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April 30, 2011

UW-Madison's Average Family Income is $90,000?

Dr. Sara Goldrick-Rab:

Based on the tweets from today's student conversation with Chancellor Martin, there's a big myth running around campus:

No, the average family income of UW-Madison students isn't $90,000.

That number came from reports like these that were discontinued back in 2008. Why were they discontinued? Because the data they are based on is a train wreck. The information comes from students' self-reporting of their parents' income when they were in high school (reporting is done on the ACT questionnaire) and according to UW-Madison's office of academic planning and analysis 30% of UW-Madison students left the question blank (and that percent has been rising over time).

Is it a high estimate? A low one? Well, what we know is that a study done by two La Follette professors using Census blocks to estimate income (better than student self-report most likely) finds that family income at UW-Madison for Wisconsin residents isn't very out-of-whack with Wisconsin family incomes as a whole. For example, families of Wisconsin applicants to Madison have incomes that are 1.2 to 1.3% higher than the state average.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 3:53 PM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Ohio Districts best able to afford local taxes face biggest cuts

Jim Siegel:

As legislators look for ways to take some of the sting out of Gov. John Kasich's school-funding plan, a Dispatch analysis finds that the districts that would feel the deepest cuts are generally those where taxpayers are making the least effort to fund their schools.

Using Department of Education data that attempt to measure how much taxpayers give to their schools compared with their ability to pay, the computer analysis suggests that, on average, districts facing the biggest percentage cuts are also those where residents could most afford to pay more in local taxes.

Kasich's school-funding plan, which would cut $852million from schools over two years, leaves no district unscathed. But it is designed to protect poorer districts that rely more heavily on state funding to run their schools.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 5:15 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Seattle Schools Students Steal Teacher Passwords, Alter Grades

Riya Bhattacharjee:

We just received a tip that Seattle Public School students are using high-tech to steal teacher passwords, hack systems, and alter grades. I am waiting for SPS to confirm this.

According to an email sent by the district's Chief Informational Officer Jim Ratchford at 11:15 a.m. today to SPS employees, including Interim Superintendent Susan Enfield, Department of Technology Services has determined that network log-in credentials "are being stolen and used to inappropriately access district systems."

The email, whose subject line reads "Unauthorized Access Warning," says that the incident "appears to have been going on for the last few weeks, possibly longer." "At this point, we are aware of this happening at these schools: Ballard, Ingraham, and Sealth. However, all schools and teachers are at risk," Ratchford says in his email.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 3:36 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Two-thirds of Madison teachers joined protests, district says

Matthew DeFour:

Two-thirds of Madison teachers participated in at least one day of a coordinated four-day absence in February to protest Gov. Scott Walker's proposal to curb collective bargaining, according to information released by the school district Friday.

According to the district, 1,769 out of 2,655 teachers took time off during the four days without a legitimate excuse. The records also show 84 teachers submitted fraudulent sick notes; 38 received suspensions for failing to rescind the notes by April 15, a deadline set by the district.

The exact number of teachers who caused school to shut down on Feb. 16-18 and 21 was unknown until now. The numbers "validate our decision to close our schools," Superintendent Dan Nerad said in a statement.

"We realize the challenges that our students' families experienced as a result of these school closings," Nerad said. "So we appreciate that we have been able to return since then to normal school schedules and that students have returned to advancing their learning through the work of our excellent staff members."

Madison Teachers Inc. Executive Director John Matthews acknowledged Feb. 15 that the union was encouraging members to call in sick to attend protests at the Capitol. It was the union's first coordinated work stoppage since 1,900 out of 2,300 teachers called in sick to protest contract negotiations in September 1997.

On Friday, Matthews emphasized that teachers accepted the consequences of their actions by agreeing to docked pay for the days missed. He called the suspension letters "a badge of honor for standing up for workplace justice."

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Gates to help schools adopt common core standards

Associated Press:

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced Wednesday it would be investing $20 million to bring new national education standards into the classroom using game-based learning, social-networking and other approaches to capture the imagination of bored or unmotivated students.

The Seattle-based foundation is partnering with the nonprofit arm of one of the largest textbook publishers in the United States to create the new learning tools and offer some of the materials for teachers and school districts to use for free. It is also working with education game developers and an online public school in Florida for this project.

Judy Codding, the Pearson Foundation executive leading the course development team, said during a news conference that her organization already planned to be involved in developing new ways to help teachers adopt the new national education standards that will replace local learning goals in more than 40 states.

The partnership with the Gates Foundation offers the philanthropic side of the textbook company the money it needs to really innovate and try out new ideas that catch kids' attention, said Codding, former president and CEO of America's Choice, an education reform company acquired last year by Pearson.

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Teachers and the future

Rachel Ida Buff:

On Easter weekend, I went to a wedding in Michigan. The occasion featured a radiant young couple who are expecting their first child in June, amidst a loving community of family and friends. As it happened, many of the people assembled were teachers. And so, on this April weekend, with the countryside greening around us and signs of new life everywhere, I found myself engaged in many conversations about teachers and schooling.

I was struck by the optimism and ambition of many of these young people embarking on careers in education. With their talent and accomplishments, they could select careers that are much more financially rewarding than teaching. But instead, they have chosen the classroom as a site to try to make the world better. They see education as a place to help train young minds and create engaged communities.

One young man, a second-generation teacher, told me that he thinks he affects many more lives as a teacher than he did in his prior work as a student leader and activist. Teaching seventh- and eighth-graders on the south side of Chicago, he explained, forces him to keep learning with his students, to keep their interest and to motivate them.

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High school physics teacher perfects the formula for inspiring students

Steve Chawkins:

It was lunch hour and hundreds of Dos Pueblos High School students surged onto the bleachers at the school's outdoor Greek Theater. The crowd was cheering, the music was thumping and a student-built robot named Penguinbot IV was wheeling and pivoting, sucking up dozens of lightweight balls and shooting them at the young athletes who had ventured onstage.

From a console to one side, teenagers in black, NASA-style jumpsuits guided the 150-pound machine as it weaved and dodged. When the robot and star basketball player Jay Larinan began pelting each other, a girl in the stands screamed, "I believe in you, Jay!" The crowd went wild.

It was the kind of free-spirited scene that gladdens the heart of Amir Abo-Shaeer, the 39-year-old physics teacher who each year leads the school's robotics team into a rigorous national competition that requires months of preparation and a season's worth of intense face-offs.

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New evidence that IQ is not set in stone

Ed Yong:

Ever since there have been IQ tests, people have debated what they actually measure. Is it "intelligence", is it an abstract combination of mental abilities, or is it, as Edwin Boring said, "the capacity to do well in an intelligence test"? Regardless of the answer, studies have repeatedly shown that people who achieve higher scores in IQ tests are more likely to do well in school, perform well in their jobs, earn more money, avoid criminal convictions, and even live longer. Say what you like about the tests, but they have predictive power.

However, Angela Lee Duckworth from the University of Pennsylvania has found that this power is overrated. The link between our IQs and our fates becomes muddier when we consider motivation - an aspect of test-taking that is often ignored. Simply put, some people try harder in IQ tests than others. If you take this into account, the association between your IQ and your success in life becomes considerably weaker. The tests are not measuring intelligence alone, but also the desire to prove it.

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Raymund Paredes: $10,000 Degrees "Entirely Feasible"

Reeve Hamilton:

At a board meeting of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board on Wednesday, Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Paredes said that $10,000 bachelor's degrees -- books included -- as proposed by Gov. Rick Perry are "entirely feasible."

He hopes to have concrete proposals and coursework in place to meet the challenge before the start of the next legislative session in 2013.

A repeated theme in the board's discussion about the governor's cost-cutting proposal was that they were not seeking to replace existing degrees or artificially push the costs of those down, but were rather seeking to provide alternative options for low-income students. "We're not talking about every field," Paredes said. "We're not talking about every baccalaureate degree. We're not talking about every student."

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:34 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Michigan Gov. Snyder targets teacher performance in sweeping plan

Paul Egan:

Gov. Rick Snyder said today he wants to retool Michigan's school system so it demands and rewards performance in terms of student achievement.

He detailed changes to merit pay and the teacher tenure system; approval for more charter schools; a new state office devoted to early childhood education; tough anti-bullying measures; a greater emphasis on online education; and a more flexible system in which state funding would follow students wherever they go, rather than being assigned to a particular school district.

Further, the governor announced as many as 23 financially distressed school districts could be placed under emergency managers who have beefed-up powers to scrap collective bargaining agreements under controversial legislation he recently signed into law.

Snyder also expanded "Schools of Choice" plans and said residents of a local district will have the first opportunity to enroll there, but schools will no longer be able to refuse out-of-district students. And he called for consolidation and competitive bidding of school district business and administrative functions.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:23 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

LAUSD to remove chocolate, strawberry milk from schools, superintendent says

Howard Blume:

Los Angeles schools will remove high-sugar chocolate- and strawberry-flavored milk from their lunch and breakfast menus after food activists campaigned for the change, L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy announced this week.

Deasy revealed his intent, which will require approval by the Los Angeles Unified Board of Education, during an appearance with celebrity chef Jamie Oliver on "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" Tuesday night.

The policy change is part of a carefully negotiated happy ending between the Los Angeles Unified School District and Oliver. The chef's confrontations with the school system became a main theme in the current season of the TV reality show "Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution."

The timing of the flavored-milk ban, which had been under consideration for some time, gave Oliver a positive outcome and allowed the nation's second-largest school system to escape the villain's role. Deasy quickly alerted the school board to the deal before going on television.

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Karen Lewis: Issues of Gender, Race & Class

Tim Furman, via a kind reader's email:

Karen Lewis tells it like it is--- there are the reasons for the way teachers are compensated, and all of the little faddish fixes that are trumpeted by the corporate reform crowd aren't going to amount to a hill of beans. Unless, you make that hill of beans very small, very segregated, and ultimately very meaningless.

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Catching signs of autism early: The 1-year well-baby check-up approach

Science Codex:

A novel strategy developed by autism researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, called "The One-Year Well-Baby Check Up Approach," shows promise as a simple way for physicians to detect cases of Autism Syndrome Disorder (ASD), language or developmental delays in babies at an early age.

Led by Karen Pierce, PhD, assistant professor in the UC San Diego Department of Neurosciences, researchers at the UC San Diego Autism Center of Excellence (ACE) assembled a network of 137 pediatricians in the San Diego region and initiated a systematic screen program for all infants at their one-year check up. Their study will be published in the April 28 online edition of the Journal of Pediatrics.

"There is extensive evidence that early therapy can have a positive impact on the developing brain," said Pierce. "The opportunity to diagnose and thus begin treatment for autism around a child's first birthday has enormous potential to change outcomes for children affected with the disorder."

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April 29, 2011

"Transparency Central" National Review of Education Schools

The National Council on Teacher Qualty:

Higher education institutions, whether they are private or public, have an obligation to be transparent about the design and operations of their teacher preparation programs. After all, these institutions have all been publicly approved to prepare public school teachers.

Here at Transparency Central, you can keep track of whether colleges and universities are living up to their obligation to be open. Just click on a state to learn more about the transparency of individual institutions there.

NCTQ is asking institutions to provide documents that describe the fundamental aspects of their teacher preparation programs: the subject matter teachers are supposed to know, the real-world classroom practice they are supposed to get, the outcomes that they achieve once they enter the classroom. Taken together, the evidence we gathering will answer a key question: Are individual programs setting high expectations for what new teachers should know and be able to do for their students?

A number of institutions have let us know that they do not intend to cooperate with our review, some even before we formally asked them for documents. As a result, we have begun to make open records requests using state "sunshine" (or "freedom of information act") laws.

We'll be regularly updating our progress, so come back soon to learn more about our efforts to bring transparency to teacher prep.


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72% Say Taxpayers Not Getting Their Money's Worth from Public Schools

Rasmussen Reports, via a kind reader's email:

Voters overwhelmingly believe that taxpayers are not getting a good return on what they spend on public education, and just one-in-three voters think spending more will make a difference.

Nationally, the United States spends an average of about $9,000 per student per year. A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that only 11% of voters think the taxpayers are getting a good return on that investment. Seventy-two percent (72%) disagree and say taxpayers are not getting their money's worth. Sixteen percent (16%) are undecided. (To see survey question wording, click here.)

Thirty-four percent (34%) voters believe student performance will improve if more money is spent on funding for schools and educations programs. A plurality (41%) disagrees and thinks that increased spending will not lead to improve student performance. Twenty-five percent (25%) aren't sure.

The survey also found that voters tend to underestimate how much is spent on education. Thirty-nine percent (39%) say the average per student expenditure is less than $9,000 per year while only 12% think it's higher than that. Nine percent (9%) estimate the right amount but a plurality of 40% is not sure. There is a wide range of expenditure on education depending upon the state and region.

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Wisconsin School districts' health plans cost more than businesses' plans

Rick Rommell:

School districts in southeastern Wisconsin pay significantly more for health insurance than do private businesses - as much as 76% more - and their employees bear much less of the overall cost, an analysis released Wednesday shows.

The relatively small contribution teachers in general make to their insurance coverage drew considerable attention during the superheated debate over Gov. Scott Walker's budget-repair bill and his bid to sharply limit collective bargaining by most government employees.

Less discussed has been the cost of the insurance plans, which significantly outweigh those offered by private-sector employers, according to an analysis by HCTrends, which describes itself as "a market-oriented forum" on health care issues.

For single coverage, southeastern Wisconsin school districts paid 76% more than private businesses in 2009-'10, according to HCTrends.

MacIver Institute:
School districts in southeastern Wisconsin are paying twice as much for health insurance as private sector companies in Milwaukee, according to a new study by HCTrends. That's just the beginning of what the group found in its study of school district health insurance expenses in 2010.

"Health plan costs for the region's teachers are 63 percent higher, on average, than the plans offered at private-sector companies with some union representation, and 80 percent higher than the average single-coverage cost for all private-sector plans," according to the study.

"This combination of above-average plan costs and below-average employee contributions significantly increases the school district's health care costs. While the average teachers' plan costs 80 percent more than the average private-sector plan, the per-employee cost borne by the school district is twice as much as the cost borne by the average employer."

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Report calls for reform of Ph.D.s

Elizabeth Weise
Gannett :

The system of awarding science Ph.D.s needs to be reformed or shut down, given the tough competition for limited jobs in academia, a provocative series of pieces in one of the world's pre-eminent scientific journals said this week.

According to the multipart series in the journal Nature, the world is awash in Ph.D.s, most of them being awarded to scholars who will never find work in academia, the traditional goal of those holding a doctorate.

"In some countries, including the United States and Japan, people who have trained at great length and expense to be researchers confront a dwindling number of academic jobs and an industrial sector unable to take up the slack," the cover article said.

Of people who received Ph.D.s in the biological sciences five to six years ago, 13 percent have tenure-track positions leading to a professorship, said Paula Stephan, who studies the economics of science at Georgia State University in Atlanta. For the rest, 10 percent work part time or not at all; 33 percent are in academic positions that don't lead to a professorship; 22 percent are in industry; and 20 percent are at community colleges or in government or non-profit jobs, she said.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 3:10 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Out Front in the Fight on Fat

Betsy McKay:

How Portland, Maine Took a Stand Against Childhood Obesity. It Spent $3.7 Million to Rally Schools and Other Sites in the State. More Families Adopted 5-2-1-0 a Day: At Least 5 Servings of Fruits and Vegetables , 2 Hours or Less of Screen Time, at Least 1 Hour of Exercise, and 0 Sugary Drinks. After All That, the Childhood Overweight-and-Obesity Rate for Southern Maine Dipped 1.5 Percentage Points to 31.3%.

At first, it seems obvious: Recess and fruit keep kids trimmer and healthier than videogames and cookies. But there isn't much that's obvious about moving the needle on childhood obesity rates in the U.S.

Nine year-old Ayub Mohamud was gaining weight rapidly when he went to see his doctor at a pediatric clinic here in September. At home, Ayub and his four siblings snacked regularly on candy, chips and soda; a younger brother also was overweight. Ayub ate two breakfasts, one at home and one at school, and got little exercise during the long Maine winters. He had a dark skin coloring on the back of his neck called "acanthosis nigricans," which can be a sign of being prediabetic.

By the end of January, after implementing some of Portland's 5-2-1-0 principles, Ayub had lost three pounds. His mother stopped buying a lot of candy, soda, and chips, and Ayub started eating carrots and broccoli. He and his 7-year-old brother were competing to do push-ups and sit-ups or try new foods. "I like it," Ayub says of his healthier new life.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:45 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Philadelphia Deputy superintendent attended King High School private meeting

.com/philly/news/120557249.html">Martha Woodall:

hiladelphia Deputy School Superintendent Leroy Nunery has found himself involved in a power struggle over control of Martin Luther King High School.

Nunery was at the closed-door meeting of State Rep. Dwight Evans, School Reform Commission Chairman Robert L. Archie Jr., and an official from Mosaica Turnaround Partners that prompted the Atlanta company to drop its plans to convert King into a charter school.

District spokeswoman Jamilah Fraser on Saturday confirmed information The Inquirer had obtained from sources inside and outside the district that Nunery was the unidentified "district representative" mentioned in a statement about the meeting March 16. The session took place right after the SRC voted, 3-0, to select Mosaica to run King in the fall.

The next day, Mosaica backed out of its plans to run the East Germantown school.

Nunery, Fraser said, did not speak at the private meeting and had no advance notice of it.

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Foundations Join to Offer Online Courses for Schools

Sam Dillon:

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the world's largest philanthropy, and the foundation associated with Pearson, the giant textbook and school technology company, announced a partnership on Wednesday to create online reading and math courses aligned with the new academic standards that some 40 states have adopted in recent months.

The 24 new courses will use video, interactive software, games, social media and other digital materials to present math lessons for kindergarten through 10th grade and English lessons for kindergarten through 12th grade, Pearson and Gates officials said.

Widespread adoption of the new standards, known as the common core, has provoked a race among textbook publishers to revise their current classroom offerings so they align with the standards, and to produce new materials. The Gates-Pearson initiative appears to be the most ambitious such effort so far.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:21 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

The Whiff of Plagiarism Again Hits German Elite

Christopher Schuetze:

Weeks after Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, Germany's defense minister, was forced to resign in a plagiarism scandal, three German universities say they are investigating similar complaints about the academic work of three figures from the country's political sphere.

The theses of all three have been posted for public scrutiny on VroniPlag , a site run by the same people who posted the Guttenberg work online.

Two of the three -- Silvana Koch-Mehrin, a member of the European Parliament; and Veronica Sass, a daughter of former state leader -- have declined to comment on the accusations that their theses are suspect. The third, Matthias Pröfrock, a new state lawmaker, conceded that he might have committed unintentional errors and has called on his university to recheck his thesis.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:13 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Don't Discount Charter School Model

Fresh Air:

The best schools -- whether they're charter schools, public schools or private schools -- are intentional about everything they do, says educational analyst Andrew Rotherham.

"They are intentional about who is in the building, who is teaching, how they use data, what's happening for students, the support for students, the curriculum, how progress is assessed," he says. "Everything is intentional and nothing is left to chance."

On Thursday's Fresh Air, Rotherham explains why he supports strategies that will redesign American public education with the help of charter schools, public sector choices and teacher accountability.

Rotherham is a partner at Bellwether Education, a nonprofit organization working to improve educational outcomes for low-income students. Bellwether advises grant-making organizations like The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, educational nonprofits and charter school networks on their operational and public policy issues.

Rotherham, who served in the Clinton administration as a special assistant of domestic policy, now spends his days thinking about how to make public and charter schools work for more kids. The public school system worked for him, he says, but only because he grew up in a nice suburb outside Washington, D.C.

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Ravitch: Standardized Testing Undermines Teaching

Fresh Air:

Former Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch was once an early advocate of No Child Left Behind, school vouchers and charter schools.

In 2005, she wrote, "We should thank President George W. Bush and Congress for passing the No Child Left Behind Act. ... All this attention and focus is paying off for younger students, who are reading and solving mathematics problems better than their parents' generation."

But four years later, Ravitch changed her mind.

"I came to the conclusion ... that No Child Left Behind has turned into a timetable for the destruction of American public education," she tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "I had never imagined that the test would someday be turned into a blunt instrument to close schools -- or to say whether teachers are good teachers or not -- because I always knew children's test scores are far more complicated than the way they're being received today."

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April 28, 2011

Many factors affect states' ACT scores

Sunny Schubert:

The achievement gap between white and minority students has nothing to do with aptitude but correlates to socioeconomic factors such as poverty, racism and family structure. Still, it stands to reason that states with higher percentages of lower-performing students will perform lower in the aggregate than states with higher percentages of better performing students.

Results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress test are broken down for ethnicity. The scores show white students in Texas consistently score higher than white students in Wisconsin, and black and Hispanic students in Texas also outscore their Wisconsin counterparts.

As for the writer's statement that Texas licenses mere four-year college graduates rather than school of education graduates, I say "good for Texas!" It's ironic that the most engaging teachers at our colleges and universities, such as UW-Madison's famous chemistry professor Bassam Shakhashiri, would not be allowed to teach in a Wisconsin public school because most have no degrees in education.

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Don't cry for teachers who choose early retirement

Chris Rickert:

One indication of how disingenuous the world of public education has become is the sympathy some of us apparently feel for veteran Madison teachers who feel compelled to retire early.

As this newspaper detailed Sunday, early retirements have spiked over concerns about what Gov. Scott Walker's bid to curtail public sector collective bargaining rights will mean for teachers' retirements.

It's clear teachers beginning their careers today could be subjected to lots of things the private sector has had to endure for a long time (e.g., merit evaluations, higher health care costs). What puzzles me is what veteran teachers risk by working a few more years -- especially given the love they express for the job.

Take, for example, teachers' ability to parlay unused sick days into health insurance coverage or other benefits after they retire.

District spokesman Ken Syke said the district's legal team has not produced an opinion on this. But teachers union president John Matthews was certain it was a benefit long-time teachers would retain.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:28 PM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Madison Schools Found Non-Compliant on Wisconsin DPI Talented & Gifted Complaint

Madison School District 450K PDF and the DPI Preliminary Audit, via a kind reader's email:

I. Introduction A.Title/topic-Talented and Gifted Compliance

B. Presenter/contact person -Sue Abplanalp, Jennifer Allen, Pam Nash and Dylan Pauly
Background information- On March 24,2011, MMSD received DPI's initial findings in the matter ofthe TAG complaint. DPI found MMSD to be noncompliant on all four counts. The Board has forty-five days from the date of receipt ofthe initial findings to petition the state superintendent for a public hearing. If the Board does not request such a hearing, the findings will become final. Once the findings are final, regardless of whether a hearing is held, if there is a finding of noncompliance, the state superintendent may develop with the Board a plan for compliance. The plan must contain a time line for achievement of compliance that cannot exceed ninety days. An extension of the time period may be requested if extenuating or mitigating circumstances exist.

II. Summary of Current Information:
Current Status: Currently, DPI has made an initial finding of noncompliance against MMSD. While the Board is entitled to request a public hearing on the issue of compliance, the administration does not recommend this course of action. Consequently, at this time, the administration is working toward the development ofa response to DPI's findings, which will focus on remedial steps to insure compliance.

Proposal: Staff are working on a response to the preliminary findings which we will present to the Board when completed. It is the administration's hope that this response will serve as the foundation to the compliance plan that will be developed once the DPI findings are final. The response will include input from the TAG Advisory Committee, the District's TAG professionals -- our Coordinator and staff. A meeting to begin work one the proposed response is currently scheduled for April28, 2011 from 4:00 p.m.-5:00pm. Subsequent meetings will follow.

Much more on the Wisconsin DPI Parent Talented & Gifted complaint.

Watch Monday evening's Madison School Board discussion of the DPI Talented & Gifted complaint, here (starts at 128:37). and here.

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Madison Schools: Alternative School Redesign (Hoyt, Whitehorse & Cherokee "Mental Health Hubs") to Address Mental Health Concerns: Phase 1

80K PDF, via a kind reader's email:

I. Introduction A. Title/topic -Alternative Redesign to Address Mental Health Concerns B. Presenter/contact person- Sue Abplanalp, John Harper, Pam Nash and Nancy Yoder

Background information -The Purpose of this Proposal: Research shows that half of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14.1 Scientists are discovering that changes in the body leading to mental illness may start much earlier, before any symptoms appear.
Helping young children and their parents manage difficulties early in life may prevent the development of disorders. Once mental illness develops, it becomes a regular part of a child's behavior and more difficult to treat. Even though doctors know how to treat (though not yet cure) many disorders, a majority of children with mental illnesses are not getting treatment (National Institute of Mental Health).

II. Summary of Current Information: Success is defined as the achievement ofsomething desired and planned. As a steering committee, our desire and plan is to promote a strategic hub in three sites (Hoyt, Whitehorse and Cherokee) that connect, support and sustain students with mental health issues in a more inclusive environment with appropriate professionals, in order to maximize students' success in middle school and help them achieve their aspirations in a setting that is appropriate for their needs. The new site will also offer mini clinics from a community provider

Current Status: Currently, there is one program housed at Hoyt that serves 28-30 students in self contained settings. There is currently a ratio of 1:4 with 4 staff and 4 special educational assistants assigned to the program. In addition, there is a Cluster Program housed at Sherman with 2 adults and 6-7 students in the program.
Proposal: This proposal leaves approximately half of the students and staff at the current Hoyt site (those students who pose more of a danger to self or others) and removes all of the students and staff from Sherman (no program at Sherman) to the new sites. Students will attend either Whitehorse or Cherokee Middle Schools with a program that provides ongoing professional help and is more inclusive as students will be assigned to homerooms and classes, with alternative settings in the school to support them when they need a more restrictive environment with support from a smaller student ratio and a psychologist or social worker that is assigned to the team.

This initiative was discussed during Monday evening's Madison School Board meeting. Watch the discussion here (beginning at 180 minutes).

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The Limits of School Reform

Joe Nocera:

I find myself haunted by a 13-year-old boy named Saquan Townsend. It's been more than two weeks since he was featured in The New York Times Magazine, yet I can't get him out of my mind.

The article, by Jonathan Mahler, was about the heroic efforts of Ramón González, the principal of M.S. 223, a public middle school in the South Bronx, to make his school a place where his young charges can get a decent education and thus, perhaps, a better life. Surprisingly, though, González is not aligned with the public school reform movement, even though one of the movement's leading lights, Joel Klein, was until fairly recently his boss as the head of the New York City school system.

Instead, González comes across as a skeptic, wary of the enthusiasm for, as the article puts it, "all of the educational experimentation" that took place on Klein's watch. At its core, the reform movement believes that great teachers and improved teaching methods are all that's required to improve student performance, so that's all the reformers focus on. But it takes a lot more than that. Which is where Saquan comes in. His part of the story represents difficult truths that the reform movement has yet to face squarely -- and needs to.

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Chicago Teacher's Union Head Endorses Anti-Labor Bill: A Crisis for Teachers' Union Reformers?

Lee Sustar:

Teachers' union activists in Chicago are contending with their union president's decision to back legislation that all but bans them from striking and makes major concessions to the corporate education "reform" agenda.

Reform groups that lead teachers unions are also having debates in Los Angeles, where the election for the union presidency was recently won by a challenger to the incumbent reform caucus, and in Washington, D.C., where a newly elected officers offered to take a pay freeze to save jobs.

But the biggest controversy is in Chicago, where Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) President Karen Lewis shocked members of the Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators (CORE), a reform group that was the backbone of her candidacy last year, by personally giving the union's endorsement for sweeping legislation that, among other things, severely restricts teachers' right to strike, undermines seniority protections for Illinois teachers outside Chicago, and increases the school day without a guaranteed increase in pay.

To make matters worse, Lewis, a founding member of CORE, failed to report that she had already signed off on the legislation when she spoke to union delegates in a videoconference April 13, the day after she agreed to the legislation.

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Amazon to launch library service for Kindle

Barney Jopson and David Gelles:

Amazon will let users of its Kindle e-reader borrow electronic books from two-thirds of US libraries as it seeks to broaden the device's appeal in the face of competition from Apple's iPad and rival tablets.

The world's largest online retailer said that from later this year, customers would be able to borrow e-books from libraries and read - and annotate - them on a Kindle or any other device to which users have downloaded a Kindle app.

Amazon's move intensifies questions about the commercial threat the growing popularity of e-readers poses to traditional book publishers, which have acknowledged a concern that e-book lending might cannibalise sales of books. US public libraries have spent several years building up their e-book collections, which have been accessible to users of Barnes & Noble's Nook and Sony's Reader device. But until now they have not worked with the Kindle.

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NY court upholds ruling in Connecticut school case

Associated Press:

Connecticut school officials cannot be held liable for their decision to discipline a student for an Internet posting she wrote off school grounds, a federal appeals court ruled Monday as it defended the leeway given school administrators who act reasonably when confronted with dilemmas that test the boundaries of what is Constitutionally protected.

The 2nd U.S. Court of Appeals in Manhattan sided with Burlington, Conn., school officials after they punished Avery Doninger by preventing her from serving as class secretary as a senior.

Doninger sued the administrators at Lewis B. Mills High School, saying her free speech and equal protection rights were violated after she distributed the 2007 posting criticizing administrators for canceling a popular school activity. A lower judge had twice ruled school officials were entitled to immunity.

A three-judge panel of the 2nd Circuit agreed.

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Must We Protect Our Schoolkids from Bunnies?

Sunny Schubert & Jack Craver:

It's not that I don't care about K-12 education in Wisconsin. I DO care, very much.

But I have a hard time getting my undies in a bundle over Gov. Scott Walker's proposed education spending reductions because I have this fantasy that maybe if school administrators have less money, they'll have less time to come up with dumb stuff in the name of political correctness.

Take the Seattle public school administrators who decided that the term "Easter egg" is culturally offensive," and substituted the term "spring spheres" instead.

How much do I hate this? Let's start with the fact that eggs - at least the ones used in conjunction with Easter -- are NOT spheres: They're ovoids. I learned that in eighth-grade geometry. I object most strenuously to people who should know better teaching children something that simply is not true.

Jack Craver has more.

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How to Blend Math

Tom Vander Ark

Most schools are looking for ways to boost achievement and save money. Blended learning is part of the solution. Blended learning is an intentional shift to an online environment for at least a portion of the student day to boost learning and operating productivity. Math is a great place for a school or district to introduce blended learning because it:

facilitates individualized progress
leverages great math teachers
takes advantage of quality math content (open & proprietary)
can be augmented by games and tutorials

School of One, a pilot middle grade math program in New York City, is a good example of multiple modes of instruction aligned with an assessment framework. An early example of a smart recommendation engine creates a unique schedule for each student every day. This important pilot project introduced the idea of a customized learning playlist, but it has not attempted to improve operating productivity.

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Bad Education: Student Debt

Malcolm Harris

The Project On Student Debt estimates that the average college senior in 2009 graduated with $24,000 in outstanding loans. Last August, student loans surpassed credit cards as the nation's largest single largest source of debt, edging ever closer to $1 trillion. Yet for all the moralizing about American consumer debt by both parties, no one dares call higher education a bad investment. The nearly axiomatic good of a university degree in American society has allowed a higher education bubble to expand to the point of bursting.

Since 1978, the price of tuition at US colleges has increased over 900 percent, 650 points above inflation. To put that in number in perspective, housing prices, the bubble that nearly burst the US economy, then the global one, increased only fifty points above the Consumer Price Index during those years. But while college applicants' faith in the value of higher education has only increased, employers' has declined. According to Richard Rothstein at The Economic Policy Institute, wages for college-educated workers outside of the inflated finance industry have stagnated or diminished. Unemployment has hit recent graduates especially hard, nearly doubling in the post-2007 recession. The result is that the most indebted generation in history is without the dependable jobs it needs to escape debt.

What kind of incentives motivate lenders to continue awarding six-figure sums to teenagers facing both the worst youth unemployment rate in decades and an increasingly competitive global workforce?

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"Let's Make A Deal on Bargaining" ShareThis (A Legislator's Perspective - Pro Reform Does Not Mean Anti-Union)

Rep. Mary Ann Sullivan, D - Indianapolis, IN:

Indiana is on the verge of enacting major education reform legislation that will establish a new teacher evaluation system, will be tied to changes in teacher tenure, eliminate "Last in First Out (LIFO)," link teacher compensation to performance measures, and limit some aspects of what can be collectively bargained. Rep. Mary Ann Sullivan (D - Indianapolis) is the co-sponsor of the teacher evaluation bill as well as a companion bill containing the collective bargaining provisions (she is also the co-author of a bill to expand charter schools in Indiana). As a founding member of DFER-Indiana, she has faced incredible hostility from her Democrat colleagues in the House, along with being chastised by the unions especially for her votes and leadership on changing collective bargaining practices. In this post she shares some of her thoughts and beliefs on why she refuses to lose her focus on education reform, and why her commitment to those reforms does not make her anti-union:

For too many Democrats, being pro-labor has been an all or nothing proposition. As a pro-labor Democrat myself, I've been criticized when I mention the need for changes and limits to collective bargaining. Seeking change from unions, and teachers' unions in particular, doesn't mean I don't believe in them. Nothing could be further from the truth. I firmly believe unions must step up to the plate and meet the public demand for changes or they run the risk of being left out of the process or worse yet, losing the right to collectively bargain at all. Our teachers need this powerful collective voice and unions must rise to meet the demand for change, one prescribed by many of their members.

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Creepy crawlies: The internet allows the malicious to menace their victims

The Economist:

LEANDRA RAMM (pictured) is a mezzo-soprano with more on her mind than music. Someone--a deranged Singaporean cyber-stalker, she claims--has posted around 4,000 internet messages in the past five years, depicting her as a talentless, sex-crazed swindler. He has also created a blog under her name and has left obscene messages on her own website.

Ms Ramm, who lives in New York, has had scant help from the American police, who say the offence is committed in Singapore. But she says the police in Singapore have shown no interest. Ms Ramm says her career, social life and emotional well-being have all suffered. Not only does she get daily death threats, but so do all those associated with her: friends, family, colleagues and boss. She says she feels "humiliated, helpless and abused".

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Nevada Teachers skeptical of plan to end bonus for degree

Associated Press:

Among the drastic changes planned for Nevada's K-12 education system -- ranked at the bottom of the nation for high school graduation -- few strike a nerve like a plan to stop paying higher salaries to teachers with advanced degrees and switch to a pay-for-performance model.

The bill reflects a growing nationwide movement toward performance pay; it's based on research that shows an advanced degree seldom leads to increased student achievement at the elementary school level, and only sometimes increases it in high school classrooms.

"We're 50th in the nation," said Assemblyman Ira Hansen, R-Sparks. "We need radical surgery."

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April 27, 2011

UK Students Often Unprepared for University Academic Writing

Louise Tickle:

The Guardian highlights a serious problem both in the United Kingdom and the United States: students aren't comfortable with and sometimes aren't prepared for academic writing.

Whether the cause is an unsatisfactory education prior to enrollment or a long layoff since a student last studied formally, writing improvement is a priority.

Daphne Elliston cried the first time she had to write an assignment. She put it bluntly:

"I just didn't know what I was doing."

The Guardian highlights a serious problem both in the United Kingdom and the United States: students aren't comfortable with and sometimes aren't prepared for academic writing.

Hurdles include understanding content and vocabulary unique to academic writing, which can be a stumbling block to understanding the assignment itself. Research, too, is difficult when a student is having trouble with language.

And then they must analyze it, process it and put it into their own words to write the paper. It can be a daunting combination, but colleges and universities are trying to rectify it.

Daphne Ellison said she thought a gap in her education was the reason for her trouble with writing--she continued higher education after many years out of school--but Margi Rawlinson, an academic coordinator at Edge Hill University, says it's an epidemic not confined to non-traditional students:

"We have people with A-levels who are arriving poorly equipped for academic writing," she says.

"I think one of the issues at A-level is that they're not being taught to research independently, and [with essays] it's not just the writing--that's only part of it."

Rawlinson isn't alone in her assessment. Helena Attlee, a writer in residence at Worcester University and a fellow of the Royal Literary Fund echoes Rawlinson's diagnoses:

"It seems to me there's a lack of interface between A-levels and degrees, so the thing that people are required to do to get very good A-levels isn't equipping them to do what is required to get a degree."

A variety of support systems are in place for struggling writers, from one-on-one instruction to more detailed irection on particular assignments from professors themselves. School officials are hopeful that increased attention and support can improve an adult student's poor writing skills. Professor Wayne Martin, when askked whether students can really improve, sums it up:

"Yes, incredibly. And the biggest improvement is generally in the first five weeks," he says.


"Teach by Example"
Will Fitzhugh [founder]
The Concord Review [1987]
Ralph Waldo Emerson Prizes [1995]
National Writing Board [1998]
TCR Institute [2002]
730 Boston Post Road, Suite 24
Sudbury, Massachusetts 01776-3371 USA
978-443-0022; 800-331-5007;
Varsity Academics®

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Test, Lies & Race to the Top

Shashi Parulekar:

Obama had his "Sputnik Moment," when standardized test scores around the world pointed to the mediocrity of American students in reading, math and sciences. There is now a major mantra coming from Washington to all state capitals: the "race to the top" is on, and it doesn't include a continuation of the downward spiral of test scores. The new modus operandi: Leave aside achievement throughout the years in high school, the stream of G.P.As., the difficulty of courses taken during the years in 9 to 12, and any creative projects done by students. Base everything on standardized tests.

When career prospects, prestige, and job security are connected to one and only one criteria -- score on a standardized test -- human nature is bound to creep in. Baseball players start taking steroids; Olympic athletes try every means to beat the system. Will it happen to dedicated teachers who are working hard to educate our next generation? Will temptation overtake honesty, integrity and ethical behavior?

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Drop tedious ICT lessons, says Intellect Time for education to grow up and start teaching kids the meaning of computing...

Natasha Lomas, via a James Dias email:

There have been fresh calls for schools to dump the dull ICT lessons that are turning kids off IT and failing to create the type of IT-savvy employees that UK businesses need.

Earlier this year, a discussion forum on digital skills heard from a BCS member and IT teacher that pupils and teachers are "bored rigid" by ICT lessons in their present form.

Intellect, the trade body for the UK's tech sector, has now called on the government to drop ICT lessons in their current form from the national curriculum and replace them with ones that focus on higher-value computer science skills. The organisation was submitting its response to a Department of Education review of the National Curriculum in England, launched in January this year.

ICT should also be taught by embedding interactive and multimedia technology across every subject, according to Intellect - which believes technology businesses could play a role here to help teachers make the best use of relevant equipment by supporting training.

Intellect reckons the ICT curriculum is too focused on teaching pupils how to use a limited number of software packages and is therefore failing to inspire students to develop more advanced computer skills.

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The Future: Education Reform Version

Charlie Mas:

It seems to me that the goals of Education Reform are primarily to bring the increases in productivity (and cost reductions) seen in other industries to the education industry. The greatest obstacle to the effort to cut the cost of education is teacher salaries. The cost of education cannot be cut until the cost of teaching is cut. The Education Reform movement seeks paths to cutting the cost of teaching.

While technology has allowed for amazing radical increases in productivity in nearly every other industry, teaching is still, for the most part, done exactly as it was done in pre-industrial times: face-to-face with a personal relationship between a professional teacher and a limited number of students. For there to be any improvement in productivity (and reduction in cost), this model must be broken.

Education Reform is pursuing four paths to increase productivity (and thereby reduce costs).

1. The de-professionalization of teaching. Teachers are professionals. They are expected to work with minimal supervision and direction. They are expected to use their expertise, judgement, and talent to respond improvisationally to student needs. In the Education Reform model, however, teachers are expected to deliver standardized lessons prepared centrally. They can make some small prescribed variations within a prescribed range. The best model for this is how professional bankers have been replaced by non-professionals, sitting in cube farms, wearing headsets, and completing loan application forms by working through a script on a computer screen. The script includes what to say if the customer says this or if the customer says that. Based on this model it isn't hard to imagine non-professionals in front of a classroom delivering a scripted lesson with scripted responses to expected student questions.

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Baltimore makes the grade with school incentives

Matt Kennard:

Nathan Carlberg, 27, is exactly the type of teacher Barack Obama, US president, wants to keep in the system. Fresh-faced and passionate, he troops around room 207 at Commodore John Rogers Elementary School in Baltimore dispensing superlatives to students who get the answers right to his spelling quiz.

"Bingo," yelps one of the second-graders and jumps up with his paper. Mr Carlberg ambles over. "Let me check," he says and the class is silent. "He got it right," shouts Mr Carlberg. The kids erupt, eager to win the next round.

Even a year ago this scene would have been unthinkable at CJR. It ranked as one of the worst five elementary schools in Maryland in 2010 but has since managed to pull itself around. Last year it became a "turnaround school", which meant every teacher had to reapply for his or her job. Only three were retained.

The turnaround process is one of the signature strategies of Mr Obama's new school agenda and its flagship Race to the Top programme. It revolves around a simple but controversial notion: giving incentives for innovation. Race to the Top awards money to school districts that can prove they have new strategies for improving teaching and results.

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Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder to call for overhaul of outdated public school system in speech Wednesday

Chris Christoff:

Michigan's public schools need to more rigorously measure students' academic growth, but with fewer state rules to make that happen, Gov. Rick Snyder said today.

That means more autonomy for individual schools and teachers, and a system to financially reward outstanding teachers who can mentor others.

Also, state schools superintendent Michael Flanagan called for a virtual deregulation of schools, such as eliminating minimum number of hours or days students must attend each year.

That's a change Snyder hinted he'll include in his special message on education Wednesday. He said the state should give teachers and schools and the state more flexibility to teach and to lift all students to higher academic standards.

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SMS education in Pakistan

Michael Trucano:

Two to three years ago, I found very little traction when trying to initiate discussions around the potential use of mobile phones in education with many counterparts in education ministries around the world. (And when this *was* discussed, talk usually centered on how to ban them from schools.)

This is now changing very quickly! Many factors appear to be behind this change -- including, it is probably worth noting, the strong apparent interest by many companies to get in on the ground floor of what they feel will be very large markets related to 'm-learning' in developing countries in the coming years. (I now get so many cold calls from vendors every week wanting to share information about their 'm-learning solutions' that I let all phone calls ring into voicemail by default.)

With momentum building around 1-to-1 computing initiatives (where every student receives her own laptop) in many countries, many governments are embarking on large-scale roll outs of educational technologies as never before. However one feels about the potential relevance of mobile phones in education (and reasonable people can certainly disagree about this), it appears to me to be a topic that at a minimum merits some discussion in many education systems, given that small, connected computing devices known today as mobile phones are increasingly to be found in the pockets and pocketbook of teachers, and even students, at rates perhaps unimagined only a decade ago. It is worth noting that this large scale roll-out of computing devices in the hands of teachers and students has largely happened without any government subsidy at all. Given this fact, is it worthwhile for governments to consider taking some of the monies dedicated for the purchase of ICT hardware and use it instead for other purposes (more/better education content? more training? better connectivity? something not at all ICT-related?)? Even if you feel that mobile phones are not relevant to discussions of technology use in education, perhaps it is worth considering these sorts of questions before dismissing such use out of hand.

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Do We Really Need To Change Michigan Education? Absolutely!

Rod Meloni:

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder's budget plan, a serious and shocking change to the status quo, so stoked the flames of union passion there's a protest just about every other day in Lansing.

This may explain why the governor spread out his controversial announcements by a month or two. At noontime Wednesday, he will drop another bomb on the state: serious and shocking education system change. Expect more protest and outrage.

Now, the governor on Monday reminded the teachers and school administrators at the 16th annual Governor's Education Summit that he ran on a platform of reinventing Michigan. He also admitted everyone agrees with change until it affects them. He fully expects the protest express to continue muddying the Capitol lawn.

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What a brush with death taught David Eagleman about the mysteries of time and the brain

Burkhard Bilger:

WWhen David Eagleman was eight years old, he fell off a roof and kept on falling. Or so it seemed at the time. His family was living outside Albuquerque, in the foothills of the Sandia Mountains. There were only a few other houses around, scattered among the bunchgrass and the cholla cactus, and a new construction site was the Eagleman boys' idea of a perfect playground. David and his older brother, Joel, had ridden their dirt bikes to a half-finished adobe house about a quarter of a mile away. When they'd explored the rooms below, David scrambled up a wooden ladder to the roof. He stood there for a few minutes taking in the view--west across desert and subdivision to the city rising in the distance--then walked over the newly laid tar paper to a ledge above the living room. "It looked stiff," he told me recently. "So I stepped onto the edge of it."

In the years since, Eagleman has collected hundreds of stories like his, and they almost all share the same quality: in life-threatening situations, time seems to slow down. He remembers the feeling clearly, he says. His body stumbles forward as the tar paper tears free at his feet. His hands stretch toward the ledge, but it's out of reach. The brick floor floats upward--some shiny nails are scattered across it--as his body rotates weightlessly above the ground. It's a moment of absolute calm and eerie mental acuity. But the thing he remembers best is the thought that struck him in midair: this must be how Alice felt when she was tumbling down the rabbit hole.

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A Trial Run for School Standards That Encourage Deeper Thought

Fernanda Santos:

Until this year, Ena Baxter, an English teacher at Hillcrest High School in Queens, would often have her 10th graders compose papers by summarizing a single piece of reading material.

Last month, for a paper on the influence of media on teenagers, she had them read a survey on the effects of cellphones and computers on young people's lives, a newspaper column on the role of social media in the Tunisian uprising and a 4,200-word magazine article titled "Is Google Making Us Stupid?"

A math teacher, José Rios, used to take a day or two on probabilities, drawing bell-shaped curves on the blackboard to illustrate the pattern known as normal distribution. This year, he stretched the lesson by a day and had students work in groups to try to draw the same type of graphic using the heights of the 15 boys in the class.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:36 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Massachusetts House votes to restrict unions; Measure would curb bargaining on health care

Michael Levenson:

House lawmakers voted overwhelmingly last night to strip police officers, teachers, and other municipal employees of most of their rights to bargain over health care, saying the change would save millions of dollars for financially strapped cities and towns.

The 111-to-42 vote followed tougher measures to broadly eliminate collective bargaining rights for public employees in Ohio, Wisconsin, and other states. But unlike those efforts, the push in Massachusetts was led by Democrats who have traditionally stood with labor to oppose any reduction in workers' rights.

Unions fought hard to stop the bill, launching a radio ad that assailed the plan and warning legislators that if they voted for the measure, they could lose their union backing in the next election. After the vote, labor leaders accused House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo and other Democrats of turning their backs on public employees.

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New England public education: Walking wounded

Carolyn Morwick:

Here's a status report on the region's public education from the New England Board of Higher Education.


Gov. Dannel Malloy's two-year plan to deal with a $3.2 billion deficit (in the first year alone) relies on significant concessions from labor to the tune of $1.5 billion. Unions gave Malloy strong support in his race for governor. The remaining portion of the deficit would be addressed through $750 million in program cuts and $1.5 billion in tax increases.

The General Assembly's Finance and Appropriations Committees met with Malloy and reached agreement on the budget for FY12-FY13. Following the meeting, the Joint Appropriations Committee released its budget, which will be debated in the House in the coming week. The governor and legislative leaders still must finalize an agreement with labor. Malloy has said he expects to see a budget on May 6.

Higher Education

Malloy has proposed a two-year $144-million cut to public higher education. Also included in his budget is a plan to restructure the system, which features the following:

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Acronyms and plain language Cutting out the capital letters

The Economist:

OVER at Language Log is a discussion of a new directive that is intended to get executive agencies to cut the jargon and acronyms in writing intended for the public. Johnson certainly applauds that effort. But Mark Liberman and other commentators note a few ironies. One is that the guidance itself is pretty confusingly worded, as is the underlying statute (like many other statutes). Mr Liberman's peeve is the confusing scope of conjunctions in acts of Congress: how to interpret simple ands, ors and buts ends up taking up a lot of appellate courts' time.

The second irony, noted by Matt Negrin at Politico, is the name of the set of rules designed to cut masses of capital letters. It is the Plain Language Action and Information Network. (Update: see correction below.) Get it? PLAIN? Ugh. This from the sausage factory that brought you the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001. As David Rees wrote in his comic "Get Your War On", "I still can't believe they named that thing the fuckin' USA-PATRIOT Act. Grown-ups did that. Never forget that." If I were in Congress I'd sponsor a Prohibiting Naming Laws With Cute Titles Act, or the PNLWCT Act, avoiding initial vowels just to make sure that it's unpronounceable.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:43 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Why edReform isn't in trouble

Tom Vander Ark:

Richard Whitmire's latest blog (via Whitney Tilson) suggests that edreform is in trouble "My sense is that the school reform movement -- roughly defined as those who believe that schools alone can make a dent in the seemingly intractable problems arising from the confluence of race and poverty -- is headed toward a major beat-down."

Here's what he's missing:

1.The Race: A half a dozen examples of the new employment bargain, data systems, and choice landscapes are sufficient to tip a lot of states.

2. The Khan-a-bes: the explosion of informal learning like Khan Academy is enveloping the formal system. It's now possible for anyone to learn anything anywhere.

3. Online learning. We finally have a massively scalable quality capability. The top half a dozen providers (both nonprofit and for-profit) could provision summer school for any interested student in America.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:33 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Robert Cox Announces Run for New Rochelle Board of Education

Robert Cox:

I announced on my radio show on WVOX last Friday my intention to file papers this week to run for school board in New Rochelle. Over the weekend I began obtaining the required signatures and getting the necessary paperwork in order. The papers are due Wednesday at 5:00 p.m. but I will likely file sooner than that.

Once I file, I will explain more fully how it came to be that the most vocal critic of the New Rochelle Board of Education and the current administration opted to become a candidate for one of the two open seats but for now let me say that it had been my hope to find a candidate that was not selected by "insiders" and would advance my goals of increased transparency, accountability, equity, and excellence in the New Rochelle system. After looking long and hard and talking to over a dozen prospective candidates, all of whom ultimately opted not to run, it became clear that if no one stepped forward the available board seats would filled by two candidates hand-picked by current board members with the goal of maintaining the status quo on the board. If all was well in the New Rochelle schools that might be acceptable but all is not well, as has been documented amply on Talk of the Sound over the past several years, and so more of the same is not only not acceptable but intolerable. I came to realize that I had no choice but to step forward to present New Rochelle residents with a clear alternative to more of the same.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:07 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

April 26, 2011

High School Classes May Be Advanced in Name Only

Sam Dillon:

More students are taking ambitious courses. According to a recent Department of Education study, the percentage of high school graduates who signed up for rigorous-sounding classes nearly tripled over the past two decades.

But other studies point to a disconnect: Even though students are getting more credits in more advanced courses, they are not scoring any higher on standardized tests.

The reason, according to a growing body of research, is that the content of these courses is not as high-achieving as their names -- the course-title equivalent of grade inflation. Algebra II is sometimes just Algebra I. And College Preparatory Biology can be just Biology.

Lynn T. Mellor, a researcher in Austin, Tex., who has studied the phenomenon in the state, compares it to a food marketer labeling an orange soda as healthier orange juice.

"Like the misleading drink labels, course titles may bear little relationship to what students have actually learned," said Dr. Mellor, who has analyzed course completion, test records and other student data in Texas. "We see students taking more and more advanced courses, but still not performing well on end-of-course exams."

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California voters want public employees to help ease state's financial troubles; York Citizens for Responsible Government

Shane Goldmacher:

California voters want government employees to give up some retirement benefits to help ease the state's financial problems, favoring a cap on pensions and a later age for collecting them, according to a new poll.

Voter support for rolling back benefits available to few outside the public sector comes as Gov. Jerry Brown and Republicans in the Legislature haggle over changes to the pension system as part of state budget negotiations. Such benefits have been a flashpoint of national debate this year, and the poll shows that Californians are among those who perceive public retirement plans to be too costly.

Voters appear ready to embrace changes not just for future hires but also for current employees who have been promised the benefits under contract.

Seventy percent of respondents said they supported a cap on pensions for current and future public employees. Nearly as many, 68%, approved of raising the amount of money government workers should be required to contribute to their retirement. Increasing the age at which government employees may collect pensions was favored by 52%.

Jennfer Levitz: Tea Party Heads to School
Activists Fight Property-Tax Increases in Bid to Curb Education Spend

Trying to plug a $3.8 million budget gap, the York Suburban School District, in the rolling hills of southern Pennsylvania, is seeking to raise property taxes by 1.4%.

No way, says Nick Pandelidis, founder of the York Suburban Citizens for Responsible Government, a tea-party offshoot, of the plan that would boost the tax on a median-priced home of $157,685 by $44 a year to $3,225.

"No more property-tax increases!" the 52-year-old orthopedic surgeon implored as the group met recently at a local hospital's community room. "If you don't starve the system, you won't make it change."

Fresh from victories on the national stage last year, many local tea-party activist groups took their passion for limited government and less spending back to their hometowns, and to showdowns with teacher unions over pay in some cases. Now, amid school-board elections and local budgeting, they are starting to see results--and resistance.

From the York Suburban Citizens for Responsible Government website:
Higher Spending and Lower Scores: From 2000 to 2009, spending per student (in constant dollars) increased from $11,413 to $15,291 - a 34% increase. Meanwhile 11th grade PSSA reading proficiency remained steady at 71% while math fell from 69% to 62%. This means 29% of students are below acceptable reading levels and 38% are not proficient in math! The York Suburban experience mirrors the national trend where increased spending in the public education system has not resulted in improved student outcomes.

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Poor white UK pupils lag behind black peers

Chris Cook:

White schoolchildren in Britain's poorest communities lag behind peers who are black or of Pakistani or Bangladeshi origin, a Financial Times analysis of more than 3m sets of exam results reveals.

Poor white children even achieve worse average results than deprived pupils for whom English is a second language.

The average black pupil from among the poorest fifth of children, identified by postcode analysis, gains the equivalent of one more GCSE pass at A*, the highest grade, than the average white child from a similar background.

The figures highlight the challenge facing the coalition, which has identified social mobility as one of its top concerns. Earlier this month, the government published a "social mobility strategy", which stated that "tackling the opportunity our guiding purpose".

Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Sutton Trust and Britain's leading educational philanthropist, said the FT results showed that "if the coalition is really serious about raising social mobility, it will need to find a way to crack the problems of the English white working class".

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State Life Insurance Examinations May Be Too Hard

Leslie Scism:

Primerica Inc., which has the country's largest life-insurance sales force, had another strong recruiting year in 2010: About 230,000 people signed up to become agents.

Another number also stayed strong: the drop-out rate

About 80% of Primerica recruits don't actually become insurance agents, often because they flunk state licensing exams, according to filings and interviews. That's a problem for the company, which, more than any other insurer of its size, depends on agents to sell policies. As the number of Primerica agents has declined over the past four years, so, too, have sales of life insurance.

So Primerica recently came up with a novel solution: Make the tests easier. It asserted to state regulators that the exams aren't only too hard in some places, but might also be racially biased, putting African-Americans and other minorities at a disadvantage.

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Changes to the Excel Data Table for the NRC Data-Based Assessment of Research-Doctorate Programs

Board on Higher Education & Workforce:

A revised Excel Data Table for the NRC Data-Based Assessment of Research-Doctorate Programs in the United States is now available. A summary of changes for each program can be found here. Those who wish to compare the September 28, 2010 version of the Data Table to the revised rankings, may find the old rankings here.

The revisions are in response to communications and queries received by the NRC since the first Data Table was released on September 28, 2010. At that time, the NRC agreed to follow up on queries about the data and these were received from approximately 450 doctoral programs from 34 institutions. Ten of these institutions had queries for 10 or more of their programs.

The most common questions centered around faculty lists and related characteristics: publications per allocated faculty member, citations per publication, the allocation of faculty, and the measure of interdisciplinarity that used this measure. The NRC was not able to permit changes in faculty lists from what universities had originally submitted. That would have required enormous expense to completely redo the study with the 2005/6 data.

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Rahm Emanuel: Not Yet Mayor and Already Got Chicago Schools in a Fine Mess

Michael Klonsky:

"I wanted an entire new board, an entire new corporate suite because what's happening today both on the finances and the educational scores -- needs to be shaken up. And what I know in my heart [is that] the people of the city do not think we're doing what we need to do for our children." -- Rahm Emanuel

Rahm Emanuel isn't even officially mayor yet and he's already got the city and its schools in a fine mess. His appointment of the embattled J.C. Brizard as schools CEO (that's what we call school superintendents here in Chicago) rivals only Bloomberg's pick of Cathie Black in New York as most embarrassing of the year. Black lasted a mere three months before high-tailing it back to the sanctity of the corporate world, where failure is more often than not rewarded with super bonuses and not just a kick in the ass and a golden parachute a la urban school bosses.

Bloomberg's choice of the eminently unqualified Black reset the I-don't-give-a-damn-what-anybody-else-thinks standard previously set by former D.C. mayor, Adrian Fenty, whose pick of the also unqualified Michelle Rhee earned him the total disdain of D.C. voters who ultimately booted both Fenty and Rhee out of town.

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Rep. Sondy Pope-Roberts: Walker's budget numbers for schools flawed

Sondy Pope-Roberts:

In the weeks ahead the biennial budget will be the dominant focus of the Legislature. Gov. Scott Walker has introduced his budget plan for Wisconsin, and while there are a number of troubling provisions, perhaps one of the most troubling is the drastic changes to public education that he proposes.

According to the Department of Public Instruction, school districts are expected to lose $1.68 billion in revenue authority and $835 million in state school aids over the next biennium. The governor has repeatedly touted the savings, tools and other reform measures that he says would soften the blow and even enhance education.
However, reducing the levy authority of school districts mandates a reduction in total spending, and changes to health insurance and pension contributions alone won't suffice to cover the difference. That means layoffs, a decision made by Walker and not by local school districts.

The governor recently went to great lengths to highlight projected savings and other ways school districts would benefit under his budget. My office compiled a spreadsheet that outlines the inaccuracies in the governor's projections. To outline the serious budgeting flaws, we relied on numbers from the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau and the governor himself.

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When Does a Parent Know His Child Is Gifted?

Carol Fertig:

So often I'm asked, "When does a parent know if his child is gifted?" I think they are surprised when I respond by saying, "I don't know. What does it mean to be gifted?"

After all, I am supposed to be the expert. I am expected to have the answers. But I can't provided any definitive reply.

First of all, what does it mean to be gifted? There are many definitions and many ways of assessing a child's ability. Is one more correct than another? Who should make that determination? You may want to look at some of the previous posts on this blog about this subject, including

Conflicts in the Definition and Identification of Giftedness

What Does It Mean to Be Gifted?

Even if there is some consensus about the definition of giftedness, I think most people would agree that students fall somewhere on an extended continuum. There are children who have strong interests or abilities in just one area, which may or may not be a traditional academic subject. There are students who are more globally endowed and may finish high school before they are teenagers and receive graduate degrees by the time others finish high school. Some young people who are very bright have learning disabilities or physical disabilities or emotional problems. Some fit into a traditional school environment and some could care less about school.

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Proposition 13: A case study in unintended consequences

The Economist:

DURING JERRY BROWN'S first term in the 1970s his hair was still full and dark. His voice was not yet gravelly. Unlike his back-slapping father, he still bore traces of the Jesuit seminary where he had once studied to become a priest. He meditated on Zen koans. He declined the governor's mansion and slept on a mattress in a rented flat. He dreamed of large things whose time had not yet come, such as green energy. And yet, or perhaps because of all this, Jerry Brown failed to notice the anger boiling over in his state.

Californians were angry about property taxes. These local taxes were the main revenue source for school districts, cities, counties and California's many specialised municipal jurisdictions. And they had been rising. A homeowner's property tax was determined by two factors. One was the tax rate, the other the assessed value of the house to which the rate was applied. These assessments were soaring: between 1972 and 1977 home prices in southern California more than doubled, thus doubling homeowners' tax bills. Mr Brown and the legislature fiddled with relief measures, but their bills were half-hearted and the taxpayers were angry.

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April 25, 2011

Important voice missing in blue ribbon reading discussion

Susan Troller

While working on another story this morning, I kept checking Wisconsin Eye's live coverage of the first meeting of Gov. Scott Walker's blue ribbon task force on reading.

Sitting next to the Governor at the head of the table was State Superintendent Tony Evers, flanked by Sen. Luther Olsen, chair of the Education Committee and Rep. Steve Kestell. Also on hand were representatives from organizations like the Wisconsin State Reading Association (Kathy Champeau), teachers and various other reading experts, including a former Milwaukee area principal, Anthony Pedriana, who has written an influential book on reading and student achievement called "Leaving Johnny Behind." Also on hand was Steven Dykstra of the Wisconsin Reading Coalition.

Dykstra, in particular, had a lot to say, but the discussion of how well Wisconsin kids are learning to read -- a subject that gets heated among education experts as well as parents and teachers -- struck me as quite engaging and generally cordial.

There seemed to be consensus surrounding the notion that it's vitally important for students to become successful readers in the early grades, and that goal should be an urgent priority in Wisconsin.

But how the state is currently measuring up to its own past performance, and to other states, is subject to some debate. Furthermore, there isn't a single answer or widespread agreement on precisely how to make kids into better readers.


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In Kansas City, tackling education's status quo "We're not an Employment Agency, We're a School District"

George Will:

John Covington hesitated before becoming this city's 26th school superintendent in 40 years. A blunt-talking African American from Alabama, he attended the Broad Superintendents Academy in Los Angeles, which prepares leaders for urban school districts, and when he asked people there if he should come here, their response, he says, was: "Not 'no,' but 'Hell, no!' " He says they suggested that when flying across the country he should take a flight that does not pass through this city's airspace.

How did this pleasant place become so problematic? Remember the destination of the road paved with good intentions.

This city is just 65 miles down the road from Topeka, Kan., from whence came Brown v. Board of Education , the fuse that lit many ongoing struggles over schools and race. Kansas City has had its share of those struggles, one of which occurred last year when Covington took office with a big bang: He closed 26 of the district's 61 schools. Kansas City had fewer students but twice as many schools as Pueblo, Colo., where Covington had been superintendent.

Thirty-five years ago, Kansas City's district had 54,000 students. Today it has fewer than 17,000. Between then and now there was a spectacular confirmation of the axiom that education cannot be improved by simply throwing money at it.

In the 1980s, after a court held that the city was operating a segregated school system, judicial Caesarism appeared. A judge vowed to improve the district's racial balance by luring white students to lavish "magnet schools" offering "suburban comparability" and "desegregative attractiveness." And he ordered tax increases to pay the almost $2 billion bill for, among other things, an Olympic-size swimming pool, a planetarium, vivariums, greenhouses, a model United Nations wired for language translation, radio and television studios, an animation and editing lab, movie editing and screening rooms, a temperature-controlled art gallery, a 25-acre farm, a 25-acre wildlife area, instruction in cosmetology and robotics, field trips to Mexico and Senegal, and more.

Related: Money And School Performance:
Lessons from the Kansas City Desegregation Experiment
For decades critics of the public schools have been saying, "You can't solve educational problems by throwing money at them." The education establishment and its supporters have replied, "No one's ever tried." In Kansas City they did try. To improve the education of black students and encourage desegregation, a federal judge invited the Kansas City, Missouri, School District to come up with a cost-is-no-object educational plan and ordered local and state taxpayers to find the money to pay for it.

Kansas City spent as much as $11,700 per pupil--more money per pupil, on a cost of living adjusted basis, than any other of the 280 largest districts in the country. The money bought higher teachers' salaries, 15 new schools, and such amenities as an Olympic-sized swimming pool with an underwater viewing room, television and animation studios, a robotics lab, a 25-acre wildlife sanctuary, a zoo, a model United Nations with simultaneous translation capability, and field trips to Mexico and Senegal. The student-teacher ratio was 12 or 13 to 1, the lowest of any major school district in the country.

The results were dismal. Test scores did not rise; the black-white gap did not diminish; and there was less, not greater, integration.

The Kansas City experiment suggests that, indeed, educational problems can't be solved by throwing money at them, that the structural problems of our current educational system are far more important than a lack of material resources, and that the focus on desegregation diverted attention from the real problem, low achievement.

Former Madison Superintendent Art Rainwater served in Kansas City prior to taking a position with the local schools.

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Preserving the bargain on Milwaukee School Choice

Patrick McIlheran:

State taxpayers are getting a fantastic bargain this year on the education of about one in six Milwaukee children. But how long will they go on getting it?

The bargain is what we spend when a family takes its school aid in the form of a voucher to a private school in Milwaukee's choice program. Taxpayers shell out $6,442 per child, about 45% as much as the $14,183 per-child cost in the Milwaukee Public Schools, by the latest state figures.

The question is how much longer that can go on. Choice schools cannot charge poor families any more than the voucher, but researchers with the five-year study of school choice report that 82% of such schools have higher per-pupil costs. In the most recent figures, the average choice school spent $7,692 per child.

The voucher just isn't enough to run a school, said the University of Arkansas' Brian Kisida, one of the researchers: "How can you hire the best people on half the money?" He said that if he had Gov. Scott Walker's ear, he'd tell him to keep the rule requiring state tests, flawed as they are, and to raise the grant.

That isn't happening. Walker's two-year budget through 2013 freezes the voucher at $6,442, since the state is $3.5 billion in the hole. Walker also cuts how much public schools have, reducing their per-child revenue limit, their most fundamental number, by 5.5% in the first year and freezing it in the second.

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Hawaii Fires 10 Teachers for Misconduct in 2 Years

Katherine Poythress:

Only 10 teachers in the entire Hawaii Department of Education have been fired for misconduct in the last two years. That's 10 out of about 12,000 teachers, or less than one-tenth of 1 percent. The Department also suspended 37 teachers for misconduct over the same period.

Teacher performance and accountability are central to most education reform discussions, and both play a key role in negotiations with the teachers union this year.

A Civil Beat investigation found that over the past two years the district disciplined teachers for misconduct in 42 of its 257 schools, or 16 percent. No teachers were fired on Kauai or the Big Island. Teachers were disciplined on all the islands, with 35 of the cases on Oahu, three on Maui, three on Kauai and six on the Big Island.

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Big Cuts for Magnet Schools in Dallas Stir Conflict Over Spending on Education

Morgan Smith:

On a muggy afternoon in mid-April, Mary Ruiz, an animated 18-year-old, bounced through the air-conditioned corridors of her South Dallas high school.

"Excuse the mess," she said, brushing away a small scrap of paper in an otherwise spotless stairwell, giggling as she added, "I'm acting like this is my house."

Ms. Ruiz is a senior at the Yvonne A. Ewell Townview Center's School of Health Professions, a magnet in the Dallas Independent School District. The Townview Center, named for the panorama of the downtown Dallas skyline visible from its north windows, houses six magnets, including programs for law, business and science.

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In calculating Wisconsin school aid, count all the kids

Tom Barrett:

The Wisconsin Assembly recently held a hearing on Assembly Bill 92, which would eliminate the enrollment cap for the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program and extend the program to permit private schools located in Milwaukee County to participate.

Before any expansion of the program is considered, the funding mechanism for the choice program must be fixed. Choice students do not attend public schools, but Milwaukee property taxpayers still support their costs. In fact, until recently, Milwaukee property taxpayers actually paid more for students attending choice schools than they paid for students attending traditional Milwaukee Public Schools.

Over the past few years, I've worked with the state to correct this inequity. We have made a significant improvement from where we stood in the 2006-07 school year and Milwaukee taxpayers have benefited greatly.

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Doctor warns of complacency in face of autism danger

Vanessa Ko:

Hong Kong has escaped the anti-MMR childhood vaccine movement - linking the jab to autism - which spread across many English-speaking countries in the past decade.

But despite the overseas movement's dangers and the fraudulent study that inspired it, a prominent paediatrician has nevertheless warned that local parents are too complacent about potential environmental factors that could trigger the onslaught of autism among some young children.

"They just don't know about it. They are just ignorant about it," said Dr Wilson Fung Yee-leung, who is a council member of the Hong Kong Medical Association.

He said it was dangerous not to be concerned about autism and its potential environmental causes.

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Inside the Chicago Public School Probation Maze

Meribah Knight:

Austin Polytechnical Academy, a school established in 2007 to help broaden the West Side community's academic opportunities and retool perceptions of vocational education, is facing harsh realities as it prepares to graduate its first senior class: lagging test scores, diminishing attendance and dismal reading levels.

Last October, Polytech joined the ranks of the 67 percent of Chicago's public neighborhood high schools when it was placed on academic probation. That same week, state-issued report cards showed that the school was not making sufficient yearly progress under the federal No Child Left Behind law.

Having both local and federal education officials label the school as failing is a bitter pill for parents, teachers and students. Yet people with a stake in Austin Polytech have always known they would need to struggle against long odds.

Administrators and teachers at Austin Polytech, which occupies two floors of a massive concrete building that once housed the failed Austin Community High School, have been working for four years to undo decades of neglect and failure.

Interactive Map: Where Chicago Schools are on Probation.

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Milwaukee Public Schools: Open For Business?

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:

With a proposed $74 million in cuts expected for Milwaukee Public Schools next school year, district officials are going to need help in filling some gaps. That's where the business community should step up, both with money and other support.

Businesses generally have been strong supporters of MPS, but at this critical time, MPS needs more of that. If nothing else, naked self-interest should compel businesses to pitch in.

Gov. Scott Walker's budget calls for $74 million in cuts for the district. This will have a huge impact, especially with no new federal educational dollars coming in next school year.

There are a number of ways businesses can help.

The GE Foundation stepped up in January when it announced that it would give MPS $20.4 million over five years to help the school system develop a rigorous math and science curriculum and provide professional development to teachers.

This is an investment in future MPS graduates, who GE hopes will be a part of Milwaukee's workforce. GE says it will be very visible in MPS. This is important because children need to see business leaders involved in education. Children need good role models.

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Three who are politically 'all in'

Steven Walters:

In poker, there are gasps when players go "all in," pushing all their chips forward to bet on the next card. By the end of that hand, they either bust and leave the table broke or sit there much richer.

This season, at least three Wisconsin leaders are "all in": Republican U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, Republican Gov. Scott Walker and UW-Madison Chancellor Carolyn "Biddy" Martin.

Ryan: When he developed and got his fellow House Republicans to back his version of a federal budget, Ryan became Washington's flavor of the month.

It's the biggest risk of his career, however, because it would privatize and defund Medicare for anyone under 55; turn states' Medicaid programs that help the elderly, poor and disabled into a block grant program; cut corporate tax rates; and continue tax cuts on the wealthiest Americans.

"It's my obligation to offer an alternative" to the debt-and-spending cycle that threatens to choke America's future, Ryan told constituents at a Wisconsin listening session last week.

But, with his plan, the seven-term Republican from southeastern Wisconsin became target practice for Democrats, starting with President Barack Obama, and pundits.

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Teaching reforms get lost in Wisconsin budget tumult

Amy Hetzner:

Early in February, leaders of the state's largest teachers union took what was for them a major step - endorsing a series of reforms they had previously resisted, including performance pay, dividing up Milwaukee Public Schools and tying teacher evaluations to student test scores.

Within a week, however, Gov. Scott Walker released a plan to sharply curb the collective bargaining rights of most public-sector workers, and little more was heard from the Wisconsin Education Association Council about its reform initiatives.

Amid the debate over public workers' rights in Wisconsin, school reform has gotten lost in recent months, especially changes related to one of the most promising ways to improve academic achievement: focusing on teacher effectiveness.

Walker and his supporters have said that by prohibiting teachers unions from bargaining for anything other than inflation-tied wage increases, school boards are free to implement reforms that WEAC has been unwilling to embrace in the past.

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April 24, 2011

Teacher colleges balk at being rated Wisconsin schools say quality survey from national nonprofit and magazine won't be fair

Erin Richards:

A controversial review of America's teacher colleges has met resistance in Wisconsin, where education school leaders in the public and private sector say they will not voluntarily participate.

The National Council on Teacher Quality, a nonprofit advocacy group, and U.S. News & World Report, known for its annual rankings of colleges, announced in January they would launch a first-ever review of the nation's roughly 1,400 colleges of education. The recruitment and training of teachers have become a hot-button issue tied to education reform, but university system presidents in Wisconsin as well as New York, Georgia, Oregon and Kentucky have expressed misgivings about the process of assessing and ranking their education schools.

"While we welcome fair assessment and encourage public sharing of our strengths and weaknesses, we believe your survey will not accomplish these goals. We therefore wish to notify you that our entire membership has decided to stand united and not participate further in the survey process," says an April 7 letter by Katy Heyning, president of the Wisconsin Association of Colleges of Teacher Education, and addressed to the National Council on Teacher Quality and U.S. News. Heyning also is the dean of the College of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.

The council, meanwhile, is filing open-records requests to get information about the public education schools in states that won't provide it voluntarily. Arthur McKee, manager of teacher preparation programs at the NCTQ, said the council had not received the letter from Heyning. But it had received a letter from UW System President Kevin Reilly.

That letter from March 28 says that UW's 13 teacher colleges declined to participate because of "serious concerns" about the survey's methods of data collection, analysis and reporting.

Much more, here.

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Advocating a "Classical Approach to Education"


A few months ago, we moved out of Washington, D.C., to be closer to where we'll be sending our children to school. That decision wasn't just made because it's our parish school or because many DC public schools have serious problems. Prior to getting married, my husband and I separately served on the school board that oversaw the change in our parish school's curriculum to a Classical approach. It was a large undertaking but we couldn't be more pleased with the results.

From my experience, I know that the Classical movement is sizable and under-covered by major media. So I was completely delighted to read about a new Classical school in the area in a recent Washington Post. Written by Julia Duin, it begins with an anecdote that shows how Classical education works:

It's 1 p.m. and time for Amy Clayton's fifth grade to show off their memorization skills.

Decked out in blue long-sleeved shirts and dark pants for boys and bright yellow blouses and plaid jumpers for girls, the students begin with the words of Patrick Henry's immortal "Give me liberty or give me death" speech first delivered on March 23, 1775, in Richmond. That recitation merges into verses from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's "Paul Revere's Ride." That morphs into a few phrases from the Declaration of Independence, the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution and finally to fragments of speeches by Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln.

"Beautifully done," Clayton says at the conclusion. "We just encapsulated 80 years of American history in our recitation." She is engaged, dramatic, and students are nearly jumping out of their seats trying to answer her questions about the beginnings of the Civil War. To her right is a banner containing a quote from Aesop: "No act of kindness, however small, is ever wasted." Near that hangs a crucifix.

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The Army should fix the geographical narrowness of its ROTC programs

Stephen Trynosky:

I don't know your Year Group cohort, but I think you may not realize how narrow the ROTC's geographic/outreach footprint has become since 1989 (e.g. closure of 4 of New Jersey's 7 Army ROTC programs). Sadly, I have been taking on the "if they want it bad enough they will low crawl to ROTC" argument for almost two decades. I didn't buy that argument as a first year ROTC cadet in 1994 and I buy it even less now.

The Army has allocated only a single Army ROTC instructor battalion to the entire state of Connecticut--which has one of the highest educational attainment levels in the United States and an enormous per capita student population. It is also noteworthy that Connecticut's population is LARGER than Mississippi's, over half the size of Alabama's and FOUR TIMES LARGER than South Dakota's. Despite its size and student population, Connecticut has just one Army ROTC battalion, while Mississippi has 5, Alabama has 10 and South Dakota has 3. It is misplaced to blame the Yale students for not seeking out Army ROTC -- particularly when the program HQ and the Professor of Military Science (PMS) sit 70 miles away in Storrs. Sure, there is some instruction available in New Haven, but the core of the ROTC's administrative, logistical and outreach capabilities in the state are 70 miles away from New Haven. This reality can not be discounted.

I challenge anyone to find a university comparable to Yale's size south of the Mason-Dixon line that is 70 miles away from an Army ROTC host institution.

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Great colleges, ignorant policies

Jay Matthews:

Our nation's finest universities and colleges say they want our teenagers to be ready for college. They say they will do whatever they can to make that happen.

I would like to believe them, but in one small but revealing way, many of them -- including the University of Virginia, the College of William and Mary, Howard University, Johns Hopkins University and Washington College -- have been doing the opposite. They have failed to correct a discriminatory credit policy that is hurting the high school students trying hardest to prepare for their rich and rigorous programs.

Check the Web sites or rule books of most American universities, including the ones above, and you will discover that they offer college credit to students who get good grades on Advanced Placement exams in high school but that they refuse to give the same credit to students who do well on similar International Baccalaureate Standard Level exams. They offer credit to students who get good grades on exams taken after two-year Higher Level IB courses, but those are different. Tests for one-year IB courses don't get credit; tests for similar one-year AP courses do.

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Ace the School Reunion

Ray Smith:

School reunion time is here and it is all too easy to slip back into a high-school state of mind. The desire to impress mixed with feelings of insecurity can serve up a bad emotional cocktail.

Like it or not, clothing is a visual gauge of who has soared and who has stumbled. Pulling together an outfit that sends the message you desire--cool confidence or affluence or even Look-At-Me-Now Revenge on The One Who Dumped You or The Mean Girls Who Made School a Daily Nightmare--has become more daunting. Many high school and college reunions now stretch from an evening of dinner and dancing into rigorously scheduled all-weekend affairs.

"There's usually a Friday evening cocktail event, then a Saturday daytime something where you may bring your children, maybe to a park, a baseball field or a pool, then a Saturday evening gala and then a Sunday farewell brunch," says Mary Fanizzi Krystoff, a Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based events producer who has put together school reunions for more than 20 years.

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Zhu Rongji resurfaces to criticise Chinese education reforms

Shi Jiangtao:

Former premier Zhu Rongji made a rare public appearance yesterday, delivering a scathing criticism of the mainland's education system and other policies during a visit to his alma mater, Tsinghua University.

Zhu (pictured) lashed out at the much-criticised reform of tertiary education and urged mainland officials and scholars to speak the truth.

He said a newly published directive on trial reforms of the education system was "full of empty talk and nonsense", according to excerpts of his remarks posted on the popular microblog platform Sina Weibo.

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Virginia rolls out teacher merit-pay plan

Zinie Chen Sampson:

Gov. Bob McDonnell on Tuesday rolled out Virginia's teacher merit-pay plan, inviting 57 districts that have struggling schools to apply for $3 million in total state funding for the 2011-12 school year.

At least 40 percent of a teacher's performance evaluation will be tied to student academic performance -- including improvements in standardized test scores. Schools that receive grants must adopt teacher-appraisal systems aligned with state-approved evaluation methods and performance metrics.

The General Assembly approved the pilot performance-pay initiative as part of McDonnell's amendments to the state budget. A key component of the Republican governor's education agenda, the initiative is aimed at attracting good teachers to so-called hard-to-staff schools. Such schools include those at risk of losing state accreditation and those that have a high percentage of English learners or special-needs students.

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Customized Learning Fuels Rocketship


Great post by John Danner, Rocketship CEO today on their efforts to customize learning. Rocketship is a network of high performing elementary schools in San Jose California. Students spend about a fifth of their day in a learning lab. Here's the guts of John's post:

We've put a ton of work into figuring out how to go from student assessments to individualized learning plans. When a learning plan accurately captures the next 6-8 objectives a student needs at a fine grain (i.e. this student needs to work on short a sounds), then you set yourself up to deliver the right lesson at the right time. This process of figuring out exactly what a student needs to learn is the key. From that, the potential upside for the right lesson to each child at the right developmental level probably has the potential to be 10x more effective for the student than a classroom lesson targeted at what a child that age should be learning, or some scope and sequence that has been defined. For students who are the farthest behind, classroom lessons are almost never relevant, they just aren't there developmentally. So this 10x potential increase in learning is what our model plays on.

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Looking At College Application Inflation

Robert Siegel:

It's a time of high anxiety for high school seniors. Students across the country have been finding out where they got in to college and where they didn't. For many applying to the most selective schools, the news is not good. While the number of applications has shot up, acceptance rates have hit historic lows. It's been called, "application inflation." Michele Norris talks with Bloomberg News' higher education reporter Janet Lorin about college admissions and "application inflation."

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The PhD factory The world is producing more PhDs than ever before. Is it time to stop?

David Cyranoski , Natasha Gilbert , Heidi Ledford , Anjali Nayar & Mohammed Yahia:

Scientists who attain a PhD are rightly proud -- they have gained entry to an academic elite. But it is not as elite as it once was. The number of science doctorates earned each year grew by nearly 40% between 1998 and 2008, to some 34,000, in countries that are members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The growth shows no sign of slowing: most countries are building up their higher-education systems because they see educated workers as a key to economic growth (see 'The rise of doctorates'). But in much of the world, science PhD graduates may never get a chance to take full advantage of their qualifications.

In some countries, including the United States and Japan, people who have trained at great length and expense to be researchers confront a dwindling number of academic jobs, and an industrial sector unable to take up the slack. Supply has outstripped demand and, although few PhD holders end up unemployed, it is not clear that spending years securing this high-level qualification is worth it for a job as, for example, a high-school teacher. In other countries, such as China and India, the economies are developing fast enough to use all the PhDs they can crank out, and more -- but the quality of the graduates is not consistent. Only a few nations, including Germany, are successfully tackling the problem by redefining the PhD as training for high-level positions in careers outside academia. Here, Nature examines graduate-education systems in various states of health.

Steve Hsu has more.

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Shutter Fraternities for Young Women's Good

Caitlin Flanagan:

In the fall of 1984, a 17-year-old freshman at the University of Virginia named Liz Securro was invited to a fraternity party. While there, she was given a tour of the historic house and offered a cup of the dark green cocktail that was its specialty. Within minutes she was incapacitated. She was carried into a bedroom and raped. She woke up wrapped in a bloody sheet (she had been a virgin) and watched as the rapist coldly packed his backpack and told her, "You ought to get out of here before someone sees you."

Alone, bruised and bleeding, she walked to the emergency room, waited for hours, was sent to Student Health and began a weeks-long ordeal. One school official suggested she take some time off or perhaps transfer. Many doubted her story. She realized she had no real hope for justice, and so she gave up trying to find it.

But 20 years later, something remarkable happened: Her rapist, who had joined Alcoholics Anonymous, sent her a letter of apology--or, as Liz came to see it, a handwritten confession. The story of his prosecution and ultimate imprisonment is detailed in her riveting new book, "Crash Into Me," which includes a horrifying revelation. She learned during the discovery process of the trial that she had been gang raped.

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Public-sector pay Too modest or too much?

The Economist:

AMY GARDNER writes in the Washington Post of the emotional injury suffered by government employees when a goodly portion of the public begins to malign them as members of a parasite class who enjoy the ample fruits of less privileged and secure workers' labour. Efforts in Wisconsin, Ohio and elsewhere to rein in the growth of public-sector salaries, pensions and health benefits have, Ms Gardner reports, "ripped apart how many public workers think of themselves and their role in society." She considers the case of Judy and Jim Embree "an operating room nurse and paramedic and firefighter" from Ohio, who have been taken aback by increasingly negative attitudes toward public-sector workers. "The divide between those who back union workers and those who don't comes down to a matter of perception over what qualifies as modest and what is too much," Ms Gardner writes. Would you say this modest or too much?
Judy Embree earns $63,000. Under current rules, she is eligible to retire in five years, at age 54, after 30 years on the job. Upon retirement, she will be paid about 66 percent of her wages.Jim Embree earns $70,700. He is eligible to retire in two years, at age 50, after 25 years on the job. He will take home 60 percent of his retiring salary.Both Embrees could continue to work and improve their pensions; Judy Embree would qualify for 100 percent of her wages after 44 years of service (at age 68), and Jim would max out after 33 years (at age 58) with 72 percent of his final pay.
Not surprisingly, the Embrees think this just about right. The article concludes with this reflection from Mr Embree:

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Students map the wild treasures of Warner Park

Susan Troller

Madison's Warner Park may be best known as home of the Madison Mallards baseball team, but it's also home to real mallards and at least 99 other species of wild birds.

Thanks to a group of outdoor-loving Sherman Middle School students working with University of Wisconsin-Madison student mentors, the list of wild birds that make the almost 200 acre urban park their home, or their temporary home as they migrate north and south, now stands at 100.

The first week in April the Sherman birding club, which includes sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students partnered with UW students, discovered the landmark 100th species in the park. It's a yellow-bellied sapsucker, a type of woodpecker, sighted with the help of nationally renowned ornithologist and author John C. Robinson.

Robinson was visiting Madison to give a talk at the UW on conservation and outdoor recreation.

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Teachers retiring at high rate, many because of collective bargaining changes

Matthew DeFour:

More than 130 Madison teachers -- many of them worried that Gov. Scott Walker's collective bargaining law could lead to changes in post-retirement benefits -- are retiring in June, a big increase over recent years.

As of the April 15 deadline, 138 Madison teachers have decided to retire, Superintendent Dan Nerad said. That's a 62 percent increase over the average number of retirements over the previous five years.

The district plans to fill all of the positions, Nerad said, though the loss of so many more veteran teachers than usual could have a more noticeable effect on students and novice teachers.

"A lot of these people have been working with generations of students and influencing people for a long, long time," Nerad said. "Our intention is to replace them with knowledgeable people, but as a rule they will be less experienced."

More than 60 teachers indicated they were retiring earlier than anticipated because of concerns about the collective bargaining changes, said John Matthews, executive director of Madison Teachers Inc.

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April 23, 2011

Keep intact the mission of choice program

Howard Fuller:

It was not easy for me to stand before the state Legislature's Joint Finance Committee and threaten to withdraw my support from the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, which I have supported for more than 20 years. But if lawmakers approve Gov. Scott Walker's proposal to lift the income requirement that has maintained the program for children from low-income families, that is exactly what I will do.

The governor's plan would dramatically change the program's social justice mission and destroy its trailblazing legacy as the first and still one of the few in the nation that uses public dollars to help equalize the academic options for children from low-income and working-class families. I did not join this movement to subsidize families like mine, which may not be rich but have resources and, thus, options.

When I got into this battle in 1989, standardized test scores showed Milwaukee was failing to educate poor black children. That's when state Rep. Annette Polly Williams courageously stepped forth to make sure that poor families were afforded some opportunity to choose schools in the private sector for their children. She shepherded the pioneering voucher program through the Legislature.

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Trading the corporate world for the classroom

Susan Troller:

Physicist, neuroscience entrepreneur and businessman, Jon Joseph traded the money and prestige of a flourishing career in corporate America for the opportunity to teach high level calculus, computer science and physics to high school kids. He's doing his thing in the northern Green County community of New Glarus, teaching at a high school where there were exactly zero Advanced Placement courses less than 15 years ago.

A shortened version of his professional resume includes a Ph.D. in physics with a focus on neuroscience from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. While an assistant professor at UW, he founded the Biomagnetic Research Laboratory for brain research. He left academia for the corporate world in 1989, doing brain research for Nicolet Biomedical and later moving to the NeuroCare Division of VIASYS Healthcare, where he was chief technology officer and VP of engineering and new technology. Most recently, he was part of a startup company called Cyberkinetics, where he was vice president of research and development. He got his teaching certificate in 2006, and previously taught in Madison and Middleton. In New Glarus, he heads up the math and computer science department.

Capital Times: Describe the work you did before you became a teacher.

Jon Joseph: I spent a lot of time b

Somewhat related, from a financial and curricular perspective: The Khan Academy.

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Madison Teachers' Union Gets Death Threat

Matthew Rothschild:

Republican legislators in Wisconsin aren't the only ones getting violent threats. On Thursday, Katherine Windels pleaded not guilty to making death threats to Republican state lawmakers. Her crazed threats have gotten a lot of media attention.

But what hasn't gotten attention is the ugliness directed against labor.

"We've gotten a lot of threats," says John Matthews, executive director of Madison Teachers Inc (MTI).

MTI received a death threat on April 15.

"You're all going to die. I'm going to kill you. I'm going to kill you," said a man's voice calling from the (252) area code, which MTI saw on caller ID. That area code is in North Carolina.

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Duncan Issues Far More NCLB Waivers Than Predecessors

Michele McNeil:

With Secretary Arne Duncan at the helm, the U.S. Department of Education is gradually--and sometimes quietly--chipping away at key parts of the No Child Left Behind Act as states and districts demand more relief from the elusive goal that all students be what the law terms "proficient" in reading and math by 2014.
The pressure on Mr. Duncan to waive substantial parts of the 9-year-old federal school-accountability law is only growing as Congress continues to drag its feet on reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, of which NCLB is the latest version.
Although President Barack Obama and Mr. Duncan have called for revision of the law by the start of the next school year, draft legislation has yet to be introduced, and school leaders anxious about rapidly approaching deadlines are clamoring for leeway in the meantime.

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Carolina's Students Get Educated The School's Elite Men's Basketball Team Hits the Dormitory Courts to Play Classmates--Just for Fun

Ben Cohen:

College basketball doesn't get any more glamorous than it does at North Carolina, a school that boasts one of the sport's most prestigious programs. On this campus, the basketball players are lords of the manor.

But this spring, Carolina's men's team has started a new tradition, one that stands in sharp contrast to the booming prominence of the sport.

Since they bowed out of the NCAA's Elite Eight last month, members of North Carolina's Tar Heels have been showing up a campus dormitory courts to play five-on-five pickup basketball games with students. We caught up with some of the players at a recent session.

Since they bowed out in the NCAA Tournament's Elite Eight last month, the players have been killing time before finals exams by showing up at outdoor courts at campus dormitories to play five-on-five pick-up games with students--just for fun. To make sure they draw a crowd, the players announce their plans beforehand on Twitter.

On a cloudless afternoon last week, five Carolina players showed up to the outdoor court at Granville Towers. As spectators in sunglasses and sundresses dangled their legs over the brick walls, a pack of would-be student challengers in sneakers and t-shirts made a beeline to the free-throw line, where the first five to sink shots would earn the right to play.

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: As its power declines, the U.S. pays the price

Chrystia Freeland:

Economic policy isn't just a domestic issue anymore. That is the conclusion we should draw from the market volatility this week, including the shift by Standard & Poor's to a negative outlook for U.S. government debt, and the meeting last weekend of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.

This is a familiar fact for smaller countries. The emerging market nations have long understood that judgments made on Wall Street or at the IMF headquarters in Washington often had more power to shape their economic policy than the proposals of their own ministers of finance and central bankers. More recently, that is a lesson that fiscally weak Western countries like Greece, Ireland and Portugal have been learning, too.

Now, as the relative power of the United States in the global economy declines, it is a fact of life that Americans need to get used to, too. That is one of the important messages of the S&P decision at the beginning of this week to put the United States on a negative outlook - essentially a warning that the ratings agency is no longer certain the United States will maintain its AAA rating.

There are a lot of reasons the S&P call should be taken with a grain of salt. For one thing, the ratings agencies hardly covered themselves with glory in the run-up to the financial crisis, and surely no longer deserve oracular status - if they ever did.

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Autism's Causes: How Close Are We to Solving the Puzzle?

PBS NewsHour:

ROBERT MACNEIL: As we've reported, autism now affects one American child in a 110. Last month, a committee convened by public health officials in Washington called it a national health emergency. The dramatic rise in official figures over the last decade has generated a surge of scientific research to find what is causing autism.

Among the centers for such research is here, the University of California, Davis MIND Institute in Sacramento. Here and around the country, we've talked to leading researchers about where that effort now stands. Among them is the director of research at the MIND Institute, Dr. David Amaral.

DR. DAVID AMARAL, MIND Institute: Well, I think we're close to finding several causes for autism. But there's -- I don't think there's going to be a single cause.

ROBERT MACNEIL: The science director of the Simons Foundation in New York, Dr. Gerald Fishbach; Dr. Martha Herbert, professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School; and Dr. Craig Newschaffer, professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at Drexel University in Philadelphia. First, I asked, how close are we to discovering the cause of autism?

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Writing Teachers: Still Crazy After All These Years

Mary Grabar:

After spending four depressing days this month at a meeting of 3,000 writing teachers in Atlanta, I can tell you that their parent group, the Conference on College Composition and Communication, is not really interested in teaching students to write and communicate clearly. The group's agenda, clear to me after sampling as many of the meeting's 500 panels as I could, is devoted to disparaging grammar, logic, reason, evidence and fairness as instruments of white oppression. They believe rules of grammar discriminate against "marginalized" groups and restrict self-expression.

Even noted composition scholar Peter Elbow, in his address, claimed that the grammar that we internalize at the age of four is "good enough." The Internet, thankfully, has freed us from our previous duties as "grammar police," and Elbow heralded the day when the white spoken English that has now become the acceptable standard, will be joined by other forms, like those of non-native and ghetto speakers.

Freed from standards of truth claims and grammatical construction, rhetoric is now redefined as "performance," as in street protests, often by students demonstrating their "agency." Expressions are made through "the body," images, and song--sometimes a burst of spontaneous reflection on the Internet. Clothes are rhetorically important as "instruments of grander performance."

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Wis. teachers respond to challenges of budget repair bill

Taylor Nye:

The big news back in my small, rural southeast Wisconsin hometown is that the high school and middle school have a few new teachers. Every time I run into someone from back home, they have to tell me, "Did you hear about the new science/math/Spanish teacher?" Unfortunately, teachers in my hometown and around Wisconsin are not retiring because it's their time. What we are seeing are effects from Gov. Scott Walker's Budget Tyranny Bill, and small and large school districts alike will continue to face large turnover in the foreseeable future.

When Walker tried to slash union's bargaining rights, he opened a legal can of worms. With all the actions that are being brought against his administration over the legality of his moves, it's difficult to remember that Wisconsin's teachers are left between a rock and a hard place as long as his measures stand. The educators who are now retiring likely didn't consider leaving their school systems until it became clear that he was going to put his bill into effect. They have two choices: Take whatever they can get out of early retirement now, or stay on and wait to see what retirement benefits, if any, the unions will be able to bargain for in the future. In addition, there is another worry about continuing to teach -- no one knows how expansive future layoffs will be.

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New Study Confirms UFT Report's Findings on ELLs in Charters

Christina Collins:

The Journal of School Choice recently published an article in which researchers Jack Buckley and Carolyn Sattin-Bajaj confirmed the UFT's findings in 2010 that charter schools in New York City enrolled a lower proportion of limited English proficient (LEP) students than the average district school in 2007-08. Overall, they find that among the city's charters from 2006-2008, "in the case of the LEP proportions, there is a large group of schools with very few, a handful with a larger proportion, and perhaps 1-3 schools, depending on the year, with a large share of LEP students."

This report provides a valuable complement to our findings in "Separate and Unequal," both in its examination of two additional years of data and in its use of sophisticated statistical formulas to account for possible errors in the numbers of LEP students that charters report to the state each year. As this chart from the article shows, even when the researchers controlled for that possibility, the proportion of LEP students in most charters in the city fell well below the district average (represented by the solid line on the graph).

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Teachers 'bully other teachers'


Bullying in school is a problem for many staff as well as pupils, according to a teachers' union survey.

The bullies are often other teachers who pick on their staffroom colleagues - with heads and senior staff alleged to be among the worst culprits.

The survey, from the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, says about a quarter of teachers have been bullied by another member of staff.

The union is calling for "robust" policies to tackle such instances.

Teachers report being "driven from their jobs" by bullying head teachers.

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A lesson in mediocrity California's schools show how direct democracy can destroy accountability

The Economist:

EVERYTHING ABOUT CALIFORNIA'S school system is complicated, starting with the question of how bad its public schools are. Comparisons show that students in California fare worse than the national average in mathematics, reading, science and writing. But the numbers are unfair, says John Mockler, an expert in Californian education who has been following its fortunes since the 1960s. For instance, half of California's pupils are Hispanic, and 40% of those hardly speak English. Most other states don't face this problem.

Nonetheless, there is a broad consensus that California's public schools are not what they could be, nor what they used to be. California ranks 47th among the 50 states and the District of Columbia in spending per pupil ($7,886, against an average of $11,397). It ranks last in the number of students per teacher: California's legislative analyst estimates that most classes have 28-31 pupils. And it ranks 42nd in the proportion of pupils who graduate (63%, against a national average of 69%).

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ACLU seeks federal probe of truants lockup

Lynn Arditi:

The American Civil Liberties Union and its Rhode Island affiliate are urging federal justice officials in Washington to investigate the lockup of truants at the state Training School.

The ACLU has asked officials in the U.S. Justice Department -- who are scheduled to arrive in Rhode Island Tuesday -- to investigate "documented evidence" published in a December 2010 Providence Journal article that showed, since 2005, at least 28 youths from the state Family Court's truancy program had been detained overnight.

The Journal article described how juveniles who attended weekly truancy hearings in classrooms, cafeterias and school offices around the state were declared in criminal contempt of court and sent to the Training School. Their offenses included not answering a magistrate's questions, swearing or otherwise acting disrespectful. In one case, a 12-year-old girl was ordered held for two nights for slamming a door on her way out of the room. At the time, the girl had no parent or lawyer present.

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April 22, 2011

RSA Animate - Changing Education Paradigms

via a kind reader's email.

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Full speed ahead for school reforms

Wisconsin State Journal:

If Wisconsin is to improve its public schools, it needs leaders willing to think and act boldly, kick sacred cows and innovate.

State and local officials should keep that in mind as they consider complaints that Gov. Scott Walker's move to restrict collective bargaining for most public employees risks cutting an essential partner out of education reform plans.

As the State Journal's six-part series "Labor's Last Stand" reported in Tuesday's installment, the complaints are based on the assumption that without teacher unions participating in the development and execution of reforms, those reforms will fizzle.

But framing the success or failure of school reform in terms of dependency on union bargaining is misguided. In the past, teacher unions have led some education reforms but have been roadblocks to others. In fact, it is insulting to individual teachers, school boards and superintendents to believe that nothing can be accomplished without going through a union.

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Administrators Lobbying Against Wisconsin Open Enrollment Expansion

John Forester and a kind reader, via email

The SAA's launching a last-ditch lobbying effort to try to limit the pending bill that will expand the open enrollment period. My transcription of the video alert:

Good afternoon SAA members, this is your lobbyist John Forester coming to you on Thursday afternoon, April the 21st, with a priority legislative alert on Senate Bill 2, having to do with the open enrollment application period. I need you to contact the members of the Assembly Education Committee in support of the SAA's position on Senate Bill 2.

Senate Bill 2 was amended and passed in the Senate earlier this legislative session. The bill had a hearing in the Assembly Education Committee on April the 7th, and could be voted on by the committee as early as next Tuesday, April the 26th. The SAA is seeking to amend the bill. I have provided for you my testimony on the bill, as well as a Legislative Council memo explaining how the bill was amended in the Senate. You can find contact information for the Committee members on the left side of our website.

Now let me tell you this flat and straight. Some version of this bill is going to pass this legislative session. We are simply trying to get the bill amended to make it less objectionable. Now let me give you some information specifically regarding the bill. If adopted, Senate Bill 2 would expand the open enrollment application period from 3 weeks to the 3 full months of February, March and April. As amended, Senate Bill 2 would also create an alternate open enrollment application process that would allow a parent of a pupil wishing to attend a nonresident school district to apply to that school district if the pupil satisfies at least one of seven criteria established in the bill. Now under this alternate process, applications may be submitted outside the 3 month open enrollment window. The primary focus of our opposition to Senate Bill 2 is the last of the seven criteria in the alternate application process and it reads as follows: "The parent of the pupil and the nonresident school board agree that attending school in the nonresident district is in the best interests of the pupil." Now because the nonresident school district, assuming it has room for more students, has a financial incentive to accept new open enrollment students, this provision of the bill essentially creates the potential for year-round open enrollment, and I know that I've received lots of phone calls from SAA members saying that that's exactly what this would do. This provision would also provide difficult students and parents with one more weapon to manipulate school districts into making decisions favorable to the student and the parents.

Now we have requested that the committee solve this problem with that criteria number 7 either by deleting the 7th criteria listed in the alternate application process or by changing "nonresident school board" to "resident school board" in the bill language that was referenced earlier. Now I have been told by Assembly Education Committee members that the only way to get the bill changed to the way that we would like is for local school districts to contact the committee members and make the case. I'm doing all that I can on this bill, folks, I need your help and I need it now. So again I'm asking you, especially if the legislators that are members of the Assembly Education Committee are your legislators, please contact them and contact them as soon as possible and ask for this change in the bill. Again, some version of the bill is going to pass, what we want to do is to make the bill a little bit better for us. Again, what it really comes down to is: our response to this legislative alert is going to determine how successfully we can reshape the bill. Again thank you very much for everything you do on a daily basis for the kids here in this state. Thank you for your support and contact those legislators. This is your lobbyist John Forester signing off and Happy Easter.

[emphasis added]

It's interesting to see the true motivations and conflicts of interest openly expressed. Now who represents the interests of children and their parents, again?

Much more on Wisconsin's Open Enrollment program here.

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Autism Now: Demand for Educational Resources for Children Outstrips Supply

PBS NewsHour:

ROBERT MACNEIL: In New York City schools, there are more than 7,000 students with autism. Seven hundred of them, from preschool age to 21, attend this public school for autism in the Bronx, PS 176.

WOMAN: Roll the dice. Oh, boy. What number?


WOMAN: Good. What are you going to do next?

ROBERT MACNEIL: These children see doctors periodically, but they go to school every day. It's the public school system that bears most of the burden of treating children with autism, because treatment means teaching. And federal law mandates that all children with disabilities are entitled to a free, appropriate education.

RIMA RITHOLTZ: Autism can suck the fun out of life. Having a child with a disability can suck the fun out of life. And we work very hard here to put the fun back in.

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How Genius Works

The Atlantic:

Great art begins with an idea. Sometimes a vague or even bad one. How does that spark of creativity find its way to the canvas, the page, the dinner plate, or the movie screen? How is inspiration refined into the forms that delight or provoke us? We enlisted some of America's foremost artists to discuss the sometimes messy, frequently maddening, and almost always mysterious process of creating something new.

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Teacher evaluations called unproductive

Dave Berns:

The assumption behind Gov. Brian Sandoval's education reform package is that red tape has prevented schools from getting rid of bad teachers, who are increasingly viewed as the greatest impediment to improving public education.

Simply put, the governor wants to make it easier to fire teachers by ending tenure and removing those who fail annual evaluations.

Testifying Saturday on behalf of the reform measure, Assembly Bill 555, Sandoval's senior adviser, Dale Erquiaga, noted that 0.3 percent of Nevada public school teachers annually lose their jobs because of poor performance. The national average, he said, is 1.5 percent.

The implication: The current process fails to weed out poor teachers.

Erquiaga argued the process is "too hard" and "too cumbersome," citing research showing 5 to 10 percent of teachers could be replaced for poor performance.

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Who Really Cares How Yuppies Raise Their Kids?

Motoko Rich:

First there was Amy Chua, the Yale law professor and author of "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother," who sent legions of parents into a tizzy with her exacting standards for piano practice and prohibitions against sleepovers.

Now comes Bryan Caplan, an economist at George Mason University whose book "Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids: Why Being a Great Parent is Less Work and More Fun Than You Think" was published on Tuesday. In it, he argues that parenting hardly matters, and that we should just let our children watch more television and play video games. With parenting made so easy, he says, we should go ahead and have more children.

It's the age-old nature-or-nurture debate. Ms. Chua clearly favors the nurture side of the equation (if her heavy-handed approach could be described as "nurturing"). Mr. Caplan, who has already been dubbed the "Un-Tiger Mom," writes, "While healthy, smart, happy, successful, virtuous parents tend to have matching offspring, the reason is largely nature, not nurture."

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The Chicago Reset Button: Emanuel's New Education Team

Rebecca Vevea & Crystal Yednak:

The almost complete overhaul of the Chicago Public Schools' leadership team announced by Rahm Emanuel Monday sets a tone for the district and aligns with his education agenda to increase the number of charter schools, turn around failing schools, implement merit pay and lengthen the city's school day.

"It's a really comprehensive set of appointments," said Barbara Radner, director of the Center for Urban Education at DePaul University. While his top choices, Jean-Claude Brizard and Noemi Donoso, have no previous ties to the city's schools, the rest of Emanuel's pics are strategic and, as he put it, share his "thirst for reform."

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: State & Local Sales Tax Rates

The Tax Foundation.

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The Unwise War Against Chocolate Milk

Jen Singer:

One by one, the children trooped to our table and put their apples in front of my son. By the fourth apple, I asked Christopher--my date for "Lunch with Your Second Grader" at the local elementary school in Kinnelon, N.J.--what was going on.

"Oh, they don't like the apples that come with lunch, so they give them to me," he reported, shrugging. "I can't eat them all."

I'm the mother of two boys, now middle-schoolers, one a good eater and one who would live on pizza and root beer if I let him. Christopher eats apples, and Nicholas leaves his on the lunch tray. He's the one who needs his chocolate milk. Yes, chocolate.

And so it was disturbing to hear about the recent chocolate milk ban in the Fairfax County, Va., school system and elsewhere around the country. Ditching chocolate milk to cut down on our children's sugar intake might be the right sentiment, but it's the wrong solution.

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iPad 2 in kindergarten classrooms: A good idea?

Samantha Murphy:

Move over, finger paint. A school district in Maine recently approved a $200,000 initiative that would give each of its 285 kindergarten students a new hands-on tool: Their very own iPad 2.

In what they are calling "a revolution in education," the Auburn, Maine, school district will be bringing the $499 Apple tablet devices into kindergarten classrooms starting in the fall with the aim of increasing literacy rates from 62 percent to 90 percent.

This isn't the first time Maine has become an early tech adopter in its educational systems. In 2002, it became the first state to give out laptop computers to its middle school students and later expanded the program to high schoolers as a part of a move to boost literacy.

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College-Bound and Living With Autism

The New York Times:

Several readers of the Consults blog recently had questions about the long-term course of autism, including succeeding in college and beyond. Our experts Dr. Fred Volkmar of the Yale Child Study Center and Dr. Lisa Wiesner, co-authors of "A Practical Guide to Autism," respond. For more on this and other topics, see their earlier responses in "Ask the Experts About Autism," and The Times Health Guide: Autism. The authors also teach a free online course on autism at Yale University, which is also available at iTunesU and on YouTube.

Are you aware of any longitudinal studies of occupational outcomes and successful (independent) living for high-functioning autistic adults? Where would I find those? Are there particular strategies that should be pursued in high school or college to enhance the likelihood of success in these areas?

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April 21, 2011

Problems in Wisconsin Reading NAEP Scores Task Force

Wisconsin Reading Coalition, via a kind reader's email:

Wisconsin's performance on the reading portion of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is simply unacceptable and unnecessary. Click here to view a summary of the results. Click here for more statistics.

4/25/2011 meeting agenda:

A general and detailed agenda for the April 25th meeting of the Governor's Read to Lead task force have been released. We feel the important topics in reading reform can be addressed through this agenda.

Welcome and opening remarks by Governor Walker on the mission of the Task Force.
A discussion of the current state of reading achievement in Wisconsin
A discussion of current practices as well as ways to improve reading instruction at the classroom level in Wisconsin
A discussion of future topics and future meeting dates.


I. Identifying the problem and its root causes.
A. An overview of the problem in Wisconsin
B. What are the some of the root causes of illiteracy?
1. Teaching methods and curriculum
2. Teacher training and professional development
3. Problematic interventions
4. Societal problems
5. Lack of accountability
6. Others?
C. Why are we doing so much worse than many other states and so much worse, relative to other states, than we did in the past?

II. Reading instruction
A. How are children typically taught to read in Wisconsin schools?
B. How do early childhood programs fit into the equation?
C. How might reading instruction be improved?
D. How do these methods and curricula differ with ELL & special needs students?
E. How quickly could improved reading instruction be implemented?

The attached fact sheet of NAEP scores (PDF), assembled with the assistance of task force and WRC member Steve Dykstra, was attached to the detailed agenda.


Governor Walker's blue ribbon task force, Read to Lead, will have its first meeting on Monday, April 25, 2011, from 9:00 AM to 11:00 AM. The meeting will be held in the Governor's conference room, 115 East, in the State Capitol. All meetings are open to the public. In addition, WRC will prepare reports on the progress of the task force to send as E-Alerts and post on our website, Questions on the task force can be addressed to Kimber Liedl or Michael Brickman in the Governor's office at 608-267-9096.

In preparation for the meeting, the Governor's office made this comment:

"As the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's education columnist observed on Sunday, "[t]his is not your ordinary task force." The creation of this task force is an opportunity to improve reading instruction and achievement in our state in an effort to open new opportunities for thousands of children. The MJS also noted that our task force "has diversity of opinion." This is by design. Governor Walker is not looking for a rubber stamp, but for a robust, yet focused, conversation that will ultimately lead to concrete policy solutions."

Related: Dave Baskerville: Wisconsin Needs Two Big Goals. (video)

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Highs & Lows

It seems that the academic expository writing of our public high school students will rise, or fall, to the level of our expectations. Here are excerpts from narrative essays, written by U.S. public high school students, to illustrate that claim--three have been written to the student's own high expectations and the other three to our generally low expectations for National Competitions, civics and otherwise:

Excerpt from a 40-page essay written as an independent study by a Junior in a Massachusetts public high school [endnote notation omitted]:

"At first, the church hierarchy was pleased at this outburst of religious enthusiasm and female piety; it was almost a revival. Hutchinson, after all, was a prominent and devout member of the Boston church, and only the most suspicious churchmen found immediate fault in the meetings. But soon, Hutchinson's soirées became less innocuous. In response to her audience's interest--in fact, their near-adulation--and in keeping with her own brilliance and constant theological introspection, she moved from repeating sermons to commenting on them, and from commenting to formulating her own distinct doctrine. As Winthrop sardonically remarked, 'the pretense was to repeat sermons, but when that was done, she would comment...and she would be sure to make it serve her turn.' What was actually happening, however, was far more radical and far more significant than Hutchinson making the words of others 'serve her turn.' She was not using anyone else's words; she was preaching a new brand of Puritanism, and this is what is now known as Antinomianism."

Excerpt from a Grand Prize-winning 700-word essay written for a National Competition by a Junior from a public high school in Mableton, Georgia:

"Without history, there is no way to learn from mistakes or remember the good times through the bad. History is more than a teacher to me; it's an understanding of why I am who I am. It's a part of my life on which I can never turn back. History is the one thing you can count on never to change; the only thing that changes is people's perception of it.

It cannot be denied that every aspect of the past has shaped the present, nor that every aspect of the present is shaping and will continue to shape the future. In a sense, history is me, and I am the history of the future. History does not mean series of events; history means stories and pictures; history means people, and yet, history means much more. History means the people of yesterday, today, and tomorrow. History means me."


Excerpt from a 30-page independent study by a Junior at a public high school in Worthington, Ohio [endnote notation omitted]:

"Opposition to this strictly-planned agricultural system found leadership under Deng Zihui, the director of rural affairs in the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CCCPC). This faction believed that peasants engaged in farming should have freedom in management, and advocated a form of private ownership. To them, peasants should have the power to buy, sell, or lease land, and to manage and employ labor. Zihui saw collectivization as a dangerous and detrimental practice to the Chinese economy. The production-team system that was practiced under collective farming did not maximize agricultural output. Production teams were comprised of around 20 to 30 households in the neighborhood, and net income was based on the performance of the production team as a whole. Individual peasants did not see direct returns for their efforts, and therefore the incentive to work hard did not exist under the production-team system. Consequently, agricultural outputs and farmers' per capita net income were significantly low; in 1957, each farmer received an average net income of 73.37 yuan."

Excerpt from a 750-word Grand Prize-Winning essay for a National Competition by a Sophomore from a public high school in Rochester, Michigan:

"Similar to how courage has changed our country, having courage has helped shaped who I am today. When I was in 7th grade, I befriended two boys with autism in my gym class. I fully knew that being friends with them was not going to help me climb any higher on the social ladder, but I did not care. I had the courage to go against what was socially acceptable in order to do what was right. I soon not only played with them in gym but invited them to sit with my friends at lunch too. Someone had to have the courage to say that they deserved to be treated equally.

Equality is a civic value that Americans take pride in, and it needs to be defended.

Courageous people stand up for what is right in order to preserve these civic values.

Courageous acts in American history are what have molded us into the great nation we are today. They are, in large part, the reason why we became an independent nation and also an important reason why we have our first African-American president. Social and political movements in the U.S. began with one courageous person willing to stand up and go against the crowd. Every downpour has to start with one drop of rain."


Excerpt from a 25-page essay by a Junior at a public high school in Manchester, Massachusetts [endnote notation omitted]:

"Paris was the center of medicine in the 19th century, an age which witnessed a revolt against dogmatism and a new emphasis on scientific thought. As universities were freed of political and ecclesiastic control, more social classes were able to attend, and true scientific thought was encouraged. A new type of clinical observation emerged that focused on active examination and explainable symptoms. Furthermore, laboratory medicine, meaning research-based medicine, gained a foothold. As medicine became more systematic, scientists moved away from the four humors view of the body and began conducting experiments in chemistry, notably biochemistry. In 1838, Theodor Schwann and Malthais Schleidan formulated the cell theory, and in 1854, Hugo von Mohl, John Goodsir, Robert Remak, and Rudolf Virchow demonstrated that cells arise from other cells. These two discoveries make up the modern cell theory and the foundation of all biological advances. With the discovery of cells came new opinions about the origins of disease, reviving interest in microbiology. The most widely accepted theory about how disease was spread was the "filth theory." According to the filth theory, epidemics were caused by miasmatic hazes rising from decaying organic matter. However, some disagreed with this hypothesis. The idea that epidemic diseases were caused by micro-organisms and transmitted by contagion was not new in the mid-19th century. It had been proclaimed by Fracastorius in the 16th century, Kircher in the 17th, and Lancisi and Linne in the 18th. Opposing the filth theory, Jacob Henle proposed the role of micro-organisms again in 1840. Unfortunately, many of his contemporaries viewed him as old-fashioned until some notable discoveries occurred. Bassi, Donné, Schoelein, and Grubi each proved fungi to be the cause of certain diseases. In 1850, bacteria, discovered earlier by Leeuwenhoek, were also confirmed as sources of disease. Even though micro-organisms as the source of disease was well documented, many did not accept this theory until about 20 years later. Nevertheless, people knew something was causing diseases, igniting a public hygiene movement in Europe and the dawn of the preventive medicine age."

Excerpt from a First Prize essay by a public high school Sophomore for a National Creative Minds Competition [creative nonfiction writing] organized by the oldest and best-known gifted program in the United States:

"It is summer, one of those elusive, warm days when the world seems at peace. I splash around in the ocean, listening to the voices of the beachgoers mingling with the quiet roar of the waves. When I scoop water into my palm, it is clear, yet all the water together becomes an ocean of blue. Nothing plus nothing equals something; I cannot explain the equation of the ocean. I dip my head under to get my hair wet and to taste the salt once held by ancient rocks. I hold myself up on my hands, imaging I am an astronaut, and explore my newfound weightlessness.

But water is the opposite of space. Space is cold and lifeless, and water is warm and life giving. Both are alien to my body, though not to my soul.

Underwater, I open my eyes, and there is sunlight filtering through the ceiling of water. As I toss a handful of sand, the rays illuminate every drifting grain in turn. I feel as if I can spend forever here, the endless blue washing over me. Though the water is pure, I can't see very far. There is a feeling of unknown, of infinite depths.

As a little girl, I used to press my face against the glass of my fish tank and pretend I swam with my guppies, our iridescent tails flashing. The world moved so unhurriedly, with such grace. Everything looked so beautiful underwater--so poetic. It was pure magic how the fish stayed together, moving as one in an instant. What was their signal? Could they read minds? how did these tiny, insignificant fish know things I did not?"


The questions suggest themselves: What sort of writing better prepares our students for college and career assignments, and must we leave high standards for high school academic expository writing up to the students who set them for themselves? [The more academic excerpts were taken from papers published in The Concord]

Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review
19 April 2011

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Parents likely to embrace predictive genetic testing for their children if offered

Science News:

Parents offered genetic testing to predict their risks of common, adult-onset health conditions say they would also test their children. That is the finding of a new study published in the May issue of Pediatrics (published online April 18). The study authors note these and other findings should put pediatricians on alert that parents may chose predictive genetic tests for themselves and for their children, and seek guidance from doctors about what to do with the information. Personal genetic tests are available directly to consumers at drug stores and over the Internet. They are controversial, and generally marketed to adults for their own use. However, it might be only a matter of time before parents become the focus of advertising campaigns targeting their children for testing, says Kenneth P. Tercyak, PhD, associate professor of oncology and pediatrics at Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, a part of Georgetown University Medical Center.

"The findings of our study should remind clinicians and policy-makers to consider children when regulating genetic tests," says Tercyak, the study's lead author. "These tests usually don't offer a clean bill of health and can be hard to interpret even in the best scenario. They identify incremental risks for many common diseases. Most people carry some risk based on a combination of their family history, genetics, and lifestyle. A child's unexpected test results could trigger negative reactions among parents and children, and lead to conversations at the pediatrician's office that providers aren't prepared to have."

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For AP Students, a New Classroom Is Online

Sue Shellenbarger:

When budget cuts wiped out honors French classes at her Uxbridge, Mass., high school, 18-year-old Katie Larrivee turned to the Internet.

These days, Ms. Larrivee, who plans to study abroad in college, practices her pronunciation alone in front of a computer.

"J'ai renforcé ma comprehension de la langue" by taking an advanced-placement French course online, Ms. Larrivee says.

Advanced-placement classes have been booming amid efforts by high-school students and parents to trim college tuition costs and gain an edge in the college-admissions race. A record 1.99 million high-school students are expected to take AP exams next month, up 159% from 2000, says Trevor Packer, vice president, advanced placement, for the College Board, New York, the nonprofit that oversees AP courses and testing. About 90% of U.S. colleges and universities award college credit to high-school students who pass the program's rigorous subject-matter tests.

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Seattle schools have forgotten to listen to parents: There's always an open door for businesses and well-financed interest groups with an agenda. Parents? Well, that's another story.

Melissa Westbrook:

It's good that Seattle City Council members, our mayor, and the Seattle School Board are finally calling for needed reform and accountability within our district. While many in our community were stunned at the revelations about the depth of ineptitude, obliviousness, and near criminality within our school district, some parents felt a saddened sense of relief mixed with frustration. This is the part of the story that remains untold.

Parents in Seattle Public Schools have never been passive consumers but committed partners. Besides raising millions of dollars each year for our schools, they also get out the vote for our education levies and bonds. Some are watchdogs for our school district.

These "feet on the ground" parents know their schools and neighborhoods well.

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Budget, Grades, Graduation, Change: Oh, the Chicago Public Schools Troubles Brizard Will See

Rebecca Vevea & Crystal Yednak:

Union relations
The current teachers' contract is set to expire at the end of the next school year, and with education reform bills in Springfield pressuring teachers to make concessions, the negotiations may become heated. "He's going to have to, in a very short period of time, figure out what he's going to keep and what needs to be cut back, and at the same time get off on the right foot with the teachers union," said Robin Steans, executive director of Advance Illinois.

Budget deficit
With federal stimulus funding drying up, more than $350 million in late payments from the state, and a scheduled raise for teachers, CPS is staring at an $820 million deficit. But Brizard may have help.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:35 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Hudson school board will suspend dozens of teachers

Andy Rathburn:

The Hudson school board will suspend dozens of employees whose absences during public worker protests in Madison, Wis., caused district schools to close Feb. 18.

About 40 employees of the Hudson school district, mostly teachers, will be disciplined. Punishment ranges from one to 15 days of unpaid suspension, according to the district.

The length of suspension is based on "the district's investigation into the actions believed to have been taken by each employee," said district communications specialist Tracy Habisch-Ahlin in an email. The suspensions are to be served by the end of this school year.

"Having to close schools on Feb. 18 was a serious issue that impacted over 5,000 students along with their parents or caregivers," said school board president Barb Van Loenen. "As a result, the board spent considerable time listening to our community members and ... deliberating an appropriate response for individuals who were involved in the excessive absences."

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Success, Baggage Follow New Chicago Schools CEO

Rebecca Vevea & Crystal Yednak:

Mayor-Elect Rahm Emanuel's pick to guide the Chicago Public Schools is a New York superintendent who raised test scores and the union's ire in Rochester, closed under-performing schools and opened new ones-and has quite a task ahead if he is to fulfill the education agenda outlined by his new boss.

"I've decided to have a fresh start and hit the reset button on education," Emanuel said Monday in announcing Jean-Claude Brizard as his choice for chief executive officer of the Chicago Public Schools, along with an entirely new school board and new CPS leadership team.

The appointment raised concerns among the Chicago Teachers Union about Brizard's contentious relations with Rochester's teachers. In Brizard, Emanuel has chosen a proponent of charter schools and merit pay who also now must deal with an $820 million budget deficit.

The Chicago Teachers Union, with whom Brizard must start negotiating a new contract, criticized the selection. "We're disappointed both by the choice of Brizard and by the entire tone that the mayor-elect has adopted," said Jesse Sharkey, vice president of the Chicago Teachers Union.

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Detroit's Mass Teacher Layoffs May Prove Bellwether For Education Reform Nationwide

Simone Landon:

When districtwide layoff notices hit every one of Detroit Public Schools' 5,466 unionized employees late last week, an American Federation of Teachers spokeswoman called the move the largest "one fell swoop" firing of teachers in union memory.

More broadly troubling to teachers and education-reform observers, however, was DPS Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb's concurrent announcement that he plans to unilaterally modify the Detroit Federation of Teachers' collective bargaining agreement, the first test of a sweeping new state law.

Public Act 4, signed by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) in March, grants the emergency managers of troubled school districts the power to "reject, modify, or terminate one or more terms and conditions of an existing collective bargaining agreement." Under the law, Bobb could choose to abrogate the Detroit teachers' contract entirely.

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Accountability and Those Children

Jocelyn Huber:

As the call for teacher evaluation and tenure reform intensifies across the country, the hypothetical arguments against holding teachers accountable become frustratingly similar. "How can we hold teachers accountable for students with difficult home lives? What about teachers who have homeless students in their classrooms? What about students whose parents are almost criminally uninvolved in their education? Certainly, it wouldn't be fair to make teachers responsible for those students." So, let's settle this once and for all: making sure that those students get an education is the whole purpose of public education. And the existence of teachers who feel they should only have to worry about the children of involved, employed, and educated parents is part of what drives the fervor for education reform.

Public education should be a refuge for those children. It should be the one place where a child can be certain that his parents' actions cannot hurt him, and where he can be sure all of the adults have only his best interests at heart. Public education should ensure that EVERY child graduates with the knowledge and skills necessary to succeed in college and in the 21st century job market. It should be the springboard out of generational poverty. Instead of family struggles or background being an excuse to give up on students, it should be the inspiration to work twice as hard to be sure students get the education that could change the course of their lives.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:37 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Talkin' About an Education

Jake Silverstein:

The U.S. Constitution says nothing about public education, but all the state constitutions have clauses addressing it, and reading through them is a mildly inspiring way to spend half an hour. Arkansas: "Intelligence and virtue being the safeguards of liberty and the bulwark of a free and good government, the State shall ever maintain a general, suitable and efficient system of free public schools." Florida: "The education of children is a fundamental value of the people of the State of Florida." Idaho: "The stability of a republican form of government depending mainly upon the intelligence of the people, it shall be the duty of the legislature . . ." Massachusetts: "It shall be the duty of legislators and magistrates, in all future periods of this Commonwealth, to cherish the interests of literature and the sciences." Michigan: "Religion, morality and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.

The Texas state constitution hits a similar note in Article 7, which states: "A general diffusion of knowledge being essential to the preservation of the liberties and rights of the people, it shall be the duty of the Legislature of the State to establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools." Compared with the other states' fine print, this is pretty good. It isn't quite as ardent as Michigan's declaration, but it has considerably more enthusiasm than Wyoming's ("The right of the citizens to opportunities for education should have practical recognition"). And the idea it articulates, in one long legal sentence, is beautifully straightforward and persuasive: We need a well-educated populace in order to have a functional democracy, so the state should ensure that everyone gets an education. Simple.

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April 20, 2011

On the Madison School District's 2011-2012 Budget

Madison School Board Member Ed Hughes:

First, we need to adopt a preliminary budget so that we can get any necessary layoff notices issued before our deadline. This requires us to resolve the OT/COTA issue, since the superintendent has recommended issuing layoff notices to our COTAs. But no other layoff notices are in the works for the Board to consider. (There could be some layoffs attributable to shifting enrollment levels among our schools, but the Board tends not to get involved in these.) This lessens the urgency and reduces the scope of our budget deliberations.

Second, it seems likely that we will spend less time on individual Board member's proposed budget amendments this year. In the past, Board members have generally had two primary motives for offering amendments. The first was to find alternatives for unappealing budget recommendations. We don't have a slew of unappealing recommendations this year. The second motive has been to reduce what a Board member considered to be an unacceptably large increase in our property tax levy. That shouldn't be an issue this year.

Individual Board members may come up with some sound and beneficial budget recommendations this year, of course. At this point, I don't expect to offer much in the way of amendments myself, since I'm aware of no low-hanging fruit and I'm not much in favor of trying to effect policy changes through the budget amendment process.

Third, our budget deliberations (and our recent extension of our collective bargaining agreements) have been shaped primarily in response to the Governor's budget recommendations. The budget bill is unlikely to pass before the end of June. Our budget choices are affected by the final form the budget bill takes. What happens with our underlevy authority is the most obvious example.

Under the circumstances, if we pass a preliminary budget before final action on the budget bill, our budget will be really, really preliminary. A lot of the heavy lifting budget-wise - like what to do with our underlevy authority, if it survives - can't take place until after June.

There are some other reasons as well why it makes sense to defer substantive budget deliberations to later in the year. For example, it would be helpful to know how our fund balance will look at the end of the fiscal year on June 30 and how it's changed from last year. We'd also be in a better position to make smart choices for next year if we have a clearer idea of how our 2012-2013 budget is looking and the more time passes, the clearer those numbers will come into focus.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:09 PM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Georgia, Wisconsin Education Schools Back Out of NCTQ Review

Stephen Sawchuk, via a kind reader's email:

Public higher education institutions in Wisconsin and Georgia--and possibly as many as five other states--will not participate voluntarily in a review of education schools now being conducted by the National Council for Teacher Quality and U.S. News and World Report, according to recent correspondence between state consortia and the two groups.

In response, NCTQ and U.S. News are moving forward with plans to obtain the information from these institutions through open-records requests.

In letters to the two organizations, the president of the University of Wisconsin system and the chancellor of Georgia's board of regents said their public institutions would opt out of the review, citing a lack of transparency and questionable methodology, among other concerns.

Formally announced in January, the review will rate education schools on up to 18 standards, basing the decisions primarily on examinations of course syllabuses and student-teaching manuals.

The situation is murkier in New York, Maryland, Colorado, and California, where public university officials have sent letters to NCTQ and U.S. News requesting changes to the review process, but haven't yet declined to take part willingly.

In Kentucky, the presidents, provosts, and ed. school deans of public universities wrote in a letter to the research and advocacy group and the newsmagazine that they won't "endorse" the review. It's not yet clear what that means for their participation.

Related: When A Stands for Average: Students at the UW-Madison School of Education Receive Sky-High Grades. How Smart is That?:
Lake Wobegon has nothing on the UW-Madison School of Education. All of the children in Garrison Keillor's fictional Minnesota town are "above average." Well, in the School of Education they're all A students.

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

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

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

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 11:17 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

How I bluffed my way through college

Kate Harding:

Years after graduating with an English degree, I have a shameful secret: I've never actually read the classics.

Mr. White was that stern, older English teacher adored by the bookish nerds and despised by those students accustomed to getting by on entitlement and shouty parental phone calls. Naturally, I was crazy about him, and although I can't say the feeling was entirely mutual, two lines from a college recommendation letter he wrote for me prove that he understood my fundamental nature better than most adults I knew, including my parents: "Kate will never be a cheerleader, but she has a genuine love of learning. She is never without a book; usually not the assigned text."

I love that "assigned text" line all the more for its being sort of affectionately passive-aggressive. It's true that in Mr. White's A.P. Major British Writers, as in every English lit class I took between seventh grade and finishing my B.A., I only did about a third of the reading. Thanks to a finicky nature and what I now recognize as textbook ADHD, reading past Page 3 of a book that didn't immediately hold my interest felt like going to the zoo and being forced to watch the naked mole rats for hours, never being permitted to look in on the giraffes.

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ESEA Briefing Book

Michael J. Petrilli, Chester E. Finn, Jr.:

Political leaders hope to act this year to renew and fix the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA, also known as No Child Left Behind). In this important new paper, Thomas B. Fordham Institute President Chester E. Finn, Jr. and Executive Vice President Michael J. Petrilli identify 10 big issues that must be resolved in order to get a bill across the finish line, and explore the major options under consideration for each one. Should states be required to adopt academic standards tied to college and career readiness? Should the new law provide greater flexibility to states and districts? These are just a few of the areas discussed. Finn and Petrilli also present their own bold yet "reform realist" solutions for ESEA. Read on to learn more.

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The adjunct economy: Universities rely on part-timers to do most of their teaching. So they should treat us better.

Nick Parker:

Early on Monday mornings, in my classroom at Babson College, I shepherd 30 undergraduates into the room with a smile and a "How are you?" or a "Good morning." From my seat, I have a clear view down a corridor to another classroom, where I can sometimes glimpse a colleague from my department offering the same perfunctory greetings. While we have a lot in common - PhDs from respected institutions, years spent writing and publishing, a passion for teaching - there is something that divides us: He is a tenure-track professor and I am an adjunct lecturer.

In the world of academia, the distinction between these job titles is a huge one. Tenure-track professors are hired by universities to do a combination of teaching and research and to help their departments develop. Pending a major review of their performance after five or six years - when they try to win tenure, which pretty much guarantees a job for life - tenure-track professors are essentially full-time members of the faculty. Their positions usually come with a range of benefits like health insurance and periodic semester-long sabbaticals.

On the other side of this divide, adjunct faculty members (whose positions are sometimes described by other labels such as "lecturer," "contingent faculty," or "instructor") are exclusively teachers. They generally work on a system of semester-to-semester contracts, rarely enjoy benefits, and often are considered part time, regardless of the amount of teaching they do.

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Sick leave disciplinary records reveal Oshkosh teachers' split opinions over union law fight

Adam Rodewald:

A split in teachers' opinions over appropriate responses to an explosive state collective bargaining law resonates through disciplinary records released by the Oshkosh school district last week.

The records obtained by The Northwestern include forms signed by 86 employees who admitted they called in sick on Feb. 17 and 18 to join protests in Madison as well as a discipline settlement with teachers' union president Len Herricks, who incorrectly told staff members that district administration would condone calling in sick to attend the protests.

Comments hand-written by educators on many of the records show a range of regret, defiance and confusion felt by rank-and-file employees caught in a whirlwind of political rhetoric and polarization.

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Powerhouse Principal Dr. Steve Perry Shares His Thoughts

Earl Martin Phalen, via a kind reader's email:

r. Steve Perry is the founder of the phenomenal Capital Preparatory Magnet School in Hartford, Connecticut. Recognized by U.S. News and World Report, 100 percent of the graduating seniors are admitted to four-year colleges. An outspoken and highly successful national leader in education, Dr. Perry is also an Education Correspondent for CNN.

I was excited Dr. Perry could share his thoughts on school readiness, the role of community involvement in education, and keys to Capital Preparatory's success.

1. The 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress study noted that two out of three children in the United States are not reading at grade level. School readiness is a major crisis in our country.

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Is Facebook geared to dullards?

Nicholas Carr:

Are you ashamed that you find Facebook boring? Are you angst-ridden by your weak social-networking skills? Do you look with envy on those whose friend-count dwarfs your own? Buck up, my friend. The traits you consider signs of failure may actually be marks of intellectual vigor, according to a new study appearing in the May issue of Computers in Human Behavior.

The study, by Bu Zhong and Marie Hardin at Penn State and Tao Sun at the University of Vermont, is one of the first to examine the personalities of social networkers. The researchers looked in particular at connections between social-network use and the personality trait that psychologists refer to as "need for cognition," or NFC. NFC, as Professor Zhong explained in an email to me, "is a recognized indicator for deep or shallow thinking." People who like to challenge their minds have high NFC, while those who avoid deep thinking have low NFC. Whereas, according to the authors, "high NFC individuals possess an intrinsic motivation to think, having a natural motivation to seek knowledge," those with low NFC don't like to grapple with complexity and tend to content themselves with superficial assessments, particularly when faced with difficult intellectual challenges.

The researchers surveyed 436 college students during 2010. Each participant completed a standard psychological assessment measuring NFC as well as a questionnaire measuring social network use. (Given what we know about college students' social networking in 2010, it can be assumed that the bulk of the activity consisted of Facebook use.) The study revealed a significant negative correlation between social network site (SNS) activity and NFC scores. "The key finding," the authors write, "is that NFC played an important role in SNS use. Specifically, high NFC individuals tended to use SNS less often than low NFC people, suggesting that effortful thinking may be associated with less social networking among young people." Moreover, "high NFC participants were significantly less likely to add new friends to their SNS accounts than low or medium NFC individuals."

To put it in layman's terms, the study suggests that if you want to be a big success on Facebook, it helps to be a dullard.

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Jackson, NJ Board of Education candidates debate

Amanda Oglesby:

Antonoff said the proposed budget is inflated by purchases of technology "gimmicks" such digital whiteboards and audio equipment.

"We didn't have those," he said. "Computer is a distraction. . . . You learn the basics first."

Disagreeing, Acevedo said schools need modern technology to stay globally competitive.

Technology is a tool to save money, said Hughes, who opposes the proposed budget. Systems that enable Internet-based communication between parents, teachers and students save money the district would spend on ink, paper and postage, she said.

Jackson School District.

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Teachers union protests Washington Post

Keach Hagey:

The Washington Teachers Union staged a protest, complete with a giant inflatable rat, in front of the Washington Post building today for reasons that are, frankly, hard to understand.

According to the Post, which gamely reported on the event, the protesters claimed that the Post's parent company's reliance on Kaplan was affecting its editorial page coverage by making it skew anti-teacher.

From the Post:

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Resistance to test-based school reform is growing

Valerie Strauss:

There are growing protests from teachers and parents across the country over high-stakes standardized testing and other school reform measures -- many of which the Obama administration has encouraged states to undertake -- as well as over huge cuts in public education.

The pushback has largely been local, though a national march on Washington is being organized for this summer as states move to enact reforms that call for more charter schools and vouchers and that make standardized testing more important than ever in evaluating schools, students and teachers.

In North Carolina, for example, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools this spring field tested 52 (yes 52) new standardized tests, including four exams each for kindergartners and first-graders, and kids lost as much as a week of instruction. That won't stop the district from adding even more tests next year, for art, music and physical education, and many teachers and parents fear that this is becoming the face of public education.

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Transforming the School of Education?

Joe Carey:

In 2008, Molly Rozga went back to school just shy of her 27th birthday.

Rozga wanted to work in a field where she could give back to the community and have the added comfort of job security. So, she chose education, thinking teaching was one of the most stable careers out there.

But in the current political environment, Rozga, now a 29-year-old junior education major at Alverno College, sees teaching as something "a little scary to be going into."

"It's giving me a little bit of anxiety," Rozga said.

With Gov. Scott Walker proposing to cut state aid to public schools and restrict collective bargaining for public school teachers as part of a plan to close a $3.5 billion state budget deficit, students like Rozga are stepping into a new world in their chosen field.

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On School Buses, Ad Space for Rent

Catherine Rampell:

Cash-hungry states and municipalities, in pursuit of even the smallest amounts of revenue, have begun to exploit one market that they have exclusive control over: their own property.

With the help of a few eager marketing consultants, many governments are peddling the rights to place advertisements in public school cafeterias, on the sides of yellow school buses, in prison holding areas and in the waiting rooms of welfare offices and the Department of Motor Vehicles.

The revenue generated by these ads is just a drop in the bucket for states and counties with deficits in the millions or billions of dollars. But supporters say every penny helps.

Still, critics question whether the modest sums are worth further exposing citizens -- especially children -- to even more commercial pitches.

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April 19, 2011

Labor's last stand? Education reform will come at a cost

Matthew DeFour:

The new state law, held up pending a legal challenge, forbids most public worker unions from negotiating salary schedules, benefits and workplace rules with employers. It still allows bargaining over inflationary increases in "total base wages," but generally makes it harder for unions to operate.

It also means school administrators would be able to make major changes to pay scales, school calendars and work rules without consulting teachers.

Mary Bell, president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the state's largest teachers union, said that while teachers won't necessarily obstruct changes, they are less likely to offer new ideas themselves if they are not covered by a union contract.

"Innovation takes risk," Bell said. "Risk in an environment where your protection is gone is a much different proposition."

Just days before Walker announced his changes to collective bargaining, WEAC had announced support for a statewide teacher evaluation system and performance-based pay. That overture, however, has been largely overshadowed by the union controversy.

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John Kuhn: Why Shouldn't Teachers Be Graded, Too?

Anthony Cody:

Three weeks ago I shared an interview with Superintendent John Kuhn of the Perrin-Whitt Independent School District in the great state of Texas. Today he offers us a reflection on a recent experience at the state Capitol.

Yesterday I testified before the Public Ed. Committee of the Texas House of Representatives on behalf of a bill that would initiate a two-year moratorium on standardized testing, known as STAAR in Texas. Here are the remarks I shared before the representatives began asking questions:

I have a dilemma: I personally believe state testing is morally compromised because TEA has overwrought test security to the point that it is a parody of big government interference and micromanagement, because testing has turned the adventure of education into something that feels more like an assembly line, because Austin has nudged our teachers from behind their podiums and has said Pearson can assess better than they can, because student creativity is being sacrificed in favor of standardization, because scores are used to unfairly punish schools and teachers that embrace the neediest students, and because test scores have been used during the past five years to drive a labeling process that has systematically concealed the fact that some schools are comparatively underfunded. Is a high target revenue "recognized" school really any better than a low target revenue "acceptable" school? Texas has published these labels with no mention of funding disadvantages, leaving the public to assume underperforming schools do so for no other reason than they are less competent institutions. I'm worried STAAR will continue this kind of railroading of our local schools.

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Gripping saga in a bad school

Jay Matthews

I am probably the nation's most devoted reader of real-life high school reform drama, an overlooked literary genre. If there were a Pulitzer Prize in this category, Alexander Russo's new book on the remaking of Locke High in Los Angeles would win. It is a must-read, nerve-jangling thrill ride, at least for those of us who love tales of teachers and students.

Readers obsessed with fixing our failing urban schools will learn much from the personal clashes and political twists involved in the effort to save what some people called America's worst school. I remember the many news stories about Locke, and enjoyed discovering the real story was different, and more interesting.

Locke was not really our toughest high school. Russo finds some nice students and kind teachers. But its inner-city blend of occasional mayhem and very low test scores made it famous when its teachers revolted and helped turn it over to a charter school organization that tried to fix it by breaking it into smaller, more manageable pieces.

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Cal Day activity can't drown out budget questions

Justin Berton:

Michael Jedlicka, a board member of the Cal Parents committee, answered more financial questions than usual from his booth at Saturday's Cal Day - UC Berkeley's annual open house that attracted 40,000 prospective students and their parents.

While most of the high school seniors already have been accepted for admission to Berkeley, many also have acceptances from other colleges and must make a decision on where to enroll by May 1.

The university made its best effort to close the deal. On a sunny day, Chancellor Robert Birgeneau addressed 5,000 incoming students, lab doors swung open to the public - you could take a look at a stem cell or start your own earthquake in the seismology lab - and the Cal marching band trumpeted and drummed their way through campus.

Yet in the wake of steep budget cuts and Gov. Jerry Brown's recent announcement that UC tuition could double to $20,000 in the 2012-13 academic year, Jedlicka said, many visiting parents wanted to know how it would impact their child's college experience - and their own checkbook.

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Big steps in education set Indiana on right path

The Indianapolis Star:

Indiana is on the verge of taking its most important strides forward on education in decades.

The final, and most important, piece fell into place Friday when Gov. Mitch Daniels announced that he would ask the General Assembly to expand full-day kindergarten to every school district in the state. That unexpected announcement, which dropped late in the legislative process, was made possible by a much better than expected revenue forecast.

Schools also will fare better than planned in the overall state budget. Districts absorbed 3 percent budget cuts last year, and the proposal before Friday was to write those reductions into the new two-year budget. Now, the governor and Republican legislators, who control the budget process, want to funnel an additional $150 million into public schools over the next two years.

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Chicago Mayor Appoints New Schools Chief

Douglas Belkin & Staphanie Banchero:

Incoming Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel named a new schools chief Monday, choosing a leader known for his efforts to close low-performing schools, fire underperforming principals and link teacher pay to student test scores.

Jean-Claude Brizard, superintendent of schools in Rochester, N.Y., will succeed Terry Mazany, who has headed the nation's third-largest school district since November 2010. Mr. Emanuel, who is scheduled to take office in May, made the announcement at Kelly High School on Chicago's south side. The appointment must now be approved by the school board.

Mr. Brizard takes over a system that has seen three leaders in as many years. He will face a reported $750 million budget deficit, a looming contract negotiation with the Chicago Teachers' Union, and a district that has lost its mantle as a national leader in education innovation.

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The Newark Schools Governance Debate

Lisa Fleisher:

A visit to Newark by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on Wednesday highlights the city's emerging status as a focal point in struggle over how to improve public schools.

Duncan has high hopes for Newark, which is looking for a new superintendent at a time when both Gov. Chris Christie and Newark Mayor Cory Booker have made education their top issue. The Christie administration has approved a record number of public charter schools this year, many of them in Newark.

A $100 million education grant from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has meant, as Duncan put it, that "eyes of the country will be on Newark."

"The goal in Newark is that in five years, not 10 years, it should be the best urban school system in the country," Duncan said in an interview with the Star-Ledger.

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Middleton Teachers, School Board Battle Over Contract


The Middleton teachers' union and school board continue to battle over the latest proposed contract.

The two sides met during a school board meeting on Monday and more than 50 people lined up to voice their concerns about the deal.

Many teachers said that they believe the contract takes away their collective bargaining rights by proposing non-negotiable changes, including the removal of "just cause for discipline."

"Bullies are not welcome on school yards or on the school boards. It is time you step up to the plate and only deal with fiscal changes. Don't play into politics going on throughout our state," said Madison resident Cami Jo Sanner.

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: America's AAA Bond Rating Under Threat

Gavyn Davies:

Standard & Poor's surprised markets today with a warning that the AAA rating of US debt is now on "negative watch", implying that there is a one-in-three chance that the US might lose its triple-A status in the next two years. Although there was nothing new in the underlying data cited by S&P, their judgment has clearly been impacted by the sharp political differences which have recently emerged in Washington about how to cut the deficit.

Both political parties agree that a large fiscal consolidation plan is needed, but they have widely different points of view on how the savings should be found. This has caused S&P to express scepticism about whether Washington can reach agreement on a deficit reduction plan and then stick to it over a series of difficult years.

via Wendy McElroy:
That's how much the U.S. government spends, in inflation-adjusted dollars, per capita. Which means it's adjusted for both inflation and population increase. And note that that graph has a logarithmic scale.

A hundred years ago, federal spending for each person was the equivalent of $200 in today's dollars. After FDR, with all of his massive public spending, it was $1,000. This year, it's over $12,000. How long can this continue?

James Cooper:
For the first time since the Great Depression, households are receiving more income from the government than they are paying the government in taxes. The combination of more cash from various programs, called transfer payments, and lower taxes has been a double-barreled boost to consumers' buying power, while also blowing a hole in the deficit. The 1930s offer a cautionary tale: The only other time government income support exceeded taxes paid was from 1931 to 1936. That trend reversed in 1936, after a recovery was underway, and the economy fell back into a second leg of recession during 1937 and 1938.

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April 18, 2011

Competitive disadvantage: High-achieving Asian-American students are being shut out of top schools around the country. Is this what diversity looks like no

Jon Marcus:

Grace Wong has felt the sting of intolerance quite literally, in the rocks thrown at her in Australia, where she pursued a PhD after leaving her native China. In the Boston area, where she's lived since 1996, she recalls a fellow customer at the deli counter in a Chestnut Hill supermarket telling her to go back to her own country. When Wong's younger son was born, she took a drastic measure to help protect him, at least on paper, from discrimination: She changed his last name to one that doesn't sound Asian.

"It's a difficult time to be Chinese," says Wong, a scientist who develops medical therapies. "There's a lot of jealousy out there, because the Chinese do very well. And some people see that as a threat."

Wong had these worries in mind last month as she waited to hear whether her older son, a good student in his senior year at a top suburban high school, would be accepted to the 11 colleges he had applied to, which she had listed neatly on a color-coded spreadsheet.

The odds, strangely, were stacked against him. After all the attention given to the stereotype that Asian-American parents put enormous pressure on their children to succeed - provoked over the winter by Amy Chua's controversial Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother - came the indisputable reality this spring that, even if Asian-American students work hard, the doors of top schools were still being slammed shut in many faces.

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Detroit Moves Against Unions: Mayor and Schools Chief Leverage State Law to Force Change, Close Budget Gaps

Matthew Dolan:

A new state law has emboldened the Detroit mayor and schools chief to take a more aggressive stance toward public unions as the city leaders try to mop up hundreds of millions of dollars in red ink.

Robert Bobb, the head of the Detroit Public Schools, late last week sent layoff notices to the district's 5,466 salaried employees, including all of its teachers, a preliminary step in seeking broad work-force cuts to deal with lower enrollment.

Earlier last week, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing presented a $3.1 billion annual budget to City Council in which he proposed higher casino taxes and substantial cuts in city workers' health care and pensions to close an estimated $200 million budget gap.

Mr. Bobb, already an emergency financial manager for the struggling and shrinking public school system, is getting further authority under a measure signed into law March 17 that broadens state powers to intervene in the finances and governance of struggling municipalities and school districts. This could enable Mr. Bobb to void union contracts, sideline elected school-board members, close schools and authorize charter schools.


Mr. Bobb, appointed in 2009 by Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm and retained by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, pledged last week to use those powers to deal decisively with the district's $327 million shortfall and its educational deficiencies. Mr. Bobb raised the possibility of making unilateral changes to the collective-bargaining agreements signed with teachers less than two years ago.

He is also expected to target seniority rights that protect longtime teachers from layoffs and give them the ability to reject certain school placements.

The Detroit Federation of Teachers will likely fight him on these issues. The union couldn't be reached for comment.

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Houston's best and worst schools

Houston Chronicle:

The local nonprofit Children at Risk has released to the Chronicle its 2011 ranking of public elementary, middle and high schools in the eight-county Houston area. Each year, the list of the area's best and worst campuses generates a great deal of discussion and, in some cases, debate. Talking about schools is a good thing, we think.

There is, of course, no one perfect way to grade schools. The Children at Risk methodology is designed to evaluate schools on multiple academic measures and goes beyond the state's accountability system, which is based largely on whether students pass (or are projected to pass) the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills. Children at Risk looks at the higher standard of "commended" on the TAKS. At the high school level, the most weight is given to a six-year graduation rate, calculated by Children at Risk. No matter what a school is doing, if students don't graduate, then did it get the job done?

The formula also gives a boost to schools with larger concentrations of low-income children in an attempt to adjust for the impact of poverty. Children at Risk attempted to include as many schools as possible in the rankings, but those with insufficient data or atypical grade-level configurations were excluded. The rankings are based on public data from the Texas Education Agency from 2010 or 2009 (using the most recent year available).

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The New Madison Teachers, Inc. Pact will be Devastating for Support Staff

Fran Zell:

Early on in the protests at the Capitol, I ran into a friend who predicted that the unions would agree to all of Walker's benefit cuts if he agreed to allow collective bargaining.

"They would do that?" I asked innocently. "They wouldn't tell the governor to rescind tax cuts on businesses before he attempts to balance the budget on the backs of workers?"

"Just wait," she said.

Little did either of us imagine that the unions would soon concede to all of the benefit cuts BEFORE Walker agreed to talk. When you give up key issues before the other side is at the table, there isn't much left to negotiate. It is certainly not the way we educators teach children to deal with a bully.

However things turn out with Walker's damaging repair bill, Wisconsin unions have helped dig themselves into a hole. Some unions may fare better than others. I am distraught about Madison Teachers Inc., which I belong to as a substitute teacher. In its rush to negotiate with the district immediately after Walker signed the bill, MTI plunged headlong into the very waters it was trying to avoid. The union allowed the lowest paid to, in effect, sail away in a leaky lifeboat.

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Proposed Missouri standards overhaul alarms educators

Claudette Riley:

Proposed overhaul of state accreditation rules but remain alarmed by its far-reaching implications.

They continue to raise serious questions about the proposal, which, among other things, would

- increase the number of already controversial state-mandated exams,

- require districts to be reviewed annually, instead of every five years, and

- force districts to track the progress of graduates and to report a variety of new details, including how many students complete federal financial aid forms.

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The labor movement after Wisconsin

Lee Sustar:

Two days before the big Los Angeles labor demonstration, for example, a coalition of six unions representing more than 14,500 municipal workers reached a tentative agreement on a contract with an estimated $400 million in concessions, including cancellation of scheduled pay raises and a measure that would almost double workers' contributions to retirement benefits from 6 to 11 percent. That's close to the pension contribution of 12.8 percent mandated for Wisconsin public-sector workers in Walker's anti-union bill.

The LA contract, if approved, will save the city government $1 billion over 30 years. "The structural impact will go on forever," admitted Service Employees International Union Local 721 President Bob Schoonover.

Meanwhile, California Gov. Jerry Brown is using the Republican minority in the state legislature as a bogeyman to pressure state employees' unions to take concessions beyond the $400 million they accepted last year. "I tell my union friends, you're going to have to make some changes now, or much more drastic changes later," Brown said.

Nevertheless, union leaders are giving Brown a pass, despite budget proposals that will devastate working people in California. American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten recently gave a speech in which she denounced Walker and defended public-sector workers--but embraced Brown's call for "shared responsibility, one that will hopefully lead to a better budgetary outcome in the short term, and a better economic output in the long term."

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Real horsepower comes to Boys & Girls Club

Susan Troller:

The six-horse rig Jason Goodman drove through south Madison late Wednesday stopped traffic, but few drivers seemed to mind, instead waving, grinning, giving thumbs up and taking pictures on cell phones.

Mammoth black Percheron draft horses, each weighing over a ton, provided the horsepower for a heavy-duty wagon that rumbled out of the Alliant Energy Center grounds, up West Badger Road, right on Park Street, right on Buick and then into Penn Park. For the next couple of hours, about 100 kids from the Boys and Girls Club got a chance to see the powerful horses -- Bud, Barney, Hank, Titan, Shaq and Rock -- up close and personal.

The horses, wagon, driver and handlers are part of the Texas Thunder traveling equine show, scheduled to perform several times a day at the Midwest Horse Fair, which began Friday and continues through Sunday at the Alliant Energy Center.

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Rahm Says Chicago School Days Will Get Longer

Abdon Pallasch & Rosalind Ross:

Students in Chicago's public schools will spend an extra hour or hour and a half in school each day once new legislation makes it out of Springfield, Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel said Friday.

Emanuel said the issue of how much more teachers will get paid is open to negotiation -- but not the question of whether the school day will be longer. It will be, Emanuel said.

"We're not going to negotiate or discuss whether children get more instruction -- we will work together so that gets done. I'm not deviating from that. I was clear about it," Emanuel said after speaking at a South Side charter school.

More than any other mayoral candidate, Emanuel said he strongly backed curtailing teachers' right to strike and a longer school day.

Chicago students are "cheated" by not getting as much school time as Houston's students, Emanuel said.

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April 17, 2011

Toddler Stella back to being a kid after life-changing brain operations

Lana Lam:

Clear Water Bay toddler Stella Sipma is back home after spending weeks in a New York hospital having three major brain operations that have changed her life dramatically.

The two-year-old, who suffers from a rare genetic disease that has caused major developmental delays, returned home to Sheung Sze Wan on Monday with mum Alison, dad Marcel and older sister Sophie.

Stella has tuberous sclerosis, which causes non-cancerous tumours to grow in vital organs, including the brain.

She was diagnosed at nine months and suffered daily violent seizures until last month when she had three operations to remove the tumours.

Before the operations, Stella was unsteady on her feet and had limited speech but since returning home, she has been full of energy, running around the house and playing with her older sister.

"The girls were really happy to be back and Stella was running around like a maniac," Alison said.

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The Default Major: Skating Through B-School

David Glenn:

PAUL M. MASON does not give his business students the same exams he gave 10 or 15 years ago. "Not many of them would pass," he says.

Dr. Mason, who teaches economics at the University of North Florida, believes his students are just as intelligent as they've always been. But many of them don't read their textbooks, or do much of anything else that their parents would have called studying. "We used to complain that K-12 schools didn't hold students to high standards," he says with a sigh. "And here we are doing the same thing ourselves."

That might sound like a kids-these-days lament, but all evidence suggests that student disengagement is at its worst in Dr. Mason's domain: undergraduate business education.

Business majors spend less time preparing for class than do students in any other broad field, according to the most recent National Survey of Student Engagement: nearly half of seniors majoring in business say they spend fewer than 11 hours a week studying outside class. In their new book "Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses," the sociologists Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa report that business majors had the weakest gains during the first two years of college on a national test of writing and reasoning skills. And when business students take the GMAT, the entry examination for M.B.A. programs, they score lower than students in every other major.

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In Illinois, teachers ready to talk about tenure

Kevin McDermott

Teachers unions insist they aren't giving away the store in landmark education reform moving through Springfield this year that would make it harder for teachers to get tenure.

They point to other provisions -- a more open collective-bargaining system, training rules for school board members, school-by-school surveys on working conditions -- that they believe will work in teachers' favor.

But there is also a mostly unspoken incentive in what they see going on in neighboring states. Missouri and Indiana are considering virtually dismantling tenure. In Wisconsin, the very concept of collective bargaining is on life-support.

"We were engaging in this process before Wisconsin occurred," noted Ken Swanson, president of the Illinois Education Association. But he admits: "As all the parties saw what was unfolding in Wisconsin and elsewhere, it gave us further cause to come together and find common ground."

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Autism Now

PBS NewsHour:

For the first time in more than 15 years, Robert MacNeil is returning to the program he co-founded, with a major series of reports on Autism Now. The subject that drew him back is one that resonates deeply with his own family and many others. Robin's 6-year-old grandson, Nick, has autism.

The six-part series, "Autism Now," will air on the PBS NewsHour beginning April 18. It's the most comprehensive look at the disorder and its impact that's aired on American television in at least five years. For more than a year, Robin has been researching and preparing these stories. He and his producer, Caren Zucker, have been criss-crossing the country producing the reports for the past five months.

As Robin told Hari Sreenivasan during a recent visit to our Washington studio, the series is designed to provide viewers with an authoritative, balanced look at the latest scientific research and medical thinking about the disorder. Equally important, it chronicles the growing impact of autism as seen through the eyes of families, children, educators and clinicians.

Since Friday is the beginning of Autism Awareness Month, we are posting Hari's interview with Robin to introduce our audience to the series:

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OUR OPINION: Don't blame schools for problems

Mansfield News Journal:

If there's one consistent trait of Ohio's governors, it's their desire to leave a personal mark on the state's education system.

Former Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland wanted a longer school year, tougher standards and greater college access in his multi-faceted plan that never got off the ground thanks to politics and the state's budget crunch.

Now, his successor Republican John Kasich wants to change the game with his own ambitious ideas, including:

» Publicly ranking Ohio schools and rewarding those in the top 10 percent, while punishing those in the bottom 5.

» Creating "innovation" schools that, with staff and school board agreement, could get rid of most rules and create their own, possibly including longer class time.

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An Open Letter on Behalf of Public School Parents to New York City Chancellor Dennis Walcott

Bill de Blasio:

To Chancellor Walcott:

For the past nine years our schools have been run by a top-down bureaucracy that too often alienates public school parents. To your great credit, you have said that you want to engage parents and communities more than in the past. But you have also said that you plan to stay the course on the Bloomberg administration's education policies and practices. I believe you have the background and experience to finally bring parents into our school system, but I know you will not be able to do it by maintaining the status quo.

I am a public school parent and I have talked with parents all over our city who are tired of the Department of Education treating them like problems instead of partners. They are looking for a chancellor who has the independence to bring real change to our school system. To accomplish this goal, I believe you must immediately take on three pressing issues facing our schools today: reforming the DOE's closed off, bureaucratic process for closing and co-locating schools; fully supporting the parents of students with disabilities; and most importantly, saving the over 4,600 teachers who will be fired under Mayor Bloomberg's budget.

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April 16, 2011

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Buy now pay later

The Economist:

PUBLIC finance can seem a dry, abstract subject until the point when it becomes all too real. Portugal and Greece managed for years with budget deficits, high public debt and low growth (Ireland, with the failure of its outsize banking sector, is a rather different case). Now they have been forced into painful restructuring by bond markets. On the other side of the Atlantic, America faces its most serious budget crisis for decades. On April 13th President Barack Obama is set to present yet another plan to reduce the country's mammoth deficit. America's economy is so large, and foreign appetite for greenbacks so voracious, that it seems inconceivable that it could suffer a fate similar to that of Portugal or Greece. The IMF's World Economic Outlook (WEO), published this week, aims to shatter such complacency. America, its authors write, lacks a credible strategy for dealing with its growing public debt, and is expanding its budget deficit at a time when it should be shrinking. The chart below, drawn from the WEO, illustrates the size of the problem America faces.

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Special Interest: Teacher Unions and America's Public Schools

Matthew Ladner:

Terry Moe has spent years carefully researching this new book on the education unions. I look forward to seeing Terry's research, which informed his taking of the teacher unions to the woodshed in a debate a couple of years ago. Terry's opening statement was very powerful:
What we are saying is that the unions are and have long been major obstacles to real reform in the system. And we're hardly alone in saying this. If you read "Newsweek," "Time Magazine," the "Washington Post," lots of other well respected publications, they're all saying the same thing: that the teachers unions are standing in the way of progress. So look. Let me start with an obvious example. The teachers unions have fought for all sorts of protections in labor contracts and in state laws that make it virtually impossible to get bad teachers out of the classroom. On average, it takes two years, $200,000, and 15% of the principal's total time to get one bad teacher out of the classroom. As a result, principals don't even try. They give 99% of teachers -- no joke -- satisfactory evaluations. The bad teachers just stay in the classroom. Well, if we figure that maybe 5% of the teachers, that's a conservative estimate, are bad teachers nationwide, that means that 2.5 million kids are stuck in classrooms with teachers who aren't teaching them anything. This is devastating. And the unions are largely responsible for that.

They're also responsible for seniority provisions in these labor contracts that among other things often allow senior teachers to stake a claim to desirable jobs, even if they're not good teachers and even if they're a bad fit for that school. The seniority rules often require districts to lay off junior people before senior people. It's happening all around the country now. And some of these junior people are some of the best teachers in the district. And some of the senior people that are being saved are the worst. Okay. So just ask yourself, would anyone in his right mind organize schools in this way, if all they cared about was what's best for kids? And the answer is no. But this is the way our schools are actually organized. And it's due largely to the power of the unions.

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Why N.J. teacher-tenure reform plan matters to the rest of America

Stacy Teicher Khadaroo:

Gov. Chris Christie (R) took another step toward reforming teacher tenure in New Jersey when he unveiled a package of education proposals Wednesday.

Moves to weaken traditional job protections for teachers are gaining momentum around the country. Tenure reform bills were recently signed into law in Florida and Tennessee, and are being considered in Illinois, New Hampshire, Minnesota, and several other states. Delaware and Colorado passed such laws last year.

In Oklahoma, a bill cleared a House committee on April 12 that would broaden the list of reasons teachers can be fired to include dishonesty, insubordination, negligence, and failing to comply with school district policies.

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Sun Prairie Area School District To Host Educators From China


The Sun Prairie Area School District and Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction will host a delegation of 25 principals from Beijing, China on Monday, April 18.

The principals are currently on an exchange visit across the country to learn about American education.

"This is a very exciting opportunity for all of us," said Sun Prairie District Administrator Tim Culver in a news release. "We're pleased to have been asked by DPI to participate in this cultural exchange and we looking forward to showing the visitors our new high school and having them interact with our students."

During their visit, the principals will spend the morning at the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction and the afternoon at Sun Prairie High School.

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Powerful unions key to education reform package

John O'Connor:

Illinois teacher unions have numbers and money that translate into influence at the state Capitol, but they're still making major concessions on job security and the ability to strike.

While union leaders said they were driven by what's best for kids, they also acknowledge watching high-profile fights over public employee rights in Wisconsin, Ohio and Indiana.

"It made all the parties more cognizant that everyone was going to have to come away with less than their ideal on some issues," IEA President Ken Swanson said Thursday. "But at the end of the day, this thing was too important to not come to agreement."

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Why Bother?

Nicholas Dames:

Last February, a professor of biology and Harvard PhD named Amy Bishop, having recently been denied tenure by the University of Alabama in Hunstville, released the contents of a nine-millimeter pistol on her colleagues during a departmental faculty meeting. She killed the department's chair and two others. Three more were wounded. Startling as the homicides were, and though they ratcheted up the common, unglamorous tensions of the tenure process to something fit for a media spectacle, they were hard to read as an allegory for the Problems of Higher Education.

Unless, that is, you were unfortunate enough to peruse the reader comments on the New York Times's online coverage of the killings and their aftermath. Among the helpless expressions of sadness was a large and growing strain of anger amounting to celebration. What was bizarre about the reaction was that, though Bishop worked in the Department of Biological Sciences, most of the commenters' rage was directed toward the humanities. The dozens of hateful posts -- however incoherent their stated reasons -- were troubling moreover because they borrowed the rhetoric of neoliberal reform. Away with unjust privileges (like tenure), away with the guardians of unmonetizable knowledge (the humanities, the speculative sciences), away with any kind of refuge from the competitive market! Academics may not need to worry much about hostile gunfire, but they do need to worry, more than ever, about the more legal means by which hostility toward the academy gets expressed.

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Uncertain about future benefits, many veteran teachers are retiring early

Erin Richards & Amy Hetzner:

Two days before the April 1 teacher retirement notification deadline in Milwaukee Public Schools, Karen Scharrer-Erickson drove to the district's human resources office on her lunch break.

The teacher of 43 years entered the room. Then she burst into tears.

"I am totally not ready," Scharrer-Erickson, a literacy coach at the Academy of Accelerated Learning, said this week. "I never thought about retiring until the (Gov.) Scott Walker situation, because this school is so special and I am working with the most incredibly caring teachers I have ever known."

At a time when the governor's plan to eliminate most collective bargaining for teachers and increase state employees' payments for health care and pension costs looms overhead, some school districts are seeing record numbers of senior teachers such as Scharrer-Erickson turn in their retirement paperwork.

Although their pensions are beyond the reach of lawmakers and local officials, many teachers fear that changes could mean they soon could lose early retirement benefits such as health insurance that helps support them until they are eligible for Medicare.

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April 15, 2011

Buying an education or buying a brand?

Seth Godin:

It's reported that student debt in the USA is approaching a trillion dollars, five times what it was ten years ago.

Are those in debt buying more education or are they seeking better branding in the form of coveted diplomas?

Does a $40,000 a year education that comes with an elite degree deliver ten times the education of a cheaper but no less rigorous self-generated approach assembled from less famous institutions and free or inexpensive resources?

If not, then the money is actually being spent on the value of the degree, on the doors it will open and the jobs it will snag. If this marketing strategy works big, it pays for itself in no time.

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Last Week to Apply: Congress in the Classroom 2011-Our 20th Year

Cindy Koeppel, via email:

Last Week to Apply!

Call for Participation: Congress in the Classroom 2011-Our 20th Year

* Deadline to Apply: April 15, 2011 *

Congress in the Classroom is a national, award-winning education program now in
its 20th year. Developed and sponsored by The Dirksen Congressional Center, the
workshop is dedicated to the exchange of ideas and information on teaching
about Congress.

Congress in the Classroom is designed for high school or middle school teachers
who teach U.S. history, government, civics, political science, or social
studies. Forty teachers will be selected to take part in the program. All
online applications must be received by no later than April 15, 2011.

Although the workshop will feature a variety of sessions, the 2011 program will
feature a broad overview of Congress and blends two kinds of sessions. Some
emphasize ideas and resources that teachers can use almost immediately in their
classrooms -- sessions about primary sources and Best Practices are good
examples. Other sessions deal with more abstract topics. Think of them as
resembling graduate-level courses, stronger on content than on classroom
applications. If you are looking for a program that features one or the other
exclusively, Congress in the Classroom is probably not right for you.

Throughout the program, you will work with subject matter experts as well as
colleagues from across the nation. This combination of firsthand knowledge and
peer-to-peer interaction will give you new ideas, materials, and a
professionally enriching experience.

"Until now so much of what I did in my class on Congress was straight
theory-this is what the Constitution says, "noted one of our teachers. "Now I
can use these activities and illustrations to help get my students involved in
the class and at the very least their community but hopefully in the federal
government. This workshop has given me a way to help them see how relevant my
class is and what they can do to help make changes in society."

The 2011 workshop will be held Monday, July 25-28, 2011, at Embassy Suites,
East Peoria, Illinois. The program is certified by the Illinois State Board of
Education for up to 22 Continuing Education Units. The program also is endorsed
by the National Council for the Social Studies.

Participants are responsible for (1) a non-refundable $125 registration fee
(required to confirm acceptance after notice of selection) and (2)
transportation to and from Peoria, Illinois. Many school districts will pay all
or a portion of these costs.

The Center pays for three nights lodging at the headquarters hotel (providing a
single room for each participant), workshop materials, local transportation,
all but three meals, and presenter honoraria and expenses. The Center spends
between $40,000 and $45,000 to host the program each year.

What follows are the sessions planned for the 2011 edition of Congress in the
Classroom. Please re-visit the site for changes as the program develops.

Session Titles, 2011:

* Jumping Right In Frank Mackaman, The Dirksen Congressional Center CONFIRMED

* Congressional Insight: A Simulation Colleen Vivori, National Association of
Manufacturers CONFIRMED

* Using Fantasy Congress to Engage My Students Scott Corner, Government and
Politics Teacher, Palma High School, Salinas CA CONFIRMED

* Congress at Work Christine Blackerby, Center for Legislative Archives,
National Archives and Records Administration CONFIRMED

* Help for Teachers from the Office of The Historian Kathleen Johnson, Oral
Historian, Office of the Historian, U.S. House of Representatives CONFIRMED

* A View of Congress from the White House: What the Presidential Tapes Reveal
KC Johnson, Department of History, Brooklyn College CONFIRMED

* The Congressional Time Line Project Frank Mackaman, The Dirksen Congressional

* Congress for Kids Cindy Koeppel, The Dirksen Congressional Center CONFIRMED

* A Journalist's Take on Congress David Lightman, Congressional Correspondent,
McClatchy News Service CONFIRMED

* Teaching with Primary Sources Cindy Rich, Project Director, Teaching with
Primary Sources, Eastern Illinois University CONFIRMED

* Leadership in the House During the 112th Congress Bryan Marshall, Department
of Political Science, Miami University of Ohio CONFIRMED

* New Approaches to Teaching about Congress Paul C. Milazzo, Department of
History, Ohio University CONFIRMED

* Listen Up Legislators: How to Get Your Point Across Stephanie Vance, the
Advocacy Guru, Washington DC CONFIRMED

* Best Practices CONFIRMED

* The Impact of Congressional Redistricting on the 2012 Elections TENTATIVE

Take a look at The Dirksen Center Web site --
-- to see
what participants say about the program.


If you are interested in learning more about the sessions and registering for
the Congress in the Classroom 2011 workshop, you can complete an online
registration form found at:

If you do not want to receive information from The Dirksen Center in the
future, please send an email to Cindy Koeppel at

Cindy Koeppel

The Dirksen Congressional Center

2815 Broadway

Pekin, IL 61554


309.347.6432 Fax


Web site:



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Stint at Madison's Shabazz City High reaffirms belief in public schools

Thom Evans:

As a retired educator with slightly more than 35 years working in the Madison Metropolitan School District, I can only describe the last few months as dispiriting.

I've watched as our new governor has apparently chosen public educators and public employees as his primary targets in a campaign that appears to be more about politics than economics. My pride in my profession and fears about the future of public schools in Wisconsin have been shaken greatly.

I have protested at the Capitol and appeared before the Senate Education Committee when it was considering a revision in the law pertaining to charter schools in our state. The governor wants to move approval of charter schools from a process involving local school board control and supervision to one driven by a state board molded by political appointees.

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Tougher FCAT standards kicking in this year

Alison Ross:

When students across the state sit down Monday to begin intensive testing in the main round of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, they'll be faced with an exam that is a bit different - and, in some cases, harder - than in previous years.

The Florida Department of Education is unveiling the FCAT 2.0 this year for grades 3-10 in reading and grades 3-8 in math.

The new FCATs were designed using the state's new Next Generation Sunshine State standards, which are considered more rigorous than the previous FCAT standards.

For instance, reading assessments will have more questions that require prior knowledge and reasonable inferences than previous FCAT exams. They will also include more historical documents and literature. Some of the reading passages are longer than in previous years.

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Education reform bill passes Illinois Senate; Rahm & The Teacher Unions

Dave McKinney:

A sprawling education-reform package that could lengthen the school year in Chicago, give school districts new powers to oust poorly performing teachers and impose new obstacles on teachers strikes passed the Senate Thursday without dissent.

The Senate's 59-0 vote on a plan that united teachers unions, reform groups and school boards capped a busy legislative day in which lawmakers rejected a business-backed workers compensation reform package and launched a new crackdown on the state's cash-strapped prepaid college tuition program.

"This is the reason why I serve in this chamber: It's for education youth development, giving that child who lives in a poor zip code the same opportunities as a child who lives in a wealthy zip code," Sen. Kimberly Lightford (D-Maywood) said of her school-reform bill as she choked up with emotion.

The legislation drew backing from Gov. Quinn, who said it "helps us make sure that we have the best teachers in our classrooms and assures effective teacher performance."

Ben Smith:
The bill under consideration is the result of negotiations between education groups Advance Illinois and Stand for Children, teachers' unions, and school administrators and it reforms tenure, establishes performance as a hiring standard and limits seniority and the right to strike. The Chicago Teachers Union, Illinois Federation of Teachers, Illinois Education Association have all backed the measure.

On the campaign trail, Emanuel backed an early version of the bill that the unions originally opposed, using harsh rhetoric against the teachers unions.

"Chicago kids are being cheated out of four years' worth of education," Emanuel said in February signaling he backed reforms to tenure and curtailing the right to strike. Teachers, he said "are working very hard in adverse conditions in many places but they are not underpaid."

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Eleven Milwaukee Public Schools' High Schools - Including Four Charter Schools - Get Low-Performer Tag in 2011; Will Federal Intervention Help?

Christian D'Andrea:

Eleven schools in Milwaukee have been identified as some of the lowest performing in the state and are in line for over $6.3 million in federal grants to spur a turnaround. If MPS' targeted plans go through, more than half will be looking for new principals for the 2011-2012 school year - and one will be closed altogether.

Major reforms are in line for four of the schools, according to city superintendent Gregory Thornton. The city will adhere to the federal turnaround model designed specifically to combat the culture of failure in these schools. As a result, Pulaski High School, Northwest Secondary School, Washington High School of Information Technology, and Advanced Language and Academic Students (ALAS) will have their entire instructional staff released.

These schools will be tasked with finding a new principal and several new teachers, as only half of the existing teaching corps is eligible to be rehired. Many of these changes will come with assistance from outside sources, which will be accommodated by $6.3m of federal funding.

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Questions for Seattle Superintendent Dr. Susan Enfield


The new Seattle Public School Superintendent, Dr. Susan Enfield has promised to usher in a new era of transparency to SPS. In this spirit, she has agreed to answer your questions directly. Ask here about the direction Seattle Public Schools will be taking, how they are dealing with the budget crises, plans for opening/closing schools etc. On April 13, she will answer at least ten questions.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:42 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Jobs of the Future

The Economist:

DAVID, a 34-year-old living on the east coast of the United States, is a big fan of World of Warcraft but is anxious that his heavy workload is not leaving him enough time to play, and therefore make progress, in the online game. Rather than see his friends race ahead of him, he contacts a Chinese "gaming-services retail company" which sells him some WoW gold, the game's electronic currency, which he uses to buy magic potions and other stuff that boosts his power as a player. The gold was bought, in turn, from a cybercafé in a Chinese town which employs young professional gamers to play WoW for up to 60 hours a week to earn the online currency.

Sitting in a café playing computer games sounds a lot more fun, and certainly less risky, than working down a Chinese coal mine. This is but one of the estimated 100,000 online jobs that now provide a living for people in places like China and India, according to a new study by infoDev, an initiative of the World Bank and its private-sector financing offshoot, the IFC. Other examples of paid work becoming available for anyone with a computer, an internet connection and plenty of spare time include: classifying the products in an online store's catalogue; transcribing handwritten documents; and signing up as a bogus fan of a consumer brand on Facebook or some other social-networking site, to boost the brand's visibility in search results.

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Why Do Charters Have Fewer Special Ed Kids Than Traditional Schools?

New Jersey Left Behind:

The Newark Council Education Committee met last night with group of stakeholders, including Theresa Adubato of the Robert Treat Academy, Junius Williams of the Abbott Leadership Institute, ELC founder Paul Tractenberg, and School Board Chair Shavar Jeffries. According to the Star-Ledger, the debate was noteworthy for its lack of contention, especially in light of recent fireworks. The meeting was chaired by South Ward Councilman Ras Baraka, who moonlights as Principal of Newark Central High School.

The conversation veered toward the disparity between the number of special needs kids in charter schools (like Robert Treat) and the number of special needs kids in traditional public schools. Here's Michael Pallante, who is the former principal of Camden Street School, a district K-4 school. He's now is at Robert Treat:

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Food for thought on MPS workers

Terry Falk:

Two retired sanitation workers from Memphis stood proudly before the assembly gathered at Mount Zion Baptist Church in Milwaukee the Friday before the April 5 election. The Rev. Jesse Jackson made sure the message was clear. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his life for these workers when they went on strike in Memphis in 1968. Now those assembled were to march in King's honor and vote for candidates who supported a basic civil right: collective bargaining.

Opponents of labor unions have cleverly made this budget battle a choice between workers and taxpayers, workers and children, workers and just about everything else. But these are false choices, and nowhere is this better illustrated than the attack on the Milwaukee Public Schools food service workers.

A high percentage of food service workers are black and Latino at the lower end of the socioeconomic scale. Like the sanitation workers in Memphis, school food service workers see themselves fighting for their civil rights. The false choice is that money saved from the cuts in pay and benefits could be used to help fund kindergarten or lower class sizes.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:20 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Pay No Danegeld: Teaching Western Civilization Rudyard Kipling's poem is due for a renaissance.

Clayton Cramer:

Why do most colleges require students to take a semester (sometimes two) of Western civilization? We want students to know about the history of our civilization because, amazingly enough, humans keep making the same stupid mistakes. The historian's hope -- well, at least this historian's hope -- is that students will recognize the stupidity of first century BC Rome, and fourth century BC Greece, and Weimar Republic Germany, and about nine zillion other moments in time -- and not do it again! It's probably a hopeless task, but I try.

But there is another reason as well. The West has a rich heritage of faith and reason that we want our students to understand. There are so many historical and cultural references contained in our books and literature that will be utterly mystifying if you do not know from whence they came. My students (well, most of them) now know why "Spartan" as an adjective refers to very primitive or basic services or provisions. They know what "crossing the Rubicon" means -- and whose crossing of that river meant that "the die is cast." They understand the importance of channelization in warfare, because of how the Greeks used it to defeat the Persians at Marathon, Thermopylae, and Salamis. They know why "Praetorian Guard" often means someone who is as much in charge as the person or institution that they are supposed to be protecting.

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April 14, 2011

Union's Ties to Madison Schools' Work Stoppage Become More Clear

Brett Healy, via Google News:

A misdialed union voicemail message, emails obtained through an open records request and official court documents reveal new details about the Madison teachers' work stoppage [Google Cached Link] that closed the district's public schools for four days.

The Madison Metropolitan School District called the "sickouts" a "strike" and accused the union of organizing it. The union, Madison Teachers Inc., however, maintained that teachers were calling in sick on their own initiative. New evidence suggests the union's claim is not true.

The MacIver News Service obtained dozens of emails in response to an open records request filed with the school district.

On Tuesday, February 15th, the day before the four day sick out began, Dan Nerad, Madison Schools Superintendent, sent out a mass email to teachers stating "Throughout the day we have received significant information indicating that staff members will call in ill tomorrow, Thursday and/or Friday to protest the Governor's actions. While I believe his actions warrant protest, I am asking that this course of action not be taken,"

John Matthews, Madison Teachers Inc. Executive Director, replied to that email with one of his own, "What teachers are doing is based on their own conscience, for education, the children in our schools, for their own families," he wrote.

Emails Reveal Madison Teachers' Union Behind the Scenes Strategy
Wednesday, March 9th.

Nerad was floored when he found out Matthews was telling the union MMSD was not willing to meet that past weekend. He said Matthews never confirmed a meeting with them.

Howard Bellman, the arbitrator, responded that he had suggested to Nerad they meet sometime over the weekend. Nerad said he wasn't available until Tuesday, and Bellman relayed that to the union.

Matthews then sent Nerad an email stating "Dan: I know that you are dealing with your Mother's illness at this time, and I respect that. However, for MMSD to not be prepared to deal with the issues facing both MMSD and MTI (your employees) today is reprehensible."

Later that day the Senate passed an amended version of the budget repair bill, and Nerad wondered if he could expect his staff to report to work on Thursday.

Matthews responded the union asked all teachers to go to work in the morning. He also pushed for a contract agreement for MTI's support staff groups.

"You have to know that our negotiations are at a very serious juncture. We simply must reach an agreement on Friday or the volcano may just erupt. It is not fair to those in the support unites to be treated differently than those in the professional unit. Because AFSCME took an inferior contract is no reason for MTI to do so. This matter is clearly in your hands to resolve, so be fair, creative and decisive. We have no time left to wring our hands. It is very difficult to hold people back from taking further action," said Matthews.

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What happens in the classroom when a state begins to evaluate all teachers, at every grade level, based on how well they "grow" their students' test scores? Colorado is about to find out.

Dana Goldstein:

On exam day in Sabina Trombetta's Colorado Springs first-grade art class, the 6-year-olds were shown a slide of Picasso's "Weeping Woman," a 1937 cubist portrait of the artist's lover, Dora Maar, with tears streaming down her face. It is painted in vibrant -- almost neon -- greens, bluish purples, and yellows. Explaining the painting, Picasso once said, "Women are suffering machines."

The test asked the first-graders to look at "Weeping Woman" and "write three colors Picasso used to show feeling or emotion." (Acceptable answers: blue, green, purple, and yellow.) Another question asked, "In each box below, draw three different shapes that Picasso used to show feeling or emotion." (Acceptable drawings: triangles, ovals, and rectangles.) A separate section of the exam asked students to write a full paragraph about a Matisse painting.

Trombetta, 38, a 10-year teaching veteran and winner of distinguished teaching awards from both her school district, Harrison District 2, and Pikes Peak County, would have rather been handing out glue sticks and finger paints. The kids would have preferred that, too. But the test wasn't really about them. It was about their teacher.

Trombetta and her students, 87 percent of whom come from poor families, are part of one of the most aggressive education-reform experiments in the country: a soon-to-be state-mandated attempt to evaluate all teachers -- even those in art, music, and physical education -- according to how much they "grow" student achievement. In order to assess Trombetta, the district will require her Chamberlin Elementary School first-graders to sit for seven pencil-and-paper tests in art this school year. To prepare them for those exams, Trombetta lectures her students on art elements such as color, line, and shape -- bullet points on Colorado's new fine-art curriculum standards.

The Economist has more.

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Faculty Salaries: A National Survey and a Special Report

The Chronicle:

Annual survey by the American Association of University Professors. The salaries are rounded to the nearest $100 and adjusted to a nine-month work year. The figures cover full-time members of each institution's instructional staff, except those in medical schools. Institutional characteristics: U.S. Education Department's Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, or Ipeds.

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Peter Thiel: We're in a Bubble and It's Not the Internet. It's Higher Education.

Sarah Lacy:

Fair warning: This article will piss off a lot of you.

I can say that with confidence because it's about Peter Thiel. And Thiel - the PayPal co-founder, hedge fund manager and venture capitalist - not only has a special talent for making money, he has a special talent for making people furious.

Some people are contrarian for the sake of getting headlines or outsmarting the markets. For Thiel, it's simply how he views the world. Of course a side benefit for the natural contrarian is it frequently leads to things like headlines and money.

Consider the 2000 Nasdaq crash. Thiel was one of the few who saw in coming. There's a famous story about PayPal's March 2000 venture capital round. The offer was "only" at a $500 million-or-so valuation. Nearly everyone on the board and the management team balked, except Thiel who calmly told the room that this was a bubble at its peak, and the company needed to take every dime it could right now. That's how close PayPal came to being dot com roadkill a la WebVan or

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Twin Lessons: Have More Kids. Pay Less Attention to Them.

Bryan Caplan:

Nine years ago my wife had her first sonogram. The technician seemed to be asking routine questions: "How long have you been pregnant?" "Twelve weeks." "Any family history of genetic diseases?" "No." "Any family history of twins?" "No." Then she showed us the screen. "Well, you're having twins." My wife and I were scared. We were first-time parents. How were we supposed to raise two babies at the same time?

Strangely enough, I already knew a lot about twins. I'd been an avid consumer of twin research for years. Identical twins (like ours turned out to be) share all their genes; fraternal twins share only half. Researchers in medicine, psychology, economics, and sociology have spent decades comparing these two types of twins to disentangle the effects of nature and nurture. But as our due date approached, none of my book learning seemed remotely helpful.

Only after our twins were born did I gradually realize how much I was missing. Twin researchers rarely offer parenting advice. But much practical guidance is implicit in the science.

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Texas Governor a Winner on School Funds

Jennifer Steinhauer:

Among the winners in Friday night's federal spending agreement, count Gov. Rick Perry of Texas.

Mr. Perry and Republican members of the Texas Congressional delegation have been seeking to shake off a requirement that the state use $830 million in federal education money to supplement the budgets of Texas schools, rather than simply using the federal money to replace state funds for schools.

The spending agreement reached Friday to avert a government shutdown included language to eliminate that provision. Texas, which like many states has massive budget problems, has moved to cut about $4.8 billion in state aid to schools over two years.

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A New Obstacle to College Appears

Sophia Gimenez:

Before my extensive college marathon began, I thought there was only one barrier -- an academic one, consisting of standardized tests and rigorous coursework -- standing as an obstacle between me and going to college.

Apparently, I was wrong, because there is definitely another hurdle. The second one doesn't require any scholarly attributes at all to leap over, just the money in my family's pocket. Now that I've earned my acceptances into several colleges, I am tested again with whether I can afford them.

After the rejection e-mail from Scripps College hit me like a fist in the face, I nursed my constellation of blackening bruises and refocused. The financial aid packages for two other colleges that did accept me -- Mills and Knox -- arrived a few weeks apart from each other. The Mills package was first to come through my doorway.

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Year-round vs. 4-day-week schooling

Amy Turim:

As recently as 2009, during the tenure of the previous Milwaukee Public Schools superintendent, year-round schooling was proposed for all MPS schools. Today, 22 year-round schools operate in Milwaukee. These schools run for the same number of days in Milwaukee as all other public schools, but they feature a spread-out schedule with a one-month break in the summer.

Many studies indicate the shortened breaks offered by year-round schooling lead to greater information retention and higher test scores over time, especially in math. A 2007 study by Johns Hopkins University also suggests increased benefits of year-round schooling for lower socioeconomic status or otherwise at-risk students. Year-round schooling is found to mitigate neighborhood and familial risk factors affecting educational attainment and achievement.

Many of these promising studies seem to indicate the schools that offered more than the standard number of days of instruction, however, were the schools that are most successful in educational outcomes. The MPS current year-round school does not offer more than the standard 180 days instruction offered by all MPS programs, however, and perhaps this is a flaw of the current arrangement.

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Bill would increase pressure on Atlanta school board

Nancy Badertscher and Kristina Torres:

A major school accrediting agency gave board members until Sept. 30 to show major headway on six issues, including internal bickering, ethics and a "transparent" search for a new superintendent.

But board members could be on the hot seat -- and literally fighting to hold onto their school board seats -- as early as July under a bill that's drawing fire as it heads to the House floor Monday for debate and a possible vote.

The bill would require the Atlanta board -- and boards in a handful of other Georgia school systems -- to face a hearing before the state Board of Education by July 31. The hearing would be the first step in a two-step process that could end in the wholesale removal of local boards by the governor if it is determined they are not doing enough to maintain high standards.

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New Jersey Governor Christie unveils proposed legislation for changing tenure and teacher evaluations

Leslie Brody:

Teachers deemed great would earn higher pay and those judged ineffective could lose their jobs under bills the governor sent to the Legislature Wednesday.

Declaring he "can't sit by and wait any longer" for lawmakers to draft their own bills for tenure reform, Governor Christie said he was hoping for sponsors for his legislation and wanted them to hold hearings quickly. He said the educations of too many children, especially in failing urban schools, were suffering because some lackluster teachers were in classrooms.

"New Jersey teachers should be held to the same standards of accountability that everybody else is," the governor said. Under his plan, he said, "If you're doing a good job, more times than not you'll keep your job. If you don't do a good job, you're probably going to lose your job."

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Score One for NJEA

New Jersey Left Behind:

Everyone's covering Gov. Christie's conditional veto of Senate Bill 1940, which posits that if a collective bargaining unit (i.e., local arm of a teachers union) agrees to wage or benefits concessions then "the amount of money which would have been required to fund those wages and benefits shall be applied to the maintenance of bargaining unit stall member positions." (See coverage from New Jersey Newsroom, The Record, Courier Post.)

The bill was approved by the Assembly on a vote of 69-11, and is sponsored by a bevy of 13 senators. It was apparently written by the NJEA executive office. From an editorial by NJEA President Barbara Keshishian that ran last month in the Star-Ledger:

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New Jersey Gov. Christie says extra aid to 31 of N.J.'s poorest school districts is driving up taxes

Bloomberg News:

Gov. Chris Christie said a requirement that the state provide extra funding to its 31 poorest school systems is driving up property taxes in other districts.

State spending in those poorer districts has risen to 59 percent of education outlays from 36 percent in 1988, Christie said at a town-hall meeting today in Cape May. More than 550 districts across the state split the remaining 41 percent, the first-term Republican said.

New Jersey's homeowners pay the nation's highest average property-tax bills, according to the Washington-based Tax foundation. Residential real-estate levies, the prime source of education money in middle- and upper-class school systems, rose about 4 percent in 2010 to an average of $7,756 per property.

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Pennsylvania Education's Future: School Vouchers?

Jaccii Farris:

Some advocates think vouchers are the future of Pennsylvania's troubled schools.
They say those vouchers will give parents choices and promote competition among the schools.

But the idea isn't getting straight A's across the board.

It's an issue state legislators are hashing out in Harrisburg and some area school districts say they don't want any part of.

Pennsylvania's Republican Governor Tom Corbett has already thrown his support behind vouchers..

While state Democratic leaders continue to debate the $730 million plan.

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April 13, 2011

NAEP report: 'Rigor works,' so schools need tougher classes

Stacy Teicher Khadaroo:

More students - but still not enough - are taking a rigorous course load, according to the NAEP report card from The National Assessment of Educational Progress, released Wednesday.

American high-schoolers are earning more credits and taking more challenging courses than they did 20 years ago, according to a new study of high school transcripts. But education experts still worry that not enough of them are graduating ready to enter college or get on track for science- and math-based careers.

Almost twice as many students completed at least a standard curriculum in 2009 as in 1990, the report shows. Curricular rigor improved for students across racial and ethnic groups, but significant gaps still remain.

The economic future of the country depends on improving education, and "the message [of this study] is that rigor works," says Bob Wise, president of Alliance for Excellent Education in Washington, which advocates for improving high schools. "But it puts an obligation on all of us to be sure we're not only providing rigorous courses, but also the support students need to succeed in them."

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Stop Waiting for a Savior

Timothy Hacsi:

DID Cathleen P. Black, the former publishing executive who was removed last week after just three months as New York City's schools chancellor, fail because she lacked a background in education?

In this respect, she has had quite a bit of company over the decades. In 1996, Washington hired a former three-star Army general, Julius W. Becton Jr., to take over its low-performing schools; he left, exhausted, after less than two years. For most of the last decade, the Los Angeles Unified School District was run by non-educators: a former governor of Colorado, Roy Romer, and then a retired vice admiral, David L. Brewer III. They got mixed reviews. Raj Manhas, who had a background in banking and utilities, ran Seattle's schools from 2003 to 2007, balancing the budget but facing fierce opposition over his plans to close schools.

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Admission to College, With Catch: Year's Wait

Lisa Foderaro:

For as long as there have been selective colleges, the spring ritual has been the same: Some applicants get a warm note of acceptance, and the rest get a curt rejection.

Now, as colleges are increasingly swamped with applications, a small but growing number are offering a third option: guaranteed admission if the student attends another institution for a year or two and earns a prescribed grade-point average.

This little-noticed practice -- an unusual mix of early admission and delayed gratification -- has allowed colleges to tap their growing pools of eager candidates to help counter the enrollment slump that most institutions suffer later on, as the accepted students drop out, transfer, study abroad or take internships off campus.

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Enthusiasm for science fairs has dimmed in Wisconsin

Joe Carey:

Gary Stresman stands on a chair in the cafeteria in Nicolet High School addressing a bustling crowd of sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders. Though it's rather early on a Saturday morning and they are in a school, the students are excited.

 They are at a science fair.

It's going to be a great day, Stresman tells them. They should be proud of the work they put into their projects and be ready to have some fun, he says.

 "Because science is cool, right?" he asks.

 "Right!" they answer him.

That enthusiasm for science fairs - once a staple of school life - doesn't burn as brightly throughout Wisconsin.

In recent years, Wisconsin's statewide science fair, which takes the winners from the eight regional fairs around the state, has drawn about 75 high school students. Milwaukee is down to one districtwide science fair for MPS, after the Milwaukee Regional Science and Engineering Fair folded in 2009.

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Twin Lessons: Have More Kids. Pay Less Attention to Them

Bryan Caplan:

Nine years ago my wife had her first sonogram. The technician seemed to be asking routine questions: "How long have you been pregnant?" "Twelve weeks." "Any family history of genetic diseases?" "No." "Any family history of twins?" "No." Then she showed us the screen. "Well, you're having twins." My wife and I were scared. We were first-time parents. How were we supposed to raise two babies at the same time?

Strangely enough, I already knew a lot about twins. I'd been an avid consumer of twin research for years. Identical twins (like ours turned out to be) share all their genes; fraternal twins share only half. Researchers in medicine, psychology, economics, and sociology have spent decades comparing these two types of twins to disentangle the effects of nature and nurture. But as our due date approached, none of my book learning seemed remotely helpful.

Only after our twins were born did I gradually realize how much I was missing. Twin researchers rarely offer parenting advice. But much practical guidance is implicit in the science.

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California Teacher Union Activism

Mike Antonucci:

Earlier today, I posted about the California Teachers Association's plan to occupy the State Capitol on May 9-13 as part of the union's protests to increase tax revenue for the state's schools and teachers. I now have further information, including the news that CTA has budgeted $1 million for the protests.

The union has set up a web site of material for activists at The documents include the handout I posted earlier, plus a 10-page list of "potential activities" the CTA State Council dreamed up. The State Council consists of more than 700 elected union representatives from all across the state. I've also posted this document on the EIA web site.

The "potential activities" include:

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State tests give parents information

Anneliese Dickman:

The recent release of two comprehensive data sets marked a milestone in the 21-year-old Milwaukee Parental Choice Program. With the availability of school-by-school test score data for the first time, as well as the fourth year of results from a longitudinal study comparing voucher students to Milwaukee Public Schools students, citizens now have access to more information about the choice program's performance than ever before.

As has often been the case with this controversial program, however, the release of new information may only create additional grounds for debate on whether the program truly works. For example, while voucher opponents will point to test score data showing the program's achievement average is less than that of MPS, supporters will cite new data from the longitudinal study indicating that students who stayed in the choice program throughout their four years of high school had a 94% graduation rate and were more likely to enroll in four-year college than MPS graduates.

Indeed, the release of these seemingly contradictory results is likely to spur a new battleground in Milwaukee's long-running war over school choice: Do we need to be concerned about low test scores and low achievement growth if, in the end, the students enroll in college?

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Enterprise 'at heart' of school visited by William and Kate

James Hurley:

Darwen Academy, visited by Prince William and Kate Middleton today, has used entrepreneurship to improve results, says the independent school's sponsor, Capita founder Rod Aldridge.

Capita founder Rod Aldridge is leading a plan to place enterprise at the heart of secondary education in five schools across the UK.

An "entrepreneurship curriculum" has already helped Darwen Academy - visited by Prince William and Kate Middleton on their final pre-wedding engagement on Monday - in Blackburn become one of the most improved schools in the UK, he said.

And now he's working on plans to repeat the Darwen model in four more schools.

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Philadelphia School Boasts Improvement, But District Enlists Charter to Finish Job

Joe Barrett:

Long-troubled Audenried High School, once known locally as the Prison on the Hill, today boasts a new, $55 million building, a crop of dedicated young teachers and sharply higher test scores.

So when the school district announced in January that Audenried would be shut down, parents were surprised. Audenreid, they were told, would become one of 18 "turnaround" schools in the city.

Progress had been made in the school, but not enough, officials said. While scores have risen sharply, they fall short of the city's average, along with other performance measures. Major discipline problems at the school last year included the beating of a female student in a classroom.

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Language Learning Goes Social

Lou Dubois:

Boasting nine million members in nearly 200 countries, LiveMocha is capitalizing on an ever-expanding market. CEO Michael Schutzler talks to about his business.

As businesses go global, the market for second-language acquisition continues to grow due to both increasing globalization and an increasingly diverse U.S. population. According to the 2010 Census, the foreign-born population of the United States is approaching 37 million people. Meanwhile, approximately 280 million Americans age five and older speak only English in their homes. How can companies capitalize on the proliferation of technology to help adults learn a second language? Enter LiveMocha. Founded in 2007 and located in the Seattle suburb of Bellevue, Washington, it is the largest online-based language learning service with 9 million members in nearly 200 countries. It's giving Rosetta Stone some serious competition by utilizing new technologies and offering a product at $150 to compete with the $500 to $1,000 that Rosetta charges for an equivalent service.'s Lou Dubois spoke with LiveMocha CEO Michael Schutzler, the former CEO of, one of the first social networks, about the continued need for secondary language acquisition in the United States, the industry's significant growth potential, and why Schutzler considers the company a mix of social networking and gaming mechanics.

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Chicago school bans some lunches brought from home

Monica Eng and Joel Hood:

Fernando Dominguez cut the figure of a young revolutionary leader during a recent lunch period at his elementary school.

"Who thinks the lunch is not good enough?" the seventh-grader shouted to his lunch mates in Spanish and English.

Dozens of hands flew in the air and fellow students shouted along: "We should bring our own lunch! We should bring our own lunch! We should bring our own lunch!"

Fernando waved his hand over the crowd and asked a visiting reporter: "Do you see the situation?"

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'On Shaky Ground' Shows Oversight Faults in California School Buildings

Lauren Knapp:

A new report by California Watch found that hundreds of California's public schools do not meet the legal construction codes for earthquake safety.

In the On Shaky Ground multimedia series, investigative reporter Corey Johnson and the California Watch team lay out systematic failures in the construction and inspection of public schools. The three-part series shows that lax oversight of school construction, poor judgment in hiring building inspectors and inability for schools to access renovation funds have all contributed to the tens of thousands of public schools that fail to comply with the Field Act, which laid out building safety codes after 70 schools collapsed in a 1933 earthquake.

An interactive map breaks down school building safety by county and city -- displaying proximity to fault lines and landslide zones.

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April 12, 2011


The California State College System reported recently that 47% of their freshmen must take remedial reading courses before they can be admitted to regular college academic courses. The Diploma to Nowhere report of the Strong American Schools Project said that more than one million of our high school graduates are in remedial courses at our colleges each year.

Keep in mind that these are not high school dropouts. These are students who did what we asked them to do, were awarded their high school diplomas at graduation, applied to college, were accepted at college, and then told when they got there that they were not well prepared enough by their high schools to take college courses.

The Chronicle of Higher Education did a survey of college professors, who reported that 90% of their freshmen were not very well prepared in reading, doing research or writing.

From my perspective, these students, regardless of their gender, race, creed, or national origin, have been disadvantaged during their twelve years in our public schools. My research indicates that the vast majority have never been asked to do a single serious research paper in high school, and, while I have been unable to find money to do a study of this, I have anecdotal evidence that the vast majority of our public high school students are never asked to read one complete nonfiction book by their teachers during their four years.

Race can be a disadvantage of course, even for the children of Vietnamese boat people, and poverty can be a disadvantage in education as well, even for the children of unemployed white families in Appalachia. But the disadvantages of disgracefully low expectations for academic reading and writing are disinterestedly applied to all of our public high school students, it appears.

Huge numbers of unprepared public high school students provide an achievement gap all by themselves, albeit one that is largely ignored by those who think that funding is the main reason so many of our students fail to complete any college degree.

In that study by The Chronicle of Higher Education, they also asked English teachers if they thought their students were prepared for college reading and writing tasks, and most of them thought their students were well prepared. The problem may be that English departments typically assign fiction as reading for students and the writing they ask for is almost universally personal and creative writing and the five-paragraph essay, supplemented now by work on the little 500-word personal "college essay."

It is hard to conceive of a literacy program better designed to render our public high school students poorly prepared for the nonfiction books and term papers at the college level. Of course, many colleges, eager to fill their dorms and please their "customers" with easy courses and grade inflation, are gradually reducing the number of books students are assigned and the length of papers they are asked to write, but this simply adds to the disadvantages to which we are subjecting our students, all the while charging them large amounts of money for tuition.

Many parents are satisfied when their children tell them that they love their high school, perhaps not fully realizing that the students are talking mostly about their social life and their after-school sports and other activities. They may remain unaware that our students are being prevented from learning to read history books and from writing serious term papers. No one mentions that disadvantage, so no doubt these parents are just as surprised, humiliated, and embarrassed as their children when they are not allowed into regular college courses when they get there.

Americans have big hearts, and are concerned when they are told of the plight of our disadvantaged students who are black, Hispanic, or poor. But they are naturally not really able to summon up much concern over an academic literacy achievement gap which disadvantages practically all of our public high school students, especially if the schools and the Edupundits keep them quite uninformed about it.


"Teach by Example"
Will Fitzhugh [founder]
The Concord Review [1987]
Ralph Waldo Emerson Prizes [1995]
National Writing Board [1998]
TCR Institute [2002]
730 Boston Post Road, Suite 24
Sudbury, Massachusetts 01776-3371 USA
978-443-0022; 800-331-5007;
Varsity Academics®

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Blaska Blogs the smoking gun of the Madison teachers union's illegal sick-out

David Blaska:

Only a fool would think that the sick out that closed down Madison schools for five days in February was anything but an illegal, union-coordinated, illegal strike.

But there are a lot of fools in Madison, aren't there?

Now there is proof that the sickout was a premeditated, union-authorized job action -- a phone tree of teachers calling other teachers to close down the schools. This kind of activity is prohibited by the union's own contract and illegal in WI Statute Chapter 111.84(2)(e):

It is unfair practice for an employee individually or in concert with others: To engage in, induce or encourage any employees to engage in a strike, or a concerted refusal to work or perform their usual duties as employees.

The problem, of course, is finding an impartial prosecutor -- but that would require a level of professionalism sorely lacking in the Doyle-appointed incumbent.

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Why U.S. School Kids Are Flunking Lunch

Jamie Oliver:

I spent the first two months of 2011 living in Los Angeles, filming the second season of "Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution" for ABC. After last year's experience of trying to change food culture in the beautiful town of Huntington, West Virginia, I expected the challenges in L.A. to be very different. Shockingly, they were all too familiar.

L.A. is home to the nation's second biggest school district, which feeds 650,000 children every day. Half of these kids are eligible for free school meals. Within a few miles of the Hollywood sign there are entire communities with no access to fresh food. People travel for well over an hour to buy fruits and vegetables, and in one of the communities where I worked, children had an 80% obesity rate.

I had planned to work in the L.A. schools to try to figure out how school food could be better--and, ideally, cooked from scratch. Thousands of outraged parents, not to mention teachers and principals, wanted me in their schools. But I couldn't even get in the door: the Los Angeles Unified School District banned me from filming any of their food service operations, claiming that they didn't need me because they were already leading the charge. [You can read the LAUSD's response here.]

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The Deadlocked Debate Over Education Reform

Jonathan Mahler:

Few would argue that she was a good choice. But as you watched the almost giddy reception that greeted the departure of the New York City schools chancellor, Cathleen P. Black, last week -- "She wasn't in the class for the full semester so it wouldn't be appropriate for me to give her a grade," said Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers -- it was hard not to wonder whether the debate over school reform has reached a point where debate is no longer possible.

As is often the case with morally charged policy issues -- remember welfare reform? -- false dichotomies seem to have replaced fruitful conversation. If you support the teachers' union, you don't care about the students. If you are critical of the teachers' union, you don't care about the teachers. If you are in favor of charter schools, you are opposed to public schools. If you believe in increased testing, you are on board with the corruption of our liberal society's most cherished educational values. If you are against increased testing, you are against accountability. It goes on. Neither side seems capable of listening to the other.

The data can appear as divided as the rhetoric. New York City's Department of Education will provide you with irrefutable statistics that school reform is working; opponents of reform will provide you with equally irrefutable statistics that it's not. It can seem equally impossible to disentangle the overlapping factors: Are struggling schools struggling because they've been inundated with students from the failing schools that have closed around them? Are high school graduation rates up because the pressure to raise them has encouraged teachers and principals to pass students who aren't really ready for college?

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Federal law makes academic success nearly impossible, some experts say

Jerone Christenson:

Odds are, your kid is in a failing school district.

Odds are even better, if your kid's school or school district isn't failing now, by federal standards, it will be in a year or two.

Last month, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan estimated that within three years no less than four out of five American schools will not meet the standard for "Adequate Yearly Progress." That's government speak for saying the schools aren't meeting the federally mandated No Child Left Behind Act.

This week Minnesota students will begin taking this year's version of the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments - the standardized tests that will determine the supposed success or failure of each Minnesota public school and school district. Results of the tests will be made public in late summer, and most educators, like Duncan, are not optimistic concerning the outcome.

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Referendum drive greets Idaho education overhaul

Betsy Russell:

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter signed the state's third major school-overhaul bill of the session into law Friday, and a parents' group immediately filed paperwork for a referendum drive to overturn it.

The third bill, SB 1184, shifts funds from teacher salaries to technology upgrades and a merit-pay program, and brings a new focus on online learning. The two earlier bills, already signed into law and targeted in referendum drives, remove most collective-bargaining rights from teachers and set up a teacher merit-pay bonus plan. Both houses of Idaho's Legislature are controlled by Republicans.

Otter, also a Republican, said, "The system we had wasn't working, wasn't producing the kind of students that we needed."

State schools Superintendent Tom Luna, who joined Otter at the signing along with a group of legislative sponsors and supporters, said the bills will do "things that we know we should have done long ago."

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Louisiana Superintendent Paul Pastorek loses control of agenda to Internet

A case of poor timing landed state Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek in hot water with the House Appropriations Committee as he was testifying Wednesday about his agency's budget.

Pastorek, whose cocksure manner and $377,000 annual pay package has rankled legislators in years past, told Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge, early in the meeting that he planned to select a new superintendent for the Recovery School District "soon, very soon." But Pastorek didn't divulge to the committee members that he had tapped John White, deputy chancellor for New York City public schools, to take over the job held by Paul Vallas.

As Pastorek continued his testimony, lawmakers on the committee learned the truth, as the news of White's selection was reported on And that brought a rebuke from the courtly committee chairman Jim Fannin, D-Jonesboro, who reminded the superintendent that he was under oath when he was being questioned. "So you weren't willing to share that? That you had made the selection?" Fannin asked.

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Teaching the Civil War, 150 years later

Nick Anderson:

"Guess who won this battle?" teacher Cindy Agner asks.

"No one," the kids chorus.

"This is what they call a draw."

And this is how the Civil War comes to life for a roomful of fourth-graders in Northern Virginia, 150 years after the nation's deadliest armed conflict began. Agner's reenactment of the landmark naval Battle of Hampton Roads -- a tactile lesson the vet eran teacher dreamed up this year -- drew her Fairfax County class into a chapter of American history that has long provoked education debate.

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Reinventing the Way We Teach Engineers

Joseph Rosenbloom:

Richard Miller has had one of the toughest jobs in higher education. The Olin Foundation tapped him a dozen years ago to create an engineering college on a hilltop in the Boston suburb of Needham. When Miller started, there were no buildings, no faculty, no curriculum, no students.

The foundation's mandate: design a boldly original model for a 21st century school whose graduates would be not just accomplished engineers but world-beater entrepreneurs and leaders.

Now the Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering has a wind-swept cluster of six earth-toned buildings, 347 brainy students who pay a maximum of $38,000 tuition, an untenured faculty totaling 25 men and 13 women and a curriculum oriented toward what Miller calls "design based" learning. Miller, who has a Ph.D. in applied mechanics from the California Institute of Technology, has honed his leadership skills as Olin's chief creator and builder. The following is an edited version of an interview with Miller conducted by Inc. contributor Joseph Rosenbloom.

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A City School's Uphill Fight Over Sharing Space With a Charter

Michael Winerip:

In a city where so many public schools are segregated by race and wealth, Public School 9 in Brooklyn is an exception.

It has a substantial number of poor children, with about 75 percent receiving subsidized lunches. And because it is in a gentrifying neighborhood, Prospect Heights, the school also has a sizable number of yuppie children.

The co-presidents of the parent-teacher organization are Nelly Heredia, a single mother with two children who is out of work, and Penelope Mahot, a married mother with two children who owns a product design company and a gift store. The mothers like the same things about P.S. 9: the principal, Sandra D'Avilar, makes herself available to parents; the school is full of experienced teachers; the parents' groups are thriving; the children are learning; there are classes in art, music, theater and dance.

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A three-year college degree in Ohio?

David Harrison:

Ohio Governor John Kasich wants the state's universities to offer a three-year degree program to make college more affordable, The Plain-Dealer reports. Students would have to squeeze in more courses during their time at school in order to satisfy degree requirements, much as they do today without an established three-year program. Ball State University in Indiana already offers three-year degrees for 30 of its 180 degree programs and Rhode Island lawmakers approved a measure in 2009 to offer three-year degrees at both of the state's public universities. Meanwhile, Kasich's budget anticipates a 10.5 percent cut in higher education funding in the 2012 fiscal year, less than had been feared, followed by a 3.7 percent increase in 2013, according to The Columbus Dispatch.

SESSION ENDS: Idaho lawmakers gaveled their session to a close Thursday having approved three major education overhaul bills that had been a priority for Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter and state superintendent Tom Luna, according to The (Spokane) Spokesman-Review. The bills would weaken teachers' tenure and collective bargaining provisions, expand online courses, reduce the number of teachers and institute a merit pay system. The state Senate also approved legislation to implement the changes immediately rather than on July 1 in an effort to dampen an attempt to put the controversial changes up to a referendum next year.

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The human brain: turning our minds to the law

David Eagleman:

A human brain is three pounds of the most complex material in the universe. It is the mission control centre that drives the operation of your life, gathering dispatches through small portals in the armoured bunker of the skull. This pink, alien computational material, which has the consistency of jelly and is composed of miniaturised, self-configuring parts, vastly outstrips anything we've dreamt of building.

Using those brains, humans have done something unique. As far as we know, we're the only system on the planet so complex that we've thrown ourselves headlong into the game of deciphering our own programming language. Imagine that your desktop computer began to control its own peripheral devices, removed its own cover and pointed its webcam at its own circuitry. That's us.

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April 11, 2011

2011 Adoption of Madison's Orchard Ridge Elementary School: 2/3 of Students of Color (56%) & Low Income (55%) Cannot Read

African American Communication and Collaboration Council (AACCC), via a kind reader's email:

As a logical stage of development, the African American Communication and Collaboration Council (AACCC) has established a number of community projects for 2011. The AACCC will focus the wisdom and energy of its corresponding constituent groups toward areas in need of positive outcomes. The projects are designed to serve as a demonstration of what can be accomplished when the "talent" of the community is focused on solutions rather than symptoms.


The AACCC's first educational pilot project is the "adoption" of Orchard Ridge Elementary (ORE) School for the first six months of 2011 (second semester of 2010/2011 school year).

After assessing the primary issues and unmet needs concerning student achievement, the AACCC, the ORE School Principal and Central Office MMSD administration (including the Superintendent) have determined a number of vital activities in which the AACCC could play a vital role.

Too much is at stake for the AACCC adoption of Orchard Ridge Elementary to be viewed as a "feel good" project. The student population of ORE involves 56% students of color, and fifty five percent (55%) of its student enrollment is from low-income homes. As dramatically depicted below, approximately two thirds of that population cannot read.

Please note the following:

Much more on Orchard Ridge, here.

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Implementing Luna's Idaho Education plan

Maureen Dolan:

There are still a few things that have to happen before many of Idaho's newly minted education reforms can be fully executed in the state's kindergarten- through 12th-grade public schools.

Some of the responsibility for the success or failure of Idaho public schools chief Tom Luna's "Students Come First" education reform plan now rests with members of the Idaho State Board of Education. Other reform package measures require that school boards throughout the state create their own local policies and procedures to put the reforms, now Idaho law, into action.

"Implementation will determine how effective the reforms are and if the promised efficiencies will be realized," state education board spokesman Mark Browning said.
The sweeping changes to K-12 education were announced by Luna, with support from Gov. Butch Otter, in Janurary at the start of the legislative session.

Broken down into three bills, the reforms were passed by lawmakers during weeks of contentious House and Senate committee hearings, and protests by students and teachers throughout the state. The final bill was signed into law Friday by the governor, a day after the session adjourned.

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: A debt disaster behind a comic book budget squabble

Clive Crook:

The world had better start paying attention to the US government's inability to govern. The prevailing mood over this has been strangely complacent. Six months of the fiscal year gone and only now a ramshackle budget? Government brought to the brink of shutdown over trifling disagreements? Absurd, one thinks, but this is Washington. Do as most Americans do, and regard the pantomime with blithe contempt. In the end, out of sheer exhaustion, the actors do their deals and it is business as usual.

So it proved with the shutdown farce. Capitol Hill and its followers tracked the quarrel avidly. TV news showed clocks counting down the hours and minutes before "inessential services" would be suspended. Talks between Congress and the White House were covered as though a nuclear strike was imminent. With an hour to go, a deal that no one understood was done.

The president stood before the cameras: "Americans of different beliefs came together again," he said, as if expecting applause. Some laughed; most yawned.

The shutdown punch-up was a nuisance and proof of Washington's recklessness, but little apart from political advantage was at stake. Mostly, it was theatre. But a real fiscal crisis is coming. The debt-ceiling fight, next on the playbill, raises the theoretical possibility of a government default. Beyond that, public debt keeps rising. The current dysfunction shows how hard it will be to stop.

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What is the Academic Mission of the Seattle School District's Central Office?

Charlie Mas

e know the District's mission - to educate Seattle's students. That work is done primarily in the schools. The mission of the schools - to educate students - no different from the District mission. The Central Office has two sides: Operations and Academics. The mission of the Operations side is also clear - to take on all of the non-academic work to free the schools to focus on academics. But what is the mission of the academic side of the Central Office?

What academic tasks are the proper work of the Central Office?

The lack of a clearly defined mission for the Academic side of the Central Office has led to two unacceptable consequences: tasks that the central office should do have been left undone and the central office has squandered resources and irritated colleagues by taking on work they should not be doing.

I suggest that the Central Office has three academic duties:

1. Quality Assurance. Someone needs to follow up on the schools and make sure that they are doing a good job. Someone needs to make sure that they are providing appropriate interventions for students working below grade level. Someone needs to make sure that they are providing appropriate challenge for students working beyond grade level. Someone needs to make sure that they are delivering - at a minimum - the core content in each subject at each grade level. Someone needs to make sure that the teachers understand that the Standards are a floor, not a ceiling. Someone needs to make sure that they are following the IEPs, that they are providing appropriate services to ELL students, that their Advanced Learning program meets the expectations for such programs, and so on. Someone needs to make sure that the schools offer all of the classes and opportunities that they are supposed to offer (music, AP classes, etc.). This work, Academic Assurances, is the District's work. Much of it has not been done. Much of it still is not done.

Along these lines, Dr. Enfield wanted to clarify her "Spectrum is Spectrum is Spectrum" remark, but she didn't really manage it. I will follow up with her.

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Reading instruction focus of task force

Alan Borsuk:

Again and again, I clicked on Wisconsin on an interactive map of reading scores from across the nation. Wisconsin fourth-graders compared with other states. Eighth-graders compared with other states. White kids. Black kids. Hispanic kids. Low-income kids.

The color-coded results told a striking story: In each case, there were few states colored to show they had significantly lower scores than Wisconsin. For fourth-grade black kids, there were none. For fourth-grade low-income kids, there were four.

Here's one that will probably surprise you: For fourth-grade white kids, there were only four (Nevada, Louisiana, Oklahoma and West Virginia) that were significantly below Wisconsin. Wisconsin white kids score slightly below the national average, putting us in a pack of states with kind-of-OK results, significantly below more than a dozen that are doing better.

Wisconsin is not the reading star it was a couple of decades ago. You'll get little argument that this isn't good.


But how reading is taught may be exactly what it heads for. In interviews, Dykstra and Pedriana said they hope there will be a comprehensive review of how reading is taught in Wisconsin - and how teachers are trained by universities to teach reading.

"We need to pay more attention to what works best," Dykstra said. "We have known for 40 years a basic model for how to teach kids to read that is more effective than the predominant model in the state of Wisconsin."

Pedriana said Wisconsin was a particularly "grievous example" of a state that had not done what it could to improve reading achievement. "Teacher training has to be addressed," he said.

Related: Wisconsin Executive Order #22: Read to Lead Task Force and Dave Baskerville: Wisconsin Needs Two Big Goals.

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Fulfilling the charter school promise

Jed Wallace & Cinda Doughty:

Something unprecedented is happening with charter schools in San Diego and across California. This year, San Diego County saw a 14 percent increase in the number of charter schools operating, jumping from 81 to 92. Throughout California, 115 new charters opened - the largest number to ever open in a single year in any state in the nation. This brings California to 912 charter schools serving 365,000 students. Even though the state's funding crisis is disproportionately affecting charter schools, the pipeline for expansion is more robust than it has ever been.

What is causing this growth?

Plain and simple, it is coming in response to demand from parents. Parents are seeing the successes that charter schools are generating. In addition to offering highly innovative programs that cater to individual student needs, charter schools are becoming known for generating high levels of learning.

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School for sober kids gets funding boost from Madison school district

Susan Troller:

For students who have been treated for addiction, going back to a conventional high school is like sending an alcoholic into a bar, experts say. But, they add, it's extremely hard to find a safe, nurturing educational option for teens who are struggling to stay drug or alcohol-free.

Horizon High School is a tiny, non-profit, Madison-based recovery school where students learn and help keep each other on track and sober, day in and day out. It's one of only three recovery schools in Wisconsin.

Horizon High School serves about a dozen mostly local kids each year, employs a handful of teachers and counselors and operates out of rented space at Neighborhood House on Mills Street in Madison. For the students, it means close relationships with their teachers and each other, and routine, random drug tests as a fact of life.

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Customized Learning: Will Washington Advance or Retreat?


For several months, I had been listening to my friend agonize over the challenges she had been facing with her 16 year old daughter, "Tammy" , who was attending a suburban public high school in Washington state.

It started with a few phone calls from the school about some relationship issues between Tammy and some other girls at school. Within a month, Mom was getting two or three calls a week informing her Tammy had skipped several classes that day. Over the next several months the skipping continued, Tammy's grades took a nose dive, and she became recluse and defiant at home. Meetings were held with the school administration, school counselor and the family. The parents did what they could administering consequences on their end. Yet nothing seemed to help.

My friend felt like she was loosing her daughter. Tammy could care less about graduating anymore - even though she used to love school as a child. That's when I mentioned to her the idea of enrolling Tammy into one of Washington State's online learning programs. At first, Mom was resistant. Like myself, my friend grew up in your "typical brick and mortar" school.....grouped by age, all taught the same thing at the same time no matter what level your were at, promoted regardless of mastery, huge masses of students moving through a system based on the industrial revolution. Tammy's high school had close to 2000 students in it. Her teachers had about 180 students a day. Would anyone even notice Tammy's plight?

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Duncan: 'We have to do things in a very, very different way'

Tina Maria Macias:

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan lauded the city and state for its post-Hurricane Katrina education reform during a wide-sweeping conversation about education on Friday.

Duncan spoke to a room of education journalists during the Education Writers Association National Seminar and touched on national issues relevant to Acadiana school systems.

He touted drastic reform in education, an issue that he said touches so many other problems. For example, only 25 percent of America's youth qualify for the

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The Trials of Kaplan -- and the education of The Washington Post Co.

Steven Mufson and Jia Lynn Yang:

As damaging as the new rules could be, Kaplan is also reeling from a storm of criticism of the industry's practices and of The Post Co., an institution more accustomed to publishing news of others' foibles.

The company was snared in a government sting that found Kaplan employees pushing students to take on loans without regard to whether they could afford them. It has been hammered by congressional critics, sideswiped by hedge fund investors and investigated by journalists. In the end, The Post Co. reluctantly conceded it would have to revamp Kaplan's business model and turn away many prospective low-income students it once wooed.

The challenges have never jeopardized The Post Co.'s survival, but they cast a spotlight on management decisions and raise a question: How did The Post Co. end up here?

Post Co. executives blame outside forces, including a drop in political support for private-sector education companies and "financial and corporate agendas." They also acknowledge missteps. Current and past officers say The Post Co. did not keep close-enough tabs on its fast-sprawling education unit, even as it focused heavily on customers who were poorer and thus at the riskier end of the business. But they say serving that disadvantaged population is important.

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: The Absurd US Budget Debate

Michael Ramirez @ Investors.

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April 10, 2011

Updated: Does Kiplinger's claim of "weak" Madison schools compared to "suburban" schools hold up?

Madison School Board Member Ed Hughes:

Much more on Kiplingers, College Station Schools and a Wisconsin State Journal Editorial, here. Background on the oft criticized WKCE.

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The College Decision From The Professors' Perspective

Lynn Jacobs & Jeremy Hyman:

As the next class of college freshmen weigh their choices, I asked Lynn F. Jacobs and Jeremy S. Hyman, authors of The Secrets of College Success, to compile some tips for readers of The Choice. What follows are excerpts. - Jacques Steinberg

Focus on the academics. Since the main reason you're going to college is to get a good education, the quality of the courses should be a critical factor in your choice-procedure. If you're able to visit -- or revisit -- your top two or three choices, you'll be able to assess how good the teaching is by attending a few first-year classes. Pay particular attention to who the instructor is (regular faculty, T.A., or adjunct professor -- ask if you're not sure), how well and interestingly the material is presented, and whether skills of analysis and interpretation are being emphasized.

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A tool to measure 'well-being' is being tested on British children, with the aim of identifying problems and acting on them. But how do you put a number on a feeling?

Isabel Berwick:

Do you agree that your life has a sense of purpose? Would you say that, overall, you have a lot to be proud of? Do you wish you lived somewhere else? Coming out of the blue, these are tricky questions to answer. Yet they aren't aimed at adults. They come from a questionnaire for children aged 11 to 16.

The charity think-tank New Philanthropy Capital has devised the questions as part of its "well-being measure", a 15-minute survey that asks about relationships with family, school and community, as well as self-esteem and life satisfaction. The tool, being tested now, is designed to be used by charities, schools and youth groups to work out how happy (or not) children are. John Copps, who runs the project at NPC, believes the survey is capturing something that has been elusive: it is, he says, "putting a number on a feeling".

The desire to match numbers to feelings is popular at the moment. In November last year, prime minister David Cameron put happiness at the centre of government policy when he announced that the Office for National Statistics would produce a national "well-being index" alongside its usual tables measuring income, health, births and deaths. And from this month, as part of the data-gathering, about 200,000 people a year will be asked new questions about their life satisfaction as part of the Integrated Household Survey.

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Tantalising evidence is emerging of a serious gap in biologists' understanding of the diversity of life on Earth

The Economist:

The data from which this conclusion was drawn were collected between 2003 and 2007 on one of the most scientifically productive holidays in history. This was a round-the-world cruise taken by Craig Venter on his yacht, Sorcerer II, which studied the diversity of micro-organisms in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans.

Dr Venter was working out his frustrations after having been fired in 2002 from Celera Genomics, a company he helped set up in 1998 with the specific aim of sequencing the human genome faster and better than the public Human Genome Project was managing at the time. In that, it succeeded. In the wider aim of turning such knowledge into hard cash, however, it was nowhere near as successful as its financial backers had hoped. Dr Venter therefore found himself with more time on his hands than he had been planning.

His killer app in Celera's assembly of the human genome was a technique called shotgun sequencing. This first shreds a genome into pieces small enough for sequencing machines to handle, then stitches the sequenced pieces back together by matching the overlaps using a computer. In principle, he realised, that trick could be used on mixed DNA from more than one organism. A good enough program would stitch together only fragments from the same type of creature. This would allow you to see what was living in a sample without having to culture anything. And since a huge majority of micro-organisms (by some estimates, 97%) cannot be cultured, that sounded like a great idea.

Metagenomics [Wolfram Alpha], as the new technique is known, has vastly extended knowledge of what bugs live in the sea--and in many other places, from hot springs to animals' guts. It is not perfect. In practice a lot of what emerges are fragments of genomes, rather than complete assemblies. But it has been enormously successful at identifying previously unknown individual genes.

The Road Not Taken....

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Mainland babies in a class of their own when it comes to parental expectations

Alice Yan and Zhuang Pinghui:

On a cold, wet Friday morning, only a third of the children turn up for the 45-minute class in Shanghai's Putuo district.

It's not as if the children can get there themselves. Junjun, the eldest, is just 21 months old. Nini, the youngest, is 19 months old.

Their young teacher begins the class by leading the children and various accompanying grandparents on a walk around the sides of a square painted on the ground.

The early education centre, which says its tuition is based on the theories of famed Italian educator Maria Montessori [Blekko], says the exercise helps calm the children and concentrate their minds for learning.

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Wozniak says innovative projects, not tests, should determine a student's grade; the popular DVR follows your every move

Lucas Mearian:

Public education remains a passionate subject for Woz, who was unabashed in saying that schools today are far too structured and thus impede innovative thinking - which is key to "the artistic side" of technology.

At issue, he said, are rules that tell each student exactly what they should be studying and when.

The learning cycle between what is taught and when a student is tested on it is far too short, he proclaimed. Short learning-testing cycles, Wozniak said, are nothing like the projects that technology innovators are afforded in real life.

When pressed by an audience member about how schools should judge student performance, Woz said they should be given one long project that spurs innovative thinking at the beginning of a semester and graded on their results.

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Wisconsin School Choice & Student Testing

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett:

Choice students do not attend public schools, but Milwaukee property taxpayers still support their costs. In fact, until recently, Milwaukee property taxpayers actually paid more for students attending choice schools than they paid for students attending traditional Milwaukee Public Schools.

Over the past few years, I've worked with the state to correct this inequity. We have made a significant improvement from where we stood in the 2006-'07 school year, and Milwaukee taxpayers have benefited greatly.

But we have a lot more work to do to ensure this program is fair to all taxpayers.

For decades, our state has recognized that some communities have more wealth than others. That means that the amount spent on a child's education could change dramatically depending on which "side of the tracks" a student lives on.

Anneliese Dickman:
The recent release of two comprehensive data sets marked a milestone in the 21-year-old Milwaukee Parental Choice Program. With the availability of school-by-school test score data for the first time, as well as the fourth year of results from a longitudinal study comparing voucher students to Milwaukee Public Schools students, citizens now have access to more information about the choice program's performance than ever before.

As has often been the case with this controversial program, however, the release of new information may only create additional grounds for debate on whether the program truly works. For example, while voucher opponents will point to test score data showing the program's achievement average is less than that of MPS, supporters will cite new data from the longitudinal study indicating that students who stayed in the choice program throughout their four years of high school had a 94% graduation rate and were more likely to enroll in four-year college than MPS graduates.

Indeed, the release of these seemingly contradictory results is likely to spur a new battleground in Milwaukee's long-running war over school choice: Do we need to be concerned about low test scores and low achievement growth if, in the end, the students enroll in college?

That discussion is a relevant one given that higher educational attainment certainly is the overall goal for all Milwaukee students. Nevertheless, there are several reasons recent comparative test score results should not be dismissed.

Much more on the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, here.

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Pilot program could swap ACT for Nebraska statewide test in 11th grade

Joanne Young

Remember the statewide tests for public school students signed into law in 2008?

A Lincoln senator would like the state to consider deviating from that just a smidgen.
Lincoln Sen. Bill Avery would like to persuade the Legislature to go along with a pilot program that could change the statewide NeSA test for 11th-graders to the ACT college entrance exam.

The idea is to conduct the pilot in Lincoln and seven other districts in the state for three years. The program would evaluate whether the ACT would be an appropriate measure of content knowledge in reading, math and science, and of college and career readiness.
Avery believes having students take the ACT statewide could improve Nebraska's college-going rate. The current rate is 67 percent for graduating high school students, he said.

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Siblings play key role in child development


PhD candidate in the School of Psychology, Karen O'Brien, said children with autism could have difficulties in social interactions and that their siblings played an important role in their development, particularly when it came to social skills.

"Children acquire the ability to identify mental states, also known as 'theory of the mind' (ToM), at around four years of age," she said.

"Research has shown that children with autism typically struggle on ToM tests and their everyday ToM skills are impaired, making it rare for even the highest-functioning autistic child to pass these tests before the age of 13 years."

Mental states identified in ToM include intentions, beliefs, desires and emotions, in oneself and other people, and understanding that everyone has their own plans, thoughts, and points of view.

According to Ms O'Brien, typically developing children show a significant advance in ToM understanding between the ages of three to five years.

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How to Get a Real Education

Scott Adams:

I understand why the top students in America study physics, chemistry, calculus and classic literature. The kids in this brainy group are the future professors, scientists, thinkers and engineers who will propel civilization forward. But why do we make B students sit through these same classes? That's like trying to train your cat to do your taxes--a waste of time and money. Wouldn't it make more sense to teach B students something useful, like entrepreneurship?

I speak from experience because I majored in entrepreneurship at Hartwick College in Oneonta, N.Y. Technically, my major was economics. But the unsung advantage of attending a small college is that you can mold your experience any way you want.

There was a small business on our campus called The Coffee House. It served beer and snacks, and featured live entertainment. It was managed by students, and it was a money-losing mess, subsidized by the college. I thought I could make a difference, so I applied for an opening as the so-called Minister of Finance. I landed the job, thanks to my impressive interviewing skills, my can-do attitude and the fact that everyone else in the solar system had more interesting plans.

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Japan Struggles to Reopen Schools


The gymnasium of fifth-grader Ryodai Kinno's school in Rikuzentakata, Japan, is packed with evacuees and its parking lot is full of aid vehicles. But authorities are determined to reopen his school and others across northeast Japan that have been closed since March 11, to help the youngest victims get over the trauma of the disaster.

Ryodai says he still gets frightened by the aftershocks and sometimes finds his legs shaking uncontrollably. "I'm not really sure the reason why," he says.

On the day of the tsunami, Ryodai watched as his home was swallowed up by the rushing waters after fleeing to higher ground.

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Broken Business Model in Liberal Arts

Steve Kolowich:

Maybe what the liberal arts needed was a full-blown depression.

"A couple of years ago I had great hope, because of the externality of the economic situation," Martin Ringle, the chief technology officer at Reed College, told a room full of fellow audience members at a summit of the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education (NITLE) on Thursday.

"I was really hoping, contrary to all of my better judgment, that things would really go into the toilet," Ringle continued. "Because if we didn't stop at recession -- if we went all the way down to depression -- maybe that would be enough for the economic forces to require us to change."

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The school voucher scam

Joel McNally:

The vicious scam behind Milwaukee's school voucher program now is becoming public for all to see. The program is about to take another ugly turn transferring money from our neediest students to the most privileged.

It was always suspicious that right-wing Republicans were enthusiastically supporting a tax-funded government program they claimed would help poor children of color receive a quality education.

Historically, the right has consistently fought tax funds going to people in need, especially those of other races. The only government programs they support are huge tax cuts and corporate welfare benefiting the wealthy.

Much more on the Milwaukee School Choice Program, here.

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A Perfect Storm in Undergraduate Education, Part 2

Thomas Benton:

What is keeping undergraduates from learning? Last month, I speculated from my perspective as a college teacher about a set of interlocking factors that have contributed to the problem.

In that column (The Chronicle, February 25), I referred to the alarming data presented by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa in Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses (University of Chicago Press, 2011) in the context of President Obama's call for more students to attend college in order to prepare for the economy of the future. Why, I asked, should we send more students to college--at an ever greater cost--when more than a third of them, according to Arum and Roksa, demonstrate "no improvement in critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing skills" after four years of education?

This month I want to speculate on why students (and, to a lesser extent, their parents) are not making choices that support educational success. What could they possibly be thinking?

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Poisoned milk kills 3 children, dozens ill

Zhuang Pinghui:

Three children in Pingliang, Gansu, have died and 36 others have fallen ill from nitrite poisoning after drinking milk bought direct from farmers.

Pingliang's No2 People's Hospital recorded the first food-poisoning death around 9am on Thursday and another hospital recorded two similar deaths shortly afterwards.

"The three dead children were all under three years old. The rest of the patients were mostly children under 14 years old," a Pingliang government spokesman said.

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April 9, 2011

Wright Middle School inspires

Mike Ivey:

Just when you think the world is going to hell in a hand basket, a bunch of hand-written letters arrive from Wright Middle School students.

For the past several years, I've participated in the "School Makes a Difference" program where adults talk to kids about their career and give them a pep talk about learning. It's not a big commitment -- and the thank you notes from the kids make it well worth the time.

For example, Hope Blackmon wrote that my 15-minute presentation "really inspired a lot of us to start writing more and to try to get better at writing."

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Charter Schools & Unions

Rebecca Vevea:

There were no charter school unions in 2008, when the Chicago Teachers Union formed its Charter Outreach Committee to knock on doors and help charter teachers organize.

Nationally, 604 charter schools, roughly 12 percent, have collective-bargaining agreements. But 388 of those schools are in states where the law dictates that charters be included in existing collective-bargaining agreements with local districts, according to data collected by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Illinois law does not require charter schools to be part of local collective-bargaining units.

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: A Bankrupt Nation Wakes Up; David Stockman on the Debt

Christopher Caldwell:

The high point in The Gallery of Antiquities, Balzac's great novel of debt, comes when gendarmes are arresting the young Count d'Esgrignons for a forgery committed to cover his borrowing. The loyal notary Chesnel, attached to the d'Esgrignons family by generations of service, has already spent his own modest fortune to get the young count out of such scrapes, but he is at the end of his resources. "If I don't manage to smother this story," he tells the count matter-of-factly, "you'll have to kill yourself before the indictment is read out." The count realises in a flash that people have lent him money not because they have more than they know what to do with, or because he's a nice guy, or because his privileges are the natural order of things. They have lent him money because they have made certain assumptions about his honour - misplaced assumptions, as it turns out.

Americans came face-to-face with their government debt this week and discovered that they are in the position of d'Esgrignons. There are several ways to measure how apocalyptic the situation is. The recent announcement by Pimco bond analyst Bill Gross that he was selling his long-term Treasury holdings has shaken people, and not just those who watch the business channels. In a memo laced with words like "staggering" and "incredible", Mr Gross described himself as "confident" the US would default on its debt if did not reform its entitlement programmes (pensions and government healthcare). Mr Gross cited an estimate by Mary Meeker, a venture capitalist, that government unfunded liabilities stand at $75,000bn. To spend time with the federal budget is to suspect that the US is the sick man of the global economy.

Lloyd Grove:
Stockman described the impending showdown as a "wakeup call"--the political equivalent of getting whacked in the head by a two-by-four containing a rusty nail.

"And then," Stockman added in a tone of lethal glee, "they're going to be calling their own bluff. Because at that point the problem will remain 98 percent as large as it was the morning before."

The 64-year-old Stockman, who made millions as an investment banker after serving as a Michigan congressman and then Reagan's fiscal guru in the early 1980s, makes Debbie Downer sound like a cockeyed optimist. During a conversation punctuated by mirthless laughter, he characterized America's elected officials as "the fools inside the Beltway," dismissed House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, generally celebrated as the GOP's brightest policy star, as "an earnest young man" who offers discredited ideology over practical solutions, and predicted a long and agonizing epoch in which incomes will fall, the economy will stall and reality's bite will leave painful tooth marks.

Related: Videographic on Pensions.

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NY schools innovating, cooperating to ease cuts

Associated Press:

From labor concessions by teachers and administrators to changing bus routes, many school districts in New York are finding ways to handle Gov. Andrew Cuomo's historic cut in state aid without massive layoffs or drastic increases in property taxes.

Some schools that have already presented budget proposals are also tapping deeper into reserves to avoid layoffs and cuts to programs and sports. The result in many of the first batch of districts to formally propose budgets to voters is savings that cover much of the cut while protecting academic programs, yet resulting in tax levy increases near or below inflation.

"A lot of that is happening right now," said David Albert of the state School Boards Association. He said the Legislature's restoration of $230 million in operating aid in the state budget adopted March 31 has helped, along with labor concessions.

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One Virginia Law Student's Monument to Rejection

Nathan Koppel:

We have all felt the sting of rejection.

Law students have been particularly stung of late, as law firms continue to be rather parsimonious with job offers.

But a third year law student at the University of Virginia has turned rejection into an art form: the attached model of UVA Law built entirely out of law-firm rejection letters!!

Here's the Above the Law post that broke the news of this deranged act of brilliance. The sculptor was not identified by ATL.

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Louisiana education board agrees to hire new RSD leader

Associated Press:

A new superintendent for the Recovery School District, which oversees schools taken over by the state for poor performance, will begin his job May 1, after the state's top education board approved the hiring Friday.

John White, a deputy chancellor for New York City schools, was backed in a 7-1 vote by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. Three BESE members abstained from the vote amid complaints about how Louisiana Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek conducted the search.

"John is probably one of the most respected reformers in the country," Pastorek said. He added, "I picked, I believe, the highest quality person, the person most capable to do this job."

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Who Speaks English?

The Economist:

EVERYONE knows the stereotypes about foreigners speaking English: Scandinavians are shockingly fluent, while the Japanese lag despite years and billions of yen spent trying. Now a big new study confirms some of those stereotypes. But it holds some surprises as well.

EF Education First, an English-teaching company, compiled the biggest ever internationally comparable sample of English learners: some 2m people took identical tests online in 44 countries. The top five performers were Norway, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden and Finland. The bottom five were Panama, Colombia, Thailand, Turkey and Kazakhstan. Among regions, Latin America fared worst. (No African country had enough takers to make the lists's threshold for the minimum number of participants.)

This was not a statistically controlled study: the subjects took a free test online and of their own accord. They were by definition connected to the internet and interested in testing their English; they will also be younger and more urban than the population at large. But Philip Hult, the boss of EF, says that his sample shows results similar to a more scientifically controlled but smaller study by the British Council.

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Kansas City Don Bosco Charter to close

Mara Rose Williams:

A second Kansas City charter school today announced it will close at the end of this school year.

Don Bosco Charter High School is shuttering its doors for good after operating more than a decade as a school for students at risk of dropping out.

School officials said this morning that because of poor student attendance they were unable to generate the revenue needed to continue operating the high school. State funding for public schools is based on a formula heavily weighted by the average student daily attendance.

But school leaders were quick to defend their students.

"It would be very easy to blame students, but I don't want to do that," said Al Dimmitt, chairman of the Don Bosco Charter High School Board of Directors. "We are dealing with a student population faced with a lot of challenges in life and attendance in school does not always arise to their top priority,"

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Spreading the word Hong Kong is well placed to promote Asian literature within the region and to the wider world

Peter Gordon:

Two Chinese novelists, Su Tong and Wang Anyi, have just been named finalists for the biennial Man Booker International Prize, the first Chinese writers to receive this honour. This is, therefore, something of a milestone. Yet, even while savouring the reflected glow of this accolade, those familiar with contemporary Chinese literature might wonder why it has taken so long. One explanation might be that this prize, like many international prizes, is based on works in English, and the English-language publishing world has been slow to produce Chinese novels or, indeed, much of anything in translation (a situation that, fortunately, seems to be improving somewhat).

This particular prize, furthermore, is awarded not for a single book, but for a writer's entire corpus. China's recent history has been such that it has not been possible for a long time to publish novels; these two authors are, by the standards of such lifetime prizes, relatively young, Su Tong particularly so.

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April 8, 2011

Madison Superintendent's Goals

Madison School Board & Superintendent Dan Nerad, via a kind reader's email (160K PDF):

Page 25, a New goal, the District's budget:

Proposed Organization Goal Goal Area: Development of 2011 - 12 District Budget.

Evidence of Need / Baseline Data: There is a need to implement a budget process and develop a proposed budget consistent with the Governor's proposed budget and the reduction of aid.

Target Date for Completion: June, 2011.

Objective: To provide leadership, supervision, and direction to MMSD staff in a budget planning exercise that anticipates and prepares for reduction in state aid for 2011-12.
Results: (For each objective, state the progress.) This goal will be assessed through the implementation of a budget process (budget timeline) and by the development of a proposed 2011-2012 District budget plan.

Action Plan: (Steps to be taken) 1. Implement the five-year budget model forecast to identify the impact of budget scenarios under consideration.
2. At the earliest date after the Governor releases his budget, work with department leaders to identify potential efficiencies and/or savings, taking into account Board priorities and District needs.
3. Use staff recommendations to develop a list of possible cuts for Board review no later than April 1, 2011. Said list must be reviewed and vetted to address mathematical and other errors before it is provided to the press, the Board, or MMSD staff. Said list must be vetted to remove any items that administration would not or could not implement before it is given to the Board for consideration.
4. Work to ensure that all spending for new programs with cumulative costs over $50,000 in property tax revenue be incorporated into the proposed budget and presented to the Board before it votes to approve the preliminary budget.
5. Identify the users of unexpended or unencumbered revenue, by source, as part of the budget materials presented to the Board.

Summary and Next Steps:

360 Degree Feedback:

Leadership Development Goal Goal Area: 360 Degree Feedback Reflection: What are my strengths?
STATUS: Completed
My strengths are in providing strategic, collaborative and participative leadership within the organization. Additional strengths include facilitation skills, communication skills, leading change, working with complex and difficult issues, multi-tasking, addressing diversity and resolving conflicts. Leadership practices inventory indicate strengths in the areas of inspiring a shared vision and modeling the way. My strengths remain stable over time.

Leadership Self-Development Goal: In what area(s) do I need to "grow"? To focus on encouraging the heart in others and challenging the process. Areas
needing developing remain stable over time. Kouzes and Posner profile used for this assessment

Objectives: What are the desired end results? (How will my leadership look different in the future? What building level changes, interventions would occur?)

To further develop skills and practice in encouraging the heart in others and challenging the process.

End of the Year Results: For each objective, state the progress.

This goal will be assessed by the completion of the 360 degree feedback tool and a review of the perceptions of others related to my personal skills in encouraging the heart in others and challenging the process.
Personal Development Plan: What will I do? (Steps to be taken, including focused reading, study group membership, conference attendance, peer partnerships, reflective journaling, other.)

1. Continue to read and learn about leadership in contemporary organizations.
2. Attend workshops/conferences consistent with needed leadership development areas.
3. Practice skills developed through various learning experiences.

Summary and Next Steps:

Recent readings about leadership in contemporary organizations include How Leaders Learn (Gordon A. Donaldson, Jr., The School Leaders Our Children Deserve; George Theoharis, Instructional Rounds in Education (Elizabeth A. City, Richard F. Elmore, Sarah E. Fiarman and Lee Teitel). I have not recently attended workshops/conferences consistent with the need to develop additional skills in encouraging the heart and challenging the process. Given this assessment, I see a need to continue to specifically work on skills related to challenging the process. Specific skills needing to be worked on include searching for opportunities to seek innovative ways to change and experimenting and taking risks. I believe I have made improvements in my skills related to encouraging the heart by recognizing the contributions of others. We are also in the process of identifying a 360 degree feedback tool for all administrators that will be completed prior to my summative performance evaluation in January.

There is a need to finalize the 360 degree tool for all administrators including me. This work is being developed by the Human Resources Department.

Related: the District's response to my February, 2011 request for the most recent Superintendent review 372K PDF.

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2011: The Year of Education Reform

The Brookings Institution:

School districts across the nation are grappling with the question of how to improve student performance in a time of fiscal austerity. Some reformers are challenging the idea of automatic tenure, arguing that teachers should be paid based on performance rather than seniority. Moreover, recent legislative battles involving teacher compensation in Wisconsin and Ohio have put the issue squarely in the public spotlight.

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The Education School Master's Degree Factory

Paul Peterson:

One of the most straightforward ways school districts can obtain cost savings without harming students is to eliminate extra pay for teachers who earn a master's degree. Simply by giving up the extra payment for the master's degree, school districts in Florida could save better than 3 percent of their teaching personnel costs without losing any of their classroom effectiveness. In a paper just published in the Economics of Education Review, Matthew Chingos and I look at the characteristics of effective 4th through 8th grade teachers in Florida over the period 2002 to 2010.

We found that teachers with an M. A. degree were no more effective, on average, than teachers who lacked such a degree. Further, we found out that it did not make any difference from which public university in Florida a teacher had earned the degree. None of them had an educational program that correlated with a teacher's classroom effectiveness.

Yet a teacher who has taught for 10 years will earn 6.5 percent more (or about $2500), if he or she has collected that extra diploma. Since about half the teachers have pursued that advanced degree--given the extra dollars, why not?--the state could save better than 3 percent of its teaching personnel costs by eliminating this useless feature of the teacher compensation scheme.

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Parent teacher confences: appreciating the love

Mrs. Cornelius:

So we had our own parent teacher conferences, and, like with everything in life, therer was the rough and the smooth. It took a while, but I finally reminded myself that there was a whole lot more smooth than rough.

First, the smooth: how many parents popped by just to tell me that they appreciated my hard work or that their kid tells them stories I told them in class or that their kid has never actually spent so much time studying for a class and yet enjoying themselves. Four of last year's kids' parents came by to tell me that they had gotten into the college they wanted, and to thank me for the recommendation letters, and one mom hugged me tight enough to crack a rib not once but twice. That was really nice.

Now, at the end was the parent who lies about what I do and say about once a week. He demanded that I do all sorts of things to appease him, and I politely but firmly refused even while he lied to my face four times in fifteen minutes. He huffed off after that, and I did regret the fact that this was how it went down. He then told my principal that I had "bullied" him (look up the definition of bullying, and you will see that that was what he has been attempting to do to me all year, but okay, whatever. I guess I won't be on the Christmas card list.

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Student Financial Aid Programs Work! But do they work for students or for colleges?

George Leef:

Suppose that parents want their college-graduate son or daughter who has found a good job to be able to afford a house that would otherwise be too costly. So they give him or her $25,000 to be used toward the down payment. There is no doubt that they have made home ownership more affordable.

That is the idea behind federal financial aid programs for students, which give (or lend at attractive terms) money that offsets some of the cost of going to college. Obviously those programs work. If students have more money, their college education won't cost them (and their families) as much.

But like many government programs, financial aid for college has unintended consequences that may partially or completely negate their intended consequences. In a recent paper, "How College Pricing Undermines Financial Aid" economists Robert Martin and Andrew Gillen make a strong case that instead of working to help students afford college, the government's financial aid programs actually work for the schools.

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NJ Gov. Christie calls for peer teacher evaluation

Beth Fouhy & Angela Dellis Santi:

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on Thursday called for public school teachers to be evaluated based equally on their classroom performance and student achievement and accused the state's largest teachers union of being a group of "bullies and thugs."

Christie laid out his proposal in a speech in New York sponsored by the Brookings Institute, a Washington think tank. A teachers union spokesman called the governor's plan an "educational disaster."

Since taking office last year, the Republican Christie has emerged as a popular figure among conservatives nationally for his willingness to confront public employee unions, including teachers, over their salaries and pensions. Several other governors have since followed suit, saying such benefits for public employees are unsustainable over time.

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If Wisconsin is so careless with some schools' reputations . . .

Patrick McIlheran:

The state, if you recall, released a snapshot of student performance in Milwaukee’s school choice program last week. Tony Evers, head of the Department of Public Instruction, used the numbers to make a political statement against school choice, which he opposes.

But the figures had issues, and now still more are emerging. One of the surprises in the figures were how poorly one particular choice school, Tamarack Waldorf, did.

It’s surprising because Tamarack is by reputation a good school, unusually deliberate in its curriculum and rigorous in the peculiar way of schools in the Waldorf movement – where, for instance, children do not just have a chapter on photosynthesis but, instead, spend a couple of weeks learning the chemistry behind it and studying the geometry of branches and doing a project on forest ecology and reading literature about trees and taking a field trip to the park, the better to appreciate art involving trees and to make some of their own. Rather than taking tests, the children produce books to demonstrate their learning.

The kind of people who send their kids to such a school are generally engaged and intellectual parents – and, generally, not favorably disposed to standardized testing.

So an unusual number of Tamarack parents opted their children out of the state’s tests, as is the right of any parent in the state. You can see the figures here: In math and reading, about 55% of choice students at Tamarack didn’t take the state tests.

The state’s figures say that 42% of Tamarack students did well – scored “proficient” or “advanced” in reading, and 24% did in math. Those aren’t good scores. But they aren’t real, either.

As Tamarack administrator Jean Kacanek wrote to parents, “The data published is not complete because the Department of Public Instruction averaged scores of ‘0’ for each MPCP student in grades 4-8 at Tamarack who did not take the test. As one might expect for a Waldorf school, with a philosophy averse to standardized testing, many parents chose to opt out of the test.”

Much more on the oft-criticized WKCE, here.

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How the Best School Systems Invest in Teachers

Asia Society:

When the rankings of the best school systems in the world were released earlier this year, Americans were shocked: our former number one standing slipped again, this time to number 26.

The rankings showed a new trend: the highest-performing school systems in the world are mostly in Asia.

What are the Asian school systems doing right? And what can the United States learn? Asia Society invited top education ministers from China, Hong Kong SAR, Japan and Singapore, to sound off on these questions.

There was no lively debate. The answer was clear: invest in teachers.

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April 7, 2011

Weathering Education Cuts

Diana Middleton:

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett proposed cuts last month that would slash the state's higher-education budget to $567 million from $1.2 billion, affecting more than a dozen state-run and state-supported universities.

For the University of Pittsburgh's Katz Graduate School of Business and College of Business Administration, tuition would have to be increased by 40% to break even, although the school doesn't plan to implement such a dramatic increase.

John Delaney, who has been the school's dean since August 2006, spoke with The Wall Street Journal about the budget cuts and how far the school is prepared to go to keep itself afloat. "I think we'll have to really change the way we do things," Mr. Delaney says.

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Literacy Services boosts self-esteem, job prospects for adults

Felicia Thomas-Lynn:

Dorothy Snead now knows her ABCs - in order.

Before coming to Literacy Services of Wisconsin, the 28-year-old knew only random letters and their sounds, which made reading difficult, if not impossible.

"If you get mail at home and do not know how to read, you're in trouble," said Snead, who often enlisted the help of others to read her own mail. "Going through life not knowing how to read can be hard on a person."

So, over the past two years, Snead has set out to change her path and is getting good results. "My reading levels are moving up."

Snead, who dropped out of high school, is among an increasing number of adult learners seeking literacy services, in large part to earn their GED, said India McCanse, the executive director of the agency, which served more than 800 people last year.

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Do You Get an 'A' in Personality?

Elizabeth Bernstein:

In the never-ending quest to help people co-exist peacefully with their spouses, children, siblings and in-laws, therapists are turning to tools used to assess the psychological stability of pilots, police officers and nuclear-power plant operators: personality tests.

I'm not talking about the pop quizzes in magazines that claim to help you determine the color of your aura or what breed you'd be if you were a dog. I am referring to tests that are scientifically designed and heavily researched, consisting of dozens if not hundreds of questions that identify specific aspects of your personality. Are you a thinker or a feeler? Intuitive or fact-oriented? Organized or spontaneous?

Answering questions like these helped Mardi and Richard Sayer get through a difficult period a few years ago when their adult daughter, Maggie Sayer, moved back into their Middletown, R.I. home.

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Watertown (MA) School Committee rejects teachers contract

Megan McKee:

The Watertown School Committee Monday night voted down the long-negotiated teachers' union contract in front of a standing-room only audience, citing the dire financial situation the schools face next year.

The 5-3 vote means negotiators will have to go back to the bargaining table after teachers thought they had an agreement with the School Committee that came only after 18 months of negotiations and the involvement of a mediator.

"We recommended in good faith that our members ratify the agreement...Our members trusted us and voted to ratify the agreement," said Watertown Educators Association president Debra King at Monday's meeting. "We expected the School Committee team would also act in good faith and ratify the agreement. But then came the disturbing turn of events that have led us to tonight."

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Admissions Figures on Elon, Harvey Mudd, Brandeis and Nearly 100 Other Colleges

Jacques Steinberg:

In the few days since my colleague Eric Platt and I began publishing our running tally on how many students applied to -- and were accepted by -- various colleges and universities this year, the ledger has more than doubled, to 100.

Those of you who've been following this exercise know that our table is to be read with several caveats in mind. One is that it is far too early in the endgame of this year's decision process to draw meaningful conclusions from these figures, especially considering that they represent a fraction of the nation's four-year colleges and universities. Moreover, as a number of commenters have noted, colleges and universities sometimes spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on mass-mailing campaigns to drive up the number of applications they receive -- and, in effect, drive down their admission rates -- so that what might appear to be instant popularity could well be manufactured.

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10 Tips on How to Write Less Badly

Michael Munger:

Most academics, including administrators, spend much of our time writing. But we aren't as good at it as we should be. I have never understood why our trade values, but rarely teaches, nonfiction writing.

In my nearly 30 years at universities, I have seen a lot of very talented people fail because they couldn't, or didn't, write. And some much less talented people (I see one in the mirror every morning) have done OK because they learned how to write.

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How to Ensure School Failure

Bruce Murphy:

I got my start as a journalist freelancing stories for the old Milwaukee Sentinel about problems with achievement test results at Milwaukee Public Schools. Throughout the 1980s, the media's increasing focus on problems at MPS helped to lay the groundwork for a radically different alternative - a voucher system where low-income families could choose to send their children to private schools. The case for school choice could not have been made without years of achievement test data showing the below-average performance of MPS schools.

So it is highly ironic - and quite alarming - that Gov. Scott Walker is proposing to end the requirement that choice schools participate in the state system of standardized testing. I can't think of a better way to guarantee these schools are failures.

Last week the media reported the results of state tests for MPS and choice schools. The average scores were astoundingly bad for some choice schools. The proportion of students who were proficient in reading and math was just 12 percent and 14 percent at Texas Bufkin Christian Academy; 17 percent and 6 percent at Travis Technology High School; 20 percent and 7 percent at Washington DuBois Christian Leadership Academy; 23 percent and 9 percent at Right Step, Inc.; 18 percent and 0 percent (Did no one take the math test?) at Dr Brenda Noach Choice School; 16 percent and 9 percent at Destiny High School. You get the feeling some of these schools worked harder on creating their name than educating the students.

Much more on the Milwaukee school choice program, here.

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April 6, 2011

Massachusetts School district petitions legislature to opt out of common education standards

Jack Minor:

A Massachusetts school committee has petitioned their legislature to opt out of Federal education standards which most states have adopted in attempt to get federal funding during lean budget times.

The Tantasqua Regional School Committee, the equivalent of our local Board of Education, is working with their state legislature to allow them to opt out of the Common Core State Standards Initiative.

School Committee Chairman Kathleen Neal told the Gazette committee members are concerned with the cost of implementing the program as well as the way the standards were adopted with little public input last year.

The Massachusetts Core initiative was adopted during the summer and Neal said the committee had no idea it was being discussed until after the vote was passed with almost no notice to the general public. "If you are going to change the way you do assessments you should bring the people who are invested in it to the table." She expressed frustration at state officials lack of asking the local districts for solutions.

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Autism Treatments Scrutinized in Study

Shirley Wang:

Three new studies conclude that many widely used behavioral and medication treatments for autism have some benefit, one popular alternative therapy doesn't help at all, and there isn't yet enough evidence to discern the best overall treatment.

Parents of children with autism-spectrum disorder often try myriad treatments, from drugs to therapy to nutritional supplements. The studies being published Monday and funded by the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, were part of the effort to examine the comparative effectiveness of treatments in 14 priority disease areas, including autism-spectrum disorders.

Autism and related disorders, conditions marked by social and communication deficits and often other developmental delays, have become more common over the years and now affect 1 in 110 U.S. children, according to estimates from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Public-College Presidents Score Raises

Kevin Helliker:

Presidents of public universities collected a small raise in pay last year amid budget squeezes at most schools across the U.S.

The median pay of presidents at 185 large public universities rose 1% to $444,487 during the 2009-2010 school year, according to an annual survey by the Chronicle of Higher Education.

That's less than half the 2.3% bump the Chronicle found for the previous year, and it pales beside the 7.6% jump reported the year before that.

As many state legislatures debate double-digit percentage cuts in higher-education funding, presidential pay could become a sensitive subject. In Austin, for instance, University of Texas Chancellor Francisco G. Cigarroa is asking lawmakers to limit proposed reductions in the state's funding of higher education, even as his compensation was third highest, by total cost of employment, among public-university leaders in America.

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It's class warfare in battle to cut Hong Kong schools down to size

Elaine Yau:

All schools are equal under a government plan to reduce classes, but some are more equal than others. These are the elite schools.
Their alumni are often wealthy donors and powerful people, so it is much more difficult for the government to encourage them to join the class-reduction plan. Officials want about 200 secondary schools to volunteer to cut a secondary-one class as part of government efforts to cut costs because of falling birth rates.

But alumni of Wah Yan College in Kowloon and King's College in Sai Ying Pun are leading the rebellion, and many parents who want to enrol their children in such elite schools do not want them to cut classes.

Alumni of King's College are considering launching a judicial review of the school's decision to join the scheme.

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MATC full-time faculty earn more on average than faculty at most UW campuses

Deborah Ziff & Nick Heynen:

Full-time faculty members at Madison Area Technical College earned an average base pay of $79,030 last year, more than the average professor earned at all University of Wisconsin System campuses except UW-Madison.

Average take-home pay increased to $87,822 when sources such as summer school and overtime were factored in, according to a State Journal analysis of 2009-10 salary data, obtained through Wisconsin's open records law.

Officials say one reason MATC faculty are paid more than those in the UW System is because the technical college must compete with high-paying private-sector jobs to hire faculty to teach subjects such as plumbing, electrical fields and information technology.

But another reason for the gap may be the way salaries are set. Raises for UW System faculty must be included in the state budget along with other state workers, while MATC faculty negotiate their salaries with the district board through union representation.

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When It Comes to Teaching, Who Needs Experience?

Randy Turner:

As I think back over a dozen years in the classroom, I cannot recall the exact moment that I changed from an idealistic beginning teacher at the peak of my game to the space-wasting NEA member who is keeping some good young teacher on the unemployment line.

When did experience turn from an asset to the biggest roadblock to saving American public schools?

In Missouri, a bill has been proposed by Republican Rep. Scott Dieckhaus which would eliminate tenure and the due process it guarantees and allow administrators and school boards to fire teachers with or without reason.

Dieckhaus' bill also calls for a four-tier merit pay system, based almost entirely on the scores on standardized tests. The bill specifically forbids basing teacher pay on years of experience or advanced schooling.

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Why straight-A's may not get you into the University of Washington this year

Katherine Long:

A series of worsening revenue forecasts and a $5 billion state budget shortfall have made it even more likely that the Legislature will again slash higher-education funding this year. So in February, top academic leaders at the UW made a painful decision to cut the number of Washington students the school will admit this fall to its main Seattle campus and increase the number of nonresident students, who pay nearly three times as much in tuition and fees.

"When the decision was made, it was not a happy one," said Philip Ballinger, the UW's admissions director. "There were real debates, and internal reluctance to the last minute."

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School Cuts Spur Michigan K-12, Higher Education Spending Conflict

Kate Linebaugh:

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder said earlier this year he wouldn't "pick fights" with public-employee unions, but he's now headed for a showdown with teachers over his proposed education cuts.

The Michigan Education Association, which represents 155,000 teachers statewide, began polling members late last month to gauge support for a range of "crisis activities," including a strike, to protest the governor's proposed 4% cut in school funding.

In response, Republican lawmakers introduced legislation that would add stiff new penalties for teacher strikes--which are barred by state law--including revoking a teacher's certification. The teachers also plan a rally next week in the state capital of Lansing.

"The battle lines have already been drawn," said Bill Ballenger, editor of Inside Michigan Politics, a political newsletter in Lansing. "There is the gathering prospect that we could end up with another Wisconsin."

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Democrat Oregon Governor Kitzhaber pushes for 1 board to oversee education, pre-kindergarten through grad school

Harry Esteve:

Gov. John Kitzhaber leads a full-court press today for what he considers to be the centerpiece of his education reform plan -- a single board that would help set the budgets for pre-kindergarten programs to universities and everything in between.

At a news conference, he surrounded himself with every top education official in the state to tout his bill that would establish the Oregon Education Investment Board. The board would replace the state boards of education and higher education, and would oversee spending on all facets of learning.

"The state needs to move from a funder to an investor," Kitzhaber said. And the money each program gets "needs to be based on outcomes rather than seat time."

Later today, Kitzhaber is scheduled to testify in front of the Senate Education and Workforce Development Committee on Senate Bill 909, which takes the first steps toward establishing the new uber-board.

Chris Lehman:
Kitzhaber acknowledged that even under that system interest groups would still compete. But not as fiercely as they do under the current system.

John Kitzhaber: "If you're developing a single joint budget based on some clear criteria going in, it creates a rationale for that debate. Right now it's simply how do I get as much money as I can in my pot."

The unified education budget would still have to be approved by lawmakers. Kitzhaber made his pitch to members of the Oregon Senate Education Committee.

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Rallying Back

Dan Berrett:

The fact that the American Federation of Teachers' annual meeting on higher education took place in a hotel here alongside the American Professional Wound Care Association was, to be sure, a quirk of scheduling. But the irony was not lost on several of those attending.

Organized labor has suffered punishing blows in recent days and weeks, in Wisconsin and Ohio, with the promise of further attacks on collective bargaining to come in other states, such as Indiana, Michigan and Florida.

"This has been about the worst year that I could have ever imagined happening," Ed Muir, AFT's deputy director of research and information services, said at the opening plenary session Friday. "Our enemies were given more political power than ever before."

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April 5, 2011

Broadband Availability for US Schools

The U.S. Department of Education developed this broadband availability map and search engine as part of a collaborative effort with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). This education-focused broadband map and database builds upon the NTIA State Broadband Data and Development (SBDD) Program that surveys bi-annually broadband availability and connectivity for the 50 United States, 5 territories, and the District of Columbia.

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Requiring Algebra II in high school gains momentum nationwide

Peter Whoriskey, via a Mike Allen email

With its intricate mysteries of quadratics, logarithms and imaginary numbers, Algebra II often provokes a lament from high-schoolers.

What exactly does this have to do with real life?

The answer: maybe more than anyone could have guessed.

Of all of the classes offered in high school, Algebra II is the leading predictor of college and work success, according to research that has launched a growing national movement to require it of graduates.

In recent years, 20 states and the District have moved to raise graduation requirements to include Algebra II, and its complexities are being demanded of more and more students.

The effort has been led by Achieve, a group organized by governors and business leaders and funded by corporations and their foundations, to improve the skills of the workforce. Although U.S. economic strength has been attributed in part to high levels of education, the workforce is lagging in the percentage of younger workers with college degrees, according to the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development.

Sample questions are available here.

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India Graduates Millions, but Too Few Are Fit to Hire

Geeta Anand:

Call-center company 24/7 Customer Pvt. Ltd. is desperate to find new recruits who can answer questions by phone and email. It wants to hire 3,000 people this year. Yet in this country of 1.2 billion people, that is beginning to look like an impossible goal.

So few of the high school and college graduates who come through the door can communicate effectively in English, and so many lack a grasp of educational basics such as reading comprehension, that the company can hire just three out of every 100 applicants.

India projects an image of a nation churning out hundreds of thousands of students every year who are well educated, a looming threat to the better-paid middle-class workers of the West. Their abilities in math have been cited by President Barack Obama as a reason why the U.S. is facing competitive challenges.

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How the System Ensures Teacher Quality

Stuart Buck:

As we have seen in the past, teacher licensing requirements have little relation to student achievement. One reason for this may be that rather than driving up teacher quality, licensure requirements can be so full of bureaucratic red tape that they drive away smart and knowledgeable teaching candidates who have other options.

In support of that theory, I offer an anecdote, namely an email from a good friend of mine who has more knowledge and training than most prospective teachers -- she went to Princeton for undergrad, Yale for a master's degree, and Harvard for law school. But before she can even get in the door and start studying pedagogical techniques and the like, she is being told that she has to take nine (9) more undergraduate courses of background knowledge.

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Gov. Christie creates task force to review N.J. education rules

Ginger Gibson:

Gov. Chris Christie created a committee today that will be tasked with reviewing all of the state's education regulations.

The task force will return recommendations to eliminate regulations which take decision-making power away from the local districts, Christie said.

"What I want to have happen here is to return more of the power back to school districts and less from the central office in Trenton, so that we can encourage people to innovate," Christie said. "We've gotten into a pattern over the course of time with increasing money coming from Trenton over the last 20 to 25 years years with increasing regulation coming from Trenton. I don't think that's the best way for us to go at transforming education.

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Don't use Michigan's K-12 fund for higher education

Lansing State Journal:

Michigan's education funding system has been broken for a long time.

Gov. Rick Snyder's plan to shift college and university funding into the School Aid Fund that pays for K-12 education is not a good long-term solution.

Snyder is trying to use the financial pressure to accelerate efforts to curb the overpromising of salaries, pensions and benefits - especially health care benefits - to teachers. Likewise, many in the Republican Party believe the state's colleges and universities have spent too much on salaries and benefits.

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Fun with the California Federation of Teachers

Mike Antonucci:

It's a serious time in the world of education labor. Some even call it war. And while the California Federation of Teachers is stockpiling arms in the Fight for California's Future, the union still has a wide range of priorities, as evidenced by its list of approved resolutions from last month's convention at the Marriott Manhattan Beach.

Resolution 1 calls on the state to research the effects of methyl iodide and asks CalSTRS to divest any investment in the company that manufactures it for agricultural use.

Resolution 2 institutes compensation for additional statewide CFT officers, the amount to be determined by the CFT Executive Council.

Resolution 4 directs the union to lobby for compulsory kindergarten.

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New York's Claremont Prep Is Sold To a For-Profit Network

Jenny Anderson:

Claremont Preparatory School, a six-year-old institution in Lower Manhattan that has had difficulty fulfilling its ambitions, is being sold to a private-equity-backed firm, in a sign of growing investor interest in private schools in New York City.

The sale to the firm, Meritas, which is owned by Sterling Partners, illustrates the growing force of profit-seeking companies in private education, a development loaded with potential and risks. Private equity firms are as well known for their top-notch management teams as for their cost-cutting mandates, which have been widely tested in the world of business but are relatively new to the field of elementary and secondary education.

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Kids Do More With Arts Education: Closing the Achievement Gap By Increasing Social Assets

Kristen Paglia:

The great secret, Eliza, is not having bad manners or good manners... but having the same manner for all human souls. In short, behaving as if you were in Heaven, where there are no third-class carriages, and one soul is as good as another.

Professor Henry Higgins says this to Eliza Doolittle in George Bernard Shaw's 1912 play, Pygmalion. He has wagered that he can pass Eliza, a "lowly" flower girl, for a society lady by teaching her how to speak and behave properly. Higgins is successful, Eliza does pass, but her acceptance into the social elite came as much from her newly found self-esteem, as her style and manner.

The idea that "social assets" can help kids get ahead and do more in the world isn't a new one. Social assets aren't about money, but the stuff that comes with money. Things like knowing about fine art, current events, fashion, design, even food and wine. These are the social markers that give away what part of town you live in, where you go to school, and what your parents do for a living. In the last forty years the concept of social assets has been widely recognized in educational research as a major factor in where, or if, kids go to college, and how much they'll earn over their lifetimes.

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In World of Education Apps, Tech Owes Teachers Some Media Literacy

Jessica Prois:

As a former high school English teacher, I used to have a pretty constricted view when attending continuing education workshops. Like most teachers, I thought: How can this help my school and students? Now, as a HuffPost Education editor reporting at the recent Digital Media and Learning Conference in Los Angeles, I got to think big in terms of the newest education ideas and who they affect. And there was lots to take note of.

The conference was a mix of educators, reformers and software developers who spent three days bouncing around theories, policies and practices on the best ways to use technology in the classroom. Diligent teachers tuned in by taking notes on their iPads and updated grades on their smartphones -- all while discussing how best to use these platforms in their curriculum.

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Tax credits for religious schools? Supreme Court says taxpayers have no say.

Warren Richey:

The US Supreme Court on Monday dismissed a lawsuit filed by taxpayers in Arizona challenging a state tax credit program that primarily benefits parochial schools.

In a 5-to-4 decision, the high court said the taxpayers lacked the necessary legal standing to bring their lawsuit.

The action sweeps away a ruling by a federal appeals court panel that had struck down the tax credit program as a violation of the First Amendment's ban on government establishment of religion.

The majority justices did not directly address the larger constitutional issue. Instead, the 19-page decision written by Justice Anthony Kennedy focuses on whether the complaining taxpayers had suffered a direct and personal injury from Arizona's religious school tax credit program.

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April 4, 2011

Pioneer of ballet wants girls to have more choices

Amy Nip:

Being born female set sometime actress Christine Liao on the road to a career in ballet, but it could all have been so different.

Growing up in a traditional, male-dominated environment, the founder of the Christine Liao School of Ballet and the Hong Kong Ballet Company may never have had such an impact on the art form had she not seen other career paths blocked.

And that's precisely why she is backing a new campaign called "Because I am a Girl", which will promote the rights of girls.

Liao began dancing when she was eight and, at the age of 19, she became a film actress using the stage name Mao Mei, and starred in eight films from 1955 to 1962. After graduating from the University of Hong Kong with a degree in languages and literature, she turned her back on the silver screen and considered becoming a lawyer or working in an office.

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Google's Low tax Strategy, Relations with President Obama and Anti-Intellectualism

Lisa O'Carroll:

Take Google, for example - like WPP it has sited its European headquarters in Dublin although it most of its European revenues are generated outside Ireland - from the UK and other large EMEA economies such as Germany.

The internet giant doesn't pay 12.5% corporate tax in Ireland, it pays 20%. But that figure is not the interesting one. The interesting figure is the gargantuan "administrative expense" that reduces its gross profit from €5.5bn to just €45m.

Grant Thornton tax accountant Peter Vale, who works with multinationals in Dublin says the corporate tax rate of 12.5% may not be a critical factor for companies like Google.

The search engine is using Ireland as a conduit for revenues that end up being costed to another country where its intellectual property (the brand and technology such as Google's algorithms) is registered. In Google's case this country is Bermuda, according to an investigation by Bloomberg last year.

Vale points out that Bermuda is likely to be happy to receive tax revenues from such a huge company, saying: "To them, the 12.5% probably doesn't matter."

The 2009 Google Ireland Limited accounts show the company turned over a phenomenal €7.9bn in Europe for the year ending 2009 - up from €6.7bn the previous year.

Jeremy Bowers @ ycombinator
Part of the problem is that the American distrust of intellectualism is itself not the irrational thing that those sympathetic to intellectuals would like to think. Intellectuals killed by the millions in the 20th century, and it actually takes the sophisticated training of "education" to work yourself up into a state where you refuse to count that in the books. Intellectuals routinely declared things that aren't true; catastrophically wrong predictions about the economy, catastrophically wrong pronouncements about foreign policy, and just generally numerous times where they've been wrong. Again, it takes a lot of training to ignore this fact. "Scientists" collectively were witnessed by the public flipflopping at a relatively high frequency on numerous topics; how many times did eggs go back and forth between being deadly and beneficial? Sure the media gets some blame here but the scientists played into it, each time confidently pronouncing that this time they had it for sure and it is imperative that everyone live the way they are saying (until tomorrow). Scientists have failed to resist politicization across the board, and the standards of what constitutes science continues to shift from a living, vibrant, thoughtful understanding of the purposes and ways of science to a scelerotic hide-bound form-over-substance version of science where papers are too often written to either explicitly attract grants or to confirm someone's political beliefs... and regardless of whether this is 2% or 80% of the papers written today it's nearly 100% of the papers that people hear about.

I simplify for rhetorical effect; my point is not that this is a literal description of the current state of the world but that it is far more true than it should be. Any accounting of "anti-intellectualism" that fails to take this into account and lays all the blame on "Americans" is too incomplete to formulate an action plan that will have any chance of success. It's not a one-sided problem.

In The Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives by Steven Levy:
"Google was Obama territory [during the campaign], and vice versa. With its focus on speed, scale, and above all data, Google had identified and exploited the key ingredients for thinking and thriving in the Internet era. Barack Obama seemed to have integrated those concepts in his own approach to problem solving. Naturally, Googlers were excited to see what would happen when their successful methods were applied to Washington, D.C. They were optimistic that the Google worldview could prevail outside the Mountain View bubble. ... [A]nyone visiting the Google campus during the election year could not miss a fervid swell of Obama-love. While some commentators wrung hands over the Spock-like nature of the senator's personality, Googlers swooned over the dispassionate, reason-based approach he took to problem solving. ... 'It's a selection bias,' says Eric Schmidt of the unofficial choice of most of his employees. 'The people here all have been selected very carefully, so obviously there's going to be some prejudice in favor of a set of characteristics - highly educated, analytic, thoughtful, communicates well.' ...

"[O]ne of the company's brightest young product managers, Dan Siroker [the Chrome browser], ... got permission to take a few weeks off. ... At [Obama] campaign headquarters in Chicago, Siroker began looking at the web efforts to recruit volunteers and solicit donations. ... [H]e returned to Google to help launch Chrome. But over the July 4 weekend, he went back to Chicago to visit the friends he'd met on the campaign. Barack Obama walked through headquarters, and Siroker was introduced to him. He told the senator he was visiting from Google. Obama smiled. 'I've been saying around here that we need a little more Google integration.' That exchange with the candidate was enough to change Siroker's course once more. Back in Mountain View, he told his bosses he was leaving for good. He became the chief analytics officer of the Obama campaign. ...

"Just as Google ran endless experiments to find happy users, Siroker and his team used Google's Website Optimizer [tool for testing site content] to run experiments to find happy contributors. The conventional wisdom had been to cadge donations by artful or emotional pitches, to engage people's idealism or politics. Siroker ran a lot of A/B tests and found that by far the success came when you offered some sort of swag; a T-shirt or a coffee mug. Some of his more surprising tests came in figuring out what to put on the splash page, the one that greeted visitors when they went to Of four alternatives tested, the picture of Obama's family drew the most clicks.

"Even the text on the buttons where people could click to get to the next page was subject to test. Should they say, SIGN UP, LEARN MORE, JOIN US NOW, or SIGN UP NOW? (Answer: LEARN MORE, by a significant margin.) Siroker refined things further by sending messages to people who had already donated. If they'd never signed up before, he'd offer them swag to donate. If they had gone through the process, there was no need for swag - it was more effective to have a button that said PLEASE DONATE. ... There were a lot of reasons why Barack Obama raised $500 million online to McCain's $210 million, but analytics undoubtedly played a part."

Via Mike Allen.

The FTC on Google's "deceptive tactics" and violation of its own privacy rules.

Google Inc. has agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that it used deceptive tactics and violated its own privacy promises to consumers when it launched its social network, Google Buzz, in 2010. The agency alleges the practices violate the FTC Act. The proposed settlement bars the company from future privacy misrepresentations, requires it to implement a comprehensive privacy program, and calls for regular, independent privacy audits for the next 20 years. This is the first time an FTC settlement order has required a company to implement a comprehensive privacy program to protect the privacy of consumers' information. In addition, this is the first time the FTC has alleged violations of the substantive privacy requirements of the U.S.-EU Safe Harbor Framework, which provides a method for U.S. companies to transfer personal data lawfully from the European Union to the United States.

"When companies make privacy pledges, they need to honor them," said Jon Leibowitz, Chairman of the FTC. "This is a tough settlement that ensures that Google will honor its commitments to consumers and build strong privacy protections into all of its operations."

According to the FTC complaint, Google launched its Buzz social network through its Gmail web-based email product. Although Google led Gmail users to believe that they could choose whether or not they wanted to join the network, the options for declining or leaving the social network were ineffective. For users who joined the Buzz network, the controls for limiting the sharing of their personal information were confusing and difficult to find, the agency alleged.

Finally: Massive Offshore Tax Giveaway supported by Senators Kohl & Feingold:
As mentioned here, I, too, would like the 5.25% tax rate that our good Senators Russ Feingold and Herb Kohl supported (to repatriate foreign profits via a one year tax break). Timothy Aeppel looks at the results:
But it's far from clear whether the spending has spurred the job growth that backers of the break touted.

A law signed by President Bush shortly before the 2004 election allows companies to transfer profit from overseas operations back to the U.S. this year at a special low tax rate of 5.25%. Businesses often keep such funds outside the country in part to avoid paying taxes in the U.S., where the effective rate on repatriated profit for many companies is normally closer to 25%. Backers said the measure would provide an incentive to companies to invest those funds in U.S. operations.

Most companies using the break have offered only broad outlines for how they intend to use their windfall. For the most part, they say they are using the bulk of the money for tasks such as paying down debt and meeting payrolls. Direct job creation rarely appears on the list.

Tom Foremski:
Why do countries and cities and states try to attract tech companies such as Google when they don't want to support the local community tax base?

Twitter, for example is trying to get out of paying San Francisco payroll taxes.

Yet the Obama administration believes that innovation from companies like Google and Twitter will help build jobs and provide the wealth to eliminate US deficits. Other governments have similar hopes.

That's a highly optimistic view and one that's not supported by the actions of those companies who seek the best deals they can get, and use every loophole to get out of paying a share of their profits to the communities where they live and work.

Well worth Reading: John Mauldin: The Plight of the Working Class and Ed Wallace: What's that Whining Sound?

This influence peddling at the highest levels is not unique to Google, or to the private sector for that matter. MG & E's lobbying is another example where funds, generated from a large rate base (the general public), are spread to a few politicians. Facebook's privacy problems and cellular user tracking are also worth following.

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A new school in Sai Kung will be a model for sustainable design and education in Hong Kong

Viv Jones:

No longer the preserve of tree-huggers, the trend for sustainable design is gaining momentum as more people opt for homes and buildings created using renewable resources that don't cost the earth, literally. No wonder - these buildings use less energy, cost less to operate, use fewer natural resources and have less of an impact on the environment than their conventional counterparts.

Hong Kong Academy's green school, which opens in Sai Kung in 2013, is part of a new era in sustainable architecture in our city, says Josh Arnold, who teaches middle school science, maths and design technology at HKA.

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Guaranteeing my future employment

Jay Matthews:

Three distinguished scholars at the Brookings Institution have been spending much time worrying about what we education writers are going to do with ourselves in the uncertain future. This week, they released their third consecutive report on this subject, and filled me with hope that I had not had before.

The three -- governance studies director Darrell M. West, Brown Center on Education Policy Director Grover J. Whitehurst and governance studies senior fellow and Post political columnist E. J. Dionne Jr. -- have discovered among our fellow Americans a stubborn faith in education reporting in newspapers. That's right: The byproduct of dead trees sitting in front of your house getting soaked in the spring rain is still a useful tool.

They surveyed 1,211 adults in the continental United States and found that daily newspapers were the second-most common source for current education news among this diverse group, with 60 percent saying newspapers were a source of education news for them.

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Blagojevich speaks to high school students at convention

Steve Schering:

Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, speaking with high school students from around the Midwest, gave an inside look into his time in office and his recent trial for allegedly attempting to sell President Barack Obama's former U.S. Senate seat.

Blagojevich was the keynote speaker Saturday at the Junior State of America's Spring State Convention at the DoubleTree Hotel in Oak Brook.

Students from Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana and Minnesota attended, asked questions of the impeached former governor and played a game of "Jeopardy!" with him to raise money for Japanese earthquake and tsunami victims.

"Some may say (I've) taken a hard fall and those who say that are true," Blagojevich said. "This is the nature of the political system today in America. It's all taken away because you are accused falsely of things you didn't do." The former governor, expected back in federal court April 20, spoke harshly about Gov. Pat Quinn, Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan and state Senate President John Cullerton. Blagojevich criticized Quinn's tax hike, and Madigan and Cullerton for not calling a bill to make property taxes more affordable.

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Racine schools want $118 million from voters, promise improvement

Amy Hetzner:

In a city hit hard by the recent economic downturn, school officials have set an ambitious agenda for turning around a struggling school system.

Within five years, Racine Unified School District officials say, their goal is to have 90% of third-graders reading at grade level or higher - a dramatic improvement over the 65% proficiency rate posted on the recent state test.

What they're asking for in return in a Tuesday referendum is an additional $118.5 million. If approved, it would be the largest successful referendum in Wisconsin, not even counting another question on the ballot that seeks an additional $10 million for district reserves.

"What this referendum is about is us, as a district, making a commitment, but also having the community make a commitment, to make us demonstrably better," Racine Unified Deputy Superintendent Alan Harris said.

Harris was formerly Principal of Madison's East High School.

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SEC recommends action against bank over $200 million school investments

Amy Hetzner:

School officials in Kenosha, Kimberly, Waukesha, West Allis-West Milwaukee and Whitefish Bay claim they were misled about the nature of the investments

Securities and Exchange Commission staff have recommended taking enforcement action against an investment bank involved in five Wisconsin school districts' $200 million investment in risky financial instruments, the bank disclosed Friday.

The parent corporation for Stifel, Nicolaus & Co. Inc. disclosed in an SEC filling that Stifel Nicolaus had received a "Wells Notice" from the federal agency on Friday, indicating that "the staff intends to recommend the filing of a civil or administrative enforcement action against Stifel Nicolaus for possible violations of securities laws related to its role" in the school districts' investments.

"Stifel Nicolaus plans to respond and explain why it believes enforcement action is not warranted," the company wrote in the filing.

Bankers with Stifel Nicolaus helped sell $200 million worth of complex financial instruments known as collateralized debt obligations in 2006 to five school districts - Kenosha, Kimberly, Waukesha, West Allis-West Milwaukee and Whitefish Bay - as a way to help fund non-pension post-employment benefits for the districts' employees.

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Choice Schools Do Pay Off

Patrick McIlheran:

The striking bit of news out of that ongoing study comparing private and public schools in Milwaukee is this: Researchers aren't yet sure how, but the private schools are better at getting kids across the finish line.

This is one bright spot in a report otherwise showing that children using Milwaukee's school choice program were doing only about as well as Milwaukee Public Schools kids on state tests. The study, by independent university researchers, is following two sets of children, matched for background and poverty, to see which system does a better job of improving their scores on math and reading tests. So far, say researchers, there's no statistically significant difference.

But the study's oldest students have reached graduation age. There, say researchers, there is a difference. Children in choice schools were notably more likely to graduate from high school. Just among those who spent ninth grade taking their state aid to a private school in the form of a voucher, 77% graduated in four years; 69% of MPS kids did.

Among students who spent all four years in a choice school, 94% graduated on time; 75% of kids who stayed in MPS all four years did.

Much more on the Milwaukee Parental Choice program, here.

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April 3, 2011

MISSED ADJUSTMENTS and OPPORTUNITIES RATIFICATION OF Madison School District/Madison Teachers Collective Bargaining Agreement 2011-2013

The Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education and the Madison Teachers, Inc. ratified an expedited Collective Bargaining Agreement for 2011-2013. Several significant considerations were ignored for the negative impact and consequences on students, staff and taxpayers.

First and foremost, there was NO 'urgent' need (nor ANY need at all) to 'negotiate' a new contract. The current contract doesn't expire until June 30, 2011. Given the proposals regarding school finance and collective bargaining processes in the Budget Repair Bill before the legislature there were significant opportunities and expectations for educational, management and labor reforms. With such changes imminent, there was little value in 'locking in' the restrictive old provisions for conducting operations and relationships and shutting the door on different opportunities for increasing educational improvements and performances in the teaching and learning culture and costs of educating the students of the district.

A partial listing of the missed adjustments and opportunities with the ratification of the teacher collective bargaining agreement should be instructive.

  • Keeping the 'step and advancement' salary schedule locks in automatic salary increases; thereby establishing a new basis annually for salary adjustments. The schedule awards increases solely on tenure and educational attainment. This also significantly inhibits movement for development and implementation of 'pay for performance' and merit.
  • Continues the MOU agreement requiring 50% of teachers in 4-K programs (public and private sites combined) to be state certified and union members
  • Continues required union membership. There are 2700 total or 2400 full-time equivalent (FTE) teachers, numbers rounded. Full-time teachers pay $1100.00 (pro-rated for part-time) per year in automatic union dues deducted from paychecks and processed by the District. With 2400 FTE multiplied by $1100 equals $2,640,000 per year multiplied by two years of the collective bargaining unit equals $5,280,000 to be paid by teachers to their union (Madison Teachers Inc., for its union activities). These figures do not include staff members in the clerical and teacher assistant bargaining units who also pay union dues, but at a lower rate.
  • Continues to limit and delay processes for eliminating non-performing teachers Inhibits abilities of the District to determine the length and configuration of the school day, length and configuration of the school year calendar including professional development, breaks and summer school
  • Inhibits movement and placement of teachers where needed and best suited
  • Restricts adjustments to class sizes and teacher-pupil ratios
  • Continues very costly grievance options and procedures and litigation
  • Inhibits the District from developing attendance area level teacher/administrator councils for collaboration in problem-solving, built on trust and relationships in a non-confrontational environment
  • Continues costly extra-duties and extra-curricular agreements and processes
  • Restricts flexibility for teacher input and participation in professional development, curriculum selection and development and performance evaluation at the building level
  • Continues Teacher Emeritus Retirement Program (TERP), costing upwards to $3M per year
  • Does not require teacher sharing in costs of health insurance premiums
  • Did not immediately eliminate extremely expensive Preferred Provider (WPS) health insurance plan
  • Did not significantly address health insurance reforms
  • Does not allow for reviews and possible reforms of Sick Leave and Disability Leave policies
  • Continues to be the basis for establishing "me too" contract agreements with administrators for salaries and benefits. This has impacts on CBAs with other employee units, i.e., support staff, custodians, food service employees, etc.
  • Continues inflexibilities for moving staff and resources based on changes and interpretations of state and federal program supported mandates
  • Inhibits educational reforms related to reading and math and other core courses, as well as reforms in the high schools and alternative programs
Each and every one of the above items has a financial cost associated with it. These are the so-called 'hidden costs' of the collective bargaining process that contribute to the over-all costs of the District and to restrictions for undertaking reforms in the educational system and the District. These costs could have been eliminated, reduced, minimized and/ or re-allocated in order to support reforms and higher priorities with more direct impact on academic achievement and staff performance.

For further information and discussion contact:

Don Severson President
Active Citizens for Education
608 577-0851

100k PDF version

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It's time for schools to focus on quality, not politics or structure

Alan Borsuk:

I'm tired of talking about systems and governance and structures for education. If we've proved anything in Milwaukee, we've proved that these things make less difference than a lot of people once thought.

Since 1990, Milwaukee has been one of the nation's foremost laboratories of experimentation in school structures. This has been driven by hope (some national experts used the word panacea) that new ways of creating, running and funding schools would bring big progress.

A ton of data was unloaded during the last week, including test results from last fall for every school in Wisconsin, a new round of studies comparing performance of students in Milwaukee's publicly funded private school voucher program with Milwaukee Public Schools students and - for the first time - school-by-school test results for those voucher schools.

And what did I learn from all this?

1.) We've got big problems. The scores, overall, were low.

2.) We're not making much progress overall in solving them.

3.) Schools in all three of the major structures for education in Milwaukee - MPS, voucher schools and charter schools - had about the same overall results.

4.) Some specific schools really did much better than others, even when dealing with students with much the same backgrounds as those in schools that got weaker results.

In my dreams, all of us - especially the most influential politicians, policy-makers and civic leaders - focus a lot more on the fourth point than we have been doing.

Related: Ripon Superintendent Richard Zimman's 2009 speech to the Madison Rotary Club:
Zimman's talk ranged far and wide. He discussed Wisconsin's K-12 funding formula (it is important to remember that school spending increases annually (from 1987 to 2005, spending grew by 5.10% annually in Wisconsin and 5.25% in the Madison School District), though perhaps not in areas some would prefer.

"Beware of legacy practices (most of what we do every day is the maintenance of the status quo), @12:40 minutes into the talk - the very public institutions intended for student learning has become focused instead on adult employment. I say that as an employee. Adult practices and attitudes have become embedded in organizational culture governed by strict regulations and union contracts that dictate most of what occurs inside schools today. Any impetus to change direction or structure is met with swift and stiff resistance. It's as if we are stuck in a time warp keeping a 19th century school model on life support in an attempt to meet 21st century demands." Zimman went on to discuss the Wisconsin DPI's vigorous enforcement of teacher licensing practices and provided some unfortunate math & science teacher examples (including the "impossibility" of meeting the demand for such teachers (about 14 minutes)). He further cited exploding teacher salary, benefit and retiree costs eating instructional dollars ("Similar to GM"; "worry" about the children given this situation).

I appreciate and approve of Borsuk's sentiment.

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Bennet introduces bill to close loophole in how feds fund high-poverty schools

Yesenia Robles:

In an attempt to close funding disparities between high- and low-poverty schools, a bill introduced in Washington, D.C., on Thursday would force districts to be more detailed in reporting school-by-school funding, closing a longtime loophole.
The bill, introduced by Sens. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and Thad Cochran, R-Miss., targets districts that collect federal Title I funding for high-poverty schools.

"All too often, well-intentioned policies hatched in Washington do not work the way they were intended," Bennet said in a release. "We are one of only three developed countries to pump more money into affluent schools than low-income schools. That needs to change."
When federal Title I funding was started, it was meant to be an additional resource on top of other funds to help students in need get on an equal academic playing field.

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Autism sufferer Lo Yip-nang found a way to express himself through art - and his work is dazzling thousands

Oliver Chou:

A joyful kaleidoscope in clay, Lo Yip-nang's display of intricate patterns in jewel tones entranced thousands of people who visited his exhibition at the Jockey Club Creative Art Centre in Shek Kip Mei. Although many were eager to talk to the artist, he kept working with his slivers of coloured clay, giving monosyllabic replies to queries.

"You've been working all day; are you tired?" asks one woman. "No," he says after a long pause. "People like your work, does that make you happy?" asks another. "Yes."

Lo wasn't playing the temperamental artist, though. The 30-year-old is autistic and his two-week exhibition last month is a personal triumph - and a sign of hope that people with the disability can live independently.

Autism stems from glitches in neurological development that cause sufferers to be socially impaired. Unable to interpret what people are expressing or to communicate how they feel, they typically become engrossed with specific objects instead or find comfort in repetitive behaviour and routine. But Lo, or Nang as he is affectionately known, is a rare autistic person who found a way to express himself.

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An Anti-College Backlash?

Professor X:

Americans are finally starting to ask: "Is all this higher education really necessary?"

Since the appearance in The Atlantic of my essay "In The Basement of the Ivory Tower" (2008), in which I questioned the wisdom of sending seemingly everyone in the United States through the rigors of higher education, it's become increasingly apparent to me that I'm far from the only one with these misgivings. Indeed, to my surprise, I've discovered that rather than a lone crank, I'm a voice in a growing movement.
Also see:
In the Basement of the Ivory Tower: The idea that a university education is for everyone is a destructive myth. An instructor at a "college of last resort" explains why.

The Truth About Harvard: It may be hard to get into Harvard, but it's easy to get out without learning much of enduring value at all. A recent graduate's report. By Ross Douthat

What Does College Teach? It's time to put an end to "faith-based" acceptance of higher education's quality. By Richard H. Hersh

I hadn't expected my essay, inspired by the frustrations of teaching students unprepared for the rigors of college-level work, to attract much notice. But the volume and vehemence of the feedback the piece generated was overwhelming. It drew more visitors than almost any other article on the Atlantic's web site in 2008, and provoked an avalanche of letters to the editor. It even started turning up in the syllabi of college writing classes, and on the agendas of educational conferences.

In the months and years since then - and especially now, as I prepare to add to the critical tumult with a book expanding on that original article - I find myself noticing similar sentiments elsewhere. Is it merely a matter of my becoming so immersed in the subject that I'm seeing it everywhere? I don't think so. Start paying attention, and it becomes readily apparent that more and more Americans today are skeptical about the benefits of college.

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Wisconsin DPI Superintendent Tony Evers' Budget Testimony

Questions, via WisPolitics:

JFC co-chair Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said in the last budget, cuts to K-12 education were offset by millions of stimulus dollars from the federal government.

"It was a luxury that was great at the time," he said. "Now we don't have that one-time money."

While he admitted that the "tools" Gov. Walker provides may not offset funding cuts dollar-for-dollar, he said asking teachers to pay more for health insurance coverage and pension will help. Vos then asked Evers if he supports the mandate relief initiatives Walker proposed in his budget.

Evers said the mandates, which include repealing the requirement that schools schedule 180 days instruction but retains the required number of hours per school year, won't generate much savings for school districts. He said the challenge schools face from reduced funding is much greater.

"It's nibbling around the edges," Evers said of the mandates. "I think we're beyond that."

via WisPolitics:

Excerpts from Department of Public Instruction Superintendent Tony Evers prepared remarks to the Joint Finance Committee:

"We know that resources are scarce. School districts around the state have demonstrated that they are willing to do their part, both in recent weeks in response to this state budget crisis and throughout the past 18 years under the constraints of revenue caps. While this difficult budget demands shared sacrifice, we need a budget that is fair, equitable, and does not undercut the quality of our children's education," Evers said.

"As you know, the Governor's budget proposal, which increases state spending by 1.7 percent over the next two years, would cut $840 million in state school aids over the biennium - the largest cut to education in state history. While these cuts present unprecedented challenges, an even larger concern is the proposed 5.5 percent reduction to school district revenue limits, which dictate exactly how much money schools have available to spend. Depending on the school district, schools would have to reduce their spending between $480 and $1,100 per pupil. Statewide, the proposed revenue limit cuts will result in a $1.7 billion cut over the biennium, as compared to current law. These dramatic and unprecedented revenue limit cuts will be a crushing challenge to our public schools, especially by the second year of the budget."

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Higher Education Governance Agreement in Oregon, For Now

Doug Lederman:

In contrast to some other states (yes, that means you, Wisconsin), Oregon's politicians and the leaders of its public colleges and universities are on the same page about changes the state should make in how it manages higher education. But don't blink, or you might miss the moment.

Governor John Kitzhaber and the president of the University of Oregon, Richard Lariviere, agreed Tuesday that the university would postpone for a year its push for legislation that would give it a new financing stream and an independent governing board separate and apart from the existing State Board of Higher Education.

Under the agreement, which was memorialized in an exchange of letters, Lariviere said the university would throw its support behind the governor's plan to create a single statewide board to oversee pre-K to postsecondary education. While Kitzhaber did not openly state in return that he would fully back the university's autonomy plan, Lariviere said in an interview Thursday that he was heartened by what university officials had heard in their discussions with the governor and his staff. "What we have received is as strong and as clear an endorsement of our ideas as we could reasonably expect at this stage," he said.

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Time for a change: Susan Schmidt is a newcomer who is well-informed about what makes for successful schools. She appears ready to make the tough decisions needed to get the Milwaukee School district on track.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

The Milwaukee School Board needs fresh ideas, which is why we favor newcomer Susan Schmidt over Terry Falk for the at-large seat on Tuesday's ballot.

Schmidt, 49, a single parent of two, is well-informed about what makes for successful schools, having visited and worked with a number of Milwaukee Public Schools and charter and choice schools.

Through her work with the nonprofit Scooter Foundation, established after her brother was shot and killed in Milwaukee in 2005, Schmidt opposes expanding choice beyond poor students. She believes the district needs to be more fiscally responsible. She said the board has a history of putting the needs of adults ahead of students.

The board's reluctance to allow Superintendent Gregory Thornton to explore the idea of outsourcing food service to save the district money is a prime example of the board's lack of leadership.

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Janesville Schools Take Steps To Balance Budget


At Thursday night's school board meeting, the school board approved cuts and fee increases totaling nearly $1 million.

"(Superintendent Karen Schulte) made an extensive presentation that covered $12 million in cuts covering a good portion of our $13 million budget shortfall." said Keith Pennington chief financial officer of the Janesville School District.

The approved cuts include reducing district travel expenses and increasing fees for student athletic events.

"We are going to be increasing ticket prices for sporting events from $3 for adults and $2 for students to $5 for adults and $3 for students, which is aligned with the other schools in our conference," Pennington said. "Participation fee increases, student parking fees will increase from $50 a year to $100 a year and other miscellaneous costs surrounding athletic events."

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Education commissioner calls for compromise in Minnesota K-12 bills

Tom Weber:

Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius said Friday that the Dayton administration and the Republican-controlled Legislature have some work ahead of them to reach some compromise on the education funding bills that passed at the Capitol this week.

The proposals would boost the basic per-pupil funding. But it freezes spending for special education and other funding that goes primarily to the Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth districts.

One example is aid that's distribute based on how concentrated poverty is in a school building. Cassellius says cutting that funding would hurt the most vulnerable students.

"It's really a realization of not understanding the difficult nature of concentrations of poverty, and the difficulty to meet the needs of all children and all the challenges that are there," she said.

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Another brand of Bush school reform: Jeb's

Nick Anderson:

The president who turned No Child Left Behind from slogan into statute is gone from Washington, and the influence of his signature education law is fading. But another brand of Bush school reform is on the rise.

The salesman is not the 43rd president, George W. Bush, but the 43rd governor of Florida, his brother Jeb.

At the core of the Jeb Bush agenda are ideas drawn from his Florida playbook: Give every public school a grade from A to F. Offer students vouchers to help pay for private school. Don't let them move into fourth grade unless they know how to read.

Through two foundations he leads in Florida and his vast political connections, Jeb Bush is advancing such policies in states where Republicans have sought his advice on improving schools. His stature in the party and widening role in state-level legislation make him one of the foremost GOP voices on education.

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Government Employment Growth Compared to the Private Sector

If you want to understand better why so many states--from New York to Wisconsin to California--are teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, consider this depressing statistic: Today in America there are nearly twice as many people working for the government (22.5 million) than in all of manufacturing (11.5 million). This is an almost exact reversal of the situation in 1960, when there were 15 million workers in manufacturing and 8.7 million collecting a paycheck from the government.

It gets worse. More Americans work for the government than work in construction, farming, fishing, forestry, manufacturing, mining and utilities combined. We have moved decisively from a nation of makers to a nation of takers. Nearly half of the $2.2 trillion cost of state and local governments is the $1 trillion-a-year tab for pay and benefits of state and local employees. Is it any wonder that so many states and cities cannot pay their bills?

Every state in America today except for two--Indiana and Wisconsin--has more government workers on the payroll than people manufacturing industrial goods. Consider California, which has the highest budget deficit in the history of the states. The not-so Golden State now has an incredible 2.4 million government employees--twice as many as people at work in manufacturing. New Jersey has just under two-and-a-half as many government employees as manufacturers. Florida's ratio is more than 3 to 1. So is New York's.

Economic growth and the resulting tax base expansion is, of course critical to public and private sector employment.

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April 2, 2011

Seven Stumbling Blocks for Madison Prep

Madison School Board Member Ed Hughes:

The Madison School Board's recent consideration of the Urban League's application for a planning grant from DPI for the Madison Preparatory Academy for Young Men prompted me to dig deeper into the issues the charter school proposal raises. I have several concerns - some old and some new - that are described below.

I apologize for the length of this post. It kind of turned into a data dump of all things Madison Prep.

Here are the seven areas of concern I have today about the Madison school district agreeing to sponsor Madison Prep as a non-instrumentality charter school.

1. The Expense.

As I have written, it looks like the roughly $14,500 per student that Madison Prep is seeking from the school district for its first year of operations is per nearly twice the per-student funding that other independent and non-instrumentality charter schools in the state now receive.

Independent charter schools, for example, receive $7,750 per-student annually in state funding and nothing from the local school district. As far as I can tell, non-instrumentality charter schools tend to receive less than $7,750 from their sponsoring school districts.

It seems that the Madison Prep proposal seeks to pioneer a whole new approach to charter schools in this state. The Urban League is requesting a much higher than typical per-student payment from the school district in the service of an ambitious undertaking that could develop into what amounts to a shadow Madison school district that operates at least a couple of schools, one for boys and one for girls. (If the Urban League eventually operates a girl's school of the same size as projected for Madison Prep, it would be responsible for a total of 840 students, which is a larger total enrollment than about 180 school districts in Wisconsin can claim.)

What about the argument that Madison Prep does not propose to spend any more on a per-student basis than the Madison school district already spends? There are a couple of responses. First, MMSD does not spend $14,500 per student on in-school operations - i.e., teachers, classroom support, instructional materials. The figure is more like $11,000. But this is not the appropriate comparison.

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

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UW Ed School Dean and WPRI President on the Recent School Choice Results

Julie Underwood:

The release of the results of the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam, the standardized test that every state public school is required to give, is a rite of spring for Wisconsin schools.

Distributed every year, the WKCEs provide educators, parents and community members with information about how well schools and districts are performing, broken down by subject and grade level.

The WKCEs are used alongside other measures to determine where schools are falling short and what is working well. For parents with many different types of educational options from which to choose, the WKCEs allow them to make informed choices about their child's school. For taxpayers, the tests provide a level of transparency and demonstrate a return on investment.

But while state law requires all public schools to give the WKCEs, not all publicly funded schools are required do to so. Since its inception 20 years ago, the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program has been virtually without any kind of meaningful accountability measures in place. Choice schools have not been required to have students take the WKCEs. That is, until this school year.

George Lightbourn:
We have all done it at one time or another -- opened our mouth before engaging our brain.

State Rep. Sondy Pope-Roberts, D-Middleton, just had one of those moments. In reacting to the news that, on average, students attending schools in the Milwaukee Parental Choice program performed about the same or slightly below students in Milwaukee Public Schools, she said taxpayers are being "bamboozled" and the program is "a disservice to Milwaukee students."

Whoa! Had she taken a moment to think before she spoke, here are a few things that should have occurred to her:

• Those private schools are performing about as well at educating Milwaukee children as the public schools -- at half the cost. Public funding for each child in the choice program costs taxpayers $6,442 while each child in Milwaukee Public Schools receives taxpayer support of over $15,000. If all of the 21,000 choice students moved back into Milwaukee Public Schools, that would require a $74 million increase in local property taxes across the state, according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

Much more, here.

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Don't hide 'step and lane' raises in the Madison School District

The Wisconsin State Journal:

The salary schedule for Madison teachers is frozen for the next school year.

But teachers will still get raises.

That's because, outside of the general salary schedule, Madison teachers are financially rewarded for their years of experience and for the higher education coursework they complete toward advanced degrees.

These "step and lane" raises, as they are called, will average 2.3 percent next school year for Madison teachers.

Madison School District Superintendent Dan Nerad and two School Board members didn't know what this figure was when they met with the State Journal editorial board three weeks ago.

One School Board member even suggested the average teacher raise for years of experience and higher education credits would be so small it was hardly worth considering.

But a 2.3 percent raise sounds pretty good to private sector workers who have endured real pay freezes, furloughs and layoffs for years now because of the recession and slow economic recovery. The school district calculated the 2.3 percent figure last week at the State Journal's request.

Updated with a new link (and a Google Cache archive pdf) sent by a kind reader's email. Here is the original, non working link.

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Milwaukee Public Schools agree to close, merge, move schools

The Milwaukee School Board on Thursday night closed, merged or relocated about seven schools for next year to address space and facility issues in a district facing an upcoming $74 million budget shortfall.

At the same time, board members considered plans to open a handful of public charter schools next year. By late Thursday, they had approved an education management company to restart North Division High School as a charter school, and they had approved a voucher-school operator to open a public K-12 charter school with a residential element for high schoolers.

The board approved a proposal from Milwaukee College Prep, one of the city's highest-performing charter schools, to lease with an option to buy the vacant Thirty-Eighth Street School building. The deed restriction on the school, which keeps it from being used as a school that would compete with MPS, would be lifted after five years.

Robert Rauh, leader of Milwaukee College Prep, said College Prep proposed expanding into the Thirty-Eighth Street building as an MPS non-unionized charter school for kindergarten through fourth grade. Middle schoolers in grades five through eight would make up the population at Milwaukee College Prep's main campus in Metcalfe Park.

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Boxer Calls on American Bar Association to Ensure Accurate and Transparent Data Reporting by Law Schools


U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) today called on the American Bar Association (ABA) to improve its oversight of admissions and post-graduation information reported by law schools across the country.

Boxer's letter follows news reports that have highlighted several law schools allegedly using misleading data to enhance a school's position in the competitive and influential U.S. News and World Report annual rankings. Such inaccurate post-graduation employment and salary data can mislead prospective students into believing they will easily be able to find work as an attorney and pay off their loans despite a sharp decline in post-graduation full-time employment.

The full text of the Senator's letter is below:

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Phelps, WI eight grader will represent state in National Geographic Bee

Ron Seely:

Thirteen-year-old Robert Rosner is in eighth grade in Phelps, Wis. -- pop. 1,400. There are seven students in his class in the small, Northwoods village near the Michigan state line.

But on the walls of his bedroom, Robert has taped National Geographic maps that carry him to landscapes far beyond the woodsy confines of Phelps. Every night, before he sleeps, he stares at the maps and travels to places he's never seen, according to his mother, Donna.

Friday, Robert mustered all he has learned from those imaginary journeys to win the state National Geographic Bee and a very real trip to Washington, D.C., where in May he will compete against 49 other students who have advanced from their own state contests to the national geography competition.

Robert plowed through tough questions on everything from tectonic plates beneath South America to tunnels in Norway and crocodiles in Mauritania to best more than 100 other elementary and middle school students from around Wisconsin in the annual contest. He seemed cool and confident throughout, unlike his mother.

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An Interview with Jackson school board candidate Nicolas Antonoff


Why are you running for a seat on the Jackson Schools Board of Education?

When we bought our home in Jackson (only the second purchase in my thirty plus years of rather hectic service in the "Military-Industrial Complex", helping fight and win the Cold War in all its versions across nearly half the lower 48 states), my wife and I found ourselves stakeholders in the Jackson Enterprise , both divisions - educational (60 percent) and municipal (40 percent). After observing the rapid deterioration in the management of both from the relatively peaceful days of the late 1990′s (zero increase in the school tax rate and an equally steady municipal tax rate) I took an active interest in the operation of the increasingly dysfunctional Board of Education (BoE). Of special interest is the BoE's stubborn and inflexible operating principle that "education" improvement is inevitable if you just shovel sufficient millions of dollars into the bottomless maw of the educator cadres (NJEA Jackson cell in cahoots with the School Administration), eventually some of that will stick. Ending this mind set is my overriding objective.

How do you feel your presence on the school board can benefit education in Jackson?

What passes for a proper education, to be fair, not just in Jackson, is the fostering in the Trophy Kids generation students of a conviction of entitlement and victimization if they are not pampered at every turn(expect to get a medal or commendation of some sort for just showing up on time ). Other countries, our main competitors, teach that students have an obligation to learn in return for the privilege, not the right, granted them . That is their duty to their parents and the nation, and ultimately themselves. That is why our pampered students get their clock cleaned in international math and science competitions, year after bloody year. My contribution to education in Jackson will flow from my thirty years of experience of overseeing and executing the staffing of programs in often way-off-the-road places demanding the hiring on tight schedules of large numbers (hundreds) of often ill-prepared junior engineers with king-sized salary expectations. Thank God for the availability of retiring US Army trained senior noncoms and warrant officers - they always save the contract and know how to run an mission to meet assigned objectives.

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Myths on Program Elimination

Howard Bunsis & Gwendolyn Bradley:

At the beginning of the economic downturn, higher education saw a wave of furloughs as administrators scrambled to compensate for budget cuts on short notice. Sometimes they were a sensible response to serious budget problems -- as in the California State University System, where budget problems are indeed dire and faculty, academic professionals, and staff unions agreed to furloughs. In many other cases, furloughs were the result of misplaced priorities as administrators pleaded poverty while directing millions of dollars to facilities and other endeavors that are not directly related to education. As we argued then, furloughs hurt students and the education that is delivered, and they hurt working people -- they should be a last resort, not a first resort.

However, now that the 2009-10 academic year financial reports of public universities have started to come in, we are learning that many universities that implemented required furloughs in the 2009-10 academic year had their revenues so exceed expenses that they could be boasting, if officially businesses, about record profits, For example, at the University of Northern Iowa, total revenues increased from $269,722,087 in 2009 to $292,646,325 in 2010, despite a decline in the state appropriation, while total expenses declined due to furloughs. As a result, university revenues exceeded expenses by $25.9 million -- much more than the $14 million excess in the year previous. At the University of New Mexico, where state appropriations dropped by 10 percent or $30 million in 2010, the decline was more than overcome by increase in tuition and other revenue; the year's revenue exceeded expenses by $100 million.

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Vouchers Aren't the Answer

Lisa Kaiser:

Today the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) released new results for the statewide exam.

Not surprising to those who have been paying attention, Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) did better than schools in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP), otherwise known as the voucher program.

Overall, MPS had 47.8% of its students scoring as proficient in math, with 59% proficient in reading.

Among economically disadvantaged kids, MPS scored 43.9% in math and 55.3% in reading.

Those scores are lower for students in the voucher program--all of whom are economically disadvantaged, although that could change if Gov. Scott Walker has his way and opens up the program to middle-class and wealthy kids. Only 34.4% of voucher students scored proficient in math, while 55.2% were proficient in reading, about the same as MPS.

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Ivy League Alumni Quit Admissions Interviews as Success Slips

Janet Lorin:

With admissions notifications from Ivy League colleges going out as early as today, it's more than just applicants awaiting the results.

Alumni interviewers like University of Pennsylvania graduate Andrew Ross say they're getting annoyed that fewer of the students they endorse win acceptance. Some are ignoring calls to do more and others are quitting the volunteer job altogether. Ross has interviewed more than 50 applicants in a decade and only seen two or three get in.

"Is it worth it to interview if I'm not going to have any influence on the students getting in?" said Ross, 33, who lives in Gaithersburg, Maryland, and runs a children's entertainment business. "If it doesn't mean much, then they should find a better way to use our time. It just kind of feels ridiculous."

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East Valley, WA district moving to K-8 schools

Lisa Leinberger:

The East Valley School District is asking voters to approve a $33.75 million school construction bond on April 26. The bond will be used to expand and renovate its primary schools.

But the issue many are debating is the district's decision to eliminate its middle schools and turn its elementary schools into kindergarten through eighth grade schools, regardless of bond approval.

It's a model that's being considered across the country. Districts in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Maryland and New York - including the large urban areas of Cincinnati, Cleveland, Philadelphia and Baltimore - are moving toward K-8 schools.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:23 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

What is a Charter School? And what does it have to do with you?

Kathleen Vinehout:

"I've heard of charter schools," the woman told me. "But I really don't know understand them." People are not familiar with schools often run by a private group but using taxpayer dollars.

Imagine a school created with a business-like contact or "charter". This charter sets it own rules for the school and exempts it from the usual rules about classes, staff, budgeting and administration.

Many charter schools are created and run by local school districts but some are independent charters. Cost to local school districts for these independent schools this year was almost $60 million statewide. In our Senate District, school districts will pay an estimated $1.3 million in the next two years for these independent charter schools.

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April 1, 2011

Behind The Scenes: How Do You Get Into Amherst?

Tovia Smith, via a kind reader's email:

Admissions committees at selective colleges sometimes have to plow through thousands of applications to choose the members of next year's freshman class. The committee at Amhest College in Mass., will accept only 1,000 of the more than 8,000 students who applied.


Spring is a mean season for high school seniors. It's college acceptance time. And if students don't get in, they never find out why.


Was it that C in Algebra 1, the lukewarm recommendation, the essay that should have gone through spell check?

MONTAGNE: NPR's Tovia Smith got a rare chance to sit in on an admissions committee at Amherst College in Massachusetts. The liberal arts college will accept only 1,000 of more than 8,000 students who applied.

TOVIA SMITH: High school kids may imagine the admissions officials deciding their fate as a bunch of tweedy old academics in spectacles and suits.

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Executive Order #22: Read to Lead Task Force

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, via a kind reader's email:


Relating to the Creation of the Governor's
Read to Lead Task Force
WHEREAS, the number one priority for children in grades kindergarten through third grade is to learn to read; and

WHEREAS, one third of all Wisconsin students cannot read at a basic level and two thirds of all African American students in our state cannot read at a basic level, which is the lowest rate in the nation; and

WHEREAS, in approximately ten years, Florida, through state reading law reforms, has improved from one of the lowest ranked states in the nation to one of the highest and in doing so achieved a much smaller racial achievement gap than Wisconsin; and

WHEREAS, it is critical to have initiatives that will empower teachers, districts, and parents--not lawmakers--with the ability to decide how best to teach reading and explore ways to provide teachers and parents with better tools to identify young struggling students and address why they are struggling and how to overcome those challenges; and

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 4:46 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

hree DeKalb County, GA school chief finalists: All run much smaller districts

Maureen Downey:

Arthur Culver: He is the superintendent in Champaign, Illinois and has been suggested in the Illinois media as a candidate for the Chicago's school chief job.

In 2009, the Champaign school board voted 4-3 to extend his contract. In 2007, the board extended Culver's contract from four years to five. His contract now goes to 2012. According to the local newspaper, Culver earns $226,049 a year.

Culver had been school chief in the Longview Independent School in Texas. (Here is a story about a controversy that followed Culver from Texas to Illinois.)

Culver came from Texas to Champaign in 2002. According to the newspaper in East Center Illinois, the News-Gazette, "Since then, he's had his hands full trying to meet the requirements of a consent decree negotiated before his arrival that is aimed at improving the performance of minority students. He's done a good job, so it's understandable a board majority would want to show its appreciation."

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:32 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Literacy rates in sub-Saharan Africa are low, particularly among women. Some new initiatives are trying to change this ...

More Intelligent Life:

When Wayétu Moore fled her home of Monrovia, Liberia with her father and two sisters in the summer of 1989, banished by the outburst of civil war, one of the few things she had was a small notebook. In Lai, the village where they hid for six months, five-year-old Wayétu and her sisters scribbled about the death and mayhem they witnessed around them.

Over two decades after they left Liberia, the Moore sisters now lead successful lives in America. Their parents have reunited (their mother was a Fulbright scholar at Columbia University when they had to flee), and two brothers were born in America. But they have never forgotten their war-devastated homeland, and the fact that very few children there--especially girls--are educated, or even literate. Earlier this year Wayétu Moore (pictured) and her siblings launched One Moore Book, a publishing company that creates children's books for countries with low literacy rates. The idea is to publish stories about kids who rarely feature in children's books, and to donate books to these countries through schools and libraries.

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Green Bay Catholic & Public School Test Scores

Patty Zarling:

Many families choose to enroll their children in Catholic schools for religious reasons, but educators say kids also get academic benefits.

The Green Bay Area Catholic Education system for the first time compared test scores from 10 local Catholic schools with scores from area public schools. Catholic educators say the comparison showed students at the parochial schools are generally more proficient or advanced in math, reading and language arts than their peers at public schools.

Catholic school advocates say the scores highlight the strong quality of education at those schools at a time when they're working hard to attract students. That effort ramps up this week, which is National Catholic Schools Week.

GRACE president Carol Conway-Gerhardt said bringing together 10 local Catholic schools into one system allowed administrators to compare test scores from those students with those at public schools.

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Racine Unified taking next steps on path to North Star vision

Racine Superintendent Dr. James Shaw:

The Racine Unified School District is at a crossroads. We are doing the right things and we are making progress. On April 5, the school referendum will ask for your support in furthering that progress.

Racine Unified has a powerful vision of learning for all students, the North Star. It says that ALL students will graduate career- and/or college-ready. We have a data system that tracks learning, teaching, engagement and resources to monitor our progress and increase accountability. We have early successes in sixth-grade math, in writing at every measured grade level, the growth of student cohorts on the WKCE and dramatic improvements in such excellent schools as Gifford, Red Apple and Schulte Elementary Schools.

We have reorganized school schedules to increase instructional time and collaborative planning time for teachers. We have raised the bar for all students by reducing basic classes and expanding IB curriculum and AP courses across the district. We have increased tutoring, summer school and Lighted Schoolhouse programs. We are including special education children in regular education classrooms. We are negotiating a Master Teacher and Master Principal program as the first step toward pay for performance. We have school-based payday and data teams that have developed aggressive improvement plans for each school. We have reorganized the Administrative Service Center to support as well as supervise school improvement efforts.

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School Spotlight: Excellence is Wayfarer's tradition

Pamela Cotant:

While many high school magazines have discontinued, the annual Wayfarer magazine at Edgewood High School is thriving.

The school recently learned that the 2010 issue of Wayfarer, the 25th edition of the student literary and art magazine, received a Superior Award from the National Council of Teachers of English and was nominated for a Highest Award. The council annually reviews student literary magazines for quality, variety, editing and proofreading and design/artistic aspects. The Wayfarer is one of only two Wisconsin high school literary magazines to receive both of these honors.

Diane Mertens has been the faculty adviser for about 25 years and said an introduction to the magazine's 20th anniversary issue holds true today: "I continually rediscover how refreshing it is to look at the world through adolescent eyes. I also find it exciting to observe the editorial board's discussions as members debate the artistic merit and quality of student writing and artwork."

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Raising an Accidental Prodigy

Sue Shellenbarger:

onrad Tao, it goes without saying, is precocious. He started playing the piano at 18 months, began violin lessons at 3 and made his concert debut playing Mozart with an adult orchestra at 8. At age 9, he began studying at the Juilliard School in New York. Now 16, he has performed solos with symphonies in Philadelphia, San Francisco, Baltimore and other cities in the U.S. and Europe.

For all the parents who relentlessly drive their children to succeed, there is a quieter group, like Conrad's parents. Mingfang Ting, Conrad's mother, says she has long worried that her son would feel pressured or that his prodigious talent would upend their own lives.

When Dr. Ting first heard Conrad playing the piano as a toddler, "I would literally think there was something wrong with him," she says. Unnerved, she sometimes called her husband, Sam Tao, at work, held up the phone and said, " 'Listen, he's playing again.' It was a little scary," she says.

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Kroger's $3.8M promise of books, arts, help to Indianapolis school children

Robert King:

Kroger announced a new $3.8-million investment in local schools and education programs today, including a plan to collect book donations at every store and to redistribute them to children across the city.

The grocery store chain's three-year "K-12 education strategy" will support youth programs through 10 organizations ranging from the United Way to the Children's Museum of Indianapolis to the Indianapolis Opera.

It will also extend Kroger's long-term support of Indianapolis Public School 46, a Near Westside school who has received more than $1 million from Kroger during the past 25 years.

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Pink slips line road to more efficient UW

Chris Rickert:

This is why a year and a half after the economy started growing again, unemployment remains near 9 percent; companies realize they can produce just as much with fewer of us. (Oddly, the BLS does not measure productivity in the public sector, like in public universities.)

Reducing staff is not a tactic UW-Madison has tried of late. From 2007 to 2010, it added about 325 people per year, from the equivalent of 16,368 full-time employees in 2007 to 17,344 in 2010.

But managers know some employees are better than others. Ask them who they can live without, and then expect them to live without them.

Darrell Bazzell, UW-Madison vice chancellor for administration, said that "given the budget cuts, we will likely lose many positions." But he said the consultant could help find savings "above and beyond the savings available through simply reducing staffing."

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