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May 31, 2011

Walker should take bulls-eye off the backs of teachers

Paul Fanlund:

Gesturing like a conductor, the Van Hise Elementary teacher exhorted her third-graders for answers while deftly involving a special-needs youngster.

I was in class as part of the Foundation for Madison's Public Schools' "principal for a day" program, and I recall thinking: This would be a really tough job to do well day after day.

Teachers have always impressed me, apparently a lot more than they do Scott Walker.

The Republican governor continues to wage his cynical campaign against labor unions representing teachers and other public employees. The conflict rumbles on, with a judge ruling last week that the legislative vote to extinguish collective bargaining rights violated the state's open meetings law.

The collateral damage to the morale and reputations of Wisconsin's 60,000 or so classroom teachers seems of no concern to Walker and his allies inside and outside the state.

In fact, based on recent Walker press releases, teachers and teachers unions remain a prime target. In terms of there being a bulls-eye on teachers' backs, just consider last week.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 5:42 PM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

The End of Men

Hanna Rosin:

Earlier this year, women became the majority of the workforce for the first time in U.S. history. Most managers are now women too. And for every two men who get a college degree this year, three women will do the same. For years, women's progress has been cast as a struggle for equality. But what if equality isn't the end point? What if modern, postindustrial society is simply better suited to women? A report on the unprecedented role reversal now under way-- and its vast cultural consequences.

In the 1970s the biologist Ronald Ericsson came up with a way to separate sperm carrying the male-producing Y chromosome from those carrying the X. He sent the two kinds of sperm swimming down a glass tube through ever-thicker albumin barriers. The sperm with the X chromosome had a larger head and a longer tail, and so, he figured, they would get bogged down in the viscous liquid. The sperm with the Y chromosome were leaner and faster and could swim down to the bottom of the tube more efficiently. Ericsson had grown up on a ranch in South Dakota, where he'd developed an Old West, cowboy swagger. The process, he said, was like "cutting out cattle at the gate." The cattle left flailing behind the gate were of course the X's, which seemed to please him. He would sometimes demonstrate the process using cartilage from a bull's penis as a pointer.

In the late 1970s, Ericsson leased the method to clinics around the U.S., calling it the first scientifically proven method for choosing the sex of a child. Instead of a lab coat, he wore cowboy boots and a cowboy hat, and doled out his version of cowboy poetry. (People magazine once suggested a TV miniseries based on his life called Cowboy in the Lab.) The right prescription for life, he would say, was "breakfast at five-thirty, on the saddle by six, no room for Mr. Limp Wrist." In 1979, he loaned out his ranch as the backdrop for the iconic "Marlboro Country" ads because he believed in the campaign's central image--"a guy riding on his horse along the river, no bureaucrats, no lawyers," he recalled when I spoke to him this spring. "He's the boss." (The photographers took some 6,500 pictures, a pictorial record of the frontier that Ericsson still takes great pride in.)

Related: The War Against Boys by Christina Hoff Sommers.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 3:58 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

The wonders worked by womanhood

Lucy Kellaway:

When Christine Lagarde launched her bid to be the new head of the IMF last week she declared that she would bring to the job all her "experience as a lawyer, a minister, a manager and a woman".

The first three strands of her experience are self-explanatory - and formidable. But what did Ms Lagarde mean by the fourth? What exactly is her experience as a woman? And how does it make her a better candidate for a job that involves flying round the world rescuing countries that are going down the financial plughole?

The most obvious thing that sorts out a woman's experience from a man's is that women bear children. On two occasions, Ms Lagarde has spent the best part of a year with a growing lump in her abdomen, and then endured the tricky business of getting it out. For most women this is a very big deal, though it's not obvious how such an experience sets anyone up for running the IMF.

As children grow up, however, a mother (or, in truth, a father) can find herself doling out pocket money. Human nature being what it is, this often gets blown instantly on sweets, leaving nothing to spend on, say, a sibling's birthday present. The mother then faces the tricky decision of whether to bail the child out, and what conditions to impose on any loan extended. I can see that dealing with such dilemmas could be relevant to a future head of the IMF, the only difference being one of degree: rather more countries requiring rather larger sums.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 3:23 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

MIT Supporting High School Science Sims


Stacie Bumgarner is a research scientist in the Biology Department at MIT. She leads school outreach efforts for the Office of Educational Innovation & Technology. She is working with JFY Networks to expand the use of two sophisticated science simulations to high school students in Boston:

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GOP looks at N.J. school strategy

Angela Delli Santi:

ew Jersey Senate Republicans have been asked to consider taking a unified position on public education, including removing the state Supreme Court from school-funding decisions and granting the Legislature the power to determine what it means to provide a "thorough and efficient" education in public schools.

A Republican strategy memo laid out Friday in an e-mail from Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr. to his caucus asked fellow GOP senators for feedback on a three-pronged education plan after Tuesday's Supreme Court order requiring the state to invest $500 million more in 31 poor school districts.

The plan includes supporting a constitutional amendment that would end judicial involvement in school-funding decisions and give the state wiggle room to reduce funding in lean budget years. The resolution, sponsored by Sen. Steven Oroho (R., Sussex) and cosponsored by the other 15 members of the GOP caucus, was introduced in January but hasn't gained traction. It would require voter approval.

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Letters: Bill Gates and the School Reform Debate

The New York Times:

I am a teacher with Teach Plus, which was featured in the opening lines of "Behind Grass-Roots School Advocacy, Bill Gates" (front page, May 22). Our perspectives on what motivated our advocacy were not included in the article.

Thousands of great teachers are being laid off this spring, simply because they lack seniority, and many are seeking opportunities to fight for their jobs and for their students. Depicting us as the pawns of Bill Gates is unjustified, particularly since his foundation, while supporting the national organization Teach Plus, does not finance the work of the Indianapolis chapter.

Only in this era of relentless teacher-bashing by the news media could a story about teachers fighting for their own jobs and the jobs of their colleagues be spun into a conspiracy theory.

Indianapolis, May 24, 2011

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Districts Weigh Lightening Workloads

Ronda Kaysen:

MONTCLAIR, New Jersey (Reuters) - School districts from coast to coast are weighing the elimination of homework on weekends and holidays, part of a move by educators to rein in student workloads.

Officials at public schools in Galloway Township, New Jersey, this week proposed no more homework on weekends and holidays for their 3,500 students, and the Pleasanton Unified School District in northern California suggested drastic changes to homework policy for the 14,500-student district.

The moves come in response to complaints from parents that children spend too many after-school hours buried in work, and concerns from teachers that test preparation trumps learning.

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Confessions of a school ranker

Jay Mathews:

If you are a successful actor, businessman or novelist, you are likely to be famous. If you are a successful school, forget about it. That's why most people have never heard of the two schools at the top of this year's Washington Post High School Challenge rankings of American high schools.

Two Dallas public magnet schools -- the School of Science & Engineering and the Gifted & Talented Magnet -- are ranked first and second on the national list, based on participation rates on college-level tests. They share a building with four other small magnets near the middle of the city. They have been at or near the top of the list for several years, but their principals and teachers are rarely if ever seen on national news.

That is probably a good thing. Celebrity gets in the way of serious work. Engineering & Science, Talented & Gifted and the rest of the 1,910 high schools (including more than 140 in the Washington area) recognized on the list have staffs dedicated to raising students to new levels of achievement. At Science & Engineering, 63 percent of students come from families poor enough to qualify for federal lunch subsidies. At Talented & Gifted, the percentage is 33 percent. Most magnets that admit students based on academic credentials have few kids from low-income families, but these two schools work hard to convince disadvantaged students that they will thrive taking Advanced Placement courses as early as ninth grade. Those educators fulfill that promise.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:14 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Coaching for Chinese Students Looking to the U.S.

Dan Levin:

In December 2009, a rejection letter from Columbia University found its way to the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen. It was addressed to Lu Jingyu, a top student and member of her school's student government. As she read the disheartening words, Ms. Lu immediately began to panic. Where had she gone wrong? How could she fix this?

For answers, she turned to ThinkTank Learning, a college admission consulting company from California that had recently opened an office in Shenzhen, which is next door to Hong Kong.

"I wanted American professionals to look at my application and shed some new light on how I could make it better," she said.

The price was steep: 100,000 renminbi, or $15,000. But it came with a 100 percent money-back guarantee -- if Ms. Lu was rejected from the nine selective U.S. universities to which she applied, her family would get a full refund.

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

Wolfram Alpha Turns 2: 'People Just Need What We Are Doing'

Ryan Singel:

Steven Wolfram, the man behind computing-application Mathematica and the search engine Wolfram Alpha, has a short attention span that's married to a long-term outlook.

Wolfram Alpha is an online service that computes the answers to queries (e.g., age pyramid for the Philippines or glycogen degradation pathway rather than searching for those terms showing up on webpages.

When asked what his favorite query is, the particle physicist and MacArthur "genius" award recipient says he's enamored that Wolfram Alpha can tell you about the plane you just saw flying over your town -- in his case "flights visible from Concord, Massachusetts."

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

May 30, 2011

Revenge of the geeks: What made them outsiders in high school makes them stars in the world

Alexandra Robbins:

Many popular students approach graduation day with bittersweet nostalgia: excitement for the future is tempered by fear of lost status. But as cap-and-gown season nears, let's also stop to consider the outcasts, students for whom finishing high school feels like liberation from a state-imposed sentence.

In seven years of reporting from American middle and high schools, I've seen repeatedly that the differences that cause a student to be excluded in high school are often the same traits or skills that will serve him or her well after graduation.

Examples abound: Taylor Swift's classmates left the lunch table as soon as she sat down because they disdained her taste for country music. Last year, the Grammy winner was the nation's top-selling recording artist.

Students mocked Tim Gunn's love of making things; now he is a fashion icon with the recognizable catchphrase "Make it work."

J.K. Rowling, author of the bestselling "Harry Potter" series, has described herself as a bullied child "who lived mostly in books and daydreams." It's no wonder she went on to write books populated with kids she describes as "outcasts and comfortable with being so."

For many, says Sacred Heart University psychology professor Kathryn LaFontana, high school is the "first foray into the adult world where [kids] have to think about their own status." And for teenagers, says LaFontana, who studies adolescent peer relationships and social status, "the worst thing in the world is to be different from other people; that's what makes someone unpopular."

Alexandra Robbins is the author of "The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth: Popularity, Quirk Theory, and Why Outsiders Thrive After High School."

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 4:35 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

The Service of Democratic Education

Linda Darling-Hammond:

I could not be more honored than to be awarded this recognition from Teachers College, one of the places of all those I know in the world that holds the tightest grip on my heart and best represents my values and beliefs. Thank you for this recognition--and, more important, thank you, Teachers College faculty, trustees, students and graduates, for who and what you are.

My first real glimpse of what Teachers College is and does occurred not in New York City but in a school in Washington, DC, where one of my children had transferred into a first grade classroom to avoid the truly terrible teaching that was literally undermining her health in another school. In her new school, Elena's teacher, Miss Leslie, had created a wonderland of stimulating opportunities for learning: children experimenting and investigating in the classroom and the community, designing and conducting projects, writing and publishing their own little stories (one that my daughter wrote after the birth of her little brother was entitled "Send Him Back"). This teacher--who was in her very first year of practice--not only had created a classroom that any mother would want to send her child to, but she also had the skillful eye and knowledge base to figure out within weeks that Elena was severely dyslexic, to teach her to read without her ever being labeled or stigmatized, and to instill in my daughter a lifelong love of books and learning that has led to her being a literacy teacher working with special needs students today.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:52 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Principles That Don't Change

Harvey Mansfield:

I want to tell you what it has been like to spend my life as a professor at Harvard, the most prestigious university in America, perhaps the world. In my time there, Old Harvard, a place of tradition with its prejudices, has become New Harvard, a place of prestige with its prejudices. What's the difference?

There are two old jokes about Old Harvard: "You can always tell a Harvard man but you can't tell him much," and "You will never regret going to Harvard; others may, but you won't." These describe arrogance, and of course the arrogance of Harvard men, not the women who are there now in profusion and force. With arrogance went a certain fastidiousness mocked in another joke: "A Yale man washes his hands after he goes to the bathroom--a Harvard man washes them before." No doubt this one came from Yale, as it makes Yale represent normal male humanity in contrast to a studied, self-conscious few. This Harvard attitude survives today in the act that students call "dropping the H-Bomb"--that is, disclosing that you go to Harvard. Even I never announce that I'm a Harvard professor. I say that I teach. Where? In a college. Yes, but where? Around Boston. Oh, I see: you must be a Harvard professor.

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The superagent on upholding great literature in an e-reading world

The Wall Street Journal:

Literary agent Andrew Wylie is of the old school. His office suite in New York's Fisk Building feels more like a faculty lounge than a synergistic, new-media conglomerate. But the Wylie Agency, which represents some 750 clients, including a who's who of the literary establishment--Roth, Updike, Rushdie--has been at the vanguard of changes in the book industry world-wide. With the advent of e-books and the demise of Borders, the publishing establishment may seem to be crumbling. Yet Wylie, renowned for his ability to extract huge advances from tightfisted publishers, doesn't seem to be much ruffled.

Nicknamed "The Jackal" for his aggressive deal-making, Wylie struck terror into publishers last year by setting up a company, Odyssey Editions, to distribute electronic versions of books he represents through But don't mistake him for a pop-culture version of a vulpine 15-percenter. Trim, polite and circumspect, Wylie, 63, is uncaffeinated. A New England WASP, he stands foursquare for literary elitism and good old-fashioned standards. And while he has his share of celebrity and political clients, he insists his work is all about great, lasting literature, not quick-buck synergies, "60 Minutes" tie-ins or Facebook friends.

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Catching up on national high school ranks

Jay Matthews:

We did not have room for everything I wanted to include in the big package of lists and stories that make up the new Challenge Index rankings of America's high schools. I moved the list this year from Newsweek--where we often called it "America's Best High Schools"-- to, where its new title is "The High School Challenge."

My editors were right not to jam in too much material. It is not always easy to find the features that are there. Please consider this a short guide to finding the inside stuff that many readers of this blog crave and that will give them more ammo to fire at me. I also provide below the Catching Up list of local schools with low Advanced Placement passing rates, something my editors and I agreed would work better on my blog.

Use this link to get to the main ranked lists, one for national and one for the Washington area. This link will take you to the Public Elites list, the schools that did not make the main lists because they were too selective. Here is the link to the full unabridged Frequently Asked Questions, which I made into a blog post. And here is the national Catching-up list.

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

A Deal on Texas School Finance, Dewhurst Says

Morgan Smith:

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said leaders in the House and Senate had agreed on a school finance plan as he left a meeting with education and budget chiefs from both chambers.

As expected, it is the "hybrid of a hybrid" Sen. Florence Shapiro described. All districts would take what will likely be a 6 percent across-the-board reduction in the first year, the approach pushed by the House. In the second year, Shapiro's SB 22 would take effect: 75 percent of the remaining $2 billion reduction in state funding would come from cutting property wealthy, target revenue districts; all districts would bear cuts to make up the that last 25 percent.

During the 2013 session, Shapiro said lawmakers will adjust the school funding formulas once again based on the money available. The current plan contains a 2018 deadline for the phase out of target revenue, but as Shapiro pointed out, there are three legislative sessions between then and now.

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Michigan superintendent has plan to save state's schools from Gov. Snyder's ax: Make them prisons

Meteor Blades:

Financially pinched states across the nation are making draconian cuts in spending for social services and public education. But there's one area that gets gentler treatment under Republican governors and legislators: prisons. In fact, while Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and the GOP-controlled legislature were whacking $300 per student from the state's K-12 school budget, he was simultaneously moving some of the "savings" over to corrections and prisons.

That prompted Nathan Bootz,
of public schools in the small town of Ithaca in central Michigan, to pen a letter to the local Gratiot County Herald suggesting a modest proposal:

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May 29, 2011

Teaching methods: Applying science to the teaching of science

The Economist:

AS DOES much else in the universe, education moves in cycles. The 1960s and 1970s saw a swell of interest in teaching styles that were less authoritarian and hierarchical than the traditional watching of a teacher scribbling on a blackboard. Today, tastes have swung back, and it is fashionable to denigrate those alternatives as so much hippy nonsense.

But evidence trumps fashion--at least, it ought to. And a paper just published in Science by Louis Deslauriers and his colleagues at the University of British Columbia suggests that at least one of the newfangled styles is indeed superior to the traditional chalk-and-talk approach.

Dr Deslauriers's lab rats were a group of 850 undergraduate engineering students taking a compulsory physics course. The students were split into groups at the start of their course, and for the first 11 weeks all went to traditionally run lectures given by well-regarded and experienced teachers. In the 12th week, one of the groups was switched to a style of teaching known as deliberate practice, which inverts the traditional university model. Class time is spent on problem-solving, discussion and group work, while the absorption of facts and formulae is left for homework. Students were given reading assignments before classes. Once in the classroom they spent their time in small groups, discussing specific problems, with the teacher roaming between groups to offer advice and respond to questions.

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Help students by rejecting the self-interested

Laurie Rogers:

With few exceptions, Americans spend more on public education than anyone else in the world, but we get some of the worst results. The reason is that most of our public education systems do not properly teach students what they need to know.

That's it. There is no magic. And the federal takeovers, the jazzy new technology, Bill Gates' money, the data-gathering, reform, transformation, national initiatives, removal of teacher seniority, blaming of parents, hand-wringing in the media, and budget shifting won't change that simple fact.

In all of the local, state and federal plans for reforming and transforming public education, I see the bureaucracy growing, the taxpayer bill exploding, the people's voice being eliminated, good teachers being threatened with firing or public humiliation, and students not being taught what they need to know.

A May 25 Wall Street Journal article says some schools now charge parents fees for basic academics, as well as for extracurricular activities, graded electives and advanced classes. Those are private-school fees for a public-school education, and that's just wrong.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 4:54 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Call for revolution in English teaching: Professor says multilingual teachers who grew up speaking Cantonese provide a better model for Hong Kong children than native English speakers

John Carney:

English should be taught in Hong Kong by multilingual teachers, not native English speakers, according to a Hong Kong education professor who is organising an international conference on English as a lingua franca, being held in the city.

"It's a revolutionary shift that we're arguing for, and it's that the multilingual way becomes the linguistic model for teaching kids English here, not that of a native English speaker," says Andy Kirkpatrick, chair professor of English as a professional language at the Hong Kong Institute of Education.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 4:11 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

The poor job prospects of Chinese university graduates must lead students and their parents to rethink their focus on academic qualifications and moderate their expectations

Mark O'Neil:

A university degree in China used to be a ticket to instant success in a country where tertiary education was rare and valued. No longer. Likemany things in China, from exporting shoes to building high-speed trains, there has been a Great Leap Forward in advanced education that leads to doubts about its quality and value in real life.
More than seven million Chinese students are expected to graduate from the country's universities this summer, an astonishing five-fold increase over the number 10 years ago.

China has overtaken the United States as the biggest conferrer of PhDs in the world, with 50,000 new ones in 2009, compared to 10,000 just 10 years earlier. In addition, a total of 1.27 million Chinese are studying abroad, according to the Ministry of Education, the largest number of any country worldwide. Last year alone, 285,000 Chinese went abroad to study, 24 per cent more than in 2009. Most popular is the US, followed by Australia, Japan, Britain, South Korea, Canada and Singapore.

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Beyond the School: Exploring a Systemic Approach to School Turnaround

Joel Knudson, Larisa Shambaugh & Jennifer O'Day

Educators have long grappled with the challenge presented by chronically underperforming schools. Environments that consistently fail to prepare students for higher levels of education threaten opportunities for high school graduation, postsecondary education, and career success. The U.S. Department of Education reinforced the urgency of reversing sustained poor performance in early 2009 when it identified intensive supports and effective interventions in our lowest-achieving schools as one of its four pillars of education reform. However, federal and state policies have often situated the cause--and thus the remedies--for persistent low performance at the school level. This brief uses the experience of eight California school districts--all members of the California Collaborative on District Reform--to suggest a more systemic approach to school turnaround.

We explore the district perspective on school turnaround by describing several broad themes that emerged across the eight districts in the California Collaborative on District Reform. We also profile three of these districts to illustrate specific strategies that can create a coherent district-wide approach to turnaround. Building on these district perspectives, we explore considerations for turnaround efforts in the upcoming reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

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Mothers of twins do not just get twice the bundle of joy - they are also healthier than other mothers

The Economist:

THROUGHOUT history, twins have provoked mixed feelings. Sometimes they were seen as a curse--an unwanted burden on a family's resources. Sometimes they were viewed as a blessing, or even as a sign of their father's superior virility. But if Shannen Robson and Ken Smith, of the University of Utah, are right, twins have more to do with their mother's sturdy constitution than their father's sexual power.

At first blush, this sounds an odd idea. After all, bearing and raising twins is taxing, both for the mother and for the children. Any gains from having more than one offspring at a time might be expected to be outweighed by costs like higher infant and maternal mortality rates. On this view, twins are probably an accidental by-product of a natural insurance policy against the risk of losing an embryo early in gestation. That would explain why many more twins are conceived than born, and why those born are so rare (though more common these days, with the rise of IVF). They account for between six and 40 live births per 1,000, depending on where the mother lives.

Dr Robson and Dr Smith, however, think that this account has got things the wrong way round. Although all women face a trade-off between the resources their bodies allocate to reproduction and those reserved for the maintenance of health, robust women can afford more of both than frail ones. And what surer way to signal robustness than by bearing more than one child at a time? In other words, the two researchers conjectured, the mothers of twins will not only display greater overall reproductive success, they will also be healthier than those who give birth only to singletons.

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The study of well-being; Strength in a smile - A new discipline moves to centre-stage

The Economist:

Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being. By Martin Seligman. Free Press; 368 pages; $26. Nicholas Brealey Publishing

The idea that it is the business of governments to cheer up their citizens has moved in recent years to centre-stage. Academics interested in measures of GDH (gross domestic happiness) were once forced to turn to the esoteric example of Bhutan. Now Britain's Conservative-led government is compiling a national happiness index, and Nicolas Sarkozy, France's president, wants to replace the traditional GDP count with a measure that takes in subjective happiness levels and environmental sustainability.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:51 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas Reveals the Most Well-Read Cities in America


Just in time for the summer reading season, announced its list of the Top 20 Most Well-Read Cities in America. After compiling sales data of all book, magazine and newspaper sales in both print and Kindle format since Jan. 1, 2011, on a per capita basis in cities with more than 100,000 residents, the Top 20 Most Well-Read Cities are:

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More than 1,700 sign up for Madison schools' new 4K program

Matthew DeFour:

More than 1,700 students are signed up for Madison's new 4-year-old kindergarten program next fall -- many more than the district anticipated.

The district initially projected enrollment at 1,500 students, but so far has enrolled 1,730 students and counting. Parents can enroll their students in the free program at any time.

The higher number is a good thing and likely resulted from an extensive amount of community outreach, according to Deputy Superintendent Sue Abplanalp.

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May 28, 2011

The story behind the Milwaukee school choice study: The results are more complicated than they are sometimes portrayed.

John F. Witte and Patrick J. Wolf:

The past few weeks have seen a lively debate surrounding the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program and Gov. Scott Walker's various proposals to expand it. It is time for researchers to weigh in.

For the past five years, as mandated by state law, we have led a national team in a comprehensive evaluation of the choice program. Our study has applied social science research methods to carefully matched sets of students in the choice program and in Milwaukee Public Schools. Whenever possible, we have used measures that are applied consistently in the public- and private-school sectors, generating true apples-to-apples comparisons.

This is what we have learned:

Competitive pressure from the voucher program has produced modest achievement gains in MPS.

The three-year achievement gains of choice students have been comparable to those of our matched sample of MPS students. The choice students are not showing achievement benefits beyond those of the students left behind in MPS.

High school students in the choice program both graduate and enroll in four-year colleges at a higher rate than do similar students in MPS. Being in the choice program in ninth grade increases by four to seven percentage points a student's prospects of both graduating from high school and enrolling in college. Students who remain in the choice program for their entire four years of high school graduate at a rate of 94%, compared with 75% for similar MPS students.

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Wisconsin Governor's Read to Lead Task Force 5/31/2011 Meeting

via a kind reader's email:

Notice of Commission Meeting

Governor's Read to Lead Task Force
Governor Scott Walker, Chair
Superintendent Tony Evers, Vice-Chair
Members: Mara Brown, Kathy Champeau, Steve Dykstra, Michele Erikson, Representative Jason Fields, Marcia Henry, Representative Steve Kestell, Rachel Lander, Senator Luther Olsen, Tony Pedriana, Linda Pils, and Mary Read.

Guests: Professors from UW colleges of education

Tuesday, May 31, 2011 1:00pm

Office of the Governor, Governor's Conference Room
 115 East State Capitol 
Madison, WI 53702

Welcome and opening remarks by Governor Walker and Superintendent Evers.

Introductions from task force members and guest members representing UW colleges of education.

A discussion of teacher training and professional development including current practices and ways to improve.

Short break.

A discussion of reading interventions including current practices and ways to improve.

A discussion of future topics and future meeting dates.


Governor Scott Walker

Individuals needing assistance, pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act, should contact the Governor's office at (608) 266-1212, 24 hours before this meeting to make necessary arrangements.

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Standing on the Shoulders of Giants: An American Agenda for Education Reform; Advocating Benchmarking

Marc Tucker:

This paper is the answer to a question: What would the education policies and practices of the United States be if they were based on the policies and practices of the countries that now lead the world in student performance? It is adapted from the last two chapters of a book to be published in September 2011 by Harvard Education Press. Other chapters in that book describe the specific strategies pursued by Canada (focusing on Ontario), China (focusing on Shanghai), Finland, Japan and Singapore, all of which are far ahead of the United States. The research on these countries was performed by a team assembled by the National Center on Education and the Economy, at the request of the OECD.

A century ago, the United States was among the most eager benchmarkers in the world. We took the best ideas in steelmaking, industrial chemicals and many other fields from England and Germany and others and put them to work here on a scale that Europe could not match. At the same time, we were borrowing the best ideas in education, mainly from the Germans and the Scots. It was the period of the most rapid growth our economy had ever seen and it was the time in which we designed the education system that we still have today. It is fair to say that, in many important ways, we owe the current shape of our education system to industrial benchmarking.

But, after World War II, the United States appeared to reign supreme in both the industrial and education arenas and we evidently came to the conclusion that we had little to learn from anyone. As the years went by, one by one, country after country caught up to and then surpassed us in several industries and more or less across the board in precollege education. And still we slept.

Well worth reading. I thought about this topic - benchmarking student progress via the oft-criticized WKCE during this past week's Madison School District Strategic Planning Update. I'll have more on that next week.

Related: "Schools should not rely on only WKCE data to gauge progress of individual students or to determine effectiveness of programs or curriculum".

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University of Wisconsin Institutions to Receive Talented & Gifted Grants

Greg Bump:

Modifies the gifted and talented education grant program to allow all UW institutions to receive grants.
Wisconsin Joint Committee On Finance website.

I wonder what this means?

Some states and regions offer extensive higher education opportunities to high school students.

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: College, There's an App for That: How USC Built a 21st Century Classroom

Derek Thompson:

"Everything about this program pushes definitions about what is a semester, what is the university, what is a classroom, and where do the faculty belong?"

In the spring of 2008, John Katzman, the founder of the Princeton Review, approached the Masters of Arts in Teaching (MAT) program at at the University of Southern California with a revolutionary idea. USC could increase its graduates by a factor of ten without building another room.

Every year, California adds 10,000 new teachers. And every year until 2008, USC graduated about 100. The school felt "invisible." How could it build influence without new buildings? Katzman said his new project, 2tor, Inc, an education technology company, promised a solution. Forget the brick and mortar, and go online, he said. USC was skeptical. Surely, no Web program could possibly deliver an in-classroom quality of instruction.

Katzman disagreed. I have something to show you, he said.

I thought about this (the accelerating move away from Frederick Taylor [Blekko | Britannica | Clusty] style 19th Century education that we still seem to spend buckets of money on) while attending this week's Madison School District Strategic Plan 2 year review. More on that meeting next week.

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Shifting Trends in Special Education

Janie Scull, Amber M. Winkler, Ph.D.:

In this new Fordham Institute paper, analysts examine public data and find that the national proportion of students with disabilities peaked in 2004-05 and has been declining since. This overall trend masks interesting variations; for example, proportions of students with specific learning disabilities, mental retardation, and emotional disturbances have declined, while the proportions of students with autism, developmental delays, and other health impairments have increased notably. Meanwhile, at the state level, Rhode Island, New York, and Massachusetts have the highest rates of disability identification, while Texas, Idaho, and Colorado have the lowest. The ratio of special-education teachers and paraprofessionals to special-education students also varies widely from state to state--so much so that our analysts question the accuracy of the data reported by states to the federal government.

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So You Say You're Broke? An Analysis of Educational Costs and Revenues

Kevin Kiley:

Hearing that the University of California system had $2.5 billion in "unrestricted net assets" on hand in 2010 could make anyone question the necessity of the 32 percent tuition hike that has been proposed, or the 11 to 26 furlough days that more than 100,000 employees were forced to take in 2009.

Similar skepticism has been expressed in two other states in the last month, as different groups suggested that state universities were, in their view, hoarding funds while simultaneously demanding more money from students, denying pay increases to faculty and staff members, and fighting against cuts in state funding. In Michigan it was a faculty union in the middle of contract negotiations. In Ohio it was the state senate's finance committee chairman.

The problem with the claim, administrators say, is that unrestricted net assets are not just piles of cash lying around to be used for whatever they want. The accounting term, which they admit is confusing, refers to any money that doesn't have some specific restriction placed on it by a donor. That includes a whole host of different funds, most of which have been designated for some purpose, they say.

Andrew Gillen, Matthew Denhart and Jonathan Robe:
Using U.S. Department of Education data, this report compares estimates of colleges and universities educational revenues and costs and finds that many colleges and universities are paid more to provide an education than they spend providing one to their students. These findings challenge the conventional wisdom which holds that the education for virtually all students is heavily subsidized. Although total university spending is often in excess of the tuition charges students pay, in reality only a portion of many institutions' budgets go directly to educational spending, meaning that many schools spend large amounts on things totally unrelated to educating students. Ultimately, many students are left paying the bill through tuition bills which are greater than the costs of their education.

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Geometric minds skip school

Bruce Bower:

In a South American jungle, far from traffic circles, city squares and the Pentagon, beats the heart of geometry.

Villagers belonging to an Amazonian group called the Mundurucú intuitively grasp abstract geometric principles despite having no formal math education, say psychologist Véronique Izard of Université Paris Descartes and her colleagues.

Mundurucú adults and 7- to 13-year-olds demonstrate as firm an understanding of the properties of points, lines and surfaces as adults and school-age children in the United States and France, Izard's team reports online May 23 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

U.S. children between ages 5 and 7 partially understand geometric space, but not to the same extent as older children and adults, the researchers find.

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Intervention From On High

Scott Jaschik:

When two faculty members disagree about issues related to research, is it right for an administrator to intervene?

A faculty committee at the University of California at San Diego examined that question in a report this week that finds that a dean responded to a dispute between two professors by telling one not to publish or speak out about the other's research. And that order, the committee concluded, violated basic principles of academic freedom.

"Faculty members' rights to study, re-analyze, and publish controversial scholarly materials cannot be abridged," says the report from the UCSD Committee on Academic Freedom. "These rights to academic freedom cannot be administratively revoked to prevent possible future breaching of professional norms. In our view, the campus administration's fundamental responsibility is precisely to protect the right of faculty members to research and publish scholarly work even when others, on or off campus, find the work or its conclusions controversial or objectionable."

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Wealthy don't need vouchers for private school

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:

Giving children in poverty private-school vouchers to escape failing public schools in Milwaukee is one thing.

But Gov. Scott Walker's proposal to hand vouchers to wealthy families in Milwaukee and other cities isn't justified or affordable for taxpayers.

This is especially true given the state's budget problems and cuts in aid to public schools. Walker's proposal could result in beleaguered taxpayers having to subsidize private school tuition for wealthy families who never intended to send their kids to public schools in the first place.

The Republican-run Legislature should keep Milwaukee's private school choice program as it is: focused on needy, urban children.

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Opposing points of view: For students' sake, schools should retain best teachers, no matter the years of experience

Michael Lomax & Michelle Rhee:

When times are tough, as they are now, and schools need to reduce their teacher rolls, the importance of teachers in our children's education demands that we keep the best.

It seems like common sense, Management 101, for any organization, company or agency that wants to do a better job in tough times. Your employees are your most important assets. So if some have to go, which ones do you keep? You save the best.

That commonsense rule of thumb should apply to schools and teachers. Research shows there is not a single school-based factor that has more of an impact on student learning than the quality of a child's teacher.

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Too Young for Kindergarten? Tide Turning Against 4-Year-Olds

Winnie Hu:

Erin Ferrantino rarely has to consult the birthday chart in her kindergarten classroom to pick out the Octobers, Novembers and Decembers. This year, there was the girl who broke down in tears after an hour's work, and the boy who held a pencil with his fist rather than his fingers.

Those two, along with another of Ms. Ferrantino's pupils who were 4 when school started, will be repeating kindergarten next year.

"They struggled because they're not developmentally ready," said Ms. Ferrantino, 26, who teaches in Hartford. "It is such a long day and so draining, they have a hard time holding it together."

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May 27, 2011

A Race to the Top Wisconsin could win, if it tries

Susan Troller::

It will be interesting to see if Gov. Scott Walker's office, the Department of Public Instruction and the Department of Children and Families join forces to make what could be a very strong Wisconsin proposal for federal funding to help young children get prepared for school and life.
On Wednesday, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced a $500 million program aimed at improving and coordinating preschool programs around the country.
This new Early Learning Challenge is the third round of the Obama administration's "Race to the Top" education competition among the states; this time the money is an incentive to encourage states to create or enhance innovative programs that will boost early learning, especially for low-income children.

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Is College (Finally) Ready For Its Innovation Revolution?

Derek Thompson:

If a college student today stepped into a time machine and traveled back to Plato's Academy of ancient Athens, she would recognize quite a bit. Sure, it might take some time to master ancient Greek and the use of stylus on wax, but she would eventually settle into a familiar academic routine. Senior scholars across a range of subjects like astronomy and political theory would lecture, pose questions, and press answers to a small group of attendants. Junior attendants would listen, answer, and defend responses.

That a class in 2011 resembles a lecture from 2,300 years ago suggests that two millennia of technological upheaval have only brushed the world of academics. Some professors use PowerPoint, and many schools manage their classes with online software. But even these changes don't fully embrace the potential of Web, mobile, and interactive technology.

"The present resistance to innovation [in education] is breathtaking," Joel Klein writes in The Atlantic this month. The former chancellor of the New York City Department of Education was writing about public high schools, but he might as well have been talking about universities. Despite college costs rising faster in college than any institution in the country including health care, we have the technology to disrupt education, turn brick and mortar lecture halls into global class

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Before Their Time: The 1960s saw the first significant presence of black men in Yale College. Forty years later, a disproportionate number have died.

Ron Howell:

In three decades as a news reporter, I've seen hundreds of bullet-riddled bodies in Haiti and in the Middle East, and I've had friends and colleagues killed in both of those places. I lost my father to cancer.

But no death transformed me like the death last August of Clyde E. Murphy, my buddy from the Class of '70, my brother in Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, the best man at my wedding as I was at his. Clyde was the confidant with whom I shared deeply held feelings about life and death and--perhaps most of all--about being a black man in America.

Then, six months later, as I was making peace with the sudden loss of Clyde to a pulmonary embolism, word came that yet another brother who'd pledged Alpha with us, Ron Norwood '70, had succumbed to cancer. A few weeks after that we learned that Jeff Palmer '70, another black classmate, had passed, also from cancer.

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On China's Single Child Policy & Coerced Adoption

Melissa Chan:

It was sheer luck that thugs showed up at Yang Libing's house while he was away. Mr. Yang, if you've had a chance to watch our report (below), is the father whose baby daughter was forcefully taken away from him by corrupt officials looking to profit by handing children over to adoption agencies. He was running late that morning, and what ended up happening was a rather awkward uncertainty as our team and these thugs looked at each other. They knew we were from Al Jazeera. I don't know how they knew that. They had been driving around searching specifically for us. They stood there and sized us up. In the end, the men sauntered away, ambivalent about the situation themselves. Had Mr. Yang been there, I imagine they would have stayed, their very presence meant to unnerve the person we hoped to interview. I must say we are often saved by the fact that many of the "Black Audi" types don't really understand how television newsgathering is conducted. Perhaps they believed we would also saunter off after a time, given the absence of Mr. Yang. We did not walk away, of course, but waited until he returned to speak to him.

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Encouraging young entrepreneurs to leave school $100,000 drop-outs

The Economist:

"WE'RE excited to be working with them, and we hope they will help young people everywhere realise that you don't need credentials to launch a company that disrupts the status quo," declared the Thiel Foundation on May 25th as it announced its first batch of "20 Under 20" fellows.

The lucky winners were all under 20 when they applied. There are actually 24 fellows, rather than 20, and each will receive $100,000 over two years, along with mentorship from a network of entrepreneurs and innovators selected by the initiative's sponsor, Peter Thiel (pictured above). The only condition set by Mr Thiel, who made his billions first by co-founding PayPal then investing early in Facebook, is that they drop out of college (or high school) to focus full-time on building a business. A few of the new fellows appear to have dropped out--or, as the press release quaintly puts it, "stopped out"--before they were chosen, to launch a start-up or even to climb mountains.

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Why Privacy Matters Even if You Have 'Nothing to Hide'

Daniel J. Solove:

When the government gathers or analyzes personal information, many people say they're not worried. "I've got nothing to hide," they declare. "Only if you're doing something wrong should you worry, and then you don't deserve to keep it private."

The nothing-to-hide argument pervades discussions about privacy. The data-security expert Bruce Schneier calls it the "most common retort against privacy advocates." The legal scholar Geoffrey Stone refers to it as an "all-too-common refrain." In its most compelling form, it is an argument that the privacy interest is generally minimal, thus making the contest with security concerns a foreordained victory for security.

The nothing-to-hide argument is everywhere. In Britain, for example, the government has installed millions of public-surveillance cameras in cities and towns, which are watched by officials via closed-circuit television. In a campaign slogan for the program, the government declares: "If you've got nothing to hide, you've got nothing to fear." Variations of nothing-to-hide arguments frequently appear in blogs, letters to the editor, television news interviews, and other forums. One blogger in the United States, in reference to profiling people for national-security purposes, declares: "I don't mind people wanting to find out things about me, I've got nothing to hide! Which is why I support [the government's] efforts to find terrorists by monitoring our phone calls!"

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Madison (OH) teachers wear black to show frustration over negotiations

Bryan Bullock:

A group of Madison teachers, dressed in black, shared a message with the district's school board Wednesday: Let's get this contract dispute settled.

It's been 10 months since the bargaining agreement expired for the Madison Local Schools Education Association, a union representing teachers.

The union and the district have locked horns on terms of a new contract. The school board rejected a fact finder's report in March, which the teachers union voted to accept, and the process continues to stall.

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Information About Law Schools, Circa 1960: The Cost of Attending

Brian Tamanaha:

The Association of American Law Schools (AALS) produced a comprehensive study of law schools in the late 1950s, sending detailed surveys to 129 law schools, with a 90% response rate. Here are a few interesting tidbits about the cost of attending law school:

Median annual tuition and fees at private law schools was $475 (range $50-$1050); adjusted for inflation, that's $3,419 in 2011 dollars. The median for public law schools was $204 (range $50 - $692), or $1,550 in 2011 dollars. [For comparison, in 2009 the private law school median was $36,000; the public (resident) median was $16,546.]

The report expressed concern about cost: "The cost of attending law school at least doubled in the [past] 16 years..., raising the question whether able, but impecunious, students are being directed away from law study."

14% of students received scholarship aid; just over half of this aid was for "scholastic performance" (merit scholarships to attract top students) and the remainder for "economic need."

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Public Schools Charge Kids for Basics, Frills

Stephanie Simon

Karen Dombi was thrilled when her three oldest children were picked for student government this year--not because she envisioned careers in politics, but because it was one of the few programs at their public high school that didn't charge kids to participate.

Budget shortfalls have prompted Medina Senior High to impose fees on students who enroll in many academic classes and extracurricular activities. The Dombis had to pay to register their children for basic courses such as Spanish I and Earth Sciences, to get them into graded electives such as band, and to allow them to run cross-country and track. The family's total tab for a year of public education: $4,446.50.

"I'm wondering, am I going to be paying for my parking spot at the school? Because you're making me pay for just about everything else," says Ms. Dombi, a parent in this middle-class community in northern Ohio.

Public schools across the country, struggling with cuts in state funding, rising personnel costs and lower tax revenues, are shifting costs to students and their parents by imposing or boosting fees for everything from enrolling in honors English to riding the bus.

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1.9% Washington teacher pay cut: Lawmakers strike budget deal

Andrew Garber:

Pay for teachers would be cut 1.9 percent and for school administrative staff by 3 percent over the next two years under a budget agreement released by lawmakers on Tuesday.

The pay cuts, worth $179 million, are part of more than $4 billion in cuts lawmakers are proposing as a way to close a roughly $5 billion budget shortfall.

The size of pay reductions for educators was a key area of disagreement during budget negotiations over the past several months.

A briefing on the proposal was scheduled for 10 a.m. The legislation still has to be voted on in the House and Senate.

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Close ties color boards' decisions

Susan Essoyan:

Some of Hawaii's charter school boards are so closely entwined with their school's leadership that the relationships could limit their ability to exercise independent oversight, a critical component to ensuring success.

Each volunteer board is responsible for governing the school, hiring the principal, setting policy and ensuring financial and academic viability, but a few might simply let the principal call the shots.

Some recent cases that have raised concern:

» Board members of Kula Aupuni Niihau a Kahelelani Aloha, a tiny bilingual school in Kekaha, Kauai, are related to the school's administrator and defer to her in fiscal matters, according to a recent independent financial audit.

"During our audit, we noted very minimal fiscal oversight by the Board of Directors and no Finance Committee," auditors concluded. "The fiscal operations and control are left to the Principal and the Accountant. The Local School Board currently does not have a member well versed in fiscal controls or financial statements."

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Oakland school's lessons in gender diversity

Jill Tucker:

A one-hour elementary school lesson on gender diversity featuring all-girl geckos and transgender clownfish caused a stir in Oakland on Monday, with conservative legal defense organizations questioning the legitimacy of the topic and providing legal counsel to parents who opposed the instruction.

On Monday and today, Redwood Heights Elementary School students at every grade level were being introduced to the topic of gender diversity, with lesson plans tailored to each age group.

The lesson on gender differences was one small part of a much larger effort to offer what parents last year said they wanted at the school: a warm, welcoming, safe and caring environment for all children, said Principal Sara Stone.

The school also teaches students about the variety of families at the school and takes on the issue of bullying.

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School voucher advocates gave $3M to state Republican campaigns

Associated Press:

A report from Wisconsin Democracy Campaign shows proponents of the school choice program outspent opponents 3-to-1 during the last election season. Nearly $1 million in outside election spending came from state business lobby Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce.

Assembly Republicans approved a bill earlier this month to expand voucher school enrollment in Milwaukee. Democrats call the program a privatization of education.

Opponents of the plan spent about $1 million to help elect mostly Democrats, with $841,000 coming from state teachers union Wisconsin Education Association Council. Sen. Spencer Coggs of Milwaukee received more than $39,000 in direct campaign contributions from opponents, the single largest amount for any Democratic senator.

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May 26, 2011

Top Colleges, Largely for the Elite

David Leonhardt:

The last four presidents of the United States each attended a highly selective college. All nine Supreme Court justices did, too, as did the chief executives of General Electric (Dartmouth), Goldman Sachs (Harvard), Wal-Mart (Georgia Tech), Exxon Mobil (Texas) and Google (Michigan).

Like it or not, these colleges have outsize influence on American society. So their admissions policies don't matter just to high school seniors; they're a matter of national interest.

More than seven years ago, a 44-year-old political scientist named Anthony Marx became the president of Amherst College, in western Massachusetts, and set out to change its admissions policies. Mr. Marx argued that elite colleges were neither as good nor as meritocratic as they could be, because they mostly overlooked lower-income students.

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After Hartland teachers agree, union blocks insurance switch

Mike Johnson

Teachers in the Hartland-Lakeside School District have agreed to switch health insurance providers to save the district $690,000, but the executive committee of a union that represents Arrowhead High feeder schools is blocking the change, officials say.

Faced with a $1.2 million reduction in state aid for the 2011-12 school year, the School Board has been looking at ways to reduce costs and avoid program cuts and increases in class sizes, Superintendent Glenn W. Schilling said Tuesday.

The board determined it could achieve some saving by switching teachers' health insurance from WEA Trust, the nonprofit company started 40 years ago by the state's largest teachers union, to another provider when the contract expires on June 30.

In the end, the board and teachers - after a series of joint meetings to study the issue - agreed to go with United Healthcare.

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Affirming the Goal Is College and Career Readiness an Internationally Competitive Standard?


Every child in the United States deserves a world-class education.
Every child deserves to be educated to high standards that offer opportunities to be successful in an increasingly competitive global economy.

But in a world that is becoming more competitive through increasing international labor markets and rapid technological advances, the US is facing new challenges to its economic competitiveness.

Jobs in a competitive global economy are demanding higher-level skills, higher productivity, and innovation, and other nations are surpassing the US in improving their educational systems to increase achievement, reduce achievement gaps, and elevate the teaching profession.3 In other words, they are educating themselves as a way to a better economy. So must we.

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Rewriting the textbooks: When science gets it wrong

New Scientist:

THE business of gaining understanding of the world about us rarely follows a simple path from A to B. False starts, dead ends and U-turns are part of the journey. Science's ability to accept those setbacks with aplomb - to say "we got it wrong", to modify and abandon cherished notions and find new ideas and explanations that better fit the emerging facts - is what gives it incomparable power to make sense of our surroundings.

It also means we must be constantly on our toes. While revolutionary new ideas such as evolution by natural selection, or quantum physics, are once-in-a-generation occurrences, the sands of science are continually shifting in less dramatic ways. In the following, we focus on nine recent examples - a tweak of a definition here, a breaking or weakening of a once cast-iron concept there - that together form a snapshot of that process in action.

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Will our children earn less than we do?

Gavin Kelly & James Plunkett:

How much did your parents earn when they were your age? Unless you buck the trend, the answer is less than you earn. But now, for the first time in decades, it's not clear if the same will apply to your children. From the US to Germany, living standards for typical households had stopped rising long before the economic downturn. It is time to step back from the anxieties over cuts to ask: have we stopped getting richer?

Even posing that question may feel counter-cultural. Our expectations have been shaped by the rhythm of late 20th-century capitalism: occasionally there are recessions and incomes fall, but then recovery comes and wages rise. Put simply, it has long been safe to assume that national economic growth leads to widespread personal gain.

But recent economic history complicates that assumption. In the five-year period before the downturn, while the overall British economy grew by 11 per cent, average wages were already flatlining. Disposable income per head fell in every English region outside London from 2003 to 2008. During a supposed national boom time, Britain's households were drawing a bust. A half-decade trend doesn't, of course, put us on an ineluctable path towards longer-term stagnation. But it should shake us out of complacency.

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Murdoch signals push into education

Tim Bradshaw:

Rupert Murdoch signalled that News Corp, the media group he heads, is to make a significant new push into the education technology market, in a high-profile speech to the e-G8 conference of internet entrepreneurs and European policymakers in Paris.

Describing education as the "last holdout from the digital revolution", Mr Murdoch outlined a vision for personalised learning and more engaging lessons delivered by the world's best teachers to thousands of students via the internet.

"The same technologies that transformed every other aspect of modern life can transform education, provide our businesses with the talent they need to thrive, and give hundreds of millions of young people at the fringes of prosperity the opportunity to make their own mark on this global economy," he said.

With Joel Klein, the former New York schools chancellor hired by News Corp in November, Mr Murdoch has visited pioneering educational schemes and classrooms worldwide, including South Korea, California and Sweden.

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Public Comments and School Board Budgets

Harry Deitz:

Senior editors in our newsroom had an interesting debate after the late afternoon news meeting one day last week: When should the public comment on school budgets?

Two of us believe the commenting should take place throughout the entire budget process and intensify after a tentative budget is presented by the school board. Two others argued that the majority of the public debate should take place just before the tentative budget is approved and made public. They believe that a tentative budget is basically a final budget, and at that point the public has little influence.

We all agreed on the importance of public involvement and commenting, and state law requires that citizens be given the opportunity to address these issues in a public forum.

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High schools offer grade boosts to students who improve test scores

Howard Blume:

High schools are offering a new deal at 39 Los Angeles campuses: Students who raise their scores on the state's standardized tests will be rewarded with higher grades in their classes.

If it works, schools also will benefit because low scores can lead to teachers and administrators being fired and schools being closed. A proposed teacher evaluation system relies specifically on these tests for part of an instructor's rating. Even the new superintendent's salary, and his tenure, are tied to scores on the California Standards Tests, which are administered this month.

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Early education lesson Gov. Snyder's preschool proposals stress lifelong learning; consolidate overlapping programs

The Detroit News:

Too many young children in Michigan aren't getting the foundation of learning they need before starting school that would allow them to succeed once their K-12 education begins. Gov. Rick Snyder is on the right track with his proposals for early education, which highlight the importance of lifelong learning.

It's a fine line for the state to walk. After all, should the state -- and taxpayer money -- be more wrapped up in making up for the shortcomings of parents? Probably not. But if the Michigan Education Department narrowly targets funding for pre-kindergarten development to the most at-risk youth and families, and offers guidance to other parents in teaching their young children themselves, it could provide a sturdier platform for these kid's futures.

In his speech on education last month, Snyder gave some startling statistics. Michigan kindergarten teachers say that only 65 percent of children enter their classrooms "ready to learn the curriculum."

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Obama's desire for data on your kid

Phyllis Schlafly:

The tea partiers are demanding that Congress not raise the debt ceiling but instead avoid default by cutting spending dramatically. Federal spending on education emerges as the discretionary item in the federal budget most available for the knife, and a House bill is being introduced by Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., that lists 43 education programs to be cut.

We've spent $2 trillion on education since federal aid began in 1965. The specified goals were to improve student achievement, eliminate or narrow the gap between upper-income and low-income students, and increase graduation rates from high school and college.

We have little or nothing to show for the taxpayers' generosity. Even Education Secretary Arne Duncan admitted that 82 percent of public schools should be ranked as failing.

So how will the army of educrats, whose jobs depend on billions of dollars of federal handouts, save their jobs? They've come up with an audacious plan that pretends to be useful in enabling them to discover what works and what doesn't, but it is so large and complicated that it would take years and require a huge computer-savvy payroll and billions of taxpayers' dollars.

And incidentally, it would be illegal because it's based on using executive branch regulations to override federal statutes.

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Compton parents' charter school petition could fail, judge rules

Los Angeles Times:

A judge has tentatively ruled that a petition by a group of Compton parents to force a poorly performing elementary school to convert to a charter school could fail because the signatures on the petition were not dated.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Anthony Mohr called the failure to document the dates when the McKinley Elementary School parents signed the petition "fatal," according to the Associated Press.

The Compton Unified School District, which governs McKinley, argued that dating each signature was crucial in determining whether a signer's child was enrolled at the school and had legal rights over the child at the time, the AP reported.

Mohr said in his tentative ruling Friday that he understood the "pain, frustration and perhaps education disadvantages" his 14-page decision might cause but added that he needed to follow the law.

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May 25, 2011

Sword for Peer Grading

Jennifer Imazeki:

As I mentioned, I'm using SWoRD in my writing class for econ majors. SWoRD is a site that not only facilitates peer review, it allows for student grades to actually be determined by their classmates' reviews. For each assignment, the instructor creates both open-ended comment prompts and a numeric rubric (the SWoRD template requires a 1 to 7 scale, though you can sort of get around that by skipping some of the numbers). Students submit their papers to SWoRD and once the deadline has passed, papers are assigned to peer reviewers (minimum of three, maximum of six; the creators of SWoRD strongly recommend at least five reviews if the scores will be used for grading). Everything is anonymous, as each student creates a pseudonym within the system (you just have to make sure students don't put their names in the text of their files!). I can either assign specific reviewers or have the system automatically assign them randomly. After the reviews are completed, the authors have the opportunity to 'back evaluate' the open-ended comments, indicating how helpful the comments were, or weren't; this is done before the authors see the numeric scores assigned by reviewers so the back evaluation is based purely on the open-ended comments.
Scaffolded Writing and Reviewing in the Discipline
SWoRD is a web-based reciprocal peer review system. In less fancy terms, students turn their class papers into SWoRD, which then assigns this paper to five or six peers in the class. The peers grade the paper and give advice for how to improve it. Students revise the paper and turn it back in to SWoRD, which distributes the paper to the same peers for final review. SWoRD determines the accuracy of the ratings through a complex process of separating out different kinds of bias in grading. The authors rate the advice given to them in terms of helpfulness. Reviewers get a grade for their work which is one half accuracy and one half helpfulness. In this way, reviewers must work hard and take their task seriously. SWoRD has been used in many different courses (graduate and undergraduate), in many different disciplines and at many different universities. The grades that are produced are just as reliable and accurate as instructor grades, and authors get advice that is possibly more useful than what they would have received from an instructor. Most importantly, SWoRD allows the instructor to assign writing tasks of the most important kind (with feedback and revision) without having to do any grading at all, which means that writing practice can now take place in every class (from small sections of 10 students to large sections of 1000 students). SWoRD is free for use. Instructors create an account and setup a course in SWoRD. Students then create their own accounts on SWoRD and sign-up for the class.

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Priority should be kids' reading, not politics

Tony Pedriana :

Since being named to Gov. Scott Walker's Read to Lead Task Force, I have come under some political scrutiny by those who oppose the governor's conservative agenda, most notably his attempt to disenfranchise teachers of their right to bargain collectively. Evidently, there are some who feel that it is acceptable to thwart an initiative that seeks to remedy the deplorable state of reading achievement in our state and use it as a weapon to extract some measure of political redress.

I am willing to take political heat for my participation on the panel, but the fact that I must is symptomatic of why we have been stymied in our efforts to address a public health issue of pandemic proportions and leave countless children as collateral damage in the process.

Having been both a teacher and administrator, and having served several stints as my school's union representative, I am naturally opposed to any action that would reduce teacher benefits and marginalize due process protections. But such issues have no place in any discussion that seeks to address how we set about the task of building competent readers. While we have much to accomplish in that regard, there are those who would claim otherwise even though:

Two-thirds of state fourth-graders cannot demonstrate age-appropriate reading ability.

Wisconsin's rank for that same cohort has dropped precipitously over the past decade - from 3rd to 30th among all states and the District of Columbia.

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Nearly Half of Americans Are 'Financially Fragile'

Phil Izzo:

Nearly half of Americans say that they definitely or probably couldn't come up with $2,000 in 30 days, according to new research, raising concerns about the financial fragility of many households.

In a paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, Annamaria Lusardi of the George Washington School of Business, Daniel J. Schneider of Princeton University and Peter Tufano of Harvard Business School used data from the 2009 TNS Global Economic Crisis survey to document widespread financial weakness in the U.S. and other countries.

The survey asked a simple question, "If you were to face a $2,000 unexpected expense in the next month, how would you get the funds you need?" In the U.S., 24.9% of respondents reported being certainly able, 25.1% probably able, 22.2% probably unable and 27.9% certainly unable. The $2,000 figure "reflects the order of magnitude of the cost of an unanticipated major car repair, a large copayment on a medical expense, legal expenses, or a home repair," the authors write. On a more concrete basis, the authors cite $2,000 as the cost of an auto transmission replacement and research that reported low-income families claim to need about $1500 in savings for emergencies.

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Deal Reached in Albany to Cap Property Taxes

Danny Hakim:

Pledging to provide relief to highly taxed suburban homeowners, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and legislative leaders said Tuesday that they had agreed to place a 2 percent limit on property tax increases in a plan that rivals the toughest such measures in the nation.

The proposed property tax cap, an agreement in principle that must be approved by the Legislature, is aimed at reversing the economic decline in many parts of the state outside of New York City. It also seeks to curb soaring property tax bills in areas like Long Island, Westchester County and pockets of upstate New York, where residents are facing among the highest property taxes in the nation.

Some residents, particularly those who are older and live on fixed incomes, are being forced out of their homes by rising property taxes.

"It is going to be a game changer, and it's going to change the trajectory of this state," Mr. Cuomo said.

New York has long had some of the highest property taxes in the nation, and those taxes increased by 5.5 percent, on average, each year from 1999 to 2009, according to statistics provided by the Cuomo administration.

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School District, Bank in Swap Clash

Ianthe Jeanne Duggan:

State College Area School District in Pennsylvania several years ago abandoned plans to build a new high school. This month, it received a notice that it owes $10 million to Royal Bank of Canada for skipping an interest payment on money it never borrowed for a school it didn't build.

The notice was the latest step in a legal battle over what the district calls a "naked swap" and what RBC describes as a binding legal agreement. The conflict is an example of how cities, states, schools and other public entities are second-guessing financial deals they made in recent years, pitting them against their own bankers and advisers.

Many of the regrets revolve around interest-rate swaps that became popular as a way for municipal borrowers to guard against jumps in rates. Typically under these contracts, a borrower pays a bank interest with a fixed rate and the bank pays interest with a floating rate in return. When interest rates declined, swaps proved costly to many borrowers.

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The Economic Value of College Majors

Anthony P. Carnevale, Jeff Strohl, Michelle Melton:

We've always been able to say how much a Bachelor's degree is worth in general. Now, we show what each Bachelor's degree major is worth.

The report finds that different undergraduate majors result in very different earnings. At the low end, median earnings for Counseling Psychology majors are $29,000, while Petroleum Engineering majors see median earnings of $120,000.

Peter Whoriskey:
An old joke in academia gets at the precarious economics of majoring in the humanities.

The scientist asks, "Why does it work?

The engineer asks, "How does it work?"

The English major asks, "Would you like fries with that?"

But exactly what an English major makes in a lifetime has never been clear, and some defenders of the humanities have said that their students are endowed with "critical thinking" and other skills that could enable them to catch up to other students in earnings.

Beckie Supiano:
Tuition is rising, the job market is weak, and everyone seems to be debating the value of a college degree. But Anthony P. Carnevale thinks these arguments are missing an important point. Mr. Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, has argued that talking about the bachelor's degree in general doesn't make a whole lot of sense, because its financial payoff is heavily affected by what that degree is in and which college it is from.

Now, new data from the U.S. Census Bureau sheds light on one big piece of Mr. Carnevale's assertion: the importance of the undergraduate major. In 2009, the American Community Survey, the tool the bureau uses to collect annual estimates of population characteristics, included a new question asking respondents with a bachelor's degree to give their undergraduate major.

After combing through the data, Mr. Carnevale says, it's clear: "It does matter what you major in."

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Class Warfare Inside the Fight to Fix America's Schools

Steven Brill:

A hard-hitting look inside America's K-12 showing why children are failing, who is standing in their way, who is helping, and what needs to happen.

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St. Paul Schools Streamlining Administration

Daarel Burnette II:

Under the new plan, a chief of staff, chief business officer for the division of finance and operations, a chief of schools, a chief academic officer and a chief of accountability will all report to the superintendent.

The district will bring back the chief of schools position, whose responsibility will include working with principals, evaluating schools and organizing professional development for teachers.

"That's an enhancement to support implementation of our Strong Schools, Strong Communities vision plan" that realigns school boundaries, Kelly said.

The former secondary schools assistant superintendent position will split into a high school and a middle school assistant superintendent positions.

That will allow for the middle school superintendent to focus on the district's transition of sixth-graders moving from elementary into middle schools.

"We're making a major switch by moving our sixth grade into middle school grades," Kelly said. "We need a lot of leadership and focus to make sure that's done correctly. We want that to be a seamless transition for our students and staff."

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Reforming French Universities

DD Gutenplan:

Q. What were these demonstrations about?

A. About the reform of universities. The L.R.U., the Law on the Responsibilities and Freedom of Universities. That was in 2007. The first demonstrations were autumn 2007. And then in 2009 we had the reform of what we call the status of researchers, which means that they are going to be evaluated -- there is going to be flexibility between their research responsibilities and their teaching. Because if you have a boss at the top of a university, the boss has to have a human resource -- the right to manage. This was really a big, big issue.

Q. Why make such sweeping changes?

A. First there is a political choice: to give priority to teaching and innovation. But if we wanted to give this priority, then we had to reform the universities. Why? Because we have a very separated system. Nearly everything in France has been built outside the universities. Napoleon created the grandes écoles [a system of elite engineering and professional schools.] General de Gaulle continued that, so we have some of the best pupils trained outside the universities, and not trained to do research.

At the same time we have research institutes -- like C.N.R.S. [National Center for Scientific Research], CERN [the European Organization for Nuclear Research] -- that do research outside universities. And the problem is that the world model is a university. If you have a ranking, you rank universities.

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Experiments in education reap widely varying results

Susan Essoyan:

As the number of students in Hawaii's charter schools grows, so has concern about oversight of these diverse campuses that rely on public money but are exempt from many state regulations.

Designed as laboratories for innovation in public education, charter schools now educate 9,000 children across the state, a nearly 50 percent jump in the past three years. Many of the state's 31 charter schools are in rural areas, tucked largely out of sight and out of mind. Other than their devotees, few people know much about them. But that might soon change.

The spotlight is shifting to these "schools of choice" that now educate about 5 percent of Hawaii's public school children under "charters," or contracts with the state. Sixteen years after Waialae Elementary became Hawaii's first charter school, the state auditor is conducting a performance audit of the charter school system, due out this summer.

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Charter ruling flunks history, ignores roots of segregation

Douglas Blackmon:

In the first sentences of an opinion issued last week by the state Supreme Court, Chief Justice Carol Hunstein declared without qualification that the Georgia Charter School Commission was illegal because of an "unbroken ... constitutional authority" existing since the adoption of the 1877 Constitution giving only "local boards of education" the power to create k-12 public schools. As a result, schools for 15,000 underserved children soon may be forced out of business.

But it's the next sentence in the 1877 Constitution -- left out of the court's opinion -- that reveals the true aim of "local control" in education in that era and punctures the logic of disallowing the charter commission a say in education today.

It reads: "Separate schools shall be provided for the white and colored races."

Arguing law with the Georgia Supreme Court may be above my pay grade. But I do know something about Georgia history. And it is astonishing that the court's four-member majority, without the tiniest acknowledgement of Georgia's history of racially abusive statutes, tainted court rulings and educational malpractice with regard to black children, would unblinkingly rely on one of the bleakest moments in the state's political and legislative past for the foothold of its ruling.

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Apple App Store

Verbally is an easy-to-use, comprehensive assisted speech solution for the iPad. It is the first free Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) iPad app that enables real conversation. Just tap in your phrase and Verbally speaks for you.
Verbally website.

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Discounting the College Expense Bottom Line

Kevin Kiley:

Private colleges and universities discounted tuition at unprecedented levels during the recession in a way that slowed down or reversed the growth in net revenue from tuition, according to a new report from the National Association of College and University Business Officers.

The discount that surveyed colleges and universities offered for full-time, first-year students through grants and other forms of need-based and merit aid hit an all-time high of 42.4 percent in 2010, a jump from about 39 percent in 2007. The report estimates that 88 percent of students at the institutions surveyed received some institutional aid, and those students paid about half of the college or university's sticker price.

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Urban Education Ph.D. Approved for IU School of Education at IUPUI

Indiana University School of Education:

The Indiana Commission for Higher Education has approved a new Urban Education Studies Ph.D. to be offered by the IU School of Education at IUPUI starting in fall 2012. This is the first doctorate degree in education to be offered entirely on the IUPUI campus. The degree will be one of just a handful of urban education doctorates in the country, focused on preparing researchers to study schools in complex urban environments. Faculty and students in the program will conduct community-based research designed in partnership with P-12 schools and community organizations. It will be the only urban education doctoral program in the state of Indiana.
"IUPUI's Ph.D. in urban education program is a distinctive, research-oriented degree program, and the first of its kind in Indiana," said IUPUI Chancellor Charles R. Bantz. "The interdisciplinary focus will prepare scholars who are capable of making significant contributions to improve urban education."

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May 24, 2011

Madison Teachers lobby School Board to keep planning time

Matthew DeFour:

Hundreds of teachers packed the Madison School Board meeting Monday night to protest changes in their contract next year related to planning time for elementary school teachers.

Some speakers reminded the board that elementary school planning time was a key issue in the 1976 teachers strike that closed school for two weeks. Tension among teachers is already heightened because of state initiatives to curtail collective bargaining and reduce education funding.

"Compensation has been reduced, morale is low, stress is high," Lowell Elementary teacher Bob Arnold said. "Respect and support us by preserving our already inadequate planning time."

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Madison West High School Sexual Assault

via a kind reader's email:

Please read attached letter with information about an assault at West High today. (The body of the letter is below, for anyone unable to open the attachment.)

Dear Students, Parents/Legal Guardians:

We want to make you aware of an alleged serious sexual assault that happened at West High School on Monday, May 16. A female student reported being forcibly sexually assaulted in a stairwell by a student acquaintance. The female student first contacted the Fitchburg Police Department which then notified the school.

West High School administrators and our education resource officer are working with Fitchburg Police on the investigation. An individual has been arrested for 2nd degree sexual assault and has been taken into custody.

As we continually evaluate our safety and security procedures at West High, this incident requires staff and students to be extra vigilant in all areas of the school. West High staff will work with the district's security coordinator and Building Services staff to examine access to all hallways, corridors, stairwells and elevators. Lighting, security cameras and building supervision are being reviewed and if changes are needed, they will be made.

This incident is deeply disturbing to us. We want to assure you that the staff at West High School will do all they can to make certain the school is safe. We are also prepared to help any student and family needing assistance as a result of this incident. They should contact any administrative staff at West HS.

If you wish to discuss safety at West High in greater detail, please contact the Superintendent.

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Analysis finds small number of University of Texas faculty teach most students

Eric Dexheimer:

Twenty percent of University of Texas at Austin professors instruct most of the school's students, while the least-productive fifth of the faculty carry only 2 percent of the university's teaching load, according to an analysis of recently released data by a researcher with ties to an Austin organization promoting controversial changes in how the state runs its higher education system. Meanwhile, 10 percent of the faculty bring in 90 percent of its research grants.

The UT System's flagship school could save taxpayers millions of dollars by increasing professors' teaching loads and jettisoning under-performing instructors without jeopardizing the school's commitment to research, said Richard Vedder, an economics professor and director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity.

The center, "dedicated to researching the rising costs and stagnant efficiency in higher education," released the report late Friday. UT faculty members quickly took issue with its conclusions.

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Districts asked to name teachers who used sick time during protests

Matthew DeFour:

School districts across the state are being asked to release the names of teachers who called in sick during protests in February at the Capitol, a move that led to closures for a day or more in many districts.

It's unclear how many of the state's 424 districts received requests, but several conservative groups have made public records requests for teacher names. Most districts have released them.

But the Madison School District denied several requests, saying the release could risk the safety of teachers and students, and disrupt morale and the learning environment in schools.

And the s, the state's largest teachers union, used a similar argument in asking a La Crosse County judge to quash the release of teacher names in the La Crosse and Holmen districts.

The judge recently blocked the release of names in Holmen and may rule soon on the La Crosse case.

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Wisconsin DPI Superintendent Evers calls voucher expansion 'morally wrong' in memo to legislators; Tony Evers Needs a Reality Check on School Choice

Karen Herzog:

State Superintendent Tony Evers [SIS link] in a memo Monday urged the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee to restore funding for public schools and work collaboratively to improve the quality of all Milwaukee schools before considering any voucher expansion.

"To spend hundreds of millions to expand a 20-year-old program that has not improved overall student achievement, while defunding public education, is morally wrong," Evers said in the memo.

Gov. Scott Walker has proposed eliminating the income limits on participating in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, eliminating the enrollment cap and has proposed opening up private schools throughout Milwaukee County to accept vouchers from Milwaukee students. Walker has spoken of expanding the voucher program to other urban areas in the state, such as Racine, Green Bay and Beloit.

The Milwaukee Parental Choice Program was created to improve academic performance among low-income students who had limited access to high-performing schools. Low-income students use taxpayer money to attend private schools, including religious schools. Each voucher is worth $6,442. The program now is limited to 22,500 students; 20,189 are in the program this year.

However, after 20 years and spending over $1 billion, academic performance data and the enrollment history of the school choice program point to several "concerning trends," Evers said in his analysis of voucher student enrollment, achievement, and projected cost for long-term expansion.

Low-income students in Milwaukee Public Schools have higher academic achievement, particularly in math, than their counterparts in choice schools. Evers cited this year's Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts exams and the legislatively mandated University of Arkansas study, which showed significant numbers of choice students performing below average on reading and math.

Aaron Rodriguez:
At a press conference in Racine, DPI Superintendent Tony Evers gave his harshest criticism of school vouchers yet. Well beyond the typical quibbles over test scores and graduation rates, Evers claimed that school vouchers were de facto "morally wrong." It's not every day that a State Superintendent of education accuses an education-reform program of being immoral. In doing so, Tony Evers may have bitten off more than he could chew.

Calling a school voucher program morally wrong inculpates more than just the program, it inculpates parents, teachers, organizations, lawmakers, and a majority of Americans that endorse it. In fact, one could reasonably argue that Evers' statement makes himself morally culpable since Milwaukee's voucher program operates out of the Department of Public Instruction of which he is the head. What does it say about the character of a man that knowingly administers an immoral program out of his own department?

In short, Evers' argument goes something like this: voucher programs drain public schools of their financial resources; drained resources hurt children academically; hurting children academically is morally wrong; ergo, voucher programs are morally wrong.

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Breakfast of Champions? Not in These Schools (Chicago)

James Warren:

When Mayor Rahm Emanuel's new Chicago Board of Education swings into action, it should not mark the occasion with a private dinner.

The members should have breakfast together in any of several thousand elementary school classrooms. There, they will get a glimpse of the mess they have inherited. Bring antacids and a nutritionist.

A Breakfast in the Classroom program approved by their predecessors is completing its mandatory rollout. All that can be said with certitude is that it has shortened instructional time in a system with the shortest school day and year of the nation's 50 largest districts.

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Why Every Student Should Learn Journalism Skills

Tina Barseghian:

How do we make schools more relevant to students? Teach them the skills they need in the real world, with tools they use every day. That's exactly what Esther Wojcicki, a teacher of English and journalism at Palo Alto High School in Palo Alto, Calif., is attempting to do with the recent launch of the website 21STcenturylit. I interviewed Esther about the site, and how she hopes it will serve as a useful tool for both students and educators.

How do you describe the mission for 21STcenturylit?

Wojcicki: The mission of is threefold: It is to teach students how to be intelligent consumers of digital media, how to be skillful creators of digital media, and to teach students how to search intelligently. We are living in an age when digital media and new digital tools are revolutionizing the world. Schools need to help students learn these skills, not block and censor the Internet.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:12 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Educators winning PR battle over K-12 funding, but GOP lawmakers winning the war on changing the status quo

Julie Mack:

KALAMAZOO -- Michigan school officials appear to be winning the public-relations battle over funding cuts in education, but Republicans lawmakers are winning the war on shaking up K-12 financial practices.

The probable implications as the dust settles this summer and fall: School employees will see cuts in benefits and possibly in pay; unions will have less leverage in contract negotiations, and schoolchildren will see larger class sizes and more participation fees for extracurricular activities.

There's a downside for the GOP, too, in the form of public backlash. A recent statewide poll by Epic MRA indicates two-thirds of Michigan residents, including a majority of Republicans, oppose cutting K-12 education to balance the state budget.

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Watson Goes From Jeopardy to Medical School

T Goodman:

IBM's Watson getting ready for his medical boards

'Watson,' the IBM super computer system that defeated the best Jeopardy! players on TV, now wants to go to medical school and beat the algorithms off the other medical computers already in the field.  When asked if being late to the market was a concern, the big guy said 'Are you kidding? Once I digest 6 million medical text books and 70 million journal articles, I'll kick every lit cell in their systems out to algorithm heaven!"

Though very confident, Watson still has two years of schooling before he's ready to kick butt, but his fans are delighted with his prospects, especially those who are working with him.  Recently, Watson gave the Associated Press (AP) a demonstration at IBM's T.J. Watson's research center. Columbia University medical school professor, Dr. Herbert Chase, and several students were there training Watson. 

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Middleton School Board Paying $300K After Porn Firing


The decision to fire a teacher for viewing porn at school has cost the Middleton school board about $300,000 in legal fees.

A teachers' union filed a grievance after the seventh-grade teacher at Glacier Creek Middle School was dismissed.

Ellen Lindgren, the president of the Middleton-Cross Plains School Board, said the board hates spending its limited cash on lawyers, but it's doing so because the community supports firing teachers who view porn at school.

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Elite South Korean Universities Rattled by Suicides

Mark McDonald:

DAEJEON, South Korea -- It has been a sad and gruesome semester at South Korea's most prestigious university, and with final exams beginning Monday the school is still reeling from the recent suicides of four students and a popular professor.

Academic pressures can be ferocious at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, formally known as Kaist, and anxious school psychologists have expanded their counseling services since the suicides. The school president also rescinded a controversial policy that humiliated many students by charging them extra tuition if their grades dipped.

After the last of the student deaths, on April 7, the Kaist student council issued an impassioned statement that said "a purple gust of wind" had blown through campus.

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A Longer School Day, or a Better School Day?

Adam Heenan:

Time is a valuable thing. I often wish I had more of it. I can pretty much say with confidence that you, Reader, probably wish you had some more too.

I don't like to waste people's time. I don't believe that any of us who engage in something we love want to either. When I form my lessons, teach a classroom full of high school students, or present information to my colleagues, I don't want others to wish they were somewhere else. Learning is at its best when students are engaged. Engagement can look like a variety of things: a student hard at work on his or her own composition, a thoughtful classroom discussion about ethics, participation in the school science fair, or designing an exercise regimen in P.E.

Teachers do not believe that what we teach is a waste of time. We can engage students easily when things are important to us.

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How to reform education: The answer song

Pamela Powers:

This week thousands of Arizona high school seniors will don caps and gowns and receive their high school diplomas, while others who successfully completed 12 years of schooling but failed the state's infamous AIMS test will be left feeling dejected and betrayed by our failing public education system. How can students pass all 12 grades and not pass the high-stakes test? What happens to these students now? These are but a few symptoms of Arizona's broken educational system.

Perhaps also reflecting on graduation day and the state's failing school system, the Arizona Republic recently published an editorial on education reform: 5 vital ways to reform K-12 education.

The five suggestions read like a right-wing wish list: 1) competition; 2) high expectations; 3) quality teachers; 4) intelligent use of technology; and 5) private sector involvement. Not surprisingly, the editorial was written by Craig R. Barrett, former CEO of Intel and current president and chairman of BASIS, a system of charter high schools.

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May 23, 2011

Money Lessons for Every High-School Graduate

Zac Bissonnette via a kind reader's email:

When Felipe Matos enrolled in the New York Institute of Technology to study graphic design, he never thought that degree would be the very thing that prevented him from pursuing his dream career.

But more than $50,000 in student debt later, he has found himself working as an assistant building manager in New York City -- with half his salary going toward debt repayment.

"In order to get into my field, I'd have to intern," says Mr. Matos, adding that his dream job would be at Pixar, the cutting-edge animation studio. But in order to avoid defaulting on his loans, he has had to defer his dreams. "I often get depressed because I always wanted to make cartoons and 3D animations for a living but can't," he says. His debt load also is affecting his life plans beyond his career: "I have a very loving and serious girlfriend, but I'm afraid we can't have kids or get married until we are in our late 30s."

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On the Agenda Madison School District Board of Education, the Week of May 23, 2011

TJ Mertz:

I picked a bad week to start doing "On the Agenda" posts on the Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education doings. Too much going on. Given the amount to cover, I'm going to try to keep the comments and context minimal. I should also note that I haven't yet decided how regularly I will do these again.

The details for all of the meetings are here. Here is the rundown.

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Protecting Students from Learning

Barry Garelick, via email:

I attended Mumford High School in Detroit, from the fall of 1964 through June of 1967, the end of a period known to some as the golden age of education, and to others as an utter failure.


I attended Mumford High School in Detroit, from the fall of 1964 through June of 1967, the end of a period known to some as the golden age of education, and to others as an utter failure. For the record I am in the former camp, a product of an era which in my opinion well-prepared me to major in mathematics. I am soon retiring from a career in environmental protection and will be entering the teaching profession where I will teach math in a manner that has served many others well over many years and which I hope will be tolerated by the people who hire me.

I was in 10th grade, taking Algebra 2. In the study hall period that followed my algebra class I worked the 20 or so homework problems at a double desk which I shared with Raymond, a black student. He would watch me do the day's homework problems which I worked with the ease and alacrity of an expert pinball player.

While I worked, he would ask questions about what I was doing, and I would explain as best I could, after which he would always say "Pretty good, pretty good"--which served both as an expression of appreciation and a signal that he didn't really know much about algebra but wanted to find out more. He said he had taken a class in it. In one assignment the page of my book was open to a diagram entitled "Four ways to express a function". The first was a box with a statement: "To find average blood pressure, add 10 to your age and divide by 2." The second was an equation P = (A+10)/2. The third was a table of values, and the last was a graph. Raymond asked me why you needed different ways to say what was in the box. I wasn't entirely sure myself, but explained that the different ways enabled you to see the how things like blood pressure changed with respect to age. Sometimes a graph was better than a table to see this; sometimes it wasn't. Not a very good explanation, I realized, and over the years I would come back to that question--and Raymond's curiosity about it--as I would analyze equations, graphs, and tables of values.

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The Math of School Heartbreak in Levittown

Michael Sokolove

WHEN he first introduced cuts at a public meeting last month, Samuel Lee, the superintendent of the Bristol Township School District, was plainspoken and direct. He did not say that everyone would pull together and the children would get the same great education, but, rather, that worthy programs would be dismantled and young teachers would lose jobs. "Everything that is going to be presented tonight is not good for our kids," he said as about 300 teachers, parents and students looked on. "We are heartbroken."

I grew up in blue-collar Levittown, and have written about it several times for this newspaper as a window into national sentiment. The community was deeply skeptical of Barack Obama early in 2008, then voted for him in huge numbers in the fall. In 2010, the local Democratic congressman was turned out of office amid a wave of national anger over the economy.

Over the past several weeks, I have watched as local officials and community residents confronted a budget shortfall that threatens to reverse hard-won gains in schools that once performed poorly. But I did not hear much of the polarization, argumentation and point-scoring that the cable news universe reflects as the totality of our civic discourse. In Levittown, this time around, the mood is one of sadness, loss and resignation. "We're all struggling in this community," W. Earl Bruck, an electrician, and chairman of the board's budget committee, told those at the meeting. "I can tell you that I've been out of work for 56 weeks."

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Standardized test scores shouldn't be the only measure of a teacher's performance. But they should be one of the measures

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:

Republicans in the state Legislature want to allow school boards in Wisconsin to use teacher evaluations, which are based partly on the results of students' standardized test scores, as part of the criteria for firing or disciplining educators.

We have some concerns about the details, but it is a good idea to hold teachers accountable for their work and to make state test scores part of that process.

At the moment, student test scores can be used as part of a teacher evaluation but cannot be a basis for dismissal. While poor results on state tests never should be the sole reason for firing or disciplining a teacher, it makes little sense not to consider them as part of a holistic evaluation.

Developing meaningful evaluations is difficult, though, and the Legislature should work with teachers as well as administrators and the state Department of Public Instruction to ensure that this bill considers their perspectives.

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Republican Profs Award More High and Low Grades Than Democratic Profs

Talia Bar & Asaf Zussman:

We study grading outcomes associated with professors in an elite university in the United States who were identified -- using voter registration records from the county where the university is located -- as either Republicans or Democrats. The evidence suggests that student grades are linked to the political orientation of professors: relative to their Democratic colleagues, Republican professors are associated with a less egalitarian distribution of grades and with lower grades awarded to Black students relative to Whites.

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Behind Grass-Roots School Advocacy, Bill Gates

Sam Dillon, via a kind reader's email:

A handful of outspoken teachers helped persuade state lawmakers this spring to eliminate seniority-based layoff policies. They testified before the legislature, wrote briefing papers and published an op-ed article in The Indianapolis Star.

They described themselves simply as local teachers who favored school reform -- one sympathetic state representative, Mary Ann Sullivan, said, "They seemed like genuine, real people versus the teachers' union lobbyists." They were, but they were also recruits in a national organization, Teach Plus, financed significantly by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

For years, Bill Gates focused his education philanthropy on overhauling large schools and opening small ones. His new strategy is more ambitious: overhauling the nation's education policies. To that end, the foundation is financing educators to pose alternatives to union orthodoxies on issues like the seniority system and the use of student test scores to evaluate teachers.

The Gates Foundation has funded many initiatives, including the controversial "small learning community" program.

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Stand up for children, education

Gregory Thornton, Milwaukee Schools' Superintendent:

The Milwaukee School Board and I recently had an unusual conversation. It came at the end of a meeting on our proposed budget. Struck by the sadness of the parents and teachers who had testified on the devastating impacts, and in dismay over the massive cuts to state funding offered by our governor, we came down to a question that summed up the past weeks: What do you do when the facts are not enough?

We have made considerable progress academically and financially. The 2009 McKinsey & Co. report listed potential cost savings for Milwaukee Public Schools in six areas. Efforts to trim costs for textbook purchases, food service, transportation, employee benefits and facilities were already underway when this report was released. Since 2009, the district has addressed each area and, as a result, at least $50 million has been or is scheduled to be saved.

Academic achievement is a priority. Fifty-seven percent of our schools increased their reading scores. Forty-three percent improved in math. Data released by the state Department of Public Instruction this spring shows MPS outperformed Milwaukee voucher schools on the state's test, even though the district serves a much higher proportion of students with disabilities.

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Whose Failing Grade Is It?

Lisa Belkin, via a kind reader's email:

SINCE the subject today is schooling, let's start with a quiz:

1. A third grader in Florida is often late for class. She tends to forget her homework and is unprepared for tests. The teacher would like to talk to her parents about this, but they fail to attend parent-teacher conferences. The teacher should:

a) fail the student.

b) fail the parents.

2. A middle-school student in Alaska is regularly absent, and his grades are suffering as a result. The district should:

a) fail the student.

b) fine the parents $500 a day for every day the student is not in school.

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Top Washington, DC Lobbyist Compensation

Mike Allen:

WHO YOU WANT TO BE TODAY -- CEO Update, a D.C.-based trade publication for association executives (a.k.a., "what we read on Blain's couch while he's on conference calls"), finds seven lobbyists who made seven figures in 2009, the latest year with data available: 1) Cary Sherman, Recording Industry Association of America, $3,185,026; 2) Bruce Josten, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, $1,340,455; 3) Todd Hauptli, American Association of Airport Executives, $1,312,350; 4) Alan Roth, USTelecom: The Broadband Association, $1,159,138; 5) Cynthia Fornelli, American Institute of CPAs, $1,154,37; 6) Rick Pollack, American Hospital Association, $1,087,024; and 7) Howard Schloss, Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), $1,065,628. (Fine print: "highest paid non-CEO staffer who is a federally registered lobbyist in a tax-exempt organization. Compensation figures include base pay, bonuses, deferred salary and nontax income on ... tax return from years ending in 2009.")

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Time for a lasting, true commitment to Nevada education

Marisa Suescun:

Gov. Brian Sandoval's veto this past week of the Democratic education funding bill marks a disappointing and counterproductive move for a governor who claims -- and I want to believe that he genuinely means this -- a commitment to improve the quality of education for Nevada's students.

The governor has proposed some thoughtful and worthwhile initiatives, most notably eliminating the "last in, first out" layoff policy in favor of one that allows principals to decide whom to lay off on the basis of teacher effectiveness. His proposals to reform the tenure system and the teacher evaluation system -- so that teachers who improve student achievement are retained and rewarded -- also merit support.

So, yes, eliminating the "last in, first out" layoff policy is both logical and useful. What would be more useful is mitigating layoffs altogether.

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Zero tolerance for print

Nicholas Carr:

Politicians are usually sticks in the mud, technologywise, but that certainly wasn't the case down in Tallahassee this week. Florida legislators closed their eyes, clicked their heals, and took a giant leap forward into the Information Age, passing a budget measure that bans printed textbooks from schools starting in the 2015-16 school year. That's right: four years from now it will be against the law to give a kid a printed book in a Florida school. One lawmaker said the bill was intended to "meet the students where they are in their learning styles," which means nothing but sounds warm and fuzzy.

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A Different Kind of School Reform

Richard Tellier:

Gov. Brian Sandoval and former Washington, D.C., schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee would have us believe that education reform is based on ending teacher tenure. We get rid of seniority, then magically, education will be fixed. That is a smoke screen, and it's not real education reform.

If you truly want to reform education in Nevada, think outside the box. Why is the school year only 180 days, with a three-month vacation? No other major industrialized power in the world has such a schedule. That schedule has existed since the 1850s, when children provided much of the labor force for the family farm. Why not radically change the calendar, to better match what our competitors are doing?

Much of Europe and the Far East have school years of 200 to 220 days, with the longest break being one month. Ask teachers how much re-teaching they have to do to regain the skills lost over the summer.

Other countries have a longer school day as well. Why do we only have a day that requires students to be in school for less than seven hours?

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May 22, 2011

Nead to Read

Chan Stroman:

The reading experts and government leaders on Wisconsin's "Read to Lead" task force are taking a close look at student reading achievement in Wisconsin schools. The meetings of the task force are open to the public; my "live tweeted" notes from the April 25, 2011 inaugural meeting are here:
Much more on the Wisconsin Read to Lead task force, here.

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Wisconsin's tech college grads have higher employment rate and starting salaries than 4 year grads

Michael Rosen:

The New York Times reports that only half of four-year college grads are landing jobs that require a four-year degree and that starting salaries have fallen from $30,000 in 2006 to 2008 to only $27,000 in 2010-11.

And these are the lucky ones. Only 56% of four-year college grads even held a job.

These results makes a Wisconsin technical college education look quite attractive.

The Wisconsin Technical College System's Graduate Follow-up Report indicates that 88 percent of 2009- 2010 technical college graduates were employed within six months of graduation, 71% in fields related to their field of study.

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Former Foes Join Forces for Education Reform

Sam Dillon:

Michelle A. Rhee butted heads frequently during her three-year tenure as schools chancellor of Washington with the president of the local teachers' union, George Parker, and eventually a voter backlash over the city's school reform wars cost both of them their jobs.

Now, in a strange-bedfellows twist, Ms. Rhee has named Mr. Parker as the first senior fellow of Students First, the national group she formed after stepping down as chancellor last fall. She says she hopes Mr. Parker can be a compelling voice for change, especially in speaking to teachers' union members around the country. He says Ms. Rhee hates teachers' unions less than most people think.

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Top World Central Bank Leverage Chart

Source: Grant's Interest Rate Observer, 5/20/2011 edition. Worth considering for financial & risk planning.

Related: Britannica: Central Banks and currency.

Basell III details: and Blekko.

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Will Wisconsin, teachers union have smarts to act in kids' interest?

Alan Borsuk:

Who loves the baby?

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett asked that at a forum of civic leaders last week.

In the biblical story, two women claiming to be the mother of the same baby take their dispute to King Solomon. He calls for a sword so he can split the baby in two and give each woman half. One woman tells him to go ahead. The second tells him to give the baby to the first so the child can live. Solomon, of course, awards the baby immediately to the second. A true mother would sacrifice just about anything, even maternal rights, to let her child live.

What does this have to do with the next couple of years for students in Milwaukee Public Schools?

This: If people act with wisdom, maturity and a willingness to sacrifice for the good of kids, there could be significant relief from cuts that will negatively affect just about all 75,000-plus students. The list could start with easing the looming big jumps in average class size.

The sacrifice part would fall largely on MPS teachers. But it would put them in line with what is almost surely going to happen to the large majority of teachers across the state.

The wisdom part would have to start with Gov. Scott Walker and Republican legislative leaders. Willingness to budge on ideological points hasn't been one of their most visible traits in recent months.

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How Do Unions Affect State Budgets?

Eileen Norcross:

Many questions have arisen from recent political events about the power of unions. In a new working paper published today, Mercatus scholar Eileen Norcross, compiled research on unions and clears up some misconceptions about the difference between private and public sector unions and how they work.

"The main differences between public and private sector come from economics," said Norcross. "Private sector unions can raise their wages, but not their employment. By contrast, public sector unions can increase both wage and employment outcomes."

The result, says Norcross, is that public sector unions can grow the size of budgets, while private sector unions are constrained by the profitability of the firm.

"Unlike private sector unions, public sector unions rely not only on collective bargaining, but also leverage their political influence to achieve these gains," said Norcross. "In fact, empirical studies indicate the political activity of unions may be more effective than collective bargaining at raising employment."

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New Jersey Governor Christie Alters Schools' Per Student Spending

Lisa Fleisher:

The Christie administration has recalculated the amount it says New Jersey public school districts spend per pupil, increasing the state average rate by several thousand dollars to more than $17,800.

The figure, from the 2009-10 school year, has been adjusted to include costs such as transportation, federal funding, debt payments and legal judgments that can vary greatly from district to district. In the 2008-09 school year, using the previous calculation, the state average was $13,200 per student.

The Christie administration says the new figure is more transparent and complete.

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The MIT factor: celebrating 150 years of maverick genius

Ed Pilkington:

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has led the world into the future for 150 years with scientific innovations. Its brainwaves keep the US a superpower. But what makes the university such a fertile ground for brilliant ideas?

Yo-Yo Ma's cello may not be the obvious starting point for a journey into one of the world's great universities. But, as you quickly realise when you step inside the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), there's precious little about the place that is obvious.

The cello is resting in a corner of MIT's celebrated media lab, a hub of techy creativity. There's a British red telephone kiosk standing in the middle of one of its laboratories, while another room is signposted: "Lego learning lab - Lifelong kindergarten."

The cello is part of the Opera of the Future lab run by the infectiously energetic Tod Machover. A renaissance man for the 21st - or perhaps 22nd - century, Machover is a composer, inventor and teacher rolled into one. He sweeps into the office 10 minutes late, which is odd because his watch is permanently set 20 minutes ahead in a patently vain effort to be punctual. Then, with the urgency of the White Rabbit, he rushes me across the room to show me the cello. It looks like any other electric classical instrument, with a solid wood body and jack socket. But it is much more. Machover calls it a "hyperinstrument", a sort of thinking machine that allows Ma and his cello to interact with one another and make music together.

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Racine School officials: vouchers 'morally wrong'

Lindsay Fiori:

Public school officials called vouchers "morally wrong" and potentially "crippling" for Racine at a press conference Thursday.

A school choice voucher program in Racine would cost taxpayers money while hurting the academic chances of public school students, officials said during the afternoon press conference at Walden middle and high school, 1012 Center St. The press conference was held in response to a proposal from Gov. Scott Walker to expand Milwaukee's school choice voucher program, which allows low-income Milwaukee students to receive state-funded vouchers to attend participating private schools. Walker has proposed removing the low-income requirement while also expanding the program to other cities.

Public school officials who spoke in Racine Thursday think that's a bad idea.

"School vouchers have been called 'a dagger in the heart of public education' and I think there's some truth to that," Racine Unified Superintendent Jim Shaw said at the conference. He explained vouchers take needed funds away from public schools -- when a child leaves a school with a voucher about $6,000 in per pupil state aid to that school leaves with them to pay for private school tuition.

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Summary of Illinois Senate Bill 7

Chicago Teachers Union:

Strike Rights

Fact finding: The creation of a three panel board that will look at the final offers from the Board of Education and CTU, publish those offers and study the validity of the different claims. The fact finding process will take over 75 days to complete.

If fact finding does not produce a resolution, then CTU members can vote to strike. In order to authorize a strike 75% of all our bargaining unit members must vote for it.

Attainment of Tenure

Under last year's PERA law, 4 ratings were established: excellent, proficient, needs improvement and unsatisfactory in a four-year probationary period. To achieve tenure, a teacher must have:

3 consecutive years of excellent ratings grants immediate tenure within 3 years.

Illinois General Assembly.

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Woof! John Elder Robison, Living Boldly as a "Free-Range Aspergian"

Steve Silberman:

John Elder Robison would stand out in a crowd even if he didn't have Asperger syndrome. A gruff, powerfully built, tirelessly curious, blue-eyed bear of a man, he hurtles down a San Diego sidewalk toward a promising Mexican restaurant like an unstoppable force of nature. "What's keepin' you stragglers?" he calls back to the shorter-legged ambulators dawdling in his wake.

As they catch up, Robison utters his all-purpose sound of approval -- "Woof!" -- which he utters often, being a man in his middle years who is finally at peace with himself after a difficult coming-of-age. For the acclaimed author of the 2007 New York Times bestseller Look Me in the Eye, a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder in mid-life was liberating, giving a name to the nagging feeling that he was somehow different from nearly everyone around him.

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UT regents seek more detail about faculty workloads

Ralph K.M. Hauriwitz:

On the same day that University of Texas System regents unanimously agreed to refrain from micromanaging the state's largest university system, at least one regent seemed to do just that by requesting records on individual faculty members' workloads, average grades for each undergraduate course and student evaluation scores of teachers, as well as a timeline for producing those materials, emails obtained by the American-Statesman show.

Regent Alex Cranberg requested the materials for each course taught in the 2009-10 academic year at the UT System's nine academic campuses, according to the emails. One email said Regent Brenda Pejovich joined Cranberg in the request, but officials said in interviews that she had not done so.

Cranberg submitted his request to Sandra Woodley, a vice chancellor for the system, on Thursday afternoon, hours after Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa received an unqualified vote of support, including a standing ovation, from the Board of Regents following a speech in which he declared that universities "simply cannot be micromanaged." Woodley had a staff member send the request to the campuses on Friday.

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Surplus to deficit: How we got here

David Rogers:

George W. Bush X 2 = Barack Obama in both extra spending -- and tax cuts.

It's a crude but fair summary of the two presidents based on new data mapping how the nation moved from surpluses in 2001 to record deficits over the past decade. And it takes on special meaning given the turmoil these days in the Senate, whether in producing a budget, salvaging months of work by the bipartisan Gang of Six or expanding the Treasury's borrowing authority to avert default.

For Republicans, the new numbers -- compiled by the Congressional Budget Office -- bolster the GOP's argument that President Barack Obama has gone well past Bush's hearty appetite for new spending. But for Democrats, the same equation underscores the fact that the growth in discretionary appropriations since 2001 has been matched almost dollar for dollar by a series of tax cuts that were also expanded under Obama.

"Starve the beast is the worst kind of diet," an administration official joked when told of the numbers. "It shows the beast eats more."

Indeed, from 2002 through 2011, CBO estimates that the combined tax cuts enacted by successive Congresses cost $2.8 trillion, even as increased appropriations added $2.95 trillion above projections for discretionary spending.

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Several New Jersey school districts to test new method of teacher evaluations

Angela Delli Santi:

The state Department of Education says a handful of public school districts will be picked to test new teacher evaluations beginning in September, with the bulk of New Jersey's 616 districts implementing the achievement-based reviews the following year.

Gov. Chris Christie has been pushing for revisions that would center teacher evaluations on student performance and teaching practices. Under the new system, teachers will be rated on a four-tiered scale from highly effective to highly ineffective. They will be rewarded or remediated based on their ranking and could be fired after two consecutive years of ineffective ratings.

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Wisconsin Supreme Court upholds life without parole for young teen

Bruce Vielmetti:

Omer Ninham was just 14 when he was part of a gang that threw a 13-year-old Hmong boy to his death from the top of a Green Bay parking garage in 1998.

On Friday, the Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld his life-without-parole sentence over arguments that recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings and new science about adolescent brain development demand Ninham deserves at least a chance for release later in life.

Justice Annette Ziegler wrote the majority opinion; Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson dissented, joined by Justice Ann Walsh Bradley.

"Under the circumstances of this case, Ninham's punishment is severe, but it is not disproportionately so," Ziegler wrote.

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Five myths about America's schools

Paul Farhi:

The end of the school year and the layoffs of tens of thousands of teachers are bringing more attention to reformers' calls to remake public schools. Today's school reform movement conflates the motivations and agendas of politicians seeking reelection, religious figures looking to spread the faith and bureaucrats trying to save a dime. Despite an often earnest desire to help our nation's children, reformers have spread some fundamental misunderstandings about public education.

1. Our schools are failing.

It's true that schools with large numbers of low-income and English-as-a-second-language students don't perform as well as those with lots of middle- and upper-middle-class students who speak only English. But the demonization of some schools as "dropout factories" masks an important achievement: The percentage of Americans earning a high school diploma has been rising for 30 years. According to the Department of Education, the percentage of 16-to-24-year-olds who were not enrolled in school and hadn't earned a diploma or its equivalent fell to 8 percent in 2008.

Average SAT and ACT scores are also up, even with many more -- and more diverse -- test-takers. On international exams such as the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, U.S. elementary and middle school students have improved since 1995 and rank near the top among developed countries. Americans do lag behind students in Asian nations such as Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan on these tests, but so do Europeans. The gap in math and science scores may be an East-West divide.

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May 21, 2011

Gift Card, Anyone? The Anatomy of a Fiasco

Madison School Board Member Ed Hughes:

I am in favor of a less adversarial and more collaborative and forward-looking relationship between the school district and MTI. I think it is unfortunate that the union seems to perceive that it is in its best interests to portray the school district administration as hostile to teachers. I would like to see a world where the union views itself less in an adversarial role as a bulwark against the administration's exploitation of teachers and more collaboratively as partners with the district in figuring out better ways to improve student learning.

From my perspective, my proposal - which, if adopted, would only have amounted to a gesture - wasn't intended to help persuade teachers to abandon their union. Instead, I'd hope that it may convey the message that, even when the administration and School Board disagree with teachers' positions and adopt policies that make their jobs harder, we are not the enemy. We want to work together collaboratively in pursuit of better results for our students.

Much more, here.

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Parents Battle School Districts for Special Support

Trey Bundy

In October, after months of anxiety, Caroline Barwick and her husband, Russell Huerta, celebrated the arrival of their son Sebastian's third birthday. It was the day the San Francisco Unified School District became legally responsible for addressing Sebastian's severe autism.

Ms. Barwick and Mr. Huerta met with school clinicians to discuss their son's education and treatment. But the meeting did not go as they had hoped -- the district offered Sebastian fewer than half of the therapeutic services recommended by three private doctors and did not offer a choice of schools.

"You're reeling from what's already been a tragic diagnosis," Ms. Barwick said, "then it's almost like you're slapped across the face."

The couple took legal action against the district. Last week, an administrative law judge criticized the district for its handling of the case and ordered it to reimburse Sebastian's parents for about $55,000 they spent on his therapy and education during the dispute.

Ms. Barwick and Mr. Huerta are part of a growing number of parents of special-needs children who are battling the school district over federally mandated support. The stakes are high. The district is facing a $25 million budget shortfall, and the types of intensive services in dispute can run into hundreds of thousands of dollars per child.

There is not always agreement on what constitutes appropriate treatment. Disputes between the district and parents are initially addressed in Individualized Education Program meetings, and sometimes in hearings involving lawyers.

Thirteen legal actions -- called requests for due process -- were filed against the district in the first three quarters of this fiscal year. There were just five during the same period last year. Some families and lawyers believe the district is taking a more aggressive approach toward special-needs cases to hold down costs.

"In a perfect world with unlimited resources we could provide every single family everything they want," Maribel S. Medina, the district's head legal counsel, said in an interview.

More than 6,000 students with physical, emotional or developmental disabilities attend San Francisco public schools. The federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, passed by Congress in 1990, requires school districts to provide those children from age 3 with a "free and appropriate education."

Rachel Norton, a San Francisco Board of Education commissioner who pays for her autistic daughter to attend a private school because she could not find an appropriate placement in the district, said school officials often weighed what would cost less: settling with families or litigating over services. "We have a lot of disputes, we spend a lot of money and we have terrible outcomes," Ms. Norton said.

In September, independent auditors commissioned by the district to evaluate special education services found that parents and teachers frequently complained of children being placed in programs that did not serve their needs. "Many parents view 'special education office' staff who attend I.E.P. meetings as being obstructionists and more interested in controlling costs for the district than making sure that children receive the supports they need in order to succeed in school," the auditors wrote in their final report.

Cecelia Dodge, assistant superintendent of special education, said at the time that school administrators agreed with the auditors' findings and promised to revamp special education services districtwide.

But some parents and lawyers involved in special-needs cases said the district had only gotten more restrictive in allocating services.

"They really developed a policy that they felt that they were settling cases too easily," said Michael Zatopa, a lawyer whose firm is handling Sebastian's case and has worked on special-education disputes for three decades.

Education officials said the district had increased training and supervision across the special education department, including clinical staff who help determine placement and student services. They said the district had also placed more restrictions on offering special-needs students placement in private schools.

"I have no doubt that they are seeing a major shift in the district's approach to special education, but it's a good shift," said Ms. Medina, the district's chief legal counsel.

Since Ms. Barwick's and Mr. Huerta's first meeting with the district in October, they have been engaged in an emotionally and financially draining battle over Sebastian's education. They have exhausted nearly all of their savings on therapy, private school tuition and legal fees.

Sebastian didn't start talking until he was well past 2. His progress was short-lived; a month later, he stopped using words, his vocabulary replaced by grunts and other noises. He repeatedly opened and closed doors, fixated on his shadow and detached from those around him. Specialists diagnosed autism and recommended Applied Behavior Analysis therapy -- which focuses on the relationship between a child's behavior and environment -- for 30 hours a week and a one-to-one aide in a mainstream preschool classroom.

Before meeting with the district, Ms. Barwick, who is an insurance underwriter, and Mr. Huerta, who works for a software start-up, asked three times to visit the district's programs for children with autism but said their requests were ignored. At the October meeting, they said, district representatives dominated the discussion and failed to make a formal placement offer, as mandated by federal law and the California education code.

In subsequent mediations, the district was represented by the Southern California law firm of Leal and Trejo, which advocated for the district's proposal: less than half the weekly therapy hours recommended by outside experts and a classroom assignment in which Sebastian would not be accompanied by an aide.

Mr. Huerta said that throughout the process, the couple felt stonewalled by a "juggernaut law firm-combo-school district."

Gentle Blythe, a district spokeswoman, said the district "takes its obligation to offer services seriously, and we evaluate each child to determine" the appropriate level of education. District officials declined to talk specifically about Sebastian's case.

Ms. Barwick described the district's offer as: "Your kid has autism, you get package A."

Negotiations dragged on for months as Ms. Barwick's and Mr. Huerta's expenses mounted. Mr. Zatopa, their lawyer, said the case was similar to others in which Leal and Trejo showed an uncommon willingness to litigate even when the evidence appeared to be stacked high against the district.

"I call it the gauntlet approach," Mr. Zatopa said. "Make things difficult and expensive, and the parents will give up, and in many cases that's true."

William Trejo, a lawyer and a former special education teacher who has represented the district on several special-needs disputes, said in an interview that private lawyers representing the families often prolong the legal process to generate fees.

"When we have to come in at the back end of problems on a litigation track, that's when the money is not put to best use," he said.

Sebastian's case came before an administrative law judge in March. In last week's ruling, the judge, Michael Barth, criticized the rationale for putting the couple and their child through the seven-month ordeal. "It is clear from the evidence that district had predetermined student's placement and denied parents meaningful participation in the decision-making process," Judge Barth wrote. In addition to covering the couple's legal fees, the district is required to arrange 30 hours of therapy a week and an aide for Sebastian.

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Oregon Board of Education raises reading benchmarks despite concerns about the impact on instruction

Kimberly Melton:

The State Board of Education today approved higher reading benchmarks for elementary and middle school students beginning this September.

Four of the board's seven members spent several minutes voicing concerns about becoming too focused on test scores and the dangers of raising standards without supporting increased classroom time, improved instruction and student engagement.

Yet, the new rates passed 6 to 0 with chairwoman Brenda Frank abstaining.

Board members say despite concerns, it's critical to raise standards as states move towards a common curriculum and to give students and their parents a more honest assessment of whether the students are on track to graduate on time.

Right now, state leaders say meeting reading benchmarks in third or fourth grade doesn't mean that a child is likely to be on track in high school as well.

Related: Problems in Wisconsin Reading NAEP Scores Task Force.

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Houghton Mifflin launches education challenge

Boston Globe:

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt said it has launched the HMH Global Education Challenge, which is designed to encourage "game-changing ideas" for improving student outcomes in K-12 education.

A Boston company that has a long history in the textbook business, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt said in a press release that entrants who submit proposals will be eligible to win from a pool of $250,000 in cash and prizes.

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Food Is Political Says Outspoken Chef Alice Waters

The Wall Street Journal:

According to food revolutionary Alice Waters, what we choose to eat says as much about our values as the way we vote. In an interview with WSJ's Alan Murray, the author and chef outlines her vision for thoughtful eating and sustainable farming, while accusing corporations of having little interest in health and nutrition.

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Fund gifted education

The Marion Star:

Ohio lawmakers are prepared to cut gifted education by a whopping 89 percent within the state's new education budget. Truly, today's economy means we all have to cut back, but why are gifted students targeted to take the biggest hit? Why are they singled out as not deserving an equal and appropriate education?

We are fortunate in the Marion City School District. We have not fallen victim to this unfair budget cut. Superintendent Barney and the school board have chosen to continue to serve our gifted students next year. For that, I am thankful. I must, however, be realistic. With monies being cut so dramatically, for how long will our district be able to maintain this service? Now is the time to let our legislators in Columbus know how important gifted service is. After all, public education is education for all children. Cutting funding for one specific group more deeply than any other group is simply unfair and unacceptable.

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L.A. Unified's librarians on trial

Nora Murphy:

Soon after I became a school librarian, a teacher came to me about Mario, an eighth-grader who had never read an entire book. Mario struggled to read at all, and English was not his first language, but he was a bright kid whose teacher believed in him. I recommended a short, funny, mysterious book that appeals to reluctant boy readers. Mario took it home, read it in a week and came back with his friends in tow to check out the remaining titles in the series.

When he was ready to tackle more challenging content, I started him listening to audiobooks while following along in the text, a strategy helpful for building fluency and comprehension. Mario would come to the library even when his track was on vacation, and he'd sit for hours, headphones on, reading. Soon, he was able to transition into reading the books on his own. By the end of that one school year, Mario had read 42 books, exceeding the goal set by the state of California for eighth-graders. He was ready for high school.

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Howard Dean: The Battle Between Unions and Charter Schools Is Over

Joe Williams:

We're not entirely sure what he's talking about, but former Gov. Howard Dean this morning, speaking on the subject of public charter schools declared "that battle is coming to an end."

On MSNBC's "Morning Joe," the one-time presidential hopeful and DNC Chair said "charter schools are the future," especially in inner cities, and praised the United Federation of Teachers in NYC for starting a charter school of their own.

To be sure, charter schools are an important part of the Democratic Party's official education platform (see here), but even in NYC, where the union and its charter school are co-located in a traditional public school building, union leaders and activists continue to spend a lot of time and money trying to whack the bejesus out of their vulnerable charter school competitors.

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Meredith Whitney Speaks, Muni Market Yawns

Mark Gongloff:

Professional scary person Meredith Whitney took to the op-ed pages of The Wall Street Journal this morning to sprinkle some more of her fear dust on the muni-bond market:
Municipal bond holders will experience their own form of contract renegotiation in the form of debt restructurings at the local level. These are just the facts.
She makes some good points, frankly, and offers some alarming numbers. State and local finances are plainly a mess, and off-balance sheet liabilities in the form of unfunded pension and other benefit obligations are a potential headache. That point is controversial, but it's always important to listen to Cassandras like Ms. Whitney, who made her bones as a prognosticator before the financial crisis.

But, interestingly, muni-bond investors are not exactly heading for higher ground today on her words. Muni-bond ETFs such as the iShares S&P National AMT-Free Muni Bond fund, are basically unchanged on the day -- at six-month highs.

Contrast that with last year, when Ms. Whitney's warnings of multiple muni defaults contributed to a brutal selloff in muni debt.

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Texas to Teach More Students With Less Money

Ana Campoy:

Education officials here are preparing to welcome 300 additional students in the next school year, on top of the 6,296 already enrolled. But a shrinking school budget in this Dallas exurb means there will be fewer teachers, aides, administrators and custodians.

School budgets are being cut across the country, but in Texas, which gained more residents than any other state during the past decade, school systems such as Little Elm Independent School District face the additional challenge of shedding costs while classrooms are bulging.

"It's really changing how we do business," said Lynne Leuthard, Little Elm's school superintendent.

The district is canceling prekindergarten for 3-year-olds--though keeping it for 4-year-olds--and cutting about 80 positions out of 827 in total; the layoffs include 30 teachers, a speech pathologist, a computer aide and 11 special-education aides.

"You just have to take the resources you have and spend them in the best way possible," Ms. Leuthard said.

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Oakland schools among the first in California to track student absenteeism

Katy Murphy:

It's a concept a kindergartner could understand: Children won't learn if they miss too much school.

Few would disagree, yet most school districts don't actually monitor the number of days that each child is absent. Schools track truancy (unexcused absences), and they count the number of children who show up each day. But they don't report chronic absenteeism, or the percentage of children who miss at least 10 percent of the school year, excused or unexcused.

"You can have a kid in kindergarten rack up a ton of excused absences, but they're missing a lot of school," said Hedy Chang, director of Attendance Works, a national and state initiative to promote awareness of the issue.

Chang presented her research Friday at an education forum in Sacramento hosted by Tom Torlakson, state superintendent of public instruction.

The Oakland school district became one of the first in the state to actively monitor chronic absenteeism, and the results have been sobering. Chang's analysis showed that 14 percent of all district students and more than 20 percent of African-American students missed at least 18 days of school last year. The report found the highest percentages of chronically absent children to be concentrated in West Oakland, an economically distressed area with high rates of violence, asthma and housing instability.

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Joel Klein's Bad Faith Argument: The Misuse Of Al Shanker

Leo Casey:

(This is the first of two posts on Joel Klein's essay, The Failure of American Schools, in the June issue of Atlantic Monthly.)

Last September, when Joel Klein was still at the helm of the New York City Department of Education, he delivered a luncheon talk for a business roundtable, the Association for a Better New York (ABNY). I attended on behalf of the UFT. In his spoken presentation, Klein attributed to the late UFT and AFT President Al Shanker the following phrase:

When school children start paying union dues, that's when I'll start representing the interests of school children.
Long before Joel Klein worked this line into his stump speech, I had come across it on the far right precincts of the web, where it is a staple of feverish discussions of the 'malevolence' of teacher unions.* Given the lack of source citation and the way in which the words rung so hollow as something Shanker would say, I was more than a tad bit suspicious about its authenticity.† Over the course of time, I asked a number of people -- some who had worked with Shanker for many years and others who had studied his life and career as scholars -- if they knew of any instance when he had spoken or written these words. Without exception, every person consulted had no knowledge of such a statement.

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May 20, 2011

Madison School District Literacy Program; 2011-12 Proposed Budget Hearing Remarks

We urge the Board of Education to approve and implement the initiatives and budget proposed for the school-wide literacy program [Public Appearance Remarks]. It is deplorable that heretofore there has been no systematic plan to address the reading and writing shortcomings of the District. These shortcomings are the most fundamental causative factor contributing to the poor achievement performance of our students. The proposed design of systemic changes to the curriculum, instructional strategies, engagement of teachers, support staff, students and parents/other adults and the realignment of financial and other resources will result in measurable student growth. Board adoption of the $650,000.00 2011-12 budget considerations is an absolute necessity of the very highest priority.

Our thanks and compliments to the Board and the administration for undertaking the assessment of literacy in the District. However, the Board must take a greatly increased leadership role in demanding the vigorous evaluation and assessment all programs, services and personnel throughout the District. There must be demonstrable commitment and evidence of the systematic implementation of the strategic objective of the five-year District Strategic Plan to address the woefully inadequate and insufficient data upon which to make decisions about curriculum, instruction and performance of students and staff.

The Board must not give any support for an increase in property taxes in finalizing the 2011-12 budget. Nor, is there any justification for using any amount of "under-levy carry-over" if such authorization should be re-instated by the state. There is no evidence to support an increase in taxes. We must be able to prioritize the expenditure of revenues available within the limits established. The Board has already demonstrated it cannot effectively manage its allocations to areas of highest need to strengthen the impact on curriculum, instruction and performance affecting student learning. Until and unless the Board can demonstrate a higher and more effective level of leadership with its decisions and priorities it cannot be trusted with more money that will only get the same results.

We support an increase in allocations for maintenance and electrical infrastructure up-grades conditional upon 1) re-allocation of existing funds to these areas; 2) clear and enumerated priorities, established in advance, for maintenance projects that are specifically related to safety issues; and 3) electrical infrastructure up-grades specifically related to priorities established for improvements and expansion of technology as identified in the Technology Plan for use in student learning, instruction, business services and communications with the public.

The Board must not give approval to the proposed amendment for providing staff with year-end bonuses. This is absolutely the wrong message, for the wrong reasons at the wrong time. It cannot be justified in 'rewarding' those staff who wrongfully abdicated their responsibilities in the classroom to the students; by insulting those staff who did attempt to fulfill their responsibilities; as well as insulting the parents and students harmed by those detrimental actions. It would be far better to allocate the 'savings funds' to resources actively and directly impacting student learning. The Board must make a commitment to providing leadership toward academic improvements and to creating a working culture of mutual trust and collaboration with employees and taxpayers.

For further information contact: Don Severson, 577-0851

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How to destroy a school system

Ruth Conniff:

There is something horribly fascinating about watching Wisconsin Republicans discuss their plans for our state's school system.

First, they swing the bloody ax:

  • The biggest budget cuts to our public schools in state history, nearly $900 million. Kerchunk.
  • A bill to create a statewide system of charter schools whose authorizing board is appointed by Scott Walker and the Fitzgeralds, and which will funnel resources out of local schools and into cheapo online academies. Kerchunk.
  • Lifting income caps on private-school vouchers so taxpayers foot the bill to send middle- and upper-income families' kids to private school. Kerchunk.
  • Then comes the really sick part. They candy-coat all this with banal statements about "reforms" that will "empower" parents and students and improve education.
Last week, Walker went to Washington, D.C., to give a speech to school-choice advocates at the American Federation for Children. He started off by reading a Dr. Seuss book, and talking about how "every kid deserves to have a great education."
Related: Problems in Wisconsin Reading NAEP Scores Task Force and Wisconsin needs two big goals.

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A personal view: environmental education -- its content and delivery

Paul R. Ehrlich, via a kind reader's email:

Arguably, no challenge faced by humanity is more critical than generating an environmentally literate public. Otherwise the present "business as usual" course of human affairs will lead inevitably to a collapse of civilization. I list obvious topics that should be covered in education from kindergarten through college, and constantly updated by public education and the media. For instance, these include earth science (especially climatology), the importance of biodiversity, basic demogra- phy, the problems of overconsumption, the fact that the current economic system compels producers and consumers to do the wrong thing environmentally, and the I=PAT equation. I also summarize less well-recognized aspects of the environmental situation that are critical but are only rarely taught or discussed, such as the nonlinear effects of continued population growth, the impacts of climate disruption on agricultural production, and the basic issues of human behavior, including economic behavior. Finally, I suggest some of the ways that this material can be made a major focus of all education, ranging from using environmental examples in kindergarten stories and middle school math to establish an international discussion of the behavioral barriers to sustainability.

Global human society is challenged in a way never before seen in human history. For the first time, humanity is fundamentally altering global ecosystems in ways that can threaten the continuation of our social order. The struggle to develop appropriate modes of behavior compatible with maintaining vital ecological processes is the great challenge of the twenty-first century. Educational systems are pivotal to meeting this challenge by equipping people with the knowledge and values to understand and address the human predicament. Thus, environmental education needs to be a vital component of all educational processes in developed nations from kindergarten to doctoral studies and continuing through the use of mainstream and social media.

However, in my view, environmental education is given much too little attention in the school systems of the USA and other rich nations, and is often poorly timed and structured when it is delivered. The situation is only marginally better in colleges and universities, despite the good efforts of environmental educators. Perhaps the best evidence for the inadequacy of environmental education is that "out of the classroom, people have failed to make the link between their individual actions and the environmental condition" (Blumstein and Saylan 2007, 2011). A basic problem is educational systems for the young are designed to fill people with various packages of "tailored" knowledge, and then send them "out in the world" to use that knowledge, especially to make a living. There is too little systematic thought given to the ever-changing needs of responsible citizens facing the culture gap--the enormous and growing gulf between the non-genetic information possessed by each individual society and that possessed by society (Ehrlich and Ehrlich 2010).

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Portland school bond: Hard-earned lessons in Portland's bond nail-biter

Susan Nielsen:

Portland isn't the kind of city to have nail-biting elections over school taxes. Levies "coast to victory" in the news headlines here. A special income tax will "pass easily by wide margins," even during an economic downturn.

Bonds pass, too -- until this week, when Portland voters narrowly rejected a $548 million capital bond and upended conventional wisdom about their loyalties and limits. This man-bites-dog result provides some invaluable lessons for the district and its campaign team as they regroup for the next bond effort.

Starting with this lesson: Never take voters for granted. Listen to what they're saying now -- not what they've said in the past.

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Actually, College Is Very Much Worth It

Andrew Rotherham:

Lately it's become fashionable -- especially among the highly credentialed -- to question whether it's really "worth it" to go to college. A recent report from the Harvard Graduate School of Education proposed deemphasizing college as the primary goal of our education system in favor of "multiple pathways" for students. Earlier this month, New York Magazine devoted almost 4,000 words to profiling venture capitalists (and college graduates) James Altucher and Peter Thiel and their efforts convince Americans that they'd be better off skipping college. Thiel is even creating a $100,000 fellowship for young people who agree to delay going to college in favor of an internship.

Make no mistake, there is widespread dissatisfaction with higher education. According to a new survey released by the Pew Research Center, only 40 percent of Americans felt that colleges provided an "excellent" or "good" value for the money. At the same time, 86 percent of college graduates still felt the investment was a good one for them.

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Crowdsourcing Education Innovation, For Cash

Neal Ungerleider:

One of the largest educational publishers in the world is offering cash prizes to the winners of a crowdsourced learning product innovation competition.

One of the world's largest educational publishers is turning to crowdsourcing for their next great product idea. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt's (HMH) initiative--the HMH Global Education Challenge--is an Intel Science Fair-style competition for educators that is giving away hundreds of thousands of dollars. Just one important caveat: HMH retains rights to the ideas.

The competition will be the first major attempt to develop for-market pedagogical materials via crowdsourcing. Participants will upload brief descriptions of their potential projects and then are able to view, comment, and vote on other proposals. A panel of judges, including former Education Secretary Bill Bennett and Bob Wise, the former governor of West Virginia, will decide on the winners from a pool of the 20 top-voted entries in September.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt is offering a $100,000 grand prize for the winning entrant and a $25,000 second-place prize. Another $125,000 worth of prizes, including iPads, netbooks, and textbook donations, will be distributed to contestants and the schools of their choice.

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New York Voters Pass 93% of School Budgets in State

Winnie Hu:

Voters across New York State approved more than 93 percent of school budgets on Tuesday, as administrators facing sharp reductions in state education aid offered plans to cut staff and programs, tap into reserves and keep tax increases relatively low.

Statewide, districts proposed an average budget-to-budget increase of 1.3 percent, the lowest in 15 years. (The five largest school districts -- Buffalo, New York, Rochester, Syracuse and Yonkers -- do not hold budget votes.) The average increase in local tax collections was 3.4 percent, up slightly from 3.2 percent last year, though 36 districts proposed no increase at all, and 20 reduced their tax collection.

Over all, 634 budgets passed and 44 were rejected, according to an analysis by the New York State School Boards Association. As of Wednesday evening, only partial results had been released by the State Education Department.

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Mixed grades for 'green' Spokane school

Jim Camden:

Lincoln Heights Elementary School has lights that turn off when rooms are empty, thermostats that automatically set temperatures back at night and carbon dioxide sensors in the gym to circulate air only when it's occupied.

It was constructed to "green" building standards, which cost Spokane Public Schools nearly $460,000 extra for the South Hill facility.

But the energy savings aren't what the district thought they would be, a discovery that other owners of green buildings are making all over the state, a new report from the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee says. Seven of nine public buildings built to green standards and studied by committee staff fell short of the energy goals they were designed to meet.

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Close bad charters faster

Jay Matthews:

The D.C. Public Charter School Board might soon close the Ideal Academy Public Charter School, more than a year and a half after I told it to.

When I made that suggestion in a December 2009 column, Ideal was a prime example of a charter school overdue for termination. Its high school, after four years, had shown that most of its students would be better off elsewhere.

"Of the 31 sophomores who took the D.C. Comprehensive Assessment System test in math last spring," I said then, "only 25.8 percent scored at the proficient level or above. Only 38.7 percent reached that level in reading. Among secondary schools [in the District], only six regular schools and two charter schools had lower math proficiency rates. Only 11 regular schools and three charters were worse in reading proficiency."

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California Governor Puts the Testing Juggernaut On Ice

Anthony Cody:

California Governor Jerry Brown has taken a big step towards reducing the testing mania in the nation's most populous state. Up until his administration we have been on an accelerated path towards the comprehensive data-driven system that test publishers and corporate reformers have convinced leaders is needed to improve schools. But in the May budget outline from Brown's office, he makes it clear he is putting on the brakes.

From the Thoughts on Public Education blog comes this:

Gov. Jerry Brown is proposing to suspend funding for CALPADS, the state student longitudinal data system, and to stop further planning for CALTIDES, the teacher data base that was to be joined at the hip with CALPADS.
What is even more encouraging is the explanation Brown offers, which shows a great deal of understanding of these issues. The document states:

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Minnesota charter schools get 1-year extension on new rules

Tom Weber:

Charter schools in Minnesota are getting a one-year reprieve from a deadline that threatened to close dozens of schools.

Those schools' sponsors were facing a summer deadline to continue sponsoring schools under a new system created two years ago. Schools without a sponsor, or authorizer, by this July would have had to close.

Gov. Mark Dayton signed legislation into law Wednesday that extends that deadline until next summer.

Eugene Piccolo with the Minnesota Association of Charter Schools said the deadline worried many schools.

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Forum focuses on bullying in Minnesota school districts

Minnesota Public Radio:

Midday presents a forum on bullying in Minnesota schools including students, parents, teachers, and a panel of experts held last night at the UBS forum. The forum tops off a special series of reports on bullying from Minnesota Public Radio News.

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Numbers don't hold up for tighter school security measures

Chris Rickert:

I was surprised to learn this week that my high school occasionally brought in drug-sniffing dogs when I was a student there some 25 years ago.

That might be because they were only used after school hours. It also might be because the dogs weren't very effective, given that I never felt discouraged from engaging in the kinds of behaviors during school hours that the dogs are presumably meant to discourage.

Neither were many of my classmates, whose on-school-property, school-hours transgressions often made my own drug-related rebelliousness look pretty lame.

But it's not only questions about the effectiveness of siccing Fido on schools that make me wonder about a package of Madison School District security proposals sparked by new concerns over drug, gang and other criminal activity in and around schools.

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6 Reasons Why You Shouldn't Go To Grad School

Erin Joyce:

More than 41 million Americans over the age of 18 have earned their college degrees, according to 2010 U.S. Census data. But once that hard-earned diploma has been handed over, many grads are faced with the decision of continuing their education with graduate school. Attaining a masters or PhD is an incredible achievement - one that comes with a high cost to a personal life, work experience and the pocketbook.

Before you pack up for another degree, consider these scenarios, in which grad school may not be the best choice.

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May 19, 2011

Ranking America's High Schools; Challenging All Students

The Washington Post:

Since 1998, The Post's Jay Mathews has ranked Washington-area public high schools using the Challenge Index, his measure of how effectively a school prepares its students for college. In 2011, the Post expanded its research to high schools across the United States.

The formula is simple: Divide the number of Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate or other college-level tests a school gave in 2010 by the number of graduating seniors. While not a measure of the overall quality of the school, the rating can reveal the level of a high school's commitment to preparing average students for college.

Jay Matthews: Behold the power of challenging all high school students -- not just the A team
West Potomac High School in Fairfax County and Oakland Mills High School in Howard County are as close as schools come to being twins. Both are in affluent counties and serve ethnically and economically diverse populations. Forty-seven percent of West Potomac students and 52 percent of Oakland Mills students are black or Hispanic. Thirty-eight percent at West Potomac and 31 percent at Oakland Mills are from low-income families.

But when I indulge in my obsessive comparison of schools by their college-level course programs, significant differences emerge. Oakland Mills often bars students from taking Advanced Placement classes if they don't have B's in previous courses. West Potomac lets in everyone who signs up and pays the test fees. The AP test participation rate at West Potomac is three times what it is at Oakland Mills, but the passing rate on tests at the Fairfax school is lower: 61 percent, compared with 78 percent at Oakland Mills.

Middleton is the only Madison area high school to make the list.

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Did I hear you raht?

The Economist:

ON A call with a bank call center, I was just given a little dialect-identification practice. I had just given the attendant my full name. She then asked me "What's your last name?", or so I thought. I repeated it, slightly unsure why she'd asked me to repeat my last name (it's pretty ordinary). But I misheard her. She'd asked "what's your wife's name?" I asked her where her office was located. Any idea where in America a person has to come from to make "wife" sound remotely similar to "last"? Take a guess before reading on.

The office was in Dallas, Texas, which is very close to the borderline of the dialect region known as "Inland South", as you can see on this map. What makes the inland south different from the lowland south? One of the chief things is glide deletion in the [ai] sound before unvoiced consonants. Glide deletion is what turns "ride" into "rahd", where a diphthong (two vowels, one gliding into the other) becomes a monophthong or single vowel. This goes on all around the south. What makes an inland southern accent inland and not lowland is that the glide deletion happens before voiceless consonants (like f, t and s) as well as their voiced equivalents (v, d and z). Around the south, "ride" comes out "rahd". But if someone's "wife" comes out "wahf", chances are that person is from the inland south.

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School board member Ed Hughes wants to give some docked pay back to Madison teachers (Proposal Withdrawn Later in the Day)

Matthew DeFour:

Hughes is making the proposal [56K PDF Ed Hughes Amendment] as an amendment to the district's budget.

Funding would come from the $1.3 million windfall the district will get from docking the pay of 1,769 teachers who were absent without an excuse on one or more days between Feb. 16-18 and 21.

The district closed school during those four days because of the high number of staff members who called in sick to attend protests over Gov. Scott Walker's proposed changes to public sector collective bargaining.

"Under the circumstances it seemed to me the school district shouldn't necessarily profit from that, because the teachers agreed to make up the time in a way that took away planning time for them," said Hughes, who is considering a run for school board president when new officers are elected Monday.

Hughes is also proposing increasing the district's proposed property tax levy for next year by about $2 million to pay for maintenance and technology projects and any costs associated with the district's implementation of a state-imposed talented-and-gifted education plan.

"It seems goofy that we give away $1 million and then raise property taxes [50K PDF Ed Hughes Amendment]," board member Lucy Mathiak said.

Jay Sorgi:
If a school board member in Madison gets his way, the district would used money it saved when teachers forced schools to shut down during the budget debate to award end of the year bonuses to teachers.

WTMJ partner station WIBA Radio in Madison says that teachers in Madison would receive $200 gift cards as year-end bonuses.

"Whenever we can, we need to show some kind of tangible appreciation for the extremely hard work our teachers and staff do," said Ed Hughes, a member of the Madison school board.

"They've had a particularly tough year as you know, given that they kind of became political footballs in the legislature. We're ending up slashing their take home pay by a substantial amount, pretty much because we have to."

Additional links: Related: 5/26/2005 MTI & The Madison School Board by Ed Hughes.

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Oakland Unified's strategic plan: It's here.

Katy Murphy:

I plowed through a draft of the Oakland school district's strategic plan today -- all 50 pages of it. It'll be discussed at a special board meeting at 6 p.m. Wednesday (tomorrow) at the district headquarters. You'll find links to the report below.

I won't be surprised if long-time observers of the school system remind us all of the Five-Year Plans of OUSD Past -- enthusiastically presented, but long since forgotten. I wonder how this plan compares to former superintendents' visions for Oakland Unified. It certainly contains some provocative ideas, such as "risk screens" for African American male students at certain transitional points, and school quality reviews that go far beyond the API score.

The plan describes various school funding formulas that the district might adopt -- but it doesn't recommend any. The current system, Results-Based Budgeting, allocates funding based on each school's average attendance. And unlike schools in most other districts, Oakland schools must cover the actual salaries and benefits of their teachers out of that budget. Schools with lots of teachers who are high on the pay scale typically have a harder time making ends meet in this system, as do those with low attendance rates and/or declining enrollment.

Those schools might find the below statement interesting:

The critical factors of enrollment and teacher salary and benefits do not universally allow for a balanced budget, requiring subsidies based on school size and salary/benefit costs, rather than student needs. While the definition of an adequate core program may change as district‐wide priorities and financial position change, it is the main responsibility of the school district to provide a basic educational program to all students.

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The Quiet Revolution in Open Learning

Kevin Carey:

In the late days of March 2010, Congressional negotiators dealt President Obama's community-college reform agenda what seemed like a fatal blow. A year later, it appears that, remarkably, the administration has fashioned the ashes of that defeat into one of the most innovative federal higher-education programs ever conceived. Hardly anyone has noticed.

Obama originally called for $12-billion in new spending on community-college infrastructure and degree completion. The money was to come from eliminating public subsidies to for-profit banks that made student loans. But late in the process, some lawmakers insisted that savings that had already occurred, because of colleges' switching into the federal direct-loan program in anticipation of the new law, didn't count as savings. Billions were pulled off the table, and the community-college plan was shelved.

Two days later, negotiators found $2-billion. But they could spend it only on a U.S. Department of Labor program restricted to workers who had lost their jobs because of shifts in global trade. The fit with the president's expansive agenda seemed awkward, and the amount was pennies on the original dollar. Cynical commentators called it a "consolation prize."

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Brazil May Buy Education Tablets to Lure Manufacturers

Mario Sergio Lima and Iuri Dantas:

Brazil's government may purchase tablet computers for public schools in a bid to lure manufacturers such as Foxconn Technology Group to build the devices in the country, Science and Technology Minister Aloizio Mercadante said.

Brazil may add tablets to the government's One Laptop per Child program and cut taxes on devices produced locally to reduce costs and encourage local manufacturing, Trade Minister Fernando Pimentel said. Brazil bought 217,200 laptops for the program in the last three years, according to figures posted on the Education Ministry's website.

"The inclusion of tablets in the program has an important role to play in helping increase the potential of investments aimed at the production of tablets in Brazil," Mercadante said in an April 27 interview in Brasilia. "We can find tablets at $150 abroad, that's a very reasonable price for the device."

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Yale Restricts a Fraternity for Five Years

Lisa Foderaro, via a kind reader's email:

A Yale fraternity whose alumni include both President Bushes has been banned from conducting any activities on campus for five years, including recruiting, as punishment for an episode last October in which members led pledges in chants offensive to women, the university announced on Tuesday.

Yale's publicizing of its disciplinary actions is highly unusual, but officials said their move followed a remarkably public and far-reaching episode. After the chanting in a residential quadrangle by members of the fraternity chapter, Delta Kappa Epsilon, 16 students and alumnae filed a complaint with the federal Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights accusing the university of failing to eliminate a hostile sexual environment on campus. The department confirmed last month that it had started an investigation.

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Steering Capital: Optimizing Financial Support for Innovation in Public Education

Kim Smith and Julie Petersen:

Public education has reached a moment of rare consensus: something must be done about the sorry state of our public schools, particularly in urban and low-income areas, and that the solution must deliver better results at scale - and without significant additional resources. Other fields like medicine and communications have embraced innovation - a new approach that achieves a better result - as the best means to this end. But education innovation has not yet lived up to its promise. In this paper, education entrepreneur Kim Smith and innovation writer Julie Petersen chart a path forward for how the public, private and nonprofit sectors can work together to advance education innovation by steering capital toward products, services and approaches that improve educators' productivity and students' learning outcomes.

Today, the educational ecosystem is not set up to support meaningful and widespread innovation. The policy and investment context that defines the flow of capital in education can either encourage or inhibit this innovation, and today it does much more of the latter than the former. Public policies and regulations favor compliance over excellence, rarely allow state or district buyers to choose flexibly between a range of high-quality product or service options, inhibit the flow of information that would allow buyers to anticipate or measure performance improvements, and offering few meaningful incentives for these buyers to adopt better products and services. The philanthropic capital market similarly provides few mechanisms for rewarding dramatically improved outcomes (including little funding for the scale-up of successful organizations), instead favoring small doses of funding across many organizations. Private investors shy away from fueling education innovation, intimidated by policies that restrict the work of for-profit providers in education, frequent policy volatility at the local level, market domination by a few large publishers that feel little pressure from competition or from their customers to really innovate, and a slow, relationship-based sales cycle that rarely measures or rewards quality.

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Strange Advice for Parents of Bright Kids

Tamara Fisher:

Awhile back, I posted here my "Strange Advice for Bright Kids." Today I offer the same gems again, but tweaked to fit the parents of remarkably bright kids. I am once again calling it "strange" advice because I like to look at things from unusual angles and this advice comes from perspectives others may not consider.

1) Ask for help. As you have likely discovered, being the parent of a gifted child isn't always the cakewalk that a lot of teachers, friends, and parents of average intelligence kids sometimes think it is. These bright lil' buggers can be INTENSE, which means keeping up with them can be exhausting. They can debate you into a corner, even at a very young age, rationalizing their way into controlling the conversation. Some gifted children have extremely high energy levels and may not need naps at an age when other kids still do. Their sensitivity can catch you off guard as seemingly nonchalant moments turn out to be the impetus that causes a meltdown. Their keen sense of justice means they're interested in causes beyond their years - and they enlist you to help them save the world. With remarkable focus, they become so immersed in the interesting task at hand that they are impervious to you struggling to tell them it's time for dinner. And your ten-year-old is having a mid-life crisis, exhibiting his existential depression by asking you questions you haven't even considered yourself yet ("Why am I here? Why is the world so cruel? What if I can't make a difference? What's the point if we're all going to die someday anyway?"). Plus you know that if you tell your friends you're worried about your seven-year-old because she's reading four grade levels above but only being given grade-level material and instruction - that their reaction will be a cynical snort.

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Burying the Bias in Teacher Data Reports, Part II

Jackie Bennett:

A few weeks ago I posted a report on Edwize about biases in last year's Teacher Data Reports. Teachers of high performing math students are 35 times more likely to fall at the bottom of the teacher ranking than at the top. [1]

Shortly after that, the DOE placed a document on its website that asserts that "...teachers of high-performing students are as likely to have high value-added scores as low value-added scores."

To me, call me crazy, this is unlikely to be true. First of all DOE charts found in the very same document seem to contradict that (more on that in a minute). What's more, DOE used a broad definition of "teachers of high-performing students," and also included some reports that were so unreliable they were not issued to teachers. Let's go through this step by step.

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An Open Letter to Wisconsin Governor Walker about His School Choice Speech to the American Federation for Children

Kim Grimmer:

Dear Governor Walker:

I visited the McIver Institute website to view the speech on your plans to expand school choice in Wisconsin which you gave to the American Federation for Children on May 9th. I have a few questions. If you want to just post your responses below in the comments section of this blog, that would be super! Thanks in advance.

1. Did you use a teleprompter? I don't think I saw you look at your notes more than once or twice in the thirty-three minute speech. If you gave that speech just winging it, I am very impressed. (When you ate David Gregory's lunch in his interview of you, I also gave you credit where it was deserved.) My one (very small) constructive criticism of your speaking style is to suggest that you cut back on nodding your head up and down "yes" when applause is washing over the podium. It makes you look a little bit like Dan Aykroyd in the Blues Brothers, and a little too self-congratulatory. On the other hand, if you make it to the presidency some day, and Mr. Aykroyd can lose some weight, he will probably be all set for a return gig on SNL.

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Democrats Want to Direct Additional Wisconsin Taxes to K-12 Spending

Andy Szal:

Assembly Democrats today proposed using more than half of the new money in last week's bolstered revenue projections to increase K-12 funding in the state budget, charging that Republicans have failed to distinguish between priorities that can wait and those that cannot.

"We are actually fighting for the very future of public education," Rep. Fred Clark, D-Baraboo, said at a press conference outside the Capitol this morning. Clark is running against GOP Sen. Luther Olsen in a potential recall election.

Dems proposed directing $356 million more toward school aids in the budget after LFB projections added $636 million to state coffers over the next biennium last week. Their proposal would also reserve $200 million of that revenue to repay the Patients Compensation Fund, $100 million to pay down some state debt and $20 million to increase aid to technical colleges.

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

Understanding UW Debate: Relative State Support Down, State Regs Remain.

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Thornton: More follow through needed on Milwaukee Public School reforms

Steve Schultze:

Plenty of talk, not enough action.

That was the blunt message Wednesday from Milwaukee Public Schools Superintendent Gregory Thornton, at a forum on how to fix what ails MPS, local government and the city as a whole in an era of declining public resources.

He said while rhetoric about change has been good, with a series of reforms laid out over the years, the focus and follow through have been lacking.

"We have an 'execution gap,' " Thornton said at the forum on Milwaukee's future with top city, civic and business leaders at Marquette University. "The problem is, we are not playing very well together."

He said greater effort at partnerships was needed and that the foundation for some solutions was already in place. MPS has vast libraries that might be put to greater use by the community, for example, he said.

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Know Your Madisonian: 40-year teacher has seen many changes

Matthew DeFour:

Of the six Madison School District principals retiring this year, Cathy McMillan has logged the most years of service with the district at 39 years.

Her 40-year career in education began as a sixth-grade teacher in Baltimore. Since moving to Madison in 1972, she has taught at the elementary, middle and high school levels, worked in district administration, and served as principal at Hawthorne Elementary School and for the past four years at Franklin Elementary School.

Q: Why did you decide to become an educator?

A: I remember my sixth-grade and first male teacher, Mr. Wiskita, inspired me to pursue my interest in math and science. Once I got into the classroom I was hooked. I wanted to see that all students enjoyed learning -- especially math. I wanted girls to love math and consider math-related careers.

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May 18, 2011

Helping Kids Beat Depression... by Treating Mom

Melinda Beck:

Successfully treating a mother with depression isn't just good for the mom; it also can provide long-lasting benefits for her children's mental health, new research shows.

About 1 in 8 women can expect to develop depression at some point in her life. Incidences peak in the childbearing years, with as many as 24% of women becoming depressed during or after pregnancy. More than 400,000 infants are born to depressed mothers each year in the U.S.

And decades of research have borne out the old expression "when Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy." About half of kids with depressed mothers develop the condition--three times the typical risk.

Sadness isn't the only symptom. Children of depressed mothers are more likely to be anxious, irritable and disruptive than other kids.

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Is Your Religion Your Financial Destiny?

David Leonhardt, via a Rick Kiley email:

The economic differences among the country's various religions are strikingly large, much larger than the differences among states and even larger than those among racial groups.

The most affluent of the major religions -- including secularism -- is Reform Judaism. Sixty-seven percent of Reform Jewish households made more than $75,000 a year at the time the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life collected the data, compared with only 31 percent of the population as a whole. Hindus were second, at 65 percent, and Conservative Jews were third, at 57 percent.

On the other end are Pentecostals, Jehovah's Witnesses and Baptists. In each case, 20 percent or fewer of followers made at least $75,000. Remarkably, the share of Baptist households making $40,000 or less is roughly the same as the share of Reform Jews making $100,000 or more. Overall, Protestants, who together are the country's largest religious group, are poorer than average and poorer than Catholics. That stands in contrast to the long history, made famous by Max Weber, of Protestant nations generally being richer than Catholic nations.

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Top 10 Questions/Comments Made By My Third Graders During Their First Ever Set of ELA and Math State Exams

Miss Brave:

(aka "Why Teaching In a Testing Grade May Cause Premature Aging," or "Why I Have Band-Aids On All My Fingers From Nervously Picking Off the Cuticles While Proctoring")
10. "Why do we have to use a #2 pencil?"
9. (Directions read by me: "You may not speak to each other while the test is being administered." Student:) "What does 'administered' mean?"
8. "I don't get how to show my work for this part."
7. (The test directs students to continue working when they see the words GO ON at the bottom of the page and to stop working when they see the word STOP. On the ELA, students get ten minutes per passage and have to STOP before being directed to move on. On the math exam, they get 60 minutes to do all 40 questions, no STOPping. On the math exam, one student asked:) "When is it gonna say STOP?!"
6. "But none of these choices are right."
5. "But both of these choices are right."
4. "Can I look this word up in the dictionary?"

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Seattle's Ingraham parents 1, Seattle Schools 0

Linda Thomas:

Parents, teachers and students have been in shock since the Seattle School District's interim Superintendent decided to fire a popular principal for little reason, they thought. They fought. They won.

This afternoon Superintendent Susan Enfield reversed her decision about dismissing Ingraham Principal Martin Floe, and sent the high school's staff this letter:

When I was appointed Interim Superintendent, it was with the clear charge to strengthen opportunities for all students to learn. You asked me to bring high levels of transparency and accountability to this effort. The decision I made last Tuesday about the leadership of Ingraham High School Principal Martin Floe reflects my efforts to realize these commitments.

However, I also know that a good leader listens. After extensive conversations with Ingraham High School staff and the community, I have decided to renew Mr. Floe's contact for the 2011-12 school year, under the condition that he continue on a plan of improvement, which I, along with his Executive Director, will monitor throughout the year.

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At Fairfax High, a new dance before the prom

Avis Thomas-Lester:

For weeks, Samantha Cormode's friends at Fairfax High School had been racking up invitations to prom, but she hadn't been asked.

Samantha, a senior who is headed to Virginia Tech with hopes of earning a spot on the women's soccer team, had been busy studying for finals, preparing for AP exams and making sure she stayed on top of everything she needed to do for college.

She'd been without a steady boyfriend since September, when she and last year's boyfriend/prom date had gone their separate ways. She had opted not to go to this year's event with a group of her friends because last year's boyfriend/prom date would be among the revelers with his new girlfriend.

That would be too weird.

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Teachers Swap Recipes

Bill Tucker:

In every school in America, in three-ring binders and file folders, sit lesson plans--the recipes that guide everyday teaching in the classroom. Like the secrets of talented cooks, the instructional plans of the best teachers have much to offer their creators' colleagues. But while the plans are increasingly digital, they are still not easily shared across classrooms, nor, especially, across districts or states. Even when these plans are accessible, they are often not organized in a way that makes them easy to use, understand, or customize.

Now, a host of new web sites, from A to Z Teacher Stuff to Lesson Planet to Lessonopoly, are trying to solve that problem and make it easier for teachers to share, find, and make better use of lesson plans and accompanying materials. One, TeachersPayTeachers, a sort of Craigslist for educators, says it has paid more than $1 million in commissions to teachers, who have sold everything from classroom hand puppets to lesson plans on the Civil War. The site even hosts a "lesson plan on demand" auction, in which teachers advertise for, say, 4th-grade materials on Texas history and other teachers bid to fulfill the request.

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Your So-Called Education

Richard Arum & Josipa Roksa:

COMMENCEMENT is a special time on college campuses: an occasion for students, families, faculty and administrators to come together to celebrate a job well done. And perhaps there is reason to be pleased. In recent surveys of college seniors, more than 90 percent report gaining subject-specific knowledge and developing the ability to think critically and analytically. Almost 9 out of 10 report that overall, they were satisfied with their collegiate experiences.

We would be happy to join in the celebrations if it weren't for our recent research, which raises doubts about the quality of undergraduate learning in the United States. Over four years, we followed the progress of several thousand students in more than two dozen diverse four-year colleges and universities. We found that large numbers of the students were making their way through college with minimal exposure to rigorous coursework, only a modest investment of effort and little or no meaningful improvement in skills like writing and reasoning.

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China closes stem-cell gap with the West

Fiona Tam:

China's aggressive drive to close the gap with the West in stem-cell research is paying off after five years of heavy investment in a branch of science free of the tight regulatory constraints and intense debate over moral issues that hamper experimental work elsewhere.

A decade ago, China had 37 stem-cell research papers published by reputable journals. By 2008, it was 1,116, the China Medical Tribune said. It now ranks fifth in the world in both the number of stem-cell patents filed and research papers published. And its numbers are growing faster than in any other nation.

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Single Standard vs. Multiple Standards (Or Checker vs. Shanker)

Ze'ev Wurman & Bill Evers:

ome people who favor national standards have pointed to the variability among states as making comparisons difficult and have been quick to point to national standards and tests as a consistent, nationwide, uniform system to judge all schools in the same way. No one has been more outspoken on those points than the Fordham Institute, whose 2007 The Proficiency Illusion report was touted far and wide. It was followed in 2009 by another Fordham report, The Accountability Illusion, that took states to task not only for having distinct definitions of proficiency, but also with fuzzing the issue even more by playing with other NCLB accountability rules. Checker Finn came out on its publication declaring:

"This report's crucial finding is that - contrary to what the average American likely believes - there is no common, nationwide accountability system for measuring school performance under NCLB. The AYP system is idiosyncratic, even random and opaque. Without a common standard to help determine whether a given school is successful or not, its fate under NCLB is determined by a set of arcane rules created by each state..."

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May 17, 2011

Madison schools 'don't want to wait' for a crisis

Matthew DeFour:

Responding to an increase in violence, drugs and gang activity in and around schools, the Madison School District is considering a broad effort to improve building security, including the use of drug-sniffing dogs in high schools next year.

The district also is proposing to lock the main entrances of middle school buildings during the day. Other recommendations include redesigning main entrances at West and Memorial high schools and adding surveillance cameras to all elementary and middle schools, district security coordinator Luis Yudice said.

"We are not doing this because we believe we have severe problems in our schools (or) because we experienced a tragedy in our schools," Yudice said. "We don't want to wait until there's a crisis. We want to get ahead of the game."

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School choice advocates spend freely on politics, WEAC Spending

Susan Troller

A rural legislator who received tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from out-of-state school choice advocates took flak back home for supporting expansion of a Milwaukee voucher program when his own school district is struggling financially.

According to a story in the Sauk Prairie Eagle last week, an aide to Rep. Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green, had to use a gavel to bring order back to a budget listening session at Sauk Prairie Memorial Hospital on May 6.

Marklein, a freshman Republican legislator, was asked if campaign contributions were influencing his support for two pieces of recent school choice legislation which provide public tax dollars for families to spend in private schools in Milwaukee. This, at the same time that the River Valley School District, which Marklein represents, has been forced to cut programs and staff and is facing more cuts in Gov. Scott Walker's budget.

Related: WEAC: $1.57 million for Four Wisconsin Senators by Steven Walters:
How much do election-year firewalls cost to build? For the state's largest teachers union, $1.57 million.

That's how much the Wisconsin Education Association Council said last week it will spend trying to make sure four Democratic state senators are re-elected - enough, WEAC hopes, to keep a Democratic majority in the 33-member state body.

Although there are 15 Democratic candidates running for the state Senate, and 80 Democrats running for the state Assembly, the latest WEAC report shows that the teachers union is placing what amounts to an "all in" bet on saving just four Democratic senators who are finishing their first terms.

Wisconsin Teachers Union Tops Lobbying Expenditures in 2009, more than Double #2

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Reforming Districts Through Choice, Autonomy, Equity, and Accountability: An Overview of the Voluntary Public School Choice Directors Meeting

Betheny Gross, Robin Lake, via a Deb Britt email:

In February 2011, the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) convened a conference to help districts implementing school choice under the U.S. Department of Education's Voluntary Public School Choice program. The conference, sponsored by the Department of Education, provided grantees access to the most current knowledge from district and charter leaders and school choice researchers on how to effectively implement public school choice.

The conference focused on the most pressing issues faced by localities committed to public school choice. Panelists addressed how choice districts can

actively manage the supply of schools in the district,
make careful decisions about the allocation of resources across these now independent schools,
build fair and transparent enrollment systems,
effectively communicate to all parents about their choices, and
invoke creative solutions to ensure that students with special needs are well served in these diverse schools.

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Is College Worth It? College Presidents, Public Assess Value, Quality and Mission of Higher Education

Pew Research Center:

This report is based on findings from a pair of Pew Research Center surveys conducted this spring. One is a telephone survey taken among a nationally representative sample of 2,142 adults ages 18 and older. The other is an online survey, done in association with the Chronicle of Higher Education, among the presidents of 1,055 two-year and four-year private, public and for-profit colleges and universities. (See the our survey methodology for more information.)

Here is a summary of key findings from the full report:

Survey of the General Public

Cost and Value. A majority of Americans (57%) say the higher education system in the United States fails to provide students with good value for the money they and their families spend. An even larger majority (75%) says college is too expensive for most Americans to afford. At the same time, however, an overwhelming majority of college graduates (86%) say that college has been a good investment for them personally.

Valerie Strauss has more.

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Madison East High assistant coach arrested for alleged sexual relationship with 16-year-old

Ed Treleven:

A Madison East High School assistant girls basketball coach was arrested Friday for allegedly having a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old female student.

A search warrant filed Monday in Dane County Circuit Court -- seeking a DNA sample from Jason L. Hairston, 29 -- states that the girl and Hairston began a relationship shortly after winter break, which ended Jan. 3.

Hairston remained in the Dane County Jail on Monday, where he is tentatively charged with sexual assault of a student by staff.

According to the search warrant, the girl told police that she knew Hairston through her involvement with the team. She said they had sex at a number of locations, including his home and her home, several motels, a parking lot on the North Side and the garage of a North Side home.

Letter to East High School Parents, via a kind reader's email.

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Guest Commentary: An education agenda for Denver's next mayor

Van Schoales:

The Denver mayoral race has been remarkable in its focus on education reform. Never before has there been so much discussion, debate and even television ads on this critical issue in the city's mayoral race. We are fortunate to have two candidates, Michael Hancock and Chris Romer, who are both education reformers.

Some point to the Denver mayor's lack of direct authority over the city's schools to argue that the candidates' rhetoric is better suited for the upcoming school board race. This misses the point: Denver's next mayor is sure to have a significant impact on public education in our city. And as President Obama and Colorado's U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet are demonstrating on the national level, serious and much-needed education reforms require strong leadership.

Hancock and Romer have their differences when it comes to education policy, but both realize the central importance of high-quality public education to bringing growth and prosperity to Denver. There are some truly great public schools in our city, but when the district schools as a whole are struggling to sufficiently prepare one-fifth of their students for college, work and civic participation, fundamental reform is required.

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Lawmakers and Others Discuss Changes to Education Programs for Prisoners

Brandi Grissom:

As state lawmakers combed the budget this year for cuts to close a multibillion-dollar shortfall, some leaders focused on a line item that usually draws little attention: the Windham School District, which received more than $128 million in 2010-11 to provide education to inmates in the state's sprawling prison system.

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Lawmakers will most likely cut that number significantly in the 2012-13 budget, and that could be just the beginning of big changes to come.

"The structure itself screams out for change, screams out for renovation and innovation," said State Senator Florence Shapiro, Republican of Plano and chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee.

The Windham School District is financed by the Texas Education Agency and overseen by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. In the 2009-10 school year, about 77,500 offenders participated in some type of Windham program. The school district operates much like a regular public school system, with a superintendent, principals and teachers at campuses across the state. It provides basic adult education, vocational training, life-skills programs and college-level courses.

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Four Degrees of New Jersey Education Association

New Jersey Left Behind:

Question: how many degrees of separation are there between the broadening coalition opposing the expansion of charter schools in New Jersey and the National Education Association?

First, a news hook and a bit of back story. On Saturday morning New Jersey School Boards Association’s Delegate Assembly overwhelming approved an emergency resolution put forth by the Princeton Board of Education that would require voter approval for the authorization of any new public charter school. The approval implicitly supports a pending bill sponsored by Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan (and, as NJ Spotlight reports, complicates prospects for a more carefully crafted bill that would expand authorizers beyond the DOE, sponsored by Assemblywoman Mila Jasey).

NJSBA’s disapprobation of charter school expansion is right in line with the political agendae of other education groups like Education Law Center, Garden State Coalition of Schools, and a new group called Save Our Schools NJ (SOS NJ). Their well-coordinated message is simple: taxpayers cough up the dough for public education so taxpayers should have veto power within their communities regarding the opening of any taxpayer-supported charter school. Anything else is taxation without representation, right? If a potential charter school wants to open, then it can put the question to a vote during election season.

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Jeb Bush's education ideas draw national attention

Lesley Clark:

Jeb Bush left the Florida governor's office in 2007, but his influence still holds sway in Tallahassee, and now is felt in state capitals from New Jersey to Oregon, where lawmakers are eager to adopt his ideas on how to improve education.

Since leaving Tallahassee, the popular former Florida governor has developed a national reputation as an education powerhouse and champion of vouchers and charter schools. His latest recognition: the Bradley Foundation, a conservative group that says it shies away from lauding politicians. Last week, it gave the Republican its Bradley Prize, a distinction that carries a $250,000 stipend.

"The reforms that he put in place during his two terms as Florida governor in many ways lead the country in elementary and secondary education," said Michael W. Grebe, the president and chief executive officer of the Bradley Foundation, which has spent more than $40 million over the last 20 years in support of charter schools and voucher programs, including as a donor to Bush's education foundation. "He put in place programs that have clearly raised academic standards. It's measurable, demonstrable. We're also really impressed by what he continues to do as a private citizen. When he left office, he didn't leave behind his work."

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NEA Gives Friend of Education Award to 14 Fugitive Wisconsin Democrats

Mike Antonucci:

NEA Gives Friend of Education Award to 14 Fugitive Wisconsin Democrats. Each year the National Education Association issues a "Friend of Education" award to some liberal worthy known for toeing the union line. Last year's award went to Diane Ravitch, and previous winners are Bill Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Jimmy Carter and Ted Kennedy.

This year the union decided to honor the 14 Wisconsin Senate Democrats who fled the state rather than debate and vote on the governor's collective bargaining bill.

It is believed to be the first multi-week sojourn to the Tilted Kilt ever to result in an award from a major national organization.

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Fairfax teacher Sean Lanigan still suffering from false molestation allegations

Tom Jackman:

Sean Lanigan's nightmare began in January 2010, when the principal at Centre Ridge Elementary School pulled him out of the physical education class he was teaching and quietly walked him into an interrogation with two Fairfax County police detectives.

He had no warning that a 12-year-old girl at the Centreville school had accused him of groping and molesting her in the gym.

The girl, angry at Lanigan about something else entirely, had made the whole thing up. But her accusations launched a soul-sapping rollercoaster ride that still hasn't ended.

"Emotionally, a part of me has died inside," Lanigan said in a recent interview. "I'm physically and mentally exhausted all the time, how the whole process has been dragged out to this date. It certainly has affected the quality of life for me and my family at home."

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May 16, 2011

Test scores could end a Wisconsin teacher's job

Erin Richards:

School boards across Wisconsin could use teacher evaluations - which rely in part on the results of students' standardized state test scores - as part of the reason for dismissing and disciplining educators, according to legislation considered by the Assembly and Senate education committees Monday.

Senate Bill 95 proposes modifying 10 state mandates so that local school districts have more flexibility to decide what's best for their communities, said Sen. Luther Olsen (R-Ripon), a co-sponsor of the bill with Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills).

The legislation covers a wide berth of areas - from allowing school boards to offer physical education credit to high school students who participate in one season of an extracurricular sport, to changing the way a state-funded class-size reduction program is implemented in the elementary grades - but was criticized by some legislators who thought it was too hastily brought to a hearing Monday.

Rep. Christine Sinicki (D-Milwaukee) noted that details about the bill were released only one business day earlier, on Friday, by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

"I'm pretty sure if there had been more notice on this, this room would have been packed," she said, looking at the meager crowd of about 30 people.

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Wisconsin Senate Bill 95 Testimony

TJ Mertz:

Thank you for this opportunity to testify on Senate Bill 95.

Due to time limitations — both the time allotted here and the very, very short time between the release of the Bill on Friday and the scheduling of this hearing for today — I will be confining myself to only two of the topics covered in this wide ranging measure. Those are the dilution of the Student Achievement Guaranty in Education (SAGE) and the use of student standardized test scores as a determinant of educator employment conditions. I will note that I believe every section of this Bill should be thoroughly sifted and winnowed.

Before directly addressing the proposals on SAGE and the use of student standardized test scores, I’d like to say a few things about the broader trend in educational thinking and policy in Wisconsin.

Not too long ago Senator Olson chaired a Special Committee on Review of State School Aid Formula. I sat though most of the meetings of that committee. Although little came of it, there was a sense of optimism and ambition in the work of that committee, a sense that we can and should do better. This spirit was captured in the title of the presentation by Professor Alan Odden “Moving From Good to Great in Wisconsin: Funding Schools Adequately and Doubling Student Performance,” (paper of the same title here) . It should be added that Doctor Sarah Archibald, who is anow dvising Senator Olson, was part of that work.

Much more on Wisconsin Senate Bill 95, here.

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Madison Edgewood High closed after student's death; school also deals with unrelated security issue

Matthew DeFour:

Edgewood High School closed Monday as students and parents grieved the unexpected death of a student Sunday, and school officials and police dealt with what they said was an unrelated security concern.

The death occurred the same day school officials met with parents to discuss concerns related to graffiti found in a bathroom Friday, according to emails Edgewood High School President Judd Schemmel sent to parents over the weekend.

"We don't have any reason to believe the two are connected," Madison Police Capt. Joe Balles said Monday, referring to the death and the security issue.

School officials did not tell parents that they decided to close school until late Sunday after learning of the student's death, according to emails sent to parents.

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Rahm's Education Promise

The Wall Street Journal:

Rahm Emanuel will be sworn in today as mayor of Chicago, having campaigned on promises to fix a school system that graduates only half its students. The veteran Democrat talks a good game and has appointed a schools CEO with strong reform credentials. But Mr. Emanuel has miles to go before he proves that his famous political toughness is a match for the unions and bureaucrats who will oppose any reform worthy of the name.

In addressing Chicagoans today, Mr. Emanuel will likely celebrate Illinois Senate Bill 7, which last week passed the state legislature and awaits Governor Pat Quinn's signature. The law is certainly welcome, and Mr. Emanuel was right to support it. But its provisions say less about the boldness of lawmakers than about the implacability of the status quo.

On the plus side, the law ties teacher tenure and layoffs to student performance, not just to seniority. The law also makes it easier to fire ineffective teachers--easier, that is, than the traditional process that in Chicago can include more than 25 distinct steps. And while it's good that the law makes it harder for the Chicago Teachers Union to strike, Illinois remains one of only 11 states to allow teachers to strike at all.

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Madison Preparatory Academy for Young Men's Website

Madison Preparatory Academy, via a Kaleem Caire email:

ased on current educational and social conditions, the fate of boys of color is uncertain. African American and Latino boys are grossly over-represented among young men failing to achieve academic success and are at greater risk of dropping out of school. Boys in general lag behind girls on most indicators of student achievement.

In 2009, just 52% of African American boys and 52% of Latino boys graduated on-time from Madison Metropolitan School District compared to 81% of Asian boys and 88% of White boys.

In the class of 2010, just 7% of African American seniors and 18% of Latino seniors were deemed "college-ready" by ACT, makers of the standardized college entrance exam required for all Wisconsin universities.

Madison Preparatory Academy for Young Men (Madison Prep) is a public charter school being developed by the Urban League of Greater Madison. Madison Prep will serve as a catalyst for change and opportunity, particularly young men of color. Its mission is to prepare scholars for success at a four year college by instilling excellence, pride, leadership and service. A proposed non-instrumentality charter school located in Madison, Wisconsin and to be authorized by the Madison Metropolitan School District, Madison Prep will serve 420 students in grades 6 through 12 when it reaches full enrollment in 2017-2018.

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Schools 'should teach how to save a life', says charity


A heart charity is calling on the government to include the teaching of life-saving skills in the national curriculum.

In a survey carried out by the British Heart Foundation, 73% of schoolchildren wanted to learn how to resuscitate someone and give first aid.

More than 75% of teachers and parents also agreed it should be taught in schools.

The survey questioned 2,000 parents, 1,000 children and 500 teachers.

The BHF wants emergency life support skills (ELS) to be taught as part of personal, social, health and economic education (PSHE) lessons and alongside physical education, citizenship and science.

Life-saving skills include cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), which can help someone who's had a cardiac arrest.

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What do teachers want?

John Merrow:

Readers of this blog or of my book, The Influence of Teachers, know that I believe that the harsh criticism of teachers and their unions is largely undeserved. I also believe it is hurting public education.

In the clamor, the voices of regular classroom teachers are difficult to hear, which is why I am devoting this blog to them. With apologies to Sigmund Freud, "What do teachers want?"

Some answers to that question can be found in recent surveys by Met Life and the Gates Foundation/Scholastic. I include some of those findings below.

Renee Moore, a veteran teacher who is certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, says it's all about respect. "Highest on my list," she wrote, "would be more respect for the professional expertise of teachers, particularly for those of us who have shown consistently, year-after-year that we are highly accomplished teachers."

That seems to be consistent with a Met Life finding that most teachers feel they are being ignored. "A majority of teachers do not believe that teachers' voices are being heard. Seven in ten teachers (69%) disagree with the statement that "thinking about the current debate on education, teachers' voices in general have been adequately heard."

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Grading teachers

Elizabeth Ling & Jocelyn Huber:

Gov. Cuomo yesterday wrote Merryl Tisch, chancellor of the state Board of Regents, urging a drastic change of direction as the state Education Department develops a new teacher-evaluation system. The governor's right: The first draft of that system deserves an F.

It seems Tisch got the message. Soon after the governor's letter went public, she released a statement committing to an overhaul of the evaluation system.

Cuomo's recommendations address many of the problems and offer a good starting point to build upon. Now it's up to Tisch and the Regents to adopt them in earnest when they meet Monday.

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American Dreamer: Sam's Story

Minnesota Public Radio:

"American Dreamer: Sam's Story" tells the story of a talented young jazz musician named Sam, who was illegally brought to the U.S. at age 5 by his Mexican parents. Though Sam dreams of attending college, he hides his status from even his closest friends, and can't legally work, drive, get financial aid, or even gain admission to some colleges.

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Wisconsin Voucher expansion is threat to public education

Appleton Post-Crescent:

here's a train coming, folks. And, unlike the proposed Madison-to-Milwaukee rail, this train really is high-speed.

If we're not paying attention, it could end up crippling public education in Wisconsin.

Gov. Scott Walker had already included in his 2011-13 budget proposal a plan to change the Milwaukee school voucher program, which allows low-income students to attend private schools on the taxpayers' dime.

It would eliminate the enrollment caps; expand it to include schools in all of Milwaukee County, not just the city; and phase out income limits, opening the program to middle- and high-income families.

The Assembly last week passed a separate bill that eliminated the caps and the Milwaukee-only school requirement.

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New Jersey School Board President Calls Charter Schools "Bad Public Policy"

Natalie Davis:

Speaking before the Board of Education during its meeting Thursday night, President Jack Lyness expressed strong feelings in opposition to the nation's burgeoning "charter school movement."

Charter schools are primary or secondary schools that are funded by government but operate independently from local boards of education in exchange for meeting academic standards stipulated by the state Commissioner of Education. Unlike private schools, charter schools are not permitted to charge tuition, and they are considered part of the public school system.

Many parents of New Jersey school children are considering charter schools as an alternative to traditional public schools. As of January, there are 73 charter schools in New Jersey-the state is the fourth largest charter authorizer in the U.S.-and the state Department of Education website predicts there will be more than 100 by the fall. This year, more than 22,000 children in grades pre-K through 12 throughout the state are enrolled in a charter school. According to the New Jersey Charter Schools Association, 66 percent of the state's charter schools achieved adequate yearly progress in 2008-09 compared to 44 percent of their local district schools.

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Class size hike spells trouble Impact of increase to 34 in K-8 will be negative

Alan Borsuk:

There are people who have been making a splash nationally by spreading word that judgment day will be May 21, and by fall, the earth will no longer exist.

If so, we don't need to be so alarmed about the future of Milwaukee Public Schools. Or a list of other school districts that aren't in quite as bad shape. Yet.

But in case we remain in this vale of tears a bit longer, let's talk about what is expected to happen to class sizes in MPS. This won't be pleasant.

MPS Superintendent Gregory Thornton used a number last week in a talk before civic leaders and, later, in comments to the School Board: 34. That's going to be the average class size next year, he said.

For kindergarten through 12th grade? No, he told me, for kindergarten through eighth grade. There's no estimate for high schools yet, he said. (As a general matter, high school classes are larger than younger grades.)

"Class sizes will increase," Thornton said. "That's just a reality. . . . This is a community that needs learning to be personalized and customized." In other words, it needs at least reasonable class sizes.

So 34 compared to what this year? Thornton estimated 28 to 29.

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May 15, 2011

Fast-Tracking to Kindergarten?

Kate Zernike:

ON command, Eze Schupfer reads aloud the numbers on a worksheet in front of her: "42, 43, 12, 13." Then she begins to trace them.

"Is that how we write a 12?" her instructor, Maria Rivas, asks. "Erase it."

"This is a sloppy 12, Eze," she says. "Go ahead: a one and a two. Smaller. Much better."

Eze moves to 13.

"Neater," Ms. Rivas insists. "Come on, you can do it." Finally, she resorts to the kind of incentive that Eze, her pink glitter sneaker barely grazing the ground, can appreciate: "You'll get an extra sticker if you can do a perfect 13."

Eze is 3. She is neither problem child nor prodigy. And her mother, Gina Goldman, who watches through a glass window from the waiting room, says drilling numbers and letters into the head of a 3-year-old defies all the warmth and coziness of her parenting philosophy -- as well as the ethos of Eze's progressive preschool. But she began bringing Eze and her older brother to these tutoring sessions nearly a year ago on the advice of a friend, and has since become the kind of believer who is fueling a rapid expansion of Junior Kumon preschool enrichment programs like this one, a block from the toddler-swollen playgrounds of Battery Park City.

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Ian Stewart:

Biology used to be about plants, animals and insects, but five great revolutions have changed the way that scientists think about life: the invention of the microscope, the systematic classification of the planet's living creatures, evolution, the discovery of the gene and the structure of DNA. Now, a sixth is on its way - mathematics.

Maths has played a leading role in the physical sciences for centuries, but in the life sciences it was little more than a bit player, a routine tool for analysing data. However, it is moving towards centre stage, providing new understanding of the complex processes of life.

The ideas involved are varied and novel; they range from pattern formation to chaos theory. They are helping us to understand not just what life is made from, but how it works, on every scale from molecules to the entire planet - and possibly beyond.

The biggest revolution in modern biology was the discovery of the molecular structure of DNA, which turned genetics into a branch of chemistry, centred on a creature's genes - sequences of DNA code that specify the proteins from which the gene is made. But when attention shifted to what genes do in an organism, the true depth of the problem of life became ever more apparent. Listing the proteins that make up a cat does not tell us everything we want to know about cats.

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Wisconsin Voucher program needs accountability

Tony Evers and Howard Fuller:

The children of Milwaukee deserve a quality education regardless of whether they attend Milwaukee Public Schools, a charter school or a private school through the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program.

A key element to support quality is transparency. Clear, easy to understand and readily available information, including test score results, helps parents and the public evaluate their schools. Traditional public and charter schools throughout the state have been using publicly reported test score results and other data to drive school improvement for years. This transparency was extended to the voucher program through laws enacted in the 2009-'11 budget.

This fall, for the first time, students attending private schools through the state's voucher program had their academic progress assessed with the same statewide tests as their public school peers. Results reported this spring showed that some public, charter and private schools in Milwaukee are doing very well, but too many are not providing the education our children need and deserve.

We believe that students in the voucher program, receiving taxpayer support to attend private Milwaukee schools, must continue to take the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination. Standardized tests, including the WKCE, do not paint an entire picture of a student, and many private schools participating in the voucher program take other quality tests. We need to put all the schools in MPS, charter and choice programs on a common report card.

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Speaking Up in Class, Silently, Using the Tools of Social Media

Trip Gabriel:

Wasn't it just the other day that teachers confiscated cellphones and principals warned about oversharing on MySpace?

Now, Erin Olson, an English teacher in Sioux Rapids, Iowa, is among a small but growing cadre of educators trying to exploit Twitter-like technology to enhance classroom discussion. Last Friday, as some of her 11th graders read aloud from a poem called "To the Lady," which ponders why bystanders do not intervene to stop injustice, others kept up a running commentary on their laptops.

The poet "says that people cried out and tried but nothing was done," one student typed, her words posted in cyberspace.

"She is giving raw proof," another student offered, "that we are slaves to our society."

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Yale in Singapore: Lost in Translation

Christopher L. Miller:

On March 31, Yale University announced final plans to open its first joint campus, in partnership with the National University of Singapore, to be known as Yale-NUS College. The Web site of the new, yet-to-be-built campus was launched immediately. It features Potemkin-village photographs of smiling students, presumably posing as future Yale-NUS students. So as of now, for the first time since 1701, there will be two Yales. (The old one should henceforth be called "Yale-New Haven," to avoid confusion.)

On April 11, in Singapore, President Richard C. Levin of Yale, along with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and the president of the National University of Singapore, signed the agreement establishing the Yale campus in the city-state, and they unveiled architectural plans for the new campus. In New Haven, faculty recruitment has begun, reportedly in an atmosphere of "enthralled" enthusiasm. But the Yale-NUS venture raises troubling questions about the translation of academic values and freedoms into a repressive environment.

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NYC Charter School Stalls in Court

Barbara Martinez:

The Upper West Side could lose its first charter school before it even opens.

A judge has slapped the Department of Education with a temporary restraining order that halted the start of renovations necessary on the school building on 84th Street where Upper West Success Academy Charter School plans to open in August.

The city downplayed the restraining order.

"While we do not believe the stay was warranted, it is not unusual for judges to preserve the status quo for a short period of time while they consider the legal issues before them," said Chlarens Orsland, assistant corporation counsel for the New York City law department.

The school, founded by former City Council member Eva Moskowitz, has been the subject of heated opposition since the DOE announced it would be allowed to take root in the old Brandeis High School building, where there are now five small high schools.

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Four Questions About Creative Writing

Mark McGurl:

1. Why do people hate creative writing programs so much?

Well they don't really, not everyone, or there wouldn't be so many of them--hundreds. From modest beginnings in Iowa in the 1930's, MFA programs have spread out across the land, coast to coast, sinking roots in the soil like an improbably invasive species of corn. Now, leaping the oceans, stalks have begun to sprout in countries all around the world, feeding the insatiable desire to be that mythical thing, a writer. Somebody must think they're worth founding, funding, attending, teaching at.

But partly in reaction to their very numerousness, which runs afoul of traditional ideas about the necessary exclusivity of literary achievement, contempt for writing programs is pervasive, at least among the kind of people who think about them at all. In fact, I would say they are objects of their own Derangement Syndrome. Logically, any large-scale human endeavor will be the scene of a certain amount of mediocrity, and creative writing is no different, but here that mediocrity is taken as a sign of some profounder failure, some horrible and scandalous wrong turn in literary history. Under its spell, a set of otherwise fair questions about creative writing are not so much asked as always-already answered. No, writing cannot be taught. Yes, writing programs are a scam--a kind of Ponzi scheme. Yes, writing programs make all writers sound alike. Yes, they turn writers away from the "real world," where the real stories are, fastening their gazes to their navels. No, MFA students do not learn anything truly valuable.

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Why NYC Kids Rule the Chess World

Jill Caryl Weiner:

When 10-year-old Drew French slid his rook down the center of the board to checkmate his opponent, it sealed the victory for his team from P.S. 166 during last weekend's National Elementary School Chess Championships here. And the Manhattan school wasn't the only one to bring chess trophies back to the five boroughs: city schools finished on top in five out of nine sections.

"New York teams are so dominant, they might as well call this the state championships," Matthew Noble, a chess coach at a school in Tucson, Ariz., said during the tournament in Dallas.

The city's chess prowess extends to all grades. At the junior high championships in April, New York City schools claimed first and third in the top level and won three of the remaining five sections. When high schools from across the country faced off in Nashville earlier this month, traditional chess powerhouses Hunter College High School, Brooklyn's I.S. 318 and the Bronx High School of Science took all three top spots in the tournament's highest level of play.

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On "Parents with Options"

Patrick McIlheran:

A "dagger," said the well-meaning man, "in the heart of public education." That man, who superintends Green Bay's public school system, was reacting to word that Gov. Scott Walker proposed letting parents statewide have the same option poor Milwaukeeans now have - to take their state school aid to a private school, if they choose it.

Parents with options: That was the violence that Greg Maass, that superintendent, was talking about. I don't mean to single out Maass. He colorfully phrased the apocalyptic view that many others had toward Walker's idea. A writer for The Progressive, the left-wing Madison magazine that figures we peaked in about 1938, tiresomely said it was "war on education."

Right: To increase options is to war on education. Actually, though, that is the heart of the complaint of the public school establishment. Giving families more control over where they can get a publicly funded education necessarily means less control for those in charge of what had been the only place you could get one.

But will Walker's idea kill off public education? Unlikely: Incumbent school systems already live with publicly funded competition.

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Free Science, One Paper at a Time

David Dobbs:

On Father's Day three years ago, biologist Jonathan Eisen decided he'd like to republish all his father's papers. His father, Howard Eisen, a biologist and a researcher at the National Institutes of Health, had published 40-some-odd papers by the time that he died by suicide at age 45. That had been in Febuary 1987, while Jonathan, a sophomore at college, was on the verge of discovering his own love of biology. At the time, virtually all scientific papers were just on paper. Now, of course, everything happens online, and Jonathan, who in addition to researching and teaching also serves as an editor for the open-access, online-only journal PLoS Biology, knows this well. So three years ago, Jonathan decided to reclaim his father's papers from print limbo and make them freely available online. He wanted to make them part of the scientific record. He also wanted, he says, "to leave a more positive presence" -- to ensure his father had a public legacy first and foremost as a scientist.

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May 14, 2011

Is College a Rotten Investment?

Annie Lowrey:

Here's a familiar story. Americans had a near-religious belief in the soundness of this investment. Uncle Sam encouraged it with tax breaks and subsidized it with government-backed loans. But then, in the 1990s and especially the 2000s, easy money perverted the market. Prices detached from reality. Suddenly, millions of Americans found themselves holding wildly overvalued assets. They also found themselves without the salaries or jobs necessary to pay off the huge loans they took out to buy the assets.

This is not just the story of American real estate. It is also the story of higher education, at least if you believe the dozens of different thinkers and publications that have come to this conclusion in the past few months. They say that higher education is a bubble, just like housing was a bubble, and that it is getting ready to burst. Famed entrepreneur Peter Thiel, for instance, insists that just about every degree is worth little more than the paper it is printed on: Schooling is not education, he says, and ambitious kids should drop out and skip forward to the workplace. New York magazine calls it one of "this year's most fashionable ideas." But is it really true?

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Bias against rigor in urban schools

Jay Matthews:

Former chancellor Michelle A. Rhee was often denounced as a hard case who used her maniacal emphasis on rigor to beat up D.C. teachers and students. I think that was a misreading of what she actually did.

Often the principals she hired were more concerned with creating an atmosphere where teachers connected with kids. Making students work hard was not a priority. Instead, the idea was to convince them to love learning and get those who were way behind up to grade level. Rhee and the principals and teachers she brought into the system talked about raising the ceiling on achievement and bringing more Advanced Placement and other college-level programs into D.C. high schools, but they didn't do much. My records of AP test participation in the city show no significant gains after Rhee arrived.

I think this is because there is a reluctance, even among the most energetic and reform-minded educators, to push low-income kids too hard. I think many well-meaning and hard-working people in the D.C. school system are biased against rigor. A glaring example of this was unearthed by my colleague Bill Turque in his article about the D.C. Public Charter School Board's decision to approve the opening of BASIS DC, designed to be the most demanding school ever seen in the District.

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Depressed students in South Korea We don't need quite so much education

The Economist:

A WEEK ago South Korea observed "Children's Day", an occasion when every school and office is closed, and the nation's families march off in unison to chaebol-owned theme parks like Lotte World or Everland. Cynical expat residents are fond of asking "isn't every day Children's Day?" They mean it sarcastically but their sarcasm is itself ironic. In reality the other 364 days of the year are very tough for Korean youngsters.

Results of a survey released last week by the Institute for Social Development Studies at Seoul's Yonsei University show that Korean teenagers are by far the unhappiest in the OECD. This is the result of society's relentless focus on education--or rather, exam results. The average child attends not only regular school, but also a series of hagwons, private after-school "academies" that cram English, maths, and proficiency in the "respectable" musical instruments, ie piano and violin, into tired children's heads. Almost 9% of children are forced to attend such places even later than 11pm, despite tuitions between 10pm and 5am being illegal.

Psychologists blame this culture for all manner of ills, from poor social skills to the nation's unacceptably high rate of youth suicide, which is now the leading cause of death among those aged 15-24. Recently, a spate of suicides at KAIST, a technology-focused university, has drawn national attention. For most students the pinnacle of stress is reached somewhat earlier, in the third year of high school. This is the year in which the suneung (university entrance exam) is taken. Tragic reactions to the stress it creates are all too common.

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Wisconsin Bill OKs teacher discipline for bad school test scores

Matthew DeFour:

School districts would be able to use standardized test scores as a factor in disciplining or firing teachers under a Republican bill made public Thursday and scheduled for a public hearing Monday.

Currently, districts can use the scores to evaluate teachers, with certain limitations, but not to discipline or fire them.

The bill comes after the state lost out on federal education funding in part due to limitations in how districts can judge teaching performance, and as a state task force develops a plan to better evaluate teachers.

In addition to the teacher evaluation changes, the bill sponsored by the chairmen of the Senate and Assembly education committees also would allow students to receive physical education credit for playing after-school sports, allow athletics suspensions based on police records and alter funding rules for certain programs, among other things.

TJ Mertz has more.

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Wisconsin school districts rank low on transparency

Kevin O'Reilly:

When it comes to transparency, Wisconsin school districts are like the kids who spent all night playing video games and the next morning pray that their teachers won't call on them in class. They are falling behind, offering few of the answers that parents and taxpayers deserve.

Wisconsin's 442 school districts have earned an overall grade of D on disclosure, according to an analysis conducted by Sunshine Review. The analysis tests the information publicly available on district websites against a 10-point transparency checklist in areas ranging from budgets to criminal background checks on employees.

The Madison Metropolitan School District - one of the state's largest - did a little better, earning a C-minus.

Want to know basic information, such as what taxes are levied by your school district or how much money it receives from the state and the federal government? Sorry, but chances are you live in a district that does not list tax data on its website - 73% fail to do so.

Nearly two-thirds of school districts neglect to post their current budget along with budgets from previous years so taxpayers can compare spending from year to year. Less than 2% of districts post audits of their finances and performance online or disclose a schedule of upcoming audits.

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Higher-education bubble Blowing up grad school

The Economist:

THERE'S a debate going on (Sarah Lacy on Peter Thiel, William Deresiewicz, Annie Lowrey, Matthew Yglesias and even our own Schumpeter and Lexington) about whether the American higher-education market is failing, perhaps in the way the housing market failed (leaving average people with huge overhangs of debt for assets that turn out not to be worth what they thought they were worth), or perhaps in the way the health-care system is failing (sucking up an ever-bigger slice of the national income for services that don't seem to be providing significantly higher value). Brad DeLong writes that he doesn't understand why competition in higher education doesn't seem to work to keep prices down: why doesn't Yale cut tuition by $5,000 per year to suck top students away from Harvard, or why doesn't Berkeley offer an out-of-state programme for an extra $3,000 per year to suck top students away from the Ivies? And then he makes this very interesting point:

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Town Torn by Tsunami Sees Reopened School as a Therapeutic Step

Martin Fackler:

The week before classes resumed, the middle school's gymnasium was still a makeshift morgue. But the bodies were removed and the floor disinfected, so Kirikiri Middle School could welcome back students for the first time since the tsunami swept away much of this port town.

"In this disaster, we lost many precious things," said Nagayoshi Ono, the principal of one of the two schools that have shared the building since Kirikiri reopened two weeks ago, because it is Otsuchi's sole surviving middle school. "We face a test like a nation at war, and how we respond to this test is up to us."

Two months after an earthquake and tsunami ravaged Japan's northern coastline, survivors are moving to pick up the pieces. As in many hard-hit areas, teachers and students at this tiny middle school seem to share a conviction that by seeking to resume pre-disaster routines, they can move their devastated communities a step closer toward healing.

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Some in D.C. wonder if rigorous charter school can meet poor students' needs

Bill Turque:

The Washington region is a hot zone of student achievement, with leading high schools offering a plethora of Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate classes to prove that theirs is a rigorous path to college.

But next year, a public charter school will open in the nation's capital that raises the concept of academic rigor to a new level. Seventh-graders will take Algebra I and Latin. AP courses will not be an option for high school students -- they'll be the heart of the curriculum.

To graduate, students will be required to complete at least eight AP courses and pass six exams.

The school, to be known as Basis DC, replicates a model developed in Arizona and represents a potential turning point for a charter sector in the District that has grown explosively in the past decade but yielded uneven results.

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Jane Goodall, Illustrated

Rob Harris, via a kind reader's email:

Two new children's books explore the life of Jane Goodall, the chimpanzee expert and prominent conservationist. The Times spoke with Dr. Goodall about living out her childhood dreams.

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May 13, 2011

Class Size: What Research Says and What it Means for State Policy

Grover J. "Russ" Whitehurst & Matthew M. Chingos:

Class size is one of the small number of variables in American K-12 education that are both thought to influence student learning and are subject to legislative action. Legislative mandates on maximum class size have been very popular at the state level. In recent decades, at least 24 states have mandated or incentivized class-size reduction (CSR).

The current fiscal environment has forced states and districts to rethink their CSR policies given the high cost of maintaining small classes. For example, increasing the pupil/teacher ratio in the U.S. by one student would save at least $12 billion per year in teacher salary costs alone, which is roughly equivalent to the outlays of Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the federal government's largest single K-12 education program.

The substantial expenditures required to sustain smaller classes are justified by the belief that smaller classes increase student learning. We examine "what the research says" about whether class-size reduction has a positive impact on student learning and, if it does, by how much, for whom, and under what circumstances. Despite there being a large literature on class-size effects on academic achievement, only a few studies are of high enough quality and sufficiently relevant to be given credence as a basis for legislative action.

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NEA Leaders Propose Teacher-Evaluation Shift

Stephen Sawchuck:

National Education Association officials announced Wednesday that they would put a "policy statement" before the union's governing body for approval that, among other changes, would open the door to the use of "valid, reliable, high-quality standardized tests," in combination with multiple other measures, for evaluating teachers.

The statement, passed by the NEA's board of directors May 7, wouldn't take effect unless the 9,000-delegate Representative Assembly signs on to it at its meeting over the Fourth of July weekend in Chicago. Those delegates could significantly modify the policy statement before approval, and it is likely to be a topic of lively debate.

Still, the announcement comes as a major entry by the NEA in discussions about teacher evaluation, tenure, and due process. To date, the national union has remained silent on most of those issues, even while the president of the American Federation of Teachers, the other national teachers' union, has put forth various proposals. ("NEA, AFT Choose Divergent Paths on Obama Goals," Aug. 25, 2010.)

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Public Education and Gene Testing to Improve Medication Adherence

Katherine Hobson:

There are tons of reasons why people don't take the medications they've been prescribed, including side effects, cost and complicated drug regimens.

A couple of different approaches to improving adherence are in the news today. The first is Script Your Future, a multi-year public-education campaign spearheaded by the National Consumers League and supported by health-industry companies, government agencies, nonprofits and others.

It's aimed chiefly at patients with diabetes, respiratory diseases including asthma and cardiovascular disease, all of which affect big swaths of the U.S. population and can be particularly troublesome when not treated correctly. The campaign emphasizes the consequences -- such as poor health and quality of life -- that can spring from skipping meds.

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Joel Klein Turns a Blind Eye to His Own Data on Charters and Test Scores

Christina Collins:

The Atlantic just published a long opinion piece by Joel Klein, including a repetition of his long-standing argument that New York City's charters perform miracles with "students who are demographically almost identical to those attending nearby community and charter schools," and that anyone who claims differently is a blind supporter of the "status quo." A closer look at Klein's own numbers, however, tells a very different story. According to the progress reports released by his Department of Education just last year, New York City's charter sector did not outperform similar district public schools. And the Harlem Success Academy -- the school which he specifically holds up as "almost identical" to neighboring district schools -- actually serves dramatically lower proportions of the city's neediest students and of English Language Learners than other Harlem schools.

As most observers of the city's schools know, each year the Department of Education releases progress reports with "grades" for each of its district and charter schools, which take into account the progress that students at each school made when compared to students at "peer schools" (those with similar student bodies in terms of poverty, Special Education status, and the proportion of English Language Learners, as well as other factors.) On the newest school Progress Reports, which were released by Klein's office in 2010, 58% of district schools got an A or a B in 2010, compared to only 34% of charters. In Districts 4 and 5 in Harlem, more than half of district schools got either an A or B (27 out of 53), compared to only 8 out of the 21 charters in those neighborhoods.

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Illinois Overhaul of Schools Gains, Despite Turmoil

Stephanie Banchero:

Legislation that would make it easier to dismiss ineffective teachers statewide and allow mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel to lengthen the Chicago school day unanimously passed an Illinois House committee Wednesday, despite objections by the Chicago Teachers Union.

The measure, passed unanimously by the state Senate in April, now goes before the full House.

Lawmakers are pursuing passage of a separate "trailer" bill intended to help defuse a dispute that erupted last week when union officials charged the legislation was changed at the last minute without their knowledge.

Chicago Teachers Union officials object to passages in the legislation that would curb their bargaining rights and limit their ability to strike.

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'Most Likely to Succeed' Burden

Sue Shellenbarger:

Charlene Dupray was voted "Most Likely to Succeed" by her classmates at New Hanover High School in Wilmington, N.C., in 1990. That honor has been hanging over her ever since.

Even though she went on to graduate from the University of Chicago, travel throughout southern Europe, the Middle East and the Caribbean as a cruise-line tour director and pull down a six-figure salary in executive recruiting, Ms. Dupray, now 38 years old, says, "I have been constantly evaluating my success and using that silly award as a benchmark."

More high schools are eliminating senior-class polls, a long-standing tradition for graduating classes, in part out of concern for their effect on recipients. Research suggests most winners of the most-likely-to-succeed label will do well later in life, based on their academic ability, social skills and motivation. Less is known about the psychological impact. Some former winners of the title say what seemed like a nice vote of confidence from their classmates actually created a sense of pressure or self-doubt.

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The Surprising Number of Milwaukee Public Schools "Administration" Staff Who Make More Than $100,000 a Year

Dan Cody:

As the debate continues over the anticipated funding cuts coming to the Milwaukee Public School system, a lot of the blame for funding shortfalls has been placed squarely on the shoulders of public school teachers.

To be sure the compensation packages for teachers - especially those who've worked in the district for a long time - do play a part in the discussion. But for the focus and blame to be solely on how much teachers in MPS make is unfair and unproductive. I've made a fair amount of noise over the past several years about an issue no one else seems to want to discuss when it comes to cuts within MPS: administrative staff in central office.

I live a half block north of MPS central office and it's always surprised me how many people actually work there. When my wife Jenny started working within MPS I learned a lot more about the infrastructure that runs MPS and I've come to see it for what a bureaucratic nightmare it is.

It's been frustrating for me to see the "boots on the ground" teachers and others who work in the classrooms across Milwaukee to be vilified while central office staff always seem to escape the budget cuts. While we've been happy to cut 1000's of teachers over the past few years, the staff within central office has remained largely untouched. They're not part of the "evil teachers union" after all.

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40 literary terms you should know

The Centered Librarian:

Aphorism: Short, sweet little sayings expressing an idea or opinion are familiar to everyone -- they just don't always know the technical term for them. Dorothy Parker was a particularly adroit user of aphorisms.

Apostrophe: Beyond a term for daily punctuation, apostrophe also pulls audiences aside to address a person, place or thing currently not present. O, Shakespeare! Such a sterling example of apostrophe use!

Applicability: The venerable Lord of the Rings author J.R.R. Tolkien coined this term when badgered one too many times about whether or not his beloved fantasy series was supposed to be a World War II allegory. It wasn't, but he thought readers could easily apply such an interpretation to the text without losing anything.

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Education Bill Fight Puts Spotlight on Chicago Schools Union Chief

Rebecca Vevea

As legislators prepared to move a sweeping overhaul of state education law through the Illinois House this week, the Chicago Teachers Union's sudden turnabout on the bill is raising questions about the union's role in negotiations and the leadership ability of its untested leader, Karen Lewis.

When the education bill passed the Illinois Senate unanimously last month, the support of the states' teachers unions seemed to signal an unprecedented, collaborative effort to reform education policy. Lewis and the leaders of the state's other two major teachers' unions had agreed to substantial changes on tenure, evaluations and bargaining procedures. But last Wednesday the Chicago Teachers Union membership voted to consider pulling its support, claiming that language curbing collective bargaining rights was inserted into the bill without its knowledge and amounted to an "atomic bomb."

"The recent steps they've taken have certainly concerned a number of the entities they've dealt with in Springfield," said Darren Reisberg, deputy superintendent for the Illinois State Board of Education, who participated in the bill's negotiations.

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Shutting Out the Kids From the Family Fortune

Robert Frank:

Want to avoid raising spoiled kids?

Consider the Wellington Burt School of Wealthy Parenting.

Wellington R. Burt was a rich timber baron from Saginaw, MI. He died in 1919 with a multi-million-dollar fortune - one of America's largest at the time.

Yet rather than risk messing up his kids lives with a huge inheritance, he created an unusual will.

He stated that his fortune would be distributed to the family - but only 21 years after his grand-children's death.

His children and grandchildren weren't entirely deprived. Burt gave his "favorite son" $30,000 a year but the rest of his children got allowances roughly equal to those he gave his cook and chauffeur, according to the Saginaw News.

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Admissions Deans Feel Crunched by the Numbers

Eric Hoover:

Once upon a time, May was not so manic. Although admissions officers have long fretted about enrollment outcomes, they used to fret under fewer microscopes. Application totals were more predictable. Enrollment projections were more reliable. And newspapers had yet to turn the admissions cycle into an annual tally of percentages and prestige.

These days, "yield" is a familiar term. The proportion of accepted applicants who enroll is a crucial number, wa

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2010 Wisconsin State Salaries

Wisconsin Open Government:

The MacIver Institute's new Open Government site provides you with one location for data on Wisconsin public employee salaries, benefits and labor contracts. We have worked hard to not just allow "access" the way many government information sites do, but to give you all of the data in a format that allows you to select and sort the information as you see fit.

Most areas of our site are available to anyone, including some basic tabular information, but our more extensive analysis and graphics pages require an initial sign-in as users of the Open Government site - but the good news is that sign-in is free and easy! All we need is your name, email, city, and state. We will use your email address to let you know when we add more data sets to the website.

The first time you click on a link to our analysis and graphics pages you will be routed to the sign-in page. Then, if you use the same computer and the same internet browser in the future, you should not have to enter your sign-in information again.

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Do teens of the Facebook generation value privacy?

Nick Eaton:

For years now, adults have been grumbling about kids these days and how they have no sense of privacy. Always posting everything to Facebook, sharing their lives on Twitter, bantering with friends on MySpace ... where's their good-ol' sense of self-respect and privacy?

If you feel this way ... well, how do I put this gently? You're wrong.

A new study, based on interviews with more than 160 teenagers, found that the young and the restless indeed have a marked sense of privacy. It's just that with the medium - Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, whatever - come different assumptions and expectations of what is public and what is private.

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Wisconsin Voucher plan for other cities creates fears, cheers

Erin Richards:

Gov. Scott Walker didn't offer details about how private school voucher programs could work in Green Bay, Racine and Beloit, but on Tuesday, advocates in those cities said they envisioned systems similar to the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program.

Or, perhaps, similar to Walker's future vision for the Milwaukee program, which Walker has pushed to modify by lifting the cap on enrollment, phasing out income limits for participants and expanding the program to Milwaukee County so suburban private schools can accept publicly funded voucher students from the city.

"Why reinvent the wheel all over again when we can learn from the benefits and mistakes of the Milwaukee program?" asked Laura Sumner Coon, the head of a nonprofit in Racine that currently provides scholarships for 13 area low-income students to attend private schools.

Public-school leaders in all three cities Tuesday vehemently opposed the idea of channeling taxpayer money out of their systems and into private schools.

Green Bay Superintendent Greg Maass said he hadn't read any research that showed vouchers benefited kids more than maintaining or improving the education they receive in traditional public schools. And research on academic achievement showed voucher-school students haven't performed at much higher levels than their public-school counterparts, he said.

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The 10 Techiest Colleges in the US

Best Colleges Online:

Lots of colleges and universities offer quality programs in engineering, the sciences and technology. But there are some schools that offer students of all kinds a completely technologically holistic experience, offering proximity to major techie corporations and internships, a huge range of courses and degrees devoted to different niches, and a world-renowned reputation for being all hopped up on techie genius. Here are the 10 techiest colleges in the U.S.

MIT: While some colleges and universities -- even big, research-oriented ones -- have single departments that incorporate many different fields in engineering, the sciences or computer tech, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has 19 separate departments and programs in those fields, ranging from Biological Engineering to Mathematics to Nuclear Science and Engineering and more. Research institutes support scientists, students and faculty in astronomy, aeronautics, physics, neuroscience, nanoscience, and a lot more. MIT's also known around the world as one of the most prestigious tech universities, and its MIT Regional Optical Network provides fast Internet connectivity and support over a 2,500 radius including Boston and New York City.

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Learning Today: the Lasting Value of Place

Joseph E. Aoun:

At a conference last summer, Bill Gates predicted that "place-based activity in college will be five times less important than it is today." Noting the ever-growing popularity of online learning, he predicted that "five years from now, on the Web­--for free--you'll be able to find the best lectures in the world. It will be better than any single university."

"College, except for the parties," Gates concluded, "needs to be less place-based."

Although it's bold and thought-provoking, Gates's prediction is oversimplified. As we can already see, something more complex is happening. Across the United States and the world, colleges and universities, historically defined by their physical campuses, are diversifying their delivery systems. They're expanding them to provide higher education not only online, but also in new physical locations, both domestically and worldwide. Online education may be on the rise, but place-based education is, too.

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May 12, 2011

The New Normal of Teacher Education

Arthur Levine:

Between 1900 and 1940, America's normal schools, noncollegiate teacher-training institutions with an emphasis on practical education, gave way to university-based teacher education. Today the nation is moving in the opposite direction.

The first of the public normal schools, educating primary-school teachers, was established in 1839. By 1900 there were more than 330 normals, public and private, enrolling over 115,000 students. Their programs, originally a year long and later longer, included academic subjects but emphasized pedagogy and in-school training.

The rise of the high school and the advent of accreditation and education-professional associations in the late 19th century brought the normal-school era to a close. Higher education determined that the preparation of secondary-school teachers, which required mastery of subject matter, should preferably occur on campus, and so colleges and universities began to create their own teacher-education programs.

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Ill. lawmaker says raising obese kids should cost parents at tax time

Hannah Hess:

An Illinois lawmaker says parents who have obese children should lose their state tax deduction.

"It's the parents' responsibility that have obese kids," said state Sen. Shane Cultra, R-Onarga. "Take the tax deduction away for parents that have obese kids."

Cultra has not introduced legislation to deny parents the $2,000 standard tax deduction, but he floated the idea Tuesday, when lawmakers took a shot at solving the state's obesity epidemic.

With one in five Illinois children classified as obese and 62 percent of the state's adults considered overweight, health advocates are pushing a platter of diet solutions including trans fat bans and restricting junk food purchases on food stamps.

Today, the Senate Public Health Committee considered taxing sugary beverages at a penny-per-ounce, in effect applying the same theory to soda, juices and energy drinks that governs to liquor sales. Health advocates say a sin tax could discourage consumption, but lawmakers are reluctant to target an industry supports the jobs of more than 40,000 Illinoisans.

"It seems like we just, we go after the low-hanging fruit, where its easy to get," said state Sen. Dave Syverson, R-Rockford. He said the state needs to form a comprehensive plan to address physical fitness and disease prevention, rather than taking aim at sugary drinks.

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The Humanities, Done Digitally

Kathleen Fitzpatrick:

A few months back, I gave a lunchtime talk called "Digital Humanities: Singular or Plural?" My title was in part a weak joke driven primarily by brain exhaustion. As I sat at the computer putting together my remarks, which were intended to introduce the field, I'd initially decided to title them "What Is Digital Humanities?" But then I thought "What Is the Digital Humanities?" sounded better, and then I stared at the screen for a minute trying to decide if it should be "What Are the Digital Humanities?" And in my pre-coffee, underslept haze, I honestly couldn't tell which one was correct.

At first this was just a grammatical mixup, but at some point it occurred to me that it was actually a useful metaphor for something that's been going on in the field of late. Digital humanities has gained prominence in the last couple of years, in part because of the visibility given the field by the use of social media, particularly Twitter, at the Modern Language Association convention and other large scholarly meetings. But that prominence and visibility have also produced a fair bit of tension within the field--every "What is Digital Humanities?" panel aimed at explaining the field to other scholars winds up uncovering more differences of opinion among its practitioners. Sometimes those differences develop into tense debates about the borders of the field, and about who's in and who's out.

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A second language for every high school student, Stanford's Russell Berman says

Cynthia Haven:

All high school students should be fluent in a language other than English, and it's a matter of national urgency. So says Russell Berman - and as president of the Modern Language Association (MLA), his opinion carries some clout.

"To worry about globalization without supporting a big increase in language learning is laughable," the Stanford humanities professor wrote in this summer's MLA newsletter, in an article outlining the agenda for his presidency.

In conversation, he is just as emphatic, calling for "a national commitment to ramping up the quality of education."

"Budget attacks on language programs from the Republicans and Democrats are just the contemporary form of a xenophobia that suggests we don't need languages - and it's deeply, deeply misguided."

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Dual-language immersion programs growing in popularity

Teresa Watanabe:

Dual-language immersion programs are the new face of bilingual education -- without the stigma. They offer the chance to learn a second language not just to immigrant children, but to native-born American students as well.

In a Glendale public school classroom, the immigrant's daughter uses no English as she conjugates verbs and writes sentences about cats.

More than a decade after California voters eliminated most bilingual programs, first-grader Sofia Checchi is taught in Italian nearly all day -- as she and her 20 classmates at Franklin Elementary School have been since kindergarten.

Yet in just a year, Sofia has jumped a grade level in reading English. In the view of her mother -- an Italian immigrant -- Sofia's achievement validates a growing body of research indicating that learning to read in students' primary languages helps them become more fluent in English.

The Madison School District has launched several dual language programs recently.

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Conservative manifesto opposes "one-size-fits-all, centrally controlled curriculum."

Maureen Downey:

Today 100 conservative education, business and political leaders issued a strong rebuke to a recent call for a national curriculum and national tests.

The manifesto counters the Albert Shanker Institute campaign for a common curriculum and criticizes the federal embrace of common assessments and the funding of two state partnerships to develop them. (Georgia is among the states involved in developing assessments for the Common Core State Standards.)

A local signatory is Kelly McCutchen of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.

I know I risk the wrath of many, but as a parent I have no problem with a national curriculum and national tests.

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Chocolate Milk on School Menus Under Scrutiny

Raven Clabough:

Does the Nanny State have no bounds? Apparently not, as even beverages are at risk. The newest example of "government knows best" can be found in public schools, where chocolate milk is soon to be banned in an effort to target childhood obesity.

MSNBC reports, "With schools under increasing pressure to offer healthier food, the staple on children's cafeteria trays has come under attack over the very ingredient that made it so popular-sugar."

Some school districts have already moved towards removing flavored milk from the menu. Others have sought milk products that are flavored with sugar, a healthier alternative to high-fructose corn syrup.
In the state of Florida, the Board of Education is currently considering a statewide ban of chocolate milk in schools. School boards in Washington, D.C., and Berkeley, California, have already done so. Similarly, Los Angeles Unified's Superintendent John Deasy has announced plans to push for the removal of chocolate and strawberry milk from school menus.

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Despite insurgent threats, hundreds of boys at school in Salavat, Afghanistan

Colin Perkel:

Not a single kid or teacher showed up when the unadorned eight-room school in Salavat opened to much fanfare barely a month ago.

It was a heart-breaking moment for the Canadian military and civilian sponsors for whom education of children in the Panjwaii district of Kandahar province has long been a top, if frustrating, priority

"The insurgents told us, 'Don't go to the school. If you guys go, we will cut off your ears,'" says one boy, who looks about 12.

Still, here they are now, neatly paired -- sometimes in threes -- quietly seated in their wooden desks, attentively reciting a lesson or reading from the chalkboard.

Weeks after that inauspicious start, the raucous chatter of scores of kids sporting baby blue UNICEF backpacks echoes across the dusty soccer pitch at the start of the school day.

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New to Teaching, Idealistic, at Risk for Layoff

Fernanda Santos::

Samantha Sherwood had lofty aspirations when she settled on a family-studies major at the University of Connecticut, like redrawing welfare rules or weaving together a sturdier safety net for people in need. She figured that she could change the world in big, broad strokes, and that she might pick up a fancy title and ample salary along the way.

Instead, Ms. Sherwood, 25, joined up with Teach for America, the program that puts top college graduates into the nation's most poverty-stricken schools, deciding that the best way to make a difference would be, as she put it on Monday, "to be there, where the rubber meets the road."

The world she is poised to change is a science classroom at a middle school in the South Bronx filled with sixth graders who seem as eager to hear her tell them about the whims of the weather as she is to listen to their tales of teenage crushes and broken hearts.

Now in her third year of teaching, earning about $45,000, Ms. Sherwood has come face to face with another place where rubber and road meet: she is most likely among the 4,100 New York City teachers scheduled to be laid off under the budget Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg unveiled on Friday.

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May 11, 2011

Wisconsin Governor Walker: Budget could expand school choice to other cities

Patrick Marley and Jason Stein:

Gov. Scott Walker wants to bring voucher schools to urban areas beyond Milwaukee, and predicts lawmakers will approve that expansion by the end of June.

"I think one of the things between now and the time we finish this (state) budget off at the end of June, we're going to be able to add and go beyond the boundaries of the city of Milwaukee and Milwaukee County. We're actually going to be able to add communities like Racine and Beloit and even Green Bay . . . because every one of those communities deserves a choice as well, and with this budget that's exactly what they're going to get," Walker said in a Monday speech to school choice advocates in Washington, D.C.

The proposal comes at a time when Walker is proposing cutting public schools by $841 million over two years and injects a new campaign issue into attempts to recall nine state senators.

A day after Walker made his comments, the Assembly planned to eliminate the cap on the number of children who can participate in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program. The 20-year-old system allows low-income children to use taxpayer-funded vouchers worth $6,442 each to attend private schools in Milwaukee, including religious schools.

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Change in education certain, but outcome is not Let's hope education reform does better than last Daniels reform

The Tribune Star:

No truer statement was made about the education reforms enacted in the 2011 Indiana General Assembly than the one uttered Thursday by Gov. Mitch Daniels.

"If we've learned anything in Indiana, we've learned change can happen, but change is hard," Daniels said at a bill-signing ceremony. "Change always brings uncertainty."

"Uncertain" sums up the future awaiting Indiana's public schools and the teachers who work in those facilities.

Change indeed came during the thorny legislative session. Republicans seized their sudden super majorities in the Indiana Senate and House, ramming through almost every "change" dreamed of by the governor and his superintendent of public instruction, Tony Bennett.

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In an improbable corner of China, young scientists are rewriting the book on genome research.

Lone Frank:

Lab technicians at the Beijing Genomics Institute in Shenzhen, China. Clockwise from upper left: Zhi Wei Luo; Wan Ling Li; Zi Long Zhang; and Yu Zhu Xu.

The world's largest genome-mapping facility is in an unlikely corner of China. Hidden away in a gritty neighborhood in Shenzhen's Yantian district, surrounded by truck-repair shops and scrap yards prowled by chickens, Beijing's most ambitious biomedical project is housed in a former shoe factory.

But the modest gray exterior belies the state-of-the-art research inside. In immaculate, glass-walled and neon-lit rooms resembling intensive care units, rows of identical machines emit a busy hum. The Illumina HiSeq 2000 is a top-of-the-line genome-sequencing machine that carries a price tag of $500,000. There are 128 of them here, flanked by rows of similar high-tech equipment, making it possible for the Beijing Genomics Institute (BGI) to churn out more high quality DNA-sequence data than all U.S. academic facilities put together.

"Genes build the future," announces a poster on the wall, and there is no doubt that China has set its eye on that future. This year, Forbes magazine estimated that the genomics market will reach $100 billion over the next decade, with scientists analyzing vast quantities of data to offer new ways to fight disease, feed the world, and harness microbes for industrial purposes. "The situation in genomics resembles the early days of the Internet," says Harvard geneticist George Church, who advises BGI and a number of American genomics companies. "No one knows what will turn out to be the killer apps." Companies such as Microsoft, Google, IBM, and Intel have already invested in genomics, seeing the field as an extension of their own businesses--data handling and management. "The big realization is that biology has become an information science," says Dr. Yang Huanming, cofounder and president of BGI. "If we accept that [genomics] builds on the digitalization of life, then all kinds of genetic information potentially holds value."

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Online education growing as colleges offer more classes to meet student demand

Karen Farkas:

Joshua Falso made his first visit to Bowling Green State University on Saturday.

He toured the campus, donned a cap and gown, and graduated.

Falso, 25, of Cleveland, earned his bachelor of science degree in technology by taking classes online while he served in the Air Force, including a stint in Iraq.

Online education has ballooned in the past 10 years as millions of students of all ages earn certificates, licenses and degrees -- from associate through doctorate -- from any location where they can use a computer.

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Autism Prevalence May Be Far Higher Than Believed, Study Finds

Betty Ann Bowser:

For the first time, researchers have studied an entire population sample and found that one in 38 children exhibited symptoms of autism. The study was published Monday in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

"These numbers are really startling" said Geraldine Dawson, chief science officer for Autism Speaks, one of the three organizations that funded the project. Most previous researchers have found that about one in 110 children is autistic.

The NewsHour explored the puzzling condition of autism in the recent Autism Now series, anchored by Robert MacNeil.

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Few takers for technical schools in Vietnam

VietNamNet Bridge:

Technical universities in South Vietnam are on the look out for students as they are increasingly finding it difficult to motivate students to study for any major in their university.

Departments of education and training in the country will complete receiving university application forms for universities by tomorrow and will transfer these forms to universities for the upcoming entrance examinations.

Of the 29,000 applicants in the South representative office of the Ministry of Education and Training, 20,300 students (70 percent) prefer to study economics and technological subjects in universities, while only 3 per cent wish to follow technical programs.

From the 16,000 applicants for the Ho Chi Minh City University of Industry received so far, 20 preferred to study Mechanical Engineering, 35 preferred Heat Engineering and Refrigeration and 30 preferred Garment and Fashion Design while around 500 preferred Accounting and Business Administration.

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Toronto secondary schools lag behind provincial average: report

Irene Preklet:

Most parents would certainly agree that ensuring their children get a good education is a top priority.

However, recent findings from the Fraser Institute suggest that not all schools are created equally - not even close.

The Fraser Institute, one of Canada's leading public policy think-thanks, released their annual school rankings on May 8, which examine the performance of Ontario high schools over the past five years.

"Our report card is the number one source for objective, reliable information about how Ontario secondary schools stack up in terms of academics," said Michael Thomas, the co-author of the Report Card on Ontario's Secondary Schools 2011.

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Students use Tasers at school to defend themselves against bullies

STUDENTS are using stun guns in schools to protect themselves against bullies and to threaten fellow classmates.

At least one schoolboy has been hospitalised as a result of being attacked with one of the electro-shock weapons, arising from a confrontation in the playground, according to reports obtained under freedom of information laws by The Daily Telegraph.

Serious incident reports show stun guns have been used on three occasions as a weapon against students or as a threat.In the most serious case a Year 10 boy who challenged a boy to a fight at school in southwestern Sydney accosted his victim after school, pulling up in a silver car driven by a stun gun-wielding male of an unknown age.

The driver got out of the car, "pulled a Taser-like device from his pocket" and stabbed a schoolboy with it, the incident report said.

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Journal News 2011 Board of Education Q&A: Robert Cox

Robert Cox:

Civic and school board experience:
I have attended over 100 school board meetings. Since 2008, I have often been the only person at the school board meetings not on the board or employed by the district.

I have relentlessly pushed for greater transparency of board meetings: airing meetings on TV, publishing agendas and orders of business on the web, as well as school budgets, audited financials, powerpoint presentations and video on the web. I researched and recommended digital recording technology to record meetings and make podcasts of meetings which was later purchased and adopted by the school board.

I not only attend the meetings but publish reports about them on the web. I also publish articles and opinion pieces by other members of the community.

To mark the 49th Anniversary of the Lincoln School desegregation case, I edited and published an 8-part series on the history of the Lincoln School case, one year before the 50th Anniversary of the Kaufman decision. I met with the leadership of the association of black churches in New Rochelle, the President of the N.A.A.C.P. and other leaders in the African-American community. I appeared before the school board to inform them of the upcoming event, of which they were unaware, and urged them to properly mark the occasion of the 50th Anniversary on January 24, 1961. These efforts initiated the year-long celebration of the 50th Anniversary in our schools.

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Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has big plans to reform education, but there are no quick fixes

Susan Demas:

I don't have a magic bullet to fixing education Michigan.

And the truth is, no politician does, either. The vast majority come up with some sound bites and maybe a bill or two that simply validate their ideology and pay back their favorite interest groups. The goal is to help out the teachers' unions or pump up private schools.

Few of them are really trying to improve how kids learn.

Like many governors before him, Gov. Rick Snyder is trying to leave his mark on the state's educational system and I wish him the best of luck. The only hope for this generation of kids is to get a top-notch education from preschool to postgrad -- and the governor is dead-on to take that kind of holistic approach.

Snyder is a great role model, having earned three degrees from the University of Michigan by the age of 23.

As for the governor's education doctrine, it's a pretty standard reform agenda that includes revamping tenure, holding teachers accountable for student performance, computerized learning, more options for high schoolers to earn college credit and degrees and an emphasis on early childhood education.

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May 10, 2011

The Failure of American Schools

Joel Klein, via a Rick Kiley email:

THREE YEARS AGO, in a New York Times article detailing her bid to become head of the American Federation of Teachers union, Randi Weingarten boasted that despite my calls for "radical reform" to New York City's school system, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and I had achieved only "incremental" change. It seemed like a strange thing to crow about, but she did have something of a point. New York over the past nine years has experienced what Robert Schwartz, the dean of Harvard's education school, has described as "the most dramatic and thoughtful set of large-scale reforms going on anywhere in the country," resulting in gains such as a nearly 20-point jump in graduation rates. But the city's school system is still not remotely where it needs to be.

That story holds more than true for the country at large. Nearly three decades after A Nation at Risk, the groundbreaking report by the National Commission on Excellence in Education, warned of "a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people," the gains we have made in improving our schools are negligible--even though we have doubled our spending (in inflation-adjusted dollars) on K-12 public education. On America's latest exams (the National Assessment of Educational Progress), one-third or fewer of eighth-grade students were proficient in math, science, or reading. Our high-school graduation rate continues to hover just shy of 70 percent, according to a 2010 report by the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center, and many of those students who do graduate aren't prepared for college. ACT, the respected national organization that administers college-admissions tests, recently found that 76 percent of our high-school graduates "were not adequately prepared academically for first-year college courses."

While America's students are stuck in a ditch, the rest of the world is moving ahead. The World Economic Forum ranks us 48th in math and science education. On international math tests, the United States is near the bottom of industrialized countries (the 34 members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development), and we're in the middle in science and reading. Similarly, although we used to have one of the top percentages of high-school and college graduates among the OECD countries, we're now in the basement for high-school and the middle for college graduates. And these figures don't take into account the leaps in educational attainment in China, Singapore, and many developing countries.

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Madison school officials want new standardized tests

Matthew DeFour:

Madison students are slated to get a double dose of standardized tests in the coming years as the state redesigns its annual series of exams while school districts seek better ways to measure learning.

For years, district students in grades three through eight and grade 10 have taken the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination (WKCE), a series of state-mandated tests that measure school accountability.

Last month, in addition to the state tests, eighth- and ninth-graders took one of three different tests the district plans to introduce in grades three through 10. Compared with the WKCE, the tests are supposed to more accurately assess whether students are learning at, above or below grade level. Teachers also will get the results more quickly.

"Right now we have a vacuum of appropriate assessment tools," said Tim Peterson, Madison's assistant director of curriculum and assessment. "The standards have changed, but the measurement tool that we're required by law to use -- the WKCE -- is not connected."

Related Links: I'm glad that the District is planning alternatives to the WKCE.

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Wisconsin Gov. Walker takes fight to privatize education to D.C.

John Nichols:

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker continues to court national support for an extreme agenda of attacking public employees and public services while diminishing local democracy and shifting public money to private political allies. Despite the fact that Walker's moves have been widely condemned in his home state, the hyper-ambitious career politician has repeatedly suggested that he will not moderate his positions because he wants to shift the tenor of politics and policymaking far beyond Wisconsin.

Walker's stance has earned him talk as a possible dark-horse contender for a chance at the 2012 Republican nod, and the governor has not discouraged it.

To that end, Walker was in Washington Monday night to deliver a keynote address at the innocuously named American Federation for Children's "School Choice Now: Empowering America's Children" policy summit. It's actually a key annual gathering of advocates for privatizing public education, and of some of the biggest funders of right-wing political projects nationally.

The appearance comes at a time when education cuts are becoming a front-and-center issue, as New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has stirred an outcry in the nation's largest city by proposing to lay off thousands of teachers.

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Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's school choice bills face some hurdles

Susan Troller:

Republican Gov. Scott Walker will be on a national education stage tonight to tout his efforts to expand charter school and voucher programs, but he is running into obstacles back home, and not just from those you might expect.

At an Assembly Education Committee hearing last week, for example, a bill Walker backs that would allow parents of special education students to use state tax dollars to pay for private school tuition hit significant roadblocks. In fact, the Republican chair of the committee, Rep. Steve Kestell of Elkhart Lake, called the funding mechanism for the legislation in its current form a "fatal flaw" in a telephone interview Friday.

"The bill is an intriguing proposal," Kestell says. "Where we have a big challenge is how to pay for it."

Kestell and other representatives grilled the authors of the bill during committee testimony. The language of the proposal appears to be taken fairly literally from generic legislation used in other states that have passed special education voucher programs. Kestell says the legislation would have to be "Wisconsinized" to be acceptable.

The bill was also sharply criticized by disability rights groups, who say it would strip hard-won legal rights from families with special-needs children, and by the state Department of Public Instruction, which faults the bill for demanding no accountability from private schools for actually providing the special education services that would be the basis for the vouchers.

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Budget Mix-Up Provides Nation's Schools With Enough Money To Properly Educate Students

The Onion:

According to bewildered and contrite legislators, a major budgetary mix-up this week inadvertently provided the nation's public schools with enough funding and resources to properly educate students.

Sources in the Congressional Budget Office reported that as a result of a clerical error, $80 billion earmarked for national defense was accidentally sent to the Department of Education, furnishing schools with the necessary funds to buy new textbooks, offer more academic resources, hire better teachers, promote student achievement, and foster educational excellence--an oversight that apologetic officials called a "huge mistake."

"Obviously, we did not intend for this to happen, and we are doing everything in our power to right the situation and discipline whoever is responsible," said House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI), expressing remorse for the error. "I want to apologize to the American people. The last thing we wanted was for schools to upgrade their technology and lower student-to-teacher ratios in hopes of raising a generation of well-educated, ambitious, and skilled young Americans."

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g and genomics

Steve Hsu:

I begin with a brief review of psychometric results concerning intelligence (sometimes referred to as the g factor, or IQ). The main results concern the stability, validity (predictive power) and heritability of adult IQ. Next, I discuss ongoing Genome Wide Association Studies which investigate the genetic basis of intelligence. Due mainly to the rapidly decreasing cost of sequencing (currently below $5k per genome), it is likely that within the next 5-10 years we will identify genes which account for a significant fraction of total IQ variation. Finally, I end with an analysis of possible near term genetic engineering for intelligence.

This talk is aimed at physicists and should be accessible even to those with no specialized background in psychology or biology.

The slides can be viewed here.

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Football coaches get big bucks, as states cut education budgets

Carol Forsloff:

Wisconsin union protests may not be national front page news, but as its model is picked up nationwide, educators worry as childrens programs are cut while football coaches continue to earn big bucks.

In Wisconsin, educators worry about children's programs like Headstart being trimmed, and feared cut, as well the breakfast programs for hungry children being eliminated, as football coaches get first rank in the hiring and firing parades.

The FASEB Journal examines the problems of education, as the editor wonders, as educators do, what has happened to education and the value placed on it in the decisions made by politicians. He uses some of what happened in Wisconsin as a model to look at this issue. The Journal points out the United States will continue to pedal backwards in relationship to the accomplishments of other countries, as children fall further and further behind youngsters of comparable ages in other countries. Right now only Luxembourg , among the developed countries, is the only one that pays less per child on education than the United States.

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Top teachers, not money, 'the key to good schools'

Anna Patty:

AUSTRALIA'S top public servant says the key to improving education standards is not in spreading more money on schools ''like Vegemite''. Rather, a targeted investment in teacher quality and innovative school leadership is needed.

The secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Terry Moran, said the focus should be on recruiting and investing in bright school graduates to become teachers and future school leaders.

An advocate of decentralising bureaucratic control of education and health services, Mr Moran said principals and teachers should be given greater autonomy to be more creative in the way they engaged students.

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Wisconsin schools feel pinch of proposed state budget

Steve Contorno:

State school spending has increased dramatically in the last two decades.

Following the Wisconsin Legislature's commitment in 1996 to fund two-thirds of education expenses, the average cost of state aid for each of the 800,000-plus pupils in the public school system has grown from $3,188 to $5,028 in 2010-11.

But that's just on the surface, and in reality, dollars allocated for schools often don't make it to the classroom and are based on a complex formula focused as much on providing property tax relief as educating children.

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Mothers of young black men try to protect sons from becoming statistics

Avis Thomas-Lester:

Sylvia Holloman's busy world went like this on Friday afternoon: Get off work, drive home, gather up her three youngest sons, haul them and the family's dirty laundry to the laundromat, wash clothes for 90 minutes, drive back home, prepare pork chops and peas -- boys still at her side in the kitchen.

For Holloman, a D.C. police officer, it is the best strategy she's found for keeping Rahim, 15, Raphael, 11, and Ryan, 5, out of harm's way in a country where young black men often face peril -- never let them out of her sight.

"I constantly worry," said Holloman, 48, of District Heights.

"I worry because of the way the world is today for young black men," said the mother of six, including a fourth son, Ronnie, 26. "It seems like there are so many ways they can get caught up: discrimination, drugs, not being able to find a job, going to jail, violence. You have to be on the lookout constantly to make sure they are safe."

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Times updates and expands value-added ratings for Los Angeles elementary school teachers

Jason Song and Jason Felch:

New data include ratings for about 11,500 teachers, nearly double the number covered last August. School and civic leaders had sought to halt release of the data.

The Los Angeles Times on Sunday is releasing a major update to its elementary school teacher ratings, underscoring the large disparities throughout the nation's second-largest school district in instructors' abilities to raise student test scores.

The posting -- the only publication of such teacher performance data in the nation -- contains value-added ratings for about 11,500 third- through fifth-grade teachers, nearly double the number released last August. It also reflects changes in the way the scores were calculated and displayed.

Overall ratings for about 470 schools also are included in the release, which is based on student standardized test scores from the academic years 2003-04 through 2009-10. To obtain the rating of a teacher or school, go to and enter the teacher's or the school's name.

The initial release of teacher ratings last summer generated intense controversy -- and some praise -- across the country, and this round has already met with some opposition.

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Commencement Cash Cow

Pablo Eisenberg:

For years many colleges and universities have been paying speaker fees -- some quite substantial -- to celebrities, prominent academics and other well-known personalities to deliver commencement addresses or to give speeches during the academic year on campus and at student meetings.

It has been one of the best kept secrets of academic life, until the newspapers recently reported that Rutgers University had invited Toni Morrison, Nobel laureate in literature, to deliver this year's commencement address for $30,000. It was then reported that Rutgers students had upped the ante by inviting Snooki, of "Jersey Shore" fame, to the campus to talk about partying and having fun for the tidy sum of $32,000.

That Snooki should command more money than Morrison was somewhat surprising, but even more shocking was the willingness of Rutgers to spend a large amount of money on a commencement speech at a time when the university has experienced financial difficulties, cancelled pay raises and last June froze the salaries of 13,000 employees.

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Wisc., Pa. governors to address pro-school voucher nonprofit; union leaders plan protest

Associated Press

Two Republican governors are scheduled to speak at a Washington conference hosted by a nonprofit that pushes for private school vouchers and charter schools.

Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Gov. Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania will address the American Federation for Children's second annual policy summit Monday.

Both are expected to talk about school choice. Walker has proposed expanding a school voucher program in Milwaukee. Corbett is proposing cutting $1.6 billion from public education while also pushing for vouchers, which would allow students in poor-performing public schools to transfer to private schools.

Union leaders and other activists are planning a rally outside the summit, which will also feature former District of Columbia schools chancellor Michelle Rhee. Opponents say the federation is trying to "dismantle public education."

More, here.

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Ivy League education pays off

Matthew Ondesko:

They are some of most prestigious and toughest schools to get into - and they only take the best of the best.

They also are schools that have long, successful, athletic traditions.

For some getting into the prestigious institutions might mean being set for life when getting out into the real world.

The Ivy Eight, Cornell, Princeton, Harvard, Columbia, Penn, Yale, Dartmouth and Brown, are some of the top schools in the country - and some of the toughest schools to crack.

So, when a student-athlete gets a shot to attend one of these fine institutions they usually don't turn them down - even if it means going into debt for a very long time.

You have to remember for presidents, top executives of Fortune 500 companies and others have all roamed the hallow halls.

But, what does it take to get notice or get into these schools?

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Amy Chua on Being a Mother

Eve Gerber :

Mother's Day is upon us. I'm wondering how it's observed in the Chua-Rubenfeld household and what you think of this Western invention.

I always send flowers and a card for my own mother. But it's harder for me to get the same amount of attention from my two daughters. Everyone is so busy. We'll probably go to see a movie and to a Chinese restaurant. In my household, that's the tradition.

The topic is mothering, but you've chosen an illustrated children's classic about a duck, a memoir and three novels. What do you have against parenting manuals?

I have nothing against parenting manuals, although I have been disappointed that people who haven't read my book have portrayed it as a parenting manual. When my daughters were infants, I think I did have the "What to Expect" series. But once my daughters grew out of toddlerhood, I thought I'd just do what my parents did. I learned the hard way that what they did wasn't so easy.

My parents were extremely strict, but also extremely loving, Chinese immigrant parents. While I wasn't always so happy about how strict they were when I was growing up, as an adult I adore my parents. I feel I owe all that I am to my parents and I don't think I turned out that badly.

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Schools and educators deserve support, not disparagement

George Russell:

These are difficult times for public education. As school districts struggle to choose where to whittle and whack next, it's easy to suggest that there are simple ways to achieve savings and reduce costs.

What's troubling, however, is the misleading and sometimes inaccurate information that some folks are using to disparage our schools and educators.

Public schools' mission is teaching and learning. Our success is measured by the opportunities that we create for our students, both in our classrooms today and later in life.

Throughout these lean economic times brought on by the Great Recession, the Eugene School District has worked steadily to keep cuts away from the classroom as much as possible. Now, facing a $21.7 million budget shortfall, we can no longer avoid further reductions to our teaching staff and the resulting increase in class sizes.

We continue to put the needs of students first and to maintain high academic expectations. We are focused and clear about our priorities. We have made hard decisions to let go of valued programs so that all students have the educational opportunities that they need to be successful. This is not, and will not be, easy for students, parents, staff or our community.

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The Rise of Teaching Machines

Josh Fischman:

At Arizona State University, a high-tech teaching tool with roots in the pre-Internet 1950s has created a bit of a buzz. "I think it's going to be quite good," says Philip Regier, dean of ASU Online. "Looking forward to it," says Arthur Blakemore, senior vice provost of the university. "I'm excited," says Irene Bloom, a senior lecturer in mathematics at the downtown campus.

All are anticipating this summer's debut of Knewton, a new computerized-learning program that features immediate feedback and adaptation to students' learning curves. The concept can be traced back a half-century or so to a "teaching machine" invented by the psychologist B.F. Skinner, then a professor at Harvard University. Based on principles of learning he developed working with pigeons, Skinner came up with a boxlike mechanical device that fed questions to students, rewarding correct answers with fresh academic material; wrong answers simply got them a repeat of the old question. "The student quickly learns to be right," Skinner said.

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May 9, 2011

What's Bugging Madison Teachers, Inc. Executive Director John Matthews?

Madison School Board Member Ed Hughes:

In an article about teacher retirements in the State Journal a couple of weeks ago, Madison Teachers Inc. Executive Director John Matthews had some harsh comments about the Madison school district and school board. Referring to the Teacher Emeritus Retirement Program, or TERP, Matthews said, "The evidence of the ill will of the board of education and superintendent speaks for itself as to why we have grave concern over the benefit continuing. . . . They tore things from the MTI contract, which they and their predecessors had agreed for years were in the best interest of the district and its employees."

In an article in Isthmus last week, Lynn Welch followed up with Matthews. Matthews comes out swinging against the school district in this article as well, asserting, "The bargaining didn't have to [involve] so much animosity. . . . If they wanted to make revisions, all they had to do is talk with us and we could have worked through something that would be acceptable to both sides. But they didn't bother to talk about it. You don't buy good will this way." While the contract includes very significant economic concessions on the part of the teachers, Matthews expressed unhappiness with the non-economic changes as well, labeling them "inhumane."

In the Isthmus article, Matthews asserts that the changes in the collective bargaining agreement "show how Walker's proposed legislation (still tied up in court) has already produced an imbalance of power forcing unions to make concessions they don't want to achieve a contract deal."


The collective bargaining process is useful because it provides an established framework for hammering out issues of mutual concern between the school district and its employees and for conflict resolution. However, if the collective bargaining agreement were to disappear, the school district wouldn't immediately resort to a management equivalent of pillaging the countryside. Instead, the district would seek out alternative ways of achieving the ends currently served by the collective bargaining process, because the district, like nearly all employers, values its employees and understands the benefits of being perceived as a good place to work.

But when employers aren't interested in running sweat-shops, organizations set up to prevent sweat-shop conditions aren't all that necessary. It may be that John Matthews' ramped-up rhetoric is best understood not as a protest against school district over-reaching in bargaining, since that did not happen, but as a cry against the possibility of his own impending irrelevance.

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Education reform: Shorter week, more learning More than 120 school districts across the U.S. are finding that less can be more -- less being fewer days spent in school.

Los Angeles Times:

The general assumption is that when it comes to educating American kids, more is more. Longer school hours. Saturday school. Summer school. Yet more than 120 school districts across the nation are finding that less can also be more -- less being fewer days spent in school.

The four-day school week has been around for decades, according to the National Council of State Legislatures, but it's quietly spreading as a money-saving tactic, especially after several states -- including Montana, Georgia, Missouri and Washington -- passed legislation allowing school districts to make the switch as long as they lengthened each school day so that there was no reduction in instructional hours. Teachers work just as much under the four-day plan, so there are no cost reductions there, but schools have saved from 2% to 9%, according to a 2009 report by the Center for Education Policy at the University of Southern Maine. Utility and transportation costs are lower; there's no need to serve a fifth lunch each week; even the reduced wear and tear on buildings has helped.

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The Future of Learning

Tom Vander Ark:

KnowledgeWorks, led for a decade by Chad Wick, a former bank CEO passionate about connecting urban kids to the idea economy, developed a 2020 forecast that outlines five learning priorities:

1. Students need the ability to sort, verify, synthesize, and use information to make judgments and take action. These skills have always been important but now that we're all drinking from a fire hose of information they are essential.

2. Students need a working knowledge of market economics and personal finance--most students still leave high school without them. Students will be navigating an increasingly dynamic economy in which technologies will improve and change at exponential rates and market opportunities will be big but competitive. Students need the ability to sell--themselves and an idea. They need to experience and give candid performance feedback and gain appreciation for a quality work product.

Curtis Carlson, the chief executive of SRI International, an independent research institute, told Tom Friedman, "Fortunately, this is the best time ever for innovation," said Carlson, for three reasons: "First, although competition is increasingly intense, our global economy opens up huge new market opportunities. Second, most technologies--since they are increasingly based on ideas and bits and not on atoms and muscle--are improving at rapid, exponential rates. And third, these two forces--huge, competitive markets and rapid technological change--are opening up one major new opportunity after another."

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Choice plan isn't about the wealthy

Patrick McIlheran:

Millionaires do screw up everything, don't they? They're hovering even now, ghostlike, haunting the working class amid the talk of expanding Milwaukee's school choice program.

Right now, if you're poor in Milwaukee - earning $39,000 or less for a family of four - you can take your state aid to any of a selection of superb private schools. Earn any more, as your typical machinist or firefighter would, and it's either endure the Milwaukee Public Schools, see if you can get into a charter school or pay thousands in tuition.

Gov. Scott Walker proposes lifting the income limit, and letting machinists and firefighters in on the deal. Critics are aghast with the thought that millionaires might benefit, too. Your tax dollars, they gasp, could pick up the $6,442 tab for some millionaire's son at some private school.

The horror. Not that a $6,442 voucher will take even a millionaire's kid very far at, say, the University School of Milwaukee, where tuition is $20K a year, should University School decide to take part. Nor will it suddenly relieve any millionaire of the tuition he's now paying at the more humble St. Parsimonious. Walker's reform phases in, and parents currently paying tuition can't get the state aid.

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Expert to help Ball State better train teachers to educate autistic kids

Dan McFeely:

Among the questions facing parents raising children with autism is this: Could easing the symptoms be as simple as taking away grains and dairy products?

Many parents swear the popular gluten-free, casein-free diets being promoted by celebrities help their children be more social and less prone to problematic behaviors such as loud outbursts.

But Lee Anne Owens, a Brownsburg mother of two boys with autism, isn't sure.

"I have a girlfriend who has tried it for her autistic child, and she has seen remarkable improvement," Owens said. "But I just don't see it."

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What's High School For?

Seth Godin:

What's high school for?

Perhaps we could endeavor to teach our future the following:

How to focus intently on a problem until it's solved.

The benefit of postponing short-term satisfaction in exchange for long-term success.
How to read critically.

The power of being able to lead groups of peers without receiving clear delegated authority.

An understanding of the extraordinary power of the scientific method, in just about any situation or endeavor.

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Critic William Deresiewicz undertakes 'A Jane Austen Education' and becomes a convert

Nancy Connors:

When I was college student and for a few years afterward, there were certain books -- often books I picked up by accident or for which I had low expectations -- that were so revelatory, so eye-opening, that after finishing them I walked around feeling at if I'd just landed on Earth. Everything looked new and strange, and every incident in the book felt as if it related directly to my own life.

It was a giddy sensation, and one that, sadly, comes much less frequently now. Reading William Deresiewicz's "A Jane Austen Education" brought me back to those heady days, when I believed that nothing could possibly be more important than literature.
Deresiewicz, a former English professor at Yale University and now a book critic, is an accidental Austen enthusiast. As a New Yorker and a graduate student at Columbia during the 1990s, he resisted Austen, preferring "modernism, the literature that had formed my identity as a reader and, in many ways, as a person. Joyce, Conrad, Faulkner, Nabokov: complex, difficult, sophisticated works."

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Brainwashing fears far-fetched

Mary Ma:

Schoolchildren in Canada sing the national anthem in class everyday. It's also common for US students to recite a pledge of allegiance to their country.
In Hong Kong, most schoolchildren started to learn singing China's national anthem only after Britain returned its most famous colony to Beijing's sovereignty in 1997. Now, the SAR government wants to carry national education further, but is ironically chided for political brainwashing.

The criticism is simply strange. During the colonial era, students never had the opportunity to study modern Chinese history. Crucial chapters differentiating between the Republic of China - now Taiwan - and the People's Republic of China were nowhere to be found in textbooks. It was deliberate as this served the colonial regime's interest better for locals not to be identified with China.

Last week, the SAR launched a four- month consultation on moral and national education, proposing that primary and secondary schools devote 50 hours per year, or two lessons a week, for students to learn the national anthem, attend national flag-raising ceremonies, understand the Basic Law, support national sports teams, and appreciate Chinese culture and the development of China via current affairs. Teachers would have a large freedom in teaching. This is overdue. After all, it has been nearly 14 years since the handover.

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Why America's best school may be no better than yours

Jay Matthews:

I have written many columns about the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Fairfax County. Some readers have suggested I stop. They ask: Why is one school so important?

Here's the situation. I am an education writer who focuses on the best teachers and best schools, as measured by how much value they add to students' educations and lives. Jefferson is the most selective high school in the country. By many benchmarks -- faculty quality, course level, equipment -- it has to be considered among the best.

That is irresistible to me. Now I have found a Jefferson graduate, Chelsea Slade, who has given me a way to drag into my Jefferson obsession everyone who didn't go to Jefferson, which includes me and almost all of mankind.

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Money is the Talk of York Suburban School Board Race

Angie Mason:

Candidates for York Suburban School Board are all focused on one thing: finances.

The district started with a more than $3 million deficit and has spent months whittling down expenses. A proposed budget for next year includes a 1.4 percent tax increase. Here's a look at what the 10 candidates, vying for 5 spots, had to say about the district's budget picture:

Jennifer Clancy, a current board member, said the funding formula needs to be addressed at the state level, and state mandates need to be addressed, too. Locally, she said, the board has invested a lot of time in trimming expenses.

"If there was anything called fat, we've eliminated that," she said, noting the next step should be to look at the largest spending area -- salaries and benefits -- and work on that.
Ellen Freireich, also running for re-election, said the board needs to continue monitoring revenues and expenses to be fiscally responsible. Board members and taxpayers need to contact state legislators and express the urgency of the financial crisis, she said.

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It takes a Village: Education system faces constant challenges

Andy Shapiro:

There is no doubt that recruiting and retaining excellent teachers in our nation's schools are central components of improving our education system. But it is equally important to acknowledge that a wide range of factors beyond how a teacher conducts his or her classroom significantly affects the success of our students and teachers.

Poverty, hunger, homelessness, health issues, exposure to violence and reduced investment in our schools are just a few of the many societal issues that influence the effectiveness of even the most talented teachers.

When a child comes to school hungry or poorly nourished, the student is not as likely to grasp even the most intricately planned and masterfully executed lessons.

When a student is stressed and sleep-deprived due to the foreclosure of his parents' home, the student will not be as capable of thinking critically and reflectively about even the most engaging of classroom activities.

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May 8, 2011

Chicago Study Finds Mixed Results for AVID Program

Sarah D. Sparks, via a kind reader's email:

Individual interventions intended to improve academic skills, such as the popular Advancement Via Individual Determination, or AVID, program, may not secure a student's path to graduation and college without a schoolwide structure to support it, according to a study from the Consortium on Chicago School Research.

In a report set for release in the fall and previewed at the American Educational Research Association convention in New Orleans in April, researchers analyzed how AVID, a study-skills intervention for middle-achieving students, played out in 14 Chicago high schools. They found AVID participants in 9th grade gained little advantage that year over peers not taking part in the program, and remained off track for graduation and college.

The study highlights a potential pitfall for the dozens of student-based interventions aiming to scale up nationwide through private support and programs like the federal Investing in Innovation, or i3, program: As programs move out of the schools for which they were originally developed, their success becomes increasingly dependent on individual schools' context and capacity.

Madison School District AVID information.

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Failing Our Children: Wisconsin's Deficit in Teaching Personal Finance and Economics

Scott Niederjohn:

Given the importance of economic and financial education, one might expect to find these subjects emphasized in Wisconsin's K-12 schools. Other states are ahead of Wisconsin. Twenty-one states now require high school students to take an economics course; thirteen states require students to take a personal finance course. In Wisconsin, neither is required, so few Wisconsin high school students take a course in economics or personal finance, and few teachers are qualified to teach one.

This widespread disregard has real consequences. The financial crisis from which our nation is currently recovering illustrates some of these, having arisen in part from ill-considered decisions by financially illiterate consumers of credit. For American workers, moreover, the trend away from defined-benefit pensions toward defined-contribution pensions places increasing investment responsibilities in the hands of individuals.

Evidence suggests that improvement will be a challenge. Surveys and assessments of economic and financial education generally yield dismal results. Americans are neither confident in their skills in these areas nor do they perform well on tests of knowledge. Their lack of economic and financial savvy plays out variously -- for example, in the lives of large numbers of Americans who find themselves "unbanked" and reliant on dubious sources of financial services such as payday-loan stores and check-cashing outlets. College students, meanwhile, rack up record levels of credit-card and student-loan debt.

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Preschool funding: Toddle to the top

The Economist:

LILY, who is three-and-a-half, loves her nursery school in Queens. Her mother calls her "the sponge" because every day she comes home with new nuggets of knowledge. But not every child is as lucky as Lily. A new report by the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) shows that states' preschool funding is declining, which means fewer children will have access to early education, which most agree is essential especially for children living in low-income households. The study looked at the 40 states which fund programmes for three- or four-year-olds. "State cuts to preschool funding transformed the recession into a depression for many young children," says Steven Barnett, author of the NIEER report.

State preschool spending per child decreased by $114 to $4,028 last year. This is almost $700 less than in 2001-2002. Were it not for the additional funding provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, it would be much less. Worryingly, the funding situation may get worse. The stimulus money helped keep many states afloat, a cushion that no longer exists. Only three states (Connecticut, Maine and Vermont) increased spending per child by more than 10%. Nine (Alabama, Arizona, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Nebraska, Ohio, and South Carolina) cut spending by at least 10%. Ohio, once a leader in early education, now has one of the lowest percentages of youngsters enrolled. It cut funding more than any other state.

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An Open Letter to Arne Duncan

Randy Turner:

Dear Secretary Duncan:

When I first heard that you had written an open letter to the teachers of America, I was afraid to open the envelope.

Considering that it was just last year that you said Rhode Island school board members were "showing courage and doing the right thing for kids" when they fired the entire faculty at a high school, I thought your latest letter might contain a pink slip or at least some sort of reprimand to place in my permanent record.

Instead, I was told just how much you respect me and the hundreds of thousands of teachers in this great country.

Among the things you wrote:

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Madison Preparatory Academy Finance Discussion with the Madison School Board

Madison School District 60K PDF:

The review of resources moving forward to be allocated for Madison Prep need further conversation for Administration to gain further direction. At the February 28, 2011 meeting dealing with Madison Prep differing ideas were talked about by various individuals as to the best way to deal with Madison Prep. In order to better understand the direction the board would like administration to head financially with this school, an understanding of what has been done in the past is necessary.

When the finances were completed for Badger Rock, they were put together with the express direction of the majority of the Board that they should break even and not cause reductions in other areas of the district budget. This was accomplished by transferring resources from Sennett Middle School specifically as those kids were moved from Sennett to Badger Rock. This worked for Badger Rock because they defined an attendance area, and agreed that 80% or 40 kids would be from the Sennett attendance area.

For Madison Prep, the issue of transfer becomes more difficult as they will technically pull students from all of our Middle School attendance areas. The amount of funds we are able to segregate for transfer with this model are much less if we are under the same circumstances where we should have a program that breaks even or doesn't cause reductions in other areas of the budget.

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Comments on the Madison School District's Literacy Initiative and Budget Proposal

First of all, our thanks and compliments to you and the administration for undertaking the assessment of literacy in the District. Thanks also to staff and outside advisors for their contributions to making the Report and Recommendations the most meaningful and significant direction for systemic change toward achieving measurable results in student achievement and staff performance in the District's recent history.

We urge the Board of Education support of the Literacy Report AND adoption of the recommendations for implementation of the initiatives and for the budget proposed in the Superintendent's Preliminary Budget for 2011-12. It is vital for the Board to support the direction of the initiatives for balanced literacy with integrity at all grades levels of the District. It is deplorable that heretofore there has been no systematic plan to address the reading and writing shortcomings of the District that are the most fundamental causative factor contributing to the "achievement gap". Finally, we have pro-active leadership from Dr. Sue Abplanalp, who has a full grasp of the organizational development and change processes critical and significant to the implementation and sustainability of difference- making strategies. The proposed design of systemic changes to the curriculum, instructional strategies, engagement of teachers, support staff, students and parents/other adults and the realignment of financial and other resources will result in measurable student growth. Board adoption of the $650,000.00 2011-12 budget considerations is an absolute necessity of the very highest priority. We urge you to get on with it. Thank you.
For further information contact: Don Severson, 577-0851

Print version: 222K PDF

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Community colleges wasting student time and money

Jay Matthews:

As I learn more about community colleges, one of the most surprising lessons has been the sloppy and deceptive ways that students are introduced to courses. Placement tests are not well explained to students. Whether you have a passing score or not can depend on which college you attend.

At least as unsettling are studies showing that dual enrollment courses -- community college courses given to high school students -- often bar applicants who have less than a B average or fail a placement test, even though they need that taste of college-level work to prepare for the real thing.

Now a troubling new research paper says that the remedial courses given to community college students who do not score high enough on placement tests often do no good. Colleges still swear by the courses, however. Students are further deceived by upbeat guidance to a community college placement test owned by the College Board that tells students, wrongly, that they can't really fail a placement test.

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Teachers, MTI head should offer apologies

Tom Consigny:

The April 28 State Journal editorial urged punishment of sick note scammers (some teachers and doctors during the recent protests), and included a column by Chris Rickert titled "Don't cry for teachers who choose early retirement." Many taxpayers in Madison and Wisconsin would say "amen."

It's ironic and hypocritical that a national radio ad expresses support for Teacher Appreciation Week and touts teachers so soon after over 1,700 Madison teachers didn't show up for work -- 84 of them turning in fraudulent sick notes. The teachers used students as pawns at protest marches and contributed to protester damage at our Capitol.

In the minds of many property taxpayers and even some students, teachers have lost much respect and trust. This could be reversed if teachers and their arrogant union boss John Matthews would express in a public statement regret for their selfish and illegal actions.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:04 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

DonorsChoose: Connecting you to the Classroom, via a kind reader's email:

Here's how it works: public school teachers from every corner of America post classroom project requests on Requests range from pencils for a poetry writing unit, to violins for a school recital, to microscope slides for a biology class.

Then, you can browse project requests and give any amount to the one that inspires you. Once a project reaches its funding goal, we deliver the materials to the school.

You'll get photos of your project taking place, a thank-you letter from the teacher, and a cost report showing how each dollar was spent. If you give over $100, you'll also receive hand-written thank-you letters from the students.

At, you can give as little as $1 and get the same level of choice, transparency, and feedback that is traditionally reserved for someone who gives millions. We call it citizen philanthropy.

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Questions & Suggestions for the Madison School District's Innovation & Alternative Programs

225K PDF: As a result of the presentations and discussion at the first Committee meeting I have some questions and suggestions I want to share with you.

1. Regarding the "Charge" for the Committee: Is the identification and planning for expansion limited to "programs and educational options"?

Recommended suggestions: Think beyond programs, services and projects for processes to affect 'systemic' changes.

Much more on the Madison School District's Innovation & Alternative Programs Initiative, here.

Posted by Don Severson at 1:01 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Questions and Concerns Regarding the "Findings and Recommendations" of the MMSD K-12 Literacy Program Evaluation report

The following questions and concerns are submitted to you for your consideration regarding the "findings and recommendations" of the MMSD K-12 Literacy Program Evaluation report:

1. What findings and recommendations are there for 'year-around' literacy experiences to help mitigate 'losses' over the summer months in achievement gains during the traditional academic year?

Although "summer loss" was not a particular focus of discussion during the evaluation process, there are several ways in which the recommendations address reducing the impact of summer reading loss. These include:

Recommendation I - curricular consistency will provide for a more seamless connection with content and instruction in summer school, Saturday school (pending funding) and after school supports.

Recommendation II - more explicit instruction focused in early grades will allow students to read for enjoyment at earlier ages.

Recommendation III - a well-developed intervention plan will follow a student through summer school and into the following academic year

2. What are the findings and recommendations regarding parental (significant adults in student's life) participation, training, evaluation and accountability in the literacy learning process?

Parental participation opportunities to support their children's enjoyment and achievement in literacy include:

Family Literacy Nights at various elementary schools and in collaboration with Madison School and Community Recreation. Town Hall Meetings that provide opportunities for families to share pros and cons of literacy practices at school and home.

Literacy 24-7: Parent training for Spanish speaking families on how to promote literacy learning. Read Your Heart Out Day: This event builds positive family, community and school relationships with a literacy focus and supports both the family involvement and cultural relevance components of the Madison Metropolitan School District Strategic Plan.

Tera Fortune: Professional development for parents about the Dual Language Immersion Program with a focus on bi-literacy throughout the content areas. MALDEF Curriculum Training: Nine-week training covering a variety of topics to assist parents in sharing the responsibility of student success and how to communicate effectively in schools.

Regular column in Umoja Magazine: Forum to inform families and community members about educational issues through African American educators' expertise. Several columns have focused on literacy learning at home.

Training is provided for parents on how to choose literature that:

Has positive images that leave lasting impressions

Has accurate, factual information that is enjoyable to read

Contains meaningful stories that reflect a range of cultural values and lifestyles

Has clear and positive perspective for people of color in the 21st century

Contains material that is self affirming Promotes positive literacy learning at home

Evaluations of the Read Your Heart Out and Family Literacy Night were conducted by requesting that participating parents, staff, students and community members complete a survey about the success of the event and the effects on student achievement.

3. What are the consequential and remediation strategies for non-performance in meeting established achievement/teaching/support standards for students, staff and parents? What are the accompanying evaluation/assessment criteria?

A District Framework is nearing completion. This Framework will provide clear and consistent expectations and rubrics for all instructional staff and administrators. Improvement will be addressed through processes that include the School Improvement Plans and staff and administrator evaluations processes.

4. Please clarify the future of the Reading Recovery program.

MMSD proposes to maintain Reading Recovery teachers and teacher leaders as an intervention at grade 1. There are currently two Reading Recovery teacher leaders participating in a two-year professional development required to become Reading Recovery teacher leaders. One of these positions will be certified to support English Language Learners. The modifications proposed include: 1) targeting these highly skilled Reading Recovery teachers to specific students across schools based on district-wide data for 2011-12 and 2) integrating the skills of Reading Recovery staff into a comprehensive intervention plan along with skilled interventionists resulting in all elementary schools benefiting from grade 1 reading intervention.

5. How will the literacy learning process be integrated with the identification and development of Talented and Gifted (TAG) students?

The development of a balanced, comprehensive assessment system will result in teachers having more frequent and accurate student data available to tailor instruction. K-12 alignment uses tools such as Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) and Educational Planning and Assessment System (EPAS) are being implemented in Spring, 2011.

The Response to Intervention model is based on evidence-based instruction and responds to students who need additional challenge and/or support.

6. What will be the 2010-2011 budgetary priorities and strategies for undertaking the literacy program and resources recommendations outlined in the report?

PreK-12 literacy will be a priority for the 2011-12 budget process. In addition to the prioritization of funding within our budget parameters, MMSD is in the process of writing a major grant (Investing in Innovation - i3) to support the recommendations of the literacy evaluation as a key strategy to close achievement gaps and improve literacy for all students to be ready for college and/or careers.

Posted by Don Severson at 1:01 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

May 7, 2011

Gov. Walker's plan: 'a slew of absurdities'

WEAC President Mary Bell:

For generations, Wisconsin has taken pride in the opportunities we offer children through our public schools. When students or schools are struggling, we work together to find solutions.

Wisconsin is at the top when it comes to ACT and Advanced Placement scores and graduation rates, and just last month, significant gains on test scores were reported along with a narrowing of achievement gaps between minority groups. That's a foundation that should be built upon, not dismantled.

Gov. Scott Walker's education plan included in his state budget proposal will move our students and state backward. Whether you have children in a public school or not, whether you are Democrat, Republican or somewhere in between, children are counting on the state to do what's right. Public education must remain a top priority.

For months, Wisconsinites have been telling their legislators that we believe there is a better way - a balanced way - to respond to tough fiscal times without throwing away our tradition of high-quality public education. Linda Copas of Plainfield pointed out to the Joint Finance Committee that in her small school district, the number of students who live in poverty has more than doubled, but the governor's education plan ignores that. Kim Schroeder, a Milwaukee teacher, said his students are losing opportunities such as gym, art and music.

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Allocating funding per student entails thoughtful discussion

Alan Borsuk:

How much would we spend per student if we wanted to give every child in Milwaukee a real opportunity to get a good education?

I'm sure $6,442 is too low. That's the amount paid in public money for each student in the private school voucher program. Ask anyone involved in operating such a school, especially when it comes to providing a quality program for older students. Show me a good voucher school, and I'll show you a good private fundraising operation.

I'm almost as sure it's not $7,775, the amount provided for students in the charter schools that operate independent of Milwaukee Public Schools. Same reason.

In some cases, it might be in the neighborhood of $9,091, the amount expected to be provided by MPS next year for students in "partnership" schools, generally alternative schools for kids who haven't thrived in conventional settings. But that's too low in many cases, also.

How about $13,200? That's one estimate of what spending per student in MPS is going to work out to be next year. That's down from around $15,000 this year, by some calculations, largely because of the end of the federal economic stimulus program that brought a short-term surge of money to MPS. Ask most parents in MPS, and they'll tell you that's not enough because they are looking toward service cuts and larger classes next year.

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We must put kids before adults

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker

I've read Dr. Seuss' "Oh, the Places You'll Go" quite a bit over the past few weeks as I visited schools in Milwaukee, Green Bay and Stevens Point to read to second- and third-graders and meet with teachers and school officials. I've been visiting schools to promote our Read to Lead Task Force, which is finding ways to make sure all Wisconsin students can read before they complete the third grade.

As a parent with two boys in public schools, it has been great to see the passion our teachers have for showing children how education can take them to amazing places. Like the teachers I met, I believe strongly in the power of education to open new worlds of opportunity, break the cycle of poverty and empower those searching for hope with a sense of purpose and self-determination.

All too often, people focus on the negatives in our education system. We are trying to focus on our strengths - particularly in reading - and then replicate that success in every classroom across our state.

Related: Ripon Superintendent Richard Zimman:
"Beware of legacy practices (most of what we do every day is the maintenance of the status quo), @12:40 minutes into the talk - the very public institutions intended for student learning has become focused instead on adult employment. I say that as an employee. Adult practices and attitudes have become embedded in organizational culture governed by strict regulations and union contracts that dictate most of what occurs inside schools today. Any impetus to change direction or structure is met with swift and stiff resistance. It's as if we are stuck in a time warp keeping a 19th century school model on life support in an attempt to meet 21st century demands." Zimman went on to discuss the Wisconsin DPI's vigorous enforcement of teacher licensing practices and provided some unfortunate math & science teacher examples (including the "impossibility" of meeting the demand for such teachers (about 14 minutes)). He further cited exploding teacher salary, benefit and retiree costs eating instructional dollars ("Similar to GM"; "worry" about the children given this situation).

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Reality Check: Milwaukee Exceed's Madison's Black Not Hispanic 4 Year High School Graduation Rate: 59.5% to 48.3%

Andrew Shilcher, via email:

In response to the press release that the DPI put out today, I did some digging to see where Madison and Milwaukee stacked up. You can check out how each district breaks down for yourself by following the links at the bottom, but here are some of the highlights (if you want to call them that)

According to WINSS...
The 4 year graduation rate for Black Not Hispanic students in MMSD for the 2009-2010 school year was 48.3%.

The 4 year graduation rate for Black Not Hispanic students in MPS for the 2009-2010 school year was 59.5%.

The 4 year graduation rates for Hispanic students in MMSD and MPS for the 2009-2010 school year are comparable at 56.7% in MMSD and 59% in MPS.

The statewide average 4 year graduation rate for Black Not Hispanic students for the 2009-2010 school year was 60.5%.

The statewide average 4 year graduation rate for Hispanic students for the 2009-2010 school year was 69%.

I won't go into the difference between the 4 year rates and Legacy rates, but you can check those out at the links below too. 4 year rates place students in a cohort beginning in their first year of high school and see where things stand within that cohort 4 years later. Legacy rates are a yearly snapshot of the number of graduates for a year compared to the number of students expected to graduate high school for that given year. For a further explanation of this refer to

Here is the link to the press release:

Here is the link to MMSD WINSS statistics:````&SN=None+Chosen&DN=Madison+Metropolitan&OrgLevel=di&Qquad=performance.aspx&Group=RaceEthnicity

Here is the link to MPS WINSS statistics:````&SN=None+Chosen&DN=Milwaukee&OrgLevel=di&Qquad=performance.aspx&Group=RaceEthnicity

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Schools and parental choice: Admission impossible

The Economist:

IS YOUR son an accomplished violinist? Buy a house near one of the many state-funded schools that can now prefer pupils with musical talents, and he will sail to the front of the queue for a place. Is little Johnny a whizz at maths? Alas, only a few scattered patches of England now have academically selective "grammar" schools that can legally admit him ahead of his innumerate friends. Piety might help: have him baptised and attend services regularly and he could win a place at one of the many high-performing church schools.

England's state schools have an absurdly complex rule book for how they may and may not choose their pupils. (The rest of Britain goes its own way in education policy.) This infuriates conscientious parents and forces them to resort to all sorts of tricks to get their offspring a decent, publicly-funded education. Michael Gove, the education secretary, is bent on overhauling the rules. But it will not be easy.

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Mitch Daniels' Ambitious Education Reforms

Conor Friedersdorf:

Is the school voucher plan just signed into law by Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels going to improve education in his state? It's an ambitious experiment:
The plan is based on a sliding income scale, with families of four making more than $60,000 qualifying for some level of scholarship if they switch from public to private schools... Other voucher systems across the country are limited to lower-income households, children with special needs or those in failing schools. Indiana's program would be open to a much larger pool of students, including those already in excellent schools... within three years, there will be no limit on the number of children who could enroll.
I have no idea whether or not this is going to work. But I am thrilled that Indiana is trying it. Nationwide, 40 percent of registered voters and almost half of parents with school-aged children favor this policy, and it is one of the few education reform ideas consistently advanced by one of our two political parties. More importantly, two-thirds of Hoosiers supported the idea in a January poll.

This is as good as it gets if you believe that states should sometimes function as laboratories of democracy. Indiana voters get what they want, and the rest of us benefit from seeing how it works out on a larger scale than has ever been tried before. It's also heartening that Gov. Daniels is hedging his bets by trying to improve the public school system. His broader education agenda is outlined in this presentation, given at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday.

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Christie refuses to talk about flouting N.J. Supreme Court if it orders more school funding

Gov. Chris Christie flashed with anger today when pressed on his recent remark that he could defy the state's highest court if it orders him to send more money to public schools.

"No comment," he said at a press conference to name a Newark school superintendent, visibly bristling when asked how seriously he is considering ignoring the state Supreme Court.

"I heard the question very clearly, and I don't have any comment," Christie repeated minutes later when pressed by a second reporter. "If you just want to follow up on why I 'no commented' that, then my answer to you is no comment."

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Half Of Adults In Detroit Are Functionally Illiterate

Matthew Yglesias:

Something that I think drives at least some of my disagreements with other liberals about education policy is that I think a lot of middle class liberals implicitly underestimate the extent of really bad learning outcomes. Take this report (PDF) from the Detroit Regional Workforce Fund which notes "that 47% of adults (more than 200,000 individuals) in the City of Detroit are functionally illiterate, referring to the inability of an individual to use reading, speaking, writing, and computational skills in everyday life situations" and also that "within the tricounty region, there are a number of municipalities with illiteracy rates rivaling Detroit: Southfield at 24%, Warren at 17%, Inkster at 34%, Pontiac at 34%."

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Do Poor Kids Need A Different Pedagogy Than Wealthy Kids?

New Jersey Left Behind:

Alfie Kohn has really pushed the buttons of ed reformers in his Education Week commentary, "How Education Reform Traps Poor Children." He bemoans the educational techniques of charter school teachers whom, he says, perseverate on mechanical drills and rote learning. This results in a pedagogy that is "noticeably different from the questioning, discovering, arguing, and collaborating that is more common (though by no means universal) among students in suburban and private schools." In low-income schools, he charges, "not only is the teaching scripted, but a system of almost militaristic behavior control is common, with public humiliation for noncompliance and an array of rewards for obedience that calls to mind the token-economy programs developed in prisons and psychiatric hospitals."

Phew. Strong stuff. This "pedagogy of poverty" (the phrase comes from a 1991 paper by Wisconsin professor Martin Haberman) is racist, charges Kohn, stemming from an over-emphasis on standardized tests. In the end it "serves to simultaneously narrow the test-score gap and widen the learning gap."

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Lotus founder Mitch Kapor sets his sights on fixing education

Mike Cassidy:

Mitch Kapor knows something about reaching full potential.
When the IBM PC came out in the early 1980s, it was fabulous in concept. A computer that fit on a desk! But available programs were clunky and sales were slow. Kapor went about developing Lotus 1-2-3, a spreadsheet designed for the computer that turned the early PC into a bona fide business machine.

It's no different with students who are potentially brilliant at science and math, but are hamstrung by poor schools that are not equipped to prepare them for the 21st century. "It is possible to take a population of students who are failing and whose schools are failing them, who are being written off as not being college material," Kapor says, "and if they have the right support, they can all go to college and succeed."

Kapor is a tech icon, for starting Lotus, for cofounding the Electronic Frontier Foundation, for being the first chairman of the Mozilla Foundation, which supports Firefox and other open source projects. He's a San Francisco-based venture capitalist now and he's done well for himself.

But he has always had a wide progressive advocacy streak. Born in Brooklyn, he worked as a rock disc jockey, taught Transcendental Meditation and worked as a mental health counselor before making his name in the tech field.

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Debate over future of Texas public higher education keeps raging

Holly Hacker:

The University of Texas at Austin should boost enrollment by 10 percent a year and cut tuition at UT System campuses in half, the chairman of the system's board of regents suggests.

That's according to this story in today's Austin American-Statesman. The Statesman obtained a draft memo written by Gene Powell, chairman of the nine-member board, in early April. The memo outlines several goals, including:

  • Make UT-Austin the number 1 public university in the country
  • Increase undergraduate enrollment at UT-Austin by 10 percent a year for four years starting in 2013
  • Determine the percentage increase for the other UT System campuses, including UT-Arlington and UT-Dallas

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Postpartum Depression Highest in Fall, Winter

Ann Lukits:

Women who give birth during the fall and winter are twice as likely to suffer from postpartum depression than if they deliver in the spring, according to a study in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology. Seasonal variations in mental disorders are well documented, but few studies have examined seasonal births and postpartum depression. From 2006 to 2007, 2,318 new Swedish mothers, 76% of whom had no previous psychiatric history, completed questionnaires containing a post-natal depression scale five days, six weeks and six months after giving birth. Results showed that women who gave birth from October to December were twice as likely to develop postpartum depression at six weeks and six months than women who delivered from April to June. The risk of postpartum depression was 43% higher for women who gave birth from July to September and 22% higher from January to March. There was no risk associated with deliveries from April to June. Researchers said reduced exposure to daylight may alter the activity of serotonin, causing mood disorders. Mothers giving birth in the fall might benefit from closer postpartum support and follow-up from doctors, they said.

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Who stole the appreciation in Teacher Appreciation Week?

Katie Klein:

This week is Teacher Appreciation Week, and I cannot think of a more appropriate way to express my deep-rooted and sincere gratitude for educators, than using this very public forum.

And to call out the jackasses who seem to neglect the word "appreciation" that educators are so deserving of. Every day.

I have the distinct honor and privilege of knowing a few upper-echelon educators within the area. I also follow a few teachers on Twitter. They are nothing short of amazing.

I've witnessed them instruct in front of diverse classrooms full of students, draw up lesson plans over endless cups of coffee and methodically pour their hearts and souls into each day's activities. They are full of hope. They're focused on injecting children's lives with knowledge that will one day mold them into future leaders - future pillars of a community - and adults that will one day change the world. These teachers are selfless.

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Kicking around in South Waziristan

Syed Saleem Shahzad:

"We have 1,800 girl students of whom 800 are from far-flung villages in South Waziristan. They live in hostels. We provide them with Islamic education as well as mainstream [secular] education. This year, 231 girls appeared for the Matriculation Board of Education examination," said Haqqani.

"Not only am I supportive of women's education, I want each one of my students to open up schools in their villages," said Haqqani, who showed me around his seminary, computer laboratory and a modern library. The doctor, in his late 40s, seems ready to take more progressive steps, but because of social taboos he will not take any radical measures - only small steps to guarantee success.

Haqqani is the son of a former Pakistani parliamentarian and cleric, Maulana Noor Muhammad, who was killed by al-Qaeda in a suicide attack last year as he was considered a supportive force of the status quo, that is, the military establishment.

"My father was a symbol of stability in South Waziristan. In his presence, nobody could easily disturb the peace of the area. Therefore, he was assassinated," Haqqani said with sadness.

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May 6, 2011

Would improved TAG program hurt other Madison School District Programs?

Chris Rickert:

Just when you thought the Madison School District had enough on its plate -- perennially tight budgets, teachers incensed at Gov. Scott Walker's union-busting, minority achievement gaps -- it's under a gun of a different sort:

Get your program for talented and gifted, or TAG, students in order, the state told the district in March, after a group of parents complained their kids were not being sufficiently challenged in the classroom.

I am dubious of efforts to devote additional time and money to students who already have the advantage of being smart -- and often white and upper-middle class -- and who have similarly situated parents adept at lobbying school officials.

Money, time and effort generally not being unlimited commodities in public school districts, the question over what is to be done about Madison's TAG program strikes me as one of priorities.

Improving TAG offerings would seem to require an equal reduction in something else. And maybe that something else is more important to more students.

Not that it's likely anyone on the School Board would ever acknowledge any trade-offs.

It's a "false dichotomy," said School Board member Ed Hughes, and "not an either/or situation." Can the district be all things to all people? I asked. "Sure," he said. "Why not?"

Much more on the Talented & Gifted Wisconsin DPI complaint, here.

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John Matthews rips MTI contract concessions to the Madison School District

Lynn Welch:

A dispute has developed between Madison teachers and the school district over changes to contracts secured during quickie negotiations in March. John Matthews, executive director of Madison Teachers Inc., is upset about what he calls an "unfair and unreasonable" process.

"The bargaining didn't have to [involve] so much animosity," says Matthews. "If they wanted to make revisions, all they had to do is talk with us and we could have worked through something that would be acceptable to both sides. But they didn't bother to talk about it. You don't buy good will this way."

Elsewhere, in an interview with the Wisconsin State Journal, Matthews referred darkly to "the ill will of the board of education and superintendent" toward his members, as shown in these contract talks.

But school board members and district administrators take a different view, saying Matthews and his staff were at the bargaining table and agreed to all changes made to the contracts during an all-night negotiation that ended March 12; MTI members ratified the deal the next day. School Board President Maya Cole suggests that Matthews now has "buyer's remorse."

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The Tectonic Shift in Education

Jon Rappoport:

During the 1960s, the whole society caved in and gave up the ghost. The education system, such as it was, crashed. I was there, as a teacher, part of that time, and I saw it happen. It foundered on just this point. Repetition. It was as if minds had gone soft and couldn't perform.

Broadly speaking, the basics of arithmetic went out the window. So did spelling, grammar, and the ability to write coherent sentences. Poof. The amount of scut work it took to build a basic education became unacceptable.

When I read tracts about the intentional undermining of the American educational system, I sense truth in them, but to me the real crash was all about what I'm discussing here.

You can bring up drugs, horrible junk food, the influence of TV and the Internet, large classes, and so on. You can say they all make education a tougher job. Sure, I don't deny any of that, but the rubber meets the road in REPETITION. The grind. You can either do it or you can't. If you can't, everything you learn is faked. It SEEMS to be real, but it isn't.

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I ain't taking no deep breaths

Miss Brave:

THE TEST is almost upon us! Recently I met with my principal to discuss what grade I'd like to teach next year. After many, many hours of soul-searching I had listed second grade as my first choice on my preference sheet, but there may not be an opening, so I then spent many, many hours agonizing over whether I'd rather move to first grade or stay in third. My principal asked me to be "completely honest" about my reservations in third grade.

"Well," I said, "I've never done test prep before, and I've never had a class like this before, so getting this class through test prep has been..."

He finished the sentence for me. "Get me the hell out of third grade?"

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If Supermarkets Were Like Public Schools: What if groceries were paid for by taxes, and you were assigned a store based on where you live?

Donald Boudreaux:

Teachers unions and their political allies argue that market forces can't supply quality education. According to them, only our existing system--politicized and monopolistic--will do the trick. Yet Americans would find that approach ludicrous if applied to other vital goods or services.

Suppose that groceries were supplied in the same way as K-12 education. Residents of each county would pay taxes on their properties. Nearly half of those tax revenues would then be spent by government officials to build and operate supermarkets. Each family would be assigned to a particular supermarket according to its home address. And each family would get its weekly allotment of groceries--"for free"--from its neighborhood public supermarket.

No family would be permitted to get groceries from a public supermarket outside of its district. Fortunately, though, thanks to a Supreme Court decision, families would be free to shop at private supermarkets that charge directly for the groceries they offer. Private-supermarket families, however, would receive no reductions in their property taxes.

Of course, the quality of public supermarkets would play a major role in families' choices about where to live. Real-estate agents and chambers of commerce in prosperous neighborhoods would brag about the high quality of public supermarkets to which families in their cities and towns are assigned.

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Chicago Urban Prep charter school seniors get into Ivy League schools

Noreen S. Ahmed-Ullah, via a kind reader's email:

Urban Prep Academy will mark another first this year -- the city's all-male, all-African-American charter high school will be sending its first students to an Ivy League school in the fall.

Urban Prep Academy will mark another first this year -- the city's all-male, all-African-American charter high school will be sending its first students to an Ivy League school in the fall.

Seniors Matthew Williams and Julius Claybron have been accepted into Cornell University. Williams also has been accepted into Dartmouth College and wait-listed at Harvard and Yale, school officials said.

The students and 102 others in the Class of 2011 announced the colleges they will attend at a ceremony Wednesday at U.S. Cellular Field. They put on baseball caps for their college picks, which included Morehouse, Oberlin, Grinnell and the University of Michigan.

Much more on Chicago's Urban Prep Academy and the proposed Madison Prep IB Charter school here.

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Evaluating Teacher Effectiveness

Thomas J. Kane, Eric S. Taylor, John H. Tyler and Amy L. Wooten:

"The Widget Effect," a widely read 2009 report from The New Teacher Project, surveyed the teacher evaluation systems in 14 large American school districts and concluded that status quo systems provide little information on how performance differs from teacher to teacher. The memorable statistic from that report: 98 percent of teachers were evaluated as "satisfactory." Based on such findings, many have characterized classroom observation as a hopelessly flawed approach to assessing teacher effectiveness.

The ubiquity of "satisfactory" ratings stands in contrast to a rapidly growing body of research that examines differences in teachers' effectiveness at raising student achievement. In recent years, school districts and states have compiled datasets that make it possible to track the achievement of individual students from one year to the next, and to compare the progress made by similar students assigned to different teachers. Careful statistical analysis of these new datasets confirms the long-held intuition of most teachers, students, and parents: teachers vary substantially in their ability to promote student achievement growth.

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White paper: The Rise of K-12 Blended Learning

Heather Staker with contributions from Eric Chan, Matthew Clayton, Alex Hernandez, Michael B. Horn, and Katherine Mackey:

Some innovations change everything. The rise of personal computers in the 1970s decimated the mini-computer industry. TurboTax forever changed tax accounting, and MP3s made libraries of compact discs obsolete. Even venerable public institutions like the United States Postal Service, which reported an $8.5 billion loss in 2010, are not immune. It experienced a 6 billion piece decline in mail volume that fiscal year, thanks mostly, of course, to email.

These innovations bear the traits of what Harvard Business School Professor Clayton M. Christensen terms a disruptive innovation. Disruptive innovations fundamentally transform a sector by replacing expensive, complicated, and inaccessible products or services with much less expensive, simpler, and more convenient alternatives. This pattern is as common in heavy industrials as in professional services, consumer packaged goods, and nonprofits. In one of its most recent manifestations, it is little by little changing the way people think about education.

Online learning appears to be a classic disruptive innovation with the potential not just to improve the current model of education delivery, but to transform it. Online learning started by serving students for whom there was no alternative for learning. It got its start in distance-learning environments, outside of a traditional school building, and it started small. In 2000, roughly 45,000 K-12 students took an online course. But by 2010, over 4 million students were participating in some kind of formal online-learning program. The preK-12 online population is now growing by a five-year compound annual growth rate of 43 percent--and that rate is accelerating.

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For school districts across Wisconsin, life goes on -- with or without budget ruling

Tom Still:

The topic of my speech was the continued value of local education in building Wisconsin's "knowledge economy," and the 50 or so school administrators in the room listened carefully to my message about preparing K-12 students for the rigors of a globally competitive 21st century.

It was hard, however, to ignore the elephant in the corner of my PowerPoint slides.

For most of the school superintendents, human resource directors and fiscal officers in the Green Bay audience, the most important thing on their minds was not to rush out and launch a program to improve science and engineering education.

Rather, the most pressing problem of the day for most school officials in Wisconsin is surviving an unsettled, contentious era in the relationship between local teachers, administrators and school boards.

While the legislative and legal battle lines have been drawn in Madison, the real struggles are being fought across the state, district by district, as the reality of budget cuts and the potential end of collective bargaining for unionized teachers sinks in.

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DOJ: Miss. schools still segregated despite order

Shelia Byrd:

A public school district in Mississippi and the federal government are divided over whether the schools are complying with a desegregation order that dates back to the civil rights era.

The Justice Department has asked a judge to order the Cleveland Public School District "to devise and implement a desegregation plan that will immediately dismantle its one-race schools," but an attorney for the district said it has been following the latest order and sends the federal government updates on its integration attempts.

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University Nebraska-Lincoln tuition may vary by majors

Leslie Reed:

An engineering student likely will make significantly more money after college than an English major.

So the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is proposing a new tuition structure to allow it to charge engineering students significantly more for a bachelor's degree than it charges English majors.

UNL Chancellor Harvey Perlman is scheduled to present a "differential tuition" proposal to the NU Board of Regents Friday.

Specific details are being kept under wraps until Friday's meeting. But the proposal is expected to allow UNL, for the first time, to charge more tuition for some undergraduate programs than for others.

It would be a watershed departure from the concept that all Nebraska resident undergraduates should pay the same tuition for their degrees -- currently $198.25 per credit hour -- no matter what they study.

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May 5, 2011

SPECIAL NEEDS SCHOLARSHIPS: Myths and Facts about Wisconsin's AB 110

Disability Rights Wisconsin (78K PDF), via a kind reader's email:

Special interests in Washington DC have hired expensive lobbyists who also represent large corporate interests including, General Motors and Proctor & Gamble to try to pull the wool over the eyes ofparents ofchildren with disabilities. They allege that their interest is, "To advocate for parental options in education that empowers low and middle-income families to make choices in where they send their children to school." (1) These high powered special interests have never approached Disability Rights Wisconsin or any other major Wisconsin disability group to learn from those of us who have been advocating for Wisconsin children with disabilities for over 30 years, to find out what really needs improvement Wisconsin's special education system. Instead, they have set up a Facebook site which fails to tell the whole truth about the bill they promote.

This fact sheet tells the whole truth about AB 110 and its effort to dismantle special education as we know it and subsidize middle and upper income families who want to send their kids to private school ai taxpayer expense.

Myth# l-AB 110 allows parents the option to choose any other school they want their child to attend if they are unsatisfied with the special education being provided in their public school.

Fact-AB 110 has no requirement in it that forces any school to accept a child who has a special needs voucher.

Myth# 2-Since only children with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) can receive a special needs scholarship, private schools who accept them must provide them with special education and implement the child's IEP.

Facts-AB 110 makes no requirement that private schools which accept a special needs scholarship provide any special education or implement any IEP. In fact, AB II 0 does not even require that private schools which accept special needs scholarships have a single special education teacher or therapist on their staff!

Related: Wisconsin Public Hearing on Special Needs Scholarship.

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The University Has No Clothes

Daniel Smith:

The notion that a college degree is essentially worthless has become one of the year's most fashionable ideas, with two prominent venture capitalists (Cornell '89 and Stanford '89, by the way) leading the charge.

Pity the American parent! Already beleaguered by depleted 401(k)s and gutted real-estate values, Ponzi schemes and toxic paper, burst bubbles and bear markets, he is now being asked to contend with a new specter: that college, the perennial hope for the next generation, may not be worth the price of the sheepskin on which it prints its degrees.

As long as there have been colleges, there's been an individualist, anti-college strain in American culture--an affinity for the bootstrap. But it is hard to think of a time when skepticism of the value of higher education has been more prominent than it is right now. Over the past several months, the same sharp and distressing arguments have been popping up in the Times, cable news, the blogosphere, even The Chronicle of Higher Education. The cost of college, as these arguments typically go, has grown far too high, the return far too uncertain, the education far too lax. The specter, it seems, has materialized.

It's no surprise, given how the Great Recession has corroded public faith in other once-unassailable American institutions, that college should come in for a drubbing. But inevitability is just another word for opportunity, and the two most vocal critics are easy to identify and strikingly similar in entrepreneurial self-­image. In the past year or so, James Altucher, a New York-based venture capitalist and finance writer, has emerged through frequent media appearances as something of a poster boy, and his column "8 Alternatives to College" something of an essential text, for the anti-college crusade. The father of two young girls, Altucher has a very personal perspective on college: He doesn't think he should pay for it. "What am I going to do?" he asked last March on Tech Ticker, a popular investment show on Yahoo. "When [my daughters are] 18 years old, just hand them $200,000 to go off and have a fun time for four years? Why would I want to do that?" To Altucher, higher education is nothing less than an institutionalized scam--college graduates hire only college graduates, creating a closed system that permits schools to charge exorbitant ­prices and forces students to take on crippling debt. "The cost of college in the past 30 years has gone up tenfold. Health care has only gone up sixfold, and inflation has only gone up threefold. Not only is it a scam, but the college presidents know it. That's why they keep raising tuition."

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The Evidence Is In: School Vouchers Work

Jason Riley:

'Private school vouchers are not an effective way to improve student achievement," said the White House in a statement on March 29. "The Administration strongly opposes expanding the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program and opening it to new students." But less than three weeks later, President Obama signed a budget deal with Republicans that includes a renewal and expansion of the popular D.C. program, which finances tuition vouchers for low-income kids to attend private schools.

School reformers cheered the administration's about-face though fully aware that it was motivated by political expediency rather than any acknowledgment that vouchers work.

When Mr. Obama first moved to phase out the D.C. voucher program in 2009, his Education Department was in possession of a federal study showing that voucher recipients, who number more than 3,300, made gains in reading scores and didn't decline in math. The administration claims that the reading gains were not large enough to be significant. Yet even smaller positive effects were championed by the administration as justification for expanding Head Start.

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: The Destruction of Economic Facts

Hernando de Soto:

During the second half of the 19th century, the world's biggest economies endured a series of brutal recessions. At the time, most forms of reliable economic knowledge were organized within feudal, patrimonial, and tribal relationships. If you wanted to know who owned land or owed a debt, it was a fact recorded locally--and most likely shielded from outsiders. At the same time, the world was expanding. Travel between cities and countries became more common and global trade increased. The result was a huge rift between the old, fragmented social order and the needs of a rising, globalizing market economy.

To prevent the breakdown of industrial and commercial progress, hundreds of creative reformers concluded that the world needed a shared set of facts. Knowledge had to be gathered, organized, standardized, recorded, continually updated, and easily accessible--so that all players in the world's widening markets could, in the words of France's free-banking champion Charles Coquelin, "pick up the thousands of filaments that businesses are creating between themselves."

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The School I'd Like: here is what you wanted

Dea Birkett:

What makes the ideal school? After entries from all over the country, Dea Birkett reveals the Children's Manifesto of ideas, from comfy beanbags to soothing music and pets

In January we launched the School I'd Like, asking schoolchildren what would make their perfect school. Hundreds of young people let us know in emails, essays, poems and pictures. From these ideas, we've compiled the Children's Manifesto for the school we'd like, overseen and edited by a panel of 10 children. Some of the ideas are blue-sky thinking: horses and sheep in playgrounds may never be the norm. But many are small and easy to implement. First-aid lessons, a choice of uniform and music instead of bells at break time involve little cost or effort.

Behind these specific, modest requests lie big ideas. The most important aspect of education children want changed is the timetable. They wanted their educational experience to be tailored to them. Sausage-machine schooling, with a one-size-fits-all schedule, is their biggest complaint. They don't want to do less work (although Friday afternoons off was a popular request). They just want work that enthuses and means something to them.

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Sen. Vinehout Says Wisconsin "Can't Afford" Expanded Voucher Program, Despite a Net Savings of $46.7m to the State in FY 2010

Christian D'Andrea:

Sen. Kathleen Vinehout suggests that we can't afford expanded school choice in Wisconsin - but history shows that the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program has saved the state hundreds of millions of dollars, especially in areas like Vinehout's hometown of Alma.

Vinehout's recent op-ed in the La Crosse Tribune suggested several changes to the proposed 2011 Wisconsin State Budget in order to accommodate potential shifts in fiscal projections over the next two years. One of the Senator's ideas is to cut any proposed expansions to charter school and MPCP. Her emphasis is clearly worded: "Get rid of the charter school expansion and new private school "choice" vouchers. We can't afford them."

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Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC)


The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) is a consortium of 25 states working together to develop a common set of K-12 assessments in English and math anchored in what it takes to be ready for college and careers. These new K-12 assessments will build a pathway to college and career readiness by the end of high school, mark students' progress toward this goal from 3rd grade up, and provide teachers with timely information to inform instruction and provide student support. The PARCC assessments will be ready for states to administer during the 2014-15 school year.

PARCC received an $186 million grant through the U.S. Department of Education's Race to the Top assessment competition to support the development and design of the next-generation assessment system.

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Christie Picks Newark Schools Chief

Lisa Fleisher & Barbara Martinez:

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has selected Cami Anderson, a top New York City schools official, to lead the state-run Newark Public School system, according to several people with knowledge of the selection.

Ms. Anderson, 39 years old, will attempt to reform the largest and one of the most troubled public school systems in the state, a district that is the focal point for Mr. Christie's education policy. Newark has about 38,000 students, and only half of them graduate from high school in four years.

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An Oakland Unified School District survey on working conditions

Katy Murphy:

Oakland teachers, counselors, principals and other credentialed school-based staff: Friday is the deadline for completing an anonymous online survey about what it's like to work at each school in the district.

How much time do you spend on various tasks during the school day? Outside of the regular school day? Are efforts made at your school to minimize interruptions, or routine paperwork? How much time do you have to collaborate with other teachers?

The results will be published online, by school, in June -- that is, as long as the response rate is at least 50 percent for a given school. If not, those schools will be omitted from the results.So far, roughly one-third have responded, said Ash Solar, who is facilitating the Effective Teaching Task Force. The goal is at least 80 percent. (You can tell how many people from each school have responded by going here.)

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Idea for Discussion: Change the (Seattle School Board) Campaign

Charlie Mas

I'm thinking of making a web site called "Change the Board" in which I - and others - would advocate for the replacement of the school board majority elected in 2007. The site would have a general argument for replacing the board majority in general and would also have specific arguments for replacing each of the four individual board members.

The web site would be just one part of a whole campaign. There would be other parts than just the web site. It would include press efforts, rallies, truth-squads (to critically examine board campaign claims), online ads, and maybe even some yard signs. I'm thinking that we could promote "Change the Board" as an independent effort separate from each of the individual challenger campaigns. I'd like to try to build some momentum behind "Change the Board" that could support all challengers.

The costs on something like this could be pretty minimal.

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Being Upfront about Teacher pay

Michael Rice:

There has been much gnashing of teeth and consternation going on about teacher pay and a 3% pay cut teachers may be forced to swallow. What gets to me more than anything else is the vile comments that get posted afterward when an article is posted on teacher pay in the local newspapers. Given the comments, one would think that teachers were getting rich and not doing much to earn the vast sums of money they make. I have to say I look at that with bemusement. I guess it is time to put my cards on the table.

For regular readers of the SSS blog, you already know my story. However, many of you don't. I switched careers in my mid 40's to become a teacher. I am honored to teach math at Rainier Beach HS. I am in my 6th year. I love my job and I love teaching math to students. I think I have a great job. However, here are the facts of my situation.

I hold an undergrad in Accounting and a Masters in Finance. Before I decided to become a teacher, I worked for a bank in investment accounting. In 2003 (my last full year there), I made $75,000 (that included my bonus), had a defined benefit pension plan that my employer fully funded that would make it possible to retire comfortably after 25 years of service with basically with what I would be making in my last year of working, a 401k that the employer matched dollar for dollar up to 4% of my salary. On top of that, my health care was fully paid for and my wife was on the plan at no charge to me also. The plan was a top notch Blue Cross plan with no co-pays and a very, very large network of doctors, dentists, vision and mental health providers available to us. I also had 4 weeks vacation and every holiday off. I also was given a yearly bus pass, so I did not have to drive downtown.

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Why College Is Not A Bubble (Except For The University Of Phoenix)

Anya Kamenetz:

The college-is-a-bubble meme just keeps growing. Student-loan debt surpassed credit-card debt for the first time in history last year. Tuition is rising at three times the rate of inflation, and there are growing concerns about the quality of education offered at even our nation's fanciest schools. Meanwhile, prominent venture capitalist Peter Thiel is paying young entrepreneurs to drop out of school. It's become more fashionable than ever to equate higher education with homeownership: once a rock-solid piece of the American Dream, now a fool's bet and a sad reminder of overinflated expectations.

But in reality, demand for an American-style college education, and the long-term value of said degree, is unlikely to decline any time soon. Here's why:

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Public given look at Morristown budget

Matt McAllister:

The Board of Education's budget proposal -- which the district wouldn't release to the public after discussing much of it in an illegal closed-door session in late March -- has been outlined in a newsletter mailed last week to district taxpayers.

The Board of Education proposes an $8,637,708 budget with a 5 percent increase in the levy, or amount to be raised by taxes, for the 2011-12 school year. The budget calls for a levy of $3,247,066, up from $3,092,444.

At a meeting in late March, board members went into a 90-minute executive session, purportedly to discuss "personnel" issues. Instead, board members -- returning from their closed session once members of the public had left -- announced they had adopted the framework for a budget. The board said it would cap increases in the tax levy at 5 percent.

In discussing the budget in private, board members broke state law.

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The Shock Doctrine Case Study: Pennsylvania Public Schools

Timothy D. Slekar:

In The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein pushes the concept of how the public can be manipulated during times of catastrophe or perceived crisis. Lately, it has been argued that the "financial crisis" is being used by market-driven reformers to undermine the public services sector. Specifically, if we look at public education, lawmakers are explicitly telling public schools that they will need to deal with less in the future because of state budget deficits. All of this is done with large support from the citizens because they are "shocked" and believe there is an economic crisis and that any publicly-supported service should be drastically cut to help bring back balanced budgets. Simultaneously, "the shockers" offer rewards in corporate tax cuts and in some cases implement new programs that end up costing the taxpayer more than the proposed cuts.

The citizenry is repeatedly told that the only way out of this budget crisis is to cut spending and that individual citizens (taxpayers) should not take on any of the burden. In fact, the propaganda leveled at the taxpayers also paints them as helpless victims that have been milked by greedy public-sector unions. In turn, the general public becomes very supportive of any promise to lift their burden and somewhat celebratory in watching their neighbors (public sector employees) lose, at a minimum, basic benefits.

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May 4, 2011

Whose school is it anyway? Under proposal, taxpayers could pay for experimental charter schools

Susan Troller

Kaleem Caire has spent much of the last year making a passionate, personal and controversial pitch for a publicly funded male-only charter school called Madison Preparatory that would operate independently of the Madison Metropolitan School District. It aims to serve primarily minority boys in grades six through 12 and their families.

Caire, a Madison native and the president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Madison, has mustered a great deal of community support by highlighting the struggles of and grim statistics surrounding black and Hispanic young boys and men in Dane County, and through telling his own powerful story of underachievement in Madison's public schools.

"I learned about racism and lower expectations for minority kids when I arrived the first day at Cherokee Middle School, and all the black boys and a few other minorities sat at tables in the back. I was assigned to remedial math, and even when I showed the teacher I already knew how to do those worksheets, that's where I was stuck," Caire says.

With its emphasis on discipline, family involvement, preppy-looking uniforms and a non-negotiable stance on being a union-free school, Caire's proposal for the boys-only middle and high school has won hundreds of enthusiastic supporters, including a number of prominent conservatives who, surprisingly, don't seem particularly troubled by the school's price tag.

Some might argue that certain programs within "traditional" public schools are experimental, such as Connected Math and Small Learning Communities among others.

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Delaware schools: Christina board rescinds vote on reform

Nichole Dobo:

It came down to one interview.

Christina School District teachers at two of the state's lowest-achieving schools had 20 minutes to prove their worth.

Each was asked the same questions by a panel that included fellow teachers, district administrators and one state Department of Education official. Their answers were the only factors that determined whether each teacher would remain at Glasgow High School or Stubbs Elementary as part of the district's Race to the Top reforms.

Nineteen were not asked to stay. They will get a job at another district school.

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Official: Mercedes-Benz USA launching its first teen driving school in Los Angeles

Noah Joseph:

Last month we brought you initial news of Mercedes-Benz's plan to open a teen driving program in the United States, and with the annual California State PTA Convention kicking off in Long Beach, the German automaker's American subsidiary has confirmed its plans and revealed a few details along the way.

The first such program will open in Los Angeles before similar initiatives are launched across the country. The Mercedes-Benz Driving Academy aims to make new drivers better drivers by integrating their advanced curriculum with the mandated state accreditation process to make for one, all-encompassing program that will take teens from theory through practice and on to their driver's permit.

Other custom-tailored programs will be offered as well, and Mercedes is also teaming up with Impact Teen Drivers, unfortunately named though it is, to deliver free two-hour parent/teen workshops at 20 schools across the city beginning late this summer. MBUSA is in the process of recruiting the best driving instructors it can get its hands on with a plan to officially open the program this coming October. Details in the press release after the jump, with photos in the gallery below.

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Higher Education Bubble Updates

Mark Perry:

Updates on the higher education bubble (see chart above):

1. Wikipedia now has an entire entry dedicated to the "Higher Education Bubble."

2. The Harvard Business Review blog has a new post on "The Business School Tuition Bubble."

3. The Pope Center for Higher Education Policy has a new article on "The Cost of the College Bubble."

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NEA Affiliates in California and Wisconsin Approach Lean Years Differently.

Mike Antonucci:

Falling enrollment, budget cuts and layoff have led to corresponding declines in membership for most National Education Association state affiliates. Without compensatory action, fewer members mean less dues revenue - a situation these unions have not had to face in recent memory.

As the numbers show quite clearly, even lean times do not mean NEA's affiliates will become destitute. There is an awful lot of cash flowing through union headquarters around the country. But union officers and representatives are quick to find ways to spend it, particularly on their own employees. Adjusting budgets downwards is not their strong suit.

NEA itself had to revise its budget to account for membership loss and a smaller-than-planned increase in dues. It also froze the pay of its executive officers for the 2011-12 school year.

Two NEA state affiliates - California and Wisconsin - have different troubles to face in different political environments, so we shouldn't be surprised that they are applying different measures to their fiscal problems.

The California Teachers Association sets its dues level by a formula that involves the average teacher salary over the last three years. With layoffs occurring almost exclusively at the bottom of the salary scale, it actually has the effect of driving up the state's average teacher salary, and thus the dues level. With fewer members, CTA will raise its dues $8 next fall, to $647. This will mitigate the money lost, but not cover it entirely.


WEAC announced the cancellation of its fall convention, citing the uncertainty of whether it will be allowed to bargain the time off for its members. However, holding these events each year is also a budgetary drain, one that other NEA state affiliates have been forced to face.

Despite the serious state of financial affairs, WEAC is allocating up to $2 million for lobbying, legal action and internal communications in order to turn the political tide. It has, and will continue to receive, monetary and manpower assistance from NEA and other affiliates, including California.

These early signs indicate that the likely outcome of the collective bargaining battles in statehouses across the country is financially weaker teachers' unions - but only relatively. Overall, there may be fewer members and fewer staffers. The unions may require special assessments or higher dues increases just to restore former revenues. But $1.5 billion annually is still an awful lot of money. We may see it applied in concentrated form on the unions' existential issues, not diffused among feel-good projects.

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DFER and the Ultra-Conservative Money Behind the Voucher Movement

Christina Collins:

If you've been wondering what's behind the recent resurgence of voucher bills in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Florida, Wisconsin and other states, researcher Rachel Tabachnick has done a remarkable job following the money -- some of which leads back to Democrats for Education Reform, a group familiar to those who follow school choice debates here in New York. According to her recent two-part series (which can be read here and here), much of the money and support for the voucher movement has come from groups linked to Betsy DeVos,
a former chair of the Michigan Republican Party; daughter of the late Edgar Prince and Elsa Prince-Broekhuizen; sister of Blackwater-founder Erik Prince; and wife of Dick DeVos (son of Richard and Helen DeVos). The Devos side of the family fortune comes from Amway/Alticor, the controversial, multi-tiered home products business. A Center for Public Integrity Report showed that the DeVos family and business interests were the fifth largest contributors in the 2003 -2004 election cycle, with 100% of the donations going to Republicans. Dick and Betsy DeVos have been credited with helping to finance the Citizens United case which allows Super PACs to raise unlimited funds and conceal the donors, meaning that we will no longer know who provides the millions of dollars for the big media campaigns, or reveal the information that I have in this article on the Pennsylvania campaign. The Prince and Devos families have also funded the Family Research Council, Focus on Family, and the ministries of the late D. James Kennedy, all warriors against separation of church and state.

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California Prison Academy: Better Than a Harvard Degree; Prison guards can retire at the age of 55 and earn 85% of their final year's salary for the rest of their lives. They also continue to receive medical benefits.

Allysia Finley:

Roughly 2,000 students have to decide by Sunday whether to accept a spot at Harvard. Here's some advice: Forget Harvard. If you want to earn big bucks and retire young, you're better off becoming a California prison guard.

The job might not sound glamorous, but a brochure from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitations boasts that it "has been called 'the greatest entry-level job in California'--and for good reason. Our officers earn a great salary, and a retirement package you just can't find in private industry. We even pay you to attend our academy." That's right--instead of paying more than $200,000 to attend Harvard, you could earn $3,050 a month at cadet academy.

It gets better.

Training only takes four months, and upon graduating you can look forward to a job with great health, dental and vision benefits and a starting base salary between $45,288 and $65,364. By comparison, Harvard grads can expect to earn $49,897 fresh out of college and $124,759 after 20 years.

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Combining exercise with school lessons could boost brain power

Jeannine Stein:

Physical education classes may be scarce in some schools, but an activity program combined with school lessons could boost academic performance, a study finds.

Research presented recently at the Pediatric Academic Societies meeting in Denver looked at the effects of a 40-minute-a-day, five-day-a-week physical activity program on test scores of first- through sixth-graders at a public school. This program was a little different from most, since it incorporated academic lessons along with exercise.

For example, younger children hopped through ladders while naming colors found on each rung. Older children climbed on a rock wall outfitted with numbers that challenged their math skills. The students normally spent 40 minutes a week in PE class.

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Outsourcing an American Education

Sameer Pandya:

India is considering allowing Western universities to plant satellite campuses directly in the subcontinent's fertile soil.

There is a bill currently making its way through the Indian parliament -- The Foreign Educational Institutions Bill -- that would open up for universities in the West, particularly in the U.S., a massive English-speaking market. Massive is the key word. We're talking hundreds of thousands of Indian students reaching college age who are interested in an education that would allow them to better participate in a globalizing economy.

At first glance, the passage of the bill, which is being pushed ahead by Human Resources Minister Kapil Sibal and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, benefits Western universities by providing them with a growth opportunity and allowing access to a well-educated student population interested in an education whose brand is recognized across the world.

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Cory Doctorow Predicts the Future in Makers

Jonathan Liu:

Perry and Lester are two guys living in an abandoned mall outside of Miami. They're the sort of guys who, to borrow a phrase from the Queen in Alice in Wonderland, can think up six impossible things before breakfast -- and then build them in their workshop out of stuff they've found in the junkyard.

In short, they're makers.

Cory Doctorow's Makers: A Novel of the Whirlwind Changes to Come is jam-packed with cool ideas. In the book, a lot of these come from Perry and Lester, like a toast-making robot made of seashells or the Distributed Boogie Woogie Elmo Motor Vehicle Operation Cluster, which uses a gaggle of discarded toys to drive a Smart car via voice commands. Now these two examples are pretty silly -- something you do just to prove you can, but there's also some stuff that shows up later in the book that made me think, "Hey, I'd buy one of those!" Parts of the book read like a "Best of Kickstarter" highlights reel.

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May 3, 2011

State investigation finds problems with Madison talented and gifted program

Matthew DeFour:

The Madison School District is under added pressure to improve how it identifies and educates talented and gifted students after state officials found its program does not comply with state law.

In revealing shortcomings in the district's offerings for talented and gifted (TAG) students, the Department of Public Instruction challenges the approach some schools, particularly West High School, have used in which all students learn together.

"The district is going to have to face (the question): 'How do they reconcile their policy of inclusion with honors classes?'?" said Carole Trone, director of the Wisconsin Center for Academically Talented Youth at UW-Madison. "If parents see the other districts are challenging their students more, they might send their students there."

Developing a comprehensive system to identify TAG students -- including testing and staff training -- can be expensive, Trone said. Moreover, districts that don't identify students from all socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds open themselves up to discrimination lawsuits, she said.

Superintendent Dan Nerad said it's unclear how much such a revamped program will cost.

Much more on the talented & gifted complaint, here.

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Teachers Bring Science to Life, Sponsored by Rayovac

Science & Technology Institute, via a kind reader's email:

Do you know a teacher who brings learning to life? Whether you're a student, parent, teacher or school administrator, you can nominate your K-6 teacher for a chance to win an all-expense paid trip to Science in the Rockies, Steve Spangler's three-day hands-on science teacher training in Denver.

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Good golly, our schools desperately need new leadership

Laurie Rogers, via email:

When our school administrators speak to the public, we often hear one or more of the following:
  • Blaming of others - Typical targets include teachers, parents, students, poverty, and a (fake) lack of money.
  • Deceitful presentation of student outcomes - They'll speak glowingly of some stray statistic that supposedly shows them in a slightly more positive light, but which also depends on the public not knowing the entire truth of it.
  • Astonishing ignorance or accidental honesty. Sometimes the truth comes out of them - in shocking or comical ways.
  • Requests for more money, on the heels of low student achievement. As pass rates go down, the expense per student continues to increase.
  • New policy that will serve their ulterior purpose, but which will make life more difficult for students, parents and teachers.
And so it went, at two recent gatherings for Spokane Public Schools. Teachers were blamed. Administrators praised themselves. The superintendent's comments caused a stir. And the school board voted to increase class sizes and cut 90 teachers.


Increased expense for unproved programs

Taxpayers pay for scads of district and community programs devoted to reducing dropout rates and increasing on-time graduation rates. As district expenditures skyrocket, parents are still staring at students' low pass rates, high dropout rates, high rates of college remediation, and low levels of basic skills.

Dr. Stowell praised the district for obtaining a multi-million-dollar grant for Rogers High School, which suffers from particularly low graduation rates. (Please note the illogic of awarding grants to failing programs because they are failing. Failure thus results in more money.) Dr. Stowell said the grant will pay for longer school days, extra teacher pay, a homework center, and - you knew it was coming - a pilot evaluation for teachers.

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Learning from Data on Ohio E-Schools

Bill Tucker:

Part I of a new blog series exploring data from Ohio e-schools. While online learning is still new to the vast majority of K-12 students and schools, Ohio has operated "e-schools," public charter schools that operate entirely online and which students "attend" on a full-time basis, for a decade. As policy debates around online learning grow, what do we know about these schools-who do they enroll and how well do they perform-and what can we learn from Ohio's e-school experience?

In 2001, the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT), Ohio's first charter 'e-school', opened its doors. Soon there were 27 e-schools across the state. And, despite a moratorium that has prevented any new schools from opening since 2005, total e-school enrollment has skyrocketed to over 29,000 students.

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Minnesota's Teacher of the Year

Mike Hughlett:

Katy Smith of Winona won Minnesota Teacher of the Year honors Sunday, the first time the 47-year-old award has been bestowed on a teacher who specializes in Early Childhood Family Education.

Smith, 51, a native of the Twin Cities' western suburbs, has taught in the Winona school district since 1993 and works out of Goodview School. She has long specialized in Early Childhood Family Education, a program available in almost all Minnesota public school districts. The state is a leader nationally in the field, authorities say.

The program is based on the idea that the family provides a child's first and most significant learning environment and parents are a child's first and most important teachers, according to the Minnesota Department of Education's website.

Parents and children from infancy to pre-kindergarten together attend childhood-family education classes.

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School Choice and Urban Diversity: Many more middle-class parents would live in big cities if they could pick the schools their kids attend.

John Norquist:

With several new GOP governors taking power, shock if not awe pervades the Midwest, particularly among those of us who are Democratic urban dwellers. Perhaps the wave of corporate tax breaks, service cuts to the needy, and transfer of school aid from poor to wealthy districts will be undone with the next swing of the political pendulum. Yet there is one GOP budget provision in Wisconsin that I hope survives.

For 20 years there's been debate about parental school choice, but only a few places actually have it. Milwaukee has had choice since 1991. At first it was very limited--no religious schools, the program restricted to families with very low incomes, and a cap on total enrollment of 1,000. But parents are now able to choose religious schools, the income limit has been raised to 175% of the federal poverty line ($39,113), and the cap has increased to 22,500 students.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has proposed allowing any Milwaukee parent, regardless of income, to enroll their children in private and parochial schools. This will address two problems with the current choice program. One, the cap on total enrollment has forced parents onto waiting lists and into lotteries. Two, the income limit has the effect of isolating low-income students from other more affluent students.

Other jurisdictions, including Florida, Arizona and Cleveland, have choice programs. In Washington, D.C., choice was implemented under President George W. Bush and frozen under President Barack Obama. But Florida's program requires a public school to fail, with failure measured by the state, not by parents. And all choice programs have limitations that undermine the desire of parents to have their children attend a school in which they have confidence. Yet if you think about it, America already has a school choice program in large metro areas. It's a system that segregates the poor from the rich and works against Americans who want to live in cities. Here's how it works.

Clusty Search: John Norquist.

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Macau private teachers demand more pay

Chloe Lai:

Hundreds of private school teachers marched in Macau yesterday to demand the same wages paid by the city's handful of government schools.

They formed just part of Macau's May Day protest. Other marchers included construction workers upset at the hiring of illegal workers because of the property boom.

Around 2,000 protesters took part in what has become an annual show of social discontent in the past few years. The 3,000 patacas cash handout announced by Macau Chief Executive Dr Fernando Chui Sai-on last month appeared to have little bearing on their complaints.

The protest yesterday marked the first time teachers took part as an organised group. There were about 500 and included students marching in support. Most complained about the wage differences between private and government schools - some 40 per cent less, teachers' leader Choi Leong said.

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Corporations to give Minneapolis Public Schools $13.8 million

Brandt Williams:

Four major Minnesota-based corporations announced Monday they will give nearly $14 million to Minneapolis Public Schools.

Target, Cargill, Medtronic and General Mills have pledged to spend the money over the next three years to fund academic and personnel development programs.

Nearly half of the $13.8 million will be donated by Target. Target Foundation President Laysha Ward said the company will focus its contributions on early literacy programs.

"When a recent study at the Annie Casey Foundation shows that one in six students who do not read proficiently by the third grade do not graduate from high school on time, a rate four times greater when compared to proficient readers, we're compelled to do more," Ward said.

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A New Measure for Classroom Quality

P. Barker Bausell:

OF all the goals of the education reform movement, none is more elusive than developing an objective method to assess teachers. Studies show that over time, test scores do not provide a consistent means of separating good from bad instructors.

Test scores are an inadequate proxy for quality because too many factors outside of the teachers' control can influence student performance from year to year -- or even from classroom to classroom during the same year. Often, more than half of those teachers identified as the poorest performers one year will be judged average or above average the next, and the results are almost as bad for teachers with multiple classes during the same year.

Fortunately, there's a far more direct approach: measuring the amount of time a teacher spends delivering relevant instruction -- in other words, how much teaching a teacher actually gets done in a school day.

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San Francisco gives parents what they really want: school choice.

Bill Jackson:

GreatSchools is headquartered in San Francisco, home of the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD). And it just so happens that San Francisco Unified is on the vanguard of school choice, allowing and encouraging all parents to make a proactive choice about which of the districts' approximately 160 schools they would like their children to attend.

SFUSD recently completed the "first round" of its school selection process for the 2011-12 school year, and released some interesting information about the process.

Like most districts, SFUSD has the concept of an "attendance area" for elementary schools. Perhaps the most interesting piece of data is that only 23 percent of kindergarten applicants listed their attendance-area school as a first choice. The remainder: 24 percent listed a city-wide school, and 53 percent listed another attendance area school as their first choice.

Other findings:

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Ed Secretary encourages educators to challenge the status quo

Margaret Reist:

The U.S. Secretary of Education said Friday he was impressed with Nebraska's P-16 initiative -- a coalition of state education, business and government leaders -- and a sense of cohesion and commitment to education.

"To see all these leaders from across the state come together to really challenge the status quo and drive the state to new heights actually is extraordinarily encouraging to me," said Arne Duncan, who met Friday with state and local education leaders at the governor's mansion.

In a short news conference after a closed-door meeting with education leaders, Duncan touched on the No Child Left Behind law and the cost of college education. He said the Obama administration will invest in community colleges and in early education.
"At the end of the day, my goal and (the) president's goal is to again lead the world in college graduates," he said.

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May 2, 2011

Wisconsin Public Hearing on Special Needs Scholarship

Brian Pleva Government Affairs Associate: American Federation for Children-Wisconsin, via a kind reader's email:

Does contain the info you need?Good afternoon!

I am writing to you because you recently expressed an interest in the bipartisan Wisconsin Special Needs Scholarship Act (Assembly Bill 110).

As you may know, the bill would allow parents to enroll their special needs children in the public or private school of their choice with the education dollars following the child to the new school. The bill, introduced by Representatives Michelle Litjens, Jason Fields & Evan Wynn, and Senators Leah Vukmir & Terry Moulton, has impressive momentum:

-AB 110 has attracted Republican, Democrat, and Independent cosponsors
-32 members of the Assembly have signed on to AB 110, which is over one-third of that house's current membership
-5 members of the Assembly Committee on Education have signed-on to AB 110, which is almost half of the 11-member committee

Fortunately, Assembly Education Committee Chair Rep. Steve Kestell decided today to schedule a Public Hearing on the Special Needs Scholarship Act for 10:00 am, next Tuesday, May 3rd.

This opportunity can pave the way toward making Special Needs Scholarships in Wisconsin a reality. It is crucial that as many affected families and school leaders as possible attend this public hearing and tell committee members, in their own words, what these scholarships would mean to them.

Please respond to this email and confirm whether you would be able to advocate for this legislation at the public hearing.

One parent wrote on our Facebook page, "It's so important! Why doesn't EVERYBODY get that???!!" It may be difficult to comprehend, but there are powerful, special interest groups that don't get it and will be working to defeat this bipartisan legislation.

While an impressive list of parents who wish to testify is growing, we know that opponents of education reform are always represented at these hearings. Therefore, please forward this email to friends, family, and colleagues who you think will be supportive. The momentum is encouraging, but we must keep it up!

If you have any questions about the bill or public hearing, please feel free to contact me, and check out our website:

Thank you!

Brian Pleva
Government Affairs Associate
American Federation for Children-Wisconsin
(608) 279-9484



Committee on Education

The committee will hold a public hearing on the following items at the time specified below:

Tuesday, May 3, 2011
10:00 AM
417 North (GAR Hall)
State Capitol

Assembly Bill 110
Relating to: creating the Special Needs Scholarship Program for disabled pupils, granting rule-making authority, and making an appropriation.
By Representatives Litjens, Fields, Wynn, Knudson, Nass, Pridemore, Thiesfeldt, Vos, Kleefisch, LeMahieu, Nygren, Strachota, Bernier, Bies, Brooks, Endsley, Farrow, Honadel, Jacque, Knilans, Kooyenga, Kramer, Krug, Kuglitsch, T. Larson, Mursau, Petryk, Rivard, Severson, Spanbauer, Tiffany and Ziegelbauer; cosponsored by Senators Vukmir, Moulton, Galloway and Darling.

An Executive Session may be held on AB 71 at the conclusion of the public hearing.

Representative Steve Kestell

Wisconsin Special Needs Scholarship Assembly Bill 110 Summary (PDF).

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Parents need to learn cyberbullying is a real and serious threat to youngsters, not just some silly, minor issue

Ken Chan:

Members of the younger generation in today's Hong Kong are different from their parents, who grew up watching only television. Technology, in the form of the internet, has given them a more interactive medium, with two-way communication and an ability to have a say in things and express opinions. However, this new environment that young people take completely for granted has hidden dangers in the form of bullying and intimidation.

Online, people can persecute or harass others behind a shield of anonymity. It is a world where the bullies may not see the impact of their work; they may think what they are doing is funny, or they may not realise the consequences of their behaviour. Incriminating or embarrassing words or pictures placed online by others may come back to haunt people later when they apply for college or a job.

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Berkeley struggles to keep guns out of schools

Jill Tucker:

On the morning of March 21, shortly after school began, a Berkeley High School student snuck into a bathroom stall with a gun to show it to a friend.

Suddenly the weapon fired, the bullet ripping through the bathroom's thin outer wall and across a busy downtown street. Had the boys been facing the other direction, the bullet would have flown into a classroom full of students.

No one was injured, but it was the fifth gun discovered at the district's two high schools since January, a cluster of incidents that has sent parents into a panic and district administrators scrambling to address the new and disturbing trend.

The presence of guns on campus is not just Berkeley's problem.

According to state and national surveys, 6 percent of high school students say they have brought a gun to school at least once. That's the equivalent of at least 210 guns at Berkeley High School with its enrollment of 3,500 students.

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What Computer Game Design can Teach us for Lesson Design

Kirsten Winkler:

One of the core features of computer games besides the graphics, sounds and story is something you don't notice immediately. Some games do not do it very well but some became famous for it: Game Artificial Intelligence.

From the humble beginnings in games like Pacman to the great successes we know today like the Halo series, Game AI showed generations of kids that a computer can be pretty smart and sometimes even mean. Some of the better computer games adapt to the way the player reacts and then find new ways to compete. The aim is of course to keep the player interested in the game and engaged in the sense to make it just as difficult to challenge the player's skills but on the other hand not to make it too frustrating or impossible to win.

Another part of good game design is that the controls are self explanatory and most gamers won't be bothered with reading a manual before starting the game. If something is boring and thus means the player understood a strategy or principle of the game there needs to be a way to skip it and move on.

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The Michigan proposals and their prospects

Detroit Free Press:

The plan:

• School districts where students show an average of one year academic growth per year of instruction would get bonus money, on top of per-pupil state aid. Some individual schools might qualify. In the 2012-13 School Aid Fund, $300 million would be set aside for rewards.

• Some funding for all districts would be tied to achievement, not enrollment.

• Tougher standards for individual schools to ensure academic progress.

• Require all districts to develop online dashboard that shows funding and academic progress. Prohibit districts from paying more than 80% of employee health care; those that fail would lose some state per-pupil funding.

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Tennessee House Republicans clear way to end collective bargaining for teachers

Richard Locker:

House Republican leaders have backed away from an earlier stand that teachers be allowed to continue collective bargaining on base salaries and benefits, clearing the way for total repeal of bargaining between teachers and school boards.

The Tennessee Education Association, which represents 52,000 of the state's 65,000 public classroom teachers, plans to continue lobbying House members before Tuesday's key committee vote in hopes of a last-ditch compromise. But TEA spokesman Jerry Winters said teacher morale "is horrible" and warned that if the negotiations law is repealed, "we're going to make sure that they go before these school boards and wear them out on some of these issues."

The Senate will likely approve the repeal bill Monday, after deferring its planned vote Thursday to give members time to review another new amendment by the bill's sponsor. Minutes later, House Speaker Beth Harwell endorsed the Senate version, which she said resulted from talks with House Republican leaders.

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Indiana Governor signs teacher quality bill, part of sweeping education reforms

Governor Mitch Daniels signed Senate Enrolled Act 1 Saturday, a key measure in his comprehensive education reform package that changes the way teachers are evaluated and paid.

According to the governor's office, for the first time in Indiana, teacher effectiveness will be part of decisions for hiring, salary and promotions.

"Among all the things we can do to make more successful the children of this state, nothing comes close to a better teacher. We are so glad that Indiana has leaped to the forefront by saying to people of all backgrounds and all walks of life, 'come and teach,'" Daniels said, surrounded by Hoosier teachers from such organizations as Stand for Children, Students First and Teach for America.

Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, was the author of the bill; Rep. Robert Behning, R-Indianapolis was the sponsor.

Among provisions, the measure:

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Seattle Schools confirms grade tampering at Ingraham

Brittany Wong:

Grade tampering suspected at three Seattle high schools has been confirmed only at Ingraham High School, according to Seattle Public Schools.

It's the only school "that we've been able to verify that a grade has been changed so far," spokeswoman Teresa Wippel said.

Earlier in the week, a school-district official said it was possible there had been grade tampering at Ballard and Chief Sealth high schools, too.

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New Jersey Gov. Christie calls NJEA a 'political thuggery operation' in speech at Harvard

Ginger Gibson:

Gov. Chris Christie took his fight with the state's largest teacher's union to Harvard on Friday, repeating his claims that the New Jersey Education Association is the source of most education problems and calling them a "political thuggery operation."

The governor also acknowledged he has thought about the tough rhetoric he uses when describing the union, but said he would only stop if he is convinced the NJEA is willing to help change "the failed system."

Speaking to about 250 students and professors at Harvard's Graduate School of Education, Christie said his battle with the NJEA "is the only fight worth having," drawing applause.

"They're there to protect the lowest performers, to protect a system of post-production compensation," Christie said of the union. "For you to believe that's for the kids, you have to believe that a child will learn better under the warm comforting knowledge that a teacher pays nothing for their health benefits."

Richard Perez-Pena:
Conservatives may see Harvard as the heart of liberal darkness, but on Friday it gave a warm, even enthusiastic reception to Gov. Chris Christie and his ideas on education overhaul.

Speaking to almost 200 students and staff members at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, the New Jersey governor drew rounds of applause with his talk of sharply limiting teacher tenure, rigorously evaluating teachers and administrators, curbing the power of teachers' unions and pledging to appoint more-conservative justices to the State Supreme Court.

Mr. Christie's first ovation came when he said, "The reason I'm engaging in this battle with the teachers' union is because it's the only fight worth having."

he ground he covered would be familiar to anyone who has watched the town hall-style forums in New Jersey that have made Mr. Christie a YouTube star. There, at least a few detractors usually show up to question him, and his policies and pugnacious statements can make even some supporters uncomfortable.

But here, during Mr. Christie's 40-minute opening talk and a question-and-answer session of the same length, the response was less equivocal.

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May 1, 2011

UW-Milwaukee holds its 12 charter schools accountable and is getting promising results

Alan Borsuk:

The doorbell wasn't working when Bob Kattman visited a school recently. Kattman sent the principal an email afterward saying that he expected that wouldn't be the case the next time he arrived.

Kattman isn't particularly meddlesome or picky - in fact, his reputation is the opposite. But he has expectations for what he wants to see in a school. An orderly, functioning atmosphere where things like doorbells work is part of the recipe.

Other critical ingredients: strong school leadership, a united and energized staff, a clear academic program (although what the program is can vary widely), a focus on achievement, skillful use of data, an effective character education program for students and a climate in which everyone from the principal to the students is continuously asks how to do things better.

The success overall of the dozen schools in Milwaukee that Kattman oversees as head of the charter school office at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee is one of the most important and promising developments on the education scene in Milwaukee and perhaps well beyond.

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Education in Turkey: Inspiring or insidious

Delphine Strauss:

In one corner of the courtyard, green-painted railings enclose the tomb of a saint. In another, a pair of 12-year-old boys in spotless white shirts and neatly pressed trousers politely answer visitors' questions. In Diyarbakir, a city in Turkey's Kurdish south-east where many children work on the streets or land in jail for throwing stones at security forces, these two have come to prepare for high school entrance exams. Asked what they want to do later, one says "doctor" and the other, grinning, declares "police".

They are attending a study house run by supporters of Fethullah Gulen - a preacher who has inspired the creation of a vast network of schools and student dormitories that blend academic rigour, especially in the sciences, with a moral education based on Islamic principles.

"It's not just explaining English or maths - it's explaining what it means to be a good or bad person," says the director of Diyarbakir's 20 study houses. "In this system teachers come to school earlier, become friends with students and care about the relationship....In none of our schools do we teach religion. We tell them what's right and wrong. We show them good and bad practice, and they decide."

But in Turkey, opinion is sharply divided between those who see Mr Gulen as a force for social mobility and tolerance, and those who suspect he is insidiously undermining the country's secular foundations. His followers have been described as "Islamic Jesuits" - and as Turkey's equivalent of Opus Dei. Yet there is little doubt that the movement he inspires is now an important force shaping Turkish society, part of a broader evolution in which leaders emerging from a religious, business-minded middle class are gradually eclipsing older, fiercely secular, elites.

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State looks at home schooling pay plan: Schools chief suggests districts pay bills directly - not reimburse

Jordan Schrader:

It's not home schooling, but it's not traditional school either: There is a range of arrangements parents can make to enroll kids in public schools while keeping them at home.

With help from the Internet and oversight by teachers, parents in many of the so-called Alternative Learning Experiences, or ALEs, have wide authority to chart their children's course. But state officials are taking steps to rein in activities seen as inappropriate for taxpayers to fund.

A rule Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn's office has developed would stop school districts from reimbursing parents of at-home enrolled students for what they buy. Instead, districts would pay directly for equipment and activities.

Reimbursements, also called stipends or parent accounts, can be used to pay for textbooks and basic supplies or for instruction in areas such as fine arts and physical education. A 2005 state audit found it was common for schools to pay for opportunities most students don't have: private gym memberships; music or horseback-riding lessons; ski rentals, lessons and lift tickets.

"Stipends can give the impression that ALE programs are essentially publicly financed home schooling," the superintendent's office said in a February description of concerns about the present rules.

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KIPP criticizes its college graduation record

Jay Matthews:

Many people, including commenters on this blog, say the people running the KIPP charter school network---the best known and most successful in the country---don't explain themselves enough. That may be, but KIPP provides more information about its efforts to raise student achievement than any other charter network, or most school districts for that matter.

One example is its report, just released, on how many KIPP graduates have so far graduated from college: "The Promise of College Completion: KIPP's Early Successes and Challenges."

The report is a bit of a stretch in terms of KIPP taking credit or blame, since the students surveyed left KIPP more than a decade ago at the end of eighth grade. But KIPP co-founders Dave Levin and Mike Feinberg made preparing kids for college their chief goal when they started the first KIPP middle schools in Houston and the South Bronx in 1995. That is still their main target. They say they are determined to report how that effort is going no matter what statistical qualms they may hear from people like me.

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Research Uncovers Raised Rate of Autism

Claudia Wallis:

An ambitious six-year effort to gauge the rate of childhood autism in a middle-class South Korean city has yielded a figure that stunned experts and is likely to influence the way the disorder's prevalence is measured around the world, scientists reported on Monday.

The figure, 2.6 percent of all children aged 7 to 12 in the Ilsan district of the city of Goyang, is more than twice the rate usually reported in the developed world. Even that rate, about 1 percent, has been climbing rapidly in recent years -- from 0.6 percent in the United States in 2007, for example.

But experts said the findings did not mean that the actual numbers of children with autism were rising, simply that the study was more comprehensive than previous ones.

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The Story of a Successful Non-Charter School in New York City

A thought-provoking article about a successful district middle school in the Bronx in a recent issue of the New York Times Magazine has led to some interesting public responses from charter advocates in New York. As the article notes, this school's principal and teachers combine innovative teaching and learning (such as a dual-language immersion program for its high proportion of English Language Learners) with a firm commitment to serving all students who want to come -- even if, unlike at charters, those students arrive in the middle of the year or as transfers in upper grades.

One of the most negative reactions to the piece has come from former Chancellor Joel Klein, who (in an email exchange with the reporter) responded defensively to the article's implied criticism of his own administration's support for charters:

A thought-provoking article about a successful district middle school in the Bronx in a recent issue of the New York Times Magazine has led to some interesting public responses from charter advocates in New York. As the article notes, this school's principal and teachers combine innovative teaching and learning (such as a dual-language immersion program for its high proportion of English Language Learners) with a firm commitment to serving all students who want to come -- even if, unlike at charters, those students arrive in the middle of the year or as transfers in upper grades.

One of the most negative reactions to the piece has come from former Chancellor Joel Klein, who (in an email exchange with the reporter) responded defensively to the article's implied criticism of his own administration's support for charters:

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The more things change: School finance edition

Steve Prestegard:

Several media outlets, including the Grant County Herald Independent in Lancaster (the first newspaper I worked for, back when Ronald Reagan and the first George Bush were president) and the Wisconsin State Journal, are reporting an unprecedented number of teacher retirements as the latest consequence of Gov. Scott Walker's attempt to defang public employee unions.

The Herald Independent's story (to which I can't post since the Herald Independent is not online, so you'll have to trust me) includes a number of teachers from not just my days at the Herald Independent, but from my wife's days as a Lancaster High School student.

That is big news. It would be unprecedented big news if your memory includes only years that begin with the number 2. Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s (and possibly before that), the state would occasionally encourage early retirements as, yes, a way to reduce spending on employee compensation, since the teachers in the classroom the longest were the highest paid given how teachers' pay is set.

In those days, the "rule of 85" applied -- if your age and years as a teacher (or other government employee, although I don't recall covering other government employee retirements) totaled 85 (for instance, you were 55 years old and you had taught for 30 years), you could retire with full benefits. The "rule of 85" appears to have been replaced by "the rule of 30" -- full retirement benefits kick in for anyone in the Wisconsin Retirement System with 30 years' service, although retiring employees younger than 57 have reduced benefits until their 57th birthday.

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McDonnell's Progressive Agenda: Teacher Performance-Pay

Krystal Ball:

This week Governor McDonnell announced, as part of his "Opportunity to Learn" education reform agenda, an initiative to institute performance-pay at Virginia schools that are designated as "hard to staff."

While performance-pay is supported by President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan, many Democrats side with teachers unions in opposing performance-pay. I have been critical of many aspects of Governor McDonnell's education policy including his lack of adequate funding and partisan decision not to participate in Race to the Top. This latest initiative however, is worthy of support.

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Indiana OKs broadest private school voucher system in US, as governor mulls White House bid

Associated Press:

Indiana will create the nation's broadest private school voucher system and enact other sweeping education changes, making the state a showcase of conservative ideas just as Gov. Mitch Daniels nears an announcement on whether he will make a 2012 presidential run.

The Republican-controlled state legislature handed Daniels a huge victory Wednesday when the House voted 55-43 to give final approval to a bill creating the voucher program that would allow even middle-class families to use taxpayer money to send their children to private schools.

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: T he Great Recession's Impact on State Pension and Retiree Health Care Costs

Pew Center on the States:

In the midst of the Great Recession and severe investment declines, the gap between the promises states made for employees' retirement benefits and the money they set aside to pay for them grew to at least $1.26 trillion in fiscal year 2009, resulting in a 26 percent increase in one year.

State pension plans represented slightly more than half of this shortfall, with $2.28 trillion stowed away to cover $2.94 trillion in long-term liabilities--leaving about a $660 billion gap, according to an analysis by the Pew Center on the States. Retiree health care and other benefits accounted for the remaining $604 billion, with assets totaling $31 billion to pay for $635 billion in liabilities. Pension funding shortfalls surpassed funding gaps for retiree health care and other benefits for the first time since states began reporting liabilities for the latter in fiscal year 2006.

Precipitous revenue declines in fiscal year 2009 severely depleted state coffers and constrained their ability to pay their annual retirement bills. States' own actuaries recommended that they contribute nearly $115 billion to build up enough assets to fully fund their promises over the long term, but they contributed only $73 billion--or 64 percent of the total annual bill. This 2009 payment represents a three percentage point decline from the previous fiscal year's contribution, when they set aside just under $72 billion toward a $108 billion requirement.

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Few hear how Sheboygan Area School District budget will be cut

Janet Ortegon:

If people are upset about the Sheboygan Area School District's proposed $13.8 million in cuts to balance the 2011-12 budget, they didn't come to Tuesday's school board meeting to say so.

At the board's regular meeting, Superintendent Joe Sheehan took the members through the proposed cuts quickly, fielded a few questions and didn't elaborate at all on more than $73,000 in cuts in co-curricular activities.

The meeting was held at the North High School Commons, but the roughly 40-person crowd didn't come close to filling it up. No one other than school officials or board members spoke about the cuts.

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Plagiarism and the Web: Myths and Realities

The move to a digital culture is raising a new set of challenges for educators. This study examines the Internet sources that students commonly use and provides educators with ideas to help students develop better citation and writing skills.

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The pressure's on for Texas, California teams at Academic Decathlon

Rick Rojas:

For weeks leading up to the national Academic Decathlon, two teams -- from California and Texas -- have been sizing each other up from afar, rekindling a rivalry nearly as old as the competition itself.

Each team has something to prove: Granada Hills Charter High School wants to maintain California's winning streak for the ninth consecutive year; Dobie High School, on the outskirts of Houston, wants to show that Texas, dormant as a frontrunner since 2000, is ready to be a contender again.

On Friday, Dobie upped the ante when it narrowly beat Granada Hills in the Super Quiz, the only public portion of the intense, two-day competition. (They'll find out who won overall here Saturday.)

The pressure has been on since the recent state-level competitions, when Dobie won in Texas with a score only 300 points lower than Granada Hills' winning score in California. In a competition where good teams score more than 50,000 points, that kind of margin is akin to, according to one description, a football game with a score of 20 to 20.4.

Waukesha South High School scored 37,477.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:06 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas