize in literature. In later years, when he went into the hospital, which he did with some frequency, suffering from bronchitis and heart troubles, news of his illnesses appeared in the press or over the radio both in England and America; and so too did news of his second marriage, in 1957, at the age of 69, to his secretary, a Miss Valerie Fletcher, 38 years younger than he. He lectured often and everywhere, so much so that Lyndall Gordon, his most penetrating biographer, wrote that his "face acquired a sort of exposed reticence from the habit of looking down from a lectern into rows upon rows of eyes." Eliot was the equivalent in literature of Albert Einstein in science in that everyone seemed to know that these men were immensely significant without quite knowing for what.

An immitigable highbrow, Eliot was concerned about the slackening of high culture and the diminishing quality of education--concerns that have proved prophetic. The poetry on which his reputation as a leading figure of the modernist avant-garde was based was not easily comprehended. "Poets, in our civilization, as it exists at present, must be difficult," he wrote, but he also wrote that "genuinepoetry can communicate before it is understood," which seems to have been the case with his. His criticism, much of which began as lectures, always came from on high. This was not a man who wrote or spoke down to his audience, ever. Which makes all the more curious his widespread fame.

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Wisconsin Public schools likely to face cash drain

Alan Borsuk

So let's think out loud about what might lie ahead:

State aid to schools. It's hard to see how Republicans are going to keep their campaign promises and fund the same percentage of statewide costs for kindergarten through 12th grade. The state committed itself to paying two-thirds of those costs in the 1990s (under Republican Gov. Tommy G. Thompson). The current rate is a bit below that. But look for Walker to want to do something about this multibillion dollar annual spending. Reductions in state aid would translate into large increases in property taxes (that hardly seems likely, given the state of public opinion) or large cuts in school spending. That leads us to:

Teacher benefits. Look for a lot of action around this. Teachers are deeply defensive of their benefits, especially health insurance plans that are substantially above what almost anybody else has these days. But WEAC, the state teachers union, was among the biggest losers on Tuesday and has few friends in the Capitol now. There's been talk about trying to bring teachers into the state employees' health plan, which costs less than most teacher plans. Now is likely to be the time for doing that. Or maybe other ideas will surface.

Teachers contracts are negotiated locally, so the most powerful thing Republicans can do might be just to give local districts less money and let school officials and local unions figure out what to do about it. My guess is that the Milwaukee teachers union agreed recently to a new contract that goes until 2013, two years longer than the normal agreement, in hope of staving off more concessions at least for that long.

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School Brings Farming To Big Apple


No one expects to find beets and carrots in a sliver of the South Bronx wedged between Metro-North Railroad tracks and a busy elevated highway.

But there they are, along with late-season eggplant, tomatoes, basil and habanero peppers, all growing in a pocket-sized farm called La Finca del Sur, Spanish for Farm of the South.

The formerly weed-choked vacant lot will be a classroom for a new venture called Farm School NYC: The New York City School of Urban Agriculture.

Starting in January, the school will offer a two-year course aimed at developing "the next generation of leaders who will work to use urban agriculture to transform their communities into healthy food communities," said executive director Jacquie Berger.

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In School Efforts to End Bullying, Some See Agenda

Erik Eckholm

Alarmed by evidence that gay and lesbian students are common victims of schoolyard bullies, many school districts are bolstering their antiharassment rules with early lessons in tolerance, explaining that some children have "two moms" or will grow up to love members of the same sex.
Enlarge This Image

M. Scott Brauer for The New York Times
Mary Decker, left, Michael Gengler and Tess Dufrechou are members of the Helena High School Gay-Straight Alliance, which supported revisions to the sex education and antibullying curriculum in the school district in Helena, Mont.
The Curriculum

The school district in Helena, Mont., revised its new teaching guidelines on sex education and tolerance, after parents criticized them as being too explicit and an endorsement of homosexuality.
Among the original goals:

Grade 1: "Understand human beings can love people of the same gender and people of another gender."
Grade 5: "Understand that sexual intercourse includes but is not limited to vaginal, oral or anal penetration."

The final version eliminated those goals and added a vaguer one:
Grades K to 5: "Recognize that family structures differ."

The final version also added language emphasizing that same-sex marriage is illegal:
Grade 6: "In Montana, marriage is between a man and woman. Other states allow marriage between adults of the same gender."

But such efforts to teach acceptance of homosexuality, which have gained urgency after several well-publicized suicides by gay teenagers, are provoking new culture wars in some communities.

Many educators and rights advocates say that official prohibitions of slurs and taunts are most effective when combined with frank discussions, from kindergarten on, about diverse families and sexuality.

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NEA's View of the Near Future

Mike Antonucci

NEA sent out its first post-mortem to its members, staff and activists. It is pretty straightforward.
Education policy/ESEA Reauthorization:

The new Speaker of the House is expected to be Representative John Boehner (R-OH) and Representative John Kline (R-MN) is expected to serve as the Chair of the House Education and Labor Committee. Under their leadership, Republicans are likely to be more focused on local control of school systems and local decision making. This week, Representative Kline outlined broad-based priorities for education and employment policy, including "pursuing education reform that restores local control, empowers parents, lets teachers teach, and protects taxpayers." Representative Kline has also been a supporter of full funding for special education. Areas that NEA will be watching closely will include proposals for private school vouchers and increased support for charter schools.

Education Funding:

Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI), a rising star in GOP who has burnished his credentials as a fiscal hawk is likely to serve as Chair of the House Budget Committee, while either Representative Hal Rogers (R-KY) or Representative Jerry Lewis (R-CA), past chairman of the Appropriations Committee, could serve as Appropriations Chair. Republicans are expected to push hard on spending and are likely to propose dramatic cuts to education and other domestic priorities. Already, would-be Speaker of the House John Boehner has proposed cutting all non-defense federal spending to FY2008 levels.

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Why We Can't Afford Not to Create a Well-Stocked National Digital Library System

David Rothman

E-book gadgets have finally cracked the mass market here in the United States or at least have come a long way.

Consider a memorable Kindle commercial from Amazon, in which a brunette in a bikini one-ups an oafish man reading off a rival machine. Mr. Beer Belly asks about her e-reader. "It's a Kindle," she says by the pool. "$139. I actually paid more for these sunglasses." Mad Men would be proud. A year or two from now, count on twice as much ballyhoo and on better machines for less than $99.

I myself own both a Kindle 3 and the Brand X iPad and can attest to the improved readability of the latest E Ink from Amazon's supplier, even indoors, despite lack of built-in illumination. Outside on walks, as with earlier Kindles, I can listen to books from publishing houses savvy enough to allow text to speech. No matter where I am, I can instantly see all occurrences of a character's name in an engrossing Louis Bayard novel. I can also track down the meanings of archaic words that Bayard's detective narrator uses in this murder mystery set at West Point and featuring a fictionalized Edgar Allan Poe.

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The Rise of the 'Edupunk'

Jack Stripling

The "Edupunks" will inherit the Earth ... or at least some attention.

Those in higher education who continue hand-wringing over the relative merits of online learning and other technology-driven platforms will soon find themselves left in the dust of an up-and-coming generation of students who are seeking knowledge outside academe. Such was an emerging consensus view here Monday, as college leaders gathered for the TIAA-CREF Institute's 2010 Higher Education Leadership Conference.

"We're still trying to fit the Web into our educational paradigm.... I just don't think that's going to work," said Mary Spilde, president of Lane Community College, in Eugene, Ore.

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November 6, 2010

Tiptoeing around race issue doesn't solve anything

Chris Rickert

It was a forum held Wednesday by the Dane County League of Women Voters on "how changing demographics are affecting Dane County schools and human services," and the speakers -- Madison school superintendent Dan Nerad, Sun Prairie district administrator Tim Culver and Dane County director of Human Services Lynn Green -- aren't exactly right wingers.

But it's odd how the best of intentions can muddle a message, especially when it comes to race, and especially in Madison.

The panel was nothing if not well intentioned, not to mention extremely careful in its language.

Happy- and/or neutral-sounding words like "diversity" and "changing demographics" took the place of the more direct "black" or "Latino" or "poor." And while it was clear that these changing demographics meant higher rates of poverty and single-parent families, which in turn correlate with more problems in the schools or need for services, the panel chose not to identify them as problems. They were instead "challenges."

They were also careful to frame their remarks in a spirit of inclusiveness, and Nerad and Culver described efforts to inject "culturally relevant" instruction into their curriculums and to hire more minority teachers.

(I wondered how conservatives would respond to such efforts, widely applauded and rarely questioned in places as liberal as Madison. What does cultural relevancy have to do with learning the three Rs? Do you have to be black to teach a black child?)

The audience was provided with graphics showing student achievement rising during this period of increasing student poverty and diversity, but Nerad and Culver did not make a big deal of that in their remarks. Nerad said after the meeting that too much emphasis on the district's successes can invite criticism about areas where it isn't doing so well.

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Application Inflation: When Is Enough Enough?

Eric Hoover, via a Rick Kiley email:

THE numbers keep rising, the superlatives keep glowing. Each year, selective colleges promote their application totals, along with the virtues of their applicants.

For this fall's freshman class, the statistics reached remarkable levels. Stanford received a record 32,022 applications from students it called "simply amazing," and accepted 7 percent of them. Brown saw an unprecedented 30,135 applicants, who left the admissions staff "deeply impressed and at times awed." Nine percent were admitted.

The biggest boast came from the University of California, Los Angeles. In a news release, U.C.L.A. said its accepted students had "demonstrated excellence in all aspects of their lives." Citing its record 57,670 applications, the university proclaimed itself "the most popular campus in the nation."

Such announcements tell a story in which colleges get better -- and students get more amazing -- every year. In reality, the narrative is far more complex, and the implications far less sunny for students as well as colleges caught up in the cruel cycle of selectivity.

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Christie Hovers Over Teachers Battle With Governor Is on Minds at the Union's Convention in Atlantic City

Lisa Fleisher

Even when gathering in Atlantic City, New Jersey's teachers can't get Gov. Chris Christie out of their minds.

For the past year, their largest union has been the prime target of Mr. Christie's wrath, a battle that has made him famous and the hero of Republicans across the country.

Mr. Christie extended that fight to the annual convention for the New Jersey Education Association, which represents 200,000 current and retired education workers, through his acting education commissioner, who informed the union this week that she would not attend the event.

The union says the education commissioner has never before failed to address one of its conventions.

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A Crack in the Wall

The New York Times

When the Supreme Court took up a case about a school choice program in Arizona this week, Justice Elena Kagan said she had been "puzzling and puzzling" over it. Why, she asked the state's lawyer, instead of providing families with vouchers, is Arizona's program "so much more complicated and complex and unusual"?

The short answer is that the state's Constitution prohibits direct aid to private schools. A more important one is that the convolutions hide a problem we're not supposed to see. The program appears to be unconstitutional. As the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled, it appears to violate the First Amendment's establishment clause by disbursing state funds on the basis of religion.

Last year in Arizona, $52.1 million in scholarships helped support more than 27,500 students at private and parochial schools. The money came from letting people who owe state income taxes take a credit, up to $500. They can contribute the amount to 50 or so nonprofit tuition organizations that give money to parents who want to send their children to schools they serve.

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November 5, 2010

Madison High School Reform: Dual Pathways to Post-Secondary Success High School Career and College Readiness

Daniel A. Nerad, Superintendent, Pam Nash, Assistant Superintendent, and Susan Abplanalp, Deputy Superintendent

Enclosed is an update report regarding the High School Career and College Readiness Plan. This plan is written as a complement to the first document entitled "Dual Pathways to Post-Secondary Success". The original document was intended to outline both a possible structure for organizing accelerated and preparatory courses for high school students. The original document was also intended to serve as an internal document outlining a planning process. Since, the dissemination of the "Dual Pathways to Post-Secondary Success" many questions and concerns have been expressed by a variety of stakeholders. Through feedback and questions brought forth by teachers, students, community members and the Board of Education it is understood that our original plan did not effectively communicate the rationale, scope, scale, and end outcomes as intended. The conversations that occurred as a result of the dissemination of the "Dual Pathways to Post-Secondary Success" have been at times difficult but they have also been the right conversations for us to have in order to move forward as a district. These conversations have highlighted the interconnectedness ofall grade levels, calling on us to proceed with a k-12 district wide curricular alignmentprocessinwhichhighschoolisembedded. hlordertomoreaccuratelycapturetheintentofouroriginal work we have renamed the plan High School Career and College Readiness to accurately reflect the intended goal; for all MMSD graduates will become self-determined learners able to access a wide array ofpost-secondary options. For these reasons, we have not included the original "Dual Pathways to Post-Secondary Success" plan in this report. Rather we have created this document to serve as bridge that more clearly articulates the history, rationale, data, work to date and next steps that are outlined in the original plan. Our Theory of Action, process
and end goals have not changed, but how we articulate this work has become more explicit, transparent and responsive. Weare in process ofcreating a more comprehensive plan to be shared with a broad range ofaudiences. We will share that plan with the Board of Education when finalized. We will also share periodic updates with the Board of Education. ill the meantime, the enclosed report serves to answer questions, concerns received to date and provide more detailed and accurate iuformation. Attached is the original document, unchanged.

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Justices Revisit Use of Tax Credits for Religious Schools

The Supreme Court on Wednesday returned to a subject that produced a major and closely divided decision eight years ago: how far may the government go in aiding religious schools?

In 2002, in a 5-to-4 ruling, the court upheld a school voucher system in Cleveland that parents used almost exclusively to pay for religious schools.

Four new justices have joined the court since then, but there was nothing in Wednesday's arguments to suggest that the issue has become any less polarizing.

The program at issue on Wednesday gives Arizona taxpayers a dollar-for-dollar state tax credit of up to $500 for donations to private "student tuition organizations." The contributors may not designate their dependents as beneficiaries. The organizations are permitted to limit the scholarships they offer to schools of a given religion, and many do.

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Madison's Fine Arts Task Force Update

Laurie Fellenz, Teacher Leader - Fine Arts

Since the January 2010 Board of Education update, the majority of focus of the Fine Arts Division in Curriculum and Assessment has been on recommendations regarding curriculum revisions, distribution ofequitable essential arts resources, and plans for a proposed fine arts programming financial planning team.

The Fine Arts Task Force Report contains three main areas. This updated report is organized around the recommendations from the Fine Arts Task Force, progress to date, and next steps in these three areas: Curriculum; Equity; and Long-Term Financial Planning.

Creation ofa multi-year funding pIan for arts education will be structured to provide adequate, sustained funding for MMSD students taking k-12 arts education courses, which will offer:

A sequence o f diverse, skill-based classes Expanded, equitable access to co-curricular opportunities Knowledge of and appreciation for world art forms

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Asia's Expanding Middle Class Presents Huge Opportunity for Region, World - Report

Asian Development Bank

Developing Asia's rapidly expanding middle class is likely to assume the traditional role of the US and Europe as primary global consumers and help rebalance the global economy, says a new report on Asia's middle class from the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

The report, published in a special chapter of Key Indicators for Asia and the Pacific 2010, the flagship annual statistical publication of the ADB, found that Asia's consumers spent an estimated $4.3 trillion (in 2005 purchasing power parity dollars), or about one-third of OECD consumption expenditure, in 2008 and by 2030 will likely spend $32 trillion, comprising about 43% of the worldwide consumption.

The special chapter, titled "The Rise of Asia's Middle Class", examines the rapid growth of Asia's middle class, how the poor advance to the middle class, factors that characterize the middle class, and pathways through which they become effective contributors to growth and poverty reduction in the region.

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10 Ways Teachers Make a Difference


Education is one of the building blocks of society. Educated individuals tend to be happier and healthier, and study after study has found that an educated populace leads to a stronger economy. So what's behind all these educational benefits? Teachers. To show our appreciation, we here at Education Portal would like to take a moment to reflect on some of the ways in which teachers make a difference in our world.

1. Inspiring

Maybe your love of poetry was inspired by your first grade teacher reading Shel Silverstein's Where the Sidewalk Ends. Or perhaps you became an engineer because of that cool experiment in your fifth-grade science class. So often it is teachers who provide that initial inspiration that becomes a lifelong passion.
2. Encouraging

As a kid, this blogger never had any trouble with reading but was terrified by math. But with the patient encouragement of my teachers, I learned to like - and excel at - math all the way through calculus. When students say 'I can't,' teachers are always there to say 'yes you can.'

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Tough as Nails, but Always Ready for a Bearhug

Jenny Anderson

It is 8:30 a.m. at De La Salle Academy, a private school in Manhattan for academically talented poor children, and classical music is humming through a boom box that harks back to the 1980s.

Children are streaming up four flights of stairs and surrounding the school's founder and principal, Brother Brian Carty, like moths fluttering around a light. They want to tell him something. They want one of his bearhugs. They want to be in his orbit for a few minutes.

If the students' attraction to Brother Carty suggests that he is a teddy bear of an administrator, consider a few of his rules. Gossip is an expellable offense. Makeup -- even lip gloss -- is prohibited. Dating is outlawed.

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Officials limit access to Stoughton High School after gun threat

Officials limit access to Stoughton High School after gun threat

Responding to rumors that a student might bring a gun to Stoughton High School today, Stoughton police officers patrolled the school Thursday and plan to continue patrols today and Monday, district Administrator Tim Onsager said.

Access to the high school was allowed through only one door all day and at a second door before school, during lunch and after school, principal Mike Kruse said in an e-mail. Most extracurricular activities were canceled Thursday and today, as were staff meetings scheduled for today to allow teachers to remain in the classroom with students, Kruse wrote.

The district continues to investigate the origin of the rumors, but has not been able to substantiate any of the various stories circulating among students. No students have been disciplined so far, Onsager said.

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B-Schools Redouble Efforts Overseas

Diana Middleton

U.S. business schools, faced with a decline in applications from overseas, are stepping up international recruiting efforts to preserve what they say is an essential component of an institution's credibility.

Improved schools abroad, tougher employment prospects in the U.S., and the expense of attending an American school have led to fewer foreign applications at many programs, officials at several business schools say.

Overall, international enrollment at U.S. business schools dropped to 24.8% in the 2009-10 school year, down from 26.5% two years prior, according to the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, an accrediting body.

Harder hit are schools that don't have the global demand of institutions such as Harvard Business School and the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, where international enrollments have generally remained steady or increased.

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November 4, 2010

WEAC: $1.57 million for Four Wisconsin Senators

Steven Walters

ow much do election-year firewalls cost to build? For the state's largest teachers union, $1.57 million.

That's how much the Wisconsin Education Association Council said last week it will spend trying to make sure four Democratic state senators are re-elected - enough, WEAC hopes, to keep a Democratic majority in the 33-member state body.

Although there are 15 Democratic candidates running for the state Senate, and 80 Democrats running for the state Assembly, the latest WEAC report shows that the teachers union is placing what amounts to an "all in" bet on saving just four Democratic senators who are finishing their first terms.

In an Oct. 25 report to the Government Accountability Board, the 98,000-member union reported that it will independently:

• Spend the most - $440,044 - to try to re-elect Democratic Sen. Jim Sullivan of Wauwatosa in the 5th district. WEAC's pro-Sullivan spending will total $327,939; the remaining $112,105 will be used against Sullivan's Republican challenger, Republican Rep. Leah Vukmir, also from Wauwatosa.

Amazing and something to consider when school spending is discussed.

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The Post-Election Education Landscape: Vouchers Up, WEAC Down

Alan Borsuk via a Senn Brown email

Two quick education-related comments on Tuesday's election outcomes in Wisconsin:
First, this was a banner outcome in the eyes of voucher and charter school leaders. Governor-elect Scott Walker is a long-time ally of those promoting the 20,000-plus-student private school voucher program in the city of Milwaukee, and he is a booster of charter schools both in Milwaukee and statewide. But just as important as Walker's win was the thumpingly strong victories for Republicans in both the Assembly and State Senate, which will now come under sizable Republican majorities.

What will result?

Let's assume it's good-bye to the 22,500-student cap on the voucher enrollment in Milwaukee. Will Walker and the Legislature expand the voucher program beyond the city, perhaps, for openers, to Racine? Will they open the doors wider for charter schools, for national charter-school operators to come into Wisconsin, and for more public bodies to be given the power to authorize charter schools? (Currently, UW-Milwaukee, Milwaukee City Hall, and UW-Parkside are the only ones authorized to do that, other than school boards.) Perhaps most important, what will the Republicans do about the per-student payments to voucher and charter schools? School leaders now are chafing under the impact of receiving less than $6,500 per student for each voucher student and less than $8,000 for each charter student. Will this be one of the very few spots where the Republicans increase the state's financial involvement? Pretty good chance the answer is yes to all of the above.

Change is certainly in the air.

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AP saves money for families, but what about taxpayers?

Jay Matthews

In Advanced Placement Nation, that version of America populated by high school students taking college-level AP courses and tests, Florida covers a huge portion of the map. The St. Petersburg Times points out the state is number one in the percentage of graduating seniors taking AP tests and number five in the percentage of seniors passing them.

So, Times reporter Ron Matus reveals, the newspaper decided to see if Florida was getting its money's worth for paying its students' AP testing fees, something only two other states do. The Times analysis concluded that the program was saving college families tens of millions of dollars they don't have to pay for college courses that AP exempts their students from taking. Whether taxpayers are also saving money is more difficult to determine, Matus said.

"Florida students passed 114,430 AP tests this year," Matus wrote, "up from 66,511 five years ago. Even assuming a fair chunk of those tests won't translate into credits, the Times estimates Florida families will save at least $40 million in tuition and fees."

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FoolProof teaches money lessons at Stuart Hall

Julian Guthrie

The question posed to the San Francisco eighth-graders was: "Have you ever been ripped off?"

Hands shot up. Cedrick Mitchell said, "I gave my friend $20 for four new wheels for my skateboard, but I only got two new ones. So I had to roll with two nice wheels and two bad ones."

Will deHoo, standing before the whiteboard in a classroom at Stuart Hall for Boys, nodded excitedly. "That's right. You can get ripped off for $20 or $100 or $1,000. Whatever it is, it doesn't feel good. We are here to help you not get ripped off, and to make smart money decisions."

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AYP report cards irk local administrators

Erin McCarthy

Education officials expressed little surprise, and some frustration, that 11 of 13 area school districts and high schools failed to make Adequate Yearly Progress, according to the newly released Illinois State Report Cards.

"It's just a matter of time before every school is going to be on it," said Joel Estes, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction for Galesburg School District 205, in response to his district's academic warning standing.

Estes said the district has been on the list for "quite some time" due to being a more diverse and larger district.

Adequate Yearly Progress, or AYP, is determined by two standardized tests and is part of the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.

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For Exposure, Universities Put Courses on the Web

D D Guttenplan

Until recently, if you wanted to take Professor Rebecca Henderson's course in advanced strategy to understand the long-term roots of why some companies are unusually successful, you needed to be a student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where Ms. Henderson teaches at the Sloan School of Management. Admission to the Sloan School is extremely selective, and tuition fees are over $50,000 a year.

For the past two years, though, anyone with an Internet connection can follow Ms. Henderson's lectures online, where the lecture notes and course assignments are available free through M.I.T. OpenCourseWare. Why give away something with such a high market value?

"I put the course up because the president of M.I.T. asked us to," said Ms. Henderson. "My deep belief is that as academics we have a duty to disperse our ideas as far and as freely as possible."

Mary Lou Forward, executive director of the OpenCourseWare Consortium, a worldwide organization of about 250 academic institutions around the world, adds that universities get "global engagement" from posting courses online.

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How Universities Work, or: What I Wish I'd Known Freshman Year: A Guide to American University Life for the Uninitiated

Jake Seliger

Fellow graduate students sometimes express shock at how little many undergraduates know about the structure and purpose of universities. It's not astonishing to me: I didn't understand the basic facts of academic life or the hierarchies and incentives universities present to faculty and students when I walked into Clark University at age 18. I learned most of what's expressed here through osmosis, implication, inference, discussion with professors, and random reading over seven years. Although most of it seems obvious now, as a freshman I was like a medieval peasant who conceived of the earth as the center of the universe; Copernicus' heliocentric[1] revolution hadn't reached me, and the much more accurate view of the universe discovered by later thinkers wasn't even a glimmer to me. Consequently, I'm writing this document to explain, as clearly and concisely as I can, how universities work and how you, a freshman or sophomore, can thrive in them.

The biggest difference between a university and a high school is that universities are designed to create new knowledge, while high schools are designed to disseminate existing knowledge. That means universities give you far greater autonomy and in turn expect far more from you in terms of intellectual curiosity, personal interest, and maturity.

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British Kids Log On and Learn Math -- in Punjab

Julia Wedigier

Once a week, year six pupils at Ashmount Primary School in North London settle in front of their computers, put on their headsets and get ready for their math class. A few minutes later, their teachers come online thousands of kilometers away in the Indian state of Punjab.

Ashmount is one of three state schools in Britain that decided to outsource part of their teaching to India via the Internet. The service -- the first of its kind in Europe -- is offered by BrightSpark Education, a London-based company set up last year. BrightSpark employs and trains 100 teachers in India and puts them in touch with pupils in Britain through an interactive online tutoring program.

The feedback from pupils, the schools and parents is good so far, and BrightSpark said a dozen more schools, a charity and many more parents were interested in signing up for the lessons. The one-on-one sessions not only cost about half of what personal tutors in Britain charge but are also popular with pupils, who enjoy solving equations online, said Rebecca Stacey, an assistant head teacher at Ashmount.

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The Education Report: A former teacher's take on "Superman"

Katy Murphy

Jamal Cooks, a San Francisco State University professor of education and former teacher, wrote the following piece for The Education Report, Katy Murphy's Oakland schools blog. Read more at Follow her at

LAST Monday, I went to a matinee to watch "Waiting for Superman." As a former teacher, director of after-school programs, coordinator of mentoring programs, and a professor of teacher education, I watched the movie intently and hung on every word. I am a public school educator, a public school product, and a public school advocate. I have spent 20 years working for and with students who have challenging home lives, come from rough neighborhoods, and lack some resources, but who want the same education as the next person.

In fact, my daughter will be starting kindergarten soon, and with the local public school's API scores under 800, I want public schools to work. However, there are some real facts that must be acknowledged before moving forward for equitable education for all students.
The movie made some interesting points about public schools and their teachers. It is true that some schools have been underpreparing young people for decades. The cursory tenure process for teachers needs to be revamped; it takes a typical university

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November 3, 2010

Madison Edgewood High School's AP & ACT Results

From 1997 to 2010, Edgewood's average ACT scores rose by 2.3 points to 25.4 with an average of 95% of EHS students taking the test over that period. During the same time period, state and national averages remained essentially unchanged. The total number of students taking AP courses nearly quadrupled and the average number of tests taken per EHS AP student per year rose from 1.34 to 1.77. In addition, the percentage of passing scores (3,4 or 5) rose from 54% in 1997 to 75% in 2010.

2009-2010 ACT and AP notes:

  • ACT average went up by .1 from 2008 to 2009 with 100% of EHS students taking the test.
  • 43% of juniors and seniors - more than 1/2 of seniors and 1/3 of juniors took at least one AP course and exam in 2009-10. The national figure was 26.5%
  • 37.5% of the EHS graduating class passed (scored 3,4 or 5) at least one AP exam, 2.4 times the national average (15.9%) and 2.2 times the Wisconsin average (17.3%)
  • EHS offers one AP course for every 13-14 seniors

30 Students Earn Advanced Placement Scholar Awards
We received word in September that 30 students at Edgewood High School have earned AP Scholar Awards in recognition of their exceptional achievement on AP Exams. About 18% of the nearly 1.8 million students worldwide who took AP exams performed at a sufficiently high level.

via Edgewood's October, 2010 newsletter.

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SAT Prep on the Web: A) a Game; B) Online Chat; C) All of the Above

Katherine Boehret

This Saturday, high-school students around the country will sit for hours of silent testing that will determine some portion of their future: That's right, it's SAT time. For both parents and kids, the preparation for taking the standardized test is stressful and expensive, often involving hours of studying and several hundreds of dollars spent on classes, workbooks and tutors. And many kids will take these tests more than once.

So this week I tried a Web-based form of test prep called Grockit that aims to make studying for the SAT, ACT, GMAT, GRE or LSAT less expensive and more enjoyable. offers lessons, group study and solo practice, and does a nice job of feeling fun and educational, which isn't an easy combination to pull off.

A free portion of the site includes group study with a variety of questions and a limited number of solo test questions, which are customized to each student's study needs. The $100 Premium subscription includes full access to the online platform with unlimited solo practice questions and personalized performance analytics that track a student's progress. A new offering called Grockit TV ( offers free eight-week courses if students watch them streaming live twice a week. Otherwise, a course can be downloaded for $100 during the course or $150 afterward. Instructors hailing from the Princeton Review and Kaplan, among other places, teach test preparation for the GMAT business-school admissions test and SAT.

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From Inputs to Outputs: The Power of Data and Technology to Close the Achievement Gap

Silicon Valley Education Foundation, via email

On October 19, 2010, over 250 influential educators, policymakers, community, and business leaders from around California gathered in the heart of Silicon Valley to learn more about the innovative work of California's school districts, charter management organizations and education non-profits in using the power of data and technology to close the achievement gap.

General Sessions
The Power of Data and Technology to Close the Achievement Gap
• Arun Ramanathan, Executive Director, The Education Trust - West
The Power of Data video

Learning from Other States: The Texas Student Data System
• Lori Fey, Policy Initiatives, Michael and Susan Dell Foundation
PPT Presentation

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New Jersey Superintendent Salary Cuts

John Mooney

By capping school superintendents' salaries, the Christie administration maintains it can save $10 million in yearly salaries.

Synopsis: Three months after first proposing them, the Christie administration yesterday released the detailed regulations for capping superintendent salaries to no more than $175,000 for most districts, depending on enrollment.

What it means: The new regulations -- now slated to go into effect in February -- detail how the salary caps would be applied, as well as merit bonuses, which would be available to administrators who meet local board goals. There are few changes to what was first proposed, and the governor's office maintains that 70 percent of current superintendents would see their pay cut once current contracts expire, saving districts nearly $10 million in wages.

Interesting new detail: The merit bonuses -- which must be approved by the state -- lean toward quantitative measures, such as increases in student test scores or graduation rates. School boards could adopt up to three such goals for their superintendents, each worth a bonus equal to 3.3 percent of salary or a total of 10 percent. The boards could adopt no more than two qualitative goals, each equal to 2.5 percent of a superintendent's salary. In all cases, the bonuses would not be cumulative or applied to a superintendent's pension.

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Sweet drinks widely available in schools: study

Julie Steenhuysen

Despite efforts to limit their availability, public elementary school students in the United States have more outlets to buy unhealthy beverages at school, U.S. researchers said on Monday.

Over a three-year period ending in 2009, more students could buy sweetened beverages like sodas, higher-fat milk and sports beverages from vending machines and school stores, they said. Such drinks are a major source of calories, and removing them from schools could help curb the nation's obesity epidemic.

"Elementary school students are still surrounded by a variety of unhealthy beverages while at school," said Lindsey Turner of the University of Illinois at Chicago, whose study appears in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: UC President recommends cutting retirement benefits

Laurel Rosenhall

UC President Mark Yudof has released his recommendations for how he wants the University of California to change its employee retirement plan and eliminate a $12.9 billion unfunded liability.

In a letter to employees sent late Tuesday, Yudof laid out proposals to raise the minimum retirement age for future UC employees and reduce retiree health care benefits for existing employees.

The recommendations make UC's retirement plan a "more conservative pension plan than the State of California offers its employees," Yudof wrote in his letter to employees.

Under his proposals, employees hired by UC after July 1, 2013 would be eligible for retirement at age 55 (instead of age 50 for current employees) and could receive their maximum pension benefits at age 65 (instead of age 60 for current employees). Current employees would have less of their health care costs during retirement covered by the university, with costs being set by a graduated scale based on years of service and age at retirement. Current employees could remain on the existing retirement health care plan if on July 1, 2013, they have worked for UC for five years and their age and years of service together equal 50 or greater.

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Push for math, science education stumbles amid beleaguered Kansas City districts' pressures

Joe Robertson

Five years ago, alarms sounded over America's rapidly falling stature in STEM education.

That's science, technology, engineering and math -- the keys to our nation's prosperity. But U.S. schools weren't keeping up in the fast-changing fields.

Governors dispatched task forces. New programs were launched. Foundations poured in funding. And schools started to make gains.

Now, however, signs are emerging that the momentum of the mid-2000s is slipping away, even as students' needs continue to grow.

An Email to Madison Superintendent Dan Nerad on Math Teacher Hiring Criteria by Janet Mertz.

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China bubble erodes preference for sons

Patti Waldmeir

High property prices and economic development have begun to erode China's traditional preference for sons, leading to a rise in the number of Chinese parents who say they would prefer a daughter.

The centuries-old cultural preference for boys was exacerbated in recent decades by China's "one child" policy, which led to the abandonment, abortion or infanticide of millions of girls.

But the conventional wisdom - that China is a land of unwanted girls, many of them sent overseas for adoption - is being turned on its head as urbanisation increases the cost of raising male heirs and erodes the advantage of having sons to work the fields and support parents in their dotage.

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Teacher evaluations should be made public

New Jersey Star Ledger Editorial Board

First, get the data right. Then, hand it over to parents.

As soon as standardized evaluations become available for teachers in New Jersey, they should be made public -- with teacher names attached. That will force districts to make a priority of teacher quality.

Elsewhere, newspapers have filed Freedom of Information requests to get this data released. They're following in the footsteps of the Los Angeles Times, which recently published the names and "value-added" scores of about 6,000 L.A. teachers.

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Facebook Says User Data Sold To Broker

Geoffrey Fowler & Emily Steel

Facebook Inc. said that a data broker has been paying application developers for identifying user information, and that it had placed some developers on a six-month suspension from its site because of the practice.

The announcement, which Facebook made on its developers' blog Friday, follows an investigation by Facebook into a privacy breach that The Wall Street Journal reported in October.

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November 2, 2010

Upcoming events at the Simpson Street Free Press

The public is warmly invited to the following events at the Simpson Street Free Press:

Science, Math, Women and Career Choices: Community Forum Date: Thursday November 4th Time: 6 pm Education, careers and the choice we will make: A community forum. The forum will be hosted by former Free Press editor and columnist Andrea Gilmore. Andrea is now pursuing her PhD in nursing at UW-Madison.

Open House: Meet the Writers

Date: Thursday November 11th Time: 5 -8pm
Meet the writers, reporters, editors and columnists of the Simpson Street Free Press. Our newsroom will be open to the
public and staff will answer questions and provide guided tours.

Simpson Street Free Press
Located at South Towne mall (next to Subway)
2411 W. Broadway
Call (608) 223-0489 for more information.

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All-male Madison charter school a tough sell

School District and School Board members expressed interest in the concept, though they're still waiting for more details, especially a financial plan.

"I don't want more charter schools simply for the sake of having more charter schools," board member Ed Hughes said. "It (has to be for) something we would have a hard time achieving or even attempting under a traditional structure."

Madison hasn't approved as many charter schools as other parts of the state. Of the 208 public charter schools in Wisconsin, only two are in Madison, though on Nov. 29 the School Board is expected to approve a third - an urban-agriculture-themed middle school south of the Beltline near Rimrock Road.

The biggest hurdle, however, might involve a proposal to use non-union teachers employed by the charter school's governing board, as opposed to the School District. Only 21 of the state's public charter schools have a similar setup.

John Matthews, executive director of Madison Teachers Inc., said teachers would oppose a non-union charter school.

"It would be foolish public policy and a foolish commitment of the public's funds to finance a project over which the elected body committing the public's money does not have full control over both the expenditures and the policies of the operation," Matthews wrote in an e-mail.

Caire wants the school year to span 215 days, rather than the standard 180 days, and the school day to run from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m.

Perhaps Kaleem's initiative will work with a neighborhing school district. Watch an interview with Kaleem Caire here. Much more on the proposed Madison Preparatory Academy here.

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Schools Working To Increase Parental Involvement

Jennifer Ludden

Research overwhelmingly shows that parental involvement in a child's education improves academic performance. But there are a lot of reasons why parents keep their distance -- including cultural and class divisions. Guests discuss strategies to get parents more involved in their kids' schooling.

In Detroit, a prosecutor is making headlines for proposing jail time for parents who don't attend teacher conferences. It's one of the more drastic efforts to get parents more involved in their kids' education. More than 20 percent of parents did not attend teacher conferences in 2007, according to the Department of Education. In some districts, the share can be much higher.

Research tells us that children perform better in the classroom if parents are more involved at home and in school. Still, there are lots of reasons why parents keep their distance from the education system. We'll talk about some of those reasons and what schools are doing to get parents more involved.

If you're a parent and you don't attend parent-teacher conferences, tell us why not. What are your schools doing, or what should they do to encourage parents? Give us a call: 800-989-8255. You can send us an email. The address is Or you join the conversation at our website. Just go to and click on TALK OF THE NATION.

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A public school discovers the Army

William McGurn

When it comes to our nation's future, millions of us will be glued to our television screens looking for clues from the election results. Not Roberto Huie. When it comes to America's future, this high school senior already knows his part: as a member of the West Point Class of 2015.

Mr. Huie may not be the kind of kid you think of when you think of our military academies. Part Latino, part African-American, he lives in a South Bronx neighborhood that belongs to the poorest congressional district in the nation. Nevertheless, he has two big things going for him: a mom raising him to be a man--and an all-boys public school teaching him what it means to be a leader.

All that converged yesterday morning on the second floor of the Eagle Academy for Young Men in the Bronx. There 50 of Mr. Huie's peers, drawn from the school's highest-performing students, were seated for what they--and Mr. Huie--all assumed would be another presentation from another college rep. Instead, they watched, captivated, as Army Maj. Michael Burns presented Mr. Huie with a letter from the superintendent of the United States Military Academy congratulating him on his appointment.

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Atlanta Public Schools under formal accreditation review

Kristina Torres

Members of the Atlanta school board were told Monday that their capacity to govern is "in serious jeopardy" and that staff from one of the nation's top accrediting agencies will be in the city school system next month for a formal review.

The decision by Mark Elgart, president and CEO of AdvancED, to send in a team for on-site interviews and investigation essentially formalizes a warning he gave last week that the board's infighting has put its accreditation at risk.

Three metro school districts -- with a combined nearly 200,000 public school students -- now are being reviewed by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) and its parent, AdvancED. SACS notified DeKalb County last week that it would conduct an on-site review before Feb. 1 over concerns about its operation. In 2008, SACS revoked Clayton County Schools accreditation, which has since been restored on a probationary basis.

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America's lesson for British classrooms

Alex Spillius

As we all know by now, US President Barack Obama has not had a great first two years. His Republican critics have hammered him at every opportunity as an out-of-touch, anti-business, high-spending liberal. His greatest social mission - healthcare reform - has backfired. Elected on a promise of uniting the country, the divisions between Left and Right - or progressive and conservative, to use the American terminology - have instead solidified.

Education, however, has been an exception to the relentless criticism. Even prominent Right-wingers such as Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker of the House, and Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida, have praised the President's approach to reforming schools. The Obama administration's centrepiece initiative has been Race to the Top, which allocated $4.35 billion

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 3:03 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Juniors approach ACT with help at their schools

Janice Denham

When their high-school child starts talking about the ACT, parents often equate it as the time for "Almost College Tuition."

The letters originally were an abbreviation for American College Testing. Colleges use the standardized test, which assesses high school achievement, to evaluate readiness of applicants applying for admission.

High schools vary their approach to prepare students wading into this important ritual. They try to make it a natural progression for parents, too.

"Pressuring the student is never a good idea. My suggestion is to get involved freshman year, from a grades standpoint. Grades can drive this process and overshadow a lower test score," said Jeff Buckman, college and career specialist in the counseling office at Eureka High School.

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A covert war on UK schools

Melissa Benn

Tomorrow's whirlwind visit to London by Arne Duncan, Barack Obama's education secretary, could not have come at a better time for Michael Gove. Last week the secretary of state was besieged by discomfiting revelations about £500,000 of public money granted to the New Schools Network, the charity and company set up by one of his former advisers, 25-year-old Rachel Wolf, during which it emerged that no other organisation was asked to tender for the job of advising groups who want to set up new and "free" schools.

This week, then, in place of answering questions about transparency and accountability, Gove will be able to stand shoulder to shoulder with one of Obama's lieutenants - at Hackney's Mossbourne Academy in London, no less; the jewel in the crown of New Labour's education policy - and talk about the need to tackle educational inequalities, root out bad teachers, ill discipline and so on.

In fact the funding of the New Schools Network and the expected razzmatazz around Duncan's visit are all part of the same strategy: central planks in the frequently disingenuous war now being fought over the future of our school system, in which a seductive language of cultural radicalism and a powerful invective against educational inequality will increasingly be used to promote a further fragmented and multi-tiered system of education. Existing state provision is in effect being undermined by a mix of instant celebrity critics, a growing number of private providers and behind-the-scenes lobbyists, with the full if not always fully publicised support of the government.

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Contemplating A State Takeover of Northwest Indiana Schools

Chelsea Schneider Kirk

At the end of this school year, Northwest Indiana schools on their fifth year of academic probation may face state takeover if the schools don't make gains on standardized test scores.

The Indiana State Board of Education is beginning to detail what a state takeover will look like. The options range from the state appointing a manager for the school to the school merging with a higher performing school. The schools could close, or the Indiana Department of Education could make more recommendations for improving the school.

Northwest Indiana has five schools that stand to be impacted if improvements aren't made: Gary's Roosevelt Career and Technical Academy, Hammond and Morton high schools, Calumet High School and East Chicago Central. Lake Station's Central Elementary also is on its fifth year of probation, but the Lake Station Community School Corp. is closing the school at the end of the year.

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: California's Teacher Pension Fund May Cut Investment Return Forecast

Dave Kasler

The CalSTRS board will consider cutting its investment forecast by a half a percentage point Friday, a move that could put more pressure on the Legislature to raise contributions to the teachers' pension fund by hundreds of millions of dollars.

The board, which blinked on the question in June, is scheduled to vote Friday on a staff recommendation to lower the forecast to 7.5 percent.

The less money CalSTRS expects to earn on its investments, the more it needs from the state, school districts and teachers to recover from huge losses of 2008.

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November 1, 2010

Teacher Marisa Martinez says music key to learning

Marisa Martinez

Kindergarten teacher Marisa Martinez was tired of political promises, unfulfilled vows to restore California classrooms to their former glory. She despaired as she saw her beloved art and music disappear from the schools as money dried up, leaving teachers scrambling for pencils and paper. To Martinez, 41, paintbrushes and pianos weren't luxuries; they were necessities.

A professional musician as well as an educator at San Francisco's El Dorado Elementary School, she decided to take things into her own hands. With her own money, she created a CD of songs she sings to her predominantly low-income students, tunes with a bluegrass, folksy feel that address the basics of life and literacy with humor and joy. It's called "Chicken & ABC's." The project was both a labor of love and an artistic uprising against broken political promises from a frustrated and funny teacher who signs her e-mails, "With Love, chickens, Chihuahuas, children and Peace."

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Black, Hispanic students dwindle at elite Va. public school

Kevin Sieff

When the Black Students Association at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology threw a pizza party in September for new members, every African American freshman on campus showed up.

All four of them.

They amount to less than 1 percent of the Class of 2014 at the selective public school in Fairfax County, regarded as among the nation's best. "It's disappointing," said Andrea Smith, the club's faculty sponsor. "But you work with what you got."

The count of Hispanic freshmen is not much higher: 13.

Years of efforts to raise black and Hispanic enrollment at the regional school have failed, officials acknowledge. The number of such students admitted has fallen since 2005.

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Thompson gets taste of Milwaukee Public Schools' food fight

Alan Borsuk

This certainly is an education for me," Gregory Thornton, superintendent of Milwaukee Public Schools, told School Board members as he watched them chew up the first controversial matter that has come before the board since Thornton took office July 1.

The issue involved was not the biggest one MPS will face. There are lots more difficult decisions coming up as the economic problems of the school system accelerate.

But the way the board majority came down on this issue definitely sent messages.

For some, such as union members, the main message was a reassuring one; for others, such as some MPS administrators and some business and civic leaders, the message was an alarming one.

The issue, in a nutshell: Thornton, who has emphasized the need to make MPS a well-run business, thought the system's leaders should find out what all the options are for the future of a food service operation that provides about 100,000 meals a day.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:03 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

How committed to healthy choices is the Madison school district really?

At last month's Food for Thought Festival in Madison, Martha Pings attended a panel discussion titled "Lunch Lessons: Changing the Way We Feed Our Children." Among the panelists was Frank Kelly, director of food services for the Madison school district, who spoke of his desire to provide kids with nutritious food.

Two weeks later, Pings' daughter came home from O'Keeffe Middle School on Madison's east side with news that the cafeteria had a new a la carte option: a slushie machine.

The machine drew a backlash from Pings and other O'Keeffe parents, and last week was removed from the school at the request of the principal, Kay Enright (see article, 10/21/10). "I wish they would have asked me to begin with," says Enright, who agrees the slushies were not "a healthy addition to our menu of choices."

But there are larger issues here, as Pings, a member of Madison Families for Better Nutrition, related in a letter to school officials posted on the group's website.

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We're sorry, world

John Brummett:

Today's column begins with a memorandum I presume to send to the world in behalf of Arkansas.

Dear World:

You need to understand that we in Arkansas remain mostly a sparsely populated rural culture. While there are lifestyle advantages to that, we also confront certain stagnant pressures that are matters of politics and heritage. One result is that we maintain too many school districts of small size.

This situation dissipates our already limited talent pool of people to run for and get elected to all these little local school boards.

But be assured that we have a court ruling that says the education of our children is ultimately the state government's responsibility.

So, speaking as the state, we are sorry about those ghastly and evil ravings of that person who tragically sat on the board of one of our small rural districts. But please understand three things:

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:01 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: 17 Reasons to reject Oklahoma SQ 744

1. It won't work. The measure promises to raise state education funding to the regional average and, presumably, improve public school results. Oklahoma's school funding and its results as measured in standardized test scores are embarrassingly low. But SQ 744 would increase spending without any attempt at reforming the school system. Spending more money for the same methods is sending good money after bad. Funding without reform is expensive and worthless at the same time.

2. It will raise your taxes, or you better hope it will. The measure's ballot title is frankly misleading, because it says it won't raise taxes. While there are no direct tax hikes in the initiative petition, implementing SQ 744 without a tax increase would result in an essential shutdown of all other state government services.

3. Without a tax increase, it will denude the rest of state government. The only alternative to raising taxes - and both may be necessary - would be horrifying cuts in every other function of state government. State prisons, the highway patrol, road maintenance, state health programs for the elderly and indigent, senior food programs and anything else you can think of that involves state government are already skin and bones because of the recession's impact on state spending. The more than $1 billion needed to fund SQ 744 in its first three years would quite simply destroy fundamental state government services.

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

A homework assignment for New Jersey Governor Christie

Wally Jeffs

GOVERNOR Christie has formed the Education Effectiveness Task force, a panel to consider using student performance and other factors in assessing teacher performance ("Christie forms panel on teaching," Page A-3, Oct. 29).

If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Christie is currently popular because he offers simple-minded quick fixes. The operative word here is simple. His belief in magical charter schools is simple. Just like "Waiting for Superman," the recently released documentary movie that has become a promo for charter schools, he thinks schools are factories that can be measured for profit and loss. And he's fixated on the dollars in teachers' paychecks.

And like all good neo-cons from the Church of the Divine George W. Bush -- lest we forget Christie's pedigree -- he offers government by theory, which always selects only those facts that fit the theory.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:08 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Teaching to a different test

Miki Litmanovitz

For years now, a war has been brewing between two sides of the education world.

One side argues that standardized tests are necessary to evaluate teacher performance, and the other argues that these tests are an inadequate measure of the hard work that teachers pour into their classrooms.

With the recent release of the movie "Waiting for 'Superman,' " that war has spilled out of the classrooms and into the mainstream. And at the heart of this war is the commonly heard argument that standardized tests cause teachers to "teach to the test."

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