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January 31, 2011

Grade Inflation: The more we spend on higher education, the more we spend on higher education.

Greg Beato:

When it comes to reforming Big College, give the federal government a C+. Throughout 2010, grade grubbers in Congress, the White House, the Department of Education, and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) worked hard to investigate and regulate the booming for-profit college sector. Among other sins, they accused the schools of predatory recruiting practices, inflating grades to keep students eligible for federal aid, and charging too much for degrees that ultimately have little value in the workplace.

Given that the approximately 2,000 for-profit colleges in the U.S. rely on federal aid for a huge portion of their revenues, such scrutiny is clearly warranted. Still, the $25 billion in federal grants and loans that flows to them each year represents just a fraction of the $113.3 billion the government made available to higher education as a whole in 2009-10. And not all of the $89 billion or so that non-profit institutions collected in federal aid went toward teaching the nation's youth such career-enhancing skills as how to deconstruct soap operas from a Marxist perspective.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 3:41 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Education expert says flat test scores are result of student apathy

Alan Borsuk:

Henry Kranendonk describes himself as "a person who'd never served on anything other than a church board" until the day about three years ago when he got a call from an aide to Margaret Spellings, then the U.S. secretary of education.

Would he join an elite group of somewhat frustrated people working near the top of the national education pyramid?

Well, that's not quite how it was put. But that's a practical reading of what being a member of the National Assessment Governing Board has meant for Kranendonk, who was the top math specialist in Milwaukee Public Schools at that point.

Those unhappy numbers, released last week, about how only one in five high school seniors across the country is proficient in science? The data a year ago that put MPS fourth- and eighth-graders near the bottom of the proficiency list among 18 urban districts? Those reports over the last decade that showed Wisconsin had the largest or close to the largest gaps in the U.S. between white and black students in reading and math?

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Atlanta Airport Youth Art Gallery

The Atlanta Airport Art Program

Perhaps Madison could initiate something like this.

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Contemporary Student Life

John Tierney:

It may be that, like me, you don't quite know what to make of articles that have appeared recently about the state of contemporary secondary and post-secondary education. But maybe you can! If so, help me sort through it. I've spent my entire professional life as a teacher -- for over twenty years at the college level, and for the last nine years at a high school. Despite all that, I still don't know what to make of all this.

So, I'm just going to call your attention here to some disparate things I've read in recent months, without trying to weave them together in a coherent essay. If you have thoughts, please let me hear them.

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DeKalb, GA finds teachers could have accessed tests late at night

Megan Matteucci:

Principals and teachers may have violated state procedures by entering locked DeKalb County school closets on weekends and late at night to access students' answers to standardized tests.

Principals and teachers may have violated state procedures by entering locked DeKalb County school closets on weekends and late at night to access students' answers to standardized tests.

If so, they weren't caught on camera, but their security key cards gave them away.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution learned DeKalb County school district's internal investigation into possible cheating on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test hinged on illegal access to the tests and led to 24 educators being removed from the classroom this week. The list includes principals, assistant principals and teachers who are now doing administrative jobs.

"There's a chain of evidence that requires only certain people to have access to those tests," schools' spokesman Walter Woods said Friday. "There were several instances where employees accessed school over the weekend, and those employees were flagged."

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A $60 Million Palace for Texas High School Football

Greg Bishop:

From his office window, Steve Williams surveyed the chaos of construction. His view consisted of rocks and dirt beneath bulldozers and cranes, but where others might see excess, he saw something brazen, bold and gloriously Texan.

The $60 million football stadium at Allen High School, where Williams is the district athletic director, was starting to take shape.

This is no ordinary stadium, in no ordinary state, where football ranks near faith and family. Super Bowl XLV will take place a short drive southwest next Sunday at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, but while the "big game" will repeatedly highlight football's oversize importance in Texas, the folks in Allen need no reminders. Here, every game is big.

Williams -- Bubba to his friends -- arrived long before the boom, when Allen was more speck than sprawl, and now he cannot fathom all the fuss over this stadium, the calls from England, the Pacific Northwest, New York.

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College grads make their own jobs

Molly Armbrister:

With Colorado's unemployment rate at 8.6 percent, college graduates are getting creative when it comes to making a career out of their newly completed educations. For more and more graduates, this means starting a business venture all their own.

Fortunately for these young hopefuls, the entrepreneurial environment in Colorado is a friendly one, from business schools preparing students to begin their venture to established business owners who welcome aspiring entrepreneurs.

The College of Business at Colorado State University is making sure that students have the opportunity to gain all the skills and inspiration necessary to jump-start any entrepreneurial leanings they may have. The college offers a certificate of entrepreneurship program to interested business and engineering students.

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Early results promising in Houston school reform effort

Ericka Mellon:

Student attendance rates are up, suspensions are down and math performance is improving in the nine struggling Houston ISD schools taking part in the district's experimental reform program called Apollo 20.

But the instruction in many classrooms remains too basic and boring, according to the first major progress report on the $29 million effort being watched by urban districts nationwide. Questions also remain about future funding of the program.

HISD Superintendent Terry Grier, who released the Harvard University report to the school board on Saturday, described the first-semester results as "very good news" but acknowledged some weaknesses.

"This is a three-year pilot," he said. "You're not going to turn around the lowest-performing schools in the district, all of them, in a year."

The Apollo program launched in August at five middle schools and four high schools that ranked among the lowest-achieving in the Houston Independent School District. The effort started with a staff shake-up. Grier's administration replaced all the principals, and about 40 percent of the teachers are new to the campuses.

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January 30, 2011

The Process for Discussing Madison School District High School Alignment

Superintendent Dan Nerad:

This is to provide clarity, transparency and direction in improving our high school curriculum and instruction, with ongoing communication.

(As presented to the MMSD Board of Education on January 6, 2011)

The following guiding principles were discussed:

Lots of related links:

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What happened to studying?
You won't hear this from the admissions office, but college students are cracking the books less and less

Keith O'Brien:

They come with polished resumes and perfect SAT scores. Their grades are often impeccable. Some elite universities will deny thousands of high school seniors with 4.0 grade point averages in search of an elusive quality that one provost called "intellectual vitality." The perception is that today's over-achieving, college-driven kids have it -- whatever it is. They're not just groomed; they're ready. There's just one problem.

Once on campus, the students aren't studying.

It is a fundamental part of college education: the idea that young people don't just learn from lectures, but on their own, holed up in the library with books and, perhaps, a trusty yellow highlighter. But new research, conducted by two California economics professors, shows that over the past five decades, the number of hours that the average college student studies each week has been steadily dropping. According to time-use surveys analyzed by professors Philip Babcock, at the University of California Santa Barbara, and Mindy Marks, at the University of California Riverside, the average student at a four-year college in 1961 studied about 24 hours a week. Today's average student hits the books for just 14 hours.

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Proposed Changes in Madison's Open Enrollment Policy

Dylan Pauly:

The attached proposed changes to Policy 4025 reflect the amendments to Wis. Stat. §118.51, which now permits a nonresident district to consider whether a student has been habitually truant for purposes of allowing open enrollment into the non-resident district. This change applies to students who lived in the district, moved outside of the district boundaries, and are seeking to stay in the district as a nonresident student. A second change allows a district to prohibit a nonresident student from attending district schools after an initial acceptance if the student is habitually truant during either semester of the current school year. The open enrollment period begins February 7, 2011 and ends February 25, 2011.
Much more on open enrollment, here.

Wisconsin's 2011-2012 open enrollment application period is February 7, 2011 to February 25, 2011.

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Madison School District Strategic Plan: 2 Year Action Plans

Superintendent Dan Nerad: Year two action plans.

Much more on Madison's strategic planning process here.

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Education historian Diane Ravitch to speak in Madison 3/8/2011

University of Wisconsin School of Education:

Diane Ravitch, regarded by many as the nation's leading education historian today, will offer an informed analysis of the current state of American education -- what's broken and how can it be fixed -- at a free, public presentation sponsored by the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters, the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Education, and the Wisconsin Center on Education Research, with support from the Wisconsin Education Association Council and the UW-Madison Lectures Committee.

Ravitch's presentation, "The Future of Public Education," will be held Tuesday, March 8, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. in the Wisconsin Union Theater, Memorial Union, 800 Langdon St., Madison. A 30-minute question-and-answer period will follow the presentation. Students, parents of students, and education professionals are encouraged to attend.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:44 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Mystery of Piano on Miami Sandbar Finally Solved

Associated Press:

The rumors can stop swirling: The baby grand piano that turned up on a Miami sandbar was burned to tatters by New Year's revelers, then brought to its new home by a television designer's teenage son who said Thursday he hoped the idea might help him get into a prestigious art school.

Theories of the instrument's origin had abounded, with some saying they saw helicopters and television crews hovering around the piano. Others tried to claim responsibility, but Nicholas Harrington, 16, had his endeavor on videotape.

Mr. Harrington said he wanted to leave his artistic mark on Miami's seascape as the artist Christo did in the early 1980s when he draped 11 small islands in Biscayne Bay with hot pink fabric. And if it helped the high school junior get into Manhattan's Cooper Union college, that would be OK, too.

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A Measured Approach to Improving Teacher Preparation

Chad Aldeman, Kevin Carey, Erin Dillon, Ben Miller, and Elena Silva, via email:

Over the next five years, more than a million new teachers will enter public school classrooms. But the system in place to produce these teachers--supported by an ever-expanding set of federal financial aid programs and multimillion-dollar federal grants--offers no guarantees of quality for anyone involved, from the college students who often borrow thousands of dollars to attend teacher preparation programs to the districts, schools, and children that depend on good teachers.

"Simply put, the nation's thousands of teacher preparation programs are good at churning out teachers but far less successful at ensuring that those teachers meet the needs of public schools and students," say the authors of a new Education Sector policy brief. In A Measured Approach to Improving Teacher Preparation, analysts Chad Aldeman, Kevin Carey, Erin Dillon, Ben Miller, and Elena Silva examine the way the United States currently prepares teachers and offers some specific suggestions on how to improve it.

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Tailgating: Isn't four hours long enough to party?

Maureen Downey:

I'm not sure why the University of Georgia Student Government Association wants tailgating beyond four hours, which seems like a reasonable period time for any pre-game party to me.

Nor am I sure if the SGA is in the best position to ask for a relaxing of the restrictions put on tailgating by the UGA administration to cut down on the trash and mayhem. The administration says someone dragged a couch out of a dorm and set it on fire in Myers Quad during the Nov. 27 game against Georgia Tech. And the college had to deal with jagged glass from beer bottles on the ground as well.

Take a look at this AJC story, which states that UGA student leaders want three North Campus tailgating restrictions imposed last year relaxed; the prohibitions against tents, tables longer than four feet and tailgating more than four hours before kickoff. Lest anyone forget why these restrictions were imposed, please look at the photo accompanying this blog of North Campus after one of the tailgating afternoons that led to the clamp-down by UGA.

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Why 4-K is a good idea

Jami Collins & Vikki Kratz:

Mary was four years old when she entered the pre-kindergarten program in Marshall. Her parents were struggling with her behavior. She had a significant speech delay. She didn't like snuggling with them. She didn't want to read books. And she refused to let her parents touch her hair.

"What are we doing wrong?" her parents wondered.

Mary's early childhood teachers worked with her parents and her pediatrician to help diagnose the problem: Mary had autism. Her teachers created a special education plan for her, which included "social stories" -- books of pictures from Mary's daily life that helped explain mysterious rituals like brushing her hair.

The teachers taught Mary how to read facial expressions and verbalize her feelings, instead of having tantrums. They took her on field trips to public places, so she could get used to the noise and bustle of other people.

As Mary's parents began to understand autism, the teachers supported them by offering advice. The intense, early intervention helped Mary and her family learn to manage her autism. By sixth grade, Mary was doing so well she was able to exit special education services for good.

Much more on Madison's planned 4k program, here.

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Milwaukee leaders, lawmakers forge plan for vacant schools

Erin Richards:

An unusual partnership has formed between City of Milwaukee leaders and suburban legislators to wrest control of empty, wasting Milwaukee Public Schools buildings, and a last-ditch effort by the superintendent to negotiate with them appears to be going nowhere.

According to legislation proposed this week by the two suburban Republicans and endorsed by city officials, the City of Milwaukee would control selling or leasing surplus real estate in Milwaukee Public Schools if it sits fallow for 18 months.

State Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) and state Rep. Mark Honadel (R-South Milwaukee) co-authored the bill to help the city get more high-performing schools into vacant or underutilized MPS properties. The plan could open the buildings for a variety of uses and the city would direct proceeds from the sales or leases back to MPS.

"It's in the best interest of the taxpayer that we have a clear line of authority on property of the city," Darling said in an interview. "Many people have been patient about this for years."

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Obama School Reform Plan Relies on Big Business

Kate Anderson Brower:

To help the U.S. compete with emerging economies such as China and India, President Barack Obama pitched Congress on a renewed focus on education in his Jan. 25 State of the Union message. "This is our generation's Sputnik moment," he said, invoking the U.S. response to the Soviet Union's 1957 launch of the first satellite. That feat, at the height of the Cold War, jarred American assumptions of technological superiority.

With a divided Congress and House Republicans gunning for the Education Dept., Obama's school reform plans may depend largely on Big Business. Administration officials say they have had more than 30 meetings and phone calls over the last year with executives about school overhaul. Penny Pritzker, who led Obama's 2008 campaign fundraising effort and is chairman of Pritzker Realty Group in Chicago, says she's "sure that business leaders will be asked to go to Capitol Hill to make the argument" for an improved public education system. Jeffrey R. Immelt, the General Electric (GE) chief executive officer, agrees education should be a part of his portfolio as head of Obama's new jobs and competitiveness council, Pritzker says.

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Do students at selective schools really study less?

Games with Words:

So says Philip Babcock in today's New York Times. He claims:
Full-time college students in the 1960s studies 24 hours per week, on average, and their counterparts today study 14 hours per week. The 10-hour decline is visible for students from all demographic groups and of all cognitive abilities, in every major and at every type of college.
The claim that this is true for "every type of college" is important because he wants to conclude that schools have lowered their standards. The alternative is that there are more, low-quality schools now, or that some schools have massively lowered their standards. These are both potentially problems -- and are probably real -- but are not quite the same problem as all schools everywhere lowering their standards.

So it's important to show that individual schools have lowered their standards, and that this is true for the selective schools as well as the not-selective schools. The article links to this study by Babcock. This study analyzes a series of surveys of student study habits from the 1960s to the 2000s, and thus seems to be the basis of his argument, and in fact the introduction contains almost the identical statement that I have quoted above. Nonetheless, despite these strong conclusions, the data that would support them appear to be missing.

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January 29, 2011

Value Added Assessment in Madison Presentation

Value Added Resource Center @ Wisconsin Center for Education Research

Complete report 1.4MB


Much more on value added assessment here.

Madison's value added assessment program is based on the oft-criticized wkce.

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'Embedded honors' program has issues

Mary Bridget Lee:

The controversy at West High School continues about the Madison School District's new talented and gifted program. Students, parents and teachers decry the plan, pointing to the likelihood of a "tracking" system and increasingly segregated classes.

While I am in agreement with them here, I must differ when they mistakenly point to the current "embedded honors" system as a preferable method for dealing with TAG students.

The idea itself should immediately raise red flags. Teaching two classes at the same time is impossible to do well, if at all. Forcing teachers to create twice the amount of curriculum and attempt to teach both within a single context is unrealistic and stressful for the educators.

The system creates problems for students as well. There is very little regulation in the execution of these "embedded honors" classes, creating widely varying experiences among students. By trying to teach to two different levels within one classroom, "embedded honors" divides teachers' attention and ultimately impairs the educational experiences of both groups of students.

While the concerns raised about Superintendent Dan Nerad's plan are legitimate, "embedded honors" as a solution is not.

Lots of related links:

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:47 PM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

A Collaboration to Transform Education in Los Angeles

L.A. Compact, via a David Baskerville email:

In February 2009, leaders from the Los Angeles Education Community publicly signed the L.A. Compact - a collaborative commitment to transform education in Los Angeles. The Compact signers have pledged to put the interests of students first. They have committed to work together to meet the following goals:
Goal 1: All students graduate from high school

Goal 2: All students have access to and are prepared for success in college

Goal 3: All students have access to pathways to sustainable jobs and careers

As part of their commitment, the signers pledged to release an initial data report in order to facilitate the measurement of their progress against these baselines in future years. The data in this report details Los Angeles Unified School District's rates of graduation, enrollment, preparation, and more. It then follows LAUSD graduates and tracks their progress in post-secondary education. At this point in its development, the report highlights several important markers as we discuss collaborative opportunities for improvement. The measurements and their sources will continue to be refined and expanded over the coming years.
L.A. Compact.

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No Child Left Behind, perfection and caveats

Nick Anderson:

A couple of highly valued sources have taken issue with a story I wrote in today's paper about the No Child Left Behind law.

The gist of their complaint, I believe, is that I did not walk readers through more of the fine print of the 2002 law to explain the context of the well-known goal of all students passing state tests by 2014. So let's do that now.
First of all, here's what the law says:

Section 1111 (b)(2)(F) Accountability--Timeline: Each State shall establish a timeline for adequate yearly progress. The timeline shall ensure that not later than 12 years after the end of the 2001-2002 school year, all students in each group described in subparagraph (C)(v) will meet or exceed the State's proficient level of academic achievement on the State assessments under paragraph (3).

This excerpt from a rather long statute marks the core of the promise of No Child Left Behind. "All students" means what it says. "Shall ensure" is self-evident. "Proficient" means, essentially, passing the test. The requirement here is for states to chart a path toward 100 percent proficiency by 2014. Not 90 percent, or 80 percent, but 100 percent.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:42 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

144 Unions, 18 School Districts Receive Health Care Waivers

Mike Antonucci:

The Department of Health and Human Services released its latest list of companies and organizations that received a one-year waiver of the Affordable Care Act's ban on annual dollar limits on benefits. A total of 733 waivers have been granted for 2011, of which at least 144 went to unions and union trusts, while an additional 18 went to school districts.

Waivers were granted to at least 17 locals and affiliates of the Teamsters, 11 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), 28 of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), 7 of the SEIU, and one to the United Federation of Teachers Welfare Fund.

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Georgia's DeKalb yanks 24 teachers from classroom on cheating allegations

Megan Matteucci and Jaime Sarrio:

Twenty-four DeKalb County educators have been reassigned to nonschool duties over irregularities in 2009 state testing that affected nine schools and possibly 1,400 students. The unidentified educators, both teachers and principals, could face losing their teaching licenses. The DeKalb District attorney will review the investigation conducted by the school system and determine if criminal charges are warranted.

DeKalb County schools Interim Superintendent Ramona Tyson said 29 current and former employees were referred to the state Professional Standards Commission.
Phil Skinner, AJC DeKalb County schools Interim Superintendent Ramona Tyson said 29 current and former employees were referred to the state Professional Standards Commission.

School officials told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Thursday they referred 24 educators and five former employees to the Georgia Professional Standards Commission after an internal investigation uncovered numerous irregularities on the April 2009 Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests.

"No cheating has been proved and no one has come forward and admitted to cheating," schools spokesman Jeff Dickerson said. "But we couldn't have these individuals in the classroom right now. We made these decisions based on what is best for our students."

More here.

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Benchmarking the Seattle School District's Administrative Costs

Melissa Westbrook;

I attended 4 hours of the Board Work Session on the 2011-2012 Budget. Unfortunately, the meeting was 5+ hours (maybe longer, Dorothy?) It was taped so I will try to get a link if you care to listen.

I will write up my notes but for your reading pleasure here are the following:
  • staff finally got information to the Board that I know the Board has wanted for a long time. This would be benchmarking comparisons to other districts (both local and out-of-state). This chart is for 2009-2010 expenditures and FTE comparisons in dollars.
  • This chart is for 2009-2010 expenditures and FTE comparisons (as a % of total)
My irritation with these is that this is information that should have been presented LONG ago. It overburdened an already long and heavily detailed meeting.
The Powerpoint and another document - the Strategic Plan Budget Planning Tool for Fiscal Year 2011-2012 - are not yet up at the website. You'll want to see those as well but for now, the above charts should keep you busy. The Fiscal document really is key because it gets to the heart of the Strategic Plan.

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Building Sage (Open Source Math) on Amazon EC2

A quarter or two ago my son Andy took a rather unique course at the University of Washington. In his Math 480b: Programming for the Working Mathematician course, Andy learned about a number of important topics including the Unix command line, Python programming (including classes, exceptions and decorators). In the second half of the quarter they learned about the Sage open source math system.

The course ended by teaching the students how to make a genuine contribution to Sage. They were asked to find an open bug, figure out how to fix it, fix it, and to create and submit a patch. In essence, they learned a very practical skill that is taught all too rarely in school -- how to be a contributor to an open source project. This is pretty significant. Despite the presence of the word "open", I have come to learn that many people don't understand the actual workings of the process. Walking the students through it, and having them make an actual contribution, will ensure that they leave school with this knowledge under their belt. With any luck it will be easier for them to find jobs and they'll be more useful and more productive once they start.

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Public School Principals: No Good Deed Left Unpunished

Christian Schneider:

Over at the mothership, Sunny Schubert has a wonderful column about a teacher she knows that has attempted to infuse his school with a little class. Zach, the fresh faced 22 year old newbie, decided he needed to set himself apart from his 7th grade students, so he started wearing a tie to school. For this transgression, he was mocked by the veteran teachers, none of whom saw any reason to dress up for school. In a show of solidarity with their teacher, Zach's students actually started wearing ties to school - while the other teachers took time out of their day to trash his classroom with gaudy neckties.

This story is good enough - but Schubert also mentions a wildly entertaining "scandal" brewing at Glendale Elementary School in Madison, which serves a large number of African-American children. (In fact, Glendale has the highest percentage of poor and minority students at any Madison elementary school.)

In 2005, Mickey Buhl took over as Glendale's principal, with the purpose of instilling the school with a new attitude and more innovative techniques. Since he took over, the school's test scores have risen dramatically.

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January 28, 2011

A rebellion at Madison West High School over new curriculum

Lynn Welch

When Paul Radspinner's 15-year-old son Mitchell wanted to participate in a student sit-in last October outside West High School, he called his dad to ask permission.

"He said he was going to protest, and wanted to make sure I had no problem with it. I thought, 'It's not the '60s anymore,'" recalls Radspinner. The students, he learned, were upset about planned curriculum changes, which they fear will eliminate elective class choices, a big part of the West culture.

"It was a real issue at the school," notes Radspinner. "The kids found out about it, but the parents didn't."

This lack of communication is a main reason Radspinner and 60 other parents recently formed a group called West Cares. Calling itself the "silent majority," the group this month opposed the new English and social studies honors classes the district is adding next fall at West, as well as Memorial. (East and La Follette High Schools already offer these classes for freshmen and sophomores.)

The parents fear separating smarter kids from others at the ninth-grade level will deepen the achievement gap by pushing some college-bound students into advanced-level coursework sooner. They also believe it will eviscerate West's culture, where all freshmen and sophomores learn main subjects in core classes together regardless of achievement level.

"It's a big cultural paradigm shift," says parent Jan O'Neil. "That's what we're struggling with in the West community."

Lots of related links:

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2010 State Teacher Policy Yearbook Blueprint for Change

National Council on Teacher Quality, via email:

Most states' evaluation, tenure and dismissal policies remain disconnected from classroom effectiveness.
  • Teacher evaluation is a critical attention area in 42 states because the vast majority of states do not ensure that evaluations, whether state or locally developed, preclude teachers from receiving satisfactory ratings if those teachers are found to be ineffective in the classroom. In addition, the majority of states still does not require annual evaluations of all veteran teachers, and most still fail to include any objective measures of student learning in the teacher evaluations they do require.
  • In 46 states, teachers are granted tenure with little or no attention paid to how effective they are with students in their classrooms. While there are a few states that have vague requirements for some consideration of evidence, and a few others that promise that teacher evaluations will "inform" tenure decisions, only Colorado, Delaware, Oklahoma and Rhode Island demand that evidence of student learning be the preponderant or decisive criterion in such decisions.
  • Dismissal is a critical attention area in 46 states. There are at least two state leaders taking this issue head on. In Oklahoma, recent legislation requires that tenured teachers be terminated if they are rated "ineffective" for two consecutive years, or rated as "needs improvement" for three years running, or if they do not average at least an "effective" rating over a five-year teaching period. In Rhode Island, teachers who receive two years of ineffective evaluations will be dismissed. Any teacher with five years of ineffective ratings would not be eligible to have his or her certification renewed by the state.

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Fixing Teacher Tenure Without a Pass-Fail Grade

Andrew Rotherham

Education eyes were on Washington this week to see what President Obama would say about schools in his State of the Union address. But just as in 2010, if you really want to follow the action on education reform, it's better to look toward the states. All the new governors (29), education chiefs (18 new ones elected or appointed since November) and legislators (nearly 1,600) mean things are more fluid in the states, where teacher tenure is becoming a major flash point. Florida and New Jersey are considering pretty much ending tenure altogether. And while those states may be ground zero for tenure battles, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania are also considering significant changes.

Quick primer: When people refer to tenure for public-school teachers, what they're really talking about is a set of rules and regulations outlining due process for teachers accused of misconduct or poor performance. The elaborate rules often make it nearly impossible to fire a teacher. Joel Klein, who recently stepped down as New York City schools chancellor, has pointed out that death-penalty cases can be resolved faster than teacher-misconduct cases. In some places, the due-process rules are part of collective-bargaining agreements, and in others they're state law. In either case, there is a consensus among education reformers and some teachers'-union leaders that the rules need to be changed and the process streamlined. The contentious debate tends to be about how to modify what constitutes due process -- as negotiators did in a landmark teachers' contract in the District of Columbia in 2009 -- rather than get rid of it altogether.

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Duncan's school of wisdom

George Will:

"Since 1995 the average mathematics score for fourth-graders jumped 11 points. At this rate we catch up with Singapore in a little over 80 years . . . assuming they don't improve."

- Norman R. Augustine,

retired CEO of Lockheed Martin

What America needs, says one American parent, is more parents who resemble South Korean parents. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, 46, a father of a third-grader and a first-grader, recalls the answer Barack Obama got when he asked South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, "What is the biggest education challenge you have?" Lee answered: "Parents are too demanding." They want their children to start learning English in first rather than second grade. Only 25 percent of U.S. elementary schools offer any foreign-language instruction.

Too many American parents, Duncan says, have "cognitive dissonance" concerning primary and secondary schools: They think their children's schools are fine, and that schools that are not fine are irredeemable. This, Duncan says, is a recipe for "stasis" and "insidious paralysis." He attempts to impart motion by puncturing complacency and picturing the payoff from excellence.

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Chinese University scraps exams to boost teaching of classic books

Elaine Yau:

Exams are out, the Great Books are in.
In a far-reaching overhaul of undergraduate education, Chinese University will scrap exams for most mandatory subjects and boost the teaching of both Western and Chinese classics.

The changes are part of the university's preparation to lengthen degree courses from three years to four years next year.

Details of the overhaul revealed yesterday include a drastic reduction in the number of final exams for mandatory courses in general education, languages, physical education and information technology.

"We will focus on the classics by [authors such as] Adam Smith, Charles Darwin and Karl Marx. We want students to cite classics when thinking about modern problems," said Leung Mei-yee, director of the university's general education foundation programme.

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Senator Rand Paul on Cutting the Federal Deficit by 1/3

David Freddoso:

Want to save $500 billion this year? Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., has a way to do it.

Is it realistic? Maybe not every part of it, but have a look below and judge for yourself. I don't think his total removal of rental subsidies is unreasonable -- the fact that Section 8 is a total failure doesn't justify dumping its beneficiaries into oblivion. But there's also no reason every agency has to see its budget increase every year, and a lot of these cuts really do make sense. Most of them simply represent a return to 2008 levels of spending -- remember that a 30 percent cut is less than it seems when an agency's budget been increasing by 40 percent over the last few years.

Why fund NASA at traditional levels if President Obama has scaled back its mission? Why not let Indian tribes manage their own trust funds, especially considering the federal mismanagement? Why not realign our military bases abroad, sell unused federal buildings (something Obama has already begun doing), transfer some national parks to the states, and end the wasteful corporate subsidies that come out of the Departments of Energy and Commerce?

This exercise illustrates the huge changes that lie (not too far) ahead given the large deficits (and debt) we face.

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Tough-love mums train cubs for uncertain future

Zhuang Pinghui:

Ding Xinzhu considers herself a strict mother. She lays down the rules for her four-year-old daughter, Yueyue, and she says she's the only one in the family of seven whom Yueyue "is afraid of" and obeys.

"I told her she needs to sit up straight and feed herself at the table. If she disobeys, I will spank her. She cries, but she listens to me," Ding, a 34-year-old executive in Shanghai, said. She picked a prominent kindergarten for her daughter and chose painting and ballet as extracurricular activities. On weekends, Yueyue takes piano lessons. "I think I'm the most demanding among my circle of mothers, but I'm only trying to provide the best for my child and prepare her for the future," Ding said.

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Record Level of Stress Found in College Freshmen

Tamar Lewin:

The emotional health of college freshmen -- who feel buffeted by the recession and stressed by the pressures of high school -- has declined to the lowest level since an annual survey of incoming students started collecting data 25 years ago.

In the survey, "The American Freshman: National Norms Fall 2010," involving more than 200,000 incoming full-time students at four-year colleges, the percentage of students rating themselves as "below average" in emotional health rose. Meanwhile, the percentage of students who said their emotional health was above average fell to 52 percent. It was 64 percent in 1985.

Every year, women had a less positive view of their emotional health than men, and that gap has widened.

Campus counselors say the survey results are the latest evidence of what they see every day in their offices -- students who are depressed, under stress and using psychiatric medication, prescribed even before they came to college.

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January 27, 2011

Low expectations and other forms of bigotry

The Economist:

SMALL rays of light can illuminate surprisingly large areas of darkness. The fuss continues to rumble on about the decision by Michael Gove, the education secretary, to publish revised school league tables showing how many pupils achieved a reasonable pass in five core subjects: English, maths, a foreign language, a science subject and either history or geography (a cluster of subjects that he is calling the English baccalaureate). This marked a sudden switch away from a system in which schools reported how many pupils gained a reasonable pass (an A, B or C grade) in any five subjects including English and maths.

As my colleagues in the Britain section reported earlier this month, this transparency ambush has already achieved one desired and desirable effect: to expose how many schools were boosting their scores by pushing pupils into soft, often vocational subjects which counted for as much as a pass in chemistry, French or history.

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Credentialism and elite employment

Want an elite job at the very pinnacle of 21st century capitalism? Read the rest of this post. Here's what I said in an earlier post How the world works: (see also Creators and Rulers.)
Go to the web sites of venture capital, private equity or hedge funds, or of Goldman Sachs, and you'll find that HYPS alums, plus a few Ivies, plus MIT and Caltech, are grossly overrepresented. (Equivalently, look at the founding teams of venture funded startups.)

Most top firms only recruit at a few schools. A kid from a non-elite UG school has very little chance of finding a job at one of these places unless they first go to grad school at, e.g., HBS, HLS, or get a PhD from a top place. (By top place I don't mean "gee US News says Ohio State's Aero E program is top 5!" -- I mean, e.g., a math PhD from Berkeley or a PhD in computer science from MIT -- the traditional top dogs in academia.)

This is just how the world works. I won't go into detail, but it's actually somewhat rational for elite firms to operate this way ...

The paper below is by a Kellogg (Northwestern) management professor, Lauren Rivera. No offense to Rivera, because she gets things mainly right, but much of (good) social science seems like little more than documenting what is obvious to any moderately perceptive person with the relevant life experience. Bad social science, on the other hand, often means completely missing things that a moderately perceptive person would have noticed! ;-)

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Wisconsin NAEP science results exceed national average

Wisconsin DPI, via a kind reader's email:

cience scores for Wisconsin students exceeded the national average on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) science assessment, administered between January and March of 2009.

The state's scale scores on the assessments were 157 at both fourth and eighth grades, eight points higher than the national scale scores of 149 for both grades. In state-by-state comparisons, Wisconsin's results at fourth grade were higher than those in 27 states, not significantly different from those in 12 states, and lower than seven states. At eighth grade, Wisconsin's results were higher than 27 states, not significantly different than 14 states, and lower than five states.

Jack Buckley
Today I am releasing the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress science results.

Students were assessed at the fourth, eighth, and twelfth grades. Over 156,000 students at grade 4, 151,000 at grade 8, and 11,000 at grade 12 took the assessment. We have national results for public and private school students at all three grades. At grades 4 and 8, we also have results for public school students in 46 states and the Department of Defense schools. The state samples were combined and augmented with sampled students from the four non-participating states plus the District of Columbia, along with a national sample of private school students, to create the full national samples for grades 4 and 8. The twelfth-grade sample is smaller because there are no state-representative samples at that grade.

WEAC statement.

NCES state profiles.

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School defends experiment to separate black students in a bid to boost their academic results

The Daily Mail

A high school in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, is defending its decision to segregate its students by race and gender.
The scheme, at McCaskey East High School, separates black students from the rest of the school body, and then further breaks it down into black females and black males.
The separation is only for a short period - six minutes each day and 20 minutes twice a month - but it naturally drew criticism for bringing back the awful memory of racial segregation.

Today the school's principal defended its policy.

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The Future for Public Education in California


As California starts a new year and a new decade--with new state leadership--what major forces will affect public education? And how will they either help or hamper our schools' ability to cope with the dual pressures of financial adversity and the need to improve student achievement?

Please join us for this year's EdSource Forum and get a view of what this new decade holds from state and national leaders who see these issues, and the future for California public education, from a variety of different vantage points.

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Reading between the lines

The Economist:

WHAT good would a gathering of literary types be if it didn't coincide with a little acrimony and rancour? South Asia's largest book festival is under way in Jaipur, Rajasthan, a five-hour drive (if you're lucky) from Delhi. From January 21st to the 25th a couple of hundred authors, tens of thousands of book-lovers and a few Nobel laureates cram the lawns of the Diggi palace in the Pink City.

The annual Jaipur Literature Festival is now big enough--32,000 attended last year; this year the tally will be much higher--that there should be no need for anyone to stir up controversy to get attention. Nonetheless, shortly before the event Hartosh Singh Bal, an (Indian) editor of a local magazine, accused William Dalrymple, a (British) writer who co-directs the festival, of being "pompous" and setting himself up as an arbiter of writers' taste in the country.

Stung, Mr Dalrymple accused Mr Bal, in turn, of racism. A flurry of angry commentary has followed in the Indian press and beyond, along with a discussion of whether or why Indian writers crave foreign approval, especially from Brits.

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On the other hand

Harry Eyres:

I want to speak out on behalf of an oppressed minority. This is not one of those minorities one could call fashionable; its oppression might seem negligible, and perhaps most of it, in the west at least, occurred in the past. But left-handed people, who constitute about one-tenth of the population pretty much across the board, have suffered in the course of history.

The negative connotations attached to left-sidedness and left-handedness are remarkably consistent across cultures and across history. Perhaps the most striking is the Latin adjective sinister, which starts off meaning "left" or "on the left hand", but quickly (in Latin that is) acquires the secondary meanings "wrong", "perverse" and then (closer to the meaning of sinister in modern English) "unfavourable", "adverse", "ill-omened".

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Young inventors prompt colleges to revamp rules

Alan Scher Zagier:

Tony Brown didn't set out to overhaul his college's policies on intellectual property. He just wanted an easier way of tracking local apartment rentals on his iPhone.

The University of Missouri student came up with an idea in class one day that spawned an iPhone application that has had more than 250,000 downloads since its release in March 2009. The app created by Brown and three other undergraduates won them a trip to Apple headquarters along with job offers from Google and other technology companies.

But the invention also raised a perplexing question when university lawyers abruptly demanded a 25 percent ownership stake and two-thirds of any profits. Who owns the patents and copyrights when a student creates something of value on campus, without a professor's help?

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez: We 'are not under-taxed; the government has simply over-spent'

Andrew Malcolm:

Like fellow Republican governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina, New Mexico's new governor, Susana Martinez, is her state's first female chief executive. She is also the nation's first Latina governor, as Haley is the first woman governor in the United States of Indian descent.

But Martinez is not new to public service, having been a prosecutor for nearly a quarter-century. Her full biography is here. Her husband, Chuck Franco, has also had a long career in law enforcement. See the couple's photo below greeting a little girl.

Last week with Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell's State of the State address, we heard of the strong economy in the country's largest state geographically. (For links to all of the state of the state addresses published on Top of the Ticket so far, please scroll to the bottom.)

With New Mexico, however, we return to the familiar 2011 governmental theme of deficits and the need to cut spending. Martinez hits that theme strongly, imposing several major changes from policies of her predecessor, Democrat Bill Richardson.

She has ordered the state jet sold, cut expenses at the governor's residence by 55%, including letting go the two personal chefs who had been working there, cut her cabinet members' salaries by 10% and frozen all new vehicle purchases, except for law enforcement, among other stringencies.

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January 26, 2011

Data reveal wide higher ed Dane County attainment gap

Todd Finkelmeyer::

The Chronicle of Higher Education released a nifty interactive map which shows the percent of those 25-and-older with at least a bachelor's degree in each county across the United States.
This remarkable tool, which relies heavily on Census Bureau data, not only allows one to break college attainment figures down by gender and race (Asian, black, Hispanic, white) in each county, but also lets one compare these statistics decade to decade.
The good news is 44.4 percent of all residents 25-and-older in Dane County now have at least a bachelor's degree. That's the highest percentage of any county in the state and ranks among the national leaders.

Conversely, while 45.0 percent of whites here have a four-year degree, only 18.5 percent of blacks do. That 26.5 percentage point gap locally is larger than in Milwaukee County -- which the Chronicle singles out as an area where the college attainment gulf between whites and blacks is especially wide.

Not that this gap in Dane County should stun anyone, says Sara Goldrick-Rab, an assistant professor of educational policy studies and sociology at UW-Madison.

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There is more than one way to teach a class

Sunny Schubert:

A young friend of mine - I'll call him Zach because that is, indeed, his name - graduated from college last May and started his first teaching job in August: 7th-grade Spanish in a school with a fairly high population of low-income children.

Zach is a very good-looking young man, but I must emphasize the word "young" because he has, for lack of a better term, a baby face.

Well aware of the fact that he looks younger than some of his students, Zach decided last summer that every day, he would wear a dress shirt and tie to school.

This was a source of amusement for some of his students, who had apparently never seen a teacher wearing a tie before.

It was NOT amusing to his fellow teachers, however, some of whom apparently felt Zach was making them look bad.

One day, all the male teachers wore ties - loud ties, ugly ties, sloppy ties, with T-shirts and sweatshirts.

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Tuition Hike-oholism Hits Bottom?

Kristin Conklin:

"After decades of funding our eleven campuses on the basis of past appropriations and past expenditures, we have lost track of the rationale for each campus's funding level. We must begin a new approach to funding higher education where we ask the board of higher education to develop a funding methodology that is based on the outcomes that education leaders and citizens would like to see from their college campuses."
-- North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple's Jan. 4 state of the state address.

Faced with a 5 percent tuition rise and the likelihood of future increases, students at the City University of New York filed a lawsuit against the school protesting the tuition hike. Could we be on the verge of a student movement like that recently under way in England, where rioters incensed over tuition increases have thrown Molotov cocktails, smashed windows, and even attacked Prince Charles's car?

CUNY's was a modest hike, with average prices remaining well below the national average. CUNY takes pride in its history of serving low-income and first-generation students with a high-quality, affordable education.. But CUNY, like many public institutions in the U.S., is doing what led to student revolts in England: shifting the burden of paying for higher education from taxpayers to students. According to the State Higher Education Executive Officers association, tuition in the U.S. increased from 25 percent of all educational revenue to 37 percent from 1984 to 2009, even as total spending per student remained about the same.

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Introducing Hispanics for School Choice

Aaron Rodriguez:

Hispanics for School Choice (HFSC), a non-profit organization founded in Milwaukee County, is hosting a coming out event at the United Community Center (UCC) on January 24th. It marks the first time in Wisconsin history that leaders in the Hispanic community have organized to expand the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program.

A Buzz at the State Capitol

Last week, Executive Board members of Hispanics for School Choice created somewhat of a buzz as they descended upon the State Capitol to circulate their legislative agenda. Associates from the American Federation of Children and School Choice Wisconsin accompanied HFSC in separate meetings with Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, Education Committee Chair Steve Kestell, and Secretary of the Department of Administration Mike Huebsch to discuss a timetable of moving the School Choice program forward.

HFSC Board Members were also given exclusive entry to a closed caucus in the Grand Army of the Republic Hearing Room before Assembly Republicans - an access rarely granted to non-profit organizations of any sort for any reason. Before the 60-member caucus, Board Members of HFSC were introduced communicating the idea that HFSC aimed to be more of a resource to legislators than a needy lobbyist.

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The worst of "best practices"

Roxanna Elden:

District, county, and state education offices are fond of sharing "best practices" through professional development. The idea is to spread the word about strategies that work in some schools so other teachers can use these strategies and get the same great results. There are times when it works this way. Unfortunately, things can get complicated when the same people who pick and distribute best practices are also responsible for checking whether they are being done correctly, and when none of those people are current teachers. Here's an example of how the sharing of best practices sometimes works once supervising offices get involved.

Phase one: A school seems to be successful in educating students in a given subject or demographic sub-group. Let's call this School A.

Phase two: A team of people who want to know what made School A successful descends upon the school. They sit in the classrooms. They ask questions. Then the team comes back with a report that says something like, "Teachers at School A are successful because they ask students to make their own test using fill-in-the-blank test questions. This is a research-based report."

Phase three: The information from the report is filtered through a series of people sitting in a quiet, student-less office. Materials are created. Packets are made.

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Tiny island school a beacon for wayward teens

Martha Irvine:

This school isn't a place you end up by accident.
A small propeller plane flight or a two-hour ferry ride into the northern reaches of Lake Michigan gets you as far as St. James, the northern hub of Beaver Island. But it takes another half hour by car, down bumpy gravel roads, to get to the south tip of the island and the small cluster of classroom buildings and log cabins, shadowed by the historic lighthouse for which this secluded alternative high school is named.

"What the hell have I gotten myself into?" That's exactly what 18-year-old Katie Daugherty thought as she arrived at the Beaver Island Lighthouse School last September.
She was scared, felt sick to her stomach. She hardly talked to anyone.

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The Educationist View of Math Education

Barry Garelick:

In Jay Greene's recent blog post, "The Dead End of Scientific Progressivism," he points out that Vicki Phillips, head of education at the Gates Foundation misread her Foundation's own report. Jay's point was that Vicki continued to see what she and others wanted to see: "'Teaching to the test makes your students do worse on the tests.' Science had produced its answer -- teachers should stop teaching to the test, stop drill and kill, and stop test prep (which the Gates officials and reporters used as interchangeable terms)."

I was intrigued by the education establishment's long-held view as Jay paraphrased it. This view has become one of the "enduring truths" of education and I have heard it expressed in the various classes I have been taking in education school the last few years. (I plan to teach high school math when I retire later this year). In terms of math education, ed school professors distinguish between "exercises" and "problems". "Exercises" are what students do when applying algorithms or routines they know and can apply even to word problems. Problem solving, which is preferred, occurs when students are not able to apply a mechanical, memorized response, but rather have to apply prior knowledge to solve a non-routine problem. Moreover, we future teachers are told that students' difficulty in solving problems in new contexts is evidence that the use of "mere exercises" or "procedures" is ineffective and they are overused in classrooms. One teacher summed up this philosophy with the following questions: "What happens when students are placed in a totally unfamiliar situation that requires a more complex solution? Do they know how to generate a procedure? How do we teach students to apply mathematical thinking in creative ways to solve complex, novel problems? What happens when we get off the 'script'?"

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Restoring the Faculty Voice

Dan Berrett:

Faculty members from the unions of public colleges from 21 states met this weekend in Los Angeles and committed to launching a campaign with a lofty goal: assuring the future of higher education.

Participants reviewed and many expressed support for a set of organizing principles contained in a draft document called "Quality Higher Education for the 21st Century" that was prepared by the California Faculty Association. It advocates for more scrupulous analysis of calls to reform higher education. "Wholesale embrace of change without careful thought and deliberation can take us in the wrong direction," the document states, "not toward reforming higher education but, in fact, toward deforming precisely those aspects of American higher education that have made it the envy of the world."

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Where Have All The Thinkers Gone?

Gideon Rachman:

A few weeks ago I was sitting in my office, reading Foreign Policy magazine, when I made a striking discovery. Sitting next door to me, separated only by a narrow partition, is one of the world's leading thinkers. Every year, Foreign Policy lists the people it regards as the "Top 100 Global Thinkers". And there, at number 37, was Martin Wolf.

I popped next door to congratulate my colleague. Under such circumstances, it is compulsory for any English person to make a self-deprecating remark and Martin did not fail me. The list of intellectuals from 2010, he suggested, looked pretty feeble compared with a similar list that could have been drawn up in the mid 19th century.

This was more than mere modesty. He has a point. Once you start the list-making exercise, it is difficult to avoid the impression that we are living in a trivial age.

The Foreign Policy list for 2010, it has to be said, is slightly odd since the magazine's top 10 thinkers are all more famous as doers. In joint first place come Bill Gates and Warren Buffett for their philanthropic efforts. Then come the likes of Barack Obama (at number three), Celso Amorim, the Brazilian foreign minister (sixth), and David Petraeus, the American general and also, apparently, the world's eighth most significant thinker. It is not until you get down to number 12 on the list that you find somebody who is more famous for thinking than doing - Nouriel Roubini, the economist.

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January 25, 2011

A Breath of Fresh Air on Ed Reform

Melissa Westbrook:

I do wish I had attended the Washington Policy Center breakfast last week. One reason is the speaker was Dr. Andres Alonso, the head of Baltimore Schools. He sounds like an interesting guy and I would have liked to hear him in person.

However, a couple of readers (Greg is one), pointed out that there was coverage of his speech in this week's Crosscut. What is interesting is he seems the non-firebreathing, anti-union, anti-parent Michelle Rhee. He came into an incredibly poor situation:
Only 35 percent of Baltimore's students received high-school diplomas the year before Alonso arrived. Proficiency levels as measured by standardized tests were in the cellar. Over nine years the district lost 25,000 students, dwindling from 106,540 in 1999 to 81,284 in 2008.

In the same period the district gained 1,000 staff, Alonso said. With costs rising despite continuing enrollment declines, "baseline aid from the state to the city had doubled.... It was clearly an organization not sustainable over time."

How could they lose over 25,000 students and gain 1,000 staff? Who was the superintendent before this guy?

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The art of good writing

Adam Haslett:

In 1919, the young EB White, future New Yorker writer and author of Charlotte's Web, took a class at Cornell University with a drill sergeant of an English professor named William Strunk Jr. Strunk assigned his self-published manual on composition entitled "The Elements of Style", a 43-page list of rules of usage, principles of style and commonly misused words. It was a brief for brevity. "Vigorous writing is concise," Strunk wrote. "When a sentence is made stronger, it usually becomes shorter." Half a century later, when preparing his old professor's manuscript for publication, White added an essay of his own underlining the argument for concision in moral terms. "Do not overwrite," he instructed. "Rich, ornate prose is hard to digest, generally unwholesome, and sometimes nauseating." Strunk & White, as the combined work came to be known, was issued in 1959 and went on to become a defining American statement of what constituted good writing, with 10m copies sold, and counting. Its final rule summoned the whole: "Prefer the standard to the offbeat."

Though never explicitly political, The Elements of Style is unmistakably a product of its time. Its calls for "vigour" and "toughness" in language, its analogy of sentences to smoothly functioning machines, its distrust of vernacular and foreign language phrases all conform to that disciplined, buttoned-down and most self-assured stretch of the American century from the armistice through the height of the cold war. A time before race riots, feminism and the collapse of the gold standard. It is a book full of sound advice addressed to a class of all-male Ivy-Leaguers wearing neckties and with neatly parted hair. This, of course, is part of its continuing appeal. It is spoken in the voice of unquestioned authority in a world where that no longer exists. As Lorin Stein, the new editor of the celebrated literary magazine The Paris Review, recently put it to me: "It's like a national superego." And when it comes to an activity as variable, difficult and ultimately ungovernable as writing sentences, the allure of rules that dictate brevity and concreteness is enduring.

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More choice in schools needed

James Gleason:

The Gleason Family Foundation has long had an intense interest in the quality of education. With great disappointment over the decades, we've watched our public education system continually fail to meet the needs of all children.

The education special interests tell us that the crisis in education is a fabricated one. But the growing body of achievement data overwhelmingly shows that K-12 student performance, particularly in urban school systems, has been middling at best, comparing unfavorably even to some Third World countries.

Rochester, like all too many urban school systems, graduates fewer than 50 percent of its students, many of whom are totally unprepared to meet the challenges of an increasingly high tech world.

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Virtual School Enrollment Cap Stifles Choice

James Wigderson:

Today marks the beginning of School Choice Week.

Well, members of the Wisconsin legislature have several important choices ahead of them as they look at the educational landscape in this state.

The temptation is to sweep our state's educational problems under the rug with one heck of a broom for an excuse, "there is no money."

To give in to that temptation would be wrong and there are steps the legislature can take to restore educational innovation and improve educational access without breaking the bank.

One of the steps would be to eliminate the cap on online public charter school enrollment. The cap is one of the most shameful educational policy holdovers from the Governor Jim Doyle era, and it needs to be repealed.

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The Sinking States

Scott Jaschik:

States are spending more than $79 billion on higher education in 2010-11, a decline of 0.7 percent from last year, according to a report being released today by the Center for the Study of Education Policy at Illinois State University and the State Higher Education Executive Officers.

While a cut of less than 1 percent might seem like a relief, given the magnitude of some of the cuts public higher education systems have faced in recent years, the report contains plenty of danger signs for the future. More than $2.5 billion of the total state spending on higher education came from the federal government in the form of stimulus funds that have now run out. Over two years, state support is down nearly 2 percent -- in a period when the same economic downturn that has left state coffers empty has also spurred enrollment increases in much of public higher education, and greater demands for financial aid. And plenty of states are talking about additional cuts for 2011-12.

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Huge child health survey kicks off in Waukesha

Laurel Walker:

One hundred down, 1,150 more to go.

Waukesha County researchers have identified 100 babies who'll be part of a landmark study of children's health - a tiny fraction of the 100,000 nationwide who may eventually be identified for the largest long-term study of children's health ever conducted in the country.

Waukesha County is among the first seven pilot locations, the only one in Wisconsin and part of 105 centers eventually who'll participate in the National Children's Study. The $2.7 billion study will follow children from before their birth until age 21 with the aim of identifying the influence of environmental factors, including physical, chemical, biological and psychosocial, on their health and development.

A celebration at the study's Waukesha office Wednesday highlighted the success in finding the first 100 local participants.

Another 1,150 babies will eventually be added in Waukesha County, and researchers are still recruiting from Brookfield, Big Bend, Hartland, Pewaukee, Oconomowoc, Dousman, New Berlin, Waukesha, Menomonee Falls and Sussex.

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Chinese schoolchildren to sit compulsory manners classes

Peter Foster:

From primary school onwards, Chinese children will now receive lessons in the art of queuing, good table manners, how to respect their elders and betters and the correct way to write letters, emails and even send SMS messages.

Older children will be tutored in the arts of introducing oneself to strangers, dealing politely with members of the opposite sex, making public speeches and the rudiments of dealing with foreigners and (to Chinese eyes, at least) their strange ways.

"The goal is to let students know that China is a country with a long history of civilisation, rituals and cultures," said the guidelines which were published on the ministry's website.

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Calculating the difference in New Jersey charter schools

Bob Braun:

It's New Jersey School Choice Week. Gov. Chris Christie signed a proclamation encouraging all citizens to "join the movement for educational reform."

Or, at least, his brand of reform, one that includes cutting $1 billion from traditional public schools while spending taxpayer money on independent schools that have somehow failed to enroll New Jersey's neediest children, those with handicaps, language problems, and very low income.

In the last few days, the governor issued a study that purported to show charters "outperforming" traditional schools, approved 23 more charters, proposed laws making it easier to create the independent but publicly funded schools, and hired an organization run by Geoffrey Canada, the champion of New York charter schools, to try his magic in Paterson.

Some critics argue state studies comparing scores of charter schools with their home districts were not scientific and unbiased and, if they showed anything, proved test score averages can be improved by not enrolling children who don't do well on standardized tests.

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It's time for Oklahoma to excel in education

Bill Price:

The 2011 legislative session presents a historic opportunity for Oklahoma to lead in improving our children's future through comprehensive education reform. The combination of a reform-minded Legislature, governor and state school superintendent, along with an engaged public, provides a unique window for passing the greatest educational improvements in our lifetime.

The first reform is choice in education through an educational tax credit scholarship act that follows the example of the states that have seen the most rapid improvement in educational achievement. This bill empowers parents to find the schools that will best meet their children's needs, stimulates the creation of innovative scholarship schools, and provides the competition that has been proven to greatly improve the public schools.
Choice also is promoted by expanding the charter school laws, allowing the state schools superintendent to charter new schools, and freeing these highly successful charter schools to finance their own infrastructure needs.

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And Then What Happened?

Roger Rosenblatt:

I have a good feeling about this class. I'm going to like them. Liking a class is more practically useful than it sounds. In a likable class, discussions are freer, more open. When the students like one another, they take everyone's work more seriously. In another class I taught, after a woman read a section of her novel aloud, another woman asked, "May I be your friend?" The first woman answered, "You already are." The students will also feel safe with one another and will trust the group with personal information they use in their writing.

In my novel-writing workshop, a student wrote about a woman who was taking care of her husband, whose mind was deteriorating. She too was deteriorating from the effort. She told her story as a novel, but the students understood it was her own. They respect such disclosures. They unite with one another like a noisy brood of brothers and sisters. And they can always unite against me.

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Suitable to whom? Legislators defining a "suitable" education or curriculum for Kansas schools won't necessarily keep the state out of court.

The Lawrence World:

From a practical standpoint, we would like to think that every action taken by the Kansas Legislature would be "suitable" for the state.

However, that word has spawned considerable controversy in Kansas as it pertains to education funding -- controversy that has landed the state in court before and may do it again.

Gov. Sam Brownback wants to avoid that and many Kansans would agree with his contention that defending state laws in court is a poor use of precious resources. To that end, in his State of the State address, Brownback invited legislators to better define "a suitable education."

Like many Kansans, Brownback quoted a term that actually doesn't appear in Article 6 of the Kansas Constitution, which covers education. The actual wording is that the legislature "shall make suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state." The sentence even appears under Section 6: Finance.

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January 24, 2011

Pro-school choice organization launched

Georgia Pabst:

Hispanics for School Choice, an organization designed to expand school choice programs, launched Monday at a gathering at the United Community Center.

The group's legislative agenda includes:

  • Removing the enrollment cap in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program.
  • Expanding choice schools to allow students from Milwaukee to attend schools throughout Milwaukee County.
  • Allowing all parents to participate in choice by lifting income limits.
  • Expanding school choice to other cities.
"Despite differences in political philosophies, our community agrees that school choice is educationally effective in educating our children, and we're serious about getting the best for our children," said Zeus Rodriguez, president of the organization.

The school choice movement has backed an array of options outside the traditional public school system. Proponents argue that such programs expand options for parents and pressure public schools to operate more efficiently. Critics argue that the choice program drains resources from public schools, and that public funds shouldn't flow to private, often religious schools.

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In response to criticism, Madison Schools will consider additional 4K sites

Matthew DeFour:

Responding to concerns that potential locations for Madison's new 4-year-old kindergarten program are not located in poor neighborhoods where they may be most beneficial, school district officials said Monday they will evaluate additional sites.

The School Board on Monday approved 19 elementary schools with available space as potential 4K sites, but also asked the district to identify churches or community centers with space where Madison teachers could be assigned for the 2 1/2 hour daily program beginning this fall.

The district is expecting to hear back this week from 35 day care centers that were approved to participate in the program.

Not all of the 54 potential sites will end up being used, but the district won't know the exact distribution until parents register their students beginning Feb. 7.

Much more on Madison's 4K program, here.

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Dumbed-down diplomas Low academic standards have students paying more for less

Craig Brandon:

The news that 45 percent of college students learn little or nothing during their first two years of college comes as no surprise to those who have been studying higher education. But it should serve as a wake up call for parents who go deeply into debt to purchase a very expensive diploma for their children.

The researchers who studied more than 2,300 undergraduates found that nearly half showed no significant improvement in the key measures of critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing by the end of their sophomore years. After four years, 36 percent of students still did not demonstrate significant improvement.

Undergraduate students just aren't asked to do much, according to findings in the new book, "Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses." Half of students did not take a single course requiring 20 pages of writing during their prior semester. One-third did not take a single course requiring even 40 pages of reading a week.

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Austin superintendent rallies task force to get back to long-term plan

Melissa B. Taboada:

Austin schools Superintendent Meria Carstarphen met with facilities task force members Saturday to encourage them to broaden their scope and not to focus as much on the district's looming budget crisis.

In recent weeks, the task force seemed to stray a bit from its mission of creating a 10-year plan on future schools, renovations and attendance zones. After it earlier this month named nine schools that could be closed for efficiency's sake, outraged community members rallied to save their schools.

Although the long-term plan probably will have recommendations on closures, task force members said they felt pressured to produce short-term fixes to help the district get past one of the worst anticipated budget shortfalls in its history.

On Saturday, Carstarphen, in effect, told task force volunteers that was her burden, not theirs.

"There's only so much in efficiencies you can do," she said. "You can't do it all. You don't need to do it all."

Austin School Board.

The Austin School District's 2010-2011 budget is $973,997,900 for 86,000 students ($11,325.55 per student). Madison's 2010-2011 budget is $379,058,945 (according to the January, 2011 "State of the District" presentation for 24,471 students. That is $15,490 per student.

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Let students make the right choice

Lindsay Burke:

Expect to hear the phrase "school choice" more than usual in the coming days. The fourth week of January is National School Choice Week, and advocates for educational freedom across the country will be highlighting its effectiveness for children.

Why school choice? Economist Milton Friedman best stated the philosophy behind it: "You can subsidize the producer or you can subsidize the consumer. In education, we subsidize the producer; we subsidize the school. If you subsidize the student instead, you would have competition. The student could choose which school he would go to, and that would force the schools to improve and to meet the tastes of their students."

But you don't have to get philosophical. Just ask the kids.

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College Saving Gets Trickier

Jane Kim:

After being pilloried by critics and written off by many families, 529 college-saving plans are getting better. But well-heeled investors still would be wise to spread their bets around.

So-called 529 plans allow people to save for college expenses and withdraw the earnings tax-free. Many also offer a break on state income tax--savings that, in theory, an investor can roll back into the account.

For years 529s were pitched as the ultimate college-savings vehicle, but their limitations were thrown into sharp relief during the financial crisis. Too reliant on stocks, the average 529 investment option lost nearly 24% in 2008. Even portfolios geared to older kids just a few years away from college got hammered, losing 14%, according to investment-research firm Morningstar Inc. What's more, because savers can generally make investment changes only once a year, many people watched helplessly as their accounts dropped in value.

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Parents awarded $1 million in suit claiming therapists created false memories of abuse

Doug Erickson:

A Dane County jury has awarded $1 million to a former Madison couple who claimed therapists created in their daughter false memories of childhood sexual and physical abuse.

Jurors early Sunday found two of the three therapists who treated Charlotte Johnson in the early 1990s professionally negligent, said attorney Bill Smoler, who represented her parents, Dr. Charles and Karen Johnson.

The couple, now of St. Louis, had been accused by their daughter of being Satanists and incest perpetrators. Charlotte Johnson had come to believe that her father had raped her at age 3, that her mother had come after her with a knife and tried to drown her, and that the family dabbled in cults and infanticide, said Smoler, who termed the alleged memories "outrageous."

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The Difference Engine: More pennies, please

The Economist:

EVER since 1982, when the American penny (one-cent piece) ceased being minted from brass and started being made instead from zinc with a thin coating of copper, eighth-graders at some of the country's more inspired schools have been given a nifty little experiment in electrochemistry to do for homework. Your correspondent's 13-year-old came home recently with goggles and instructions to find the amounts of copper and zinc in a modern penny. While in class, each kid had first carefully weighed three such coins on a scientific balance. After that, the rest was up to them (and their dads).

The experiment is designed to test the pupils' knowledge of the galvanic series, and the science that explains how corrosion occurs. The series lists metals according to their resistance to electrochemical reaction--with the "noblest" (eg, palladium, platinum and gold) at the top of the rankings, and the most reactive or "basest" (eg, beryllium, zinc and magnesium) at the bottom. Copper comes 11 places above zinc in the table. Thus, when the two metals share an electrolyte, the zinc (being much the more reactive) will dissolve into the solution long before the copper. In a similar way, zinc anodes attached to the hulls of ships protect the vessels' steel plates from rusting away by being sacrificed instead.

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UW-Madison Professor Honored By President Obama


President Barack Obama is honoring 11 people, including a University of Wisconsin-Madison engineering professor, for their mentoring efforts.

Douglass Henderson was named a recipient of the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring.

Henderson, 10 other people from around the nation and four organizations will receive the awards at a White House ceremony in the next week.

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Probation rallies Atlanta Public Schools supporters

Kristina Torres:

The threat to revoke the accreditation of Atlanta Public Schools last week was as ominous as a shark fin: Could one unruly school board somehow pull the whole city under?

Shortly after the school system was placed on probation, however, powerful interests in the city and state coalesced into a formidable defensive line. Loss of accreditation, they said, simply can't happen.

"Come September, we will have an accredited, functioning school system," state Rep. Edward Lindsey, R-Atlanta, said of a Sept. 30 deadline facing the school board to improve its governance. "We are all committed we will work our way through this ... issue. That's the most important message any of us could give."

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The English Patient

Paul Temple:

Higher education in England is currently the subject of an extraordinary experiment in the allocation of public funding: the question is, will the patient survive, and if so, in what state?

The Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition government is (in England, but in not the rest of the UK, where higher education is a regional responsibility) removing, at a stroke, almost all of the public funding for teaching, lending it to students to pay tuition fees, and then make them pay it back after graduation, as soon as they start earning a half-decent salary (currently £21,000). Fees are expected to go up from the present level for undergraduates of just over £3000 to (the government assumes) £6000, or in some cases up to £9000. The government clearly assumes that the £9000 level will be exceptional - but there are some indications that it may become the new norm, not least because of concerns that charging less may send a signal about academic quality (which is exactly what happened when the present fee regime was introduced in 2006). If the government is wrong about fee levels, then its financial planning is in serious trouble.

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Abuse Case Sparks a Clash Over Limits of Tough Parenting

Miriam Jordan:

Dmitriy Kozlov waited until nightfall to place a 911 call to Oregon authorities, alerting them to a terrible case of child abuse in an immigrant community that existed, almost invisibly, in this city's midst.

The alleged victim was 14-year-old Dmitriy himself. From a pay phone on July 20, 2009, he reported that his parents regularly beat him and several of his six siblings. Their parents, he said, struck them with wires, branches and belts for wearing makeup and getting a fake tattoo.

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January 23, 2011

George Washington University launches online prep school

Daniel de Vise:

George Washington University has opened a private college-preparatory high school that will operate entirely online, one of the nation's first "virtual" secondary schools to be affiliated with a major research university.

The opening of a laboratory-style school under the banner of a prestigious university generally counts as a major event among parents of the college-bound. The George Washington University Online High School, a partnership with the online learning company K12 Inc., is competing with brick-and-mortar prep schools and with a small but growing community of experimental online schools attached to major universities.

Online learning may be the next logical step in the evolution of university "lab" schools, an ongoing experiment in pedagogy. Online instruction holds the potential to transcend the factory model of traditional public education, allowing students to learn at their own pace. In the ideal online classroom, no lesson is ever too fast or too slow, and no one ever falls behind.


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Got Dough? How Billionaires Rule Our Schools

Joanne Barkan:

The cost of K-12 public schooling in the United States comes to well over $500 billion per year. So, how much influence could anyone in the private sector exert by controlling just a few billion dollars of that immense sum? Decisive influence, it turns out. A few billion dollars in private foundation money, strategically invested every year for a decade, has sufficed to define the national debate on education; sustain a crusade for a set of mostly ill-conceived reforms; and determine public policy at the local, state, and national levels. In the domain of venture philanthropy--where donors decide what social transformation they want to engineer and then design and fund projects to implement their vision--investing in education yields great bang for the buck.

Hundreds of private philanthropies together spend almost $4 billion annually to support or transform K-12 education, most of it directed to schools that serve low-income children (only religious organizations receive more money). But three funders--the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Eli and Edythe Broad (rhymes with road) Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation - working in sync, command the field. Whatever nuances differentiate the motivations of the Big Three, their market-based goals for overhauling public education coincide: choice, competition, deregulation, accountability, and data-based decision-making. And they fund the same vehicles to achieve their goals: charter schools, high-stakes standardized testing for students, merit pay for teachers whose students improve their test scores, firing teachers and closing schools when scores don't rise adequately, and longitudinal data collection on the performance of every student and teacher. Other foundations--Ford, Hewlett, Annenberg, Milken, to name just a few--often join in funding one project or another, but the education reform movement's success so far has depended on the size and clout of the Gates-Broad-Walton triumvirate.

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Using an iPad as a Textbook

Laura Goode

For some classes at the University of Notre Dame, iPads are replacing textbooks -- at least temporarily.

The school is studying the use of the Apple Inc. tablet among students to see how it affects learning, and after a test this fall found that students students thought the device made their class more interesting.

"Moments before the start of class, I could place a video into students' dropboxes, and the majority of them would arrive having already watched it and able to discuss it. Those sorts of things made the class more interesting and dynamic and could never have happened in the past," said Assistant Professor Corey Angst, the professor behind the project. Half of the students ultimately said they strongly agreed that the iPad made their project management course more interesting.

The study, called the eReader Project, looked at undergraduates in a project-management course at Notre Dame's Mendoza College of Business this past fall. The sampling of students was small: 40 students in the course used Wi-Fi iPads for seven weeks of the semester; a second wave of 38 students received in the second half of the semester.

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New Jersey lawmakers advance school voucher program for students in failing schools

Jessica Calefati:

A state Senate committee voted Thursday to advance a program that would offer vouchers for students in failing public schools to attend private and parochial schools.

The Opportunity Scholarship Act is a signature piece of Gov. Chris Christie's education reform agenda and another proposal over which he and the state's largest teachers union are coming to blows. The New Jersey Education Association vehemently opposes the voucher program, calling it "a government bailout for struggling private schools."

If implemented, the bill would cost about $825 million and serve 40,000 students in 166 chronically failing public schools by its fifth year. It could be a boon for parochial schools, which have been closing in droves because of declining enrollment, but could also force reductions in state aid to public school districts.

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Time for Change is Now - Milwaukee's New Superintendent

Alan Borsuk:

If the Milwaukee Public Schools system keeps operating the way it is now, things just aren't going to get much better. If we want things genuinely to improve, big changes need to be made. And the time for making changes is now.

I'm not presenting my views. I'm describing the views of Gregory Thornton.

With a half-year as superintendent of MPS behind him, he is beginning to make moves that are sure to define the success or failure of his time in Milwaukee - and may have a major impact on the shape of education in the city for years to come.

  • Lengthening school days and teacher workdays.
  • Giving administrators freer hands in hiring and assigning teachers.
  • Revising rules that make seniority the deciding factor in who gets laid off or reassigned when cuts are made.
  • Revamping teacher evaluations and maybe pay, including student performance as a factor.
  • Giving management more freedom to schedule training for teachers.
  • Revising the relationship between the School Board and the administration so the superintendent has a freer hand.

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Supporting Wisconsin School Reform

Wisconsin State Journal:

We heard encouraging words about school reform last week from Republican leaders in the state Legislature.

For starters, those leaders -- Sen. Luther Olsen of Ripon and Rep. Steve Kestell of Elkhart Lake -- both seem focused on change and flexibility, essential parts of any movement forward with our public schools. And both seem committed to reducing the mandates and state demands on local school systems.

That type of increased local control will be necessary not only to truly bring about change to public schools but also to maneuver them through an era of exceedingly tight budgets. Funding for schools no doubt will be squeezed as Gov. Scott Walker deals with the state's $3 billion-plus deficit in his two-year budget proposal next month.

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Idahoans speak out on education reform

Jusin Corr:

It was a packed house today as teachers, parents, superintendents, and members of the community showed up to voice their concerns or approval for Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna's comprehensive plan for education reform.

It was also a historic day at the Statehouse as the Joint Finance-Appropriation Committee took public comment for the first time ever, and boy did they ever take public comment.
It was standing room only as people crowded in to give their 3-minute testimonies on Luna's plan to overhaul K-12 education in Idaho.

"Hansen has been hit hard by the cuts to education," said teacher Lauren Peters. "Unlike many districts, we were unable to pass our override levy. So our children lost out. Our drama and music classes are entirely gone."

"We don't have the money," said Danielle Aarons, a mother. "We have to make cuts. It's not fun, it's hard. But at home, in our budgets, this is what we have to do. It's simple math."
The first major point of Luna's plan includes merit pay for teachers and doing away with their tenure.

"Currently, there is no accountability system where districts, schools, or teachers are recognized or rewarded for top performance, or corrected when performance is poor," said Colby Gull, Superintendent of Challis schools.

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Some schools giving desks the boot

Amy Hetzner:

Concentration broken only by the soft whispers of student questions, the fifth-graders in Hartland South Elementary School teacher Holly Albrecht's class lounge on bean bags, perch on fabric cubes or lightly bounce on stability balls.

With the entire class studiously completing math tests, a couple of students choose to work at a table pushed to a corner during a redesign of Albrecht's classroom. But the room's sole desk goes abandoned.

Just changing the furniture by removing almost all of the desks and most of the chairs in her classroom has brought about changes in her students, Albrecht said, aiding concentration and providing more flexibility for how they learn. Other teachers in her school have taken notice and are planning changes of their own, budget allowing.

"The kids love it," Albrecht said.

Although this is only a few teachers and only one school building, such moves to get rid of the traditional desk-and-chair design of an upper-elementary-grade classroom are part of a larger rethinking of the school experience.

Everything old is new again.

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January 22, 2011

State of the Madison School District - January, 2011

The Madison School District: 2.6MB PDF

The Report
The 2011 State of the District Report brings into focus the great strengths and challenges of the Madison Metropolitan School District, and sheds light on our strategies, plans and priorities for keeping all of the community's children on a secure path toward learning and healthy development.

Mission Critical
The mission statement of the Madison Metropolitan School District focuses on our commitment to ensuring that our students develop a love of learning, and the necessary citizenship skills that will allow them to function effectively in an evermore complex world and be of assistance to the communities in which they reside.

MMSD In Context

The MMSD is the second largest school district in Wisconsin with 24,796 students. This is the 3rd Friday of September 2010 count and includes pre-kindergarten through 12th grade.

Student Population by Race/Ethnicity:
White 47%
African-American 24%
Hispanic 17%
Asian 10%
Multiracial 6%
Native American 1%

  • 49% Free and Reduced Price Lunch Students (37% State Avg.)
  • 17% English Language Learners (6% State Avg.)
  • 70 different languages spoken as the primary language in the homes of MMSD students
  • 15% Students with Disabilities (14.1% State Avg.)

Employees FTEs*

Total 6,286 3,853.4
Some employee groups:
Teachers 2,626 2,500.61
Substitutes 729 N/A
Educational Assistants 625 480.55
Custodians 211 211.0

* Full-time equivalent; 1.0 FTE = a full-time position

Financial Status:
With the 2009-10 fiscal year ending June 30, 2010, the Madison Metropolitan School District's General Fund (10) expenditures were less than budgeted, allowing the district to increase fund balance over last year by $5.15 million, to $40.49 million.

The adopted 2010-11 budget continues to put resources where they are most needed - in the classrooms. The budgeted spending for all funds is a total of $379,058,945 which is an increase of $8,771,475 or 2.37% over 2009- 10.
The total property tax levy increased by $10,823,758 or 4.62%, with a mill rate increase of $0.88 or 8.65%. The following graph shows the breakdown of 2009-10 Actual Revenue by four major categories.

1.5MB complete report.

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Path Is Sought for States to Escape Debt Burdens

Mary Williams Walsh:

Policy makers are working behind the scenes to come up with a way to let states declare bankruptcy and get out from under crushing debts, including the pensions they have promised to retired public workers.

Unlike cities, the states are barred from seeking protection in federal bankruptcy court. Any effort to change that status would have to clear high constitutional hurdles because the states are considered sovereign.

But proponents say some states are so burdened that the only feasible way out may be bankruptcy, giving Illinois, for example, the opportunity to do what General Motors did with the federal government's aid.

Beyond their short-term budget gaps, some states have deep structural problems, like insolvent pension funds, that are diverting money from essential public services like education and health care. Some members of Congress fear that it is just a matter of time before a state seeks a bailout, say bankruptcy lawyers who have been consulted by Congressional aides.

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Penn Law Professor Too Lazy To Come Up With New Multiple Choice Questions Causes Exam SNAFU

Elie Mystal:

=And here's a good one: don't reuse exam questions just because you are teaching at a different law school. It's called "the internet," professors. Your students have access to it and can find your old questions. If you put in just a little bit of work, you can come up with entirely new exam questions.

It's your job! You get paid for it!

And if you do your job with minimal diligence, you won't end up like Penn Law professor William Wilson Bratton, and we won't have to write about you...

Last year, a visiting professor at NYU got into trouble for re-using exam questions. It's a mistake that's so easy to avoid that I'm surprised to see it happen again. But maybe we just need to post one of these stories every year to encourage professors to demonstrate basic competence stay on their toes.

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January 21, 2011

Madison schools' 'Cadillac' health insurance a myth

Susan Troller:

There's always lots of talk about how Madison area teachers enjoy gold-plated health insurance plans, courtesy of the taxpayers. But a recently released report from the Wisconsin Association of School Boards should go a long ways towards dispelling that myth.

Almost 400 school districts showed insurance data for the 2009-2010 school year, and the cost of premiums for Madison school district employees were rock bottom, second only to the tiny Maple school district's premium costs. (Only about a quarter of the school districts in Wisconsin have yet reported their 2010-2011 figures).

Last year's premium costs for the Maple School District, located in Douglas County in northern Wisconsin, were $369.26 per month for a single person's policy; Madison's costs ran $419.13 for a single policy, with Hortonville in third place at $419.42. Family insurance premiums in Maple were $1107.79 per month while Madison's were $1119.10; Hortonville was 1220.41.

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College Reversal? Studies find a decline in Asian-American students' success once they move away from home and go to college.

Kathy Seal:

Some research has found that once Asian-American kids hit college, they no longer outstrip white students academically -- if they're living away from home.

For example, a study of 452 students at UC Irvine led by University of Denver psychologist Julia Dmitrieva found that while both white and Asian-American students' freshman year grades dipped below their 12th-grade GPAs, Asian-Americans' fell dramatically, while white Americans' dropped only slightly.

"There's a reversal of ethnic differences in college grades, at least temporarily," Dmitrieva says. That reversal didn't stem, as some have guessed, from Asian-American students taking more natural science courses, which generally are graded more stringently than other subjects. In fact, her study showed that grades in both natural and social sciences dropped for the Asian-American freshmen, while grades in natural sciences rose for white students.

"We observed the same dip in grades for natural sciences among the Asian-Americans as there are for other majors," says Dmitrieva.

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Learning to Play 'Angry Birds' Before You Can Tie Your Shoes

Jennifer Valentino-DeVries:

These kids today. They're playing with apps and computer games and learning to use a mouse. Whatever happened to tying their shoes and learning to ride a bike?

Young children are still learning to do those traditional activities, but they're also mastering a variety of tech skills early in life -- raising questions about how quickly the world is changing for kids and parents.

Take the skill of tying shoelaces, for example. In a recent survey, 14% of kids age 4 or 5 could tie their shoes, while 21% could play or operate at least one smartphone app.

In the same study, which polled 2,200 mothers in several developed countries, 22% of children that age knew at least one Web address, 34% could open a Web browser and 76% could play an online computer game. By comparison, 31% knew to dial 9-1-1 in an emergency, 35% could get their own breakfast (which we assume doesn't mean making eggs) and 53% knew their home address. (A full 67% could ride a bike, which makes your Digits blogger feel bad for not learning until she was well into elementary school.)

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New Jersey Governor pitches plan to school reform advocates

Nora Muchanic:

Governor Chris Christie has some changes in mind when it comes to education in the Garden State.

Christie invited players in the education reform movement to Trenton on Wednesday for a showing of "Waiting for Superman", the acclaimed documentary that looks at the failures of public education.

Christie said beforehand it's his goal to turn those failures around.

"The failed teacher must be shown the door, bad schools must be closed and start over," Gov. Christie said.

Hoping to give students in troubled districts more choices, the state has just approved the opening of 23 new charter schools across New Jersey. Charters are publicly funded schools that operate independently.

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Wyoming teacher evaluation bills would put cameras in classrooms

Jackie Borchardt:

Security cameras have been in schools for years, but several lawmakers want to bring them into the classroom.

Two bills filed this week in the Wyoming Legislature would require videotaped class periods to be part of every teacher's evaluation.

All teachers are evaluated annually by law. Initial-contract teachers are evaluated twice each year.

House Bill 166 would also require all teachers -- on initial and continuing contracts -- to be evaluated in writing every month.

The bill has strong support in both chambers, sponsored by Reps. Steve Harshman, R-Casper, Donald Burkhart, R-Rawlins, Kendell Kroeker, R-Casper, Michael Madden, R-Buffalo, and Matt Teeters, R-Lingle; and Sens. Paul Barnard, R-Evanston, Bruce Burns, R-Sheridan, Hank Coe, R-Cody, and Bill Landen, R-Casper.

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MPS suspends too many kids

James Causey:

Let me start out by saying, I've never been suspended from school, and I attended Milwaukee Public Schools from kindergarten through 12th grade.

Was I an angel?

No, but I was lucky enough to have teachers and school leaders who reined me in if I got out of control.

Oh, and I can't forget my mother's threat:

"Don't make me come up to your school and embarrass you in front of your friends, because you know I'll do it."

As my mother prepared to leave for work every morning, she would always say to me before I locked the door behind her, "Be good in school, and remember I love you."

That message kept me out of fights, arguments and trouble - most of the time, anyway.

When I attended school 25 years ago, a suspension was a big deal. Today, a suspension is nothing more than a vacation for kids and an inconvenience to working parents.

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The purpose of college in 2011

Christopher Howard:

The Purpose of College in 2011

There exists a familiar crescendo during the holiday season that achieves its apex as the New Year begins. If your family is like mine, it began with great anticipation about gifts, both receiving them and choosing just the right one.

But after the presents were opened and the last bit of leftover turkey devoured, we turned our attention to contemplating the purpose of the holidays and our ambitions for the upcoming New Year. As the president of one of America's oldest institutions of higher learning, Hampden-Sydney College, I thought it appropriate to offer my comments on the purpose of a college, for higher education is, or should be, central to the ambitions of all our young men and women.

A bit of history is illustrative.

Universities, when they were established more than a thousand years ago, focused on educating clergy and instilling religious piety. Over the years, religious education was supplement and then supplanted by the notion of civic virtue and, eventually, by secular humanism which became the core purpose of institutions of higher learning. The 1800s gave rise to the German university with its graduate students and deliberate focus on research. The American concept of a liberal arts education, which included emphasis on teaching and, usually, the shaping of moral character, was shaken to its core as research universities attracted talented professors, eager students, and government and foundation dollars. But undergraduate students still needed some degree of moral formation or at least some growing up. Colleges and universities still have to address this need -- particularly for the Millennials -- our wonderfully over-programmed, over-achieving and, at times, over-confident young people born after 1979.

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Parsons takes over Marlboro County School Board

Patricia Burkett:

A major change took place in Bennettsville Tuesday evening as Lucy Parsons was sworn in as the new chairperson of the Marlboro County School Board.

Parsons previously served as the mayor of Bennettsville and also played a vital role among a group Citizens for Marlboro County, which opposes the construction of a landfill near the Wallace community.

Many residents say they felt there were a lot of issues that needed to be addressed not only when it came to the Marlboro County School Board, but in terms of the school district as well.

Some said tensions within the school board as well as news of an investigation over possible misuse of federal funds by the school district, played very influential roles when they cast their votes for the chairperson's position in November.

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New Jersey Tries to Duplicate Harlem Children's Zone

Lisa Fleisher:

The methods behind the Harlem Children's Zone education and social project have been praised by President Barack Obama and lionized in the film "Waiting for Superman.'" But the integrated approach to raising successful children has been tough to repeat -- and now New Jersey is going to give it a try.

Officials in Paterson, N.J., will begin working with experts from the Harlem Children's Zone to mimic the model, the Christie administration said Wednesday.

Few details were given about what exactly that might look like. Geoffrey Canada, the outspoken president of Harlem Children's Zone, will work with city officials "over the coming weeks and months" to create a program. It's unclear whether there will be additional federal, state or private funding for the Paterson experiment.

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Students, teachers profit from financial literacy

Felicia Thomas-Lynn:

Shekira Roby is only 11 years old, but she is already becoming fluent in the language of money.

She has studied the time value of money, the concept of risk and reward, as well as the importance of budgeting and most of all how to save.

"I'm almost up to $100," said Roby, who has also become adept at counting money as one of four tellers at the in-school bank at the Business and Economics Academy of Milwaukee or BEAM, where she is a sixth-grader.

The type of learning she and others are engaged in at the school already is paying dividends toward her financial future, said Tim O'Driscoll, director for the Center for Economic Education at the Lakeland College Milwaukee Center.

"People have to save more at a younger age," O'Driscoll implored. "In society, there is a tremendous lack of knowledge about personal finances and just basic economics."

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January 20, 2011

The Private High School Option

Eliza Woolf:

During spring semester 2010, Katherine Parker (a pseudonym) resigned from her position as a tenure-track history professor at a regional comprehensive university, on the border between the South and the Midwest, to work at an elite private high school. She left, she says, for a number of reasons including low pay, frozen salaries, and cost-of-living adjustments that never came; insufficient resources for travel, research, and instruction; blatant administrative condescension toward faculty; and a poor personal fit with the region and its culture. There was also, Parker explains, "the sense that I was becoming more and more disconnected from my work -- phoning it in because it no longer offered anything exciting."

For three successive years, Parker attempted to find a better position within the ivory tower, and every year she was a finalist for "a great job." But, in the end, each of the search committees offered her dream academic job to another candidate. In the midst of the 2009-10 job season, Parker decided that the plummeting state of the academic market meant that it was time to explore other options. She'd had enough. "Private school teaching attracted me because it combined the work I already knew I enjoyed with an institution that could support that work better (more resources, fewer students, more support for those students). It also promised a higher caliber of student."

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What Teachers Reveal When They Blog

Fernanda Santos:

When she started a blog, she saw it as a venue to chronicle her daily dealings as a teacher, a kind of diary with no lock and key. She settled on a pseudonym, Miss Brave, "because when I tell people I teach in a New York City public elementary schools, many of them say, 'Whoa, you're brave,' " she explains on her site.

Three years later, her posts sound something like this: "Last year, alone in a classroom full of maniacs, all I wanted was for another adult to join forces with me to stop the madness," she wrote on Jan. 13. "Now, I'm ... not alone in a classroom full of maniacs, and all I want is for my co-teacher to disappear."

Miss Brave teaches third grade in Manhattan, and that is as much as she is willing to reveal about who she is. Anonymity is a means of self-protection, she said, but also a way to protect the identities of her students, colleagues and school, which happen to be her main sources of material and inspiration alike.

"I spent the day surrounded by a bunch of little kids," she said in an interview. "I can't step outside and take a break. I can't give myself a time out, so to speak. So I come home and write, and I feel a lot better afterward."

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Atlanta public high schools placed on probation


Atlanta's public school system was told Tuesday it has until September 30 to make progress on a series of recommendations or risk its high schools losing their certification, a fate that would affect the college hopes of many of the system's graduates.

The probationary status stems from complaints that conflicts between members had severely hampered the school board's ability to govern effectively, according to a statement from AdvancEd, the world's largest school accrediting agency and the parent company of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

"This is designed to improve the school system," Mark Elgart, president and CEO of AdvancED, said at a news conference Tuesday. "The (school) board and the system have a choice here: They can choose to proactively take actions designed to improve it, building on these actions we have outlined, or they can fight it."

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St. Paul (Minnesota) Schools Strategic Plan

St. Paul Public Schools

"Achievement, alignment and sustainability. We will focus all of our efforts in these three areas to build the strong schools that will become the heart, and the hope, of our communities." Superintendent Valeria S. Silva

Strong Schools, Strong Communities is our strategy for improving education for all students - without exception or excuse. The plan focuses clearly on the needs of students.

Changes, which will be phased in over the next three years, will require us to think differently about some of our long-held beliefs. The changes reflect the best and most successful practices in urban education. They honor and support the elements that have been successful in Saint Paul.

The plan will allow our schools to focus on delivering an education that will reach not only the children who are thriving today in Saint Paul but all of the students in our district. And, we believe, the changes we are making will reconnect many students to the communities where they live - truly making the schools the heart of our community.

We invite you to learn more by clicking on any of the links below, or by attending an upcoming information session near you (see end of page for dates, times and locations).

Tom Weber has more.

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Wisconsin needs a fiscal timeout

Todd Berry

For Wisconsin, the last 10 years might be considered "the lost decade."

The deficit on the state's official financial statements topped $2.9 billion in 2010, more than three times what it was in 2000. Relative to the size of our economy, only Illinois had a larger deficit.

State debt is now more than double what it was in 2002. That explains why net state assets (e.g., cash or buildings) that are unrestricted and available for use are negative, a negative $9.4 billion. Only six states have weaker per-capita asset positions than Wisconsin.

How do objective outsiders view these developments? Moody's dropped state bond ratings in 1997 and again in 2001 and, technicality aside, has not changed them since. The firm rated 33 states higher than Wisconsin - and only two states lower.

If truth be told - a rarity when it comes to state finances - no governor or Legislature, Republican or Democrat, has fully come to grips with Wisconsin's fiscal problems in well over a decade.

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Education reform needs a new starting point

Kai Ryssdal:

I don't know if you've been following the discussion that's been out there the past week or so, about a book written by a Chinese-American woman named Amy Chua. It's about the differences -- the very big differences -- between western and Asian styles of parenting. Suffice it to say that Amy Chua is a strict mom: A's are the only grade that's acceptable, three hours of piano practice every day is barely enough -- that kind of thing.

Anyway, I've been wracking my brain trying to find a Marketplace angle to the thing. Commentator and educator Michelle Rhee says it's all Marketplace.

MICHELLE RHEE: We've lost our competitive spirit. We've become so obsessed with making kids feel good about themselves that we've lost sight of building the skills they need to actually be good at things.

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Lady Pitts likely to close Pregnant, parenting teens to be mainstreamed

Erin Richards:

A school that has served pregnant and parenting students for decades in Milwaukee Public Schools is likely to be closed at the end of the year so the district can instead focus on serving child parents mainstreamed in schools across the district.

Lady Pitts School, located in the lower level of Custer High School at 5075 N. Sherman Blvd., offers middle school and high school programming and has been a reprieve for teens during their transition to motherhood since 1966.

But today, the majority of teen parents in MPS choose to stay in their home high schools, according to a recent district survey. And while some alternative schools for pregnant girls still exist around the country, the model has fallen out of favor in many other areas.

School officials say that's partly because teenage pregnancy is less stigmatized than it used to be. More important, some school systems have recognized that young parents' academic needs are not always best served at a site sequestered from their traditional school.

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Proposed New York Property Tax Cap Worries Bayport-Blue Point School Board

TheBayport-Blue Point School District Board of Education discussed the district administration's preliminary budget plan Tuesday night at its work session meeting, stressing that Gov. Andrew Cuomo's proposed property tax cap would have a negative impact on the school district.

While the district begins to formulate its budget for the 2011-2012 school year, it does so without knowing how much state aid it will receive and if the governor's 2 percent tax cap proposal will be law. Cuomo is expected to release his new budget next month.

Superintendent of Schools Anthony Annunziato said the proposed tax cap would be crippling to public schools, including Bayport-Blue Point. "I don't know if we can get down to 2 percent," Annunziato said to the board and community members. "I don't think we can."

Bayport-Blue Point's 2010-2011 budget is $66,338,637 for about 2,500 students ($24,795/student). Madison spent $15,241 per student during 2009-2010 according to the Citizen's Budget.

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January 19, 2011

Public School Districts - Return on Educational Investment: Madison Has a "Low ROI"

The Center for American Progress, via a kind reader's email:

The Wisconsin school systems of Oshkosh and Eau Claire are about the same size and serve similar student populations. They also get largely similar results on state exams-but Eau Claire spends an extra $8 million to run its school system

This report is the culmination of a yearlong effort to study the efficiency of the nation's public education system and includes the first-ever attempt to evaluate the productivity of almost every major school district in the country. In the business world, the notion of productivity describes the benefit received in exchange for effort or money expended. Our project measures the academic achievement a school district produces relative to its educational spending, while controlling for factors outside a district's control, such as cost of living and students in poverty.

Our nation's school system has for too long failed to ensure that education funding consistently promotes strong student achievement. After adjusting for inflation, education spending per student has nearly tripled over the past four decades. But while some states and districts have spent their additional dollars wisely--and thus shown significant increases in student outcomes--overall student achievement has largely remained flat. And besides Luxembourg, the United States spends more per student than any of the 65 countries that participated in a recent international reading assessment, and while Estonia and Poland scored at the same level as the United States on the exam, the United States spent roughly $60,000 more to educate each student to age 15 than either nation.

Our aims for this project, then, are threefold. First, we hope to kick-start a national conversation about educational productivity. Second, we want to identify districts that generate higher-than-average achievement per dollar spent, demonstrate how productivity varies widely within states, and encourage efforts to study highly productive districts. Third--and most important--we want to encourage states and districts to embrace approaches that make it easier to create and sustain educational efficiencies.

This report comes at a pivotal time for schools and districts. Sagging revenues have forced more than 30 states to cut education spending since the recession began. The fiscal situation is likely to get worse before it gets better because the full impact of the housing market collapse has yet to hit many state and local budgets. At a time when states are projecting more than $100 billion in budget shortfalls, educators need to be able to show that education dollars produce significant outcomes or taxpayers might begin to see schools as a weak investment. If schools don't deliver maximum results for the dollar, public trust in education could erode and taxpayers may fund schools less generously.

While some forward-thinking education leaders have taken steps to promote better educational efficiency, most states and districts have not done nearly enough to measure or produce the productivity gains our education system so desperately needs. Some fear that a focus on efficiency might inspire policymakers to reduce already limited education budgets and further increase the inequitable distribution of school dollars. To be sure, our nation's system of financing schools is unfair. Low-income and minority students are far more likely to attend schools that don't receive their fair share of federal, state, and local dollars. But while the issue of fairness must be central to any conversation about education finance, efficiency should not be sacrificed on the altar of equity. Our nation must aspire to have a school system that's both fair and productive.

Our emphasis on productivity does not mean we endorse unfettered market-based reforms, such as vouchers allowing parents to direct public funds to private schools. Nor do we argue that policymakers should spend less on education. Indeed, we believe neither of these approaches can solve the nation's pressing education challenges. Transforming our schools will demand both real resources and real reform. As Education Secretary Arne Duncan recently said: "It's time to stop treating the problem of educational productivity as a grinding, eat-your-broccoli exercise. It's time to start treating it as an opportunity for innovation and accelerating progress."

Madison's results can be seen here. I asked Superintendent Dan Nerad what benefits citizens, students and parents received from Madison's greater per student spending, then, for example, his former Green Bay school district in this recent interview.

Madison spent $15,241 per student according to the 2009-2010 Citizen's Budget. I've not seen a 2010-2011 version.

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Schools Tested By Budget Cuts Learn New Strategies

Larry Abramson:

The size of classes in schools around the country is growing. Half the districts responding to a recent poll say they are increasing class size because of budget pressures. Many school officials fear this will hurt students.

But some education reformers say there are ways to boost class size and save money at the same time.

Marguerite Roza analyzes school spending for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. She's been watching districts deal with tight budgets through across-the-board cuts and other desperation moves.

Roza says she's worried that schools view tight spending limits as a lose-lose proposition.

Challenging economic times present an opportunity to rethink many processes...

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Idaho K-12 Reform Plans Included Bargaining Transparency

Maureen Dolan:

Under the proposed plan, all new educators will have two-year contracts with raises and bonuses based on student achievement. Teachers with seniority will not be protected from workforce reduction layoffs, and collective bargaining will be limited to salary and wage-related benefits.

"We think that gives the local elected school board more control over the staff and the people that work in their schools," Luna said.

The plan further requires that once agreements between local teachers unions and school boards are reached, they must be published online immediately by school districts. In addition, collective bargaining negotiations for those contracts must take place during open meetings, with parents, teachers and the public able to observe.

The state will publish a fiscal report card for every district showing per-pupil spending, how much of a district's budget is going into the classroom, how much is spent on administration and how each district compares to other districts in the state.

Funding for the reform package aligns with the governor's proposed K-12 public schools budget of $1.2 billion, and includes a multi-year spending strategy using revenue from some cost-saving measures to pay for other programs.

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New Milford superintendent proposes 2.31 percent increase to next year's education budget

Nancy Hutson:

Schools Superintendent JeanAnn Paddyfote is proposing a budget for the next school year that carries a 2.31 percent increase.

She believes it is "fiscally responsible'' and offers "exciting" educational enhancements.
She is scheduled to present her $58.262 million budget -- $873,773 for capital -- proposal to the Board of Education Tuesday night at Sarah Noble Intermediate School. Snow dates are Wednesday and Thursday.

The most dramatic piece of the proposed budget, supplemented by some $700,000 in federal education money, is a proposal to use the federal funding to hire nine teachers for an all-day kindergarten program.

Two years ago the district did a pilot, full-day class at John Pettibone Elementary School that showed good results, but funding was not available to continue it into the following year.

The New Milford, CT school district's 2010-2011 budget is $58,734,610 for 4,864 students; $12,075.32 per student (New Milford 2010-2011 Adopted Budget 15MB PDF). Madison spent $15,241 per student in 2009-2010, according to the most recent Citizen's Budget. Much more on New Milford, here.

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Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, of 'Food Revolution' fame, speaks to California school nutritionists

Mary MacVean:

Jamie Oliver, the celebrity chef who is beating the drums for a school lunch revolution, received a warm reception this weekend from hundreds of the people who make and serve food to children every day. It's the Los Angeles Unified School District that isn't so welcoming.

"I'm going to be honest. I'm actually petrified," Oliver said as he started his keynote address Saturday at the annual meeting of the California School Nutrition Assn. at the Pasadena Convention Center.

Perhaps he feared the "lunch ladies" might not be happy to hear from the man who clashed with their colleagues in Huntington, W.Va., last year on "Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution." But he was applauded several times.

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Skandera: Time to raise the bar in New Mexico

Robert Nott:

The education secretary nominee fired off one of her first public salvos last week, and it was a dilly. Responding to Education Week's Quality Counts grade of an F in K-12 Achievement and a D+ in Chance for Success in the report (though we got an overall grade of C), Hanna Skandera said, "It is unacceptable that New Mexico has an F in K-12 achievement and that our rankings have decreased each year. ... For every decision that needs to be made, we will ask, 'Are New Mexico students the winners in this decision?' Our focus must be on the classroom."

That's the same argument all the challengers for Santa Fe's board of education are making as they continue to hit the campaign trail this month (more on that in a moment).

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Struggling San Francisco schools ousting half their teachers

Jill Tucker:

Three San Francisco schools have begun the unsavory task of replacing half their teachers to fulfill a bargain that got them $5 million each in federal grants aimed at boosting test scores.

Bryant Elementary, Carver Elementary and Everett Middle are among 10 San Francisco schools that landed on the state's list of the 188 lowest-performing schools and are now required to take drastic steps to turn themselves around.

All told, the three schools must replace 26 teachers. Those teachers will get first choice to occupy vacancies left by retiring teachers at other schools. Those who transfer will remain at their current jobs through this school year.

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A Review of the Nation's Education Schools

National Council on Teacher Quality:

It's never been done.

We're going to do it.

Every year across the country, around a quarter of a million people enter the teaching profession. Almost all of them are prepared in the nation's schools of education. If the country is serious about bending upward the curve of its students' stagnant academic performance, improving the preparation of new teachers would seem to be a crucial step. And yet, very little is known about the quality of teacher preparation programs--their selectivity, the content and pedagogical knowledge that they demand that their teacher candidates master, or how well they prepare candidates for the rigors of the classroom. Without such knowledge, people thinking about becoming teachers can't make informed choices about where to get trained, district superintendents and principals don't know where to look for well-prepared teachers, and policymakers lack the means to sanction poorly performing education schools.

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Tight spenders among S.D. school districts tout efficiency

Josh Verges:

South Dakota public schools spent only 1.4 percent more per student in 2009-10 than they did the year before, and some of the leanest districts again are near Sioux Falls.

The average district spent $7,958 per student last school year on its general, special education and pension funds, up from $7,850 the year before, according to the South Dakota Department of Education.

Sioux Falls came in at $7,288 per student, which ranks 124th among 154 districts. At $6,018, Chester Area spent the least. Superintendent Mark Greguson said that with 345 students - not counting its online high school for those in Hutterites colonies - Chester is able to maximize its teaching staff.

Madison spent $15,241 per student in 2009-2010, according to the most recent Citizen's Budget.

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Teen pregnancy crisis at Memphis high school

Mike Gould:

A Memphis, Tennessee high school is trying to come to grips with a teen pregnancy epidemic.

Ninety students who attend Frayser High School are currently pregnant or have already had a baby this year.

The stunning number means nearly 11 percent of the school's approximately 800 students are already experiencing the trials of parenthood.

A Title One school, Frayser receives federal dollars based on the number of students from low income families who qualify for free or reduced lunch.

Nearly 100 percent of the students who attend the school qualify.

Such a high rate of pregnancy at one school is dire, but sources say there is a massive initiative in the works dedicated to preventing teen pregnancy in the Frayser community.

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January 18, 2011

Students, Teachers Praise Single-Gender Classrooms

Channel3000, via a kind reader's email:

Marshall Middle School in Janesville is in its second year of offering single-gender classrooms, and students and teachers said the program has made a positive difference in their education.

Currently, more than 200 school districts around the country are testing out the teaching method, and about 10 schools in Wisconsin offer a single-gender classroom program.
Marshall Middle School teacher Charles Smith said getting eighth-grade boys and girls to agree on music isn't easy. But his social studies class is girls only, and Smith said the class prefers to study to the music of Beyonce.

"If the kids are comfortable, they feel better about it. Then this is a good place for them," said Smith.

Smith said the single-gender classroom is about making students feel comfortable.
While his students learn, he said he's also learning how to better tailor his lessons.

Related: Madison Preparatory Academy

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A tale of two Seattle school districts

Nora Liu:

FOR decades, families in southeast Seattle have sent their children off every morning to low-performing neighborhood schools. And for equally as long, we have asked for better.

We have been told to be patient, that things will improve. We have been told that it's not the school's fault -- it's the children we send there. We have been told to be better parents. We have been told, because we are poor or immigrants or African American, that we shouldn't expect academic success.

But we don't believe this, and we are impatient. We know that across the country, children just like ours are excelling in school and succeeding in college.We are the Filipino Community of Seattle, East African Community Services, the Vietnamese Friendship Association, African American Community/Parent Coalition and more than a dozen other community organizations that represent the families and children of southeast Seattle. Together, we are the Southeast Seattle Education Coalition and we are tired of waiting.

Somewhat related: Madison School District 2007 Small Learning Community Grant Application

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High School graduation and college readiness: Is there a problem here?

Ms. Cornelius

Everyone knows that for many years, at least in this part of the Land Between the Coasts, high schools have been judged based on what percentage of their students graduate within four years of entering as freshmen. I start with this fact deliberately. More on this later.

Recently, I read this online from the St. Louis Post-Dospatch, and I include it here in its entirety in case it suddenly disappears and online news articles are wont to do. Please note the parts I have boldfaced:

More than 40 percent of area public high school graduates in 2009 entered Missouri colleges and universities so far behind in reading and math that they took at least one remedial course once they arrived on campus, data show.

Of the 7,067 area graduates who enrolled that year as freshmen in state-funded schools, 3,029 of them landed in academic purgatory, taking catch-up classes that didn't count toward a college degree, according to the Missouri Department of Higher Education.

The proportion of Missouri public school students who end up in remedial college classes has risen only slightly in recent years but is up sharply since 1996. Thirty-eight percent needed remediation before moving on to college-level courses in 2009, compared with 26 percent 14 years ago.

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Governance Matters

Maria Yudkevich:

Who should govern universities? Should the best scholars sacrifice their career as researchers and govern academic institutions or should professional managers provide the experience of running healthy and competitive business? This question is currently discussed in different countries and across different academic cultures.

In his recent blog, "Training university administrators: Should management schools do it?" Prof. Philip Altbach raises this important question and stresses the risk of professional business management training for academic managers. Prof. Altbach explains that the uniqueness of universities as complex organizations needs further clarification. Certainly, recognizing the differences in specific environment matters but awareness of university processes is not enough. Those who have governing authority at universities must be respected by the academic community or forego their support for critical management decisions. Typically respect is based on academic status and research achievements, accomplishments less common among business professionals.

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Galveston superintendent puts adults to test

Harvey Rice:

Larry Nichols sensed disdain for the level of instruction in public schools after taking the job of Galveston school district superintendent in September.

"One of the things attributed to public schools is that the curriculum is watered down, it's not as rigorous as it was," Nichols said.

To combat that idea, Nichols decided to begin challenging adults to answer the same questions that confront students. He began handing out 10 multiple-choice questions from the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, or TAKS, the test every Texas high school senior must pass in order to receive a diploma.

Nichols handed the questions out every time he met with a local organization, among them the Rotary Club, the Kiwanis Club, the Realtors Association, the Pachyderm Club.

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Remember 'The Trip'? Well, It's Happening.

Stephen Kreider Yoder, Isaac Yoder & Levi Yoder:

STEVE: In three weeks, Levi and I will be in northern Tanzania. Or on a cargo boat on Lake Victoria, or lost in a Ugandan village -- I'm not exactly sure.

Sound crazy? I think so. I blame the ex-Army guy who runs the military-surplus store in Berkeley.

Yes, we finally decided to take The Trip. We wrote last year about my fantasy of pulling Levi out of school for six months to seek the sites of our human roots in Africa and then trace the dawn of civilization by vagabonding overland along the Rift Valley, on down the Nile and into the Middle East.

The scheme made no sense. It didn't make financial sense to take a leave from my great job. It was imprudent for Levi's education. It wasn't logical to abandon our comfortable life, leave behind my wife, Karen, and spend money on a whimsical journey when so many others were less fortunate than we.

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Tulane's website.

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Vendors of healthful food target schools

Nick Leiber:

Jeff Lowell, an assistant principal at Interlake High School in Bellevue, Wash., normally dismisses the e-mails he gets from businesses trying to sell to his 1,500 students.

He was intrigued, however, by the pitch he received in September from Fresh Healthy Vending, a San Diego franchise operation that offers vending machines stocked with snacks and drinks it touts as alternatives to junk food.

"Everybody (understands) what eating right does for you and how much it ends up affecting your ability to think," Lowell says. "We decided we wanted to try it."

Lowell signed a one-year contract allowing Fresh Healthy to park its machines near Interlake's gym in exchange for 15 percent of profits. In late November, Fresh Healthy installed three machines, featuring goodies such as Kashi granola bars and Stonyfield Farm fruit smoothies, next to older machines that sell Powerade and Dasani water. The top seller in the new machines so far: Pirate's Booty cheese puffs.

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January 17, 2011

Wisconsin Governor Walker Seeks Strict Property Tax Increase Limits


Gov. Scott Walker said he will try to impose strict limits on property tax increases while giving local governments facing cuts new tools to manage costs.

On Sunday's "UpFront with Mike Gousha," a statewide TV newsmagazine produced in conjunction with, Walker (left) said that even as he trims state spending while maintaining core services, he aims to do it in a way that doesn't simply pass costs off to the future or to local governments and property tax payers.

"We're going to have to make tough but compassionate decisions to do that," Walker said of his approach to closing the state's $3.3 billion deficit.

Asked if he would be willing to cap property taxes at about 2 percent, Walker said he hopes to get "closer to zero" while still allowing provisions for growth and development.

While Walker said local governments and school boards may see "changes" in state aid, they will have new tools to deal with them.

Related: The Madison School District's 2010-2011 budget, which increased property taxes about 9%.

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%.

Wisconsin Government Employment Per Capita 8.2% Smaller Than U.S. Average

Wisconsin State Tax Based K-12 Spending Growth Far Exceeds University Funding

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Who needs school boards?

Jay Matthews:

The Washington region has many school districts. Each has a school board, more or less. (The District's board is going through a neutered phase.) Each board has many members. Each member is being reminded this month, as meetings resume after the holidays, that his job is to endure boredom and verbal blows from the public.

School boards are also chided by the superintendents they hire, although usually not to their faces. Superintendents save their criticisms for off-the-record conversations with journalists like me, toward the end of a nice lunch. There, they feel better questioning the values and habits of the elected amateurs who could fire them immediately, if they wished.

The 21st century has not been good to school boards. Their political squabbles are often blamed for disorganized schools and low student achievement. In several cities, including the District, boards have been pushed aside in favor of mayoral control. The mayors in turn have stumbled, but few voters seem to want the school boards back in charge.

Like dinosaurs, school boards are dying fast. There were more than 80,000 in 1950. Now there are fewer than 14,000. One leading critic, former IBM chief executive Louis V. Gerstner Jr., said we don't need more than 70 - one for each state and one for each of the 20 largest districts.

But after combing through the data for and against this battered and bleeding symbol of local democracy, Gene I. Maeroff, a senior fellow at Teachers College at Columbia University, has concluded that "there is scant evidence that school systems would be better served if school boards did not exist."

To write his insightful new book, "School Boards in America: A Flawed Exercise in Democracy," Maeroff, a former New York Times reporter, made the sacrifice of getting himself elected to the school board in Edison, N.J. He is still there, enduring soporific meetings and nasty e-mails, convinced that despite its faults, the school board as an American institution will survive.

Related: Who Runs the Madison Schools? - School Board Member Ruth Robarts September, 2004.

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Scuola Peyron-Fermi

Scuola Peyron-Fermi Turin, Italy.

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Merit-pay system for Wyoming teachers worth look?

Michelle Dynes:

Proposals to study a merit-based pay system for teachers and to extend the school year by five days gained the approval of a House committee Friday.

Members of the House Education Committee agreed that the ideas deserved further discussion and should move to the floor of the House for debate.

One bill would study what a merit-pay system could look like for Wyoming's teachers, while the other piece of legislation would increase the number of school days from 175 to 180.

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GOP plans more K-12 education choices for Wisconsin

Matthew DeFour:

The Legislature's new Republican leaders will emphasize giving school districts, parents and students more choices as they seek reforms in K-12 education, and opposition is surfacing to a proposal that would kill Madison's 4-year-old kindergarten program.

Later this month, Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, a former teacher and co-chairwoman of the Legislature's budget committee, plans to introduce a charter school reform package that will, among other things, call for an independent statewide board to approve charter schools.

Currently local school boards approve charter schools, even if they won't be directly operated by the district. A statewide board could help proposals, such as an all-male charter school in Madison, move forward "without having to wait forever and ever and without having lots of obstacles," Darling said.

Other education reforms are expected in Gov. Scott Walker's 2011-13 budget proposal in February, said Rep. Robin Vos, Assembly chairman of the budget committee.

Olsen has hired education policy consultant Sarah Archibald, a UW-Madison professor and researcher at the conservative-leaning Wisconsin Policy Research Institute. Archibald has written about attracting high-quality teachers by offering bonuses to top math and science students who decide to teach, making it easier for teachers trained outside Wisconsin to obtain certification here and increasing the grade-point requirement for aspiring teachers above the current 2.5.

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Federal judges consider Wisconsin high school sports case

Associated Press:

A Wisconsin case that could have nationwide implications for how reporters cover and how parents watch high school sports is making its way through the courts, with crucial constitutional arguments taking place Friday in federal court in Chicago.

The case pits community newspapers against the association that oversees high school sports in Wisconsin. Fans in many states rely on community newspapers for news about high school teams, and the newspapers say they need easy, unencumbered access to sporting events to provide that coverage. But the association says it can't survive if it can't raise money by signing exclusive contracts with a single video-production company for streaming its tournaments.

The newspapers argued Friday before the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals that the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of press should enable them to put such publicly funded events online as they see fit, free of charge.

The case began in 2008, when the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association sued The Post-Crescent of Appleton after it streamed live coverage of high school football playoff games. After a U.S. District judge sided with the association last year, saying its exclusive deal with a video production company didn't impinge on freedom of the press, the newspaper's owner, Gannett Co., and the Wisconsin Newspaper Association appealed.

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Jerry Brown's bid to kill redevelopment agencies sets stage for fierce battle

Jessica Garrison:

When he unveiled his proposed budget earlier this week, Gov. Jerry Brown declared on the first page that it was time to push more authority to local governments, so decisions could be made "closer to the people."

A lot of local officials see his actions very differently.

One of Brown's proposals calls for eliminating municipal redevelopment agencies, which would take billions of dollars out of city coffers and send it instead to school districts, counties and the state. Brown projected that this would save the state $1.7 billion in the next fiscal year.

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Spiritual High MLK Remix


This version has a longer intro prior to MLK's voice. via Anne Litt.

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Doing nothing a poor alternative to killing graduation test

Alan Borsuk:

Sometimes, the biggest things are the ones that didn't happen. I feel that way about Wisconsin's high school graduation exam; the one we don't have.

At the urging of then-Gov. Tommy Thompson, the Legislature in the late 1990s approved creating a test that Wisconsin students would have to pass to get a high school diploma. Its general aim was to require students to show they could do 10th-grade work to graduate 12th grade.

But in short order, the graduation test picked up a lot of opposition. There were (and are) substantial problems with the idea. How do you make a test that is fair and reliable? Isn't taking classes and passing enough? And what about kids who just don't do well on tests, or who have special education needs? The list could go on.

For a couple of years, the test staggered around the political landscape in Madison before finally dying because it was decided the state didn't have enough money to pay for it.

But there were (and are) states that created graduation exams or, in some cases, exams connected to specific courses that had to be passed. In places such as Massachusetts, overall results have improved and many point to the graduation test as a big reason why.

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Digital textbooks scroll schools into new era

Amy Hetzner:

It was awhile before Pewaukee High School English teacher Christina LeDonne knew that one of her students had misplaced his paperback copy of "Lord of the Flies" for a school assignment.

Armed with one of the laptops that the Pewaukee School District has given to every student in seventh through 10th grade this school year, the student tracked down an online version of the classic novel and read along with the rest of the class without skipping a beat.

Such incidents have only encouraged the view among school leaders and teachers - amazed by the continued growth of available, and even free, resources on the Web - that traditional print materials have a limited life expectancy in schools.

"I don't think it's just inevitable, I think it's here," Phil Ertl, superintendent of the Wauwatosa School District, said of the prospect of digital textbooks.

The proliferation of mobile technology, which is leading some schools to experiment with one-to-one computing initiatives, combined with the expansion of traditional textbook publishers onto the Internet means that many students are reading in a whole new way.

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January 16, 2011

Principal-teacher conflict simmers at Madison's Glendale Elementary

Matthew DeFour:

A lot has changed at Glendale Elementary School on Madison's East Side in the 51/2 years since Mickey Buhl became principal.

Classroom walls were knocked down to enhance teacher collaboration, brighter lighting was installed to sharpen young minds, and words such as "community" and "success" were written on the hallway walls to remind everyone of a shared mission.

Animal-themed class names replaced labels such as special ed and English-language learner while teachers joined three-person teams and developed new student achievement measures -- approaches other schools in the district are adopting.

Since Buhl (rhymes with "yule") started, test scores among low-income and special-education students have improved at the 425-student school, which has the largest proportion of low-income students in the city.

But behind the scenes, a long-simmering conflict over Buhl's performance has divided teachers.

Much more, here.

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Why American Mothers are Superior

AnnMaria De Mars:

I really did not have time to write this today, but two articles I read made me drop what I was doing. First was the Wall Street Journal article by a Yale law professor who says Chinese mothers are superior because they produce more mathematical and musical prodigies.

The reason, she says, is because none of them accept a grade less than an "A", all insist their child be number one in the class, they don't let their children be in school plays, play any instrument other than piano or violin, etc.

She says that this whole thing about people being individuals is a lot of crap (I'm paraphrasing a bit) and gives an example of how she spent hours getting her seven-year-old to play a very difficult piece on the piano. She uses the fact that the older daughter could do the same piece at that age as proof this was reasonable.

There are a few areas I would take exception with her article. First is her grasp of mathematics and logic. It is clearly impossible that every child in China is number one in the class, unless every classroom in the country has a thirty-way tie for first. Second, as my daughter asked, "There are 1.3 billion people in China. None of them ever got a B?" Third is the issue of claiming your parenting is such a great success when your children are not yet out of high school.

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Pilot projects aim to tackle flaws in China's education system: University recruitment and teachers for kindergartens targeted

Raymond Li:

To better implement some of the pilot projects, the State Council directive sets out a 10-point guideline for across-the-board reform of the school system, from higher education down to kindergarten, which has been a focal point of discontent.

Pilot projects in Shanghai's Minhang district and parts of six provinces will push for kindergartens to become part of regular public services, and projects in Jiangsu and Zhejiang are aimed at tackling the shortage of kindergarten teachers, the weakest link in mainland preschool development.

China National Institute for Educational Research professor Gao Xia said the shortage of kindergarten teachers was exacerbated by a Ministry of Education decision to abolish many kindergarten teacher-training programmes at secondary schools and make a tertiary certificate a prerequisite for a preschool teacher.

Gao said rising public discontent over the status of preschool education on the mainland was a result of poor funding from the government, with the lion's share of funding going to a few elite public kindergartens.

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Is There An Education Bubble?

Jeff Carter:

If you pull some free market logic from Finance and apply it to the education market, you might frame things differently. Eugene Fama from the University of Chicago says that there are no such things as "bubbles" in financial markets. If there are, you ought to be able to predict them and act accordingly. He correctly points out that all publicly known information is incorporated into the price of an asset. Are asset bubbles in financial markets directly comparable to intangible assets? Probably not, but Fama's theory on efficient markets should at least give us a touchstone to think about.

In this case, our asset is a college education. The asset is not physical like a stock or a piece of real estate, but intangible. Hence, there are properties to that asset that are subjective. For example, what is the real value of the Coca-Cola brand name? In turn, what is the real value of a college education-and within the finite range of colleges, what's the individual value?

Here is the hypothesis: We will assume that there is an education bubble.

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Detroit and Decay The city may abandon half its schools to pay union benefits.

The Wall Street Journal:

Detroit was once America's fourth largest city, though today large sections of its inner core are abandoned to the elements, and monuments like Michigan Central Station are returning to dust. Another emblem of civic decline is a plan to desert nearly half of Detroit's public schools so that it can afford to fulfill its teachers union contract.

The school district is facing a $327 million deficit and has already closed 59 schools over the last two years to avoid paying maintenance, utility and operating costs. Under a worst-case scenario released this week by Robert Bobb, an emergency financial manager appointed by the state to resolve the Detroit education fisc, the district will close another 70 of its remaining 142 schools to save $31.3 million through 2013.

"Additional savings of approximately $12.4 million can be achieved from school closures if the District simply abandons the closed buildings," the proposal explains, purging costs like boarding up buildings, storage and security patrols.

Steven Wasko, a spokesman for Mr. Bobb, said that urban property sales have been difficult, in part because until recently the state board of education banned transactions with "competing educational institutions" like charter schools. Once buildings are deserted, even if the doors and windows are welded shut with protective metal covers, scavengers break in and dismantle them for copper wire, pipes and so on.

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KPMG to fund young recruits' degrees

Chris Cook:

A big graduate recruiter plans to hire the "majority" of its trainees from among school leavers, not university graduates, and pay for them to receive a bespoke degree from a well-regarded British university.

From next year, KPMG will take in 75 school leavers, and then meet the cost of a four-year accountancy degree from Durham university and an accountancy qualification. Trainees on the six-year scheme will start on up to £20,000 a year.

In 2012-13, the maximum university tuition fee, now £3,290, will rise to £9,000. At the same time, subsidies are being withdrawn from the sector and rules loosened to allow new entrants into the market and innovation in course design.

As a consequence, such schemes could become more attractive to universities. David Willetts, universities minister, welcomed the news, saying: "It's the kind of initiative that we hope will flourish as we reform higher education."

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Parents fume over Black's 'birth control' quip about overcrowding

Yoav Gonen:

Now that's Black humor.

Less than two weeks into her new gig, Schools Chancellor Cathie Black has riled parents and public officials by jokingly suggesting that "birth control" was the solution to school overcrowding.

The off-color quip came in response to concerns by public-school dad Eric Greenleaf, who said at a meeting of parents and officials at state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver's downtown office that there will be "huge shortages" of classroom space in lower Manhattan in coming years.

"Could we just have some birth control for a while?" Black cracked. "It could really help us all out a lot."

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A Drawing to Benefit 826 National

Neko Case:

Beginning on Monday, February 14, 2011, 826 National will draw a prize a day for five other lucky winners including: the Anti catalog of records, a 60-disc Matador Records sampler, Poketo Road Trip prize pack, a drum head signed by The New Pornographers, Neko's limited-edition 1966 Gretsch Silver Duke guitar, a Gibson guitar signed by members of the Speaking Clock Revue including Elton John, Elvis Costello, Dr. Ralph Stanley, Leon Russell, and T Bone Burnett, an Adidas prize pack, a Carr Amplifier and much more. The winner of the car will be drawn on Friday, February 18, 2011.
Limited edition, custom Poketo T-shirts are being sold in conjunction with the online event in 826 chapter storefronts across the country and online at the 826 National store.

This drawing seeks to raise both money and awareness for the 826 National writing centers, co-founded by award-winning educator Nínive Calegari and award-winning author Dave Eggers. 826 National centers are located in San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Seattle, Ann Arbor, Boston, and Washington, DC. Last year, 826 chapters served over 24,000 students and produced 800 student-authored publications, with all programs free of charge for students, classes, and schools.

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In Defense of the Guilty, Ambivalent, Preoccupied Western Mom

Ayelet Waldman:

Here are some of the things that my four children of a Jewish mother were always allowed to do:
  • Quit the piano and the violin, especially if their defeatist attitude coincided with a recital, thus saving me from the torture of listening to other people's precious children soldier through hackneyed pieces of the juvenile repertoire, plink after ever more unbearable plonk.
  • Sleep over at their friends' houses, especially on New Year's Eve or our anniversary, thus saving us the cost of a babysitter.
  • Play on the computer and surf the Internet, so long as they paid for their Neopet Usuki dolls and World of Warcraft abomination cleavers out of their own allowances.
  • Participate in any extracurricular activity they wanted, so long as I was never required to drive farther than 10 minutes to get them there, or to sit on a field in a folding chair in anything but the balmiest weather for any longer than 60 minutes.
  • Quit said extracurricular activities, especially if their quitting coincided with league finals that might have demanded participation on my part exceeding the requirements stated above.

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Governor Thrusts New Jersey to Fore on Education

Winnie Hu:

Gov. Chris Christie's tough-on-schools approach in a state that has zealously protected its public schools -- and its teachers -- has already put him at loggerheads with legislative leaders, unions and some parents in New Jersey.

And on Tuesday, the governor, a Republican, used his State of the State address to push his education agenda further by calling for an end to teacher tenure, on top of his support for merit pay for teachers based partly on student achievement and adoption of a voucherlike system that would give students in low-performing schools other options.

The proposals are not new; many have been suggested and tried in other school districts and other states. But with Mr. Christie's growing national stature and his ability to attract news media and political attention through his blunt -- and very public -- persona, his latest salvo has placed New Jersey center stage in the increasingly rancorous national debate over education.

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School Board Ethics complaints filed in West Bend charter debate

Amy Hetzner:

Ethics complaints have been filed against two West Bend School Board members over their actions during the recent debate over a charter school proposed by a local Baptist pastor.

The full board is scheduled to hear and possibly act on the complaints at a meeting Monday after the district's attorney, Mary Hubacher, determined that the board members might have violated board policies if the allegations prove true. Hubacher recommended against board hearings on three other complaints, which involved the same board members.

In one of the complaints to be heard, School Board member David Weigand is accused of violating the School District's ethics policy by writing a letter to the editor published in a local newspaper that supported the charter school while the board was still deliberating whether to approve it.

The other complaint to be discussed at the hearing was filed against School Board member Tim Stepanski alleging he broke district policy regarding ethics, employee harassment and e-mail communications based on his e-mail correspondence with a constituent and district officials regarding the proposed charter school.

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January 15, 2011

China's Winning Schools?

Nicholas Kristof:

An international study published last month looked at how students in 65 countries performed in math, science and reading. The winner was: Confucianism!

At the very top of the charts, in all three fields and by a wide margin, was Shanghai. Three of the next top four performers were also societies with a Confucian legacy of reverence for education: Hong Kong, Singapore and South Korea. The only non-Confucian country in the mix was Finland.

The United States? We came in 15th in reading, 23rd in science and 31st in math.

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State of the Unions

James Surowicki:

In the heart of the Great Depression, millions of American workers did something they'd never done before: they joined a union. Emboldened by the passage of the Wagner Act, which made collective bargaining easier, unions organized industries across the country, remaking the economy. Businesses, of course, saw this as grim news. But the general public applauded labor's new power, even in the face of union tactics that many Americans frowned on, like sit-down strikes. More than seventy per cent of those surveyed in a 1937 Gallup poll said they favored unions.

Seventy-five years later, in the wake of another economic crisis, things couldn't be more different. The bailouts of General Motors and Chrysler saved the jobs of tens of thousands of U.A.W. workers, but were enormously unpopular. In the recent midterm elections, voters in several states passed initiatives making it harder for unions to organize. Across the country, governors and mayors wrestling with budget shortfalls are blaming public-sector unions for the problems. And in polls public support for labor has fallen to historic lows.

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'Silent majority' raps union response to Madison's Glendale Elementary School report

Susan Troller:

Fallout continues from the investigation of a Madison elementary school principal, accused of workplace harassment of his staff.

I wrote about the original report following an investigation into complaints against Glendale Elementary Principal Mickey Buhl, which was released as part of an open records report filed by The Capital Times. I also wrote about staff members who were disappointed by the report, which exonerated Buhl, and their response through Madison Teachers Inc.

This week, teachers and a parent came forward, defending Buhl and reacting to MTI claims that Buhl had created a climate of fear at Glendale, located at 1201 Tompkins Drive.

Ben Ketterer, a Glendale teacher for fourth and fifth grade students, wrote that most of his colleagues were more than content with the workplace environment at the school. "There is a multitude of staff (a likely 80-90 percent) who view their working environment positively, or at the very least, not negatively," Ketterer wrote.

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A Requiem for Vang Pao

The Economist:

ON FEBRUARY 4th, thousands of people are expected to gather to pay their respects to the great wartime leader of the Hmong in Laos, Vang Pao. A Hmong funeral ordinarily lasts four days. Owing to his stature, Vang Pao's will last six days. His son says the affair will be "fit for a king". It should perhaps be fit for the aspirations of many of his countrymen as well. For as goes "VP" or "the general", as his followers called him, so too goes the Hmongs' hope for a comprehensive peace in Laos.

Exactly a year ago Vang Pao launched what proved to be his last campaign as the champion of persecuted Hmong communities in the central highlands of Laos. He surprised many of his followers when he announced plans to return from his American exile to the Thai-Laotian border, to broker a peace deal with his old enemy. Laos' foreign minister was unwelcoming. "If he comes to Laos soon," he said, Vang Pao "must submit to the death sentence". The trip was cancelled, and now the dreamer himself has died.

The Madison School District planned to name a new elementary school after Vang Pao. However, the District changed its mind when Pao was indicted by the US Government for violating the "Neutrality Act". The charges were later dropped....

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South African Schools: Desegregation and investment have yet to boost black schoolchildren

The Economist:

CONGRATULATIONS to the latest crop of school matriculants have been pouring in. Despite the enforced closure of schools throughout the football World Cup, hosted by South Africa, followed by a three-week teachers' strike, the pass rate for the 2010 school-leaving "matric" examination, taken in November, has jumped by seven percentage points to 68%, bringing an apparent end to a six-year decline. But with half of all pupils dropping out of school before taking the exam and a required pass mark of just 30-40%, it is too soon for rejoicing. Educational standards in Africa's biggest and most advanced economy remain generally dire.

Barely one in ten South African pupils qualifies for university, and only 5% end up with a degree. South Africa does particularly badly in maths and science, coming last (out of 48 countries) in a report published in 2003 by a Dutch institute called "Trends in International Maths and Science", a study of Grade 9 pupils (aged 15). Humiliated, it withdrew from the 2007 series, though it plans to take part in this year's tests. If the 2010 matric results are anything to go by, it may not do much better. Barely one in four matric candidates achieved a pass in maths and less than one in five passed physical science.

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Teens Take Elders to Tech Boot Camp

Sue Shellenbarger:

Al Kouba, who lives in Bend, Ore., was told by his son in California that his family's Christmas letter would only be posted on Facebook--not mailed. That's when the retired systems engineer knew it was time to play catch up: "If you're going to communicate with your family, you have to be on Facebook," he says.

So he turned to a technology expert: his 15-year-old granddaughter, Marlee Norr. But as Marlee explained the steps to log on to the social-networking site, Mr. Kouba protested: "Look, kid, I'm 77 years old! I'm not quite as swift as I used to be." Both laughed, says Marlee, also of Bend, and she agreed to "back up and slow down."

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Minnesota / Union aims initiatives at improving schools

Megan Boldt:

The head of Minnesota's teachers union unveiled a plan Tuesday to help close the achievement gap between minority students and their white peers, annually evaluate teachers and offer broader pathways into teaching.

Education Minnesota has been criticized by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle for blocking similar education initiatives in the last legislative session. Now, those same critics hope the union's announcement is a sign its leaders are willing to work with them on improving the state's education system.

"I appreciate they understand the importance of those issues," said Rep. Sondra Erickson, R-Princeton, chairwoman of the House Education Reform Committee and a former English teacher. "It seems like they want a seat at the table and want to be part of the discussion."

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Primer on Christie's Ed Reform Proposals

New Jersey Left Behind:

Gov. Christie's State of the State speech was widely praised as diplomatic if short on specifics regarding education reform. Here comes the specifics, gleaned from reports from a Town Hall meeting in Paramus last night:

1) Replace lifetime tenure for teachers with renewable five-year contracts. (Here's NJEA's response, courtesy of spokesman Steve Wollmer, who warned teachers, "This is not reform, it's patronage. We do not need 125,000 more patronage jobs in New Jersey, we already have enough corruption. Your job security under the Christie proposal would be at the whim of a principal who may or may not be acting in the best interest.")

2) Raise contributions to health benefits premiums. Specifically, replace the newly-legislated benefits contributions for teachers of 1.5% of base pay with a plan through with all public employees would pay 1/3 of benefits plans. (According to the Courier-Post, a teacher earning $60,000 a year now contributes about $900 in benefits contributions. Under the new proposal, that teacher would contribute $7,333 for the same plan.)

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A Very Different Model of Seattle Central Administration

Charlie Mas:

uring the Board's budget planning work session, Director DeBell suggested that the Central Administration budget could be cut by about $12 million. Director Smith-Blum said that, nationally, central admin runs about 4-4.5% of district budgets. Don Kennedy, somewhat taken aback, said that such a cut would result in "a Very Different Model of central". Yep. That's the idea.

I advocate a "reset" for the central administration. I think it should be a whole lot leaner and more narrowly focused on just its core missions. I think that the central administration should do what we need it to do - and no more. I think we should rebuild it from the ground up and only put back those pieces that contribute directly to the central mission.

The Central Administration should only work on three things:
1) District Administration. Things like human resource, legal, and financial functions that need to be done centrally and shouldn't be done at the schools. There are other functions like facilities that, by virtue of their scope, need to be done at the District level.

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States' Rights and States' Wrongs on School Reform

Andrew Rotherham:

States are the toast of Washington again. Tea Partiers and the incoming Republican majority in the House of Representatives idealize them. When Congress read the U.S. Constitution last week, the 10th Amendment -- the one reserving power to the states -- was an applause line. Of course, celebrating states and localism is nothing new. More than 150 years ago, Alexis de Tocqueville declared that it is "the political effects of decentralization that I most admire in America." More recently, Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis hailed states as "laboratories of democracy." But when it comes to education, we shouldn't lionize states when they're too often failing to fix our schools.

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Games lessons: Depressingly few pupils get a proper academic education

The Economist:

WHEN Michael Gove, the education secretary, took up his post last May, he placed on the bare home page of his department's website the information that he considers most important: school performance tables. A few months later, Mr Gove added to the data deluge when he announced that schools would be judged not only on the proportion of pupils that passed examinations, but also on the share passing academically rigorous ones. The revamped league tables, published on January 12th, reveal the extent to which schools have artificially inflated their performance by steering pupils towards easier exams.

Just over half of English children leave school having passed five GCSEs, including English and maths, with acceptable grades, a figure that has been rising relentlessly since that measure was introduced as the basis of school-performance tables. Yet only 16% pass their five exams in the subjects once considered essential: a science, a language and a humanity, in addition to English and maths. The rest pass vocational subjects--not surprising, perhaps, when according to the official exchange rate a GCSE in applied physical education is equivalent to one in Latin, and a vocational qualification in beauty therapy worth as much as a good pass at GCSE physics.

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Elite French University Joins College Board

Maia de La Baume:

The Institut d'Etudes Politiques, better known as Sciences Po, one of France's most prestigious universities, on Wednesday became the first French public institution to join the College Board, the nonprofit American organization that oversees the SAT exam and Advanced Placement program.

"This is an important step forward for us," Francis Vérillaud, deputy director of Sciences Po and head of the International Affairs Division, said in a press release, adding that "40 percent of our students already come from 130 countries."

As a new member of the College Board, Sciences Po, which specializes in humanities and social sciences, will be better able to recruit students in North America and beyond.

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School Board Votes to Maintain Small Group Instruction

Gideon Rubin:

A crowd of about 100 people, mostly teachers, packed the Burlingame School District's Tuesday night board meeting imploring its members to keep the "early bird, late bird" language program intact. They got their wish, as the board voted 5-0 to maintain the program.

The program, which exists in just four districts statewide, shortens the class day while giving students more individualized reading and writing instruction.

District kindergarten-through-second grade students currently start their 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. school day an hour late or leave an hour early, with the first and last hours reserved for more individualized reading and writing instruction.

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: New Hit to Strapped States Borrowing Costs Up as Bond Flops; Refinancing Crunch Nears

Michael Corkery & Ianthe Jeanne Dugan:

With the market for municipal bonds tumbling, cities, hospitals, schools and other public borrowers are scrambling to refinance tens of billions of dollars of debt this year, another sign that the once-safe market is under duress.

The muni bond market was hit with the latest wave of bad news Thursday, prompting a selloff that sent the market to its lowest level since the financial crisis. A New Jersey agency was forced to cut the size of a bond issue by about 40% because of mediocre demand, and pay a higher rate than expected. And mutual fund giant Vanguard Group shelved plans for three new muni bond funds, citing market turmoil.

"We believe that this delay is prudent given the high level of volatility in the municipal bond market," said Rebecca Katz, spokeswoman for the nation's biggest fund company.

The market has fallen every day this week, and investors have been net sellers of their holdings in municipal-bond mutual funds for nine straight weeks, according to fund tracker Lipper FMI.

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Young D.C. families check out the charters

Bill Turque:

Scott and Kim Yarnish live just across the street from Brookland Education Campus @ Bunker Hill, making it the most obvious choice when the time comes for their 2-year-old son, Theo, to begin preschool. But the Ward 5 couple, like most of the young families at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center on Saturday afternoon, were searching for alternatives to their traditional neighborhood public schools.

Attendance figures were not available, but the third-floor exhibition hall was packed for the second annual D.C. Public Charter School Recruitment Expo, where the city's 52 publicly financed and independently operated schools set up tables to answer questions and offer enrollment forms. The crowd included Mayor Vincent C. Gray, who has promised that his new administration will be more charter-friendly. His appearance alone was a change, according to Nona Richardson, communications director for the D.C. Public Charter School Board, who said that then-Mayor Adrian M. Fenty did not visit the inaugural expo last year.

Scott Yarnish said he came "to get the lay of the land" and because he'd received mixed reports about Brookland, a PS-8 school where less than half of the students read at proficiency level or higher on the 2010 DC CAS.

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January 14, 2011

Unlike Madison, Evanston is cutting honors classes

Chris Rickert:

Twenty-three years ago I walked the halls of Evanston Township High School in Evanston, Ill., with a diverse mix of white-, black- and brown-skinned fellow students.

Then I would walk into an honors class and be confronted with a near-blanket of white.

Not much has changed at my alma mater, and as a result the school district has been embroiled in a contentious curriculum debate that touches on race, academics and the meaning of public education itself.

Sound familiar?

Evanston and Madison are both affluent, well-educated and liberal. And both have high schools where racial achievement gaps are the norm. Their school districts differ, though, in their approach to that gap today: Evanston is cutting honors classes; Madison is adding them.

Unlike Madison, Evanston has long had a sizable minority population and began desegregating its elementary and middle schools in the 1960s -- with some positive academic results.

Seniors at ETHS, the city's only public high school, last year had an average ACT score of 23.5, or 2.5 points higher than the national average. This in one of only five states that requires its students to take the test and in a high school whose student population, about 2,900, is 43 percent white, 32 percent black and 17 percent Latino.

Lots of related links:

More here.

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School Board Governance

Charlie Mas

When the new Board majority was elected in 2007 they started their terms of office talking a lot about Governance. It was all just talk; there wasn't any action associated with it. Then, after the first few months that talk faded away. Back then it was code for staying out of management and restricting themselves to "policy issues". After the audit was released six months ago, they started talking about Governance again. I'm not sure what it means this time around, but not only are they talking about it a lot, they are also claiming to take some action. I'm not sure those claims can be proven.

There was a discussion of Governance Priorities at the December 15, 2010 Strategic Plan Update work session.

One of the Governance Priorities is Budget development. They say that they will implement a comprehensive budget development process that reflects the strategic plan priorities and includes both internal and external engagement. Why isn't this what they were doing all along? I'm not asking that as an accusation, but to focus the attention on the obstacles to this sort of work. If they say that they are going to start doing this then they will have to identify and overcome those obstacles, won't they? I think that they have already found and addressed one of the historic obstacles, the budget timeline that put the central administration budget ahead of the schools' budgets. I suspect there are others.

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The Tiger Mother Responds to Readers

The Wall Street Journal:

Do you think that strict, "Eastern" parenting eventually helps children lead happy lives as adults?

When it works well, absolutely! And by working well, I mean when high expectations are coupled with love, understanding and parental involvement. This is the gift my parents gave me, and what I hope I'm giving my daughters. I've also taught law students of all backgrounds for 17 years, and I've met countless students raised the "tough immigrant" way (by parents from Pakistan, India, Nigeria, Korea, Jamaica, Haiti, Iran, Ireland, etc.) who are thriving, independent, bold, creative, hilarious and, at least to my eyes, as happy as anyone. But I also know of people raised with "tough love" who are not happy and who resent their parents. There is no easy formula for parenting, no right approach (I don't believe, by the way, that Chinese parenting is superior--a splashy headline, but I didn't choose it). The best rule of thumb I can think of is that love, compassion and knowing your child have to come first, whatever culture you're from. It doesn't come through in the excerpt, but my actual book is not a how-to guide; it's a memoir, the story of our family's journey in two cultures, and my own eventual transformation as a mother. Much of the book is about my decision to retreat from the strict "Chinese" approach, after my younger daughter rebelled at 13.

I have a 20-month-old, and my husband and I both enjoyed the article. How can you apply this to toddlers?

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Lawmaker Proposes Cutting 4-Year-Old Kindergarten


The Madison Metropolitan School District is preparing to start up 4-year-old kindergarten this fall, but a state lawmaker said the program isn't worth the cost and wants it cut from the state budget.

More than 300 school districts in Wisconsin already offer 4-year-old kindergarten, but Gov. Scott Walker is considering a proposal to do away with the program.

This comes as Madison prepares to enroll any child who turns 4 years old on or before Sept. 1, 2011, and to launch 4K in the fall.

The turnout Wednesday at the last scheduled meeting for Madison's upcoming 4K program wasn't just standing-room-only; some parents, such as Emily Lockwood, weren't even able to step foot inside at the Lussier Community Center because the crowd was so large, WISC-TV reported.

"I'm excited. She loves to learn. She's really into numbers and letters and writing," said Lockwood, whose daughter Adele plans to attend the 4K program.

Much more on Madison's planned 4K program, here.

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Schools in Md., D.C. to adopt national academic standards, revise tests and teacher training

Nick Anderson:

D.C. and Maryland school officials have agreed to national academic standards and have begun to lay the groundwork for new tests and teacher training. But it will take at least a few years before such measures generate notable change in the classroom.

The movement to adopt common standards swept 40 states and the District in 2010, a watershed for public education expected to ripple through many aspects of teaching and learning. The standards, spelling out what should be learned in English and math every year from kindergarten through high school, are meant to replace what has been a jumble of benchmarks that vary from state to state in content and depth.

The Center on Education Policy reported last week that many states plan to revise teacher training within the next two years. But in most cases, key measures will not be rolled out until 2013 or later.

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Wisconsin Education system earns a C-plus

Amy Hetzner:

Wisconsin's education system was rated slightly above the national average based on factors ranging from student achievement to school financing in industry publication Education Week's annual state rankings released Tuesday.

Overall, Wisconsin received a C-plus grade while the nation earned a C.

The state got high marks in the annual "Quality Counts" report for its school finance system and the "chance for success" its students have based on relatively high levels of parents who are educated and fluent in English, strong kindergarten enrollment and a high graduation rate. Wisconsin's finance system does particularly well on the report compared with other states in providing more equitable resources among school districts.

Wisconsin's lowest grade among six areas assessed in the report was for K-12 achievement, where it earned a D-plus. That grade was based on student reading and math proficiency levels on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, including any differences in performance for students living in poverty, and the percentage of students doing advanced-level work. The national average for K-12 achievement also was a D-plus.

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Young People Are Heeding Austin's Call, Data Shows

Sabrina Tavernise:

Austin, Tex., drew the largest numbers of young Americans from 2007 through 2009, according to an analysis by a senior demographer at the Brookings Institution, replacing Riverside, Calif., which was the most popular destination for young people in the middle of the decade.

Migration slowed greatly during the recession, and rates have continued to remain low. But in an analysis of migration still occurring among some of the country's most mobile citizens -- people ages 25 to 34 -- the cities at the top of the list were those that had remained economically vibrant, like Dallas, and those that were considered hip destinations, like Austin and Seattle, the demographer, William H. Frey, found.

In the middle of the decade, before the recession, the top five destinations were Riverside, Phoenix, Atlanta, Houston and Charlotte, N.C., according to the analysis, which was based on Census Bureau data. Austin ranked ninth in that period, and Las Vegas was No. 10.

Compare Wisconsin & Texas NAEP scores here (White students in Texas outscore Wisconsin students in Math) and have a smaller difference between black students.

A Capital Times perspective on Texas, here. A look at College Station vs. Madison, here

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The Almighty Essay

Trip Gabriel:

On a freezing Saturday in February, my wife and I sat through a full-day introduction to college admissions for the parents of 11th graders. This was our first little step on the high-anxiety journey thousands of families trod each year. As parents of twins, we were double-booked. There wasn't a vacation day in the next eight months that one of us didn't spend on a college campus, somewhere.

That day, at a workshop called "Behind Closed Doors: the Life of the Application," an admissions dean from a prestigious small college in Connecticut described carrying home a teetering armload of folders every night during her decision season. She told of examining a student's high school transcript, the SAT or ACT scores, the letters of recommendation.

"And then," she said, her manner growing brighter, almost big-sisterly and confidential, "I turn to the personal essay, my favorite part."

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Indiana Charter schools, vouchers get lift

Nikki Kelly:

Gov. Mitch Daniels has never been patient when it comes to pushing progress for Indiana. And Tuesday night he implored legislators not to wait any longer on key education and local government proposals.

"Wishing won't make it so. Waiting won't make it so. But those of you in this assembly have a priceless and unprecedented opportunity to make it so. It's more than a proposal, it's an assignment. It's more than an opportunity, it's a duty," he said.

Although some were searching for a hint about his presidential aspirations, Daniels used his seventh State of the State address to focus on Indiana - sticking to a familiar formula of highlighting successes and seeking improvement.

He reminded legislators of the progress they have made in road construction, cutting property taxes and keeping Indiana fiscally solvent. And he asked them to do more - much more.

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Character & Fitness Fail for Graduate With 'No Plan' To Pay Off His Debts

Elie Mystal:

Wow. Guy goes to law school, guy racks up a huge amount of debt, guy has no idea how he'll pay off his debts. Sound familiar? Okay, here's the twist: the guy failed the "character and fitness" component of the Ohio bar because he has no plan to pay off his loans.

What the hell kind of legal education system are we running where we charge people more than they can afford to get a legal education, and then prevent them from being lawyers because they can't pay off their debts?

Because it's not like Hassan Jonathan Griffin was in a particularly unique situation when he went before the Ohio bar. A year and a half ago, we wrote about a man who was dinged on his character and fitness review because he was $400,000 in debt. That's an extraordinary case. Hassan Jonathan Griffin owes around $170,000. He has a part-time job as a public defender. He used to be a stockbroker. He's got as much a chance of figuring out a way to pay off his loans as most people from the Lost Generation.

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January 13, 2011

How to Spend $100 Million to Really Save Education

Anya Kamenetz, via a James Dias email:

The elite has become obsessed with fixing public schools. Whether it's Ivy League graduates flocking to Teach for America or new-money foundations such as Gates, Broad, and Walton bestowing billions on the cause, "for the under-40 set, education reform is what feeding kids in Africa was in 1980," Newark, New Jersey, education reformer Derrell Bradford told the Associated Press last fall.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is the latest entrepreneur to join this rush. He announced in late September that he planned to donate $100 million to the city of Newark to overhaul its school system. Zuckerberg, a billionaire by age 23, has little experience in philanthropy and no connection to Newark; he met the city's mayor, Cory Booker, at a conference and was impressed with Booker's ideas for school reform. Plans are still sketchy, but Zuckerberg has endorsed merit pay for teachers, closing failing schools, and opening more charters.

So will this princely sum produce a happy ending? Unlikely. The Zuckerberg gift, like all social action, is based on a particular "theory of change" -- a set of beliefs about the best strategy to produce a desired outcome. The United Way has one theory of change about the best way to feed the hungry (direct aid funded by international private donations). Che Guevara had a very different one (self-help through armed revolution). Unfortunately, the theory of change behind the recent infusion of private money into public schools is based on some questionable assumptions: First, public schools will improve if they harness more resources. Second, charter schools and strong, MBA-style leaders are the preferred means of improvement. And third, a school's success can be measured through standardized testing.

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Could do better: Using international comparisons to refine the National Curriculum in England

Tim Oates, via a kind reader's email:

Recent reviews of the National Curriculum have failed to harness the insights emerging from high quality transnational comparisons, according to a top academic.

In a Cambridge Assessment paper out today (Thursday 18 November 2010), Tim Oates, Group Director of Assessment Research and Development, said: "We should appraise carefully both international and national research in order to drive an evidence-based review of the National Curriculum and make changes only where justified, in order to avoid unnecessary disruption to the education system.

"However, simply importing another country's classroom practices would be a gross error. A country's national curriculum - both its form and content - cannot be considered in isolation from the state of development of these vital 'Control Factors'*. They interact. Adjust one without considering development of the others, and the system may be in line for trouble."

The paper - Could do better: using international comparisons to refine the National Curriculum in England - acknowledges that any revision of the Curriculum is a sophisticated undertaking and yet it is not the sole instrument of educational success.

In a foreword to Tim's paper, the Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, Secretary of State for Education, supported the call for international evidence to be at the heart of curriculum reform and said:

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Too many education cooks

Los Angeles Times:

For the two decades that California has had a secretary of education, the position has never made much sense. Appointed by the governor, with a staff of a dozen or so people, this post has no real authority because the state Constitution places responsibility for the schools under the elected superintendent of public instruction, the job recently assumed by Tom Torlakson. The secretary's office has accomplished little and has had more than its share of turnover. Gov. Jerry Brown was right to get rid of it; that was an easy save of almost $2 million a year.

But to be completely clear, the secretary of education wasn't the real problem. The underlying mistake is contained in the Constitution, which mandates an elected superintendent. Ideally, Brown would be able to do away with that post and the appointed Board of Education, bring the Education Department under his wing and streamline the bulky and often-contradictory administration of the public schools.

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Paying for Scale: Results of a Symposium on CMO Finance

Allison Demeritt, Robin Lake, via email:

n April 2010, the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation convened a group of researchers and financial analysts to discuss how to better understand the financing and sustainability of CMOs. The goals of the meeting were twofold: (1) to suggest a set of common ways of assessing CMO financial viability, and (2) to outline a research agenda for settling the most urgent CMO finance questions relevant to policy and practice.

The following themes emerged from the meeting:

For most CMOs financial self-sustainability is an aspiration, not yet a reality.

Public funding levels clearly limit, but may not fully explain, CMO scale-up difficulties.

CMOs are experimenting with different cost and service delivery models, but there is little evidence yet about which ones are most cost effective.

Politically and financially, CMOs need to figure out how to do more school turnarounds.
Technology and innovation are critical paths to sustainability.

Spending comparisons between CMOs and school districts are hard to do and not likely to yield much payoff.

There is at least as much speculation about CMO finance as there is fact: a rigorous research and development agenda is needed.

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Does KIPP shed too many low-performers?

Jay Matthews:

My colleague Valerie Strauss, creator and proprietor of the fabulous The Answer Sheet blog on this Web site, recently encouraged a spirited debate over attrition rates at KIPP schools. I wrote my last book, "Word Hard. Be Nice" about the birth and growth of KIPP, the charter school network most successful in raising student achievement. (The official name is now just KIPP, not the Knowledge Is Power Program.)

I still follow KIPP closely. I want this blog to be the go-to place for anyone who wants to keep up with important developments in the network of 99 schools in 20 states and the District. Valerie has graciously agreed to allow me to put those recent KIPP posts from the debate here, so you can easily follow the lines of reasoning and can read my views.

It began with a great post (despite its polite digs at me) by Richard D. Kahlenberg, the Century Foundation senior fellow who has provided much original thinking on how to improve the education of disadvantaged children:

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Rahm tells Chicago union bosses pensions have to be cut

Mark Hemingway:

Via the indispensable Labor Union Report, comes news that Chicago mayoral candidate Rahm Emanuel is bluntly telling union bosses that pensions will have to be cut:
In contrast to his main rivals in the mayor's race, Rahm Emanuel has told labor leaders that he favors reducing pension benefits for the city's existing work force and not just for new hires.

Although Mr. Emanuel has not yet publicly detailed his plan to confront the city's perennial budget deficits and the severely underfinanced employee pension funds, he told union officials in a private meeting on Dec. 15 that he thought it could be necessary to cut the pensions of all employees, said people who attended the meeting.

Mr. Emanuel made the comments while he was being interviewed by leaders of the Chicago Federation of Labor. That umbrella group for 300 unions has not yet endorsed any of the candidates who will be running in the Feb. 22 election to succeed Mayor Richard M. Daley, who is retiring.

"The sticking issue for all of us is the pension issue," said a labor activist who attended the meeting with Mr. Emanuel. "I can't tell my members we are going to support a guy who is going to cut your pensions."

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Los Angeles Names New Schools Chief

Stephanie Banchero & Tamara Audi:

Los Angeles named a new schools chief Tuesday, selecting a longtime educator known for his aggressive efforts to overhaul teachers' evaluations and link their pay to student achievement.

John Deasy, 50 years old and a former official at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, will succeed Ramon C. Cortines, 78, who has headed the nation's second-largest school system for two years and said he planned to step down this year.

Mr. Deasy's appointment was widely expected after he was hired as deputy superintendent last August.

Board members of the Los Angeles Unified School District approved a three-year contract with Mr. Deasy in a 6-0 vote, with board member Steve Zimmer abstaining.

"Having had the opportunity to observe Dr. Deasy at work these past few months left me with no doubt in his ability to lead this district despite the uncertainty of the state's fiscal situation and the challenges that lay before us," school board Vice President Richard Vladovic said in a statement.

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The New Subject-Test Math: 2 = 3

Inyoung Kang:

THE nation's most selective universities have long required three SAT subject tests. But with the introduction of writing sections on the SAT and ACT in 2005, colleges have been gradually reducing the subject-test requirement.

This admissions cycle, Harvard has jumped on the two-test bandwagon, and Georgetown is "strongly" recommending three instead of requiring them. The most subject tests that any American college now requires is two, according to the National Association for College Admission Counseling. For 18 institutions, the ACT is good enough -- no subject tests required at all.

The writing test has been found to be a good indicator of future academic success, says Jeff A. Neal, a Harvard spokesman.

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America ignores education funding at our own peril

Robert Reich:

Over the long term, the only way we're going to raise wages, grow the economy and improve American competitiveness is by investing in our people - especially their educations.

Yet we're falling behind. In a recent survey of 34 advanced nations by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, our kids came in 25th in math, 17th in science and 14th in reading. The average 15-year-old American student can't answer as many test questions correctly as the average 15-year-old student in Shanghai.

I'm not one of those who believe the only way to fix what's wrong with American education is to throw more money at it. We also need to do it much better. Teacher performance has to be squarely on the table. We should experiment with vouchers whose worth is inversely related to family income. Universities have to tame their budgets for student amenities that have nothing to do with education.

But considering the increases in our population of young people and their educational needs, and the challenges posed by the new global economy, more resources are surely needed.

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January 12, 2011

School Choice Expansion Key to Wisconsin's Re-emergence as Innovator

James Wigderson:

With the Republican takeover of state government this year, educational reformers have high hopes for change. The administration of Governor Jim Doyle did little to promote educational reform. Nowhere was that more evident in the state's double failure to win Race to the Top federal funds when Wisconsin's application failed to demonstrate movement in educational reform.

Doyle proposed a mayoral takeover of the struggling Milwaukee Public Schools after the federal Race to the Top funding competition was launched. The proposed mayoral takeover did not offer sufficient justification to win over opponents and the effort failed in the Democrat-controlled legislature.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin's two applications for federal Race to the Top funding did not even make the list of finalists. The main reason for the failures was the lack of teacher accountability for student performance.

Doyle's other record on education is an obstacle to other reforms, especially when it comes to school choice.

Wisconsin is certainly ripe for curricular and choice innovation.

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Iowa Education choice is pioneer in pay reform

Staci Hupp:  :

Iowa blazed the trail nearly a century ago for how most teachers in the United States are paid today: by seniority and education level.

The man who becomes Iowa's top education official this month worked for the first school district in the country to toss out that tradition for a system of tying pay raises to test scores and annual evaluations.

Jason Glass, 39 - who was named Gov.-elect Terry Branstad's pick for Iowa Department of Education director this week - is an education consultant from Ohio.

But he cemented his reputation as a school reformer in Colorado, where he oversaw the Eagle County school district's performance pay system. School leaders and policymakers in many states, including Iowa, have courted performance pay but never taken the plunge. Teacher unions historically have fought the idea.

"The fear is that teachers are going to be pitted against each other," said Angie Jandrey, a Mount Pleasant kindergarten teacher.

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Downturn's Ugly Trademark: Steep, Lasting Drop in Wages

Sudeep Reddy:

In California, former auto worker Maria Gregg was out of work five months last year before landing a new job--at a nearly 20% pay cut.

In Massachusetts, Kevin Cronan, who lost his $150,000-a-year job as a money manager in early 2009, is now frothing cappuccinos at a Starbucks for $8.85 an hour.

In Wisconsin, Dale Szabo, a former manufacturing manager with two master's degrees, has been searching years for a job comparable to the one he lost in 2003. He's now a school janitor.

They are among the lucky. There are 14.5 million people on the unemployment rolls, including 6.4 million who have been jobless for more than six months.

But the decline in their fortunes points to a signature outcome of the long downturn in the labor market. Even at times of high unemployment in the past, wages have been very slow to fall; economists describe them as "sticky." To an extent rarely seen in recessions since the Great Depression, wages for a swath of the labor force this time have taken a sharp and swift fall.

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In Our View: Pre-K to Ph.D.? Governor wants to reform education, but is consolidation a good idea?

The Columbian:

Gov. Chris Gregoire has several good ideas about reforming public education. Her most dramatic recommendation -- consolidating several agencies into one Department of Education -- warrants consideration because consolidation often is an effective strategy during tough economic times. We made that point in a Dec. 17 editorial applauding Gregoire's proposal to merge 21 state agencies (not including education departments) into nine agencies.

But several concerns must be resolved before this giant merger is pursued. First, consider the size of that monolithic mega-bureaucracy. It would include four operations that currently are distinct and sovereign: the Department of Early Learning, the Office of the Superintendent of Public Education (which runs K-12 education, described in the state constitution as the state's "paramount duty"), the State Board of Community and Technical Colleges and the Higher Education Coordinating Board. Trying to align all of those diverse and complex missions into a Cabinet-level department could create a bureaucratic briar patch so thick that it would defeat the purpose of consolidation.

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Democrats for Education Reform:

A more serious conception of the place of the teacher in the life of the nation is both necessary and timely. [I urge] changing the systems that support poorly trained, paid and esteemed teachers." Henry Wyman Holmes, Dean, Harvard Graduate School of Education, 1920

Over the last century, there have been dozens of reports and calls to action to improve teacher preparation, pay, performance, and prestige. Unfortunately, despite such declarations, Dean Holmes' words are no less apt today than they were 90 years ago.

Some help is on the way. New investments by the federal government and private philanthropists have launched literally hundreds of state and local policy initiatives to improve teacher effectiveness. Most of these efforts aim to develop better teacher evaluation systems and to target professional development and support to those teachers who need it most. Some go a step further and use evaluations to determine certification, promotion, and tenure.

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Low Income Vouchers for Indiana

Deena Martin:

Supporters of expanded charter schools and school vouchers say most Hoosiers want more education options for their children, and Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels will outline plans Tuesday to bring those choices to more Indiana families, especially low-income ones.

Advocates met at the Statehouse Monday to push education proposals that have renewed life during this legislative session because of support from Daniels and leaders in the GOP-controlled House and Senate. They say a poll they've paid for shows two-thirds of the state supports vouchers and expanded charter schools.

"This session brings the best opportunity for education reform in a generation," said Luke Messer, executive director of School Choice Indiana.

Another view, here.

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Are U.S. Parents Too Soft?

John Edwards III:

How do we motivate our children to succeed in school, and in life? It's a fundamental question that animates every parent's juggle, and there are as many answers as there are families. Amy Chua, author of the new book "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother," shares her own forceful, unyielding answer in an excerpt published in Saturday's Review section.

Near the beginning, Ms. Chua writes, "Here are some things my daughters, Sophia and Louisa, were never allowed to do:

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Kids in Milwaukee choice program still 17% more likely to finish, study says

Erin Richards:

High school graduation rates increased for both Milwaukee Public Schools students and low-income city children using vouchers to attend private schools in 2008-'09, but voucher students are still more likely to graduate than their public school peers, according to data released Monday.

The latest findings add a seventh year of data - for 2008-'09 - to a study that has followed the graduation rates of both groups of students since 2002-'03.

Because the latest graduation rate went up 5 percentage points from the previous year for both Milwaukee Parental Choice Program and MPS students, the report contends that choice (also called voucher) students were 17% more likely to graduate from high school than children in MPS over the past two years of the study.

For voucher school students, the graduation rate increased to 82% in 2008-'09; for MPS students, it increased to 70%, the study says.

Wisconsin is ripe for many more student/parental choices.

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The Improvisational Brain

Amanda Rose Martinez:

One summer at the annual Bremen Music Festival in Germany, Robert Levin, a classical pianist, was in the midst of improvising a passionate and wild cadenza during Beethoven's "C Major Piano Concerto." A cadenza is a passage in a concerto during which the orchestra ceases and a soloist strikes out on his own, improvising within the style of the piece. Up until the early nineteenth century, many classical composers wrote space for these cadenzas within their works. Levin is one of a handful of musicians who has taken it upon himself to revive the practice of classical improvisation. He is world renowned for his ability to effortlessly extemporize in the styles of several composers, including Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Mendelssohn. In this particular concert, however, Levin had gotten himself into a bit of a pickle.

"I was going whole hog," Levin said, thanks to the permission Beethoven gave his renderers to modulate or change keys during his cadenzas. "I had gone really far afield and was in F sharp major. That's as far away from C major as you can possibly get because if you keep going, you start to get closer to the other side."

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Why history book mistakes can be good

Jay Matthews:

In high school, I was a nerd with political ambitions, desperate for popularity. My U.S. history teacher encouraged criticism, giving me a chance for glory when, during the usual Friday game of 20 questions, he said the thing we were trying to guess occurred in the 19th century.

We failed to get the right answer: the Alien and Sedition Acts. That meant extra weekend homework. But, I thought to myself excitedly, wasn't he wrong? Weren't the acts in the Adams administration, late 1790s? "Mr. Ladendorff, will you cancel the homework if I can show that happened in the 18th century?" He nodded. I found the citation. Cheers! Pleasant looks from girls! For a few minutes, I was the hero.

The controversy over errors in Virginia history books, well covered by my colleague Kevin Sieff, reminds me of the best day I ever had in high school. It makes me wonder whether the delights of detecting errors by authoritative educators and their textbooks might turn the scandal into ways to make history classes, at least in high school, more exciting.

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The Newest College Credential

Motoko Rich:

EDUCATION, students are frequently told, is the key to a better job. First, finish high school. Then, go to college and get a degree. For those with higher aspirations, try for a master's.

But increasingly, there is another way. Short vocational programs leading to a certificate are becoming the kudzu of the educational world. There's a program for virtually any skill, from interior design to paralegal to managing records at a doctor's office. Instead of investing in a master's, professionals itching to move up the career ladder can earn certificates in marketing strategies, credit analysis or even journalism.

In an economy that increasingly rewards specialization, more and more institutions -- from the ones that advertise on late-night cable to the most elite of universities -- are offering these programs, typically a package of five or six courses, for credit or not, taken over three to 18 months. Some cost a few thousand dollars, others tens of thousands.

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January 11, 2011

Response to Madison West High Parents' Open Letter

Madison School Board Member Ed Hughes:

As to the first point, I wish people were a bit less concerned about what will inconvenience or irritate our teachers and a bit more concerned about what's best for our students. I think it is absolutely correct that the alignment plan will reduce the autonomy of teachers. Classes will have to be designed and taught against an overriding structure of curricular standards that will need to be addressed. I think that is a good thing.

We'd all like the freedom and autonomy to be able to define our own job responsibilities so that we could spend our time exclusively on the parts of our jobs that we particularly like and are good at, but that is certainly not the way that effective organizations work. I believe that teachers need to be held accountable for covering a specific, consistent, coherent and rigorous curriculum, because that is what's best for their students. I don't see how holding teachers to curriculum standards should inhibit their skills, creativity or engagement in the classroom.

The second point concerns 9th and 10th grade accelerated class options and the accusation that this will result in "segregation." This line of argument has consistently bothered me.

We don't hear much from African-American parents who are upset about the possibility of accelerated classes because, as the open letter puts it, they will result in "more segregation." On the contrary, we on the Board have heard a number of times from middle class African-American parents who are dissatisfied, sometimes to the point of pulling their kids from our schools, because their kids regularly experience situations where well-meaning teachers and staff assume that because the kids are African-American, they'll need special help or won't be able to keep up with advanced class work. I think that frustration with this essentially patronizing attitude has contributed to community support for the Madison Prep proposal. It seems to me that the open letter suggests the same attitude.

It will be interesting to see how the course options play out. I suspect this will be a marathon, as it has been since the grant driven small learning community initiative and the launch of English 10 some years ago.

I very much appreciate Ed's comments, including this "a bit more concerned about what's best for our students".

Lots of related links:

More here.

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"Overall, had MPS graduation rates equaled those for MPCP students in the classes of 2003 through 2009, the number of MPS graduates would have been about 18 percent higher."

School Choice Wisconsin:

In coming months the future of education in Milwaukee and Wisconsin will receive much attention as elected officials seek to raise academic outcomes while facing a multi-billion dollar state budget deficit. In this challenging environment, Governor Walker and members of the Legislature would be wise to consider the results reported here on high school graduation rates in Milwaukee.
Using seven years of data, University of Minnesota Professor John Robert Warren, a recognized expert in the field, tracks graduation rates for students in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) and the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS). Professor Warren estimates that low-income school choice students were about 18% more likely to graduate from high school than students from across the economic spectrum in MPS. Significantly, he reports that these results occurred during a period when the historically low MPS graduation rate was increasing.

Thus, in one of the most important measures of educational achievement -- high school graduation -- recent developments in Milwaukee are positive, both for choice students and for students attending MPS. Professor Warren explains that separate research being conducted at the University of Arkansas will address whether expanded choice for Milwaukee parents has caused the higher rates reported here.

The MPCP, now twenty-one years old, serves more than 20,000 students. It saved state taxpayers $37 million in FY 2009. As this report shows, it achieved higher graduation rates than MPS in six of seven years studied. Had MPS attained the same graduation rate achieved in the MPCP, an additional 3,939 Milwaukee students would have received diplomas between 2003 and 2009. According to authoritative research cited in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the annual impact from an additional 3,939 MPS graduates would include an additional $24.9 million in personal income and approximately $4.2 million in extra tax revenue.

Unfortunately, benefits for high school students in the MPCP are at risk. This is because increased regulation and funding cuts threaten the viability of private high schools participating in the MPCP. For example, tax support for these schools is less than 45 per cent of the public support for MPS schools. This is not financially sustainable, a fact that has caused private high schools in the MPCP to reduce freshmen enrollment despite high parent demand. For the first time in several years, the number of 9th graders entering the MPCP actually decreased in 2010-11.

Without regulatory relief and increased financial support, the kind of positive results reported here are in jeopardy.

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In Budget Crises, an Opening for School Reform School systems can put students first by making sure any layoffs account for teacher quality, not seniority.

Michelle Rhee:

In the past year, 46 states grappled with budget deficits of more than $130 billion. This year could be worse as federal recovery dollars dry up. And yet, for education reform, 2011 could be the best of times.

California, to name one example, bridged its $25.4 billion budget gap by cutting billions from public education. It is now forced to cut another $18 billion to fill its current deficit. State executives and legislatures face severe choices and disappointments that could undo political careers and derail progress.

On the bright side, public support is building for a frontal attack on the educational status quo. And policy makers are rising to the challenge, not only because their budgets are tighter than ever, but also because they see an opportunity to reverse the current trend of discouraging academic results for our children.

Three weeks ago, I founded StudentsFirst, a national organization to defend and promote the interests of children in public education and to pursue an aggressive reform agenda to make American schools the best in the world. In the first 48 hours, 100,000 Americans signed up as members, contributing $1 million in small online donations.

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Chance to improve education a primary factor in a Proposed Charter School

The Journal Courier:

A smattering of cynicism can be necessary, even beneficial, when dealing with things that are new.

It's when a lack of understanding causes something with potential benefit to be viewed through jaundiced eyes that the cynicism can become a roadblock.

Take as an example ongoing discussion about a proposal to create a charter school for Jacksonville.

The sticking point in the months since the proposal for 8 Points Charter School was unveiled has not been the need or the curriculum, but rather the dollars and cents.

This should not become a bottom-line decision. While money has to be a concern given the sealed-wallet finances across the state, the greater question should be "is it something Jacksonville needs right now?"

The answer seems to be "yes."

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Washington Governor Gregoire's educational reforms: good luck on that

Dick Lilly:

Gov. Gregoire's' bold new proposals for an integrated education department? Great in concept (in fact, much needed). Hard to do. Even harder to insure better results than we're getting now.

That's how I'd summarize Gov. Gregoire's proposal to replace the various boards of education with a cabinet-level Department of Education.

First, the need: Sure, the state Board of Community and Technical Colleges, the Higher Education Coordinating Board, and the Board of Education for K-12 schools -- not to mention the entire Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction whose incumbent has already acquitted himself poorly in this debate -- all these bodies represent separate silos and have a tough time making their goals and systems fit together. Worse though, they're also creaky and inefficient, a poor system for making (or changing) policy. (The proposed new department would also absorb the recently created Department of Early Learning which already reports to the governor.)

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Charter schools are the public education wave of the future

Tom Bohs:

In last week's Jackson Sun online poll, about two-thirds of 622 responders said they are against establishing a public charter school in East Jackson. Often the contrarian when it comes to public opinion, I am here to argue in favor of the school.

harter schools present an opportunity for innovation in public education. They are tools that can help move public education away from its 19th and 20th century education model. Charter schools are allowed to operate outside of the traditional public education rulebook, and for good reason. Innovation demands new approaches to old problems. Charter schools do have to meet federal guidelines regarding non-discrimination and other fairness laws, but beyond that, they are free to try new ideas to meet student needs.

This is especially important in today's technology-driven world where people get to individualize nearly every aspect of their lives. But public K-12 education has, for the most part, failed to keep up with this trend. Public education still is a homogenized, generic system. Classrooms and curricula in Los Angeles differ little from classrooms and curricula in Boston. There is little innovation in higher education teacher training as teachers are cranked out cookie-cutter fashion ready to step into a K-12 classroom to pick up where the last teacher left off.

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Effort to Restore Children's Play Gains Momentum

Hilary Stout:

SARAH WILSON was speaking proudly the other day when she declared: "My house is a little messy."

Ms. Wilson lives in Stroudsburg, Pa., a small town in the Poconos. Many days, her home is strewn with dress-up clothes, art supplies and other artifacts from playtime with her two small children, Benjamin, 6, and Laura, 3. "I let them get it messy because that's what it's here for," she said.

Ms. Wilson has embraced a growing movement to restore the sometimes-untidy business of play to the lives of children. Her interest was piqued when she toured her local elementary school last year, a few months before Benjamin was to enroll in kindergarten. She still remembered her own kindergarten classroom from 1985: it had a sandbox, blocks and toys. But this one had a wall of computers and little desks.

"There's no imaginative play anymore, no pretend," Ms. Wilson said with a sigh.

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Kids Draw Their Parents' Splits: 8 Heartbreaking Pictures

Ashely Reich:

Kids' Turn, a divorce education program located in San Francisco, encourages children grappling with their parents' split to express their feelings through art. Founded in 1988, the program--which serves five counties in the Bay Area--has been replicated nationally and internationally, and will be implemented in Great Britain later this year. The following pictures, which were drawn by kids and teens ages 5 to 15, express in crayon and marker feelings often too difficult to explain in words.

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St. John's program helps athletes make transition to collegiate level

Rob Reischel:

Myles Henry had no idea what his future held. The former Nicolet standout was struggling with his ACT scores last summer and his collegiate choices were limited.

Russell Finco was equally confused. The former Arrowhead standout went to St. Cloud State in June to begin a football career. But Finco suffered the latest in a string of concussions, was told to quit football and was in limbo.

Neither player ever dreamed he'd wind up being part of the postgraduate basketball program at St. John's Northwestern. Today, both are thrilled to be Lancers.

St. John's began a basketball program this season for high school graduates who have the potential to play collegiately but need an extra year of preparation. The student-athletes retain all their collegiate eligibility and get an extra year to improve their games and their grades.

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New Jersey Governor Christie: Education tops State of the State speech

Angela Delli Santi:

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will lay out his ideas for overhauling teacher tenure, giving parents a choice in where their children attend school and shoring up a teetering public worker pension system in his first State of the State address.

Christie told The Associated Press in an interview that he plans to stick to three themes Tuesday in a speech that will top out at under 30 minutes: education reform; changes to the pension and health benefits funds for government workers, teachers, police and firefighters; and responsible budgeting.

"It's going to be brisk and direct," Christie said of the speech, "talking about those things and why they're so important to the future of the state. We'll do a little bit of a review of where we've been and what we accomplished our first year in office, but the majority of the speech will be talking about those three big issues to me."

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Rhee's New Group Calls for Changes in Education

Stephanie Banchero:

Michelle Rhee, who gained national attention as the chancellor of schools in Washington, D.C., called Monday for giving students government-funded vouchers to attend private schools, rating principals based on student achievement and getting rid of teacher tenure.

The release of the blueprint was the first formal action of Ms. Rhee's new advocacy group, StudentsFirst, which she launched in December, after leaving her job heading D.C. schools in October. Ms. Rhee said she was in discussions with the governors of Florida, New Mexico, New Jersey, Tennessee, Nevada and Indiana to adopt part, if not all, of the agenda.

In an interview Monday, Ms. Rhee said she recognized her platform would be controversial and tough to implement but that her group could help push through the changes.

StudentsFirst has attracted 140,000 members, including nearly 20,000 teachers, and collected $1.4 million in contributions, Ms. Rhee said. She has said her group would donate to political campaigns and help school districts fund chosen strategies.

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Madison Country Day School's Prairie Hawk Scholarships

Madison Country Day School, via a kind reader:

Want to see how far your talent and hard work can take you? Apply for an MCDS Prairie Hawk Scholarship and find out!

One-year, full-tuition scholarships are available for new students applying for admission to fifth through ninth grade for the 2011-12 school year.

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High Tech Help

YOU might say it all started with spell-check. In the 1980s, with the introduction of word processing programs like WordPerfect, it became apparent that computerized proofreaders could come to the rescue of struggling spellers and bad typists. Thirty years later, an ever-growing array of assistive technology is available to help students read, write term papers and take tests. From pens that can remember to text that can talk, such technologies are now being held up as important tools for students with learning disabilities like dyslexia, dysgraphia (trouble writing) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

"These technologies help level a playing field for individuals who would not be able to demonstrate their capabilities as learners," says Brant Parker, director of learning and innovation technology for the Calgary Board of Education in Canada. In his district, at least 90 public schools are using Dragon Dictate, a voice-recognition program that does the typing for you.

Take the case of Michael Riccioli, who noticed that his teenage son was not comprehending a novel assigned in class. Mr. Riccioli transformed the book into an MP3 file using software called GhostReader, which scans texts and reads them aloud. His son listened to the file on his iPod while reading along. "All went well with his test on the book," Mr. Riccioli says.

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January 10, 2011

Mitch Henck & Don Severson Discuss Madison's Forthcoming 4K Program

15MB mp3 audio file. Much more on 4k, here.

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Madison Schools will press ahead with High School honors classes despite protests

Matthew DeFour:

Despite lingering concerns from some parents, students and teachers, the Madison School District will introduce 9th and 10th grade honors classes next fall at West High School -- changes that prompted a student protest last fall.

Superintendent Dan Nerad said he discussed with staff over the weekend the possibility of not introducing the honors classes after school board members and parents raised questions at a meeting Thursday night.

Nerad said the decision comes down to following the district's talented-and-gifted plan, which called for offering honors classes at all high schools starting in this current school year.

"This has already been put off a year," Nerad said in an interview Monday. "We have an obligation to move forward with what's been identified in the TAG plan."

On Friday, 18 West parents sent a letter to the district asking that the honors classes be delayed.

Lots of related links: More here.

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Verona Chinese immersion classes off to a good start

Pamela Cotant

Leilei Song, who teaches in Mandarin at the state's first Chinese immersion school, reached back to her own childhood for a recent lesson with a combined kindergarten and first grade class.

She showed a Monkey King video -- a favorite of hers when she was growing up in China -- to the class at the Verona Area International School. A couple of her students, whose day is split between learning in Mandarin and in English, were very aware of how the video fits into lesson plans.

"We get to watch fun videos like Monkey King but they're in Chinese," kindergartener Zane Oshiro, 5, said.

"So we're learning," added first grader Mikala Feller, 6.

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Video of High School Plan Meeting Now On-line

The high school piece begins c. 9 minutes into the video.

Please note that district staff initially present as if the ACT model is a given. As 1 of 7 board members, I would say that I have not seen the compelling case that this is the only model to use. I did not raise questions at the meeting about the ACT model; other members did. I do not take using the ACT model is a given. I am open to learning more and considering other models.

I found the discussion to be helpful despite my impatience with eduspeak, and came away from the workshop with new questions. I also came away from the workshop seeing the potential for benefits by taking up the proposed changes or perhaps alternatives to those changes.

This is a topic that evokes a great deal of passion among board members, staff, parents, and concerned community members. It is a topic that deserves our attention because we must review and enhance the education that our students receive before they graduate and enter the highly competitive worlds of work and/or higher education.

Posted by Lucy Mathiak at 12:11 PM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Brits see Alberta schools as exceptional example

Andrea Sands:

The United Kingdom is looking to Alberta's education system to see why students here consistently earn top marks in international testing.

A British multimedia company has produced a video series called Lessons from Alberta to examine why Alberta's public education system is so successful. The two 20-minute videos were released last month by Teachers TV, a free online service that offers educational videos and resources to people working in the British school system.

"Alberta, in Canada, has the highest performing schools in the English-speaking world," says a summary of one of the videos on the Teachers TV website. "This video explores the roots of the region's success, accountability, curriculum and teacher professionalism."

Watch the series here.

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Quest to reform education in Oklahoma leads Barresi into state superintendent's post

Murray Evans:

Sixteen years ago, Janet Barresi wanted to find a better middle school for her two sons. Eventually, she landed at the front of Oklahoma's charter school movement and took up education reform as a full-time job.

Barresi starts Monday as the new state superintendent of schools, succeeding Sandy Garrett.

In the 1990s, Barresi and other parents persuaded the Oklahoma City school board to create a parent-run "enterprise" middle school, which became one of the state's charter schools after the Legislature authorized them. She eventually started two charter schools and became president of the Oklahoma Association of Charter Schools.

Barresi spent more time on educational issues and sold her dental practice.

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Issues facing MPS could get very ugly Election interest underwhelming

Alan Borsuk:

Less than a year after its impressive victory over those who wanted to put it to sleep, the Milwaukee School Board makes me think of famous moments from show business.

Unfortunately, those moments are Oliver Hardy telling Stan Laurel, "Another nice mess you've gotten me into," and Rodney Dangerfield saying, "I don't get no respect." More specifically:

A Nice Mess: The budget. Every school board in Wisconsin could join in this one. But MPS messes are always bigger than everybody else's. It is highly likely more than 300 jobs will be cut for next year as federal economic stimulus money and other grants dry up. Hundreds more jobs are likely to be lost because of the squeeze on general funds from the state and local property taxes. This could be very ugly, and the board probably will have little it can do about it.

No Respect: The empty school issue and legislative prospects in general. The board has been adamant about not selling the many empty schools MPS holds for use as schools. The board argues, Why help the charter and private school competition? So State Sen. Alberta Darling, now co-chair of the joint finance committee, and Common Council President Willie Hines announced last week they want to take power of these decisions from the board. Who's going to stop them? Probably nobody, particularly not the board.

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100 Extensive University Libraries from Around the World that Anyone Can Access

Mary & Mac:

Universities house an enormous amount of information and their libraries are often the center of it all. You don't have to be affiliated with any university to take advantage of some of what they have to offer. From digital archives, to religious studies, to national libraries, these university libraries from around the world have plenty of information for you. There are many resources for designers as well. Although this is mainly a blog that caters to designers and artists I have decided to include many other libraries for all to enjoy.

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Inside the bullied brain: The alarming neuroscience of taunting

Emily Anthes:

In the wake of several tragedies that have made bullying a high-profile issue, it's becoming clear that harassment by one's peers is something more than just a rite of passage. Bullied kids are more likely to be depressed, anxious, and suicidal. They struggle in school -- when they decide to show up at all. They are more likely to carry weapons, get in fights, and use drugs.

But when it comes to the actual harm bullying does, the picture grows murkier. The psychological torment that victims feel is real. But perhaps because many of us have experienced this sort of schoolyard cruelty and lived to tell the tale, peer harassment is still commonly written off as a "soft" form of abuse -- one that leaves no obvious injuries and that most victims simply get over. It's easy to imagine that, painful as bullying can be, all it hurts is our feelings.

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Florida Education Reforms

STL Today:

As Florida's governor, Jeb Bush shepherded a series of bold yet divisive school proposals into law.
A-plus Accountability Plan • Requires that students be tested annually, sets A-F letter grades for the state's schools and allows students in persistently low-performing schools to transfer to higher-performing public schools.

The law -- approved about three years before the enactment of the federal No Child Left Behind Act -- also originally allowed families of students in persistently struggling schools to obtain vouchers to attend private schools.

Private School Option: Offered students average payments of about $4,200. The option ended when it was deemed unconstitutional by the Florida Supreme Court in 2006. But other voucher-type programs adopted during Bush's tenure remain, including one that provides vouchers to students with disabilities to attend private schools. Another program, which offers corporations tax credits to cover private school tuition for low-income students, was expanded last year by Florida lawmakers.

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Students Who Found New Ways to Give Back

Katie Zezima, Abby Ellin & Inyoung Kang:

A FEW weeks after he took the SAT, Jason Shah realized something more vexing to him than algebraic formulas or word usage problems: that many students can't afford or access programs to prepare them for the test, and college.

The epiphany came in a West Philadelphia middle-school classroom that his sister ran as part of her Teach for America commitment. Many students had trouble with reading and spelling, and Mr. Shah, then 16, wondered how they would be able to study for the SAT in a few years.

He returned home to New Smyrna Beach, Fla., raised $10,000 from family and friends, found Web developers and began, a Web site that offers free SAT prep, including lessons that use conversational language and sports analogies and full practice exams.

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Learning With Disabilities

Abby Goodnough

Ms. Nelson is paying most of her own way at Landmark, a two-year college exclusively for students with learning disabilities and A.D.H.D. She wants to graduate on time this spring, and with tuition and fees alone at $48,000 a year -- more than any other college in the nation -- she cannot give in to distraction.

"I have a lot riding on this," says Ms. Nelson, who is also dyslexic. She wants to transfer to a four-year institution and get a bachelor's degree -- a goal that would have been out of reach, she says, had she not found Landmark three years after graduating from high school. If Ms. Nelson gets her associate degree in May after four semesters, she will buck the trend at Landmark.

Only about 30 percent graduate within three years; many others drop out after a semester or two. The numbers suggest that even with all the special help and the ratio of one teacher for every five students, the transition is not easy.

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January 9, 2011

An Update on Madison's High School Reforms

TJ Mertz:

The issues are the failure of the MMSD Administration to follow basic practices of open inclusive governance and the implementation of segregative policies.

Below (and here) [70K PDF] is an open letter drafted and signed by 18 West High parents on Friday 1/7/2010. Understanding the letter requires some background and context. The background -- along with the latest news and some final thoughts -follows.

Lots of related links:

More here.

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Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior Can a regimen of no playdates, no TV, no computer games and hours of music practice create happy kids? And what happens when they fight back?

Amy Chua:

A lot of people wonder how Chinese parents raise such stereotypically successful kids. They wonder what these parents do to produce so many math whizzes and music prodigies, what it's like inside the family, and whether they could do it too. Well, I can tell them, because I've done it. Here are some things my daughters, Sophia and Louisa, were never allowed to do:
  • attend a sleepover
  • have a playdate
  • be in a school play
  • complain about not being in a school play
  • watch TV or play computer games
  • choose their own extracurricular activities
  • get any grade less than an A
  • not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama
  • play any instrument other than the piano or violin
  • not play the piano or violin.

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'Daydream' switch stays on in ADHD

Lindsay Brooke-Nottingham:

New evidence suggests children with ADHD have trouble switching off the "daydreaming" regions in the brain that often interfere with concentration, particularly on tedious tasks.

Using a "Whac-a-Mole" style game, researchers found evidence from brain scans that children with ADHD require either much greater incentives--or their usual stimulant medication--to switch off those regions and focus on a task. The findings are published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.

"The results are exciting because for the first time we are beginning to understand how in children with ADHD incentives and stimulant medication work in a similar way to alter patterns of brain activity and enable them to concentrate and focus better," says Chris Hollis, a professor of health sciences at the University of Nottingham. "It also explains why in children with ADHD their performance is often so variable and inconsistent, depending as it does on their interest in a particular task."

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A critic of the College Board joins forces with it to build a better Web site for students

Jacques Steinberg:

IN the seven years since he quit his job as a college counselor at a private high school in Portland, Ore., Lloyd Thacker has become something of a folk hero in admissions circles. In standing-room-only gatherings in high school auditoriums, he has implored families to take back the college admissions process from those entities that, he says, do not always act in their best interests -- whether a magazine seeking to drum up sales for its rankings issue or a college trying to boost applications.

Among his prime targets has been the College Board, the sprawling, nonprofit organization that oversees the SAT and Advanced Placement program.

In the introduction to "College Unranked: Ending the College Admissions Frenzy," a collection of essays he edited that was published in 2005, Mr. Thacker lamented the "corporatization" of the board and suggested that its efforts to "compete with other purveyors of college prep services and materials" -- referring, in part, to a failed attempt at a for-profit Web site -- raised questions about its credibility.

But that was then.

Last spring, Mr. Thacker announced that he and the organization he founded to promote his ideals, the Education Conservancy, were going into partnership with the College Board. Their joint venture: a Web site, free to users, that would provide all manner of advice and perspective on the admissions process.

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Rethinking Advanced Placement

Christopher Drew:

WHEN Joan Carlson started teaching high school biology more than 30 years ago, the Advanced Placement textbook was daunting enough, at 36 chapters and 870 pages. But as an explosion of research into cells and genes reshapes our sense of how life evolves, the flood of new material has been staggering. Mrs. Carlson's A.P. class in Worcester, Mass., now confronts a book with 56 chapters and 1,400 pages, along with a profusion of animated videos and Web-based aids that supplement the text.

And what fuels the panic is that nearly every tongue-twisting term and microscopic fact is fair game for the year-end test that decides who will receive college credit for the course.

"Some of the students look at the book and say, 'My gosh, it's just like an encyclopedia,' " Mrs. Carlson says. And when new A.P. teachers encounter it, "they almost want to start sobbing."

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A Professor Disagrees with Putting Grades Online

Lisa Phillips:

A FEW weeks after I started a tenure-track job last semester at the State University of New York at New Paltz, an e-mail message landed in faculty in-boxes relaying the news that an online textbook-rental company had requested records for all grades awarded on campus since 2007.

The company,, wanted grade distributions -- how many A's, B's, C's, etc., were given -- organized by semester, course section and instructor, without individual student information. The request was made under New York's Freedom of Information Law, which allows the public to access state government records. That definition covers grades at state universities, according to SUNY New Paltz lawyers. So the administration had to give up the goods.

Chegg, a rapidly growing company backed by more than $221 million in venture and debt capital, sent similar requests to 533 colleges and universities, according to Tina Couch, its vice president of public relations. The company is in the process of uploading the grades on, a class planning Web site that Chegg acquired in August. Students who register for CourseRank will be able to take into account a professor's grade distribution, along with peer reviews and ratings, when deciding whether to take a class.

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College's Value Added: "Large Numbers Don't Appear to be Learning Very Much"

Amanda Fairbanks:

AT a time when recent graduates, age 24 and under, are experiencing a jobless rate of nearly 10 percent, a new study renews the debate over the value-added component of going to college.

The sociologists Richard Arum of New York University and Josipa Roksa of the University of Virginia tracked 2,300 students through four years of college and into the labor market. The first two years are chronicled in their forthcoming book, "Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses" (University of Chicago Press).

This interview with Dr. Arum was conducted and condensed by Amanda M. Fairbanks.

Q. What piqued your interest in this topic?

A. For the last several decades, we've evaluated learning in K-12 education. But there's never been a serious attempt to follow kids through college. We conclude that large numbers don't appear to be learning very much.

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Gov. Jerry Brown replaces seven state Board of Education members Several proponents of charter schools are removed. Many see the influence of the teachers union.

Seema Mehta:

n one of Gov. Jerry Brown's first official acts this week, he sacked the majority of the state Board of Education, replacing several vocal proponents of charter schools, parent empowerment and teacher accountability.

A broad range of educators, policy makers and others say the move was widely believed to be the handiwork of the California Teachers Assn., which heavily supported Brown in his gubernatorial campaign. The union's support will be vital if he, as expected, places measures on the June ballot to temporarily raise taxes to ease the state's budget deficit. It also appears to delay a key vote about parents' power to reshape failing schools -- an effort opposed by the union -- leading to strong criticism of the governor from fellow Democrats.

"No doubt about it, this is in part looking at the November election first and foremost, and then of course upcoming elections," said former state Sen. Gloria Romero, a Los Angeles Democrat.

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Citing 'Brainwashing,' Arizona Declares a Latino Class Illegal

Marc Lacey:

The class began with a Mayan-inspired chant and a vigorous round of coordinated hand clapping. The classroom walls featured protest signs, including one that said "United Together in La Lucha!" -- the struggle. Although open to any student at Tucson High Magnet School, nearly all of those attending Curtis Acosta's Latino literature class on a recent morning were Mexican-American.

For all of that and more, Mr. Acosta's class and others in the Tucson Unified School District's Mexican-American program have been declared illegal by the State of Arizona -- even while similar programs for black, Asian and American Indian students have been left untouched.

"It's propagandizing and brainwashing that's going on there," Tom Horne, Arizona's newly elected attorney general, said this week as he officially declared the program in violation of a state law that went into effect on Jan. 1.

Although Shakespeare's "Tempest" was supposed to be the topic at hand, Mr. Acosta spent most of a recent class discussing the political storm in which he, his students and the entire district have become enmeshed. Mr. Horne's name came up more than once, and not in a flattering light.

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United Teachers Los Angeles dukes it out with Mayor Villaraigosa over education reform

Alexandra Le Tellier:

In a December speech heard around the halls of LAUSD, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa charged that United Teachers Los Angeles was the biggest obstacle to education reform. Ouch. With L.A. schools' dismal ranking and graduation rates, he implored the teachers union to join the education reform team. Rather than going the "united we stand, divided we fall" route, however, he embarrassed the union. From the full transcript:

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January 8, 2011

The Concord Review Showcases Journal Showcases The Dying Art of the Research Paper

Sam Dillon:

William H. Fitzhugh, the cantankerous publisher of a journal that showcases high school research papers, sits at his computer in a cluttered office above a secondhand shop here, deploring the nation's declining academic standards.

"Most kids don't know how to write, don't know any history, and that's a disgrace," Mr. Fitzhugh said. "Writing is the most dumbed-down subject in our schools."

His mood brightens, however, when talk turns to the occasionally brilliant work of the students whose heavily footnoted history papers appear in his quarterly, The Concord Review. Over 23 years, the review has printed 924 essays by teenagers from 44 states and 39 nations.

The review's exacting standards have won influential admirers. William R. Fitzsimmons, Harvard's dean of admissions, said he keeps a few issues in his Cambridge office to inspire applicants. Harvard considers it "something that's impressive," like winning a national math competition, if an applicant's essay has appeared in the review, he said.

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Transparency: Wichita School District Puts Checkbook Online


In an effort to be transparent in the district's budget transactions, the Wichita Public Schools launched its District Checkbook on its website. Superintendent John Allison made the announcement during the South Central Legislative Delegation meeting at Wichita State University on January 6.

"Many community members ask questions about school budgets, and this is a way to allow taxpayers to review transactions by month for the fiscal year, to see which fund is used, and the function for that transaction," said Superintendent Allison.

The District Checkbook shows every item the district purchases and what the purchases were for including instruction, support and bond construction. The items are reported by the categories defined by the State of Kansas and the categories are consistent throughout Kansas' school districts.

Wichita spends $12,631 per student (50,033 students) via a 632,000,000 budget. Madison spent $15,241 per student in 2009-2010.

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Q & A: Charter School Proposal for Madison Preparatory Academy for Young Men

570K PDF:

APPENDIX MMM-7-21 January 31, 2011
Urban League of Greater Madison


On December 6, 2010, the Urban League of Greater Madison presented an initial proposal for the establishment of Madison Preparatory Academy for Young Men (a non-instrumentality all-boys secondary charter school) to the Planning and Development Committee of the MMSD Board of Education. During the discussion that followed, Board members agreed to submit follow-up questions to the Urban Leagne, to which the Urban Leagne would respond before the next meeting of the Planning and Development Committee. Questions were submitted by Ed Hughes and Lucy Mathiak. Furthermore, Arlene Silveira submitted questions presented to her by several connnunity members. Below each numbered Board member question, you will find the ULGM response.

1. Ed Hughes: Do you have a response to the suggestion that your proposal may violate Wis. Stat. sec. 118.40(4)(c) other than that you also intend sometime in the future to develop and operate a school for girls? If so, what is the response?

ULGM: Please refer to our letter to MMSD Board of Education members that responded to the ACLU's opposition to Madison Prep. The answer to your question is contained in that letter. We have attached the letter to this document for your review.

2. Ed Hughes: To the extent the information is available to you, please list the 37 or so non instrumentality charter schools currently operating in Wisconsin.

ULGM: The following list of non-instrumentality charter schools currently operating in Wisconsin was compiled from the 20 I 0-20 II Charter Schools Yearbook published by the Department of Public Instruction. You can find the complete Yearbook online at:

1. Barron, North Star Academy

2. Cambridge, JEDI Virtual High School

3. City of Milwaukee, Central City Cyberschool

4. City of Milwaukee, Darrell Lynn Hines (DLH) Academy

5. City of Milwaukee, Downtown Montessori Academy

6. City of Milwaukee, King's Academy

7. City of Milwaukee, Milwaukee Academy of Science

8. Grantsburg, Insight School of Wisconsin

9. Hayward, Hayward Center for Individualized Learning

10. Hayward, Waadookodaading Charter School

11. McFarland, Wisconsin Virtual Academy

12. Milwaukee, Carmen High School of Science and Technology

13. Milwaukee, Highland Community School

14. Milwaukee, Hmong American Peace Academy (HAPA)

15. Milwaukee, International Peace Academy

16. Milwaukee, La Causa Charter School

17. Milwaukee, Milwaukee Community Cyber (MC2) High School

18. Milwaukee, Next Door Charter School

19. Milwaukee, Wings Academy

20. Milwaukee, Wisconsin Career Academy

21. Nekoosa, Niikuusra Community School

22. New Lisbon, Juneau County Charter School

23. New Richmond, NR4Kids Charter School

24. Sheboygan, Lake Country Academy

25. UW-Milwaukee, Bruce Guadalupe Community School

26. UW-Milwaukee, Business & Economics Academy of Milwaukee (BEAM)

27. UW-Milwaukee, Capitol West Academy

28. UW-Milwaukee, Milwaukee College Preparatory School

29. UW-Milwaukee, Milwaukee Renaissance Academy

30. UW-Milwaukee, School for Early Development & Achievement (SEDA)

31. UW-Milwaukee, Seeds of Health Elementary School

32. UW-Milwaukee, Tenor High School

33. UW-Milwaukee, Urban Day Charter School, Inc

34. UW-Milwaukee, Veritas High School

35. UW-Milwaukee, Woodlands School

36. UW -Milwaukee, YMCA Young Leaders Academy

37. UW-Parkside, 21st Century Preparatory School

38. Weyauwega-Fremont, Waupaca County Charter School

3. Ed Hughes: Do you have copies of any of the contracts Wisconsin non-instrumentality charter schools have entered into with their school districts? If so, please list the contracts and provide a copy of at least one of them.

ULGM: See attached contracts for Lake Country Academy in Sheboygan and the Wisconsin Virtual Academy in McFarland, which are both non-instrumentality charter schools.

4. Ed Hughes: To the extent the information is available to you, please list the amount ofper.student payment each non-instrumentality charter school in Wisconsin is contractually entitled to receive from its sponsoring school district.

ULGM: We have requested information from the DPI on the current per-student payments to each non-instrumentality charter school in Wisconsin, but we understand that DPI does not now have the information consolidated in one database. We expect that the per-student payment information will be available from DPI by January 17, and we will submit that information to the board and administration as soon as it becomes available from the DPI. The per-pupil payment to each district.authorized charter school in Wisconsin, including instrumentality and non-instrumentality charter schools, is determined through negotiations and mutual agreement between the school district, as the charter school authorizer, and the charter school developer/operator.

5. Ed Hughes: Please identify the minimum per-student payment from the school district that would be required for Madison Prep to be financially feasible from your perspective. If you don't have a specific figure, provide your best estimate of the range in which that figure is likely to fall.

ULGM: The MMSD Superintendent and Assistant Superintendent-Business in agreement with us that more time is needed to present a projected minimum payment from the school district. DPI's School Finance Data Warehouse indicates that MMSD reported $14,432 in revenue per student and spent $13,881 per student iu 2008-09. We are certain that we will not request more per student than what MMSD spends annually.

6. Lucy Mathiak: Do you know what Madison Prep will cost the district? And do you know where the money will come from?

ULGM: We have an idea ofwhat our school will cost but as stated in the answer to question number 5, we are working through several costs and line items with MMSD's Superintendent and Assistant Superintendent-Business. In Wisconsin, public charter schools are funded primarily by school districts or the state legislature (non-school district authorized schools). Generally, private funding is limited to 5% of costs during the budgeting process. However we will raise significantly more in private funding during the pre-implementation and implementation years of the school than we will in out years.

7. Lucy Mathiak: How the financial commitment asked of the district compares to the financial commitment to its existing schools?

ULGM: Assuming you mean existing traditional public schools, we will require more information from MMSD's administration to make this comparison. Given that Madison Prep will be a new school and a non-instrumentality, there will be costs that Madison Prep has that the school system does not, and vice versa. However, we are firmly committed to ensuring our school is operated within the annual per pupil cost MMSD now spends to educate students in middle and high schools.

8. Community Member, via Arlene Silveira: First of all, has the funding that is indicated as part of the proposal actually been acquired or promised? The proposal indicates $100,000/ year from the Madison Community Foundation, but I can't find any information from MCF itself about funding Madison Prep. All I can see is that they donated to the Urban League's capital and Workforce campaigns. Will you check into this? Also, the proposal indicates $250,000/ year for 3 years from Partners for Developing Futures. Last year, despite having received 25 applications for funding from "education entrepreneurs," this organization did not fund any of them due to the quality of the applications. How is the Madison Prep planning team able to claim this as a source of funding? Have promises been made?

ULGM: The Madison Community Foundation and Partners for Developing Futures were listed as potential revenue sources; these dollars were not committed. Our business plan followed the same approach as most business plans for start-up initiatives: listing prospective revenue sources. However, we do intend to pursue funding through these and other sources. Our private fundraising goals and needs in our five-year budget plan are reasonable.

9. Lucy Mathiak: What additional resources are needed to make the Madison Prep model work?

ULGM: Our school is designed as a demonstration school to be replicable, in whole or in part, by MMSD and other school systems. Therefore, we will not request more than the district's own annual costs per pupil at the middle and high school levels.

10. Lucy Mathiak: What resources are in hand and what resources will you need to raise?

ULGM: We presently have $50,000 to support the planning of the school, with the offer of additional support. However, we will secure additional private and public funding once the Board of Education formally approves the DPI planning grant application/detailed proposal for Madison Prep.

11. Lucy Mathiak: Ifthere is a proposed endowment, what is the amount of the endowment in hand, the estimated annual rate of return, and the estimated income available for use?

ULGM: New charter schools generally do not budget for endowment in their first few years of operation. We intend to build an endowment at some point and have line items for this in Madison Prep's budget, but these issues will be decided by the Board ofDirectors ofthe school, for which we will not begin recruiting until the Board of Education approves our DPI plauning grant application/detailed proposal.

12. Ed Hughes: Which parts of your proposal do you require non-instrumentality status to implement?

ULGM: Non-instrumentality status will be vital to Madison Prep's ability to offer an extended school day, extended school year, as well as the expectations we have of teachers to serve as mentors and coaches to students. The collective bargaining contract between the Board of Education and Madison Teachers, Inc. would not allow for this added instructional time. Yet this added instructional time will be necessary in order for students to meet Madison Prep's ambitious achievement goals. In addition, our professional development program will also require more hours of training. We also intend to implement other special activities for students and faculty that would not be allowed under MMSD and MTI's collective bargaining agreement.

13. Ed Hughes: What will be the school's admission policy? Please describe any preferences that the admission policy will include. To what extent will students who live outside ofthe Madison school district be considered for admission?

ULGM: Madison Prep will comply with all federal and state regulations relating to charter school admissions. In its inaugural school year (20 12-20 13), Madison Prep will be open to any 61h and 7'h grade male student residing within the boundaries of MMSD.

All interested families will complete an Enrollment Form at the Urban League's offices, online, during community meetings and outreach activities, through local partners, or during a visit to the school (after it opens). If Madison Prep receives less than 45 enrollment forms for either grade (6 and 7) in the tirst year, all students' who applied will be admitted. If the school receives more than 45 enrollment forms for either grade level in the first year, or enrollment forms exceed the seats available in subsequent years, Madison Prep will hold a public random lottery at a location that provides enough space for applicant students and families. The lottery will be held in accordance with DPI guidelines for random lotteries. If Madison Prep does not fill all available seats, it will continue its grassroots recruitment efforts until it reaches its enrollment goal.

14. Community Member, via Arlene Silveira: We know that Madison Prep won't accept girls. Will it except boys with Autism or Aspergers? If a boy has a learning disability, will he be allowed to attend? What ifthis learning disability makes it not possible for him to perform above grade level on a standardized test? Will he be allowed in? And can they kick him out if his test scores aren't advanced/proficient?

ULGM: Please see our answer to question #13. To be clear, Madison Prep will accept students with special learning needs, including students who speak English as a second language. As always, IEP teams will determine on a case-by-case basis if Madison Prep is an appropriate placement for special education students. No Madison Prep student will ever be expelled for academic performance.

15. Ed Hughes: An attraction ofthe proposed school is that it could provide the kind ofiutense academic and other sorts of support that could change the trajectories of its students from failure to success. How will you ensure that your school serves primarily students who require the sort of approach the school will offer in order to be successful?

ULGM: Please see our answer to question #13 and question #16 below. We will go to great lengths to inform parents about Madison Prep as an option for their child, and to recruit students and families to our school. We will over-market our efforts in low-income communities and through media, sports clubs, community centers, churches, employers, and other vehicles that reach these students and their parents. We are also exploring the legality of our ability to set an income goal or threshold for student admissions. Nonetheless, we believe that any young man, regardless of their family background, would be well served by Madison Prep.

16. Ed Hughes: To the extent yon know them, describe what the school's stndent recruitment and marketing strategies will be.

ULGM: Madison Prep's marketing plan will support three priorities and goals:

1. Enrollment: Recruiting, retaining, and expanding student enrollment annually -share Madison Prep with as many parents and students as possible and establish a wait-list of at least 20 students at each grade level by June I each year (with the exception of year one).

2. Staffing: Recruiting and retaining a talented, effective, and committed faculty and staff -field qualified applicants for each position in a timeframe that enables us to hire by June 30 each year.

3. Public Image and Support: Building, maintaining, and solidifying a base of support among local leaders, financial contributors, key partners, the media, and the general public.

To ensure the public is well acquainted with the school, Madison Prep, with the support of the Urban League of Greater Madison, will make use of a variety of marketing strategies to accomplish its enrollment, staffing, fundraising, and publicity goals. Each strategy will be phased in, from pre.launch of the school through the first three years of operation. These marketing strategies are less expensive and more sustainable with the budget of a new charter school than television, radio, and popular print advertisements. They also deliver a great return on investment if executed effectively. Each strategy will enable Madison Prep, with its limited staff, to promote itself to the general public and hard-to-reach communities, build relationships, sustain communications and achieve its goals.

A. Image Management: Madison Prep's logo and images of young men projecting the Madison Prep brand will be featured on the school'.s website, in informational and print materials, and on inexpensive paraphernalia (lapel pins, emblems, ink pens, etc). Students will be required to wear uniforms that include a red or black blazer featuring the Madison Prep emblem, a sweater, a red or black tie, white shirt, black or khaki pants, and black or brown dress shoes. They will also have a gym uniform and athletic team wear that features the Madison Prep emblem. Additionally, Madison Prep will ensure that its school grounds, educational facility, and learning spaces are clean, orderly and well-maintained at all times, and that these physical spaces reflect positive images of Madison Prep students, positive adult males, community leaders, families, and supporters. Madison Prep's Core Values will be visible through the school as well, and its students, faculty, staff, and Board of Directors will reflect an image in school and in public that is consistent with the school's Core Values and Leadership Dimensions.

B. Grassroots Engagement: Madison Prep's founders, Board members, volunteers, and its key staff (once hired) will go door-to-door in target neighborhoods, and other areas within MMSD boundaries where prospective candidates can be found, to build relationships with young men, families, and local community resource persons and advocates to recruit young men to attend Madison Prep. Recruiters will be dressed in the Madison Prep uniform (either a polo shirt, sweater or suit jacket/tie, each showing the Madison emblem, and dress slacks or skirt) and will visit homes in two person teams.

Madison Prep will also partner with City Council members, Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners, and local libraries to host community meetings year-round to promote the school in target neighborhoods and military bases. It will also promote the school to citizens in high traffic residential areas of the city, including metro stops, restaurants, community centers, community health agencies, and at public events. Madison Prep will engage the religious community as well, promoting the school to church leaders and requesting to speak before their congregations or have the church publicize the school during their announcements on Sundays and ministry activities during the week. Area businesses, hospitals, government agencies, foster care agencies, and mentorship programs will be asked to make information available to their patrons, clients, and families. Madison Prep will also seek to form partnerships with the Police Department and Court System to ensure judges, attorneys, neighborhood police officers, and family advocates know about the school and can make referrals of young men they believe will benefit from joining Madison Prep's school community.

C. Online Presence & Partnerships: Madison Prep will launch a website and update its current Facebook and Twitter pages prior ·to the school opening to expand its public presence. The Facebook page for Madison Prep presently has more than 100 members, has been operational for less than 2 months, and has not yet been widely marketed. The page is used to raise awareness, expand support, communicate progress, announce activities and events, and promote small-donor fundraising campaigns. The website will be used to recruit students, staff, and eventually serve as an entry-point to a member only section on the Internet for faculty, students, and parents. Madison Prep will also seek to establish strategic alliance partnerships with service associations (100 Black Men, Sororities and Fraternities, Civic Clubs or Organizations, etc.), enlisting their participation in the school's annual events. In addition, Madison Prep will establish partnerships with other public and private schools in the Madison area to recruit students, particularly elementary schools.

D. Viral Marketing: Madison Prep will use email announcements and social networking sites to share its mission, activities, employment opportunities, and successes with its base of supporters and will inspire and encourage them to share the information with their friends, colleagues, parents and young men they know who might be interested in the school. Madison Prep will add to its base of supporters through its other marketing strategies, collecting names and contact information when and where appropriate.

E. Buzz Marketing: Madison Prep will use subtle forms of marketing to recruit students and faculty, increase its donor and support base, and develop a positive public image. The school will maintain an influential board of directors and advisors, will engage notable people and organizations in the school, and will publicize these assets to the general public. The school will also prepare key messages and strategically involve its students, staff, and parents in key events and activities to market its brand -high achieving, thoughtful, forward thinking, confident and empowered young men who are being groomed for leadership and success by equally talented, passionate and committed adults. The messages, images, and quality of interactions that the broader community has with members of the greater Madison community will create a positive buzz about the school, its impact, and the success of its students.

F. School Visits & Activity Participation: Each year, from the week after Thanksgiving through the end of the school year, Madison Prep will invite prospective students and parents, funders, and members of the community to visit the school. A visit program and weekly schedule will be established to ensure that the school day and learning is not interrupted by visitors. Madison Prep will also establish an open visit policy for parents, and will create opportunities for them to leverage their ongoing involvement with the school and their young men. Through nurturing positive relationships with parents, and establishing an enviromnent where they are wanted and respected, Madison Prep will create spokespersons in the community who help grow its student body and community support. Finally, Madison Prep will host an annual community event that engages its school community with the greater Madison community in a day of fun, competitive events for families, and will serve as a resource to parents whose children do not attend Madison Prep by inviting them to participate in its Destination Planning workshops.

G. Popular Media: Madison Prep will allocate resources to market itself on Urban and News Radio during the peak student recruitment season in two phases. Phase I will take place in November 2011 and Phase 2 advertising will take place between Jannary and May 2012. To defray costs, Madison Prep will enlist the support of local and national celebrities for feature interviews, spotlights, and PSAs with Madison Prep's Leadership to promote the school.

17. Community Member, via Arlene Silveira: It looks like the Charter school is aiming for 50% of its population to be low-income. The middle school my children will go to, Sherman, is 71% low income. Blackhawk is at 62%. Wright is 83%. Sennett is 65%. Cherokee is at 63%. Toki is at 51%. Can we, in good conscious, start a new school-designed to help low income students -that has a lower percentage oflow-income students than six of our existing middle schools?

ULGM: The Urban League has set the 50% low-income target as a floor, not as a ceiling. In fact, we expect that more than 50% of Madison Prep students will qualifY for free or reduced lunch.

Furthermore, we have chosen to use the 50% figure to allow us to be conservative in our budgeting process. No matter what the level of low income students at Madison Prep -50% or higher-the student achievement goals and overall program quality will remain unchanged.

18. Ed Hughes: Have you considered limiting admission to students who have scored minimal or basic on their WKCE tests?

ULGM: No. Madison Prep will be open to any male student who wishes to attend, regardless of past academic performance.

19. Ed Hughes: Some have suggested that Madison Prep could skim offthe most academically.motivated African-American students from the District's middle and high schools, leaving fewer role models and academic peers for the African-American boys who remain in our existing schools. What is your response to that concern?

ULGM: The notion that charter schools skim off the most motivated students is a common misconception. First, this argument is not logical. Parents/caregivers ofchildren who are academically motivated and doing well in traditional public schools have little incentive to change their students' educational environment. Those kids will likely stay put. When a parent, teacher, social worker, or school counselor recognizes that a child isn't doing well in the traditional school and seeks an alternative, the charter school that is sought as an alternative does not in this process gain some advantage. In fact, research suggests the opposite. A 2009 study by researchers at Michigan State University, the University of Wisconsin, and Mathematic Policy Research examined charter schools from across the country to test the "skimming" theory. The researchers found no evidence of skimming. In fact, they found students who go to charter schools typically have LOWER test scores than their counterparts in traditional public schools. (Read the full paper at

20. Ed Hughes: Have you extended preliminary or informal offers of employment at Madison Prep to anyone? If so, identify to whom the preliminary or informal offers were made and for which positions.


21. Ed Hughes: What will he your strategy for recruiting teachers? What qualifications will you establish for teachers? Please describe the general range of salary and benefits you expect to offer to teachers.

ULGM: Teacher Recruitment -The overarching goal of teacher recruitment will be to hire a highly qualified, passionate, hard-working, diverse staff. The recruitment effort will include casting a wide net that allows Madison Prep to draw from the pool oflocal teachers as well as teachers statewide and nationwide who will embrace the opportunity to help build a school from the ground up. We will recruit though typical both typical means (postings on our website, WECAN, charter school association job pages) as well as through recruitment fairs outside of the state. Our hiring process will take place in early and mid spring rather than late spring and summer so that we may have a competitive edge in recruiting the teachers that are the best fit for Madison Prep. While the Head of School will be responsible for the hiring of teachers, he/she will engage a committee of teachers, community members, parents, and students in the process ofselecting teachers and other staff. In addition to a thorough interview, teacher candidates will be required to teach a sample lesson to a group of students, as well as other interview committee members. Teacher Qualifications-All teachers at Madison Prep will be licensed by the Department of Public Instruction.

General Salary Range and Benefits*-For the 2012-2013 school year, the salary for Master Teachers (of which there will be two) is currently projected to be $61,406 with a signing bonus of $2,000 and a maximum performance bonus of $2,750. The salary for general education teachers is currently projected to be $50,055 for the 2012-2013 school year, with a signing bonus of$2,000 and a maximum performance bonus of$1,750. Madison Prep intends to provide a full range of benefits to its teachers. *Salary and bonus figures are subject to change

22. Ed Hughes: MMSD already has a charter middle school with a very diverse student population -James C. Wright Middle School. If the school district chose to continue James C. Wright as an instrumentality charter school but modeled on your Madison Prep proposal, which components of your proposal do yon think could be implemented at the school and which components of your proposal could not?

ULGM: The Urban League is not in a position to determine how the fundamental elements ofthe Madison Prep proposal could or could not be implemented at James C. Wright Middle School. That determination would have to be made by the district administration and c01mnunity at Wright.

23. Community Member, via Arlene Silveira: Here is the annual report from one of the Urban League charter schools that the proposal cites as a model for Madison Prep: This is a report from the school's lO'" year in existence. Please note the test achievement goals and scores on page 4 and compare them with the extremely overconfident goals of the Madison Prep proposal. IfMadison Prep is serious about attaining the goal of 75% oftheir students scoring 22 or higher on the ACT or 1100 or higher on the SAT, how do they plan to achieve this and what will happen with those students who fail to meet this standard? What will happen to the teachers who don't meet their quota ofstudent test scores above this level? Please investigate these questions in detail and within the framework of Madison Prep processes from admissions through expulsion.

ULGM: The reference to the New Leadership Charter School in Springfield, Massachusetts in the Madison Prep initial proposal was meant to show the precedent for the establishment of charter schools by Urban League affiliates; the New Leadership Charter School is NOT a model for Madison Prep, nor was this ever stated in the initial proposal. That said, Madison Prep IS serious about our student achievement goals related to the ACT and SAT. We plan to meet these goals through-as the proposal states-an all-male student body, the International Baccalaureate Curriculum, college preparatory educational program, Harkness Teaching, an extended school day and year,mentoring and coll1111unity support, and a prep year. Students will be carefully assessed for years leading up to these tests to ensure their preparedness. When formative assessments indicate re-teaching is needed in order to meet the goal, students will receive further individualized instruction. Madison Prep teachers will not have student test score "quotas."

24. Lucy Mathiak: What would a timeline for the counterpart girls' school look like?

ULGM: We would like to initiate the process for the girls' school in the fall of 2012, with an opening aimed at 2014-2015.

I continue to believe that the fate of this initiative will be a defining moment for the Madison School District. If approved and implemented, it will, over time, affect other traditional schools within the District. If it is rejected, a neighboring District will likely step in.

Finally, I found the Urban League's response to Ed Hughes' question #5 interesting:

DPI's School Finance Data Warehouse indicates that MMSD reported $14,432 in revenue per student and spent $13,881 per student iu 2008-09. We are certain that we will not request more per student than what MMSD spends annually.

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Madison School District School Safety Recommendations and Tactical Site Assessments

Luis Yudice, Safety/Security Coordinator Madison School District:

The Madison Metropolitan School District has the responsibility to provide a safe and secure learning environment for students and staff. To this end, the district periodically conducts assessments of its facilities and reviews its operating practices to ensure that all that can be done is being done to ensure the safety of our schools.


Following a school shooting in the Weston School District in Cazenovia, Wisconsin in 2006, Superintendent Art Rainwater issued security reminders that included the following:

  • Ensure that building security and door locking procedures are followed.
  • Ensure that all non-employees in a building are identified and registered in the office.
  • Ensure that communication systems, radios and PA's are functioning.
  • Have employees visibly display their MMSD identification badges.
  • Be aware of the school's security plan and of their role in security procedures.
  • Communicate with and listen to students.
  • Remind students that they should always communicate with staff and share information regarding any threats to the school or to other persons.
  • Ensure that the school's crisis team is in place.

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Private Schools 'Counsel Out' the Unsuccessful

Sarah Maslin Nir:

Thousands of parents trying to get their children into private schools are now busy mailing thank-you cards to admissions offices and biting their nails while waiting for word back.

But for a small number of parents who prevailed through this gantlet in the past, this time of year brings another kind of notice -- that their child is on thin ice -- as an even more painful process begins: the "counseling out" of students who are not succeeding.

Not discussed on schools' tours or in their glossy pamphlets, counseling out is nonetheless a matter of practice at many private schools. Unlike the public school system, private schools are not obligated, and often not set up, to handle children having trouble keeping up.

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"the Board will choose a level of property tax increase to set a target for (2011-2012) budget reductions and efficiencies"

Erik J Kass, Assistant Superintendent for Business:

The process outlined below is intended to provide adequate and timely information to the Board of Education and Community relative to the development of the 2011-12 Budget. This process will create transparency, credibility around data, and provide options for the Board of Education along the way. This process as you will see, also leans very heavily on the 5 year model worked on and completed by the 5 Year Budget Model Ad Hoc Committee.

The goal of this upcoming budget process is comprised of five phases: planning, preparation, approval/ adoption, implementation, and review I evaluation. The proposed timeline and list of activities below are aimed at meeting the goals for planning, preparation, and approval/adoption. It is important to note that all phases of the process will be completed by utilizing the PMA Model and its summary reports only. The proposed process and timeline are as follows:

The 2010-2011 Madison School District budget raised property taxes by about 9%.

Perhaps program reviews and effectiveness will inform 2011-2012 financial decisions.

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: In the grip of a great convergence

Martin Wolf:

Convergent incomes and divergent growth - that is the economic story of our times. We are witnessing the reversal of the 19th and early 20th century era of divergent incomes. In that epoch, the peoples of western Europe and their most successful former colonies achieved a huge economic advantage over the rest of humanity. Now it is being reversed more quickly than it emerged. This is inevitable and desirable. But it also creates huge global challenges.

In an influential book, Kenneth Pomeranz of the University of California, Irvine, wrote of the "great divergence" between China and the west.* He located that divergence in the late 18th and 19th centuries. This is controversial: the late Angus Maddison, doyen of statistical researchers, argued that by 1820 UK output per head was already three times and US output per head twice Chinese levels. Yet of the subsequent far greater divergence there is no doubt whatsoever. By the middle of the 20th century, real incomes per head (measured at purchasing power parity) in China and India had fallen to 5 and 7 per cent of US levels, respectively. Moreover, little had changed by 1980.

What had once been the centres of global technology had fallen vastly behind. This divergence is now reversing. That is far and away the biggest single fact about our world.

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Wisconsin Open Enrollment Information: 2011-2012 February 7 to February 25

Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction: , via a kind reader's email.

Much more on open enrollment, here.

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: The struggle with public-sector unions should be about productivity and parity, not just spending cuts

The Economist:

LOOK around the world and the forces are massing. On one side are Californian prison guards, British policemen, French railworkers, Greek civil servants, and teachers just about everywhere. On the other stand the cash-strapped governments of the rich world. Even the mere mention of cuts has brought public-sector workers onto the streets across Europe. When those plans are put into action, expect much worse.

"Industrial relations" are back at the heart of politics--not as an old-fashioned clash between capital and labour, fought out so brutally in the Thatcherite 1980s, but as one between taxpayers and what William Cobbett, one of the great British liberals, used to refer to as "tax eaters". People in the private sector are only just beginning to understand how much of a banquet public-sector unions have been having at everybody else's expense (see article). In many rich countries wages are on average higher in the state sector, pensions hugely better and jobs far more secure. Even if many individual state workers do magnificent jobs, their unions have blocked reform at every turn. In both America and Europe it is almost as hard to reward an outstanding teacher as it is to sack a useless one.

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January 7, 2011

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: New York Governor Cuomo Offers Plan to Curb State Spending

Danny Hakim:

The proposals laid out by Mr. Cuomo -- including reducing the number of agencies, authorities and departments by 20 percent and capping the annual growth of state government to the rate of inflation -- set up a clash with the more liberal Democrats who control the State Assembly.

In addition to freezing the salaries of most state workers, Mr. Cuomo would reduce spending on Medicaid and limit local property tax increases statewide.

"New York has no future as the tax capital of the nation," Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, said in his speech. "Our young people will not stay, businesses will not come, this has to change. Put it simply, the people of this state simply cannot afford to pay more taxes, period."

The roughly 47-minute speech also offered New Yorkers a different view of their new governor: he was highly animated in his expressions of frustration over the state's reputation and injected cornball humor, a PowerPoint slide show, and even air quotes into the formal setting.

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Retracted autism study an 'elaborate fraud,' British journal finds


A now-retracted British study that linked autism to childhood vaccines was an "elaborate fraud" that has done long-lasting damage to public health, a leading medical publication reported Wednesday.

An investigation published by the British medical journal BMJ concludes the study's author, Dr. Andrew Wakefield, misrepresented or altered the medical histories of all 12 of the patients whose cases formed the basis of the 1998 study -- and that there was "no doubt" Wakefield was responsible.

"It's one thing to have a bad study, a study full of error, and for the authors then to admit that they made errors," Fiona Godlee, BMJ's editor-in-chief, told CNN. "But in this case, we have a very different picture of what seems to be a deliberate attempt to create an impression that there was a link by falsifying the data."

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Effective reading program shelved, then amazingly reborn

Jay Matthews:

I thought it fitting that my colleague Nick Anderson had his eye-opening piece on the Success For All reading program published in The Post on New Year's Day. The night before, we were all singing "Should old acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind." That could be the theme song for Success For All.

As Anderson reveals, the cleverly organized and well-tested program, brainchild of legendary Johns Hopkins University research couple Robert E. Slavin and Nancy A. Madden, spent the Bush Administration in a wilderness inhabited by other wrongly discarded educational ideas. It did not disappear, but it did not get much attention or growth. Now it is back in the forefront of school improvement, beneficiary of a $50 million grant from the Obama administration. Its risen-from-the-dead story would be hard to believe if Anderson hadn't explained it so well in his story.

I know Madden and Slavin. A decade ago, I wrote a magazine piece about their unusual marriage and work, and what they had done to alter reading instruction throughout much of the country. [I would love to link to the piece, but I can't find it.] They had come from well-to-do families -- Madden from Edina, Minn., and Slavin from Montgomery County, Md. They met as undergraduates at Reed College, a Portland, Ore., institution that encourages social activists. They fell in love and decided to dedicate their lives to finding the best ways to teach children, particularly kids whose own upbringings weren't as comfortable as theirs had been. (They later adopted three children from South America.)

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Do Home Schoolers Deserve a Tax Break?

Room for Debate:

The new Republicans in Congress have vowed to challenge Washington's role in American public education, and said they will seek to turn more power over to the states on many fronts. But one of their priorities is a new federal rule: to give parents in every state tax credits if their children are home-schooled.

Previous efforts in Congress to adopt a nationwide tax break have failed, and currently only three states -- Illinois, Louisiana and Minnesota -- allow some benefit for home schooling.

Will the idea succeed in the new Congress, given some conservatives' longtime opposition, on the grounds that the credits might open the door to more government regulation of education? How would such a system work? Is it a threat to public education, as its critics claim?

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The Mayor Wants You to Lose Some Weight

Laura Landro

Frustrated with the high cost of health care, a number of communities around the country are taking new steps to push citizens to improve their health.

Some places have set 10-year goals to reach certain marks of good health. In San Francisco, for example, 79% of small children currently are fully immunized by the time they turn 2 years old; the county aims to increase that to 90% by 2020. Other places, like Kern County, Calif., which has one of the highest rates of obesity and heart disease in the state, are setting up farmers' markets and constructing new trails and sidewalks to foster healthier lifestyles.

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Proposed bill would overhaul Virginia textbook adoption process

Kevin Sieff:

In the wake of a state review that found dozens of errors in Virginia social studies textbooks, Del. David Englin will introduce a bill Monday that would overhaul the state's textbook adoption process.

The legislation would shift the responsibility of vetting textbooks from panels consisting mostly of school teachers to the publishers. Companies would have to be certified with the Virginia Board of Education before their books are approved for use in public schools.

Last year, textbook review committees approved two books by Five Ponds Press - "Our Virginia, Past and Present" and "Our America to 1865" - that several state-appointed scholars found last month to have dozens of historical inaccuracies.

"As a legislator and a parent, I was shocked and appalled to learn that Virginia social studies textbooks had such egregious factual inaccuracies," Englin (D-Alexandria) said. "As parents, the bare minimum we expect from textbooks is that the facts are correct."

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Getting Schooled in Law Loans

Stephanie Landsman:

The American Bar Association has officially issued a warning on its website.

The ABA is now making the case to persuade college students not to go to law school.

According to the association, over the past 25 years law school tuition has consistently risen two times faster than inflation.

The average private law student borrows about $92,500 for law school, while law students who attend public schools take out loans for $71,400. These numbers do not include any debt law students may still have from their time as undergraduates.

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January 6, 2011

Beloit part of voucher plan? "The Days of An Educational Monopoly Are Over"

Justin Weaver:

The new Wisconsin governor is considering sweeping reforms in Madison, one of which could directly impact Beloit schools.

Gov. Scott Walker and the incoming Republican legislature assumed power in the state Monday and wasted no time in introducing the possibility of expanding the state's school voucher program. The program, presently instituted in the Milwaukee area, allows students to receive taxpayer-financed vouchers to attend private schools, including religious schools. Just under 21,000 of the maximum 22,500 students enrolled in the program this year.

The governor has identified Beloit as one place where the vouchers could be phased in as part of a trial effort to spread the program statewide.

"I think school choice is successful," Walker told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. "I think it's worth looking at expanding it. How do you do that? There's really a multitude of options, not only those being discussed in other parts of the country. And we want to continue to be at the forefront of that."

Beloit School District Superintendent Milt Thompson said he views the potential voucher introduction as yet another reason for the district to reassess its direction.

"My concern is that the district has to become conscious of today's market. If you have a system that is attractive, people will send their kids here. If you don't, the days of an educational monopoly are over," he said.

Additional choices for our communities is a good thing. Thompson's perspective is correct and useful.

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Proposed Changes to Superintendent Prerequisites

New Jersey Left Behind

The Record reports today that the NJ DOE has drawn up changes to credential requirements for superintendents of "struggling school districts." Taking a page, perhaps, from Mike Bloomberg, some districts would have the ability to hire superintendents who lack specific educational certification or degrees from teaching colleges.

Richard Bozza, head of the New Jersey Association of School Administrators, says that the proposed change in employment requirements give some applicants a "free pass" and "our view is clear: you need to have an educational background to lead a district."

(Of course,, such changes offer a solution to the problem of traditionally-credentialed superintendents fleeing the state for greener pastures because of the newly-imposed salary caps, but that's another matter.)

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: When States Default: 2011, Meet 1841

Dennis Berman:

Land values soared. States splurged on new programs. Then it all went bust, bringing down banks and state governments with them. This wasn't America in 2011, it was America in 1841, when a now-forgotten depression pushed eight states and a desolate territory called Florida into the unthinkable: They defaulted on debts.

This was an incredible step, even then. Fledgling U.S. states like Indiana and Illinois were still building credibility on global debt markets. They rightly feared "a prejudice so deep and wide" that they could never sell bonds in Europe again, said one banker.

Their paranoia would be familiar to the shell-shocked California and Illinois of 2011. Each is beset by budget problems so great that some have begun debating default or bankruptcy. These worriers may draw comfort from the state crises that raged and retreated long ago. Most of the states eventually paid off their debts, and changed their laws to safeguard their finances, helping make U.S. states some of the world's best credits.

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More Schools Embracing iPad as Learning Tool

Winnie Hu

As students returned to class this week, some were carrying brand-new Apple iPads in their backpacks, given not by their parents but by their schools.

A growing number of schools across the nation are embracing the iPad as the latest tool to teach Kafka in multimedia, history through "Jeopardy"-like games and math with step-by-step animation of complex problems.

As part of a pilot program, Roslyn High School on Long Island handed out 47 iPads on Dec. 20 to the students and teachers in two humanities classes. The school district hopes to provide iPads eventually to all 1,100 of its students.

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Minneapolis district investigates teacher license problems at Broadway High

Tom Weber

Students at Broadway High School in Minneapolis are being told that some of the credits they've received for classwork might not be valid for graduation.

Minnesota Public Radio News has learned the Minneapolis school district is investigating whether some teachers at the school didn't have the proper licenses for classes they were teaching.

Associate superintendent Mark Bonine says issues surfaced this fall as Broadway's new site administrator, Sally Reynolds, took over the school.

"As Sally was assessing, she had some concerns around some credits," Bonine said.

The issue is whether those credits were earned properly, but Bonine added that students "are not at fault here."

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Monona Grove science teacher to sail and study near Antarctica

Gena Kittner

Next month, Juan Botella will spend more than 60 days aboard a ship in the Southern Ocean to learn firsthand how scientific research is conducted - knowledge he will bring back to his classroom along with new information on how the southern polar region has changed.

The trip to the body of water surrounding Antarctica fulfills a lifelong dream for Botella, a science teacher at Monona Grove High School who's always wanted to travel there, although he's nervous about spending months on a boat.

"I would have liked to be on land," Botella admits, but added he's still excited for the trip. "I'm a very bad sailor. I am very easily seasick."

Botella, 43, was chosen from among more than 150 applicants to accompany and help 32 researchers collect and study water samples from the Antarctic region.

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January 5, 2011

A crucial lesson in education reform Money alone doesn't help improve student achievement

Don Soifer:

Schools around the country have begun to show measurable progress in closing achievement gaps, according to evidence from a growing range of sources. That's the good news.

The bad news is that in New Jersey this progress is much more limited, and it is young African-Americans who seem to be losing out the most.

Despite an influx of new funding to New Jersey's poorest urban school districts following the state Supreme Court's Abbott rulings, student achievement levels remain mostly flat at the lower end of the spectrum.

The percentage of black eighth-graders who scored above "basic" in reading actually declined, from 62 percent in 2005 to 60 percent in 2009 on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

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The AI Revolution Is On

Stephen Levy: warehouses are a bit of a jumble. Boxes of pacifiers sit above crates of onesies, which rest next to cartons of baby food. In a seeming abdication of logic, similar items are placed across the room from one another. A person trying to figure out how the products were shelved could well conclude that no form of intelligence--except maybe a random number generator--had a hand in determining what went where.

But the warehouses aren't meant to be understood by humans; they were built for bots. Every day, hundreds of robots course nimbly through the aisles, instantly identifying items and delivering them to flesh-and-blood packers on the periphery. Instead of organizing the warehouse as a human might--by placing like products next to one another, for's robots stick the items in various aisles throughout the facility. Then, to fill an order, the first available robot simply finds the closest requested item. The storeroom is an ever-shifting mass that adjusts to constantly changing data, like the size and popularity of merchandise, the geography of the warehouse, and the location of each robot. Set up by Kiva Systems, which has outfitted similar facilities for Gap, Staples, and Office Depot, the system can deliver items to packers at the rate of one every six seconds.

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So You Have a Liberal Arts Degree and Expect a Job?

PBS NewsHour:

low-up to a story we aired last month on the tough job market for recent college graduates.

NewsHour economics correspondent Paul Solman looks at job-hunters who've already been out of school for a few years.

RICHARD WHITE, Career Services, Rutgers University: The last couple of years have been a very, very tough time to be coming out of college.

PAUL SOLMAN: Rutgers University, where Richard White runs career services.

RICHARD WHITE: At the time of graduation, probably 50 percent of college grads have some kind of job. That's during the good times. That probably was cut in half during these last two tough years.

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A 'Sputnik' moment for education

Mike Petrilli & John Richard Schrock:

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said the results from the international education test scores (PISA) were "a massive wake-up call" for American educators. Midmorning discusses what kind of reform American schools need, and if there is room for the rote test-driven education that put Shanghai on top and the U.S. far behind.

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Focusing on Languages (Mainly Mandarin)

Fernanda Santos:

During her visit to High School for Violin and Dance in the Bronx on Monday, one of the stops in five-borough tour that worked as her formal introduction to her new job, New York City's schools chancellor, Cathleen P. Black, gathered around a table with students and alumni, discussing career paths, opportunities and plans.

One man told her he was studying architecture at State University of New York at Delhi. One woman said she was majoring in criminal justice at Hostos Community College. Another, who is graduating at the end of the month, described to Ms. Black how learning to play a musical instrument helped her learn new words.

Before she left the building, Ms. Black peppered the principal, Tanya John, with questions about college preparedness and the school's curriculum. Then, she revealed what is starting to look like an obsession.

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Flushing Out Lead, Metals With Chelation Therapy

April Fulton:

Sherri Oliver lives in a small town on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. It's a two-hour bus ride to get to the Mount Washington Pediatric Hospital in Baltimore -- and she has brought her daughter, Katie Dail.

Katie has dangerously high levels of lead in her blood.

She's a fast-moving first-grader with copper-colored hair. Katie has bright brown eyes but has trouble making eye contact. She also has autism -- and she doesn't really speak, but she makes a kind of whooping sound when she's happy.

But Katie is not here for autism treatment. The treatment she has been getting -- chelation therapy -- is to get her lead levels down. Although hospitals offer the treatment, some desperate parents are turning to home-based chelation kits and over-the-counter pills, which doctors say can be more dangerous.

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Detroit Public Schools: 40,000 kids to get laptops from stimulus funds Read more: Detroit Public Schools: 40,000 kids to get laptops from stimulus funds

Chastity Pratt Dawsey:

Detroit Public Schools will spend $49 million in federal money to push technology in the district, including distributing 40,000 new laptop computers to students in grades 6-12 for use in class, as well as more than 5,000 new desktop computers.

Each DPS teacher also will get a laptop.

The computers are being funded by stimulus money under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Details are to be announced this morning by DPS emergency financial manager Robert Bobb.

The district already has started distributing the computers and expects to deliver them all by the end of this school year, said Kisha Verdusco, a DPS spokeswoman.

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WEAC leaders hoping to forge relationships with GOP leaders at Capitol


Like other union leaders, WEAC President Mary Bell can see some "labor unrest" among her members if they're targeted by the incoming Walker administration.

But she can't see them taking an extreme step like going on strike, something they're prevented from doing under Wisconsin law.

"My members care so desperately about the work they do that it would be extremely difficult to envision them leaving their classrooms, leaving their kids," Bell said in a new WisPolitics interview. "We have that history in Wisconsin, but it's been 30 years since those things took place."

With Scott Walker set to occupy the governor's office next week and Republicans poised to take over both houses of the Legislature, Bell and WEAC executive director Dan Burkhalter said their members are feeling apprehensive and somewhat targeted. Still, Bell pointed out they've felt targeted since the early 1990s, when the state imposed the qualified economic offer.

In the last budget, Dems and Gov. Jim Doyle lifted the QEO, which allowed districts to avoid arbitration so long as they offered teachers a bump in pay and benefits of at least 3.8 percent.

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Rules tie up Milwaukee Public Schools real estate

Becky Vevea:

The former Garfield Elementary School building, stately and picturesque, looks as if it could be used for a movie set. That would be one way to fill the empty school with life.

For now, the century-old building at 2215 N. 4th St. sits empty.

Just down the road, construction is under way for a $7 million expansion to St. Marcus Lutheran School, one of the highest performing voucher schools in the city. But before St. Marcus raised millions of dollars, school leaders spent months in conversations with Milwaukee Public Schools about purchasing one of several nearby vacant buildings, including Garfield Elementary.

They were unsuccessful.

For MPS, one less building would mean revenue from the sale and a reduction in maintenance costs. So what happened?

"We were told we could buy them, but could not operate them as a school in competition with MPS," said Henry Tyson, St. Marcus' superintendent. "It became clear that the acquisition of one of those vacant MPS buildings was just not an option."

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January 4, 2011

No one files challenge in coming Madison School Board election

Matthew DeFour:

For the second time in the past four years, Madison won't have any contested school board contests.

Just like when they ran for the first time in 2008, former middle school teacher Marj Passman and attorney Ed Hughes did not draw any opponents for the spring election. That means seven of the previous nine contests will have featured one candidate.

Passman said her first term was a learning curve. The next term will focus on implementing projects such as the district's new strategic plan and an upcoming literacy evaluation.

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Can we strengthen the parents' voice in education?

On Oct. 28, Tom Frank, chair of Anne Arundel County's Countywide Citizen Advisory Committee, resigned.

"I was under the impression that the role of the CAC was to meet with a representative of each school, other interested parents and citizens, and to bring their educational concerns to the school board and the superintendent,'' he explained. ''I have been told that I essentially have this backwards and the CAC is supposed to only bring items to the parents that the school board determines are important."

In a certified letter, board of education President Patricia Nalley had written to Frank that the CAC must restrict its agenda to board-approved issues and would not be allowed to convene any type of candidates' forum. Frank also was told he'd have to cancel the CAC candidates forum, which was to include the four board members on the ballot for November's election.

It became apparent the CAC regulations had become a fantasy document. The democratic vision contained in these regulations had been greatly diluted over the decades and many surviving democratic provisions had long since stopped being consistently enforced.

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New Jersey Governor Christie wants to expand applicant pool for superintendent posts

Patricia Alex:

The Christie Administration wants to bypass credential requirements for hiring leaders for the state's struggling school districts and has proposed changes that could open the jobs to applicants without experience as educators.

The proposal could give the administration much wider latitude in choosing leaders for state-run districts like those in Paterson and Newark, where it was looking for a way to give Mayor Cory Booker a bigger role in running the schools.

The proposed changes also could affect more than 50 districts, including Clifton and Passaic, that have been deemed "in need of improvement," and others where state test scores are lagging.

The administration proposes to amend certification requirements for superintendents in those districts so that the job could be open to those with a bachelor's degree and managerial experience provided they have no criminal record.

Related: An Email to Madison Superintendent Dan Nerad on Math Teacher Hiring Criteria.

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Carlstedt: Time for Wisconsin to stop spending Dollarss on 4K and a Reference to Madison Superintendent Dan Nerad

Rich Carlstedt:

First, the Federal Government funds a program for youngsters that need help. It is called Headstart. The cry for help for such an age group should be addressed by this program, however the schools have found a cash cow in Wisconsin's 4 K Budget and can make extra funds this way.

Second, rather than looking to Arkansas, (or Georgia, who admit that the 4K program is a failure), we can look right here in Wisconsin. Three years ago I challenged Dan Nerad, the Green Bay Superintendent at that time, when he said, "early education promotes advancement of learning ."

"We do not need to look at studies from other communities, when we have the information right here in Green Bay! 8 years ago, we went from ½ day kindergarten to full day, and yet subsequent grade test scores failed to reflect the additional education time... in fact, scores are decreasing which is proof that extending hours does nothing."
The charge went unanswered.

Third, I have to say that you left a very large arrow out of your quiver, as your financial equation is not correct for 4 K.

While I feel that $9,900 is closer, let's use your $9,000 number, it is fine for expressing costs. To get funding for a student, he is counted as one FTE ( full time education) to get the 9K. 4K students however get a kicker. For 13 ¼ hours per week they are counted as .6 FTE ( .5 if less than 13 ¼). So 4 year olds are given a morning class, followed in the PM with another 4 year old. Those two half day students count as (2 x.6) 1.2 FTE or in cash terms, they bring in $10,800 to the district.

Much more on Madison's planned 4K program, here.

The article's comments are worth reading.

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Glendale principal exonerated from 17 harassment allegations

Susan Troller:

The Madison School District on Monday released a 27-page investigative report (PDF) exonerating Glendale Elementary Principal Mickey Buhl of multiple accusations of "misconduct and harassment" levied by or on behalf of a dozen current and former staff members at the school, located at 1201 Tompkins Drive, on the south east side.

The complaints cover incidents or disagreements covering the five years Buhl has been principal. Many concern the way in which Buhl discussed work performance with employees or attempted to mediate disputes among staff members. The report indicates that staff climate issues and concerns predated Buhl's tenure at the school.

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Madison School District announces kindergarten registration dates

Matthew DeFour:

The Madison School District on Monday announced dates and times for next fall's kindergarten registration.

Registration for Madison's new 4-year-old kindergarten program is scheduled for Feb. 7 from 1 to 6 p.m. Registration for 5-year-old kindergarten is scheduled for March 7 from 1 to 6 p.m.

Parents or guardians of children who will turn 4 or 5 on or before Sept. 1 must register at their local elementary school with proof of their child's age, residency and an immunization record. Children are welcome but not required to attend.

Redistributed state tax dollar funding for Wisconsin 4K programs may change due to budget problems, according to this recent article.

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Scientists Test 'Trust Hormone' For Autism Fight

Jon Hamilton:

For decades, parents of children with autism have been searching for a drug or diet to treat the disorder.

Their latest hope is the hormone oxytocin. It's often called the trust hormone or the cuddle hormone. And just to be clear, it has nothing to do with the narcotic oxycontin.

But some children with autism are already being treated with oxytocin, even though it's not approved for this purpose.

The Trust Hormone

It's no wonder parents of children with autism have high hopes for oxytocin. So do a lot of researchers, like Jennifer Bartz at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York.

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Wisconsin prepares for strain on systems as baby boomers retire

Scott Williams

Nobody knew it at the time, but Peter Glenn Cartier's arrival at Bellin Hospital on Jan. 1, 1946, marked Green Bay's official entry into a revolution.

Born at 6:25 a.m. that Tuesday morning, the son of Glenn and Kay Cartier was the first from Green Bay in a new generation of Americans who would forever be known as baby boomers.

By 1964, they numbered 77 million nationwide -- the largest generation ever -- and they transformed the world with their ideas, talents and values.

Now that the first of them has reached retirement age, baby boomers are redefining the meaning of golden years with their can-do, forever-young attitude.

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Teachers, parents set stage for Florida education war

Cara Fitzpatrick:

Teachers and like-minded parents have struck first in an expected statewide battle over education changes being proposed by Gov.-elect Rick Scott's transition team.

They have held meetings and conference calls, traded information via Facebook, planned an education summit and formed bill-writing committees to create alternative legislation.

And on Tuesday, they plan to wear red to send the new governor -- and the Republican-dominated legislature -- a message that they support public schools.

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Glut of candidates for St. Paul school board as 41 apply

Tom Weber:

More than three dozen people have applied for an open seat on the St. Paul School Board.

The seat was left vacant in November when board member Vallay Varro stepped down to head an education non-profit. The St. Paul School Board now has to appoint someone to fill that seat for the year remaining in Varro's term.

With the application period now closed, the district says 41 people applied. Familiar names include two former St. Paul School Board members, Al Oertwig and William Finney. Finney also used to be St. Paul's police chief.

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Video essays are a hot topic in college admissions as more schools allow them

Jenna Johnson

To complete a half-dozen college applications, Morgan Malone lined up letters of recommendation, penned essays and - for George Mason University - carried around a video camera for several days.

The result was a nearly two-minute video essay that opens with Malone introducing herself from atop the sign outside Mountain View High School in Stafford County. There are clips of her walking the school's hallways, participating in a quiz bowl and volunteering. At the end, her assistant principal jumps on a desk and shouts, "I approve this message."

"Instead of having an application and words in an essay, they get to see me," said Malone, 17. "Hopefully, when they are watching the video, they will get a picture of what I am like. The way I talk in the video is the same way I talk every day."

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Former Waukesha Mayor Nelson teaches English at Waukesha County's juvenile center

Laurel Walker:

Nine months after Waukesha voters gave Larry Nelson a swift kick out of the mayor's office, denying him a second term, he's back to teaching - if in a distinctively different place and position than the one he left four years earlier.

Nelson is the English teacher at the Waukesha County Juvenile Center, where he teaches 11- to 17-year-olds who either are in shelter care or have been court-ordered to secure detention.

"I've always loved teaching, and even when I was mayor I felt I was teaching on a bigger scale," he said.

Since Nelson, 55, was granted a leave of absence from his Butler Middle School teaching job in Waukesha when he was elected mayor in 2006, the School Board allowed him to return this fall, his 31st year of teaching.

Nelson comes to work at 8 a.m. every day to find out how many students he has, and who they are, he said. He could have one, or 10. They may be around for a day, a week or a month. The longest has been two months. With much of his teaching one-on-one or in small groups, he can customize what he teaches, he said.

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An Interview with Laurie H. Rogers; Author of "How the Education Establishment Has Betrayed America and What You Can Do About It"

Michael F. Shaughnessy:

1) Who is being "Betrayed" by the public school system in America?

The education establishment is betraying the following groups:

  • The children, who aren't getting the education they need;
  • Parents, who struggle to manage bored and frustrated children, who must pay for several college remedial classes, and who sometimes wind up with students who have given up and dropped out;
  • Teachers, who are micromanaged and disrespected in myriad ways by the bureaucracy and then blamed for the results;
  • Taxpayers, who pay hundreds of billions of dollars each year for a largely failing K-12 education system;
  • Businesses, which must recruit from other countries;
  • Government agencies and military organizations that struggle to fill critical jobs with qualified Americans;
  • The country, which teeters on the brink of economic and social disaster, crippled by a populace that is not acquiring sufficient skills or knowledge to properly run it or even to fully understand the challenges that face it.
The only people not being betrayed are those who feed off of our failing education system.

Unfortunately, that group gets larger every year.

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Paying for learning, not system

Patrick McIlheran:

It's this: The money a school district gets depends on enrollment. In Milwaukee, the one place private-school choice is now offered, the Milwaukee Public Schools' per-pupil funding is not hurt at all when kids go somewhere else (per-pupil, it increases annually). But when about 20,000 pupils go elsewhere, MPS has less money overall, since it's teaching fewer children.

Every school district statewide is liable to this already: Wisconsin parents can enroll children in any other public school district. More than 28,000 kids do this switch annually. For every child who moves, one district loses about $6,800 and another gains it. Since some places are big losers and others big gainers, this affects districts' budgets.

For instance, Milwaukee lost about $27 million in the latest year; other big losers were Racine, Green Bay and Madison. It made no difference to taxpayers overall, but the system moved money away from districts that parents shunned and toward ones they preferred.

The snag is transportation. Parents must take kids to their preferred district. This is tough for the poor, especially in places like Racine, where the local district includes all of suburbia as far as the edge of Oak Creek. It's perverse when there are private alternatives in poor neighborhoods.

When Grigsby and others make their complaint, it isn't to say that letting parents choose other schools will hurt weak districts' budgets, else they'd be wailing about public school choice, which does just that. The complaint is that the government-run school system overall will have less money as children and their aid leave.

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Area's first dual-language immersion program under way

Pamela Cotant:

The first middle-school dual-language immersion program in the Madison area was started at Sennett Middle School this year and the benefits are far reaching, according to Principal Colleen Lodholz.

At Sennett, 50 percent of the students' academic classes are taught in English and 50 percent are taught in Spanish.

"It really honors both languages," Lodholz said. "The students are good little ambassadors in terms of modeling the importance of learning a second language and the importance of learning about another culture."

Most of the 50 sixth grade students in the program come from Nuestro Mundo Community School -- the area's first elementary dual-language immersion program that started when they were kindergarteners -- and a strong sense of community was established, Lodholz said. Lodholz sees the students looking out for each other and fewer discipline issues, she said.

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January 3, 2011

Comparing K-12 Funding Adequacy Across 50 States

Wisconsin Center for Education Research, via email:

Until now, no one has tried to estimate the costs of educational adequacy across all 50 states using a common method applied in a consistent manner. UW-Madison education professor Allan Odden and colleagues have realized that goal.

In a recent report, Odden, Lawrence Picus, and Michael Goetz provide state-by-state estimates of the cost of the evidence-based model. The evidence-based model relies primarily on research evidence when making programmatic recommendations. The evidence-based approach starts with a set of recommendations based on a distillation of research and best practices. As implementation unfolds, teams of state policymakers, education leaders, and practitioners review, modify, and tailor those core recommendations to the context of their state's situation. Odden's report compares those estimates to each state's current spending.

Allan Odden and colleagues have developed the first state-level analysis of education finance spending using a model with consistent assumptions across all 50 states plus the District of Columbia.
Odden and colleagues studied districts and schools that have made substantial gains in student performance. They identified the strategies used, then compared those strategies to the recommendations of the evidence-based model. The research found a strong alignment between the strategies and the resources in the evidence-based model and those strategies used by districts and schools that have seen dramatic increase in student learning.

The Evidence-Based Model and Adequacy

When experts discuss education finance, they sometimes use the term "adequacy." Odden offers this definition: "Providing a level of resources to schools that will enable them to make substantial improvements in student performance over the next 4 to 6 years, as progress toward ensuring that all, or almost all, students meet their state's performance standards in the longer term."

"Substantial improvement in student performance" means that, where possible, the proportion of students meeting a proficiency goal will increase substantially in the short- to medium term. Specific targets might vary, depending on the state and a school's current performance. Yet this goal could be interpreted as raising the percentage of students who meet a state's student proficiency level from 35% to 70%, or from 70% to something approaching 90% and, in both examples, to increase the percentage of students meeting advanced proficiency standards. There are several approaches to estimating adequacy. They include cost functions, professional judgment, successful schools and districts, and the evidence-based approach.


Using the national average compensation figures, the weighted per pupil estimated costs for adequacy using the evidence-based model is $9,641, an average increase of $566 per student on a national basis. In 30 of the 50 states, additional revenues are needed to reach the estimated cost level. In the remaining 20 states and Washington, D.C., current funding levels are more than enough.

If all states were to receive funding at the estimated level of the evidence-based model, the total cost would be $27.0 billion, or a 6.2% increase. However, the politically feasible approach would not allow using the "excess funds" from the states currently spending more than that level. Given that, the total cost rises to $47.2 billion (a 10.9% increase) to fully fund the model's estimates.

Locally, the Madison School District spent $370, 287,471 during the 2009-2010 school year, according to the Citizen's Budget. for 24,295 students ($15,241/student). I have not seen a Citizen's Budget for the 2010-2011 period. Madison School District budget information.

More from the WCER article:

Nor does this research address how the funds should be allocated once they are sent to school districts. This is an important point, Odden says, because some states currently spend more than identified in this model, yet do not appear to show the gains in student performance the model suggests are possible.

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Health care tops contract debates School districts focus negotiations on cost of retirees' benefits

Amy Hetzner:

After years of watching escalating health insurance costs eat up and even surpass the savings provided by early retirements, some public school districts are getting tough in contract negotiations to reduce benefit levels.

The Hartland-Lakeside School Board and its teachers union went to arbitration in mid-December as district officials sought to cap insurance benefits and lower a stipend given to retiring teachers.

The Waukesha School Board has gone even further, denying almost all early retirement requests by teachers for the past two years as it advances toward arbitration in contract negotiations.

Health care cost growth has also been an issue locally.

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Scottish teaching union to launch manifesto


The Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) said it needed to ensure that education was at the top of the agenda for all political parties.

EIS general secretary Ronnie Smith warned that pupils would suffer most as a result of "damaging cutbacks".

The so-called "Manifesto for Education" will be launched by union officials next month.

The union said it was keen to protect the country's schools, colleges and universities.

Mr Smith said: "With the current financial crisis and the deep cuts to public spending, including reduced investment in education, it is vitally important that we make a stand to let the politicians know that continuing attacks on our education system cannot and will not be tolerated by the Scottish people.

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Europe's Young Grow Agitated Over Future Prospects

Rachel Donadio:

Francesca Esposito, 29 and exquisitely educated, helped win millions of euros in false disability and other lawsuits for her employer, a major Italian state agency. But one day last fall she quit, fed up with how surreal and ultimately sad it is to be young in Italy today.

It galled her that even with her competence and fluency in five languages, it was nearly impossible to land a paying job. Working as an unpaid trainee lawyer was bad enough, she thought, but doing it at Italy's social security administration seemed too much. She not only worked for free on behalf of the nation's elderly, who have generally crowded out the young for jobs, but her efforts there did not even apply to her own pension.

"It was absurd," said Ms. Esposito, a strong-willed woman with a healthy sense of outrage.

The outrage of the young has erupted, sometimes violently, on the streets of Greece and Italy in recent weeks, as students and more radical anarchists protest not only specific austerity measures in flattened economies but a rising reality in Southern Europe: People like Ms. Esposito feel increasingly shut out of their own futures. Experts warn of volatility in state finances and the broader society as the most highly educated generation in the history of the Mediterranean hits one of its worst job markets.

A fascinating article, particularly the implications of top heavy compensation/benefit costs for older, long term workers. We see similar things in the States where dual compensation schemes significantly underpay new hires for a period of time.

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Dreaming of a Debt Free College Education


Takiia Anderson and her daughter, Taje.
Student debt has overshadowed much of Takiia Anderson's career.
After graduating from law school in 1999, she spent a decade paying off the $106,000 she'd borrowed, all while moving along the East Coast for her jobs with the U.S. Department of Labor and raising her daughter, Taje, now 13.

Now that she's free from onerous debt payments, her top priority is to set aside enough money for Taje's college education.

But Anderson also wants to make sure she's on track to retire once she qualifies for a full pension at age 58.

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Education in Brazil: No longer bottom of the class

The Economist::

IN 2000 the OECD, a group of mostly rich countries, decided to find out how much children were learning at school. At the time, only half of Brazilian children finished primary education. Three out of four adults were functionally illiterate and more than one in ten totally so. And yet few Brazilians seemed to care. Rich parents used private schools; poor ones knew too little to understand how badly their children were being taught at the public ones. The president at the time, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, saw a chance to break their complacency. Though Brazil is not a member of the OECD he entered it in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). Brazil came last.

A decade on, it is clear that the shock was salutary. On December 7th the fourth PISA study was published, and Brazil showed solid gains in all three subjects tested: reading, mathematics and science (see chart 1). The test now involves 65 countries or parts of them. Brazil came 53rd in reading and science. The OECD is sufficiently impressed that it has selected Brazil as a case study of "Encouraging lessons from a large federal system".

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Forget Pep Talks; Governors Warn of Tough Times

James Hagerty & Ben Casselman:

New governors in 26 U.S. states are starting to take office with somber warnings to constituents of more tough times amid revenue shortfalls and a weak job market.

With sagging economies, soaring budget deficits and the loss of federal stimulus money, incoming governors face the deepest fiscal crisis in decades and expectations that they will remain true to campaign pledges to slash spending and taxes.

"I don't think a grand ceremony ... would be appropriate," Andrew M. Cuomo said Saturday after being sworn in as New York's governor. The Democrat, whose father led New York two decades ago, promised to put a lid on property taxes and shrink the state's government.

He said budget troubles were only part of the problem in a state that also faced a "trust deficit." "Too often government responds to the whispers of lobbyists before the cries of the people," Mr. Cuomo said.

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Madison & Middleton-Cross Plains School District 4K Agreement

Matthew Bell:
Matthew W. Bell, Legal Counsel

Attached please find a proposed intergovernmental agreement with the Middleton/Cross Plains Area School District. The proposed agreement with Middleton/Cross Plains Area School District (MCPASD) allows the District to establish a 4k site in a nursery school (Orchard Ridge Nursery School) that lies within the MCPASD's border. The rationale for the District's desire to do so is the fact that Orchard Ridge is within 1/4 mile of MMSD's boundary and it serves primarily (70-80%) Madison residents. The agreement would also allow the District to serve MCPASD 4k students who chose to enroll at Orchard Ridge in exchange for direct non-resident tuition reimbursement by MCPASD to Orchard Ridge. Conversely, MCPASD will be allowed to establish 4k sites at two centers (LaPetite and Middleton Preschool) that are within MMSD's border. MCPASD's rational for wanting to contract with those sites is identical to MMSD's desire to contract with Orchard Ridge (i.e. proximity and demographics of children already at the center). MCPASD would also serve MMSD residents who chose to attend those sites in exchange for MMSD directly reimbursing LaPetite and Middleton Preschool. The agreement with MCPASD is attached for your review and action.
Much more on Madison's planned 4K program here.

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January 2, 2011

Presentation of "Value Added Assessment (Outcomes)" in the Madison School District, Including Individual School & Demographic Information

Complete Report: 1.5MB PDF File

Value added is the use of statistical technique to identify the effects of schooling on measured student performance. The value added model uses what data are available about students--past test scores and student demographics in particular--to control for prior student knowledge, home and community environment, and other relevant factors to better measure the effects of schools on student achievement. In practice, value added focuses on student improvement on an assessment from one year to the next.

This report presents value-added results for Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) for the two-year period between November 2007 to November 2009, measuring student improvement on the November test administrations of the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination (WKCE) in grades three through eight. Also presented are results for the two-year period between November 2005 to November 2007, as well as the two-year period between November 2006 to November 2008. This allows for some context from the past, presenting value added over time as a two-year moving average.

Changes to the Value Added Model

Some of the details of the value-added system have changed in 2010. The two most substantial changes are the the inclusion of differential-effects value-added results and the addition to the set of control variables of full-academic-year (FAY) attendance.
Differential Effects

In additional to overall school- and grade-level value-added measures, this year's value-added results also include value-added measures for student subgroups within schools. The subgroups included in this year's value-added results are students with disabilities, English language learners, black students, Hispanic students, and students who receive free or reduced-price lunches. The results measure the growth of students in these subgroups at a school. For example, if a school has a value added of +5 for students with disabilities, then students with disabilities at this school gained 5 more points on the WKCE relative to observationally similar students across MMSD.
The subgroup results are designed to measure differences across schools in the performance of students in that subgroup relative to the overall performance of students in that subgroup across MMSD. Any overall, district-wide effect of (for example) disability is controlled for in the value-added model and is not included in the subgroup results. The subgroup results reflect relative differences across schools in the growth of students in that subgroup.

Much more on "Value Added Assessment", here.

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A fatal failure long ago gives a new principal a mission

Alan Borsuk

Jim Wilkinson took it personally when Juan Perez murdered two men.

Certainly he had sympathy for the victims, Joseph Rivera and Michael Ralston. But he didn't know them.

The issue was Perez. Wilkinson felt he barely knew him - and that was the problem. Perez had been one of Wilkinson's students the previous year when Perez was 15 and a freshman at Marquette University High School.

Almost everybody at Marquette High barely knew Perez. He never asked for help. He stayed to himself. He got mediocre grades, but he wasn't failing. And he left the school after that freshman year. Instead, he got involved deeply with a gang.

A tense, angry confrontation between members of two gangs in a restaurant on Feb. 13, 1993. A slap. Insults. A couple guns. And, in short order, the teenager was receiving a 60-year sentence.

Almost 18 years later, both Perez and Wilkinson feel they have changed for the better.

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Wilkes University Professors Examine Use of Text Messaging in the College Classroom

Vicki Mayk:

Teachers of the past had to be concerned about students passing notes in class. Today's educators have a much greater challenge with the advent of cell phone technology, and its prevalence in the classroom. A study by two Wilkes University professors shows that texting is a greater problem than educators might believe. They also suggest that classroom management strategies can potentially minimize texting in class.

Wilkes University psychology professors, Drs. Deborah Tindell and Robert Bohlander, designed a 32-question survey to assess the text messaging habits of college students in the classroom. In total, 269 college students, representing 21 majors, and all class levels, responded anonymously to their survey.

The study showed that 95 percent of students bring their phones to class every day and 91 percent have used their phones to text message during class time. Almost half of all respondents indicated that it is easy to text in class without their instructor being aware. In fact, students frequently commented on the survey that their professors would be "shocked" if they knew how much texting went on in class.

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Fat China: How Expanding Waistlines are Changing a Nation

Paul French and Matthew Crabbe:

An analysis of the growing problem of obesity in China and its relationship to the nation's changing diet, lifestyle trends and healthcare system.

'When Deng Xiaoping said 'To get rich is glorious', he probably didn't realize that getting wealthy would make many Chinese fat... In an informative and entertaining style, French and Crabbe reveal the dark side of China's growing middle-class: a fast increase in obesity-related illnesses such as diabetes. A great read on an important topic.' Andy Rothman, China economist, CLSA Asia-Pacific Markets, Shanghai

'In this remarkably well researched and thought-provoking book, French and Crabbe expose a darker side of globalisation in China... Western multinationalists have submerged the Chinese consumer in a sea of chocolate and ice cream. The consequences for public health are incalculable.' --Tim Clissold, China investment specialist and author of 'Mr China'

'While some people around the world agonize about the rapid spread of China's global influence, others within China are more worried about the spread of the country's waistlines - or at least they should be, according to this fascinating and exhaustively researched study by Paul French and Matthew Crabbe. By turns colourful, witty and alarming, this book provides fascinating insights into China's fast-changing society.' --Duncan Hewitt, Shanghai correspondent for 'Newsweek' and author of 'Getting Rich First: Life in a Changing China'

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Harvard missed signs it was being hoodwinked

Tracy Jan:

It turns out that fooling the gatekeepers of the nation's most selective university wasn't as hard as it looks.

Adam Butler Wheeler, portrayed upon his arrest for fraud as a con artist whose brilliant forgeries landed him a coveted spot at Harvard, won over the admissions committee with an application rife with inconsistencies and an inscrutable personal essay, despite fake faculty recommendations that repeatedly praised his lucid writing.

A close examination of Wheeler's application materials, obtained by the Globe, reveals neither a meticulous feat of deceit nor a particularly elaborate charade. At times, he was just plain careless.

A gushing letter of recommendation, purportedly from the director of college counseling at Phillips Academy, said Wheeler enrolled in the prestigious Andover prep school as a junior. The accompanying transcript, though, indicated he attended for four years.

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A new stage of higher education

The Economist: Audio

Rosabeth Moss Kanter, a professor at Harvard Business School, explains how retired leaders can use their skills for social good

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Surfeits of Certitude

Peter Wood

'Tis the season of paradox. In a widely noted op-ed in The New York Times, Judah Cohen, identified by the Times merely as "director of seasonal forecasting at an atmospheric and environmental research firm," explained that the frigid temperatures and heavy snowfalls afflicting Europe and much of North America this year are, mirabile dictu, the result of "the overall warming of the atmosphere." Quick-draw skeptics made the obvious retorts: (1) that advocates of the theory of global warming seem to have constructed a one-way street for interpreting data. No matter what happens in the actual atmosphere of our planet--whether temperatures rise, fall, or remain the same; ditto the level of precipitation; ditto the severity of storms--the theory of anthropocentric global warming (AGW) is vindicated. (2) the public is growing more and more jaundiced about this theoretical legerdemain; and (3) a fair amount of the skepticism now focuses on the capacity of climate scientists to be honest judges of the global warming evidence in view of the enormous amounts of money that flows their way and will continue to flow only if AGW retains its legitimacy.

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How to Fail in Grant Writing

Elizabeth Jakob, Adam Porter, Jeffrey Podos, Barry Braun, Norman Johnson, and Stephen Vessey

Looking for the fast path to grant rejection?

We provide a list here of proven techniques. We gathered these in the course of serving on grant panels or as program officers, and, in some cases, through firsthand experimentation. We are biologists, but many of our suggestions will be useful to grant writers in all disciplines.

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January 1, 2011

As salaries rise, Fresno State coach Pat Hill takes pay cut

Steve Wieberg, Steve Berkowitz and Jodi Upton

Pat Hill came cheap when he broke into college football coaching a little more than 3½ decades ago.
He worked his first job at a California community college without pay, making ends meet by moonlighting Tuesdays and Thursdays as a pinsetter at a bowling alley and Fridays and Saturdays, when football allowed, as a bouncer. He lived for a while in his Chevy van.

"I've never been a monetary guy," he says.

The contract that will take him into his 15th season as head coach at Fresno State offers further testament.

Hill will take a more than $300,000 cut in guaranteed pay in 2011, an extraordinary concession to a school budget stretched thin by the troubled economy. His guaranteed take of $650,000 remains considerable, but he'll have to cash in heavily on incentives to match, or even approach, his nearly seven-figure earnings in 2010.

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: GAO Sees Problems in Government's Financial Management

Accounting Today:

The U.S. Government Accountability Office said it could not render an opinion on the 2010 consolidated financial statements of the federal government, because of widespread material internal control weaknesses, significant uncertainties, and other limitations.

"Even though significant progress has been made since the enactment of key financial management reforms in the 1990s, our report on the U.S. government's consolidated financial statement illustrates that much work remains to be done to improve federal financial management," Acting Comptroller General Gene Dodaro said in a statement. "Shortcomings in three areas again prevented us from expressing an opinion on the accrual-based financial statements."

The main obstacles to a GAO opinion were: (1) serious financial management problems at the Department of Defense that made its financial statements unauditable, (2) the federal government's inability to adequately account for and reconcile intragovernmental activity and balances between federal agencies, and (3) the federal government's ineffective process for preparing the consolidated financial statements.

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Making 2011 the Year of Great Relationships

Elizabeth Bernstein:

Made any New Year's resolutions yet? Here's an idea: Focus on the state of your relationships instead of the state of your abs.

Increasingly, experts have been telling us how important social bonds are to well-being, affecting everything from how our brains process information to how our bodies respond to stress. People with strong connections to others may live longer. The quality of our relationships is the single biggest predictor of our happiness.

With personal bonds this important, it would seem prudent to put a little work into improving them, especially if they are struggling or even just a little lackluster. And it might not hurt to forge some new ones, too.

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How 'Friend' Became a Verb

Orson Scott Card:

In my 1985 sci-fi novel 'Ender's Game,' a couple kids used something like the Internet to pass for experts and influence public opinion. It didn't take long for reality to catch up.

My father-in-law is a historian, and about 20 years ago he mentioned his concern that cheap long-distance telephoning was going to make the work of future historians far harder.

"Letters are one of our best sources of information about the past, but these days nobody writes letters--they just call."

"Yes, and I hate that," I said. "Interrupting what I'm doing right now because this is the moment when it's convenient for them to call."

Little did we know that both of us were about to get our wish.

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New Madison middle school (Badger Rock) will provide innovative outdoor education

Kirsten Joiner:

Just before the holiday break, the Madison School District approved the Badger Rock Middle School. This is big and exciting news for Madison, and I hope it sounds a new tone for education in the city.

It is not new news that Madison's school district has been struggling to maintain its national reputation for innovation and excellence. During the past two budget cycles, the district has suffered deep funding cuts and the loss of millions of dollars. And over the past five years, families have been migrating to surrounding school districts -- and to private schools.

But visionary leadership and innovative charter schools such as Badger Rock may just be the answer.

The philosophy for Badger Rock is cutting edge and simultaneously a throwback to classical education. Students learn from their environment. It is a setting and style that would make Aldo Leopold proud, and that ties local curriculum to Wisconsin's deep-seated environmental roots.

As far as I can tell, local school budgets have grown annually for decades. Ms. Joiner is referring to reductions in the increase. Spending growth slowed this year and will likely do so in the future. The Madison School District's "Budget Amendments and Tax Levy Adoption for 2010-11" mentions 2010-2011 revenues (property taxes, redistributed state and federal taxes and grants) of $423,005,653, up from $412,219,577 in 2008-2009. The document's 2009-2010 revenues are $489,487,261, which seems unusual. Enrollment has remained flat during the past few years (details here).

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Using the College Rankings

Scott Jaschik

There's a big difference between thinking the U.S. News & World Report college rankings are of dubious value -- and actually refusing to try to use them to an institution's advantage.

That's the conclusion of the second of a series of surveys released by the National Association for College Admission Counseling. A special NACAC committee has been conducting the series as part of an effort to study the impact of the U.S. News rankings. More survey results and a final report are expected from the panel next year.

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