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June 30, 2011

Florida Leads the Nation in the Percentage of High School Students Enrolled in High Level Classes; Some States Still Leave Low-Income Students Behind; Others Make Surprising Gains

by Sharona Coutts and Jennifer LaFleur:

Florida is a state of stark contrasts. Travel a few miles from the opulent mansions of Miami Beach and you reach desperately poor neighborhoods. There's the grinding poverty of sugar cane country and the growing middle class of Jacksonville. All told, half the public-school students in Florida qualify for subsidized lunches. Many are the first in their families to speak English or contemplate attending college.

In many states, those economic differences are reflected in the classroom, with students in wealthy schools taking many more advanced courses.

The Opportunity Gap

But not in Florida. A ProPublica analysis of previously unreleased federal data shows that Florida leads the nation in the percentage of high-school students enrolled in high-level classes--Advanced Placement and advanced math. That holds true across rich and poor districts.

Studies repeatedly have shown that students who take advanced classes have greater chances of attending and succeeding in college.

Our analysis identifies several states that, like Florida, have leveled the field and now offer rich and poor students roughly equal access to high-level courses.

In Kansas, Maryland and Oklahoma, by contrast, such opportunities are far less available in districts with poorer families.

That disparity is part of what experts call the "opportunity gap."

Wisconsin's results are here, while Madison's are here.

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WEAC sues over law giving Wisconsin Governor Walker power over DPI rules

Jason Stein:

Members of state teachers unions sued Thursday to block part of a law giving Gov. Scott Walker veto powers over rules written by other state agencies and elected officials.

The lawsuit is the latest in a series of legal skirmishes between the GOP governor and public employee unions.

In the case, parents of students and members of the Wisconsin Education Association Council and Madison Teachers Inc. challenge the law for giving Walker the power to veto administrative rules written by any state agency. That law wrongly gives Walker that power over the state Department of Public Instruction headed by state schools superintendent Tony Evers, the action charges.

"The state constitution clearly requires that the elected state superintendent establish educational policies," WEAC President Mary Bell, a plaintiff in the suit, said in a statement. "The governor's extreme power grab must not spill over into education policy in our schools."

The measure, which Walker signed in May, allows the governor to reject proposed administrative rules used to implement state laws.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:25 PM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Hollowing out the ivory tower

Tim Black:

'The idea - which I have to say has affected large numbers of politicians - that you can just give people at university a certificate and, hey presto, they'll earn this amount more and the country will be x-amount richer has always seemed so bizarre to me that I have to pinch myself that so many apparently rational people believe exactly that.'

Professor Alison Wolf is a breathless speaker - as I discovered while trying to keep up during the course of our interview. But as the author of Does Education Matter? Myths About Education and Economic Growth, and more recently of the government-commissioned Review of Vocational Education, Wolf is certainly worth listening to on the plight of British universities. And nowhere is her insight more valuable than when it comes to tackling what she has called 'the great secular faith of our age' - namely, the idea that education is the key to economic growth, swelling both an individual's bank balance and expanding a nation's GDP.

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Oregon Gov. Kitzhaber's school reforms mark a decline in teachers' union influence

Nigel Jaquiss:

The state's most powerful political force got rolled in the 2011 Legislature.
Last week, Gov. John Kitzhaber and his allies rammed a dozen education bills through roadblocks erected by the 48,000-member Oregon Education Association.

A coalition of Kitzhaber, House Republicans, a few Democrats willing to buck the teachers' union, and newly emboldened interest groups handed the OEA its biggest policy setbacks in years.

"There is a strong desire for real movement forward on education, and people were willing to break a few eggs to get there," says Rep. Chris Garrett (D-Lake Oswego), one of three Democrats who voted "yes" on HB 2301, a controversial online charter-school bill that catalyzed the breakthrough.

To be sure, OEA successfully pushed for a $175 million increase in the K-12 budget over Kitzhaber's opening proposal, and the union helped forestall any significant changes to the Public Employees Retirement System this session. But in terms of educational politics, this session saw substantive bills that have been stymied for many sessions zip through.

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L.A. School District Decides To Go Easier On Homework

Eyder Peralta:

After banning flavored milk, the Los Angeles Unified School District is doing something kids all over will cheer about: They issued a decree that homework can only count for only 10 percent of a student's grade. The policy goes into effect July 1.

The idea behind the new rule is that it will level the playing field for students who don't have educational support at home. Also, Los Angeles isn't alone in this new approach. The Los Angeles Times reports:

In many districts, limits are being placed on the amount of homework so students can spend more time with their families or pursue extracurricular activities like sports or hobbies. The competition to get into top colleges has left students anxious and exhausted, with little free time, parents complain.

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Fog of Common Core (Lessons from Arizona's Adoption)

David Griffith:

Today marks one year since Arizona adopted the common core state standards, but you wouldn't know it based on any information provided by public officials or the press in Arizona. Indeed, you would have an impossible time finding any details about the Arizona State Board's official action to adopt the standards.

Last year, I wrote about the bizarre situation where states that were completely overhauling their K-12 reading and math standards in favor of the more advanced, 21st century common core state standards were not only downplaying this standards transformation, but in some instances, also appeared to be proactively burying the information.

Arizona fell into this last group as I mentioned last July:

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Charlotte's New Superintendent

Eric Frazier:

Almost three weeks after Superintendent Peter Gorman's resignation, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board on Tuesday bid him goodbye and named Chief Operating Officer Hugh Hattabaugh as interim leader.

Board members approved a separation agreement that effectively made the meeting Gorman's last as superintendent, ending a five-year reign marked by rising test scores, budget cuts and aggressive reforms that sparked outcry from teachers.

Board members praised Gorman for increasing student achievement and managing a diverse, 135,000-student school system full of competing constituencies, even at the cost of increasingly personal criticisms leveled at him.

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Kaukauna Area School District projects $1.5 million surplus after contract changes to health care, retirement savings; Milwaukee Plans to Lay Off 354 Teachers

Appleton Post-Crescent:

As changes to collective bargaining powers for public workers take effect today, the Kaukauna Area School District is poised to swing from a projected $400,000 budget shortfall next year to a $1.5 million surplus due to health care and retirement savings.

The Kaukauna School Board approved changes Monday to its employee handbook that require staff to cover 12.6 percent of their health insurance and to contribute 5.8 percent of their wages to the state's pension system, in accordance with the new collective bargaining law, commonly known as Act 10.

"These impacts will allow the district to hire additional teachers (and) reduce projected class sizes," School Board President Todd Arnoldussen wrote in a statement Monday. "In addition, time will be available for staff to identify and support students needing individual assistance through individual and small group experiences."

Karen Herzog
Milwaukee Public Schools Superintendent Gregory Thornton announced at a news conference this afternoon that 519 layoff notices would be issued for next school year, including 354 teachers.

Most of the teacher cuts come at the elementary level. The district has about 125 elementary schools. The elementary schools most affected are those that lost funding for a program that reduces class sizes.

The layoffs are the result of a number of budgetary factors, including the loss of $84 million in state aid to MPS for the next fiscal year, Thornton said.

Thornton called on the Milwaukee Teachers' Education Association to reconsider the district's request that teachers pay 5.8% of their salaries toward their pensions, which would have reduced the number of layoffs by about 200 teachers.

More on Kaukana, here.

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Wisconsin School District Administrative Cost Comparison

WISTAX via sp-eye:

Phil Frei and his Traveling Pie-in-the-Sky Budget Show like to compare Sun Prairie administrative costs to the state average. And we look great! That trick's not working so well anymore. As they say in the deep south, "that dog don't hunt". Heck even the new associate editor for the STAR, covering the recent budget hearing, asked if we didn't have a more realistic comparison.

Well... here's where we rank: 45th. Not even in the top 10%. At least when we look at Administrative costs per student.

Madison spends $1003/student (7.8% of operating expenditures).

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:05 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

June 29, 2011

Third Circuit, Landmark Victories for Student Speech Limit Schools' Ability To Censor Students Online

Erica Goldberg:

Yesterday, the full court for the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit issued two simultaneous opinions to resolve how much control grade schools and high schools may exercise over their students' off-campus, online speech. In Layshock v. Hermitage School District and J.S. v. Blue Mountain School District, the 14-judge court delivered two landmark victories for free speech, holding that school officials cannot "reach into a child's home and control his/her actions there to the same extent that it can control that child when he/she participates in school sponsored activities." In the cases, two students had been disciplined for creating parody MySpace profiles mocking their respective principals. The Third Circuit held that schools cannot punish students' online speech simply because it is vulgar, lewd, or offensive. In addition to their impact in the grade school and high school settings, these decisions further solidify the robust free speech rights that must be afforded to college students engaging in online speech.

We previously blogged about Layshock and J.S. last year, when separate three-judge panels of the Third Circuit issued contrary decisions despite the very similar facts in the two cases. In Layshock, the Third Circuit had held that a then-senior in high school could not be suspended, placed in a special education class, and banned from extracurricular activities for a parody MySpace profile which described his principal as being a "big steroid freak" and belittled the size of the principal's penis, among other insults. In J.S., a different panel of the Third Circuit had held that a then-middle school honor student could be suspended, without violating the First Amendment, for her MySpace profile. J.S.'s profile parodied her principal as stating, "I love children, sex (any kind), dogs, long walks on the beach, tv, being a dick head, and last but not least my darling wife [a guidance counselor at the school] who looks like a man."

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Another study points to advantages of printed textbooks

Nicholas Carr:

Even as administrators and legislators push schools to dump printed books in favor of electronic ones, evidence mounts that paper books have important advantages as tools for learning. Last month, I reported on a study out of the University of Washington which showed that students find printed books more flexible than e-books in supporting a wide range of reading and learning styles. Now comes a major study from the University of California system showing that students continue to prefer printed books to e-books and that many undergraduates complain that they have trouble "learning, retaining, and concentrating" when reading from screens.

The University of California Libraries began a large e-textbook pilot program in 2008. In late 2010, more than 2,500 students and faculty members were surveyed to assess the results of the program. Overall, 58% of the respondents said they used e-books for their academic work, with the percentage varying from 55% for undergraduates to 57% for faculty to 67% for graduate students. The respondents who used e-books were then asked whether they preferred e-books or printed books for their studies. Overall, 44% said they preferred printed books and 35% said they preferred e-books, with the remainder expressing no preference. The preference for print was strongest among undergraduates, 53% of whom preferred printed books, with only 27% preferring e-books. Graduate students preferred printed books by 45% to 35%, and faculty preferred printed books by 43% to 33%.

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Detroit Public Schools' Roberts faces public at forum on school budget


In less than 10 minutes, Detroit Public Schools Emergency Manager Roy Roberts tonight reviewed an 11-page summary of the district's $1.2-billion budget for next school year that projects cutting $200 million from the deficit and reducing all wages by 10%.

Roberts' first public hearing on the budget since taking over in May as the state appointee in charge of DPS began tonight at 6 p.m.
The budget projects that the $327-million deficit will be reduced to $127 million as DPS sells $200 million in bonds, he said.

"We treasure your input, we're going to take it to heart," Roberts said to the audience.

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Politics in China's exam system

Eric Fish:

"A fox served fish soup in a flat plate and invited the crane to share it with him 'equally'. But it turned out the crane couldn't drink any because of his long beak, and the fox hogged it all. What does this fable tell us?"

If you answered, "The bourgeois declare 'everyone is equal before the law', but this form of equality is the essence of capitalism," congratulations, you'd be one step closer to qualifying for graduate school in China. If not, better luck next year.

Over 1.5 million people sat this year's National Entrance Examination for Postgraduates (NEEP), China's equivalent to the Graduate Record Examinations used in the United States. The annual test given each January is the first hurdle most students

must clear before being considered for grad-school admission. The majority of its content differs based on school and major, but 20% of the exam is a politics and philosophy section uniform across the entire nation.

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Operations bring smiles back to cleft-palate tots

Lana Lam:

Moments after Mao Dongmei gave birth to her first son, doctors in her hometown of Qidong Lusi in Jiangsu province gave her one piece of advice: get rid of your baby because he is deformed.

"After I gave birth, the doctors suggested I abandon my son because he would not be able to suck on the breast," 26-year-old Mao said.

Her son, Gu Yanhu, who is now 15 months old, was born with a cleft lip and palate, a congenital deformity that affects one in 600 children born on the mainland.

"But I felt confident that I could look after my baby. I could never abandon him. It was the right choice," Mao said, as she stroked the dozing toddler after his operation at a charity hospital in Hangzhou run by Operation Smile.

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Self-evaluation a key skill students must acquire for effective learning

David Carless

One of the most effective ways students can improve their ability to learn for themselves is through the development of self-evaluative skills.
Self-evaluation is judging the quality of one's performance and planning strategies for self-improvement.

This is important, because students learn best when taking responsibility for their own progress.

Students must understand what constitutes quality work. Without an appreciation of quality, it is difficult for students to use feedback to improve their performance. Children can develop such skills by being asked to consider what they are learning, and identify strengths and weaknesses in their work.

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Pro-reform member of state education board will not seek another term

Andrew Vanacore:

One of the more reliable backers of the reform movement that has radically altered public schools in New Orleans is planning to retire from the state board of education.

Glenny Lee Buquet, from Houma, said Monday that she will not run for another term on the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, or BESE, when elections come up this fall. Buquet has served on BESE since 1992 and is one of the six-member majority on the 11-member board that has helped push through the controversial reforms championed by former State Superintendent Paul Pastorek.

Nowhere in the state have those reforms been more far-reaching than in New Orleans. The state took over most schools in the city following Hurricane Katrina, and under the state's Recovery School District, most of those have been transformed into independent charter schools.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:29 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Katy Venskus:

Well, the budget battle royale in Wisconsin has come and gone. The tent city of protestors has packed up and moved on. Our state electeds are no longer front and center on Fox News, MSNBC, Colbert or the Daily Show. The guy blowing the vuvuzela outside Governor Walker's East Wing Capitol office is probably still there, but the tidal wave of fervor and insanity that engulfed us seems to have finally receded.

And for all my bright shiny optimism early in this legislative session, some of which persisted well into the spring, I am disappointed with the outcome. There have been some good public policy changes, but on the whole the political losses and missed opportunities far outweigh the gains.

Good News First...

We found middle ground on the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program...more or less. The program will remain means tested, but more working class families will be eligible. The private schools that participate will continue to administer the state assessment to choice students so an accurate picture of student performance is available in all publicly funded schools. Unfortunately, many solid choice schools are still being slowly strangled by the discrepancy in funding between kids in the public schools and kids enrolled in choice and charter schools, and we have still done little to get lousy schools out of the education pipeline in Milwaukee once and for all.

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June 28, 2011

Teacher Grades: Pass or Be Fired

Sam Dillon:

Emily Strzelecki, a first-year science teacher here, was about as eager for a classroom visit by one of the city's roving teacher evaluators as she would be to get a tooth drilled. "It really stressed me out because, oh my gosh, I could lose my job," Ms. Strzelecki said.

Her fears were not unfounded: 165 Washington teachers were fired last year based on a pioneering evaluation system that places significant emphasis on classroom observations; next month, 200 to 600 of the city's 4,200 educators are expected to get similar bad news, in the nation's highest rate of dismissal for poor performance.

The evaluation system, known as Impact, is disliked by many unionized teachers but has become a model for many educators. Spurred by President Obama and his $5 billion Race to the Top grant competition, some 20 states, including New York, and thousands of school districts are overhauling the way they grade teachers, and many have sent people to study Impact.

Posted by jimz at 11:19 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Group works on alternatives for troubled schools

Associated Press:The Indiana Department of Education is spending nearly $700,000 to develop strategies for overseeing troubled schools that don't involve a traditional school board.

The work by The MindTrust is being done as the state prepares to recommend which of 18 failing public schools should be removed from district control and given to private school operators to attempt a turnaround.

All 18 schools have scored in the lowest category on the state ISTEP+ exam for five straight years. A 1999 state law allows the state to take over schools if test scores are in the lowest category for a sixth consecutive year.

The education department has paid more than $680,000 to The MindTrust in an effort to make sure none of the failing schools -- seven of which are in the Indianapolis Public Schools system -- return to the hands of a school board that will lead it back to failure.

"The fact that we have as many failed schools in IPS as we do reflects a larger issue in the overall system," David Harris, chief executive officer of The MindTrust, told the Indianapolis Business Journal. "The state doesn't want to return schools to a governance structure that isn't going to produce conditions that are optimal for success."

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Whan I Retire

Mr. Foteah:

I recently wrote about how having friends at work was never a priority. However, the fact of the matter is I have made some close ones - people I really respect and enjoy being around. That makes work pleasant, as we're all dealing with similar challenges together, instead of battling alone. Of course, it makes you want to go to work everyday, knowing that you're going to a place where you are liked and like the people around you.

Now, I've heard anecdotes recently from a variety of schools about colleagues not being so supportive of each other, saying nasty things behind others' backs and the like. I hope no one is doing this to me, and if any of my colleagues have any kind of issue with me, that they can bring it to my attention and we can work it out.

Like everyone else, I want to be recognized for my positive attributes, and I want those to be my hallmarks and form my reputation.

We recently celebrated the end of the school year with our annual party. This one had the added wrinkle of being a defacto retirement party for some much loved members of the staff.

I was moved by the way people spoke about each retiree. I didn't expect such wonderful things to be said, and more importantly, the honorees were genuinely surprised and touched.

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US Teachers' Instructional Hours Among the Longest

Phil Izzo:

Students across the U.S. are enjoying or getting ready for summer vacation, but teachers may be looking forward to the break even more. American teachers are the most productive among major developed countries, according to Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development data from 2008 -- the most recent available.

Among 27 member nations tracked by the OECD, U.S. primary-school educators spent 1,097 hours a year teaching despite only spending 36 weeks a year in the classroom -- among the lowest among the countries tracked. That was more than 100 hours more than New Zealand, in second place at 985 hours, despite students in that country going to school for 39 weeks. The OECD average is 786 hours.

And that's just the time teachers spend on instruction. Including hours teachers spend on work at home and outside the classroom, American primary-school educators spend 1,913 working in a year. According to data from the comparable year in a Labor Department survey, an average full-time employee works 1,932 hours a year spread out over 48 weeks (excluding two weeks vacation and federal holidays).
Curriculum is certainly worth a hard look.

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Culture and the Achievement Gap

Charlene Collazo:

A couple of weeks ago, I attended the Education Testing Service's Achievement Gap Symposium, which addressed research and solutions for our education system in Pre-K-third grade, especially for low-income, minority and African American students. What I found most interesting was a comment Jerry D. Weast, Superintendent of the Montgomery County Public Schools and one of the speakers, said: "structure drives your culture and culture drives your expectations." Weast believes the achievement gap can be solved if a district or school can establish a culture with high expectations.

To do this, teachers should be mentors and role models. All children, especially minority students need someone like Mrs. Menendez, my kindergarten teacher, who told me that I would grow up to be a great lawyer one day. She also told my parents that they needed to make sure they did everything in their power to get me through high school and college. Today, my master's program is nearly done and law school is next on the schedule. Parents of minority and low-income children need this kind of one-on-one advice.

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'That's Racist!' How A Serious Accusation Became A Commonplace Quip

Neda Ulaby:

My editor proposed this story about "that's racist" after hearing her young son's friends using it as a joke. Just the night before, it had been a punchline on one of my favorite sitcoms, Parks And Recreation. (Someone calls sorting laundry into whites and darks racist.)

Our sense that "that's racist" was evolving into a commonplace catchphrase that only occasionally had to do with racism and race was confirmed by conversations with parents, teachers and a website that tracked how it started as an online meme. A video clip from the cult TV show Wonder Showzen showed an African-American kid with the words "that's racist" underneath. It became a virtual retort on online message boards. People started dropping it into Internet arguments, to quench or inflame them.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:56 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Charter school bill passes Delaware House

J L Miller:

Legislation to reform Delaware's charter school system by requiring background checks for charter founders and board members and placing the schools under tighter financial oversight got a unanimous passing grade in the House Thursday.

House Bill 205, sponsored by Rep. Terry Schooley, D-Newark, was prompted by a News Journal investigation that found the state Department of Education failed to check the credentials or criminal background of the founder of Reach Academy. Reach Academy is facing closure amid serious financial problems and a fight over control of the board.

The legislation, which now moves to the Senate for consideration, would require yearly mandatory external audits for charter schools and allow the Office of Management and Budget to analyze the financial status of a struggling school and manage some of the school's finances. It also would require that decisions to close a school be made no later than January so parents can enter their children in the school-choice program and meet deadlines to get into charter schools.

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UK Education secretary scraps modular GCSEs from 2012


Modular GCSEs are to be scrapped from September 2012 the Education Secretary Michael Gove has told the BBC.

Currently pupils can sit a series of bite-sized exams as they study a subject.

In future, students will have to sit final exams at the end of two years taking in all the modules of a course.

Mr Gove told BBC1's Andrew Marr show that he wanted to end a culture of "resits" which he called "wrong".

He also said that other countries had more rigorous examination regimes and schools here needed to catch up.

"The problem that we had is that instead of sitting every part of a GCSE at the end of a course, bits of it were taken along the way," Mr Gove said.

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

June 27, 2011

Wisconsin Read to Lead Meeting 5-31-2011 - Live Tweet Stream

Chan Stroman:

Wisconsin's "Read to Lead" Task Force convened for its second meeting last month to address teacher training and reading interventions. Here's an excellent debrief (via School Information System) from Wisconsin Reading Coalition on the discussion. And here are my notes from the gallery:

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 11:16 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

New Detroit Schools boss vows to cut everything but corners, sets 'focus on educating kids'

Associated Press:

After only about a month as top boss of Detroit Public Schools, Roy Roberts, a 72-year-old former General Motors executive and private equity firm founder, is well aware that some people already want him gone.

The district's new financial manager said he's OK with that reality, adding that differing opinions have value. His only request: Stay out of the way as he tries to turn around one of the nation's worst public school systems.

I don't care what people think about me, really ... because I know what parents are going to think," Roberts told The Associated Press during an interview in his Detroit Midtown office. "They're going to love it because I'm trying to do the right thing for their children, and you won't find a parent that doesn't want that. I'm simply going to look at a system and say 'What is the best system we can put in place to educate these kids?' I don't care about the politics."

What concerns him, he said, is a massive budget deficit and students who either don't receive a legitimate education or flee the district in search of one. Those mountainous challenges form the ridge that for decades has left the 74,000-student district on the shadowy side of progress.

Related: Ripon Superintendent Richard Zimman's speech to the Madison Rotary Club.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:42 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

On status quo apologists

Joel Klein:

Aaron Pallas, an ed school professor at Teachers College, appears to be unwilling to acknowledge that our public schools are failing to effectively educate huge numbers of our kids, or that there's much we can do about it. He struggles to debunk existing examples of demonstrable success perhaps fearing that we might otherwise ask why do we keep doing so poorly when we have proof that we can do so much better.

To that end, last week Pallas penned a piece in this column challenging my assertion in a Washington Post op ed that our "schools can get much better results with th[e] same kids than they're now generally getting." Employing a locution that I never used, and that cannot fairly be inferred from what I said, he tries to portray my view as placing "the emphasis on what schools can extract from kids." (His italics.)

No, Professor Pallas, I don't think knowledge resides in kids and, like iron ore, all we need to do is carefully extract it. What I do think is that our schools, and especially our teachers, need to do a much better job of educating our kids - that is, teaching them the skills and knowledge they will need to be successful in the 21st century. As I put it in my piece, "teachers matter, big time."

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Teacher Appreciation

Susan O'Doherty:

I was a little shell-shocked after reading the comments on Aeron's June 15 post. I hadn't looked at them when I wrote last week about my enjoyment of her column, and I was amazed at the vitriol. I have taught only a few brief seminars myself, and each has taken a gazillion hours of preparation, as well as intense, sustained focus and concentration during the actual teaching hours. I am in awe of real teachers' dedication and stamina.

So I want to use this week's post to express appreciation for a great teacher I am in the process of taking leave of.

Three years ago, when I registered for my first singing class in over 20 years, I had to walk around the block several times to get up the courage to walk in the door. I had been traumatized by a voice teacher, until my singing voice got so small and weak it almost disappeared. I hadn't tried to sing in front of others for years, until Ben started asking me to sing with him. The thought made me so anxious I knew I needed professional help.

A friend walked me to the first class, to be sure I didn't succumb to the urge to hightail it home at the last minute. When Martha, the teacher, asked each of us to articulate what it was that we wanted from the class, all I could think to say was, "I want to be able to get through a song without passing out."

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Providence teachers union wants seniority review

Associated Press:

Providence's teachers union is asking a Rhode Island education board to review a state official's decision to prohibit seniority as a basis for assigning teachers.

The union says the state's education commissioner, Deborah Gist, has taken the position that using seniority alone to assign teachers doesn't comply with state regulations.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:54 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Higher ed bubble?

Steve Hsu:

What are the economic returns from a college degree, net of individual ability? Does college add value, or is it mainly a signaling device (e.g., for intelligence and work ethic)?

Results from two new studies are discussed here and here in the Times.

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West Aurora looking to data to tell how school district's doing

Matt Brennan:

The West Aurora School District is looking at options about what data to collect on student achievement and district performance and quality, and what can be done with that data. District officials say they are looking to create a "dashboard" that will give them a general idea of progress, both on an individual level with students, and on a broader scope of trends.

"It's like you're driving a car down the road and looking at all the various things," West Aurora Superintendent Jim Rydland said. "This tells you how your vehicle is running."

The School Board last week heard a presentation from Barb Vlasvich, the district's director of assessment. The presentation covered the importance of being able to monitor this data, and what questions should possibly be asked for the 2011-12 school year.

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Baltimore's Alonso on cheating schools: There will be more

Erica Green:

Baltimore city schools Andres Alonso said last week that while the school district has gone to great lengths to tighten testing security, he anticipates coming before the city again to announce that more schools attempted to game the system.

There are two more investigations pending, from a batch of four schools referred to the state last year. The 2011 Maryland School Assessments will be released next week.

In a news conference last week, Alonso told reporters that it may take one or two more years before cheating is eradicated from the system. He vowed, however, that at some point, "we will emerge from this conversation--it may take one or two years--but we will emerge with our heads held high."

He also indicated that Maryland's new teacher evaluation system, which is partly based on student progress, will spur a "perverse incentive to do something wrong." Baltimore is one of seven districts that will pilot the new state evaluation system in the fall.

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Milwaukee Public Schools, city grapple with deciding school facilities

Alan Borsuk:

So we've got all these empty school buildings in Milwaukee at the same time we've got schools or potential schools that need decent buildings. Resolving this doesn't sound like the most complicated issue facing the human race.

Almost needless to say, it's complicated.

For quite a while, there was not much action on the empty-school front. Now, there's a lot, including plans being developed on two different (and potentially competing) tracks.

Making maximum use of these assets will take cooperation between leaders of Milwaukee Public Schools and non-MPS schools, who are not known for cooperating across turf lines. But there is some chance that at least hunks of the empty-school issue will be worked out cooperatively and to the actual benefit of school kids. In fact, a major example of that is unfolding without public controversy right now.

School Board members last week were given a list of 29 properties owned by MPS that were considered "surplus." Several of them are not schools. Several currently are being leased or used in some way. When you boil it all down, there are maybe a dozen that seem to be good candidates to be used as schools.

With green lights being given by the state Legislature to open more charter schools (independent or semi-independent, nonreligious, publicly funded schools) and private schools in the publicly funded voucher program, more people are eyeing empty MPS buildings. Getting use of them could save millions of dollars, compared with the alternatives.

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Judge Milwaukee educational outcomes on the facts

Larry Miller:

School voucher advocates have had two recent op-eds in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: "The story behind school choice study" by John Witte and Patrick Wolf on May 28 and "Special needs students benefit from many choices" by Susan Mitchell on June 19. Both are at best misinformed and at worst deceptive. The facts should matter.

State law says voucher schools must accept special education students. Then why are so few special education students (the number hovers near 1%) attending voucher schools? I put this question to a voucher school principal, who said her school has no special education services or students.

I asked her how that was possible. She stated that she simply tells parents of special education students that she cannot provide the services that their children need. Parents then choose another school, she said - most likely in Milwaukee Public Schools.

MPS does receive more money per student than voucher schools receive. But Mitchell claims MPS receives $15,000 per student while voucher students receive $6,442. She somehow arrived at these numbers without doing her homework. One needs to subtract from the total the amount transferred to voucher schools for a variety of programs.

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June 26, 2011

SP-EYE on Sun Prairie Schools: Are Those The Winds of Change Blowing in Sun Prairie?


It's not just rhetoric, people, these are truly unprecedented times. The economy seems to choke and sputter like an engine with a fouled spark plug. Consider all that has transpired of late, and it all begs the question: is it time for new leadership within the Sun Prairie School District? We offer 5 solid indicators.

1. District Administrator Tim Culver's Unofficial Approval Rating is at an all-time low.
Years ago Culver could toss it aside as just a few malcontents. He's referred to them as "Nitters and Pickers" and "Wreckers". if name calling is really going to solve the problem. But these folks didn't go away. Rather, they have brought the dirty laundry out into the bright of day. And they multiplied like rabbits on the farm.

For a school district to function effectively and move forward, its leader must have the support of both the public and the district staff. Frankly we don't hear much other than outright contempt for Culver from any of the schools. Ask any of your friends and neighbors and the story is the same...the staff just no longer support Culver. OK...he may have the support of a few of his inner circle know...his "pets". And let's not think for one minute that Culver doesn't have his pets. It's as plain as day for anyone who takes the time to see which administrators are getting the 7% raises, and which ones are getting a pittance. It's also clear which administrators are getting revised job descriptions to give them whatever they want.

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The Disadvantages of an Elite Education

William Deresiewicz:

It didn't dawn on me that there might be a few holes in my education until I was about 35. I'd just bought a house, the pipes needed fixing, and the plumber was standing in my kitchen. There he was, a short, beefy guy with a goatee and a Red Sox cap and a thick Boston accent, and I suddenly learned that I didn't have the slightest idea what to say to someone like him. So alien was his experience to me, so unguessable his values, so mysterious his very language, that I couldn't succeed in engaging him in a few minutes of small talk before he got down to work. Fourteen years of higher education and a handful of Ivy League degrees, and there I was, stiff and stupid, struck dumb by my own dumbness. "Ivy retardation," a friend of mine calls this. I could carry on conversations with people from other countries, in other languages, but I couldn't talk to the man who was standing in my own house.

It's not surprising that it took me so long to discover the extent of my miseducation, because the last thing an elite education will teach you is its own inadequacy. As two dozen years at Yale and Columbia have shown me, elite colleges relentlessly encourage their students to flatter themselves for being there, and for what being there can do for them. The advantages of an elite education are indeed undeniable. You learn to think, at least in certain ways, and you make the contacts needed to launch yourself into a life rich in all of society's most cherished rewards. To consider that while some opportunities are being created, others are being cancelled and that while some abilities are being developed, others are being crippled is, within this context, not only outrageous, but inconceivable.

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Race to the Top Promises Delayed

Brett Turner:

After months of work across the state to define multiple measures of student growth, the Delaware Department of Education has asked the United States DOE for, and - word is - will receive, permission to delay implementation of our DPAS II teacher evaluation system, which will impact the roll-out of numerous other Race to the Top reforms.

The revised DPAS II evaluation system would have identified teachers as "highly-effective," "effective," "needs improvement," or "ineffective," ultimately impacting eligibility for various initiatives. Below are programs and policies that will be affected by delaying DPAS II implementation:

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Diane Ravitch: Teachers' Hero or Education Hypocrite?

Adam Ozimek:

Diane Ravitch, the historian and leading education reform critic, can be hard to understand. Not that her writing is difficult. Quite the opposite actually, it's incredibly lucid and lively, and my favorite thing about her in fact. Rather it's difficult to understand who exactly the person is that could contain both the Diane Ravitch who once wrote so passionately and doggedly in favor of school choice and accountability from the halls of the Hoover Institute, and the Diane Ravitch who now writes reform criticisms with the hyperbole and one-sidedness of a teacher's union spokesperson. But in a new City Paper piece, Dana Goldstein tries to reconcile the two and find the intellectual continuities that have stayed with her on such a seemingly bipolar intellectual journey. As much of a Ravitch critic as I may be, like Goldstein, I believe that there are some coherent ties that bind old and young Diane, and perhaps surprisingly, one of them is Friedrich Hayek.

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To Curb Childhood Obesity, Experts Say Keep Baby Fat In Check

Linda Thraysbule:

The number of overweight kids and adolescents in the U.S. has almost tripled since the 1980s. That's pretty troubling, but the Institute of Medicine says we need to be paying more attention to the littlest kids: those under five.

Almost 10 percent of babies and toddlers carry too much weight for their size. And more than 20 percent of children 2 through 5 are already overweight, the IOM says, which could have pretty serious repercussions later in life.

"Contrary to the common perception that chubby babies are healthy babies and will naturally outgrow their baby fat, excess weight tends to persist," Leann Birch, chair of the IOM's childhood obesity prevention committee, said in a statement. The committee's report released today makes some recommendations on what to do about it.

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"Better PowerPoints": Army colonel in Afghanistan fired for criticizing PowerPoint

Tara McKelvey:

Yet Holbrooke is no longer around and the diplomatic surge, like so many other good ideas that have been exported to Afghanistan, has floundered. The country remains awash in chaos, violence, and corruption, and the surge of civilians has hardly made a dent. One of the few things that the Americans have done is to assist Afghan officials in preparations for their presentations before other officials; in other words, as Semple says, "better PowerPoints."
Related: John Cook:
Wired's Spencer Ackerman reports that Col. Lawrence Sellin, a 61-year-old Army reservist, has been dismissed from his post in headquarters with NATO's International Security Assistance Force less than 48 hours after he published an op-ed, via UPI, complaining that the "war consists largely of the endless tinkering with PowerPoint slides to conform with the idiosyncrasies of cognitively challenged generals in order to spoon-feed them information." Sellin clearly anticipated that his tirade, which NATO says he didn't clear for publication in advance, would serve as a resignation letter. It opened with, "Throughout my career I have been known to walk that fine line between good taste and unemployment. I see no reason to change that now. Consider the following therapeutic." He went on to excoriate the meaningless, self-serving, metastasizing military bureaucracy that holds sway in Afghanistan and justifies its existence via PowerPoint slide: "Little of substance is really done here, but that is a task we do well."

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Recovery School District to lay off more than 70 employees

Andrew Vanacore:

The Recovery School District, a state body that oversees the majority of New Orleans public schools, is laying off more than 70 employees at its central office, part of a sweeping organizational overhaul initiated by the district's new leader.

RSD officials have been saying for weeks that the district will need to downsize as it turns over more of the schools it manages to independent charter operators and closes others. That's been the RSD's strategy since it took over schools in the city following Hurricane Katrina.

But in an interview Friday, RSD Superintendent John White said the district has now begun to notify employees who will lose their jobs as a result of cutbacks, which will take the central office head count down by 35 percent, from 220 people to 144.

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Harvard MBA Program Sees Largest Female Percentage

Associated Press:

Early statistics are showing that this year's incoming MBA class at the Harvard Business School will have its greater percentage of women.

The school said this week that of the 918 students in the MBA class of 2013, 39 percent will be female. Women comprised 36 percent of the enrolled MBA students in the two previous classes.

School spokesman Brian Kenny said the school's admissions strategy has evolved over the last several years on trying to find ways to increase diversity

He said Harvard Business School has no fixed targets when it comes to industry, geographical, or gender representation.

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Science's 10 hottest fields

Clive Cookson:

Understanding the genome

The sequencing of the 6 billion chemical "letters" of human DNA was completed in draft in 2000 and in final form in 2003. But clinical benefits have arrived more slowly than the initial hype suggested. This is mainly because the human genome actually works in a much more complex way than predicted by the late-20th-century model.

Twenty-first-century research shows that we have only 21,000 genes, one-fifth of the number predicted when the project started, and that just 1.5 per cent of the genome consists of conventional protein-coding genes. Efforts are under way to understand the vital regulatory and other functions of the non-coding regions of the genome, once dismissed wrongly as "junk DNA".

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Changes to New Jersey's Pension System

Matt Bai:

"It's an extraordinary day for New Jersey," Chris Christie boomed proudly when we talked this afternoon. It's a pretty extraordinary day for New Jersey's governor, too.

Regular readers of The Times Magazine may recall that I wrote a cover piece on Mr. Christie back in February, exploring in some detail his long campaign to remake the pension and health care system for New Jersey's public service unions. Near the end of that piece, in a kind of "to be continued" way, I noted that Mr. Christie had made a lot of noise for his agenda but hadn't yet achieved the most pivotal pieces of reform.

And so Mr. Christie was calling, minutes before the New Jersey House started voting on a bipartisan reform package, to do a little crowing. He wanted me to know that he and the leaders of New Jersey's Democratic-controlled Legislature were about to do something pretty amazing.

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Generation FB

Katrin Bennhold:

"My e-mail?" The boy looks at me as if I had just suggested staying in touch by carrier pigeon. "What, you don't have an email?" I ask, insecure now. "Sure I do. But I only use it for my parents and my grandparents," he says. "Aren't you on Facebook?" I am. Phew. Of course I mostly check my Facebook profile when I'm prompted by an e-mail notification, but I don't tell him that. Trevor Dougherty is 19 and to him, I am a geriatric 36-year-old who belongs to that amorphous generation of people-who-don't-really-get-social-networking that stretches all the way back to, well, his grandparents.

I met Trevor in January, during a dinner debate on social networking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, where he was by far the youngest and most eloquent speaker on the subject. I have perhaps 100 people in my life I call friends. Trevor has 1,275. At one point he tried to add someone called Trevor in every capital so he would have friends to visit across the world. He chats, posts, tweets and consults "his community" on important decisions: "I'm going to start producing/DJing electronic music. What should my stage name be? #youtellme."

The encounter made me curious: what does it do to teenagers to be "on" all the time? Are they just doing what we did 20 years ago -- gossiping, dating, escaping pubescent solitude -- and simply channeling those age-old human urges through this new technology? Or is this technology changing humanity in a more fundamental way? What kind of citizens, voters, consumers, leaders will kids like Trevor grow up to be?

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UK Education standards 'not good enough' warns former Tesco boss

The UK Telegraph:

Sir Terry, who stepped down from the helm of Britain's largest private employer earlier this year after 14 years in charge, was addressing an audience of teachers at the Wellington College Festival of Education.

"Standards in schools vary too widely, more widely than you would find in business," he said.

"The standards in too many schools are simply not good enough.

"The answer is deceptively simple. It is about good leadership in each school, good teachers in each classroom and support in their work by the wider society."

He said this was often hampered by a "myriad" of well-meaning Government initiatives and a tendency to "micromanage" education, with "too much management, and not enough help or trust".

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Confusion over National Standards

Greg Forster:

I greatly admire both Jeb Bush and Joel Klein, so I have mixed feelings saying that I'm confused about their op-ed this morning.

The article is entitled "The Case for Common Educational Standards." But the article does not contain any case for common educational standards.

Quite the contrary, the article emphasizes the case against common standards. As in:

And, while education is a national priority, the answer here does not appear to be a new federal program mandating national standards. States have historically had the primary responsibility for public education, and they should continue to take the lead.
So that would be an argument against common standards.

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Encouraging Mathematical Thinking in Gifted Kids

Carol Fertig:

Parents, do you want to encourage your young people to think mathematically this summer and beyond? Here are some ways to accomplish that.


Nurturing Mathematically Talented Preschoolers-In this blog entry, Natasha Chen shares her experience on parenting a mathematically precocious child. The author acknowledges that it can be difficult to find a program for three- to five-year-olds, so she offers some tips that she has found useful. Her suggestions include

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New York Governor Cuomo Likely to Veto Bill on School Borrowing

Danny Hakim:

State lawmakers on Friday approved a bill that would allow school districts to borrow as much as $1 billion without voter approval, but a spokesman for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said the measure would most likely be vetoed.

Without advance notice and with little debate, the bill won Senate approval late Thursday night, several days after the legislative session had been scheduled to end. The Assembly passed the measure Friday afternoon, and the governor's office then took the unusual step of publicly opposing the legislation moments after its passage, effectively dooming it.

Elizabeth Lynam, deputy research director at the Citizens Budget Commission, a business-backed group that generally favors lower spending, described the bill as one of the worst things the Legislature had done this session.

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Mandarin in the Sun Prairie Schools?


Remember how Culver and a group of his peeps were going to explore the possibility of an elementary charter school/ Mandarin Chinese immersion program and report back to the board?

Well skip the board and just sign up because we're hearing that incorporating Mandarin Chinese into the district is a done deal that will occur by the start of the 2012-1 school year.



Mandarin Chinese? Really? Don't go screamin' "xenophobia", now, but one has to wonder: Is Culver thinking that the economy is tanking so badly that we all should be brushing up on the new landlords' language? Or is he still trying to catch up with his district administrator buddy in Verona? And why are we worrying about what ANYBODY is up to instead of just focusing on our own kids?

And while we're on the subject. We're hoping that the rumors we're hearing are just that...rumors. 'Cause we'd be wondering how much it would cost John Q. TaxPayer to develop this little Mandarin Chinese program.

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June 25, 2011

Kaleem Caire's Speech on the Proposed Madison Preparatory Academy IB Charter School to the Madison Rotary Club

Kaleem Caire, via email:

Based 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.
Watch a video of the speech, here.

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New College Board Research on Young Men of Color Stirs Demand for Action

Jamaal Abdul-Alim, via a kind reader's email

While a panel discussion held by The College Board on Capitol Hill this week was meant to highlight a new report on the lagging rates of educational attainment among non-White men, some of the panelists questioned the need for more research on the subject.

"How much data do we need?" asked panelist Dr. Roy Jones, executive director for the Eugene T. Moore School of Education's Call Me MISTER Program at Clemson University. (MISTER is an acronym for Mentors Instructing Students Toward Effective Role-models).

His remarks came after a discussion of the new report titled "The Educational Experience of Young Men of Color: A Review of Research, Pathways and Progress," co-authored by John Michael Lee Jr., a co-panelist and policy director at the College Board's Advocacy and Policy Center.

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Civics education and Virginia's school standards

Henry Borger:

The June 18 editorial "Students of history" outlined steps that should be taken to correct the distressing ignorance of U.S. students about civics. I am sure most education professionals will endorse those recommendations, such as civic-oriented activities, because they follow modern theories of education. Unfortunately, these actions would introduce gross inefficiencies and time-wasting activities into the curriculum. Modern education theories are the main reason students complain of too much work but show themselves to be poorly educated in most subjects.

I took a one-year high school course in civics 60 years ago that was taught by our football-basketball-baseball coach, whose main interest was athletics, not civics. We never took any field trips or did any community service. Yet we learned civics. How? We went through the textbook. It wasn't sexy or exciting -- real learning seldom is -- but it worked. To really improve students' knowledge, schools need only buy good textbooks and tell the teachers to teach the book. It's that easy.

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Major Education Reform Bills Pass the Oregon House & Senate


Both the Oregon House and Senate this week passed 3 groundbreaking education bills that are now on their way to the Governor's desk to be signed into law. The bills bring more choice to Oregon's public education system and allow students to learn in schools where they best grow, learn and succeed.

From the standpoint of the state Republican party, who sponsored and supported these bills, they accomplish 3 goals:

  1. allow students to enroll in the school district of their choice
  2. raise the enrollment cap on virtual charter schools
  3. empower community colleges and public universities to create charter schools.
"The Legislature is on track to have its most successful session on education reform in decades," said House Education Committee Co-Chair Matt Wingard (R-Wilsonville). "Together, these reforms help promote choice, accountability and innovation in our educational system. I'm particularly pleased with the progress we've made in expanding choice for parents and their children."

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Promises, Promises

Richard Lee Colvin:

When Gov. Rick Snyder this week announced his big, long-awaited plan to rescue the Detroit Public Schools he also promised to raise money to send all of the district's graduates to community colleges or training programs. The idea is modeled after the Kalamazoo Promise, a similar but more ambitious plan launched in 2005 that provides full scholarships for that city's graduates to any Michigan public college or university. Anonymous donors pony up $20 million a year for the program, which has inspired similar programs in 23 communities across the country, including five others in Michigan, according to the W. E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research. (Complete list here.)

Not only do such programs increase college attendance, they give families who now reside in those communities an incentive to stay and entice new ones to relocate, spurring economic growth and development. The schools in El Dorado, Ark., for example, have seen a 5 percent enrollment increase since its program began four years ago. Detroit badly needs such a boost. The city lost 25 percent of its population over the past decade and 44 percent of its students since 2003 but did not cut expenses fast enough, which contributed to a $327 million deficit for this year.

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The coming teacher-union offensive: Education lobby gathers big money to reconquer lost ground

Don Soifer:

Already, national political fundraising ma- chines are beginning to hum and s putter toward early targets in their quest to break another election cycle's worth of spending records. The nation's largest teachers union, the National Education Association (NEA), was the heaviest contributor to U.S. political campaigns in 2007-08, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Early indications show it is a front-runner to be so again. Along with its state affiliates, the NEA took in $1.5 billion in revenue in 2008-09, the Education Intelligence Agency notes. Nearly all of this revenue came from member dues, and most of the war chest will be spent seeking to increase spending and to block those school reforms deemed most threatening to union clout.

The stakes are high, even by contemporary standards. The nation's annual taxpayer investment in kindergarten-through-12th-grade public education runs over half a trillion dollars and accounts for more than 4 percent of gross domestic product. Meanwhile, teachers union members are starting their summer under the dark cloud of a trillion dollars in unfunded educator pension-fund liabilities.

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Chicago Teachers making house calls?

Kristen Mack and Noreen S. Ahmed-Ullah:

New Chicago schools chief Jean-Claude Brizard expressed support Thursday for the idea of teachers and staff visiting students at home, even in some of the city's toughest neighborhoods.

At an event Thursday held by United Neighborhood Organization, a community organization that runs charter schools, Brizard said he liked some of the charter network's ideas, including home visits.

UNO teachers make two home visits per student during the course of a school year. Brizard said if teachers and administrators at Chicago Public Schools each took on 10 home visits, the public school system with 430,000 students could follow the charter network's lead in some of the city's most challenging communities.

'"Our students go there every day," Brizard said. "Why can't we?''

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Parent Trigger Court Hearing - A Potential Hanging Chad Moment in the Making

Gloria Romero:

June 9: Notes from Superior Court Hearing on the Compton Parents and the Parent Trigger Petition

Location: Downtown Los Angeles

You've probably heard the Compton Parent Trigger story by now: over 200 parents grew tired of seeing their kids drop out and fail to learn to read at one of the chronically, lowest performing schools in California. So they banded together to use the historic new Parent Trigger Law (which I authored), only to face an all-out assault by the Compton Unified School District against their efforts to create a better future for their children.

What these parents are doing invokes the spirit of Mendez, a 1946 federal court case that challenged racial segregation in Orange County schools. In its ruling, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in an en banc decision, held that the segregation of Mexican and Mexican American students into separate "Mexican schools" was unconstitutional. Likewise, in the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education the United States Supreme Court declared state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students unconstitutional.

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Letters to the WiSJ on Madison Teachers' John Matthews

Merle Lebakken:

Following the exploits of Madison Teachers Inc. leader John Matthews in the State Journal makes it obvious that he is a negotiator extraordinaire.

He's managed to have his people on one side of the "negotiating table" and at least some he helped elect on the other side, so it is not a "bargaining table" but a "collaboration table."

Maybe, however, he has gone too far in not enthusiastically promoting measuring teacher performance, as encouraged by President Barack Obama. Now it seems Wisconsin's taxpayers need to take back some of the functions, like measuring employee performance, usually ascribed to management but, through negotiation, given to the employee.

Thomas Kavanagh:
I appreciated the respect for John Matthews' achievements conveyed by Madison labor mediator Howard Bellman's comment in Sunday's article, and his concern about the possible effect of Gov. Scott Walker's attempt to destroy the Madison teachers union and public employee unions throughout Wisconsin:

"It would be like somebody watching all their paintings burn up... What he's accomplished over the years would have been just a memory."

However, that analogy fails to give consideration to the value of his work beyond creating a robust and effective union. For the artist, the joy of the creation might be lasting, but the product of his efforts would be gone. That would not be the case for what Matthew's efforts have produced.

Bob Hartwig:
fter encouraging Madison teachers in February to stage an illegal sick-out, which robbed children of educational opportunities and caused disruption for many parents, he now says teachers are "ready to do whatever it takes" to continue the protest of state budget reductions. He was also quoted as saying; "It's going to get down and dirty."

Wow! This kind of rhetoric coming from a 71-year-old man who receives about $310,000 in annual income and benefits from union fees. Makes you ask the question: What is his priority?

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June 24, 2011

A growing number of skeptics wonder whether college is worth the time or the cost

Bill Gross:

A mind is a precious thing to waste, so why are millions of America's students wasting theirs by going to college? All of us who have been there know an undergraduate education is primarily a four year vacation interrupted by periodic bouts of cramming or Google plagiarizing, but at least it used to serve a purpose. It weeded out underachievers and proved at a minimum that you could pass an SAT test. For those who made it to the good schools, it proved that your parents had enough money to either bribe administrators or hire SAT tutors to increase your score by 500 points. And a degree represented that the graduate could "party hearty" for long stretches of time and establish social networking skills that would prove invaluable later on at office cocktail parties or interactively via Facebook. College was great as long as the jobs were there.

Now, however, a growing number of skeptics wonder whether it's worth the time or the cost. Peter Thiel, an early investor in Facebook and head of Clarium Capital, a long-standing hedge fund, has actually established a foundation to give 20 $100,000 grants to teenagers who would drop out of school and become not just tech entrepreneurs but world-changing visionaries. College, in his and the minds of many others, is stultifying and outdated - overpriced and mismanaged - with very little value created despite the bump in earnings power that universities use as their raison d'être in our modern world of money.

Fact: College tuition has increased at a rate 6% higher than the general rate of inflation for the past 25 years, making it four times as expensive relative to other goods and services as it was in 1985. Subjective explanation: University administrators have a talent for increasing top line revenues via tuition, but lack the spine necessary to upgrade academic productivity. Professorial tenure and outdated curricula focusing on liberal arts instead of a more practical global agenda focusing on math and science are primary culprits.

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Cuts in the Classroom: What's on the School Chopping Block?

Andrew Rotherham:

The slow pace of America's economic recovery means many states are still hurting financially. As many as 15 states still can't agree on a budget, and that's a problem, because in many states the fiscal year begins next month.

Parents are understandably anxious about what this all means for the upcoming school year. And they should be. An analysis released earlier this month by the National Governors Association and National Association of State Budget Officers found that 16 states are planning cuts for next year, following 18 that made extra cuts midway through last year. And that's before cuts at the local level. So even though fear about the education budget axe never matches the reality, there will be real sacrifices in some states and communities and, overall, spending remains below what it was just a few years ago. (See if the golden age of education spending is over.)

Unfortunately school districts and states are more tight-fisted about sharing information than they are about spending money. And too often budget cuts are based more on what's easiest for the adults in charge of the schools rather than the kids in them. So here are 5 things parents should know -- or ask -- about the spending decisions and how they will impact schools next fall.

Well worth reading.

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Kentucky seeks to replace No Child Left Behind standards


Kentucky is seeking to become the first state in the nation to use its statewide accountability system to determine whether schools are meeting the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind law.

Gov. Steve Beshear sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on Monday, asking for a waiver that would allow Kentucky to replace the current method for determining if schools are making adequate yearly progress under the federal law with a new measuring stick that state officials are still developing.

That would allow Kentucky more control over determining whether schools are making sufficient academic progress each year.

"I believe that federal law should set high expectations for education goals, but grant power and judgment to states and districts with regard to the means of achieving those goals," Beshear said in a statement Monday.

There's a lot at stake for Kentucky schools.

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District rejects community efforts to help Celesta

Laurie Rogers:

[Note from Laurie Rogers: This is part 3 of a series of articles on Celesta, a grade-11 student in Spokane, WA. I interviewed her for a June 4 episode of "Cut to the Chase," a local radio show hosted by Rob Chase for the ACN Network. Part 1 of the series described Celesta as lacking multiple basic skills in mathematics. Part 2 discussed the district's response to my queries about how to help Celesta and her classmates.]

I've been writing about Celesta, a high school student who was carrying a 3.6 GPA, who passed her math tests, got As in her math classes, was placed into honors pre-calculus, and who - like many of her classmates - suddenly found out she was missing multiple critical skills in elementary math. She was struggling to pass her honors math class. She also has few skills in grammar.

I've been trying to figure out a way to help Celesta and her classmates.

The best way to help the students:

Go back in time and teach the students the grammar and the six years of math skills the district refused to give them. I need a time machine to do that, and no one has invented one - not that they've told me, anyway.

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Hispanic, white achievement gap as wide as in 90s

Associated Press:

The achievement gap between Hispanic and white students is the same as it was in the early 1990s, despite two decades of accountability reforms, according to data released by the U.S. Department of Education on Thursday.
Performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress shows the gap narrowed by three points in fourth- and eighth-grade reading since 2003, a reduction researchers said was statistically significant. But the overall difference between them remains more than 20 points, or roughly two grade levels.

"Hispanic students are the largest minority group in our nation's schools. But they face grave educational challenges that are hindering their ability to pursue the American dream," Education Secretary Arne Duncan said.

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Idaho school officials knock new data system

Betsy Russell:

Idaho's new multimillion-dollar student data system is causing giant headaches at school districts around the state and local school officials say it isn't working.

State Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna said he's working to address the concerns, and said some aren't valid. "This is the first year ISEE has been operational," Luna told the Legislature's Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, which is holding its interim meeting this week. "We are the last state in the nation to deploy a statewide longitudinal data system, but we have made progress quickly. This is the most accurate data we have ever had."

Tom Taggart, president-elect of the Idaho Association of School Business Officials and director of business and operations for the Lakeland School District, told the lawmakers, "We want to look forward in what we can do to make this work, without being too negative, but I think part of our message is a dose of reality as to what's going on at the school level. ... We're the nuts and bolts people who are in the business offices in the schools. We like it when things work, and when they don't work we like to find a way to fix them."

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If teaching is such a sweet deal, why isn't everyone doing it?

Tom Breuer:

There's a certain childlike innocence that goes along with the popular modern sport of teacher bashing. I say this because most people get over the idea that teachers are ultra-powerful beings who live unattainable lives of luxury at around the age of 7, when they realize that rumpled, coffee-stained JC Penney office apparel is not haute couture. Many critics of teachers, however, manage to hang on to this silly notion way past the time when their skulls have fully hardened.
Call me a fuzzy-headed liberal, but I just don't see the point in bashing people who help train our future workforce.

Of course, the tired old canard that teachers are remorseless, mustache-twisting budget-drainers has been resurrected in the past few months - first when the governor's budget repair bill touched off mass protests among public employees, and most recently when the Wisconsin Supreme Court removed the final barrier to the bill's enactment.

Some have reacted to teachers' and other public employees' reluctance to lie down and simply accept significant cuts in compensation and the stripping of their collective bargaining rights with everything from derision to rancor.

For example, some local wags took to calling Walkerville - the protest village near the Capitol that was inhabited by disgruntled public employees and their supporters - "Entitledtown."

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June 23, 2011

A Rough But Intriguing Metric for School Assessing a School Principal

Bob Sutton:

Yesterday, I did an interview for the BAM network on Good Boss, Bad Boss.  The content expert on line was Justin Snider, who teaches at Columbia and has in-depth knowledge about K-12 schools, as that was the focus of the conversation.  Justin had great questions and comments about bosses in general (see this recent post) and about school principals in particular.  I thought he made especially good comments about how the best principals are PRESENT, constantly interacting with teachers, students, and parents. He especially suggested that school principals think about where their offices are located.. are they in a place that essentially requires them to keep bumping into teachers and parents, or are they in some corner of campus that reduces the amount of interaction.

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A Retrospective Look: Teachers at Work

Renee Rybak Lang:

Teacher at Work: Improving Teacher Quality Through School Design (October 2009)

There is no question that high-quality teachers have an enormous impact on student achievement. Over the years, schools and districts have looked at a variety of ways to attract better teachers to public schools, especially those serving the poorest students.

"But these reforms are likely to disappoint if nothing is done to fundamentally overhaul the way the work of teachers is organized," Elena Silva argues in Teacher at Work. Better teaching, she says, will in the long run come not only from attracting a strong pool of talent and giving them boosts in pay, but from "changing the nature of the job."

In the report, Silva highlights promising models of school design, such as Generation Schools in New York City, which provides a school model that focuses on the strategic use of people and time, and calls for a new approach to addressing the teacher quality challenge in public education.

Education Sector: What drew you to this issue in the first place?

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Peeking Into Private-School Paranoia

Alexandra Cheney:

At a time when it is harder than ever to secure a kindergarten spot in one of New York City's elite private schools, Delaware transplants Jeffrey and Samantha Jasinski decided to jettison any decorum and lie their 5-year-old daughter, Beatrice, into a top-flight institution. The couple had tried the traditional route, attending open houses and informational interviews, only to be summarily dismissed by more than a half dozen schools. So they hired a consultant and concocted a complex fabrication. Jeffrey, a computer programmer, suddenly became a renowned poet with a forthcoming collection culled from sexually explicit text messages. With that, the Jasinskis were granted a rare interview with the headmistress at Coventry Day School.

At least, that's how it all happened in the mind of filmmaker Josh Shelov, whose new movie, "The Best and the Brightest," takes a satirical look at the lengths to which parents often go to get their children into the city's private schools.

"I was eager to write something deeply uncensored," said the first-time director, who based the story on his own experiences trying to get his son into kindergarten about five years ago. He succeeded.

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Investing? With Kids? That's A Good One

Karen Blumenthal:

Amid the frantic pace of daily family life, it seems almost comical to try to find time to discuss investing with our kids.

Honestly, who really wants to talk about mutual funds in the precious time you have when you're all together?

Yet, many families find a way to share their values about money and investing from generation to generation, whether they're offering tips on being smart shoppers, making the family budget stretch just enough or opening brokerage or savings accounts for youngsters.

In my Getting Going column, in honor of Father's Day, I reflected on the lessons I learned from my father and my grandfather.

They came from very different generations, one influenced by the Great Depression, the other by the growth and prosperity of the 1950s and '60s. One believed in bonds and the other in stocks. Together, they introduced me to the basics of investing--and more importantly, to how to keep the whole process in perspective. While my style is different from either of theirs-( have less tolerance for risk than my dad, but more than my grandfather had-their advice continues to resonate as I plan for my own future.

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Seattle: Why it's Hard to Take Our District Seriously

Melissa Westbrook:

This is our district and how it operates even during hard times.

Update: I attended the joint Mayor/Superintendent event tonight (separate thread to come) but I asked the Mayor two things. One, how many staff at City Hall got a raise since he has been Mayor because the District had and, if he was hearing from powers that be about taking over the school district. (I pointed out that we RIFed teachers, laid off elementary counselors and maintenance workers with a $500M backlog in maintenance.) On the latter, he said no and that he felt that they were still in the collaboration stage with the district and it was working well. On the former he stated that the unionized city workers had been persuaded to NOT take a 2% raise but take the amount of inflation and that NO other city workers (non-unionized) had a raise. (He said he could not himself take a pay cut under City Charter but had given $10k to charities and that his staff was making less than the previous administration.)

The Superintendent jumped in and said that they gave bumps to people who got promotions. I had specifically said in my question to the Mayor that these were not for people with promotions and/or additional job responsibilities and I said that again. She then said that they had found that they hadn't been paying people what they should and gave them raises. You can imagine how that went over in the room.

Paying administrative people what they are worth in a poor economy in a district that says it has no money. It is not the fault of those people to ask for the money but it is wrong for the district to pay them more now. There's no amount of waffling that can change that.

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Verona tutor wins teaching award

Susan Troller:

eading tutor Pam Heyde of Verona has won an "Unsung Hero" award from the International Dyslexia Association for her work helping children to read.

The local reading instructor works outside of school with children who are struggling to learn to read. She was nominated for the national award by Chris Morton, a parent whose son, Will, is one of Heyde's success stories.

I interviewed the Morton family last year as part of an article about an effort to pass legislation requiring schools to identify struggling readers earlier in their school careers and to require teachers to learn more about the different ways children learn to read.

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Colorado Board Of Education Being Sued By Three Civil Liberties Unions

Andrea Rael:

Three civil liberties unions plus some Douglas County parents filed a lawsuit this morning against the authorization of funds by the state treasurer to a lottery program created to subsidize scholarships to private schools--many of which are religious schools.

The national Americans Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and ACLU of Colorado, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State filed the lawsuit in Denver District Court on behalf of plaintiffs who allege that the Douglas County Pilot Voucher Program disrupts the separation between church and state.

The Douglas County school board-approved Pilot Voucher Program is a scholarship lottery for 500 students to attend one of 19 private schools, but 14 of those schools are religious. In charge of implementing the state's first ever voucher program is Dr. Christian Cutter, assistant superintendent for the Douglas County School District.

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Rahm Emanuel defends decision to cancel 4 percent teacher raises

Fran Spielman

Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Thursday defended the decision by his handpicked school board to cancel 4 percent pay raises for Chicago teachers, arguing that teachers have gotten two types of pay raises since 2003 while students got "the shaft."

With a $712 million deficit, Emanuel said the Board of Education could not continue to honor a contract that satisfied everybody's concerns but the only group that really matters: Chicago Public School students.

"Teachers got two types of pay raises. People in public life got labor peace. Can anybody explain to me what the children got? I know what everybody else got," Emanuel said.

"Just a little north of 50 percent of our kids graduate. Our [test] scores haven't moved. Yet, in all that time, not one additional minute of instructional time for the children of Chicago where they can be safe and learning. . . . Our future -- which is what this is about, the mission of education -- our children got the shaft. . . . I will not accept our children continuing to get the shaft."

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June 22, 2011

San Francisco losing kids as parents seek schools, homes

Heather Knight:

For Kearsley Higgins, raising a baby in San Francisco was idyllic. She and her husband owned a small two-bedroom house in the Castro, she found plenty of activities for her daughter, Maya, and made friends through an 11-member mothers' group.

Now as the mother of an almost 4-year-old, with a baby boy due in September, Higgins has left. A year ago, she and her husband, a digital artist, bought a four-bedroom home with a large backyard in San Rafael. Maya easily got into a popular preschool and will be enrolled in a good public elementary school when the time comes.

The other moms in Higgins' group have moved on, too - to the East Bay, the Peninsula, Michigan and Texas. Just one of the 11 still lives in San Francisco.

"Everyone was very committed to the city when we were starting, and then they all left," said Higgins, 36, a stay-at-home mom. "You see tons of strollers in the city and people running around with the little ones, but then the vacuum occurs."

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Tuition at some NYC private schools tops $40,000

Associated Press:

With $40,000 you could buy a new Lexus or a foreclosed house in a depressed community. Or you could pay for a year at one of the city's top private schools.

The Riverdale Country School will charge $40,450 for high school students in the fall, and other schools aren't far behind. The Hewitt School will charge $38,000, and Ethical Culture Fieldston will charge $37,825.

Added costs such as transportation, books and supplies will bring the total annual tab at several schools up to $40,000.

The figures were reported in The Wall Street Journal on Monday.

According to the Washington, D.C.-based National Association of Independent Schools, the median tuition for a high school senior at the association's member schools in New York City was $35,475 in the 2010-11 school year. The comparable national figure was $21,695.

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Worst of Detroit schools to be moved to new system

Corey Williams:

The worst of Detroit's schools will be pulled out of the district--which the nation's top education official calls the "bottom of the barrel"--and placed in a new system that gives principals and staff more control over spending, hiring and improvement efforts, state officials announced Monday.

The overhaul is meant to help address problems in a debt-plagued district where nearly one in five students drops out. While the Detroit Public Schools has had a state-appointed emergency financial manager for two years, the current one said there's only so much that can be done without more radical change.

"The system is broke and I can't fix it, and you can't fix it," Roy Roberts said at a news conference where he and the governor announced the plan.

As many as 45 schools could be moved to the new system in the fall of 2012. Principals will be in charge of hiring teachers, and they and their staffs will handle day-to-day operations.

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Seattle Schools' report card: faltering progress on academic goals

Dick Lilly:

In an unusually blunt assessment, the board says its academic-performance goals, particularly for disadvantaged students, "are not on track to be met."

Each year about this time Seattle School Board members evaluate their only employee, the district's superintendent. With an interim superintendent on the job only a few months, this year had to be a little different.

In fact, you could say the board did the evaluation three months ago when they fired the previous superintendent, Maria Goodloe-Johnson, following revelations that an employee had spent money on contracts for which the district received little or nothing in return.

With Goodloe-Johnson gone and no need to attach accomplishments or failures to the superintendent or go through the agony of determining whether or not she got a raise, the board in a report at its regular meeting last week focused on what the district itself had or had not accomplished. The result was surprising and refreshingly candid language about where the district stands.

Charlie Mas has more.

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Arkansas takes control of Pulaski County schools

Max Brantley:

Arkansas Education Department Director Tom Kimbrell (above) met reporters this afternoon to talk about the state's decision to take over two school districts today -- Helena-West Helena and the Pulaski County Special School District.

Most of the questions from Little Rock reporters were about Pulaski County, the state's second-largest district with more than 17,000 students. In the brief YouTube clip below, Kimbrell responds to my question about whether the reorganization period is seen as a time to talk about reconfiguring the three public school districts in Pulaski County. Many Jacksonville residents have wanted to secede from the doughnut shaped district. Others have talked about combinations with Little Rock and North Little Rock to create, for example, two districts on either side of the Arkansas River. In short, said Kimbrell, yes, it should be discussed.

Other high points:

  • No one factor precipitated the Pulaski takeover. Kimbrell said he certainly gave great weight to wishes of the Legislative Joint Auditing Committee, which recommended the option. But he also referred obliquely to ousted Superintendent Charles Hopson's seeming statements that he didn't intend to be guided by Board wishes in some spending decisions. The "tone at the top" is vital, he said, in answer to a question about why the state decided to both oust Hopson and dissolve the school board.
  • Hopson's contract is now null, Kimbrell said. The state has no obligation to pay him.

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Q & A with Jon Schwartz of Kids Like Blogs

Katherine Vander Ark:

Jon Schwartz is an elementary school teacher and runs the site Kids Like Blogs! He believes that blogs motivate students to write, read, create art, and the use of technology. See the Q & A with Jon and be sure to see the work that his students are producing.


Q: There are many ways to incorporate technology in the classroom. What made you decide to have the children begin to blog?

A: There were several factors. One, I always had my students write a lot, whether I am teaching first or fifth grade. What happens is they end up with a huge amount of work, and I was never satisfied with how it just went in a folder at school, a binder, their desk, or got sent home. I wanted to be able to keep an efficient record of their work that could easily be referenced and shared with others. For example, they may not have written a lot in the previous year, and when their prior teachers want to see how much they have grown, with a blog, you send them a url, rather than sending over a bunch of papers (which they already have stacks of). By either having the students type on a blog, or have them write on paper and then scanning their handwritten work and art and posting it on the blog as a jpeg, you basically have an online gallery and portfolio. This can be shared with the principal who can then look it over quickly and give a quick high five to the kid as they pass in the halls.

One of the biggest advantages is that by creating an online portfolio, you are in effect creating virtual office hours. With class sizes in some cases doubling (I had a 4/5 combo class this year with 39 kids nearly equally split between 4th and 5th grade), you can imagine there is very little opportunity for one on one conferences, the time when you can give input to children on their work.

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At High School in Queens, R.O.T.C.'s Enduring Influence

Michael Winerip:

In 1994, when retired First Sgt. Richard Gogarty arrived at Francis Lewis High School in Queens to start an Army Junior R.O.T.C. program, only two staff members, one of them a custodian, would talk to him. The sergeant sat by himself in the teachers' cafeteria, hoping someone would say something, even if it was just "please pass the salt."

The union representative, Arthur Goldstein, did not want him there. "I said, 'Oh my God, he's going to have kids marching in circles doing stupid stuff,' " recalled Mr. Goldstein, who teaches English to immigrant students and describes himself as "politically to the left."

But Sergeant Gogarty, using his military training, disarmed Mr. Goldstein, volunteering to come in an hour early each day to tutor a Hispanic girl who was failing. "She was completely lost," Mr. Goldstein said. "But something clicked. She started passing tests -- it was Richard reading with her in the morning."

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June 21, 2011

Rotary Club Speech: Madison Preparatory Academy for Young Men: Innovative Solution & First All-Male Public Charter School in Wisconsin

Madison Rotary Club:

Join us next week,
Wednesday, June 22, at the Alliant Energy Center's Exhibition Hall as we welcome fellow Rotarian Kaleem Caire to the podium for a presentation on the features of the Madison Preparatory Academy, its timeline for implementation and a status report on where it is in the school development and approval process.

Attendees will learn why and how the Urban League hopes to lead a renaissance in K-12 education in Greater Madison, tying its charter school effort to local school improvement
initiatives, economic development projects and advancements and innovations in higher education and workforce development in Greater Madison.

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Best American High Schools; Wisconsin: 12 out of 500, None from Dane County


To compile the 2011 list of the top high schools in America, NEWSWEEK reached out to administrators, principals, guidance counselors, and Advanced Placement/International Baccalaureate coordinators at more than 10,000 public high schools across the country. In order to be considered for our list, each school had to complete a survey requesting specific data from the 2009-2010 academic year. In total, more than 1,100 schools were assessed to produce the final list of the top 500 high schools.

We ranked all respondents based on the following self-reported statistics, listed with their corresponding weight in our final calculation:

Four-year, on-time graduation rate (25%): Based on the standards set forth by the National Governors Association, this is calculated by dividing the number of graduates in 2010 by the number of 9th graders 2006 plus transfers in minus transfers out. Unlike other formulas, this does not count students who took longer than four years to complete high school.

Percent of 2010 graduates who enrolled immediately in college (25%): This metric excludes students who did not enroll due to lack of acceptance or gap year.

AP/IB/AICE tests per graduate (25%): This metric is designed to measure the degree to which each school is challenging its students with college-level examinations. It consists of the total number of AP, IB, and AICE tests given in 2010, divided by the number of graduating seniors in order to normalize by school size. AP exams taken by students who also took an IB exam in the same subject area were subtracted from the total.

Average SAT and/or ACT score (10%)

Average AP/IB/AICE exam score (10%)

AP/IB/AICE courses offered per graduate (5%): This metric assesses the depth of college-level curriculum offered.  The number of courses was divided by the number of graduates in order to normalize by school size.

Just 12 Wisconsin high schools made the list, not one from Dane County. It would be interesting to compare per student spending (Madison spends about $14,476 per student) , particularly in light of a significant number of "southern" high schools in the top 50. Much more on United States per student spending, here. Wisconsin State Tax Based K-12 Spending Growth Far Exceeds University Funding.

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Sometimes, the best we can do for kids' education is to get out of the way and let them do it themselves.

Steve Rankin, via email:

Mikko Utevsky, 17, of Madison, decided to form a student-led chamber orchestra, so he did. Their premiere was June 17 on the UW-Madison campus, and here's what Mikko had to say to Jacob Stockinger, a classical music blogger from Madison, at the beginning of a week of intensive rehearsal:

Obviously, these kids did not arrive at their musical talents without adult teaching and guidance. Many of them began in their school bands and orchestras. They continue to study with their own teachers and with adult-run orchestras such as WYSO ( and school-based bands and orchestras. As school funding continues to be in jeopardy, and arts programming is first on the chopping block (the MMSD strings program has been under threat of elimination a number of times and has been cut twice since most of these students began, (,,,, - many more citations available through SIS), the chances for a student-led ensemble such as MAYCO (Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra) to continue to thrive are also in jeopardy.

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Who cares about American history?

Jeff Jacoby

WHEN THE DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION last week released the results of the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress -- "the Nation's Report Card" -- the bottom line was depressingly predictable: Not even a quarter of American students is proficient in US history, and the percentage declines as students grow older. Only 20 percent of 6th graders, 17 percent of 8th graders, and 12 percent of high school seniors demonstrate a solid grasp on their nation's history. In fact, American kids are weaker in history than in any of the other subjects tested by the NAEP -- math, reading, science, writing, civics, geography, and economics.

How weak are they? The test for 4th-graders asked why Abraham Lincoln was an important figure in US history and a majority of the students didn't know. Among 8th-graders, not even one-third could correctly identify an advantage that American patriots had over the British during the Revolutionary War. And when asked which of four countries -- the Soviet Union, Japan, China, and Vietnam -- was North Korea's ally in fighting US troops during the Korean War, nearly 80 percent of 12th-graders selected the wrong answer.

Historically illiterate American kids typically grow up to be historically illiterate American adults. And Americans' ignorance of history is a familiar tale.

When it administered the official US citizenship test to 1,000 Americans earlier this year, Newsweek discovered that 33 percent of respondents didn't know when the Declaration of Independence was adopted, 65 percent couldn't say what happened at the Constitutional Convention, and 80 percent had no idea who was president during World War I. In a survey of 14,000 college students in 2006, more than half couldn't identify the century when the first American colony was founded at Jamestown, the reason NATO was organized, or the document that says, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal." Numerous other surveys and studies confirm the gloomy truth: Americans don't know much about history.

Somewhere in heaven, it must all make Harry Truman weep.

He never attended college and had no formal intellectual credentials, but Truman was an avid, lifelong student of history. As a boy he had devoured Plutarch's Lives and Charles Horne's four-volume Great Men and Famous Women, developing an intimacy with history that would later become one of his greatest strengths. "When Truman talked of presidents past -- Jackson, Polk, Lincoln -- it was as if he had known them personally," the historian David McCullough wrote in his landmark biography of the 33rd president.

Truman may have been exaggerating in 1947 when he told Clark Clifford and other White House aides that he would rather have been a history teacher than president. Yet imagine how different the NAEP history scores would be if more teachers and schools in America today routinely imparted to their students a Trumanesque love and enthusiasm for learning about the past.

Alas, when it comes to history, as Massachusetts educator Will Fitzhugh observes, the American educational system imparts a very different message.

While the most promising high school athletes in this country are publicly acclaimed and profiled in the press and recruited by college coaches and offered lucrative scholarships, there is no comparable lauding of outstanding high school history students. A former public school history teacher, Fitzhugh is the publisher of The Concord Review, a journal he began in 1987 to showcase the writing of just such exceptional student scholars. The review has printed 924 high-caliber research papers by teenagers from 44 states and 39 nations, The New York Times reported in January, winning a few "influential admirers" along the way.

But this celebration of what Fitzhugh calls "Varsity Academics®" amounts to just drops of excellence in the vast sea of mediocrity that is American history education. Another kind of excellence is represented by the National History Club that Fitzhugh launched in 2002 in order to encourage middle and high school students to "read, write, discuss, and enjoy history" outside the classroom. Beginning with a single chapter in Memphis, the club has grown into an independent national organization, with chapters in 43 states and more than 12,000 student members involved in a rich array of history-related activities.

"Our goal," says Robert Nasson, the club's young executive director, "is to create kids who are life-long students of history." He and Fitzhugh have exactly the right idea. But as the latest NAEP results make dismally clear, they are swimming against the tide.

(Jeff Jacoby is a columnist for The Boston Globe).

-- ## --


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

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Is it time to kill the liberal arts degree?

Kim Brooks:

Every year or two, my husband, an academic advisor at a prestigious Midwestern university, gets a call from a student's parent. Mr. or Mrs. So-and-so's son is a sophomore now and still insistent on majoring in film studies, anthropology, Southeast Asian comparative literature or, god forbid ... English. These dalliances in the humanities were fine and good when little Johnny was a freshman, but isn't it time now that he wake up and start thinking seriously about what, one or two or three years down the line, he's actually going to do?

My husband, loyal first and foremost to his students' intellectual development, and also an unwavering believer in the inherent value of a liberal arts education, tells me about these conversations with an air of indignation. He wonders, "Aren't these parents aware of what they signed their kid up for when they decided to let him come get a liberal arts degree instead of going to welding school?" Also, he says, "The most aimless students are often the last ones you want to force into a career path. I do sort of hate to enable this prolonged adolescence, but I also don't want to aid and abet the miseries of years lost to a misguided professional choice."

Now, I love my husband. Lately, however, I find myself wincing when he recounts these stories.

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School Spotlight: Oregon Middle School greenhouse will supply students with veggies

Pamela Cotant:

The locally grown movement has reached Oregon Middle School where vegetables grown over the summer in its new hoop-style greenhouse will be served to students when classes resume.

"We wanted to get some things cranked up so in the fall we can pull off our first salad in the cafeteria," said Nate Mahr, eighth-grade science teacher.

Tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, watermelon and pumpkins have been started. Salad greens will be grown right when students come back and raspberries also will be planted in the fall.

"(We're) trying to have some of the food locally produced," said Darren Hartberg, eighth grade health teacher. "That's what will be happening under this piece of plastic."

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Stay-at-home fathers are getting much-needed companionship through Hong Kong Dads

Ben Sin:

It's midday, mid-week in Mid-Levels and a group of middle-aged men are enjoying a few beers together. This part of the day is down time for Rob Daniel, Donald Knapp, Edo Fuijkschot and Chris Lee because they aren't employed in traditional jobs.

All are stay-at-home dads, full-time fathers, house husbands, Mr Moms or whatever label society has given them. They are meeting when their children are either at school or with the family helper, and their wives have yet to leave work.

The number of men who have quit or scaled back their jobs to take on homemaking duties traditionally ascribed to women forms a miniscule demographic. But their numbers are edging up - at least in the West. According to the United States Census, there were an estimated 160,000 full-time fathers in 2007. That only accounts for about 3 per cent of all stay-at-home parents. Nonetheless, it is triple the 1997 figure. In Britain, a Guardian report estimates there are 250,000 stay-at-home fathers.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:19 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Let's hear it for plain speakers

Harry Eyres:

I think you'll know what I mean by the "higher guff" - the kind of sonorous and empty talk which often issues from the mouths of heads of state and princes. I heard a classic example recently at a British media awards ceremony from the admirable Prince Felipe of Spain. He was being courteous and diplomatic, praising the links and similarities "between our two great countries", once imperial powers and once sworn enemies. "We have so much in common," he enthused; an ironic commentary came from my neighbour, a photographer with a wicked wit: "Yes," said Michael, "we're both in deep shit." The prince can't have heard this, because he went on: "Indeed, so many of your citizens decide to move to Spain."

"Yep," was the uncharitable response from Michael: "All the criminals."

The rule is that the higher the language soars, unless you're careful, the more it leaves itself open to attack from below. Shakespeare was the dramatist who knew this best, especially in the excruciating scene from Troilus and Cressida where Thersites provides a scabrous commentary on the seduction of Cressida by Diomedes. "Lechery, lechery, still wars and lechery" is his conclusion: the pretensions of the Trojan war reduced to an itch and a scratch.

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Equilibration in progress

Steve Hsu:

The US salary figure for MBAs from "leading schools" seems too low to me. Is this apples to apples? Still, it's incredible what people are earning in China and India. One private equity guy I know told me they are hiring top talent in Beijing/Shanghai for USD $100k+ these days.

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NCLB Reauthorization, Waivers, and the Third Variable Problem

Charles Barone:

>Most of the inside-the-beltway chatter this week was around Secretary Arne Duncan's announcement on Monday, via Politico, that if A.: Congress did not act soon to reauthorize the No Child Left Behind Act, he would B.: proceed to "develop a plan that trades regulatory flexibility for reform." I can't confirm this, but the rumor is that the plan arrived at OMB last night, and will be finalized in August. At any rate, it doesn't seem like they're playing games on this one. All signs suggest that they plan to follow through.

We ran down our concerns when we got a whiff of this back in December (here).  Long story short, we don't like the process and see serious pitfalls ahead on the substance. We recommend you also take a look at takes this week by reform veterans like Margaret Spellings (the first two Vinnie Barbarino paragraphs alone tell you most of what you need to know), Andy Rotherham, and Jeanne Allen

I know that the current Secretary sincerely thinks states and school districts need relief. And I would agree that in some instances, some flexibility that allows states to revise their current plans makes sense. But the lack of action on the Hill is not why a waiver process is so urgent per se. In fact, both the turbulence around reauthorization and, now, the waiver process, stem from an underlying third variable: the temporary lapse in strong leadership on the part of those who know, can do, and have done, better.

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After Home Schooling, Pomp and Traditional Circumstances

Tamar Lewin:

The 26 young men and women, seated in alphabetical order, were nearly silent as they waited for their high school graduation to start. No giggles. No buzz. No camaraderie. And no wonder: they had met just once before, at the rehearsal two weeks earlier where they got their caps and gowns.

They had come on this muggy June evening to the Miami Zoo, past the flamingos and the tiger, for an hourlong ceremony that Gloria Rodriguez, the organizer, proudly called "the very first South Florida home-school graduation ever created."

Ms. Rodriguez's "home-school class of 2011" had no prom, no yearbook, no valedictorian. Still, for these students who had sidestepped a traditional education -- and especially for their parents -- there was "Pomp and Circumstance" and shiny turquoise tassels to shift from one side of a cap to the other.

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CDC: 1 in 4 high schoolers drink soda every day

Mike Stobbe:

A new study shows one in four high school students drink soda every day -- a sign fewer teens are downing the sugary drinks.

The study also found teens drink water, milk and fruit juices most often - a pleasant surprise, because researchers weren't certain that was the case.

"We were very pleased to see that," said the study's lead author, Nancy Bener of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Still, a quarter have at least one soda each day. And when other sugary drinks like Gatorade are also counted, the figure is closer to two-thirds of high school students drinking a sweetened beverage every day.

That's less than in the past. In the 1990s and early 2000s, more than three-quarters of teens were having a sugary drink each day, according to earlier research.

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Michigan Governor Rick Snyder to announce sweeping Detroit Public Schools reforms Monday

David Jesse:

Gov. Rick Snyder will create a new authority to run several failing Detroit Public Schools as part of a sweeping reform package to be announced Monday for the struggling district, sources said.

The plan would restructure the failing school district, which has a $327 million budget deficit, by moving underperforming DPS schools under a new authority to be run by current DPS Emergency Financial Manager Roy Roberts, according to sources.

Roberts would have the authority to make new work rules at those schools, a process sources familiar with the discussions said could take a year. A law passed this year gives emergency managers new powers to control academic and financial matters and to cancel or modify union contracts.

More from DFER, here.

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June 20, 2011

How Illinois education reform passed

Kerry Lester:

Running for re-election in a tight race last fall, state Rep. Keith Farnham received a sizable chunk of his campaign cash -- $50,000 of $462,000 -- from Stand for Children, an Oregon-based education group seeking sweeping reforms in Illinois.

Shortly after the November election, the group was moving to get changes in place, fast -- among them, tougher tenure requirements, limiting teachers' ability to strike, and lengthening the school day in Chicago.

Stand for Children had, after all, successfully worked to overhaul school policies in other states around the country.

But Illinois was not Colorado or Wisconsin, where the power structure made it easier to push laws that weakened union rights. No, Illinois had a Democratic-controlled, union-backed legislature and governor's office.

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Quick fixes don't work; Phileadelphia schools need new leaders

Helen Gym:

A decade ago, Philadelphia families were told that a state takeover was necessary to fix a failing, bankrupt school system. As we face the third school financial crisis since then, we have to ask whether this experiment has finally run its course.

Back then, privatization and education-management organizations were promoted as the saviors of failing schools, even though they had limited success elsewhere. After investing hundreds of millions of dollars, there has been little measurable benefit.

Today we chase after other quick fixes - Renaissance Schools and Promise Academies. There is also a strong push in Harrisburg for vouchers.

Yet, what good are these "fixes" when high school science programs face the layoffs of 42 chemistry, biology, and physics teachers? The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers reports pink slips going to 115 English teachers, 121 math teachers, 66 social studies teachers, and 323 special education teachers. We should think about the effect of losing 50 art teachers across the district.

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Flaws in my college-for-all fix

Jay Matthews:

I find myself more and more interested in the growing debate over how much and what to teach high school students. I support the side that thinks all students should be given skills that will make them ready for college because the same abilities---to write, read, do math and manage their time--are necessary if they want good jobs or trade school slots after high school.

On the other side are those who think college prep for all is a failed experiment. They say it alienates too many students and must be replaced by vocational programs that get to the heart of what employers want without killing student interest with required essays on the Romance poets and the Federalist papers. A recent report by the Harvard Graduate School of Education, which I trashed here, is the best and most complete recent example of this argument.

I hadn't encountered any promising efforts to bring the two sides together until I saw a commentary, "Untangling the Postsecondary Debate," by Mike Rose, professor of social research methodology at UCLA, in the latest Education Week "Diplomas Count" report. He is critical of both sides, but helped me most in understanding where my arguments are weak.

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Administrators who want to push harder

Jay Matthews:

We have been discussing the issue of tracking in high school, particularly the standard system of regular (or general), honors (or advanced) and Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate courses. Parents in Fairfax County are resisting the school district's elimination of honors courses, leaving only a choice between regular or AP classes. I suggested the district get rid of the regular and leave only honors and AP, because research shows that the college skills taught in honors classes are also important for students who want to get a good job or go to trade school right out of high school.

This generated much comment from around the country, including the two responses below from high school administrators who share the belief that they are not giving all of their students the enriched education they need. I think they provide a useful perspective from inside schools. What do you think of what they are saying?

Mike Musick is the principal of Conifer High School in Conifer, Colo. About nine percent of its students are low-income, and its AP test participation rate is high enough to rank well on my annual Challenge Index list. Amy Fineburg, an assistant principal, asked that I identify her high school only as a high-achieving one in Alabama. But I can say that its demographic and academic characteristics are similar to Conifer High's.

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Bilingual education called best of both worlds

Michelle Mitchell

"¿Qué es esto?" Martha Arriola asks her kindergarten class, holding a picture of a bed.

"Cama!" the students respond in unison. "Cah ... ahh ... mmm ... ahh," they sound out each letter.

Arriola picks one student to find the letters that make those sounds from a group of cards and place them in the right order to spell the word.

Later, she turns an invisible switch on her head. "Click, click click, English time," she said as the students mimic the gesture.

They repeat the same exercise in English -- this time with "bed."

The class at Coral Mountain Academy is one of about 12 bilingual classes in kindergarten through fourth grade at the Coachella school.

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Washington, D.C. schools aim for selectivity by requiring teaching candidates to give tryou

The Washington Post:

Her 30-minute turn at Jefferson Middle -- an actual class at the Southwest D.C. school -- will be reviewed by school officials, who will use the 360-degree camera to gauge not only her performance but how students responded.

If they like what they see, they will upload the video with the rest of her application to an online portal principals can access to view job candidates. The District, which employs about 4,000 teachers, expects to hire 600 to 800 for the coming academic year. That number reflects the usual turnover along with vacancies expected to emerge in the summer with the dismissal of instructors who receive poor evaluations.

Sowers received 48-hours' notice for what she was expected to cover in the taped lesson. But she entered the room knowing nothing about her students or their relative abilities. That meant showtime came with some surprises.

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Hardship puts formidable hurdles on the path to scholastic achievement

Alan Borsuk:

"It's one thing to talk about these issues on high," says Howard Fuller, who has done that often as one of the nation's most eloquent and best known education activists.

"But when you get over here on 33rd and Brown . . . " His sentence trails off. That's where CEO Leadership Academy is located, and that's where Fuller has come face to face with how tough it is to achieve high results among exactly the students he most wants to help.

Howard Fuller: Former Milwaukee Public Schools superintendent. Leading advocate for Milwaukee's private school voucher program. Local and national leader in charter school issues.

Howard Fuller: Hands-on chair of the board of a small high school where test scores for 10th-graders last fall were awful and where the record of success has been plainly disappointing.

A couple years ago, Fuller told me that, as much as he thought he knew about how hard it is to achieve educational success in a high-poverty, urban setting, he didn't know how hard it really was until he got involved at CEO.

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

Sun Prairie Schools: What The District Would Rather You Not Know


What's the projected tax levy?
What they want you to focus on is the % increase over last year...and that is 3.48%.

Yeah?...but what is the actual levy amount?

OK, since they won't, let's do the math for you.

It starts with last year's tax levy, which was $45,503,637. Therefore, if the district's draft budget represents a 3.5% increase, then the plan is to levy $47,087,164 this year.

The increase in levy is this $1.6M, with $650K of that going to debt and $950K additional for the General Fund.

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June 19, 2011

Colleges should stop imitating Harvard

Clay Christensen:

(CNN) -- Is college an invaluable waste of time? You bet. But it's about to get even more valuable.

It's great to see capable people debating the value of higher education. Earlier this month, Dale Stephens, a 19-year-old entrepreneur who has won a $100,000 Thiel Fellowship, wrote that "College is a waste of time." One can argue that Dale is too young -- and too extraordinarily intelligent -- to be a good judge of the value of college to the average person. But if students like Dale, the kind that the best schools want to attract, are dissatisfied, that can't be good. Anyhow, Dale's description of college as a place of conformity, competition and regurgitation strikes an uneasy chord with some of us older, more-ordinary folk.

Two more smart people responded to Dale's argument. One of them, Brian Forde, is a successful entrepreneur who went back to school for an MBA degree because he found gaps in the knowledge he needed to lead his company. Brian described his higher education as "invaluable." Joseph Aoun, whose Northeastern University runs one of the best cooperative education programs anywhere, argued that "College is your best bet." He shared sobering data on the price of not having a college degree in difficult economic times such as these.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 4:32 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Sex selection and the shortage of women: is science to blame?

Richard Dawkins:

In nature, the balance of males and females is maintained by natural selection acting on parents. As Sir Ronald Fisher brilliantly pointed out in 1930, a surplus of one sex will be redressed by selection in favour of rearing the other sex, up to the point where it is no longer the minority. It isn't quite as simple as that. You have to take into account the relative economic costs of rearing one sex rather than the other. If, say, it costs twice as much to rear a son to maturity as a daughter (e.g. because males are bigger than females), the true choice facing a parent is not "Shall I rear a son or a daughter?" but "Shall I rear a son or two daughters?"

So, Fisher concluded, what is equlibrated by natural selection is not the total numbers of sons and daughters born in the population, but the total parental expenditure on sons versus daughters. In practice, this usually amounts to an approximately equal ratio of males to females in the population at the end of the period of parental expenditure.

Note that the word 'decision' doesn't mean conscious decision: we employ the usual 'selfish gene' metaphorical reasoning, in which natural selection favours genes that produce behaviour 'as if' decisions are being made.

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College-Readiness Low Among New York State Graduates, Data Show

Sharon Otterman:

Heightening concerns about the value of many of its high school diplomas, the New York State Education Department released new data on Tuesday showing that only 37 percent of students who entered high school in 2006 left four years later adequately prepared for college, with even smaller percentages of minority graduates and those in the largest cities meeting that standard.

In New York City, 21 percent of the students who started high school in 2006 graduated last year with high enough scores on state math and English tests to be deemed ready for higher education or well-paying careers. In Rochester, it was 6 percent; in Yonkers, 14.5 percent.

The new calculations, part of a statewide push to realign standards with college readiness, also underscored a racial achievement gap: 13 percent of black students and 15 percent of Hispanic students statewide were deemed college-ready after four years of high school, compared with 51 percent of white graduates and 56 percent of Asian-Americans.

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

The Department of Education, Yale, And the New Threat to Free Speech on Campus

Greg Lukianoff:

Yale University's decision last month to punish a fraternity that made pledges chant offensive slogans was heralded by some as a blow against sexual harassment in the college setting. But it may be the beginning of a new wave of campus censorship of politically incorrect speech. The reason lies in the relationship between the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR), which is in charge of enforcing federal antidiscrimination laws on campus, and the ever-growing ranks of campus bureaucracy.

On April 4, 2011, OCR issued a 19-page letter laying out detailed procedures every university in the country must follow in cases involving claims of sexual harassment or sexual assault. A college that fails to follow these guidelines risks an OCR investigation and the loss of federal funding, a devastating blow for many schools. In the case of Yale, for example, OCR has the power to withhold half a billion dollars in federal funds.

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

New Jersey's Teacher Union Climate

New Jersey Left Behind:

The big news today is that the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee in a 9-4 vote released legislation that would increase public employee contributions to health care premiums from 1.5% to between 3.5%-35% of the premium. Higher-paid employees would contribute more and lower-paid employees would contribute less. Pension contributions would also go up by a percentage point or two, and the increases would be phased in over a few years.

The bill now goes to the Assembly Budget Committee on Monday, and then to the full Senate on Thursday.

It's unclear whether Assemblywoman Sheila Oliver's proposal to have the legislation sunset after four years is still a go.

Amidst the Senate deliberations yesterday, public worker unions, including NJEA, held a smaller-than-expected rally; the subsequent news reports and editorials in today's papers largely express astonishment at the loss of power of collective bargaining units. Here's a sampling:

Vince Giordano, NJEA Executive Director, sounded both bewildered and threatening in NJ Spotlight:

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

Reinforcing Privilege

The Atlantic

This video has been all over New York-based internet sites in the past few days. But I don't think it has yet been on any of the Atlantic's sites, and it is worth another look for "the way we live now" purposes.

It shows a young woman passenger chewing out a train conductor who has asked her to stop talking so loudly on the phone and swearing. OK, I've sometimes gotten exasperated with officialdom, and I am glad that no one had a camera running when I did. But the approach the passenger takes is significant, and stunning.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:08 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Chicago Teachers Union Confronts Some Crucial Decisions

Rebecca Vevea:

The newly seated Chicago Board of Education may have won the first battle with Chicago teachers this week when it rescinded a 4 percent pay raise, but it may also have ended a relatively peaceful era in labor relations and created a more pugnacious adversary.

The Chicago Teachers Union has absorbed a number of recent setbacks. On Monday, a sweeping education bill that reformed teacher tenure and limited teachers' ability to strike was signed into law. And on Wednesday, the board unanimously nullified raises that would have cost nearly $100 million.

Some teachers and observers say that backing the union into a corner on wages and other key issues could be the spark to reinvigorate the membership.

"If you act in a confrontational way, you're poking your finger in the eye of those teachers, and very typically you generate unintended negative consequences," said Robert Bruno, director of the labor education program at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

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Seattle School Board Challenger Flags Incumbents' Past Donors

Josh Feit:

School Board challenger Kate Martin, who’s running against District 2 incumbent Sherry Carr (Carr represents north central Seattle around Green Lake), has been one of the most passionate speakers at the candidate forums the past two nights. At both the 43 District on Tuesday night and at the 36th District last night, she lamented that only four of her son’s friends were graduating, while the rest, more than 40 kids, had dropped out.

And though Martin hasn’t gotten any district Democrats’ endorsements, she has prevented Carr from getting the nod. Last night, she had back up from local celebrity Cliff Mass, the recently ousted KUOW weatherman.

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June 18, 2011

Knowing How to Know

Students in schools of education pay a lot of attention to the problems of learning how to learn, lifelong leaning, and the like. In the absence of much knowledge of history, economics, physics, literature, foreign languages, chemistry, calculus and so on, this can degenerate into what Professor E.D. Hirsch, Jr., calls "How-to-ism," an absorption in "pedagogy" without any secure foundation in academic knowledge.

It is also the case that most graduates of our schools of education are shocked by the day-to-day problems of managing youngsters with Twitter, popular music, sports, popularity, and Grand Theft Auto on their minds. But it should be noted that it is very hard to get students interested in academic work, for instance history, if the teacher doesn't know any history herself. This problem causes some number of coaches who teach Social Studies to shy away from the Renaissance in favor of current events, which may seem more approachable both to them and their students. How 'bout those Bruins!

In the meantime, even American students who are Seniors in high school show a pitiful ignorance of the most basic knowledge of the history of their own country, as revealed in the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress report released this month.

In The Knowledge Deficit, E.D. Hirsch, Jr., tried to get across the point that teaching learning skills, for example, which pedagogy graduates are supposed to be good at, does little or nothing for helping students acquire knowledge. He argues that the only way to increase knowledge is to build on a stronger and stronger base of knowledge, not by wasting time on the dubious techniques of "Learning How to Learn."

I am convinced that one of the reasons even some students who do not require remediation in reading and writing when they get to college still fail to gain a degree after six or eight years, in part go under academically because they do not bring enough knowledge to help them understand what the professor is talking about. Their ignorance makes them feel lost. Some become determined to find the knowledge they have not been given in high school, but too many quit instead.

To be more fair to the education schools, even Harvard has had great difficulty in committing its faculty to teach certain basic areas of knowledge. The faculty tried to avoid arguing over what needed to be taught, so they fell back on allowing each department to teach "the skills" of its discipline, which they believed could be taught with any subject matter (such as that which the professor's research happened to focus on at the moment).

The problem, as pointed out in an article by Caleb Nelson in The Atlantic called "Harvard's Hollow Core," is that "One cannot think like a physicist, for example, without actually knowing a great deal of physics." Similarly, it is quite hard to think like a historian if you don't know any history.

So the whole "Learning How to Learn" paradigm collapses of its own emptiness and leads to academic failure for many students who have been offered rubrics, techniques and skills as a substitute for the academic knowledge they would need to survive in college.

The Common Core is offering national goals for knowledge. Others have critiqued their weakness in math, but I would suggest that their goals for reading in history are scarcely challenging for eight graders. Reading The Declaration of Independence and A Letter from the Birmingham Jail is not a waste of time, but for high school students, why not offer Mornings on Horseback, Washington's Crossing, Battle Cry of Freedom and The Path Between the Seas? In other words, actual history books? I cannot find out when it was decided (or by whom) that American high school students can manage European history, calculus, Latin, chemistry and so on, but cannot be expected to read through even one complete history book? How did our expectations for nonfiction reading (and gathering knowledge thereby) get so dramatically dumbed down? Of course STEM is very important, but even engineers and scientists need to read and write.

To demonstrate how far we have slid down the slope of expectations since Thomas Jefferson's day, here is an example from The Knowledge Deficit (p. 9):

"In our pre-romantic days, books were seen as key to education. In a 1786 letter to his nephew, aged fifteen, Jefferson recommended that he read books (in the original languages and in this order) by the following authors: [history] Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon, Anabasis, Arian, Quintus Curtius, Diodorus Siculus, and Justin. On morality, Jefferson recommended books by Epictetus, Plato, Cicero, Antoninus, Seneca, and Xenophon's Memorabilia, and in poetry Virgil, Terence, Horace, Anacreon, Theocritus, Homer, Euripides, Sophocles, Milton, Shakespeare, Ossian, Pope and Swift."
Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review
17 June 2011

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State budget will force most Wisconsin school districts to cut property taxes

Jason Stein and Karen Herzog:

The state budget bill now in Gov. Scott Walker's hands would leave schools with roughly $900 million less in state aid and property tax authority over the next two years, state figures show.

Going beyond simple cuts in state aid to schools, the budget bill would also end up requiring many districts - perhaps two-thirds of them statewide - to cut their property tax levies, according to one analysis by a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor.

Now that the 2011-'13 budget bill stands on the verge of becoming law and the protests have died down, schools - and taxpayers - can start to digest the changes in store for them. Those range from new savings on teachers' benefits to expansions of private school voucher programs in Milwaukee and Racine.

"We're really entering a new phase in school funding," said Dan Rossmiller, lobbyist for the Wisconsin Association of School Boards. "It suggests huge challenges."

The cuts to schools are the single biggest item in the Republican budget toward closing a two-year, $3 billion budget deficit without relying on tax increases. The controversy about the cuts is likely to continue, with at least one district saying it's considering a lawsuit.

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

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Certain Antibiotics Spur Widening Reports of Severe Side Effects

PBS NewsHour:

JUDY WOODRUFF: Next, a Health Unit report about a medical mystery, and the questions it's raising about the drug-monitoring system. It involves a class of antibiotic drugs that some people say are making them very ill.

Health correspondent Betty Ann Bowser has the story.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Just a few years ago, Jenne Wilcox was a happily married healthy first-grade teacher in Oroville, Calif., helping husband Rob raise his son Cole from a previous marriage.

But all that changed suddenly after she took a prescription drug called Levaquin to prevent infection following routine sinus surgery. Wilcox developed severe pain in her joints and muscles, and even when she stopped taking the medication, the symptoms grew worse, until she could no longer walk.

JENNE WILCOX, patient: I couldn't even hold my head up. And I was bedridden for over a year. And when I say that, I mean, I couldn't even get myself out of bed to get into my wheelchair to go use the restroom. I had to be picked up out of bed.

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June 17, 2011

Judge Jolts Little Rock Ruling Cuts Money Meant to Desegregate Schools in City at Center of 1957 Fight

Leslie Eaton:

A federal judge has halted longtime state payments intended to help integrate three Arkansas school districts, including Little Rock, site of one of the most bitter desegregation fights in U.S. history.

U.S. District Court Judge Brian S. Miller, who oversees the districts' federally ordered desegregation efforts, found the payments were "proving to be an impediment to true desegregation" by rewarding school systems that don't meet their long-standing commitments.

Judge Miller's recent rulings triggered protests by the school districts. But some lawmakers and state officials hailed the decision to shut off the payments, which totaled roughly $1 billion over the past two decades.

Lawyers for Little Rock and the other districts said the loss of as much as $70 million for the year that begins in August would cause budgetary chaos. The state payments amount to about 10% of the Little Rock budget and about 9% for each of the other two districts. The parties have until Friday to seek a stay of the order.

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Wisconsin Regents approve B.A.A.S. and mission change

University of Wisconsin System & UW Extension:

The UW System Board of Regents has approved the request by UW Colleges to implement a bachelor of applied arts and sciences (B.A.A.S.) degree that will serve place-bound adults in six Wisconsin communities. The Regents also approved a mission change for UW Colleges related to the B.A.A.S. degree.

The degree still requires accreditation by the Higher Learning Commission, curriculum development by UW Colleges faculty, policy development by the UW Colleges Senate and other administrative requirements.

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Saving the NJEA from Itself

Laura Waters:

What's wrong with this picture?

Last week Democratic heavyweight George Norcross got up on a stage with Gov. Chris Christie to announce that not only does he support the Opportunity Scholarship Act (the voucher bill) but also he's opening charter schools Camden.

To add to the cognitive dissonance, the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) joined forces with the nepotistic Elizabeth school board to campaign against Sen. Ray Lesniak (D-Union), the former chair of the NJ Democratic party -- and the chief sponsor of the school voucher bill.

To muddy matters further, Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-Essex), a steadfast ally of the teachers union, looks likely to overcome her initial opposition to a health and pension benefits reform bill -- despite protestations from NJEA leaders. The legislation would require public employees, including teachers, to contribute substantially more than the current 1.5 percent of base pay toward pension and healthcare premiums. (The Assembly Budget Committee just announced it will hear the bill on Monday.)

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Mayor Bloomberg Calls for Immediate Immigration Reform

Mike Bloomberg

Mayor Bloomberg today highlighted the essential role of immigrants in America's economic growth and addressed the urgent need for Washington to put aside partisan politics and immediately pass immigration reforms needed to create jobs and fuel economic growth in a keynote speech to the Council on Foreign Relations "The Future of U.S. Immigration Policy" symposium.

View video of Mayor Bloomberg's remarks here.

The Mayor proposed green cards for graduates with advanced degrees in essential fields; a new visa for entrepreneurs with investors ready to invest capital in their job-creating idea; more temporary and permanent visas for highly skilled workers; guest-worker programs to ensure agriculture and other key sectors can thrive; and a revaluation of visa priorities that places a focus on the nation's economic needs.

In his remarks, the Mayor also announced the results of a study conducted by the Partnership for a New American Economy - a bipartisan group of business leaders and mayors from across the country - that found more than 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or the children of immigrants and those companies employ more than 10 million people worldwide and have combined revenues of $4.2 trillion. The full report is available at

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L.A. Becomes First Big School District To Ban Chocolate Milk

Aprl Fulton:

In the battle for nutrition bragging rights, Los Angeles has beat New York -- at least when it comes to scratching chocolate milk and other less-healthful items from the school lunch menu.

Yesterday, the Los Angeles Unified School District voted 5-2 on a new dairy contract to remove flavored milk from school menus, the Los Angeles Times reports. The district also banned sodas and chicken nuggets recently in its battle against childhood obesity. "By the fall the district will be a national leader," Matthew Sharp, with California Food Policy Advocates, tells the Times.

But the question is, will kids reach for the plain stuff?

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:51 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Kids, Get High Off Drugs, Not Debt. It's More Fun And People Are Nicer To You When It's Time To Recover.

Elie Mystal:

Let's say that instead of taking on huge debts while I was in law school, I had taken up a wicked cocaine habit. Let's say I had done loads and loads of blow from 2000 to 2007 and then went into a 12-step program. If I had been lucky enough to avoid an overdose or jail, you could argue that things would be better for me right now -- even if I had a really serious cocaine problem where I spent my all my disposable income on the drug, and even if I put a good job and a good marriage straight up my nose. If I had been through all that and then wrote an essay about the highs and the lows of doing cocaine throughout my legal career, if I was telling kids that they could overcome a wicked cocaine habit even though the consequences were severe, if I was truthfully telling people that even though I'm trying to stay clean and sober now I'm not "ashamed" of my past life, I'd have nearly everybody in my corner.

Instead, I didn't have a cocaine habit in law school and beyond. I defaulted on my student debts.

Really, the smart thing to do would have been to default on all my loans, then blame it on the cocaine that I was "powerless" to stop. But instead of playing the victim, I marshaled what autonomous power I had and chose not to pay back my loans in a timely manner. I decided to go down on my own terms, not the terms set out for me in a promissory note.

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In Homework Revolt, School Districts Cut Back

Winnie Hu:

After Donna Cushlanis's son, who was in second grade, kept bursting into tears midway through his math problems, which one night took over an hour, she told him not to do all of his homework.

"How many times do you have to add seven plus two?" Ms. Cushlanis, 46, said. "I have no problem with doing homework, but that put us both over the edge. I got to the point that this is enough."

Ms. Cushlanis, a secretary for the Galloway school district, complained to her boss, Annette C. Giaquinto, the superintendent. It turned out that the district, which serves 3,500 kindergarten through eighth-grade students, was already re-evaluating its homework practices. The school board will vote this summer on a proposal to limit weeknight homework to 10 minutes for each year of school -- 20 minutes for second graders, and so forth -- and ban assignments on weekends, holidays and school vacations.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:48 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Learning from California: Improving Efficiency of Classroom Time and Instruction

Center on Reinventing Public Education via a Deb Britt email:

John Danner, CEO and Founder of Rocketship Education, presented the Rocketship charter elementary school model and argued that hybrid schools are better for both students and teachers. Rocketship Education currently operates two open enrollment schools and serves a primarily low-income student population. The organization, which aims to have clusters in 50 cities over the next 15 years, works to eliminate the achievement gap by ensuring its low-income students are proficient and college-bound when they graduate from elementary school.

Shantanu Sinha, President and COO of the Khan Academy, described how their online academy began when the founder created math instruction videos to tutor his cousins. In just seven months, the Khan Academy has grown to serve over 2 million unique users per month with close to 60 million lessons delivered. With a mission "to deliver a world-class education to anyone anywhere," the Academy is utilized mainly by students at home as a supplement to their regular school instruction. Increasingly, though, Khan lessons are used in public schools to provide self-paced exercises and assessments to students, so as to avoid gaps in learning.

Presentations and ensuing discussion with local leaders pointed to two core components of innovative education that Washington State can learn from: efficient use of teacher time and skill as well as individualized instruction. Each builds on the lessons which Joel Rose, founder of School of One, emphasized at the launch of the Washington Education Innovation Forum.

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High-stakes school war

Joe Williams:

As he won control of the city's public schools nine years ago this week, Mayor Bloomberg boldly promised: "We will not have to tolerate an incapable bureaucracy which does not respond to the needs of the students."

Sadly, New York City isn't even close to achieving that bold vision: We learned this week that only one in three city high-school graduates is prepared for college-level work.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg's promise is being put to the test like never before.

As the school year winds down, City Hall and the United Federation of Teachers have ratcheted up an intense game of chicken over the future direction of the city's school system. What schools will look like come the fall is anyone's guess.

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

Why We're Going Back to Single-Sex Dorms

John Garvey:

My wife and I have sent five children to college and our youngest just graduated. Like many parents, we encouraged them to study hard and spend time in a country where people don't speak English. Like all parents, we worried about the kind of people they would grow up to be.

We may have been a little unusual in thinking it was the college's responsibility to worry about that too. But I believe that intellect and virtue are connected. They influence one another. Some say the intellect is primary. If we know what is good, we will pursue it. Aristotle suggests in the "Nicomachean Ethics" that the influence runs the other way. He says that if you want to listen intelligently to lectures on ethics you "must have been brought up in good habits." The goals we set for ourselves are brought into focus by our moral vision.

"Virtue," Aristotle concludes, "makes us aim at the right mark, and practical wisdom makes us take the right means." If he is right, then colleges and universities should concern themselves with virtue as well as intellect.

I want to mention two places where schools might direct that concern, and a slightly old-fashioned remedy that will improve the practice of virtue. The two most serious ethical challenges college students face are binge drinking and the culture of hooking up.

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

Educators wary of new online education law

Lisa Schencker:

Some education leaders worry a new law intended to give students more opportunities to take online classes will be difficult to implement, might limit students' educations and could hurt some schools in the long run.

Educators expressed their concerns to lawmakers at an Education Interim Committee meeting Wednesday. The law would allow Utah students, starting in the fall, to take up to two courses online instead of at their regular schools. And whoever provides that online course -- either another school district or a charter school -- would get part of the money that would normally go to the student's home school district or charter.

The state school board will hold a special meeting on June 27 to pass an emergency rule outlining how the program should work. But state education leaders told lawmakers Wednesday that while they support online education, certain aspects of the law might be troublesome.

According to the law, online classes would take the place of regular school day classes. Students, however, wouldn't have to take the online classes during the day, meaning they could potentially have nothing to do at school for up to two periods a day.

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

Obama May Ease No Child Left Behind Mandates to Avoid School 'Train Wreck'

John Hechinger:

President Barack Obama's administration said it would offer states relief from the nation's main public-education law if Congress fails to enact changes by the start of the school year.

States may avoid requirements of the No Child Left Behind law that, for example, more students pass standardized tests each year if they agree to administration-backed "reforms," U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said June 10 in a press briefing. The Education Department has pushed states to adopt national academic standards and merit pay for teachers. The law ties U.S. funding to test results.

Democratic Senator Tom Harkin and Republican Representative John Kline are among the members of Congress who have criticized the law's focus on holding schools accountable only through testing proficiency. Almost four years ago, Congress released a draft bill to revamp the law, and in March 2010, the Obama administration issued a blueprint for change. No legislation has been formally introduced, giving Congress less than three months to meet the administration's deadline.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:15 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Avoiding the "Every School Left Behind" Inevitability

Alan Borsuk:

Maybe, in 2001, it seemed like 2014 was too far away to be worth much worry. In 2011, it's not so far away. Not that it's clear what is going to be done now about what was one of the more idealistic, well-intended, but ridiculous, notions ever put into federal law.

In 2001, and with strong bipartisan support, Congress approved the No Child Left Behind education reform law. Amid its complex notions, there were some clear intentions: Congress and the president (George W. Bush at that point, but Bill Clinton and Barack Obama would say much the same) were tired of putting a lot of money into schools across the country and not seeing much to show for it. They wanted to see the American education world buckle down to work especially on improving the achievement of low income and minority students. And they wanted every child to be reading and doing math on grade level by - oh, pick a date far away - 2014.

So they called the law No Child Left Behind. A wonderful idea - are you in favor of leaving some children behind? I'm not.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:08 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

June 16, 2011

Wisconsin Senate Democrat Members' Proposed Budget Amendment: Save Talented & Gifted Funding

JR Ross:

The second Dem amendment includes a whole host of provisions on education.

See it here.

Here are some details, according to a summary from Minority Leader Mark Miller's office:

-increase funding to K-12 by $356 million.

-repeal expansion of the choice program.

-repeal elimination of funding for gifted and talented programs, AODA grants, and science, technology, engineering and match grants.

-Fund the Wisconsin GI Bill and tie financial aid to increases in tuition.

-Boost funding to tech colleges by $17 million annually.

-repeal a provision JFC put into the budget that would create an individual income tax credit derived from property assessed as manufacturing or agricultural property. The tax credit would kick in Jan. 1, 2013, and when fully phased in for tax year 2016 would be worth $128.7 million annually.

-- By JR Ross

Fascinating. I wonder what's behind this?

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Wisconsin Voucher debate reveals deep divisions about public schools

Susan Troller:

As of early afternoon Wednesday the fate of voucher schools in Green Bay is uncertain. Rumors are flying that the proposal to use tax dollars to pay families to send their children to private and religious schools in that city will be pulled from the state budget.

It's been a hot topic.

The voucher story I posted on Chalkboard last week detailed Green Bay Supt. Greg Maass' unhappy reaction to both the proposal and the abrupt legislative process that put it in the budget. It definitely struck a nerve, and drew many comments.

Some of the most interesting reactions went well beyond the issue of vouchers and whether public money should be used to fund private schools. They expressed the heart of the debate surrounding public schools, or "government" schools as some folks call them.

Are public schools failing? Who's to blame? What responsibilities does a civil society owe to children who are not our own? What kind of reforms do parents, and taxpayers, want to see?

Here are some excerpts that are revealing of the divide in the debate:

VHOU812 wrote: ...As a consumer of the public (or private) educational institutions, I am demanding more value. If it is not provided, I will push to refuse to purchase and home school. This is not what I want. I want security knowing that I am satisfied with the investment in my children's education. I don't get that feeling right now from publc schools, and that is the core of the problem that public schools need to fix. I also see that private institutions, by their nature, can make changes to respond to consumer demands very quickly, and it is clear public schools either can't, or won't.
I'm glad Susan posted these comments. Looking at the significant growth in Wisconsin K-12 spending over the past few decades along with declining performance, particularly in reading compels us all: parents, taxpayers, students, teachers, administrators and the ed school community, to think different.

Wolfram's words are well worth considering: "You have to ask, what's the point of universities today?" he wonders. "Technology has usurped many of their previous roles, such as access to knowledge, and the social aspects."

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Seattle Schools' Strategic Plan Update

Melissa Westbrook:

Here is the presentation from today's Work Session on the Strategic Plan with survey results.

  • 5905 responses - 64% family member, 26% teacher or school staff, 1% principals, 5% community, 4% Central Office
  • By zip code - looks like a somewhat even distribution with  NE - 98115 with 528 responses, SE - 98118 with 221 responses, SW - 98136 with 118 responses, West Seattle - 98116 with 182 responses and NW - 98117 with 433 responses.  (There were more zip codes than those.)
  • page 8 has a breakdown of coaches and costs - overall it costs $6.4M for 65.6 coaches  (the salary swings are interesting)
  • Professional development in math, science and reading helping teachers and students - the big answer was .... no opinion.  And, out of the nearly 6,000 responses, only 3443 people answered this question.  Effective/somewhat effective (families-27%/teachers-51%). Ineffective/somewhat ineffective (families-22%/teachers-28%)
  • MAP test results effectiveness.  Effective/Somewhat Effective (families-41%/teachers-33%).  Somewhat effective/ineffective (families-45%/teachers50%).   Out of 6k responses, only 3682 respondents answered.
  • MAP- how many times a year should it be used?  3x- families-30%, teachers-23%, principals-40%.  Hmm, looks like principals like it more than teachers.   2x -families-29%,teachers-30%, principals, 40%.  That's a lot closer.  And hey, they ARE reducing MAP to two times a year for 2011-2013 (winter and spring)
  • NSAP.   More efficient/somewhat more - families-42%/teachers 23%/principals 55%.   Somewhat less/less efficient - families-27%/teachers-29%/principals-31%. 
Download the Seattle Strategic Plan update, here.

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The Secret of Dads' Success

Sue Shellenbarger:

After dinner at Todd and Jodie Schiermeier's house in O'Fallon, Ill., it is "tackle Dad" time. That's when Mr. Schiermeier gets down on the floor with their three children, Rylee, 7, Kinsey, 4, and Jace, 20 months, for a session of "horseback rides and pillow fights and tackle and wrestle," he says.

It is a stark contract to Ms. Schiermeier's playtime with the kids, who says she mostly cuddles them or has "a little tickle fight."

The rough play is already benefiting her older daughter, who is "a little timid," Ms. Schiermeier says. "She has toughened up a little" playing with her dad. "He is teaching her how to take the blows of life, and to get in there and fight." All three kids are learning to take turns and work as a team. For Mr. Schiermeier, that is intentional: "I push them to get outside their comfort zones."

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Wisconsin Governor Walker's Read to Lead task force met on May 31st at the State Capitol. Following are observations from WRC.

Wisconsin Reading Coalition, via email:

Governor Walker's Read to Lead task force met on May 31st at the State Capitol. Following are observations from WRC.

Note: Peggy Stern, an Oscar-winning filmmaker currently working on a project about dyslexia, had a crew filming the meeting. If we are able to acquire footage, we will make it available. If you would like Wisconsin Eye to record future meetings, please contact them at

Format: Unlike the first task force meeting, this meeting was guided by two facilitators from AIR, the American Institutes for Research. This was a suggestion of Senator Luther Olsen, and the facilitators were procured by State Superintendent Tony Evers. Evers and Governor Walker expressed appreciation at not having to be concerned with running the meeting, but there were some problems with the round-robin format chosen by the facilitators. Rather than a give-and-take discussion, as happened at the first meeting, this was primarily a series of statements from people at the table. There was very little opportunity to seek clarification or challenge statements. Time was spent encouraging everyone to comment on every question, regardless of whether they had anything of substance to contribute, and the time allotted to individual task force members varied. Some were cut off before finishing, while others were allowed to go on at length. As a direct result of this format, the conversation was considerably less robust than at the first meeting.

Topics: The range of topics proved to be too ambitious for the time allowed. Teacher preparation and professional development took up the bulk of the time, followed by a rather cursory discussion of assessment tools. The discussion of reading interventions was held over for the next meeting.

Dawnene Hassett, Asst. Prof. of Curriculum and Instruction and new elementary literacy chair, UW-Madison
Tania Mertzman Habeck, Assoc. Prof. of Curriculum and Instruction, UW-Milwaukee
Mary Jo Ziegler, Reading Consultant, Wis. Department of Public Instruction
Troy Couillard, Special Education Team, Wis. Department of Public Instruction

Next Meetings: The Governor's office will work to set up a schedule of meetings for the next several months. Some of the meetings may be in other parts of the state.

Action: WRC suggests contacting the offices of the Governor, Luther Olsen, Steve Kestell, and Jason Fields and your own legislators to ask for several things:
Arrange for filming the next meeting through Wisconsin Eye
Bring in national experts such as Louisa Moats, Joe Torgesen, and Peggy McCardle to provide Wisconsin with the road map for effective reading instruction, teacher preparation, and professional development . . . top university, DPI, and professional organization leaders at the May 31st meeting asked for a road map and admitted they have not been able to develop one
Arrange the format of the next meeting to allow for more authentic and robust discussion of issues

Teacher Training and Professional Development
The professors felt that the five components of reading (phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension) are generally taught in preparation programs, but that instruction varies widely from one institution to another. Reading course work requirements can vary from 12 credits to just one course. They also felt, as did the teachers on the panel, that there needs to be more practical hand-on experience in the undergraduate program. There was a feeling that teachers "forget" their instruction in reading foundations by the time they graduate and get into the classroom. They have better luck teaching masters level students who already have classroom experience. The linguistic knowledge means very little without a practicum, and we may need to resort to professional development to impart that information. Teachers need to be experts in teaching reading, but many currently don't feel that way. It is important, especially with RTI coming, to be able to meet the needs of individual students.Both professors and teachers, as well as others on the panel, felt a "road map" of critical information for teacher preparation programs and literacy instruction in schools would be a good idea. This was a point of agreement. Hassett felt that pieces of a plan currently exist, but not a complete road map. The professors and some of the teachers felt that teacher prep programs are doing a better job at teaching decoding than comprehension strategies. They were open to more uniformity in syllabi and some top-down mandates.

Marcia Henry mentioned studies by Joshi, et al. that found that 53% of pre-service teachers and 60% of in-service teachers are unable to correctly answer questions about the structure of the English language. Tony Pedriana cited another Joshi study that showed college professors of reading were equally uninformed about the language, and the majority cannot distinguish between phonemic awareness and phonics. He also said it was very difficult to find out what colleges were teaching; one college recently refused his request to see a syllabus for a reading course. Steve Dykstra read from the former Wisconsin Model Academic Standards and the current Wisconsin Model Early Learning Standards, which contained incorrect definitions and examples of phonemic awareness. He questioned whether teachers were being adequately prepared in decoding skills. Rep. Steve Kestell was concerned with the assessment that most teachers do not feel like experts in teaching reading, and he wondered if updated techniques for training teachers would make a difference.

Sarah Archibald (aide to Luther Olsen) proposed looking at a more rigorous foundations of reading test, as found in other states, as a requirement for teacher licensure. This would be one way to move toward more uniform instruction in teacher prep programs. Steve Dykstra pointed out that a test alone will not necessarily drive changes in teacher preparation, but publishing the passage results linked to individual colleges or professors would help. Evers indicated that DPI has been looking for several months into teacher testing and licensure.

Gov. Walker asked if the ed schools were looking at the latest trends in teacher preparation to become better. The professors indicated that the ed schools confer with local districts in an effort to improve.

Supt. Evers said it was probably not a good idea that teacher prep programs across Wisconsin vary so much.
Hassett indicated that some flexibility needs to be retained so that urban and rural areas can teach differently. There was some disagreement as to whether teachers of upper grades need to be trained in reading, or at least trained the same way.

Linda Pils pointed out that the amount and quality of professional development for Wisconsin teachers is very spotty. Most panel members felt that a coaching model with ongoing training for both teachers and principals was essential to professional development, but the coaches must be adequately trained. There was some discussion of Professional Development Plans, which are required for relicensure, and whether the areas of development should be totally up the individual teacher as they are now. Steve Dykstra felt that much existing professional development is very poor, and that money and time needs to be spent better. Some things should not count for professional development. Michele Erikson felt that it would be good to require that Professional development be linked to the needs of the students as demonstrated by performance data. Mary Read pointed out that coaching should extend to summer programs.

The main consensus here was that we need a road map for good reading instruction and good teacher training and coaching. What is missing is the substance of that road map, and the experts we will listen to in developing it.

Mary Jo Ziegler presented a list of formal and informal assessment tools used around Wisconsin. Evers pointed out that assessment is a local district decision. Many former Reading First schools use DIBELS or some formal screener that assesses individual skills. Balanced literacy districts generally use something different. Madison, for example, has its own PLA (Primary Language Assessment), which includes running records, an observational survey, word identification, etc. MAP assessments are widely used, but Evers indicated that have not been shown to be reliable/valid below third grade. Dykstra questioned the reliability of MAP on the individual student level for all ages. PALS was discussed, as was the new wireless handheld DIBELS technology that some states are using statewide. Many members mentioned the importance of having multiple methods of assessment. Kathy Champeau delivered an impassioned plea for running records and Clay's Observational Survey, which she said have been cornerstones of her teaching. Kestell was surprised that so many different tools are being used, and that the goal should be to make use of the data that is gathered. Dykstra, Henry, and Pedriana mentioned that assessment must guide instruction, and Archibald said that the purpose of an assessment must be considered. Couillard said that the Wis. RTI center is producing a questionnaire by which districts can evaluate assessment tools they hear about, and that they will do trainings on multiple and balanced assessments. Dykstra questioned the three-cue reading philosophy that often underlies miscue analysis and running records. no consensus was reached on what types of assessment should be used, or whether they should be more consistent across the state. Hassett questioned the timed component of DIBELS,and Dykstra explained its purpose. Some serious disagreements remain about the appropriateness of certain assessment tools, and their use by untrained teachers who do not know what warning signs to look for.

Evers began the topic of intervention by saying that DPI was still collecting data on districts that score well, and then will look at what intervention techniques they use. Henry suggested deferring discussion of this important topic to the next meeting, as there were only 8 minutes left.

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Chicago School Board rejects 4 percent raises for teachers

Rosalind Rossi:

Newly-seated Chicago School Board members ruled Wednesday that the cash-strapped CPS system does not have the $100 million it would cost to cover promised 4 percent raises for teachers and other union workers.

The unanimous decision to stop the raises from going into effect came after board members were told that nearly three-quarters of the system's teachers will still get other raises based on length of service and educational advancement -- at a cost to the district of $35 million.

The decision came during a "special meeting" called to determine if the district had enough money to fund the scheduled 4 percent raises to teachers and seven other bargaining units representing building engineers and other support staff. Under the contract, the board can reject contractual raises if it determines the system does not have the funds to pay for them.

Even without the 4 percent pay hikes, the raises most teachers will receive could range between 3 and 5 percent for those with less than 13 years in the system, and 1 percent for those with more experience, officials said.

Rosalind Vevea & Crystal Yednak:
Pleading poverty, the newly-seated Chicago Board of Education voted Wednesday to rescind a scheduled 4 percent raise for Chicago Public Schools teachers that would have cost almost $100 million.

The board's unanimous decision came after it revealed that the CPS budget deficit -- which it said is now $712 million -- includes millions of dollars in previously undisclosed costs.

The yearly raises are part of the Chicago Teachers Union contract, which is in its final year, but they are only enacted if the board agrees the district can afford them. The raises have been approved each year since the current contract began in 2007.

Board president David Vitale said teacher layoffs could still occur despite the vote. The CTU and other unions whose contractual raises were affected have until 11:59 p.m. Monday to ask to re-open part of their contracts in order to negotiate around the raises.

The Chicago Sun-Times:
Facing an estimated $712 million deficit, the new Chicago Board of Education cried uncle on Wednesday, voting for the first time in 20 years not to fund promised raises.

Now it's time for Chicago teachers to stand up and accept reality.

Chicago teachers and the seven unions representing other school employee unions should accept the wage freeze or, at a minimum, try to negotiate less than the promised 4 percent raise.

Holding on to the pipe dream of getting that 4 percent raise -- and risking a summer of uncertainty and a possible strike at the end -- does no one, least of all Chicago students, any good.

The Board of Education simply has no more rabbits to pull from its budget hat.

We say that cautiously, knowing that CPS said much the same last year as it tried to persuade teachers to forgo their raise. And then, voila, CPS managed to fill its deficit without increasing class size or scaling back programs significantly.

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Why Facebook Is Losing U.S. Users

Peter Pachal:

News hit the other day that Facebook may have lost about six million users in the U.S. in one month, according to Inside Facebook, a site that analyzes the social network for developers and marketers. Facebook has close to 700 million users worldwide, so a loss of six million doesn't sound like much, especially in light of data that suggests the service has been pushing aside regional social sites to conquer large swaths of the developing world, and actually posted a net increase in overall users over the same period.

But a six million user loss is a little more painful when compared to the U.S. user base, which reports say stands around 150 million--or roughly half the population of the country. It's not crippling, but a four percent reduction isn't negligible either. At the same time, the same data source suggests the service is experiencing similar losses throughout the Western world in places like Canada, the U.K., and Norway. Could American audiences finally be turning on the social network?

When asked about the report, a Facebook spokesman told PCMag that, "From time to time, we see stories about Facebook losing users in some regions. Some of these reports use data extracted from our advertising tool, which provides broad estimates on the reach of Facebook ads and isn't designed to be a source for tracking the overall growth of Facebook. We are very pleased with our growth."

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B-Schools Embrace China

Beth Gardiner:

Just like large companies eager to get a foothold in one of the world's most important markets, international business schools are moving into China in a big way.

Eager to capitalize on demand in a fast-growing economy that has a huge need for well-trained managers, big name B-schools from Europe and the U.S. are launching and expanding M.B.A.-program collaborations with Chinese universities or going it alone with courses aimed at mid-career executives.

Experience in China is also a selling point at home, since Western students increasingly see the benefits of studying at an institution whose faculty have close-up experience of the country. Such links can also give M.B.A. students the chance to study in China for a module or a semester.

"The lure is to go and learn about what's happening, and be in the middle of the action in one of the most dynamic economies in the world," says Krishna Palepu, senior associate dean for international development at Harvard Business School. The school has had a faculty research base in China for about 20 years but now shares a new Shanghai classroom with other Harvard schools.

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Why Peter Thiel Is Wrong To Pay Students to Drop Out

Peter Cohan:

Stanford Law School grad, Peter Thiel, wants to pay college students to drop out. If typical venture capital odds apply, about 22 of the 24 people who took his $100,000 inducement to drop out and spend two years working in a start-up will fail to build a successful company. For their sake, let's hope the schools will let them back in.

And based on research from the country's top-ranked school of entrepreneurship, the world will be better off if those whippersnappers stay in school and get 10 years of experience before launching their start-ups.

Peter Thiel has a mixed investment record but has come out ahead. Thiel made $55 million as a co-founder of online payment service PayPal when he sold his 3.7% stake in the company to eBay (EBAY) shortly after graduating from Stanford Law School. He then became the first major investor, putting $500,000 into Facebook.

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June 15, 2011

"You have to ask, what's the point of universities today?" he wonders. "Technology has usurped many of their previous roles, such as access to knowledge, and the social aspects."

The Economist:

"THERE is no dramatic distinction between the processes of the weather and the workings of the human brain," says Stephen Wolfram, a physicist and the founder of Wolfram Research, a software company. "There isn't anything incredibly special about intelligence, it's just sophisticated computational work that has grown up throughout human history." Dr Wolfram is hardly the first scientist to compare the human brain to a computer. Alan Turing, who helped develop the precursors of today's programmable computers during the second world war, began considering the possibility of thinking machines in the 1940s. The difference is that Dr Wolfram claims to have succeeded in codifying vast areas of human knowledge and even replicating supposedly uniquely human attributes such as creativity.

"One of my realisations, or maybe it's just a piece of arrogance, is that the amount of knowledge and data in the world is big, but it's not that big," he says. "In astronomy, there's a petabyte--a million gigabytes--of data about what's out there in the universe. There are also swathes of data from digital cameras, Twitter feeds and even road-traffic movements. It's a bit daunting, but I soon realised that the bigger challenge is not the underlying data but the computations that get done on them."

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The 10 Steps To Make Your Kid A Millionaire

William Baldwin:

We're spending our children's money. So goes the refrain from people appalled at the government's deficits. As long as entitlement spending and tax collections continue on their present course, it's an undeniable truth.

Instead of wringing your hands, do something about it. Make your children so prosperous that they can withstand the Medicare cutbacks and tax increases that lie ahead. Here are ten tactics for boosting the net worth of your offspring.

1 Don't Overeducate

That master's degree your son or daughter wants to get may be a bad investment. This heretical thought comes from Laurence Kotlikoff, a Boston University economist who studies earning and consumption patterns. An advanced degree confers a higher salary, but it comes at a high cost, too. It includes tuition, often borrowed, plus a year or more of lost earnings.

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OK, So Here's Who's Running for Seattle School Board 2011

Riya Bhattacharjee:

I have been trying to find the campaign websites for all the candidates running for Seattle School Board this year (candidate filings closed 5 p.m. Friday), and the final list looks something like this. Two things: there's like a ton of them and only four open seats; not all of them have a website yet.

Most of the new candidates are running because they are tired of the corruption and cronyism in Seattle Public Schools. Some want to focus on closing the achievement gap and raising test scores. Others are just sick of the influence a plethora of foundations have on education these days.

At least one of the candidates is a reluctant one who says he's running because he is tired of mediocrity in our schools and the "business as usual approach" of our school board. Another lists this thing as his campaign website. This one sued the district against its new high school math textbooks in 2009.

The incumbents say they are fed up of the same things their challengers are (of course, I mean there can only be so many problems in one district, right?).

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'Parent Trigger' Laws: Shutting Schools, Raising Controversy

Kayla Webley:

In a bare-bones basement office in Buffalo, N.Y., Katie Campos, an education activist, is plotting a revolution. She and her minuscule staff of the advocacy group Buffalo ReformED are against incredible odds. In less than a week, they are trying to get a controversial law known as the "parent trigger" through the New York legislature. It's a powerful nickname for game-changing legislation that would enable parents who could gather a majority at any persistently failing school to either fire the principal, fire 50% of the teachers, close the school or turn it into a charter school.

Campos and her group are working with some 4,000 frustrated parents like Samuel Radford III, who refuses to accept that as African Americans, his three sons in Buffalo public schools have only a 25% chance of graduating. Radford voiced his concerns for years but saw no improvement, so rather than continue to wait for the district to act, he became vice president of the District Parent Coordinating Council and threw his support behind passing parent-trigger legislation. "This is our chance to not just confront the problem but be part of the solution," Radford says. On June 15, Buffalo ReformED plans to fill a bus of parents like Radford and ride to the state capitol, in Albany, to host an informal hearing on the bill and speak to members of the senate and house education committees.

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: States face long slog after recession

Associated Press:

At statehouses around the country, the Great Recession is far from over: It could take years for many states to climb out of the hole and return to pre-downturn spending levels.

An Associated Press examination of 50 balance sheets shows state budgets and bank accounts still ravaged by a drop in tax revenue. Many states are also facing enormous long-term pension and health care obligations. At the same time, the payout of stimulus money from Washington that helped many states in their darkest hours has come to an end.

While some states saw a modest jump in tax collections this spring, the combined revenue projected by the 50 states in the coming fiscal year - $734 billion - is still down by about $34 billion, or 5 percent, from the 2007-08 fiscal year, when the recession began.

Some states are in far worse shape. New Jersey, Nevada, Oregon, Illinois and Louisiana reported deficits that are more than 20 percent of the state general fund.

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Making Sense of the Chicago Public Schools' Budget Deficit

Rebecca Vevea & Crystal Yednak:

When the Chicago Board of Education meets Wednesday to vote on a scheduled 4 percent raise for teachers, one figure will be crucial to the debate: The $724 million deficit the Emanuel administration says Chicago Public Schools is facing for the upcoming year.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard have repeatedly cited the almost $720 million deficit, and Emanuel mentioned it again Monday when he called on the state to give CPS the roughly $300 million it is owed in back payments. But a Chicago News Cooperative review of the district's funding sources shows that the calculations are inconsistent and CPS's actual deficit is still unclear.

There is no question CPS is in a large financial hole. The extent of the deficit, however, depends primarily on how much federal stimulus money the district has available and whether late payments from the state are taken into account.

CPS has come to rely on hundreds of millions of dollars in federal stimulus funds, which are drying up. In the administration's most recent budget presentation, in March, officials said CPS will have exhausted $260 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and $104 million from the federal Education Jobs Fund.

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Portraits: Initial College Attendance of Low-Income Young Adults

Institute for Higher Education Policy:

The brief, Portraits: Initial College Attendance of Low-Income Young Adults, experts at the Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP) suggest that poverty still matters a great deal in terms of the types of institutions at which young adults are initially enrolling. In particular, they find that low-income students--between ages 18 and 26 and whose total household income is near or below the federal poverty level--are likely to be overrepresented at for-profit institutions and are likely to be underrepresented at public and private nonprofit four-year institutions.

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Poll: education most important issue facing Texas

Sommer Ingram:

More than one-fifth of Texans say education is the most important issue facing the state, though it is unclear whether Republicans will pay a political price for cutting education funding, according to poll results released Tuesday by the nonpartisan Texas Lyceum group.
The group released preliminary findings from the telephone survey, conducted at the end of last month, as the GOP-controlled Texas Legislature inches closer to passing a state budget that cuts billions from public schools.

When asked an open-ended question about the most important problem facing Texas, 23 percent of 707 respondents named education, as did 33 percent of 303 likely voters in the group surveyed. Lyceum pollsters define likely voters as Texans who are somewhat interested in politics, are registered to vote and have voted in most or all elections.

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June 14, 2011

Students Stumble Again on the Basics of History

Stephanie Banchero:

Fewer than a quarter of American 12th-graders knew China was North Korea's ally during the Korean War, and only 35% of fourth-graders knew the purpose of the Declaration of Independence, according to national history-test scores released Tuesday.

The results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress revealed that U.S. schoolchildren have made little progress since 2006 in their understanding of key historical themes, including the basic principles of democracy and America's role in the world.

Only 20% of U.S. fourth-graders and 17% of eighth-graders who took the 2010 history exam were "proficient" or "advanced," unchanged since the test was last administered in 2006. Proficient means students have a solid understanding of the material.

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The ends of education reform

Mike Petrilli:

Diane Ravitch’s New York Times op-ed seems to have stuck in the craw of many a reformer, including Arne Duncan himself. What really burned people up was Ravitch’s “straw man” arguments: that reformers say poverty doesn’t matter, or only care about gains in student achievement. "No serious reformer says accountability should just be based on test scores. We all favor multiple measures,” Jon Schnur* complained to Jonathan Alter last week.

Rather than get defensive at Diane's defeatism, we reformers should clarify the ends that education reform can achieve.

Please. Remember the old adage, watch what we do, not what we say? The No Child Left Behind act is still the law of the land, and it most definitely rests on the principle that poverty is “no excuse” for low achievement. And it absolutely punishes schools for bad test scores alone. Diane is on firm ground when she writes:

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Presidential wannabes mum on schools

Jay Matthews:

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney declared his candidacy for president last week. I went to his Web site to read his ideas about education. There weren't any. The same thing happened when I went to former House speaker Newt Gingrich's campaign site.

Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty's Web site had a bit more--a piece beating up on teachers unions, a speech saying the federal government should give states more flexibility in fixing schools and an appreciation of former D.C. schools chancellor Michelle A. Rhee. Business executive Herman Cain's Web site called for less federal and union interference in education reform, and more rewards for the best teachers. Rep. Ron Paul (Texas) wants to end federal education spending, except for tax credits for parents.

That's about it for the Republican candidates. I couldn't find official education positions for potential GOP candidates Jon Huntsman, Michelle Bachmann or Sarah Palin. Even when the presidential campaign gets hot next year, we won't hear much about schooling from either party. The government activity that most influences American lives has never inspired much talk by national politicians or much coverage by national media.

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Changing how gifted students think

Jay Matthews:

The Loudoun Academy of Science, a six-year-old public magnet school in Sterling inspired in part by the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, already matches that famous school in one vital statistic: Like Jefferson, the Academy of Science each year rejects about 85 percent of applicants.

With 240 students, the academy is one-seventh the size of Jefferson and takes only Loudoun County residents (Jefferson draws from most of Northern Virginia), but it has won glowing reviews from students and has created a research curriculum rare in U.S. secondary education.

“It was completely unlike the standard classroom procedure that I was used to, and I absolutely loved it,” said Carter Huffman, an academy graduate now at MIT. “I have yet to hear of another school that so encourages all of its students to pursue major independent research.”

Elizabeth Asai, another academy graduate, said she and a couple of Yale classmates received university funding this year to design biomedical devices, usually a process daunting to undergraduates. Her friends “were astounded by the ease of presenting our proposal and actually receiving a grant,” she said, but, having attended the Academy of Science, to her “this seemed normal.”

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Some teachers more 'minimally effective' than others?

Bill Turque:

The big shoe ready to drop this summer on the DCPS labor relations front involves the estimated 550 teachers who are subject to dismissal if they receive a second consecutive "minimally effective" rating on the IMPACT evaluation system. For Mayor Vincent C. Gray and Acting Chancellor Kaya Henderson, it will be a closely watched test of their resolve to follow through on a signature initiative of the Michelle Rhee era, designed to improve teacher effectiveness by pushing poor performers out of the system.

It now appears that some teachers -- most likely younger ones -- will get a reprieve from the two-strikes-and-out rule established in 2009. Earlier this week, human capital chief and IMPACT architect Jason Kamras told principals that if they had young teachers with promise who were headed for a second poor evaluation, they could apply for exceptions.

"We recognize that in some cases, a principal might want to retain a second-year teacher who has received minimally effective ratings in each of his or her first two years of teaching but has demonstrated improvement and the potential to become an effective teacher in the following year," Kamras said.

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Rift between Kansas City school board, superintendent appears to be closing

Joe Robertson:

The chasm that had separated Superintendent John Covington and the Kansas City school board over charter and contract schools appears to be closing.

The board is now considering policy changes that would require the superintendent's recommendation before it could bring independent schools into the district fold.

Until the change is approved, however, the leaders of a pair of civic groups are standing by letters sent to the board last week warning that they believed it had assumed authority that could return it to its micromanaging habits of old.

Board president Airick Leonard West said he wants the conversation to refocus on the district's vision of a portfolio of schools that are held accountable for their performance.

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Arne Duncan's 'Plan B' May Leave 'No Child' Behind


Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is signaling that he's prepared to give public schools relief from federal mandates under No Child Left Behind if Congress does not pass the law's long-awaited overhaul and re-authorization this year.

"This is absolutely plan B," Duncan told reporters during an embargoed conference call on Friday. "The prospect of doing nothing is what I'm fighting against."

That relief could take the form of granting waivers on test scoring to flexibility on how schools spend federal dollars. "We can't afford to do nothing," he said.

Both Republicans and Democrats agree that the mandate, signed into law in 2002 with bi-partisan support, is dated and flawed. One of the major complaints is that some schools have been labeled failures despite making improvements.

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June 13, 2011

Grading Standards in Education Departments at Universities

Cory Koedel, University of Missouri, via a kind reader's email:

Students who take classes in education departments at universities receive significantly higher grades than students who take classes in other academic departments. The higher grades awarded by education departments cannot be explained by differences in student quality or by structural differences across departments (i.e., differences in class sizes). The remaining explanation is that the higher grades are the result of lower grading standards. This paper formally documents the grading-standards problem in education departments using administrative grade data from the 2007-2008 academic year. Because a large fraction of the teachers in K-12 schools receive training in education departments, I briefly discuss several possible consequences of the low grading standards for teacher quality in K-12 schools.

There is a large and growing research literature showing that teacher quality is an important determinant of student success (recent studies include Aaronson et al., 2007; Koedel, 2008; Nye et al., 2004; Rivkin et al., 2005; Rockoff, 2004).

But while there is persistent research into a variety of interventions aimed at improving teacher quality, surprisingly little attention has been paid to the primary training ground for K-12 teachers--education departments at universities.

This paper provides an evaluation of the grading standards in these education departments. I show that education students receive higher grades than do students in every other academic discipline. The grading discrepancies that I document cannot be explained by differences between education and non-education departments in student quality, or by structural differences across departments.

The likely explanation is grade inflation.

The earliest evidence on the grading-standards problem in education departments comes from Weiss and Rasmussen in 1960. They showed that undergraduate students taking classes in education departments were twice as likely to receive an "A" when compared to students taking classes in business or liberal arts departments. The low grading standards in education departments, illustrated by these authors over 50 years ago, are still prevalent today.

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Commencement Address: The Importance of the Right Question

Clayton Christensen:

To get to the point of graduation, you've endured an almost endless sequence of measurements of your intelligence and knowledge, in the form of tests. You have taken more tests than you hope to remember. The role of faculty here and other teachers earlier was to define the questions. Your role, as students, was to provide the right answers.

Many in education, however, have overlooked a frightening fact: finding the right answer is
impossible unless we have asked the right question. Unfortunately our teaching system focuses little attention on teaching us how to ask the right questions. As a scholar, father, and advisor, I have slowly realized that asking the right question is the rare and valuable skill. That done, getting the right answer is typically quite straightforward.

In my remarks today I'd like to describe three instances where people like us have plunged into implementing an answer, without taking the care to define the salient question to which we need good answers. Two are of national scope; the third is personal. My prayer is for each of you - students, graduates, families and faculty - is to see learning to frame questions as a critical part of your work.

Clusty Search: Clayton Christensen.

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News Corp plans education acquisitions

Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson:

Joel Klein, the head of News Corp's new education division, has drawn up plans for "significant" acquisitions in the school data, assessment and interactive content development areas, but ruled out acquiring a traditional publisher.

Five months after he joined Rupert Murdoch's media group, the former chancellor of New York City's public school system said he had started due diligence on possible deals to follow the $360m acquisition last year of 90 per cent of Wireless Generation, a US education software company.

"I'd expect in the next [few] months we'd be making some acquisitions," he told the Financial Times, a day after appointing two executives to bolster News Corp's push into education. "There's the willingness to put in significant capital if the numbers make sense."

News Corp's move into education puts it into competition with groups such as Pearson, which owns the Financial Times and McGraw-Hill, which are expanding beyond textbook publishing into digital learning systems, assessment tools and services for schools.

Mr Murdoch had not "put a number on" the amount of capital he was willing to commit, but was making a long-term bet on education, Mr Klein said.

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High school education no longer one-size-fits-all

Maureen Magee:

The caps and gowns haven't changed much. "Pomp and Circumstance" continues to mark the occasion. And many of those valedictorians are bound to quote "The Road Not Taken."

Commencement ceremonies have remained virtually unchanged over the years. But don't be fooled. The high school experience leading up to graduation has never looked so different for American teenagers.

Everything from technology to academic innovations to the lagging economy has influenced high schools and the students they serve -- locally and nationwide.

No longer a novelty, independent charter schools will issue a record number of diplomas to students who received a new brand of education -- often in some unlikely venues, including shopping malls, museums and an old Navy boot camp.

More students than ever will graduate this year after taking some of their courses online.
And tough economic times have created a rising population of homeless students -- and programs and schools designed to educate and help them.

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Boot Camp for Boosting IQ

Jonah Lehrer:

Can we make ourselves smarter? In recent decades, scientists have accumulated increasing evidence that our intelligence, at least as measured by the IQ test, is sharply constrained by genetics. Although estimates vary, most studies place the heritability of intelligence at somewhere between 50% and 80%. It's an uncomfortable fact, but not all brains are created equal.

Which is why there's so much buzz about a forthcoming study that complicates this assumption. Researchers at the University of Michigan found that it's possible to boost a core feature of human intelligence through a simple mental training exercise.

In fact, when several dozen elementary- and middle-school kids from the Detroit area used this exercise for 15 minutes a day, many showed significant gains on a widely used intelligence test. Most impressive, perhaps, is that these gains persisted for three months, even though the children had stopped training.

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Where do all the UK Free Schools go?

Phil Mitchell:

Education Secretary Michael Gove faces many obstacles (and many opponents) to his plan to let parents, charities and educational experts open and manage new Free Schools in their local areas.

There are many hurdles for Free School advocates to overcome too - funding, for example. But even before you get to that stage, how do you know which areas, the government considers appropriate for Free Schools to open?

The Free School Kit, launched by the government agency Partnerships for Schools (PfS), is designed to answer this question.

If you want to launch a Free School, it needs a business case, which depends on whether there's a need in the area. The Free School Kit enables anyone to see on a map the existing school provision, where the schools are, and what their academic records are.

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The Class of 2011: Word usage in 40 speeches given at graduations this year.

The New York Times:.

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NJ gov pushes public-private school pilot program

Geoff Mulvihill:

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie added a new element Thursday to his efforts to give children in the state's lowest-performing school districts a better education while keeping the costs to taxpayers down.

He proposed letting local school boards hand control of some so-called "transformation schools" to education management organizations, possibly including for-profit firms.

The proposal is one of several ideas Christie is pushing to try to expand options for students in troubled school districts.

"None of these things are silver bullets," he said. The governor framed the idea as an experiment that could offer lessons to other schools.

At first, no more than five of the privately run schools across the state would be allowed - and they would go only in places where the local school boards want them.

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Company Overseen By Joel Klein Poised To Clean Up With $27M No-Bid State Contract

Celeste Katz:

The money - part of the state's $700 million in Race to the Top winnings - will go to Wireless Generation, owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., to develop software to track student test scores, among other things.

Klein took a job at News Corp. overseeing their educational technology business after he left the chancellor job in December.

City rules forbid former workers from contacting the agency that employed them for one year, but the rules would not formally bar contact between Klein and the state.

"It raises all kinds of red flags," said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York.

"It just smacks of an old-boys club, where large amounts of public money are spent based not on 'is this the best product?' but 'I know this guy and I like him and I want to be sure he makes a lot of money.'"

Klein did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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"Fix the Workforce or Die" Bucyrus Finds Skilled Labor in Texas

John Schmid:

Not long ago, Bucyrus International Inc. stood out in Milwaukee as a veritable poster child for business opportunity and expansion. Mayor Tom Barrett singled out chief executive Tim Sullivan in his 2005 "state of the city" address: "Thank you for believing and investing in our city."

And so it was awkward last week when Sullivan told a packed auditorium of civic leaders that he needed to make a "confession," something he's kept quiet for years. Finding qualified, factory-grade welders in an old-line industrial city such as Milwaukee had become arduous to near impossible. Calling himself a "killjoy," Sullivan said he quietly phoned a few contacts in Texas to see whether the Lone Star State could provide him enough welders who are qualified to piece together the colossal mining machines that Bucyrus ships to India, China and elsewhere around the world.

A delegation of senior Texas government authorities met Sullivan at the airport, including the mayor of the town of Kilgore. In a one-hour lunch, they matched Bucyrus with a ready-to-occupy factory with every possible amenity.

More important, they asked Sullivan exactly what sort of workers he needed. Sullivan said 80 with specific skill. The state gave Sullivan a guarantee that the workers would be waiting when the doors opened at the expansion site in Kilgore. State officials customized a recruitment, training and certification program. One year later, when the expansion site in Kilgore opened its doors, the 80 welders were waiting.

In the two years since then, the Texas site has more than doubled to 184 total workers and plans to keep hiring. And back in Milwaukee, Sullivan has said next to nothing in public about the Kilgore expansion.

"We have a complete disconnect between jobs and education and training," Sullivan said. In Milwaukee, "we're a long way" from replicating the feat in Texas.

"There is no stomach in this state to change the curriculum," he said. "Who is initiating education reform in the state right now? No one."

Although taxpayer-funded MATC probably is the institution best suited to address the skills mismatch, the tech school cannot bear all the blame for its inability to deliver customized workforce training, Sullivan said.

Many Milwaukee-trained welders simply are not mentally prepared by metro Milwaukee's grade schools and high schools, Sullivan said.

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Grading For Learning: Grade Inflation Panacea? Or More Dr. FeelGood?


At tomorrow's (June 13) school board meeting, an "informational" agenda item will be presented regarding the switch from conventional grading/report card system to the "Grading For Learning" system throughout grades K-7. This switch will be flipped for the 2011-12 school year.

Grading for Learning has been looming on the horizon for several years now. It's not something new to Sun Prairie. In fact, a number of school districts have implemented it and a number will begin implementation this year. Grading for Learning is a concept introduced by Ken O'Connor.

What is the background and research for Grading for Learning?

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Los Angeles technical high school is all it should be, but will soon be history

Rick Rojas

It's located in a grimy and windowless building that it shares with an adult school on the edge of downtown. But to its students and teachers, the Santee Construction Academy is something of an educational utopia.

There are small classes with attentive teachers. A curriculum designed to prepare students for the real world with training for in-demand jobs. An atmosphere that students say is akin to a family.

The campus fits the bill of what some educators and others describe as a model with its career training and staff commitment. Yet, in about two weeks, this program will be history.

It turns out that the same factors that have made the academy successful -- despite lukewarm test scores -- also made it vulnerable to the sweeping cuts Los Angeles public schools are being forced to make with a tightening budget. The program costs more than $1.5 million to operate.

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Is strict parenting better for children? Amy Chua's memoir about her super-strict parenting style gave us the Tiger Mother; but professor Bryan Caplan is not convinced it's the best way.

Emine Saner:

Yale law professor, and mother of two girls, Amy Chua gave the world a new type of mother role model in her memoir Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother: someone who insisted on several hours of music practice every day, banned sleepovers and wasn't happy with anything less than an A+ for schoolwork. Bryan Caplan, economics professor and father-of-three, whose new book says nature will always win over nurture, is an exponent of "serenity parenting", the belief that parents should stop hothousing their children. Can either of them change the other's mind? Emine Saner listens in.

Bryan Caplan: I'm wondering why genes play so little part in your story. You mention them a few times, but there isn't much about how your kids are the children of law professors and best-selling authors, and this might have something to do with their success.

Amy Chua: My book isn't about success or biology. It's just a memoir. I was raised by really strict Chinese immigrant parents and I tried to do the same with my two daughters. It worked in some ways, and not in others.

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June 12, 2011

Time for year-round school in Madison

Chris Rickert:

But after learning of the Madison School District's failure to adequately boost test scores under No Child Left Behind, I had to wonder: Heat or no heat, what cause for picnicking is there in the advent of a nearly three-month long break from formal learning for brains that, in their youth, are veritable sponges for knowledge?

I'm less worried about my children, who have a standard pair of educated, middle-class parents. They probably won't make major academic strides over the summer, but they won't lose much ground or -- worse -- fill their free time picking up bad habits.

But here's the thing about the Madison district: Increasingly, its students aren't like my kids.

They are like the kids who live in the traditionally lower-income, higher-crime Worthington Park neighborhood. These and the kids from the tonier Schenk-Atwood neighborhood where we live share a school, but they don't necessarily share the same social, educational and financial advantages.

Much more on the oft-criticized WKCE, here and "Schools should not rely on only WKCE data to gauge progress of individual students or to determine effectiveness of programs or curriculum". It certainly is long past time for a new academic benchmark... Wisconsin students should participate in global examinations, such as TIMSS, among others.

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1 in 4 Sun Prairie High School Seniors Graduate with High Honors!! ???


A school board member shared the following information which was received from a community member, knowing grade inflation is one of SP-EYE's hot buttons. The contributor wasn't identified, but it doesn't matter. It's a great comparison from 20 years ago to today. If these numbers are valid (and we have absolutely no reason to suspect they are not), they represent cause for alarm.
Class of 2011Class of 1991
Total Students485300
# on Honor Roll187* (39%)24 (8%)
* This is reportedly the lowest in the past 7-8 years!
# new NHS members 80 (16%)14 (4%)
Sun Prairie High School.

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The argument against double standards in education

Benjamin Todd Jealous:

New York City has become the latest battleground in the national fight for education equality.

In some schools, hallways serve as a stark dividing line. Classrooms with peeling paint and insufficient resources sit on one side, while new computers, smartboards and up-to-date textbooks line the other. One group of students is taught in hallways and cramped basements, while others under the same roof make use of fully functional classrooms.

New York City has increasingly resorted to co-locating charter schools inside existing public school buildings as way to cut costs. When handled improperly, co-location can lead to visible disparities, division and tension among students. In many instances, traditional students are forced into shorter playground periods than their charter school counterparts, or served lunch at 10 am so that charter students can eat at noon. The inequity is glaring, and it is certainly not lost on the students themselves.

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Sasse urges Rhode Island Governor Chafee to veto Teacher retiree rehiring bills

Katherine Gregg:

That is the way Gary Sasse, a top-level official in the Carcieri administration -- and long-time head of the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council -- described the front-page news Friday about the Senate's votes a day earlier for bills allowing retirees to return to return to work with state pensions and paychecks.

"It was not that long ago that many of us spoke out against the practice of allowing retired public employees to a collect retirement check while on the state's payroll. Now it appears that the practice may be coming back. Situational expediency should not trump sound personnel practices. Based on Rhode Island history this could be a dangerous precedent,'' wrote Sasse in an email.

Now the director of the Bryant University's Institute for Public Leadership, Sasse was commenting on the Senate's approval of a bill to allow up to 50 retired school teachers and administrators to work as $500-a-day consultants to the Department of Education, without giving up their pensions. The sponsor: state Sen. Hanna Gallo, a speech pathologist in the Cranston school system.

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Teach for America:

Teach For America announced today that its incoming corps of 5,200 new teachers will enter the nation's highest-need schools this fall. This year's corps is the largest in Teach For America's history. In the upcoming school year, 9,300 first- and second-year corps members will reach 600,000 students in 43 regions across 34 states and the District of Columbia, including new sites in the Appalachia region of Kentucky, Oklahoma City, Seattle, and the Pee Dee region of South Carolina.

Teach For America's new corps members are a diverse group of top graduates of colleges and universities from across the country. One-third identify as people of color, including 12 percent who are African American and 8 percent who are Hispanic. Twenty-two percent are the first in their family to graduate from college, and nearly one-third received Pell Grants. Twenty-three percent are graduate students or professionals.

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A Conversation on Virtual Classrooms

Bill Tucker:

Richmond Open Source Radio's Will Snyder talks about the recent approval of virtual classrooms in Virginia with Rob Jones, VEA's Director of Government Relations and Research and Bill Tucker, Managing Director of the think tank Education Sector. (29 minute mark)

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N.A.A.C.P. on Defensive as Suit on Charter Schools Splits Group's Supporters

Fernanda Santos:

In some ways, it seems like a natural cause for the N.A.A.C.P.: students -- many of them poor, most of them black -- treated as second-class citizens when the public schools they attended had to share buildings with charter schools. A lawsuit filed last month by the N.A.A.C.P. and the United Federation of Teachers described children having to eat lunch so early it might as well be breakfast, and getting less exercise because gym hours were evenly divided between the schools despite big differences in their enrollment sizes.

But black children have been major constituents of charter schools since their creation two decades ago. So when thousands of charter-school parents, students and advocates staged a rally on May 26 in Harlem, it was not so much to denounce the litigation as it was to criticize the involvement of the N.A.A.C.P.

Since then, a war has broken out within the civil rights community in New York and across the country over the lawsuit against the city and the larger questions of how school choice helps or hurts minority students.

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A heartbreaking essay on Oakland school break-ins

Katy Murphy:

The district hasn't yet provided stats on how many times people have broken into Oakland schools this year and how much they've taken, but it happens all too often. In fact, the break-in at Burbank followed burglaries at Grass Valley (stolen safe) and Redwood Heights (stolen computers and projectors), according to the school district's spokesman, Troy Flint.

I don't know who wrote the essay, posted on the "On Thoughtfulness and Randomness" blog, but you should read it. Here's an excerpt:

I had to go there later in the day - and steeled myself walking in. District vans were parked outside the school, lots of people inside fixing things. Busy trying to make the break in go away.

Teachers were teaching. Eyes were sad, smiles forced. But children were going to lunch - teachers were helping them celebrate "super hero day" - children looked safe, happy, excited - oblivious to the damage, oblivious to the whispers of the adults. It was their school - and it was a good place to be.

The teachers made it that way - protected the children from what wasn't right in the world. Kept their routines, listened to their stories about their costumes, worked on their colors and shapes - made the world calm, predictable, and safe. Protected the families too - told them gently, with assurance, with sympathetic smiles, with plans to make it better in the future - plans to keep the world from busting in again, stories of why everything would be OK.

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Sun Prairie School Board Plans 2% Administrator Raises


At Monday's (June 13th) School Board meeting, the board will consider increases to administrator pay that result in a net 2% increase in salary. Note that 2% is a figure based on the salary pot for 2010-11. Assuming that (A) replacement administrators will not get any increases, that means the average per administrator will amount to MORE than 2%. As usual, some administrators get very healthy increases, while those in Culver's doghouse will net less than the average.

This recommendation includes administrators with the exception of the District Administrator, who will be determined separately.

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A Year of Drama and Hard Feelings in Education

Josh Goodman

"Today marks the beginning of a very dark week at The School District of Philadelphia," began a press release issued last Monday by the District itself. No doubt many Philadelphia school employees would agree. That day, the District issued layoff notices to 3,024 of its workers, including 1,523 of the District's approximately 11,000 teachers.

Budget problems are nothing new for Philadelphia's School District, which was taken over by the state of Pennsylvania a decade ago in part because of its chronic funding problems. Through all those difficulties, though, it has no modern history of teacher layoffs on this scale.

The moves were designed to close a $629 million shortfall in the School District's $2.7 billion budget--a gap caused by the end of federal stimulus funding and the knowledge that cuts in state funding were on the way.

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Introduction to Seattle Public Schools

Charlie Mas:

I recently met with one of the several new employees at Seattle Public Schools and gave a rundown on history and culture of the District.

Here's the short version:

1. There is a complete disconnect between what is said, done, and decided in the JSCEE and what happens in the schools.

The headquarters folks make bad decisions because they have no idea how those decisions will actually play out in the schools - and they don't want to know. Their decisions don't matter because they don't check to confirm they are being followed and they couldn't enforce them anyway. The schools know all of this - that the District headquarters is clueless about the realities of schools, that their decisions are horrible, that they will never come around and confirm compliance with the decision, and that they are powerless to enforce those decisions - so they simply ignore the decisions. The schools see the gap between them and the district headquarters as insulation and they work to keep it. They don't want any district interference because it is always bad. The schools work to go unnoticed by the district headquarters. Ideally, they would like the District headquarters to forget they are there. The tall blade of grass gets cut; the high nail gets hammered down. If you have ever been part of an alternative school or an advanced learning program, you've heard people say "Don't make waves, we don't want to attract the District's attention." There are very, very few examples of district intervention in a school that proved beneficial. I think the District's decision to put elementary APP in Lowell in 1997 was one. The interventions at Hawthorne and West Seattle Elementary are looking like they could buck the trend. STEM might also. If so, they would be the exceptions rather than the rule.

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June 11, 2011

5 reasons to believe progress is being made to address Wisconsin reading crisis

Alan Borsuk:

What if, despite everything else going on, we were able to put together a strong, multi-faceted campaign that made progress in fighting the reading crisis in our midst?

The optimist in me says it might happen, and I point to five things that are going on to support that. (Don't worry, the pessimist in me will show up before we're done.)

One: I attended the second meeting of Gov. Scott Walker's Read to Lead Task Force recently. Unlike most anything else going on in the Capitol, this was a civil, constructive discussion involving people of diverse opinions. The focus of the afternoon-long session was how to improve the way teachers are trained to teach reading.

Walker and Tony Evers, the state superintendent of public instruction, disagree strongly on some major school issues, but they sat next to each other, facing university professors, teachers, reading advocates of varying philosophies, and others. There even seemed to be some emerging agreement that the state Department of Public Instruction and university leaders could and should take steps to ensure that teachers are better trained before they get into classrooms and, once there, get more effective help in continuing to develop their skills.

The broad goal of Walker's task force is to get almost all kids reading on grade level before they leave third grade - a wonderful goal. But reaching it raises a lot of issues, including how to deal with sharply contending schools of thought on how to best teach reading.

Nonetheless, at least for an afternoon, important people were engaged in a serious discussion on a huge issue, and that seemed encouraging.

Related: Wisconsin Reading Coalition.

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

Advocating a Standard Graduation Rate & Madison's "2004 Elimination of the Racial Achievement Gap in 3rd Grade Reading Scores". Well worth revisiting.

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Delavan child with disabilities in educational limbo Parents appeal state Department of Public Instruction for transfer to virtual school iQ Academy

Karen Herzog, via a kind reader's email:

A Delavan couple is appealing a decision by the state Department of Public Instruction to support the Waukesha School District's placement of their son in a bricks-and-mortar school instead of the virtual school they requested because the boy has cerebral palsy and speech impairments.

"We consider this straight-out discrimination, because he once had an IEP (Individualized Education Plan)," said Jeffrey Spitzer-Resnick, the attorney for Disability Rights Wisconsin who filed a petition for review in Walworth County Circuit Court.

The 12-year-old boy no longer has an IEP for special education services and could attend the online school easier than a bricks-and-mortar school because of his physical disabilities, Spitzer-Resnick said. His mother was interested in the virtual school because it would offer a curriculum and structure; she currently home-schools the boy.

"He does have severe physical disabilities, but he's quite smart," Spitzer-Resnick said.

Darryl Enriquez:
The Delavan parents of a 12-year-old who cannot speak or move because of cerebral palsy asked a Walworth County judge this week to reverse decisions that prohibit their son from learning at home by using public school computer courses.

The parents, Daniel and Catherine "Cassie" Hartogh, contend that their son Benjamin was discriminated against because he could not get into a virtual school program.

Representing the family is Jeffrey Spitzer-Resnick, managing attorney for Disability Rights Wisconsin in Madison.

"It's an awful situation, and my son is suffering from it," Cassie Hartogh said in a telephone interview.

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University Administrators Will Outnumber College Faculty by 2014; It's Already A Reality at UM-Flint

Mark Perry:

According to Malcom Harris writing in n+1:

"And while the proportion of tenure-track teaching faculty has dwindled, the number of managers has skyrocketed in both relative and absolute terms. If current trends continue, the Department of Education estimates that by 2014 there will be more administrators than instructors at American four-year nonprofit colleges. A bigger administration also consumes a larger portion of available funds, so it's unsurprising that budget shares for instruction and student services have dipped over the past fifteen years."

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Manhattan Borough President calls for freeze on DOE consulting contracts

Micah Landau:

Responding to the latest in a series of consulting scandals that have plagued the Department of Education in recent years, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer -- who was joined by UFT President Michael Mulgrew at a press conference at the Manhattan Municipal Building -- called for a freeze on all new, nonessential DOE consulting contracts. Declaring consulting "the new political patronage of our time," the two leaders also called for a "top-to-bottom" probe of all existing DOE contracts.

"There is something wrong here," Mulgrew said of the DOE's inability to effectively oversee its contractors and consultants. "The parents in this city, the children in the schools, the teachers are sick and tired of every week hearing about another scandal with outside contractors and consultants making millions of dollars that should be used in the classroom for direct services for students."

Mulgrew said revelations of the DOE financial scandals were especially disheartening at a time when the mayor is pushing to lay off more than 4,200 teachers on the grounds that the city can no longer afford to pay them.

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Cuomo Urges Broad Limits to N.Y. Public Pensions

Danny Hakim:

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, joining a parade of officials from across the country who are seeking to rein in spending by limiting public employees' pensions, proposed Wednesday to broadly limit retirement benefits for new city and state workers in New York.

Mr. Cuomo said New York State and New York City simply could no longer afford to offer new employees the generous benefits their predecessors received.

Among the most significant changes the governor proposes is to raise the minimum retirement age to 65 from 62 for state workers, and to 65 from 57 for teachers.

"The numbers speak for themselves -- the pension system as we know it is unsustainable," the governor said in a statement. "This bill institutes common-sense reforms to bring government benefits more in line with the private sector while still serving our employees and protecting our retirees."

Mr. Cuomo's proposal escalates a battle between the first-term Democrat and a major Democratic Party constituency: public-sector labor unions.

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Chinese school defies rigid exam-focused education

Rob Schmitz:

In most Chinese high schools, outdated rote learning is the norm. But one school in Beijing is promoting creativity and independent thinking.

TESS VIGELAND: This week, we've been looking at China's higher education system -- what it takes to get into college and what happens once students get there. China's emphasis on taking tests to get ahead in society raises questions about whether those students will be creative enough to thrive in an economy based on innovation. One school in Beijing is trying to get away from the testing culture.

Our China correspondent Rob Schmitz has the final of three reports.

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A Tale of Two Easts, or How the Madison School District Is Different From Ian's Pizza

Madison School Board Member Ed Hughes:

Here's a confession: I am disappointed to read that Governor Walker's two sons are going to live with their grandparents so that they can continue to attend Wauwatosa East High School next year, rather than move into the Governor's Mansion with their parents and transfer to Madison East High School, the school my children attended.

I'm disappointed not because I was looking forward to the hazing those Walker kids would get. Instead, cock-eyed optimist that I am, I was hoping that the Walker kids would have a good experience at East (henceforth "East" refers to Madison East, not Tosa East).

I don't know anything about the Walker boys and I can certainly understand why they wouldn't want to change high schools if they are happy where they are. But East has some fine programs; I expect that East students would quickly be able to relate to the new students on the basis of who they are rather than to whom they are related; and I expect that East teachers would act with the degree of professionalism we'd all expect in helping the new students with their transition. Yes, yes, I know - that may all be too much to hope for in these deeply polarizing times.

Mainly, I'm sorry because the district can always use additional enrollment. Our state funding and our state-imposed spending limit are both dependent upon our student count.

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Legislative Update: Our Spending Authority Goes Up; Rewritten Charter School Bill Tiptoes Toward Plausibility

Madison School Board Member Ed Hughes:

There's been a considerable legislative activity affecting our schools lately, with the Joint Finance Committee completing its work on the Governor's proposed budget and other legislative committees active as well.

Here's an update on two developments of particular interest to those of us in Madison - the retention of school districts' ability to use property tax carryover authority to increase spending above otherwise applicable revenue limits and the most recent iteration of the Republican charter school expansion legislation working its way through committee.

Other legislative developments will have significant impact elsewhere in the state in the short run and could well affect Madison significantly in the longer run - I'm thinking of the expansion of voucher schools into all of Milwaukee County and Racine and perhaps Green Bay - but the two developments that will likely have a more immediate impact are my focus for today.

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Self-policing bureaucrats undermine Wisconsin's open records laws

Ben, via a kind reader's email:

State employee tries to sic IRS on education reform group

A new controversy related to the Madison protests has emerged. This one involves the taxpayer-funded email account of American Federation of Teachers-Wisconsin leader and Department of Workforce Development employee William Franks.

For reasons explained below, the Education Action Group submitted an open records request for communications from Frank's taxpayer-funded email account that contained specific, strike-related key words.

Upon receipt of the records, EAG discovered that a state attorney allowed Franks to fill the open records request himself. That means he might have been free to turn over the entries he cared to include and delete other entries. Not only that, but the state attorney told Franks that "if you have personal email that contains those specified words in the request, please send copies of those to me, so we can discuss this further." That sounds like one bureaucrat helping another skirt the law and avoid a potentially embarrassing situation.

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Proposal to nix Allied Drive Madison 4K site called short-sighted

Matthew DeFour:

Allied Drive advocates say a Madison School District proposal to abandon plans for a 4-year-old kindergarten site in the South Side neighborhood is short-sighted and potentially harmful to students.

Currently, 66 students are assigned to the Allied Learning Center next fall, including nine students from the Allied Drive neighborhood, one of the city's poorest. But district officials have asked the school board to consider moving the students to other district sites, saying several parents had asked to send their children to other locations.

Ald. Brian Solomon, 10th District, said that recommendation is a "huge concern" touching on issues of civil rights, racial justice and the city's efforts to improve a neighborhood once riddled by drugs and violence.

"This will have such an impact on the long-term success of these kids," Solomon said. "Having every opportunity possible to allow the (Allied) parents to have more involvement will undoubtedly prepare these kids better for future years."

Superintendent Dan Nerad brought the issue to the board's attention last month after the parents of 16 students assigned to the Allied Learning Center requested different sites. In addition to the parents' concerns, Nerad noted the $15,000 cost to add playground equipment and about $150,000 for additional staffing as other reasons not to use the site.

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June 10, 2011

Iowa collecting data on students who took community college classes while in high school

Associated Press:

Education officials are collecting data on Iowa students who earn community college credits while in high school to see how well-prepared those students are for college.

According to a new report by the Iowa Department of Education, more than 38,200 high school students in Iowa took classes last year for credit through community colleges, 50 percent more than five years earlier. Those students accounted for more than 25 percent of the enrollment at the state's community colleges.

The Des Moines Register reported Wednesday that the state hasn't tracked passing and failing rates, and officials don't know whether the courses are as tough as those offered at the college level. But state officials are now collecting that information, said Roger Utman, administrator for the Education Department's Division of Community Colleges and Workforce Preparation.

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Education Psychology: When should you teach children, and when should you let them explore?

The Economist:

IT IS one of the oldest debates in education. Should teachers tell pupils the way things are or encourage them to find out for themselves? Telling children "truths" about the world helps them learn those facts more quickly. Yet the efficient learning of specific facts may lead to the assumption that when the adult has finished teaching, there is nothing further to learn--because if there were, the adult would have said so. A study just published in Cognition by Elizabeth Bonawitz of the University of California, Berkeley, and Patrick Shafto of the University of Louisville, in Kentucky, suggests that is true.

Dr Bonawitz and Dr Shafto arranged for 85 four- and five-year-olds to be presented, during a visit to a museum, with a novel toy that looked like a tangle of coloured pipes and was capable of doing many different things. They wanted to know whether the way the children played with the toy depended on how they were instructed by the adult who gave it to them.

One group of children had a strictly pedagogical introduction. The experimenter said "Look at my toy! This is my toy. I'm going to show you how my toy works." She then pulled a yellow tube out of a purple tube, creating a squeaking sound. Following this, she said, "Wow, see that? This is how my toy works!" and then demonstrated the effect again.

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GRE and SAT Validity

Steven Hsu:

If you are a professor at a research university you have probably spent time on graduate admissions. How good is the GRE as an indicator of candidate quality? Is the subject score more useful than the subject score? What about relative to undergraduate GPA? Similar questions apply to the SAT and undergraduate admissions. 

In both cases the answer is that standardized tests have roughly as much predictive power as GPA (SAT is about as powerful as HS GPA; GRE similar to undergraduate GPA). Not bad for a brief test! When these factors are combined the overall predictive power is increased. My opinion is that standardized tests load more heavily on cognitive ability and less on conscientiousness relative to course grades, hence the non-redundant information in the two measures.

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Getting it Right on Layoffs

Marc Korashan:

In a report on WNYC today, Beth Fertig described the plight of a promising young teacher who is waiting to find out if he will be laid off by the mayor. In the report she wrote, "Lee, 26, teaches third grade at PS 124 in Manhattan's Chinatown. The union contract requires the least experienced teachers to be let go first meaning that elementary teachers with less than four years' experience are most at risk."

Unfortunately, this is not true. The UFT contract makes only one reference to layoffs which is to say that if they are necessary they will done in accordance with applicable state law. It is the law and not the contract that creates a seniority based system for layoffs. This is a small error in an otherwise well done report.

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Public Employee Unions vs. Democratic Governors - Part 93

Mike Antonucci:

d an on-again, off-again relationship with Gov. John Kitzhaber. The Oregon Education Association endorsed his opponent in the Democratic primary, largely because of Kitzhaber’s “performance-based funding” proposal. When Kitzhaber won the nomination, OEA and other public sector unions bet the ranch on him.

Gov. Kitzhaber’s latest proposal is a merger of the state boards dealing with K-12 and higher education, which has caused OEA some heartburn. “I am surprised and disappointed to hear that OEA has changed course and now opposes Senate Bill 909 and a package of modest education reforms that would deliver better results for students, more resources for teachers and more accountability for taxpayer dollars. For them to cling to the status quo is not in the best interest of Oregonians," said Kitzhaber in a statement.

Meanwhile in California, David Kieffer, the executive director of the state SEIU affiliate announced his opposition to Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan for a special election in September to extend and raise taxes. The state’s public sector unions are interested parties because they would be expected to fund the campaign with dues dollars.

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Real Grad Rates

Tom Vander Ark:

I love Salt Lake but having grown up in Denver it makes me nervous to have mountains in the east. I’ve also noticed that they may be more conservative here than in my new hometown of Seattle. The newspaper is reporting with some surprise today that a local anthropologist has found evidence that Darwin was on to something with that evolution stuff.

The editorial page explains that the precipitous drop in the Utah high school graduation rate is a result of all those Latino students moving in.

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CyberPatriot: High School Cyber Defense Competition

Air Force Association:

CyberPatriot is the National High School Cyber Defense Competition created by the Air Force Association (AFA) to excite, educate, and motivate the next generation of cyber defenders and other science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) graduates our nation needs.

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An Interview with Joe Nathan: How Cincinnati, Ohio Public Schools Eliminated the High School Graduation Gap between White and African American Students

Michael F. Shaughnessy

1) Joe, there seems to be a lot of good news coming out of Cincinnati in terms of increased high school graduation rates. What's happening in Cincinnati?

Recently Elizabeth Holtzapple, Cincinnati Public Schools Director of Research, Evaluation and Testing, told me that the district's public schools increased overall high school graduation rates to 81.9% in 2010. That is up from 51% to 2000. She also reported the district also has maintained something major it first achieved in 2007. While continuing to increase overall high school graduation rates, CPS also has eliminated the high school graduation gap between white and African American students.

2) About how long has this concerted effort been going on?

This work has been going on for the last decade. It has involved a series of coordinated, research-based strategies, along with tremendous, creative and courageous work by people in schools, as well as the broader community. There was no single, "silver bullet."

3. What were the key strategies?

Cincinnati used several strategies. The most important included

Focusing on just a few goals (increasing overall graduation rates and reducing the high school graduation gap).

Taking educators, parents, community leaders and students to visit some of the nation's most effective urban district and charter public schools.

Focusing staff development on a few key areas: literacy, numeracy and learning to work more effectively with today's urban youth.

Increasing youth/community service so students learned they are capable of more than they thought.

Positive ongoing leadership from the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers

Holding principals accountable and replacing some in schools where there was not much progress.

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Backlash: Are These End Times for Charter Schools?

Andrew Rotherham:

Is it the best of times or end times for public charter schools? Four thousand charter-school leaders, teachers, advocates and policymakers will gather in Atlanta this month at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools' annual conference. The gathering of upstarts is larger than what many long-standing traditional-education groups can muster, but in states and cities across the country, charter schools are facing increased political pressure and scrutiny. In Georgia, the state's supreme court just ruled that the arrangements for charter schools are unconstitutional. Welcome to town! (See what makes a charter school great.)

Charter schools, the first of which was created in 1992, are public schools that are open to all students but run independently of local school districts. There are now more than 5,000 of them educating more than a million students. Charter schools range in quality from among the best public schools in the country to among the worst. That variance is proving to be a political Achilles' heel for charter schools, fueling a serious backlash. (See "KIPP Schools: A Reform Triumph, or Disappointment?")

In New York City, the NAACP joined the teachers' union in a lawsuit that would have the effect of curbing charter-school growth. That sparked a protest by families in Harlem, and the NAACP was roundly criticized for its stance, which apparently owes more to politics than kids.

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Student Loan Debt: What's the Worst That Could Happen?

Elie Mystal:

As I've mentioned before, I graduated from law school over $150,000 in debt. As many of you know, I haven't exactly paid all of that money back. Not making payments that first year was all my fault. I wanted to get married, didn't have a credit card, and was using money that should have been going to my loans to finance my wedding.

After that first year, things got a little out of hand. My debt was being sold, the monthly payments were outrageous, and I wasn't really paying a lot of attention to the situation during the few times when I was both awake and not billing hours. Then I quit my law firm job, hilarity ensued, and I woke up one day with a credit rating below 550.

I've been paying the minimum balances to various collection agencies since 2007 or so. Whatever. My hopes for paying it off or owning property pretty much rest on my ability to hit the lotto. Most likely, I'll die still owing money for law school. And that will be the story of me.

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June 9, 2011

Peer pressure: Madison La Follette High School youth court program shows potential

Matthew DeFour:

When Madison La Follette High School senior Burnett Reed got into a heated argument with another student during his sophomore year in 2008, he faced a choice.

He could take a disorderly conduct ticket that would stay on his court record. Or he could participate in the school's new youth court program in which a jury of fellow students would assess the case. He chose youth court and was sentenced to writing an apology letter, tutoring and four hours with a life coach.

He so liked the option he soon became a juror, and now is helping Madison West High School start its own program next year.

"It's a better way to keep youth out of the system," Reed said.

The approach has so much potential Madison Municipal Judge Dan Koval wants to start a similar program later this year for adult offenders, particularly those with chronic municipal violations such as retail theft, disorderly conduct, trespassing and other non-criminal offenses.

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Time to Make Professors Teach My new study suggests a simple way to cut college tuition in half.

Richard Vedder:

No sooner do parents proudly watch their children graduate high school than they must begin paying for college. As they write checks for upwards of $40,000 a year, they'll no doubt find themselves complaining loudly about rising college costs--even asking: "Is it worth it?"

It's a legitimate question. As college costs have risen wildly, the benefits of the degree seem less and less clear. Larger numbers of college graduates are taking relatively low-paying and low-skilled jobs.

The good news? There are ways to greatly ease the burden and make college more affordable, according to new data from the University of Texas at Austin.

In a study for the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, Christopher Matgouranis, Jonathan Robe and I concluded that tuition fees at the flagship campus of the University of Texas could be cut by as much as half simply by asking the 80% of faculty with the lowest teaching loads to teach about half as much as the 20% of faculty with the highest loads. The top 20% currently handle 57% of all teaching.

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: U.S. funding for future promises lags by trillions

Dennis Cauchon:

The federal government's financial condition deteriorated rapidly last year, far beyond the $1.5 trillion in new debt taken on to finance the budget deficit, a USA TODAY analysis shows.

The government added $5.3 trillion in new financial obligations in 2010, largely for retirement programs such as Medicare and Social Security. That brings to a record $61.6 trillion the total of financial promises not paid for.

This gap between spending commitments and revenue last year equals more than one-third of the nation's gross domestic product.

Medicare alone took on $1.8 trillion in new liabilities, more than the record deficit prompting heated debate between Congress and the White House over lifting the debt ceiling.

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Special education advocates press Oakland Schools to hire more experienced teachers

Katy Murphy:

In the last two years, teaching candidates from Oakland Teaching Fellows and Teach for America pretty much had a lock on all open special education positions in the Oakland school district.

All but three of the 70 new hires during that time period were teachers placed in Oakland schools through one of those two programs, according to a report the school district released today.

But district staff say in the report that is about to change:

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MPS board votes to ask union for pension concession to save jobs

Karen Herzog:

The Milwaukee School Board voted Tuesday night to ask the teachers union for up to a 5.8% pension contribution, which potentially could be done under legislation passed last week by the Legislature's budget committee. That legislation, if passed by the full Legislature, would allow districts to enter into side agreements without reopening contracts.

If the Milwaukee Teachers' Education Association agreed to the pension contribution, the $19.2 million generated could save 198 teaching positions, including 51 positions in the Student Achievement Guarantee in Education, or SAGE, program, according to district estimates. That program allows an 18-to-1 student-to- teacher ratio in kindergarten through third grade at schools with qualifying low-income children.

The pension contribution savings also could restore 22 nurses and one nursing supervisor position, plus 27 art and music teachers, said Board President Michael Bonds, who proposed that the union be approached for the concession as the board wrestled with its budget for the 2011-'12 fiscal year.

"This is a golden opportunity to save jobs, help our kids, and it's consistent with state law," Bonds said after the meeting.

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One vote could change the outcome for Georgia commission charter schools

Douglas Rosenbloom:

It's not too late. The state Supreme Court has one more chance to get it right.

In the legal equivalent to a 70-yard Hail Mary pass into the end zone, the Georgia Charter Schools Commission's existence is dependent upon one of four judges -- in response to a pending motion for reconsideration -- reversing his or her position and voting to not strike down a law that catapulted Georgia to win a $400 million federal Race to the Top grant and recognition as a leader in public school choice.

As an attorney, a former Atlanta Public Schools elementary teacher and a once bright-eyed judicial intern in our state's highest court, I have struggled to understand the court's unnecessarily harsh decision. Despite their vote, I do not believe that the four judges who decided to dismantle the commission based on historically inaccurate and intellectually dishonest reasoning condone the mediocrity that permeates our public schools.

Nor do I think that any member of the court believes that low-income Georgia families stuck in these mediocre schools have access to political and economic capital of the magnitude expended by local boards of education in their efforts to preserve sole control over charter schools. But I do suspect these judges, on a very basic, instinctual, "gut-feeling" level, under-appreciate the magnificent danger posed to returning to the pre-2008 days of leaving charter school authorization in the exclusive hands of locally elected school boards.

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Report says L.A. principals should have more authority in hiring teachers

Howard Blume:

School principals should be able to hire any teacher of their choosing, and displaced tenured teachers who aren't rehired elsewhere within the system should be permanently dismissed, according to a controversial new report on the Los Angeles Unified School District. The report will be presented Tuesday to the Board of Education.

The research, paid for largely by funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, offers a roadmap for improving the quality of teaching in the nation's second-largest school system, with recommendations strongly backed by L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

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ACLU alleges Milwaukee school voucher program discriminates against disabled students

Matthew DeFour:

The state's Milwaukee school voucher program has discriminated against students with disabilities, according to a federal complaint filed Tuesday by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The complaint, filed with the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, comes as expansion of the voucher program to other cities moves closer to Legislative approval.

The program, which began 20 years ago and serves nearly 21,000 students, provides public money for students to attend private schools, including religious schools.

The complaint states that 1.6 percent of voucher students have disabilities, compared with 19.5 percent of Milwaukee Public School students. It alleges the state has failed to hold private voucher schools accountable for serving children with disabilities.

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Grading Schools: How to Determine the 'Good' From the 'Bad'?


Now we grade the students, but how do we determine if a school is "good" or "bad"?

NewsHour Education Correspondent John Merrow explores the question in this report.

JOHN MERROW: Reading is the foundation of all learning. But according to the nation's report card, only 33 percent of fourth-graders are competent readers.

At this elementary school in New York City, 33 percent would be good news. Last year on the state reading test, only 18 percent of fourth-graders were on grade level, strong evidence of a failing school.

STUDENTS: One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight.

JOHN MERROW: By contrast, this school is filled with enthusiastic students. Teachers provide a supportive and nurturing environment.

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More than 90 Milwaukee Public schools miss federal academic goals

Karen Herzog:

A preliminary list of public schools that missed federally mandated academic goals for the 2010-'11 school year includes more than 90 schools in Milwaukee, a spike from last year as proficiency standards have risen.

Milwaukee Public Schools had 94 of the 228 schools in Wisconsin that missed the so-called adequate yearly progress, or AYP, requirement of the No Child Left Behind Act, according to information released Tuesday by the state Department of Public Instruction.

Last year, 78 schools in MPS missed the academic goals.

The federal standards for reading rose from 74% of students scoring proficient or above last year, to 80.5% proficiency required this year; the mathematics proficiency target rose from 58% to 68.5%.

Three charter schools authorized by the City of Milwaukee and two charter schools under contract with the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee also were on the list for missed goals, along with a handful of suburban schools.

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Wisconsin Governor Walker plans to link job training money, local education reform

John Schmid:

Gov. Scott Walker on Thursday will announce a new policy to disburse hundreds of millions of dollars in federal job training funds each year - and will link the funds to reforms of local education curriculums.

The disclosure came Wednesday morning from Tim Sullivan, chief executive officer of Bucyrus International and the chairman of the Governor's Council on Workforce Investment, a state advisory panel. Sullivan spoke at a meeting of the Milwaukee 7 economic development group.

Under the current system, federal job training funds, disbursed by multiple federal agencies, are paid directly to five state agencies, which in turn have established formulas to spend their share.

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iPhone App: Grades 2

Jeremy & Josh Olson:

Grades shows students what they need to score on their upcoming assignments, tests, and finals in order to get the grade they want. Now with due dates and a handy GPA calculator.
Grades 2 won an award at the recent Apple Developer Conference.

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N.J. Nears Deal to Cut Pensions, Benefits

Lisa Fleisher:

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Senate legislative leaders have reached a deal to cut pensions and benefits for current public employees, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The deal would require workers to pay more of their salaries into the pension system, give up annual cost-of-living increases and pay a percentage of their health care premiums in a tiered system based on their salary, this person said. New employees would have to work longer to get full benefits. Current retirees would not be affected by the deal, nor will people who have at least 25 years in the system.

Top Democratic lawmakers appear to support the proposal. Senate President Stephen Sweeney, who is also a private-sector labor leader, believes he has the votes in his caucus to make it work, according to a person familiar with the matter. It's unclear whether Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver is on board with the deal -- one legislative source said she was -- and if she would be able to muster enough votes in the Assembly, which has been more of an obstacle to Christie's agenda.

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The Dangerous Mr. Khan

David Clemens:

Bill Gates likes Salman Khan a lot, so much so that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is streaming cash to his Khan Academy, an internet silo of over 2,100 free, downloadable video tutorials on Calculus, Physics, Organic Chemistry, et al. Mr. Khan's Academy only has a "faculty of one," but my own students enjoy Mr. Khan's glib teaching style, and they consult his clips on quadratic equations, conic sections, and those hated word problems involving railroad trains. So is the Khan video approach a "disruptive technology" which undermines the existing deathbed educational model by doing it faster, better, and cheaper? Mr. Gates thinks so. "It's a revolution," he enthuses. "Everyone should check it out." ( Wearing his education reformer hat, Mr. Gates declares himself "superhappy."

Mr. Khan, then, by all reports, is an entertaining, trustworthy, and helpful tutor of math and science. However, when he essays history, it's a different story and one that exposes something disquieting about a hidden potential of Internet learning, especially if, as some predict, The Khan Academy is the future of education.

Curious about Mr. Khan's take on something non-science, I pulled up his video "U.S. History Overview 3--World War II to Vietnam"

The screen looks like a squashed, two-dimensional schoolroom; you see a combined blackboard and bulletin board with colorful squiggly dates on a scroll down timeline, random photos (Hitler, Sputnik, Yuri Gagarin, mushroom cloud), and tiny maps. Mr. Khan remains offscreen but writes or circles things onscreen with his pointer and provides his signature breathless voiceover.
Much more on the Khan Academy, here.

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: U.S. funding for future promises lags by trillions

Dennis Cauchon:

The federal government's financial condition deteriorated rapidly last year, far beyond the $1.5 trillion in new debt taken on to finance the budget deficit, a USA TODAY analysis shows.

The government added $5.3 trillion in new financial obligations in 2010, largely for retirement programs such as Medicare and Social Security. That brings to a record $61.6 trillion the total of financial promises not paid for.

This gap between spending commitments and revenue last year equals more than one-third of the nation's gross domestic product.

Medicare alone took on $1.8 trillion in new liabilities, more than the record deficit prompting heated debate between Congress and the White House over lifting the debt ceiling.

Social Security added $1.4 trillion in obligations, partly reflecting longer life expectancies. Federal and military retirement programs added more to the financial hole, too.

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

June 8, 2011

The Cheap Schools Plan

Bruce Murphy:

e are rapidly on course to create a dual-level school system for Wisconsin students. In smaller cities and rural and suburban areas, school systems will continue to spend about $10,000 per pupil. That is a bit less than the national average of $10,499, as a recent Census Bureau report found.

But in big cities such as Milwaukee and Racine, and perhaps in Green Bay and Beloit, more and more students will be educated at choice schools that spend about $6,400 per pupil. These school systems tend to have students who are poorer, more likely to have learning disabilities, and they are typically the most challenging to teach. Yet Gov. Scott Walker and Republican legislators propose to spend less than two-thirds of the average per-pupil spending in other schools in the state and nation.

This situation, I might add, is not simply the fault of Republicans. Many Democrats, in hopes of killing school choice, have adamantly opposed spending more on vouchers in the past, so the per-pupil rate has always been absurdly low. On the other side are Republicans who can't lose with school choice: It undercuts public schools and lowers the number of teachers union members in cities such as Milwaukee. And it allows them to portray themselves as reformers trying to do something about failing schools.

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The Best of States, the Worst of States

Frank Jacobs:

Are these maps cartograms or mere infographics?

An 'information graphic' is defined as any graphic representation of data. It follows from that definition that infographics are less determined by type than by purpose. Which is to represent complex information in a readily graspable graphic format. Those formats are often, but not only: diagrams, flow charts, and maps.

Although one definition of maps - the graphic representation of spatial data - is very similar to that of infographics, the two are easily distinguished by, among other things, the context of the latter, which are usually confined to and embedded in technical and journalistic writing.

Cartograms are a subset of infographics, limited to one type of graphic representation: maps. On these maps, one set of quantitative information (usually surface or distance) is replaced by another (often demographic data or electoral results). The result is an informative distortion of the map (1).

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Rhode Island High Schools Rank Worst in the Country

Dan McGowan:

Rhode Island is one of only a handful of states to not have a single school included in the Washington Post's annual High School Challenge, a ranking of more than 1,900 high schools throughout the country.

The reason: Rhode Island students are significantly behind the national average when it comes to taking Advanced Placement (AP) exams, and near the bottom of the country when it comes to passing them. In the class of 2010, only 17.9 percent of Ocean State students took an AP exam (compared with 28.3 percent nationally) and just 10.9 passed (compared with 16.9 percent nationally), according to a report issued by the College Board.

According to The Post, the formula used to rank the schools was to "divide the number of Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate or other college-level tests a school gave in 2010 by the number of graduating seniors." The goal wasn't to measure to overall quality of the schools, but simply to track how well they are preparing "average students" for college.

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DeForest School Administrators Explain Raises

A list of school district salaries making the rounds online is angering many people in the DeForest area.

The list shows 22 district administrators splitting more than $200,000 in increased compensation. One administrator's salary increased from $66,000 to $92,000 per year, according to the document, which is marked confidential.

District officials said that they were unsure if the copy circulating online is accurate, but were concerned over it.
The board met on Thursday night to write a letter to the community explaining the raises, which were approved last June. A public hearing was not scheduled, but fired-up members of the community showed up questioning not only the raises, but the lack of transparency involved.

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Madison School District may face sanctions for inadequate test scores

Matthew DeFour:

For the first time, the Madison School District has been flagged for possible sanctions under the federal No Child Left Behind law because of inadequate student test scores.

An annual review by the Department of Public Instruction found that Madison was one of six districts that didn't meet objectives in either test scores, test participation, graduation or attendance. Madison fell short in reading scores for the second year in a row and math scores for the first time.

Madison was one of three districts identified as being in need of improvement -- a distinction that comes after two or more years of not meeting standards in one of the categories.

Sixteen Madison schools didn't meet one or more of the objectives, up from five last year. Leopold elementary, Cherokee and Toki middle, and East, Memorial and La Follette high schools were identified as needing improvement.

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The Case For Cursive

Katie Zezima:

For centuries, cursive handwriting has been an art. To a growing number of young people, it is a mystery.

The sinuous letters of the cursive alphabet, swirled on countless love letters, credit card slips and banners above elementary school chalk boards are going the way of the quill and inkwell. With computer keyboards and smartphones increasingly occupying young fingers, the gradual death of the fancier ABC's is revealing some unforeseen challenges.

Might people who write only by printing -- in block letters, or perhaps with a sloppy, squiggly signature -- be more at risk for forgery? Is the development of a fine motor skill thwarted by an aversion to cursive handwriting? And what happens when young people who are not familiar with cursive have to read historical documents like the Constitution?

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Yes, We Should Redistribute Grades

The Economist:

I NOTICED this post by Robin Hanson a couple of weeks ago, teasing the question of how, if one feels that we should redistribute income to compensate for unfairness and limit socially damaging inequality, one could justify not redistributing grade-point averages for the same reasons. Mr Hanson riffs off a video of a waggish student asking a number of baffled campus-goers whether they would be willing to take part in redistributing their GPAs, and notes that students in his classes have been similarly stonkered. Since then XPostFactoid and Megan McArdle have both weighed in.

I find the dilemma here a little hard to seize for reasons that have surely been pointed out by many in comment threads, namely that we do in fact heavily redistribute grade-point averages, for many of the same reasons we redistribute income. This situation strikes me as more or less fine. In the very worst schools in America, some students have 3.0 GPAs, even though the students who earn a 3.0 GPA in those schools would be hard pressed to maintain a 1.0 GPA in America's best schools. Work for which students receive B's in poor schools would earn failing grades in top schools. Classes in many subjects even within highly competitive universities are explicitly graded on a curve, particularly some hard-science classes. All of this represents a profound top-down  effort to ration educational-credit goods according to a predetermined ideal distribution.

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Support Rhode Island mayoral academies

The Providence Journal:

Better public schools are obviously crucial to the future of Rhode Island's students, particularly poor and minority ones, and to its overall economic future.

One of the brightest signs in a long time that Rhode Island can turn things around is the mayoral academy concept, which is thriving in Cumberland, serving that community, Central Falls, Pawtucket and Lincoln. Through the bold leadership of the region's mayors and with the strong support of the General Assembly (especially House Speaker Gordon Fox), it is doing wonderful work.

Dedicated teachers there spend long hours helping students dramatically advance in math, reading and writing, free of union red tape. A mark of the esteem in which parents hold the school is that 877 children vied in April for only 250 open spots, chosen strictly by lottery.

Now, Cranston Mayor Alan Fung is working hard to bring that concept to his city and Providence through a new mayoral-academy program. His plan calls for an academy to grow into two elementary schools, two middle schools and a high school over the next decade.

The state Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education is slated to decide whether to go forward on June 16. Though Governor Chafee has stripped that board of some of its most dedicated reformers, members owe it to the children of Rhode Island to move forward with this promising effort.

Tom Vander Ark
It all comes down to the quality of instruction. Good schools hire and develop good teachers that provide instruction of consistent quality. And that comes down to execution. Achievement First is a charter network that is very good at execution and, as a result, is one the best networks in the country.

The good news is that the innovative Rhode Island Mayoral Academies (RIMA) organization convinced AF to come to RI. said: "One of the brightest signs in a long time that Rhode Island can turn things around is the mayoral academy concept, which is thriving in Cumberland, serving that community, Central Falls, Pawtucket and Lincoln. Through the bold leadership of the region's mayors and with the strong support of the General Assembly (especially House Speaker Gordon Fox), it is doing wonderful work."

The bad news is that "union members packed a hearing on May 26 and urged state officials to reject this opportunity. Some charged that mayoral academies would "siphon" money from the system." Unfortunately the 'protect the system' argument has Rhode Island politicians wavering.

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School District Income Taxes: New Revenue or a Property Tax Substitute?

Justin Ross:

Though a few states have permitted school districts to adopt an income tax, most have statutory requirements for the use of funds or otherwise limit the eligibility of the school districts to a subset of circumstances. Ohio, by contrast, has permitted schools to adopt a residency based income tax for any permissible use of public funds since the 1980's. Using a panel of 609 Ohio school districts from 1990 to 2008, this paper investigates the implementation of a school district income tax on the effective real property millage rate. The findings indicate that a one percent increase in the income tax rate reduces the effective real mills rate by about $3 per $1,000 of taxable property. The income tax's effect accumulates very quickly after its adoption, and persists for years afterward. Simulations on real data imply that about 30% of income tax revenue displaces the property tax. There is also evidence that school districts continue to mimic reductions in their neighbor's millage rate, even when the reduction is caused by higher income tax rates.

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June 7, 2011

Madison Teachers, Inc. head: Time to get 'down and dirty'

Matthew DeFour:

"They're ready," Matthews said afterward, "to do whatever it takes."

After 43 years as executive director of Madison Teachers Inc., Matthews is in the spotlight again after encouraging a four-day sick-out that closed school in February. The action allowed teachers to attend protests at the Capitol over Gov. Scott Walker's proposal to curb collective bargaining by public employees. The matter remains in the courts, but it prompted a hasty contract negotiation between the district and union.

Teachers aren't happy about some of the changes, and Matthews is preparing for a street fight.

"It's going to get down and dirty," Matthews said, alluding to the possibility of more job actions, such as "working the contract" - meaning teachers wouldn't work outside required hours - if the School Board doesn't back off changes in the contract. "You can't continually put people down and do things to control them and hurt them and not have them react."

Moreover, the latest battle over collective bargaining has taken on more personal significance for Matthews, whose life's work has been negotiating contracts.

Much more on John Matthews, here. Madison Teachers, Inc. website and Twitter feed.

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Industry Puts Heat on Schools to Teach Skills Employers Need

James Hagerty:

Big U.S. employers, worried about replacing retiring baby boomers, are wading deeper into education and growing bolder about telling educators how to run their business.

Several initiatives have focused on manufacturing and engineering, fields where technical know-how and math and science skills are needed and where companies worry about recruiting new talent.

Their concerns are borne out by the math and science test scores of 15-year-old students in the U.S., which continue to lag behind China, Japan, South Korea and Germany, for example.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce released a report in May that said higher education had failed to "tap the potential of digital technology" in ways that would "transform learning, dramatically lower costs or improve overall institutional productivity."

The Chamber report praised Internet educational institutions like Khan Academy, which built its reputation on math lessons.

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What is a college education really worth?

Naomi Schaefer Riley:

Did Peter Thiel pop the bubble? That was the question on the minds of parents, taxpayers and higher education leaders late last month when the co-founder of PayPalannounced that he was offering $100,000 to young people who would stay out of college for two years and work instead on scientific and technological innovations. Thiel, who has called college "the default activity," told USA Today that "the pernicious side effect of the education bubble is assuming education [guarantees] absolute good, even with steep student fees."

He has lured 24 of the smartest kids in America and Canada to his Silicon Valley lair with promises of money and mentorship for their projects. Some of these young people have been working in university labs since before adolescence. Others have consulted for Microsoft, Coca-Cola and other top companies. A couple didn't even have to face the choice of putting off college -- one enrolled in college at age 12 and, at 19, had left his PhD studies at Stanford to start his own company.

Of course, Thiel's offer isn't going to change the way most universities do business anytime soon. These 24 kids represent the narrowest swath of the country's college-bound youth. (Though it's important to note: When we talk about America having the greatest system of higher education in the world, these are the kind of people we're bragging about.)

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Social Darwinism

Robin Dunbar:

In May 1846, a year and a half before gold was discovered at Sutter's Mill, several extended families and quite a few unattached males headed with their caravans from Illinois to California. Due to poor organization, some bad advice, and a huge dose of bad luck, by November the group had foundered in the deep snows of the Sierra Nevada. They came to a halt at what is now known as Donner Pass, and, in an iconic if unpleasant moment in California's history, they sat out winter in makeshift tents buried in snow, the group dwindling as survivors resorted to cannibalism to avert starvation.

From an evolutionary point of view, what makes the story interesting is not the cannibalism -- which, in the annals of anthropology, is relatively banal -- but who survived and who did not. Of the 87 pioneers, only 46 came over the pass alive in February and March of the next year. Their story, then, represents a case study of what might be termed catastrophic natural selection. It turns out that, contrary to lay Darwinist expectations, it was not the virile young but those who were embedded in families who had the best odds of survival. The unattached young men, presumably fuller of vigor and capable of withstanding more physical hardship than the others, fared worst, worse even than the older folk and the children.

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Another Big Business Offshore Example: U2

George Arbuthnott:

He is the rock legend dubbed 'Saint Bono' for his long-running campaign against global poverty.

But when Bono's band U2 perform at Glastonbury later this month, protesters are planning to accuse them of avoiding taxes which could have helped exactly the sort of people the singer cares about so dearly.

Members of activist group Art Uncut will hoist a massive inflatable sign with the message 'Bono Pay Up' spelt out in lights during the Irish band's headline performance.
They will also parade bundles of oversized fake cash in front of the singer.

The protest has been provoked by U2's decision to move their multi-million-pound music and publishing business away from Ireland - thus allegedly avoiding taxes on record sales.

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Utah father spends school year waving at son's bus

Associated Press:

The world's most embarrassing father is no more.

Over the course of the 180-day school year, Dale Price waved at the school bus carrying his 16-year-old son, Rain, while wearing something different every morning outside their American Fork home.

He started out by donning a San Diego Chargers helmet and jersey, an Anakin Skywalker helmet, and swim trunks and a snorkel mask, the Daily Herald of Provo and Deseret News of Salt Lake City reported.

Among others, he later dressed up as Elvis, Batgirl, the Little Mermaid, the scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz, Princess Leia, Nacho Libre and Santa Claus. He wore spandex, pleather, feathers, wigs, flips flops, suits, boots, fur, Army fatigues and several dresses, including a wedding dress.

Dale Price said it took a lot of effort to keep up, but he did it to have fun and show his son he really cared about him.

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State school official blasts voucher program expansion to Green Bay

Karen Herzog:

State Superintendent Tony Evers on Monday blasted the Legislature's budget committee for its late-night vote Friday to expand to Green Bay a program that allows students to attend private and religious schools at taxpayer expense.

The voucher expansion should be removed from the state budget and "a true local public debate needs to occur," Evers said in a statement. He also referred to the budget committee's vote to include Racine in the voucher program Thursday night.

"Raising taxes on the citizens of Green Bay and Racine in the dead of night, without public hearings or the support of their locally elected school officials echoes the type of non-representative, undemocratic actions taken by the English parliament against the American colonists through their stamp and tea taxes," Evers said.

He raised several questions about the action Friday night by the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee to include in the state budget an expansion of the school voucher program for Green Bay.

Green Bay property taxpayers are now on track to pay millions for private and religious schools, Evers said. "At the same time, their public school system is being cut $40 million, which will certainly raise class sizes and reduce educational opportunities for public school students."

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Claims of Discrimination By Milwaukee Public Schools Pop Up Again in ED Drug Case

MacIver News Service:

In March, it was announced with much fanfare that the Milwaukee teachers' union was dropping it's controversial Viagra lawsuit against MPS.

However, the MacIver News Service has learned that the effort to force MPS to provide coverage for erectile dysfunction treatments has arisen again, albeit in a different venue.

The Milwaukee Teachers Education Association's (MTEA) decision earlier this year came just eight months after filing their August of 2010 suit in Milwaukee County Circuit Court wherein they argued that the board's policy of excluding erectile dysfunction drugs from their health plan coverage was discriminatory against men.

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June 6, 2011

DPI Report: Madison Schools Are Out of Compliance on Gifted and Talented Education

Lori Raihala:

In response, Superintendent Nerad directed West to start providing honors courses in the fall of 2010. West staff protested, however, and Nerad retracted the directive.

Community members sent another petition in July, 2010-this time signed by 188 supporters-again calling for multiple measures of identification and advanced levels of core courses for 9th and 10th graders at West. This time there was no response but silence.

In the meantime, Greater Madison Urban League President Kaleem Caire told us: "The law is there for a reason. Use it."

So, after years of trying to work with the system, we filed a formal complaint with the DPI in September, 2010. Little did we know what upheaval the next months would bring. In October, the district administration rolled out its College and Career Readiness Plan; teachers at West agitated, and students staged a sit-in. In February, our new governor issued his reform proposal; protesters massed at the Capitol, and school was called off for four days.

In the meantime, the DPI conducted its investigation. Though our complaint had targeted West for its chronic, blatant, willful violations, the DPI extended its audit to the entire Madison School District.

Much more on the Madison parents complaint to the Wisconsin DPI, here.

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School choice debate vs. reality

Jay Matthews:

In the raging debate over school choice--perhaps the only educational issue that gets heated enough to interest politicians--the combatants, including me, tend to go with our own conclusions rather than the research. Timothy Hacsi in his 2002 book "Children As Pawns" showed this is the way we usually argue about schools in America.

But research is still being done. It is refreshing to find a new book presenting some of the most recent findings, as disturbing as they might be to my favorite biases. "School Choice and School Improvement," edited by Mark Berends, Marisa Cannata and Ellen B. Goldring, is the latest offering of Vanderbilt University's National Center on School Choice.

Here are what the data say. Feel free to ignore if it conflicts with your arguments. I certainly will:

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Are we creating dual school systems with charters, vouchers?

Bill McDiarmid:

Recently I participated in a panel discussion following a showing of the film " Waiting for Superman ." The film is deeply moving. Only a heart of granite would remain unmoved by the plight of the children and caretakers as they learn they would not get into their schools of choice.

In the discussion, Jim Johnson, a UNC-Chapel Hill Kenan-Flagler Business School professor and founder of the Union Independent School in Durham, made a crucial observation. He noted that the debate around public charter schools versus traditional public schools, or private versus public schools, deflected us from the underlying issue: the plight of children who have no adult advocates.

As Johnson pointed out, despite failing to win a place in their school of choice, the students featured in the film all had a least one adult in their lives who knowledgeably advocated for them and cared deeply about their learning opportunities.

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Md. teacher evaluation redesign bogs down

Michael Alison Chandler:

Last summer, Maryland won a $250 million federal grant with a promise to build a model to evaluate teachers and principals that would be "transparent and fair" and tie their success for the first time to student test scores and learning.

Now, the state that prides itself on cutting-edge practices and top-in-the-nation schools is struggling -- along with every state or school system that has ever tried -- to come up with a reliable formula for improving the teacher workforce and rooting out the lowest performers.

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California school funding analysis finds disparity

Louis Freedberg, Stephen K. Doi:

State lawmakers have struggled for decades to bring equality to how school districts are funded, yet some districts receive thousands more per student than others, a California Watch analysis has found. And the data show spending more provides no assurance of academic success.

Last year, California schools spent an average of $8,452 to educate each student, a figure that includes money from local, state and federal sources, including one-time stimulus funds.

But that average masks enormous differences in spending. The Carmel Unified School District, for example, spent nearly three times as much as the Norris School District in Bakersfield. According to the state's Legislative Analyst's Office, some of the smallest schools in the Sierra foothills, with just a handful of students, received about $200,000 per student.

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Temporary pay cut approved by Los Angeles teachers

Howard Blume:

Members of the Los Angeles teachers union voted overwhelmingly to approve a temporary salary reduction in exchange for sparing thousands of jobs, the union announced Saturday.

The vote, which took place Thursday and Friday, means that the Los Angeles Unified School District's swollen class sizes will not increase next year and that the vast majority of teachers, nurses, librarians and magnet school coordinators -- who run popular special programs -- are likely to keep their jobs.

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An inner city school fights to save its orchestra

Associated Press:

The violin isn't pretty, but its scratched frame has been well-loved by the girl who cradles it now, and those who played it before her. Her mother calls it her daughter's "soul mate."

The instrument doesn't belong to Nidalis Burgos. It is on loan from her school, where the seventh-grader packs it up each weekday to bring it home.

She practices anywhere she can -- in her bedroom, in the kitchen, on her back porch so she can hear the sound reverberate off the brick apartment buildings that line the alley. Usually, she warms up with "Ode to Joy," her mother's favorite song, and a fitting theme for a girl who truly seems to love playing.

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Sun Priarie Administrator Moving to Madison?

SP-EYE via a kind reader's email:

At the last school board meeting, we learned, in a late addendum to the Personnel agenda item, that High School Assistant Principal Rainey Briggs ($75,971) is also leaving the district. Word on the street is that he has been offered a Principalship in the Madison school district. Hmmm? Don't we have a Principal position open here in Sun Prairie? At Creekside elementary? Was Briggs interested in that position? Was he interested but Culver was not, n'est ce pas? Enquiring minds are wondering.

Briggs has developed a reputation as a charismatic, inspiring, and aspiring leader within the district and the community. We've heard anecdotal tributes to his efforts to work with kids at the high school and middle school level. We're hoping we didn't let him go without a fight. In fact, the board meeting got a little edgy when 3 board members voted AGAINST accepting his resignation. It came down to poor Terry Shimek having to cast the final vote to accept the resignation of Briggs as well as the Sound of Sun Prairie leaders who resigned amid stormy allegations. It was the right move for Shimek...they couldn't really deny these folks...right? (although Briggs had technically committed to honoring his contract earlier this year). You can't force people to stay when they wish to go...right?

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Why the Democratic Party Has Abandoned the Middle Class in Favor of the Rich

Kevin Drum:

The first is this: Income inequality has grown dramatically since the mid-'70s--far more in the US than in most advanced countries--and the gap is only partly related to college grads outperforming high-school grads. Rather, the bulk of our growing inequality has been a product of skyrocketing incomes among the richest 1 percent and--even more dramatically--among the top 0.1 percent. It has, in other words, been CEOs and Wall Street traders at the very tippy-top who are hoovering up vast sums of money from everyone, even those who by ordinary standards are pretty well off.

Second, American politicians don't care much about voters with moderate incomes. Princeton political scientist Larry Bartels studied the voting behavior of US senators in the early '90s and discovered that they respond far more to the desires of high-income groups than to anyone else. By itself, that's not a surprise. He also found that Republicans don't respond at all to the desires of voters with modest incomes. Maybe that's not a surprise, either. But this should be: Bartels found that Democratic senators don't respond to the desires of these voters, either. At all.

It doesn't take a multivariate correlation to conclude that these two things are tightly related: If politicians care almost exclusively about the concerns of the rich, it makes sense that over the past decades they've enacted policies that have ended up benefiting the rich. And if you're not rich yourself, this is a problem. First and foremost, it's an economic problem because it's siphoned vast sums of money from the pockets of most Americans into those of the ultrawealthy. At the same time, relentless concentration of wealth and power among the rich is deeply corrosive in a democracy, and this makes it a profoundly political problem as well.

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Educator's desire to help led to Haiti school, church

Amy Rabideau Silvers:

Sudie E. Tatum's church community planned to celebrate her life Sunday.

She was diagnosed with cancer in mid-April - Pastor Johnny C. White Jr. knew but not everyone else - and the Greater Galilee Missionary Baptist Church began plans for the celebration weeks ago.

When she died Wednesday, her family and friends decided there was no reason to change the date.

"Now we're going to have a home-going service for her," said a cousin, Terri Jordan. "It was going to be Dr. Tatum Day, and now it's really going to be Dr. Tatum Day."

Tatum was remembered as a woman who packed plenty of life into her 92 years.

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June 5, 2011

Voucher schools to expand amid questions about their performance

Susan Troller:

If Gov. Scott Walker's budget is passed with recommendations approved Thursday by the Joint Committee on Finance, there will be more students in more voucher schools in more Wisconsin communities.

But critics of school voucher programs are hoping legislators will look long and hard at actual student achievement benefits before they vote to use tax dollars to send students to private schools. They also suggest that studies that have touted benefits of voucher programs should be viewed with a careful eye, and that claims that graduation rates for voucher schools exceed 90 percent are not just overly optimistic, but misleading.

"The policy decisions we are making today should not be guided by false statistics being propagated by people with a financial interest in the continuation and expansion of vouchers nationwide," wrote state Rep. Sondy Pope-Roberts, D-Middleton, in a news release Friday.

Pope-Roberts is particularly critical of statistics that school choice lobbyists and pro-voucher legislators are using that claim that 94 percent of school voucher students graduated from high school in four years.

It's good news, she says, but it tells a very selective story about a relatively small subset of students who were studied. That graduation rate reflects only the graduation rate for students who actually remained in the voucher program for all four years: Just 318 of the 801 students who began the program stayed with it.

Related: Per student spending differences between voucher and traditional public schools is material, particularly during tight economic times.

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Class Struggle: India's Experiment in Schooling Tests Rich and Poor

Geeta Anand:

Instead of playing cricket with the kids in the alleyway outside, four-year-old Sumit Jha sweats in his family's one-room apartment. A power cut has stilled the overhead fan. In the stifling heat, he traces and retraces the image of a goat.

In April, he enrolled in the nursery class of Shri Ram School, the most coveted private educational institution in India's capital. Its students include the grandchildren of India's most powerful figures--Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress party President Sonia Gandhi.

Sumit, on the other hand, lives in a slum.

His admission to Shri Ram is part of a grand Indian experiment to narrow the gulf between rich and poor that is widening as India's economy expands. The Right to Education Act, passed in 2009, mandates that private schools set aside 25% of admissions for low-income, underprivileged and disabled students. In Delhi, families earning less than 100,000 rupees (about $2,500 a year) qualify.

Shri Ram, a nontraditional school founded in 1988, would seem well-suited to the experiment. Rather than drill on rote learning, as many Indian schools do, Shri Ram encourages creativity by teaching through stories, songs and art. In a typical class, two teachers supervise 29 students; at public schools nearby, one teacher has more than 50. Three times a day, a gong sounds and teachers and students pause for a moment of contemplation. Above the entrance, a banner reads, "Peace."

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What does the future hold for education in Wisconsin?

Alan Borsuk:

Mr. Educational Landscape Watcher here, with his jaw hanging open while he thinks about a few questions that boil down to this: What next?

In January, Gov. Scott Walker told a convention of school board members and administrators from around Wisconsin that he was going to give them new tools to deal with their financial issues. Naïve me - I thought he meant bigger hammers and saws.

It turned out Walker was thinking along the lines of those machines that can strip-mine most of China in a week.

Goodness gracious, look at where things stand less than five months later, with more earth moving and drama ahead. Every public school in Wisconsin will be different in important ways because of what has happened in Madison. The private school enrollment in the Milwaukee and Racine areas will get a boost, maybe a large one. The decisions many people make on schooling for their kids are likely to be changed by what has happened in Madison. And then there's the future of Milwaukee Public Schools (he said with a shudder).

As the Legislature's budget committee wraps up its work, let's venture thoughts on a few questions:

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Live and Learn: Why We Have College

Louis Menand:

y first job as a professor was at an Ivy League university. The students were happy to be taught, and we, their teachers, were happy to be teaching them. Whatever portion of their time and energy was being eaten up by social commitments--which may have been huge, but about which I was ignorant--they seemed earnestly and unproblematically engaged with the academic experience. If I was naïve about this, they were gracious enough not to disabuse me. None of us ever questioned the importance of what we were doing.

At a certain appointed hour, the university decided to make its way in the world without me, and we parted company. I was assured that there were no hard feelings. I was fortunate to get a position in a public university system, at a college with an overworked faculty, an army of part-time instructors, and sixteen thousand students. Many of these students were the first in their families to attend college, and any distractions they had were not social. Many of them worked, and some had complicated family responsibilities.

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Schools: No longer separate, still not equal

Gloria Romero:

Fifty-seven years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that a separate education was not an equal education. It demanded that, with all deliberate speed, states across the nation remedy this intolerable injustice. This ruling was the culmination of a long and arduous struggle in the courts and in communities across America. And while it was an incredible milestone in our country's history, the years to come would prove that the justices were unable to wipe away years of inequality and disadvantage with the stroke of a pen. Indeed, nearly six decades after Brown, America still struggles to ensure not only a high-quality education to every child, but an equal one.

The promise of speed has been impaled on the politics of paralysis. The needs of children have taken a back seat on the bus to the special interests of adults that have continued to drive the education bureaucracy. That children in America continue to have unequal access to excellent education is made apparent by the statistics that show that minority children continue to languish behind their peers in statewide and national academic proficiency tests. The achievement gap between African-American and Latino students and their peers should shock the conscience of a country existing on the premise that every child born in America has an equal opportunity to succeed.

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Update on The Madison School District's High School Curriculum Alignment

Superintendent Dan Nerad:

In 2008, MMSD received a 5.3 million dollar grant Smaller Learning Communities Grant from the federal government. This grant is known locally as Relationships, Engagement, and Learning (REaL). Work to date has focused on developing teacher capacity, aligning curriculum, improving instructional practice all for the end goal of improving student achievement. During the 2010-11 school year, MMSD unveiled a comprehensive process plan for aligning curriculum PrK-12 with specific focus on the four high schools. The attached report serves as a status update on the MMSD High School Curriculum Alignment Process.

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Census reveals plummeting U.S. birthrates

Haya El Nasser & Paul Overberg:

In 1960, the year Helen Cini gave birth to one of her five children, 15 other kids were born on her block here in this quintessential postwar American suburb.

The local obstetrician was so busy he often slept in his car.

Kathy Bachman felt like an oddity when her family moved to Cherry Lane in the Crabtree section of Levittown when she was 5. She was an only child, and "everybody had five or six kids in every house."

Fast-forward to 2011.

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Seattle Times Editorial "Thinking beyond 'college for all'"

Charlie Mas:

Today brings us a new Seattle Times editorial on education. "Thinking beyond 'college for all" by Lynne Varner says that education reformers are right to promote college for every student, but they should adopt a broader definition of college, one that includes post-high-school credentials other than baccalaureate degrees.

Of course, this is what Shep Siegel has been saying for years. And I have been saying it as well ever since I heard Dr. Siegel say it. So, welcome to party, Ms Varner. Where ya been?

Here's the crux: every student should go on from high school to some form of post-secondary education - a four-year college, a two-year college, an apprenticeship, a vocational program, or some sort of training program. All of it is post-secondary education and all of it needs to be included when we think of "college" in the context of "college for all".

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Energy industry shapes lessons in public schools

Kevin Sieff:

In the mountains of southwestern Virginia, Gequetta Bright Laney taught public high school students this spring about a subject of keen interest to the region's biggest employer: the economics of coal mining.

"Where there's coal, there's opportunity," Bright Laney told her class at Coeburn High School in Wise County.

Her lessons, like others in dozens of public schools across the country, were approved and funded by the coal industry. Such efforts reflect a broader pattern of private-sector attempts to influence what gets taught in public schools.

Eager to burnish its reputation, the energy industry is spending significant sums of money on education in communities with sensitive coal, natural gas and oil exploration projects. The industry aims to teach students about its contributions to local economies and counter criticism from environmental groups.

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Creative Destruction in Education

Jay Greene:

For the most part, organizations are incapable of innovating. Most organizations are founded with a particular mission and method for pursuing that mission. If circumstances require that the mission or method be changed, organizations generally can't do it. They'll just keep doing what they were initially established to do until they can no longer continue operating.

Progress occurs not by turning around failing institutions, but by replacing those organizations with new ones that have a better mission and/or method. Of the original 500 companies included in the S&P 500 in 1957 only 74 (15%) exist today as independent companies. In the private sector, innovation primarily occurs by replacing or fundamentally re-organizing organizations and not by "reforming" them.

And while U.S. real GDP has nearly quintupled since 1970, education achievement of 17 year-olds and high school graduation rates have remained basically unchanged over the same time period. Perhaps the reason for progress in the economy but not in education stems from our willingness to allow new organizations to replace old ones in the private sector, but not in education.

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Share of Population on Food Stamps Grows in Most States

Sara Murray

The share of residents turning to food stamps has risen in nearly every state nationwide in the past year even as unemployment has moderated.

After a temporary plateau in February, the number of Americans receiving food stamps ticked up again in March. Nearly 44.6 million received food stamps in March, up more than 11% from the same time a year ago, the Department of Agriculture said Tuesday.

The share of the population receiving food stamps nationwide has also risen as households struggle with high unemployment and stagnant wages. Some 14.4% of Americans relied on food stamps in March, up 1.4 percentage points from a year earlier.

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It's Not About You

David Brooks:

Over the past few weeks, America's colleges have sent another class of graduates off into the world. These graduates possess something of inestimable value. Nearly every sensible middle-aged person would give away all their money to be able to go back to age 22 and begin adulthood anew.

But, especially this year, one is conscious of the many ways in which this year's graduating class has been ill served by their elders. They enter a bad job market, the hangover from decades of excessive borrowing. They inherit a ruinous federal debt.

More important, their lives have been perversely structured. This year's graduates are members of the most supervised generation in American history. Through their childhoods and teenage years, they have been monitored, tutored, coached and honed to an unprecedented degree.

Yet upon graduation they will enter a world that is unprecedentedly wide open and unstructured. Most of them will not quickly get married, buy a home and have kids, as previous generations did. Instead, they will confront amazingly diverse job markets, social landscapes and lifestyle niches. Most will spend a decade wandering from job to job and clique to clique, searching for a role.

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Madison School District Dual Language Immersion Program Evaluation

Daniel A. Nerad, Superintendent:

In Winter 2011, the Center for Applied Linguistics conducted a comprehensive evaluation of the dual language immersion (DLI) programs in the Madison Metropolitan School District, including a charter school with DLI implemented K-5, three elementary schools just beginning implementation, and one middle school site with DLI in sixth grade. The goal of the evaluation was to gather sufficient information for strategic planning to adjust any program components that are in need of improvement, and to strengthen those areas of the programs that are already in alignment with best practices. This report provides feedback on student outcomes, things that are going well, and recommendations for the short-, mid-, and long-term.

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Madison School District Fine Arts Task Force Update

Laurie Fellenz, Teacher Leader- Fine Arts:

High School course sequence and alignment by course title across the four large high schools is nearly complete. All course titles will be fully aligned by 2011-12. This allows us to look at fine arts courses that are being offered at all of our high schools and what courses are more building-specific. Fine Arts Leadership Teams and High School Department chairs have discussed the equity (and inequity) across the attendance areas, and these two groups will offer recommendations during the 2011- 12 school year to improve access for all students to a wide variety of high school fine arts offerings.

Through the new Curricular Materials budget process now managed by Curriculum & Assessment (formerly ELM), the purchase of the Silver Burdett Making Music series for all elementary schools began this spring. All kindergarten books have been purchased, and 1" grade materials will be purchased with the 2011-12 Curriculum Materials budget. The decision was made to purchase one grade at a time so that all elementary schools have equitable resources.

Funds from the Curricular Materials budget and the Fine Arts Task Force allocation were used to purchase REMO World Music Drumming instruments and curriculum forall32elementaryschools. Schools were assessed on their current inventory- some schools received full sets and some schools will divide sets based on need. All schools will receive the full complement o f curriculum materials, and professional development in 2011-12 will include world music drumming and drum circles.

Much more on the Fine Arts Task Force, here.

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June 4, 2011

Madison School District Literacy Program Evaluation

Lisa Wachtel, Executive Director of Curriculum & Assessment:

2010-11 was the first year in which a formal curricular review cycle has been initiated. According to the program review cycle approved by the MMSD Board of Education, literacy was the first area to be reviewed. As a part of an intensive first year (Year 1) review cycle, the Literacy Evaluation and Recommendations were presented to the Board in February, 2011. At the March, 2011 Board meeting, a panel presentation was made in addition to sharing updated action plans and budget implications. Additional budget clarifications were made at the April, 2011 Board meeting.
Recommendations Requested on June 6, 2011

It is recommended that the Board approve the Literacy Program Evaluation: Findings and Recommendations.

It is recommended that the Board approve $611,000 to support the Literacy Program Evaluation recommendations. $531,000 of this amount is included in the Superintendent's 2011-12 Balanced Budget Funding for READ 180 in the amount of $80,000 is included in the recommended funding for additions to the 2011-12 cost-to-continue budget (memo dated May 16, 2011) from cost savings measures.

It is recommended that the Board approve the plan to purchase learning materials to support literacy in the amount of $415,000. In October, 2011, the Board requested a plan to outline the purchase. This plan supports the Literacy Evaluation Recommendations, including K-12 literacy instructional materials, Dual Language Immersion, and equity purchases. Funding for the $415,000 purchases is included in 2010-11 contingency accounts (Fund 10) transferred to Curriculum & Assessment (Fund 10) to supplement the Instructional Learning Materials Budget (ELM).

Supporting Documentation
The full report, K-12 Literacy Program Evaluation: Findings and Recommendation for Continual Improvement of Literacy Achievement & K-12 Alignment was submitted by courier to the Board on February 22, 2011. This document is in a 3-ring binder, and is not being re-sent in this packet

A summary document, titled Recommendations, Cost Considerations and Plan Description (dated March 17, 2011) provides more detail regarding how the action steps are being carried and reflects the most current budget requests totaling $611,000.

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Madison School District Math Task Force Update

Lisa Wachtel, Executive Director of Curriculum and Assessment Sarah Lord, Mathematics Teacher Leader (2010-2011) Jeff Ziegler, Mathematics Teacher Leader (2011-2012) Grant Goettl, Middle School Math Specialist Resource Teacher Laura Godfrey, Mathematics Resource Teacher:

During the 2010-2011 school year, the Mathematics Division of Curriculum and Assessment (C&A) focused on implementing recommendations regarding Middle School Mathematics Specialists. Additionally, progress has been made in working towards consistent district-wide resources at the high school level.

Recommendations #1 - #5:
Recommendations #1-#5 focus on increasing mathematical knowledge for teaching in MMSD 's middle school teachers of mathematics. These recommendations address our workforce, hiring practices, professional development, partnerships with the UW and work with the Wisconsin DPI to change certification requirements.

The C&A Executive Director, C&A Assistant Director, Deputy Superintendent, Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Schools and Mathematics Instructional Resource Teacher met with Human Resources to discuss the implementation of the district-wide expectation for the hiring and retention of Math Specialists. This team created wording to be inserted into all middle school positions that state expectations for teachers involved in teaching mathematics.

The Mathematics Instructional Resource Teacher from Curriculum and Assessment has visited middle schools across Madison to share information with teaching staff and answer questions regarding the Middle School Math Specialist professional development program and the associated expectation for middle school teachers of mathematics. The resource teacher has also met with the Middle School Math Leadership Academy, and the Learning Coordinators to share information and answer questions. A website was created to provide easy access to the needed information. (A copy of the website is attached as Appendix E.)

The Middle School Math Specialist Advisory group that includes UW Mathematics, UW Mathematics Education, Education Outreach and Partnerships, and Madison Metropolitan School District has met throughout the year to provide updates, guidance to the development of the Math Specialist program, and continual feedback on the courses and implementation.

The first cohort of classes in the Middle School Math Specialist program being offered at UW-Madison began in August of20!0. During the first year, the three courses were co-taught by representatives from UW-Mathematics (Shirin Malekpour), UW- ( Mathematics Education (Meg Meyer), and MMSD (Grant Goettl). A total of22 MMSD teachers participated, with seven completing one course, two completing two courses, and ten completing all three offered courses. The topics of study included number properties, proportional reasoning, and geometry.

The first cohort will continue into their second year with eleven participants. The topics of study will include algebra and conjecture. The first cohort will complete the five course sequence in the spring of 2012.

The second cohort is currently being recruited. Advertising for this cohort began in March and sign-up began in April. This cohort will begin coursework in August of 2011. In the first year they will participate in three courses including the study of number properties, proportional reasoning, and geometry. This cohort will complete the five course sequence in the spring of 2013.

The tentative plan for facilitation of the 2011-2012 courses is as follows:

Much more on the Math Task Force, here.

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Madison School District Equity Report Update

Andreal Davis, Assistant Director for Equity and Family Involvement:

The 2010 Report provides a baseline from which the MMSD will measure future progress in meeting the three goals set forth in the BOE equity policy. Data reported in The State of the District 2010 ( informs key findings in this first annual report. Additionally, critical issues related to the specified equity goals are framed within the context of the Strategic Plan Objectives/Strategies. Outlined below, specific performance measures prescribed in the Strategic Plan will serve as indicators of progress towards meeting the MMSD equity goals.
Much more on the Madison School District's Equity Task Force, here.

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Some Illinois public school teachers earning six-figure salaries

Rosalind Rossi & Art Golab:

Want to wind up making at least six figures as a public school teacher?

Send your resume to Highland Park or Deerfield High School, both in Township High School District 113.

The district -- which has no teachers union -- boasted the highest average teacher pay in the state last school year, at $104,737.

More than half of all District 113 full-time teachers -- 55 percent to be exact -- pulled down at least $100,000 in total compensation, including benefits and extra pay for extracurricular activities.

"I would love it if we weren't number one," said District 113 School Board President Harvey Cohen. "Our goal isn't to say, 'Lake Forest pays $50,000 so we'll go $60,000.'

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High Tech MCAT Cheating


Two B.C. men are facing criminal charges for allegedly attempting a high-tech scam to cheat on a medical school entrance exam using secret cameras, wireless transmitters and three tutors, who at first did not realize they were being duped.

According to documents filed in provincial court in Richmond, B.C., Josiah Miguel Ruben and Houman Rezazadeh-Azar are each facing six charges including theft, unauthorized use of a computer, using a device to obtain unauthorized service and theft of data.

Police allege that on Jan. 29, Rezazadeh-Azar sat down in a room at the University of Victoria to write the Medical College Admissions Test, or MCAT, run by the Association of Medical Colleges.

Police allege he used a pinhole camera and wireless technology to transmit images of the questions on a computer screen back to his co-conspirator, Ruben, at the University of British Columbia.

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Eva Moskowitz, Harlem Success And The Political Exploitation Of Children

Leo Casey:

As educators, one of our defining beliefs is the principle that we do not use the students entrusted in our care as a vehicle for promoting and accomplishing our political agendas. We hold to this core value even when the political agendas we are pursuing involves causes that will better the lives of those young people, such as full funding for day care centers and schools. When communities and families send their young to us to be educated, they trust that we will exercise the authority given to us as teachers responsibly: we do not manipulate young people into political action they do not fully understand, but educate them into the skills and knowledge of democratic citizenship, in order that one day they will be prepared to make and act on their own informed choices of political action.

So when Eva Moskowitz and her Harlem Success Academies turned out students and parents to support the closing of district schools at the February meetings of the Panel for Educational Policy, many of us present were shocked at the way in which 5 year old and 6 year old children were sent to the microphones to speak words they clearly did not understand, put into their mouths by adults who called themselves educators, even as they ignored our most fundamental professional ethics. But if we were paying attention, we would have seen that this crass political exploitation of children is actually a consistent behavior of Moskowitz and Harlem Success.

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Cradle to the grave

Irene Jay Liu and Vanessa Ko

A conservative society and ignorance are behind an alarming number of cases of newborn babies being killed by young Hong Kong mothers

It's a familiar story told too many times, and it has a tragic end.

An unmarried girl secretly gives birth. She is alone; one helpless child burdened with another. In this tale, it is the innocent who perishes, at the hands of the ignorant - a teenage mother.

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More insight into new Illinois facilities law from community expert


Here's a great analysis of the new Chicago school facilities law from Jackie Leavy, retired executive director of the late lamented Neighborhood Capital Budget Group.

Jackie and I were members of Paul Vallas's Blue Ribbon Capital Development Panel, which Vallas dissolved around or about 1997 after Jackie and I (mostly Jackie) began to ask too many questions and actually try to get the group to do what this new law will now force CPS to do.

Here's what Jackie says today:

Colleagues, Parent and Community Leaders:

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Suen gets tough in textbook dispute: Publishers are told they must separately sell teaching materials and school books, or other parties such as universities will be allowed to enter market

Dennis Chong & Amy Yip:

Secretary for Education Michael Suen Ming-yeung yesterday threw down the gauntlet to school textbook publishers, saying the government would take over publishing them unless "monopolies" get serious about selling the books and teaching materials separately.

Advocacy groups welcomed the idea, saying it would lower prices, but publishers described the one-year ultimatum as "mission impossible".

Publishers last year pledged to separately sell textbooks and teaching materials, which can cost twice as much as the textbooks. But they recently said it would take another three years to do so.

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Detroit Looks To Charters To Remake Public Schools

Larry Abramson:

The Detroit Public School system hopes to convert dozens of schools into charters in the next year or so in a last-ditch effort to cut costs and stop plummeting enrollment.

The plan faces tremendous skepticism from a generation of parents and teachers frustrated from previous reform efforts.

No one has ever done what DPS is trying to do: turn more than 40 schools into charters, some in just a few short weeks.

Greg Richmond of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers says that when the city first approached him with this idea, he hesitated.

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June 3, 2011

Rhode Island State of Education Address 2011

Deborah Gist:

This year, we had some truly remarkable news regarding our state assessments. For the first time, Rhode Island high-school students outscored their peers in New Hampshire and Vermont in reading and writing. That's right: Rhode Island high-school students were the best.

Across our state, we see examples of success and pockets of excellence. Many of our schools are moving from good to great. We have the skills and the knowledge base to create a system of public schools in which all students have access to excellence. But we are not there yet.

Our mathematics and science scores, particularly in high school, are far too low. And nearly one of every four students fails to graduate.

To transform education in Rhode Island, we need to turn around our lowest-achieving schools and get them on the road toward success. We have to close the achievement gaps that separate some student groups from others.

Wide gaps separate the performance of our students with disabilities, our English-language learners, and our students living in poverty from their peers across the state. Our Hispanic students, for example, are the lowest-achieving in the country in mathematics - a fact we cannot tolerate and must change.

Even our highest-performing schools can improve their achievement levels. We need to raise our graduation rates, increase the percentages of students going to college, and provide multiple pathways for students seeking entry into challenging and rewarding careers.

Much more on Deborah Gist, here.

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Aspen Institute Highlights Teacher Union and School District Collaboration

The Aspen Institute:

oday the Aspen Institute examined the historic partnership in Pittsburgh between the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers (PFT) and Pittsburgh Public Schools (PPS) through release of a research paper and at a panel discussion.

Panel moderator and executive director of the Aspen Institute Education & Society Program Ross Wiener underlined that an adversarial relationship between management and labor is not inevitable if both sides are committed to maximizing student outcomes by providing the best-equipped, most effective teachers.

The partnership between PPS and the PFT is a powerful example of what's possible when districts and unions honestly confront the issues, and when leaders on both sides are willing to change. "Pittsburgh's pursuit of an ambitious reform agenda through cooperative efforts offers a powerful counterpoint to the current focus on union-district discord," said Wiener. "While collaboration can't substitute for a substantive improvement agenda, there's every reason to believe we'll make more progress when people are working together. Genuine collaboration will look different in every context, but there are important lessons in Pittsburgh's journey."

Hosted by the Aspen Institute Education & Society Program, the panel discussion was based upon release of its newest report: "Forging a New Partnership: The Story of Teacher Union and School District Collaboration in Pittsburgh." The report, authored by Pittsburgh Post-Gazette staff writer Sean Hamill, provides an in-depth look at the breakthrough collaboration that took place in Pittsburgh over the past five years. The report also highlights important principles applicable to other districts across the US.

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Why DFER is the most important advocacy group in the US

Tom Vander Ark:

Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) may be the most important advocacy group in America.

In the long run, education is the issue that will most determine this country's role in the world.

In the long run, it will be the position of the leaders of the Democratic party, state by state and in congress, that will determine the quality of education in America. Democrats have historically supported increased spending but not always measures that increase quality. DFER makes the case in its statement of principles:

A first-rate system of public education is the cornerstone of a prosperous, free and just society, yet millions of American children today - particularly low-income and children of color - are trapped in persistently failing schools that are part of deeply dysfunctional school systems. These systems, once viewed romantically as avenues of opportunity for all, have become captive to powerful, entrenched interests that too often put the demands of adults before the educational needs of children. This perverse hierarchy of priorities is political, and thus requires a political response.

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Is Detroit Public Schools worth saving? Charter process sparks debate

Chastity Pratt:

The Detroit Public Schools, as we know it, could disappear in a few years.

A DPS action plan would charter up to 45 schools, close 20 and leave about 70 that include the best-performing schools, some newly constructed and a handful of special-education schools that are expensive to run.

The process already is under way with organizations invited to apply to DPS for charters.

With such a concerted effort to shrink DPS, local leaders, educators, politicians and taxpayers are debating a question: Is DPS worth saving?

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Trading K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Students for Employees: Teacher Count Up, Student Count Down

Mike Antonucci:

With politicians and education policy-makers preoccupied by budget cuts and layoffs, it is easy to overlook why we find ourselves in this position. Fortunately, the U.S. Census Bureau rides in to remind us.

Each year the bureau publishes a comprehensive report on public school revenues and expenditures. Coupled with education staffing statistics from the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics Common Core of Data, it gives us a fundamental picture of the finances and labor costs of the American public school system.

The latest Census Bureau report provides details of the 2008-09 school year, as the nation was in the midst of the recession. That year, 48,238,962 students were enrolled in the U.S. K-12 public education system. That was a decline of 157,114 students from the previous year. They were taught by 3,231,487 teachers (full-time equivalent). That was an increase of 81,426 teachers from the previous year.

This is not new information. We knew last October that the entire public education workforce - teachers, principals, administrators and support workers - grew by more than 137,000 employees during the recession.

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Chinese whispers

Tom Meltzer:

A British language teacher claims he can teach people to speak Putonghua in just two days. Can it be done?

''In theory," says language teacher Paul Noble, forming a steeple with his fingers in true professorial style, "you should learn Chinese today and tomorrow quicker than anyone has ever learned it on the planet."

In theory, because I'm the first student to take his intensive two-day course in Putonghua, which he is teaching me with his wife, native speaker Chou Kaiti, in the basement of a north London art gallery. If their prototype course works as well as they are hoping, then two days from now I will, as the spiel on Noble's website boasts, "have learned to speak Chinese the way it is really spoken".

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Learning curve

Aung San Suu Kyi:

One of my favourite dicta is that people should not be categorised as good or evil, wise or stupid. It would be much more sensible to divide them simply into learners and non-learners. In between the two extremes would be a broad spectrum graded on the degree to which individuals are capable of correct assessment and understanding of the learning material at their disposal.

Here, of course, I'm giving a very broad definition to learning. It would involve much more than what could be acquired from any one institution or from any one formal teacher. It would mean a process of gaining such knowledge and experience as would help us to cope with the challenges that life throws at us and to find ways of enhancing our own existence, as well as that of as great a portion as possible of all the other occupants of our planet.

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RI schools chief: Cooperation key to school reform

Associated Press:

The state's top education official told lawmakers Wednesday that it will take more than money and standardized tests to improve Rhode Island's public schools.

In an address to a joint session of the state House and Senate, Education Commissioner Deborah Gist said parents, teachers and elected leaders must work together to increase student performance and turn out graduates ready for jobs or college.

"To transform our schools, we must also transform the culture," she told lawmakers. "We need to speak out in support of public education and the things we believe in, but we should not question the good intentions of those with whom we disagree. We must never let our dialogue and discourse become toxic."

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Special needs kids and options

Hasmig Tempesta:

As the mother of a special needs child and as someone who works professionally with individuals with disabilities, I support Assembly Bill 110, the Special Needs Scholarship Act. The bill would allow the small group of parents whose children's needs cannot be met by their school district to pursue an appropriate education for their children, just as any parent would want to do.

It is a sad fact that some school districts across this state fail to provide special needs students with the education they require due to lack of funding/resources, specialized training and sometimes willingness. In these few cases, the scholarships would help move these children into a program that meets their needs and prepares them for success.

Our family lives in the Racine Unified School District. We removed our son from the district when he was 3 due to inappropriate, undocumented, unapproved and sustained restraint by teachers at his school. (In 2007, the Journal Sentinel reported on the case, with the state Department of Public Instruction echoing concerns about the school's use of restraint. Following an investigation, the DPI determined that teachers in the district had improperly used restraint.)

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Robyn Bagley on Utah Digital Education

Katherine Vander Ark

Robyn Bagley is the chair for Parents for Choice in Education and recently sat down with the Comcast Newsmakers. She is discussing the Utah Statewide Online Program that was passed in the previous session. Learn more about the digital learning and news that is occurring in Utah now.

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Andre Agassi Launches Charter School Building Fund

Christina Hoag:

Former tennis champion Andre Agassi and a real estate investment firm said Thursday they have teamed up to form an investment fund to finance charter school buildings in a bid to spur the growth of independent public education.

The fund, called the Canyon-Agassi Charter School Facilities Fund, plans to finance up to $750 million worth of new school construction or remodeling of buildings to accommodate schools in low-income, urban communities across the country.

"The biggest impediment is facilities," said Bobby Turner, chairman and chief executive of Los Angeles-based Canyon Capital Realty Advisors, which has partnered with Andre Agassi Ventures. "Charter organizations don't have access to public finance."

Investors in the fund include Intel Capital, Citigroup and the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: US Federal Budget Infographic

This is a unique moment in American history--a tipping point that will determine whether we pull our nation back from the brink of financial collapse. Spending has risen to unprecedented levels--threatening limited government and economic freedom. The Heritage Foundation's 2011 Federal Budget in Pictures paints a clear picture of how much the federal government is spending, how deep it is in debt, how massive entitlement programs are, and what we pay in taxes.

Be sure to share our infographic with your friends on Facebook, Twitter, through email, or by posting on your own blog. The embed code below allows you to easily share the infographic with your blog readers.

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Save the Frogs: California High School Bans Dissections

Kayla Webley:

ids, step away from the scalpels.
In a win for animal rights activists, foregoing the formaldehyde-laced high school rite of passage, Rancho Verde High School in Moreno Valley, California will swap real frogs for their virtual counterparts. In exchange for a minimum five-year commitment, the school will receive free software courtesy of animal-rights groups who advocate for the virtual curriculum.

While the school's assistant principal, Kevin Stipp, said the virtual lesson will not be the same as performing the dissection on a real animal, he told the Riverside Press Enterprise, "it's not so drastically different that the kids won't get something out of it."

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The School Bully Is Sleepy

Tara Parker-Pope:School bullies and children who are disruptive in class are twice as likely to show signs of sleep problems compared with well-behaved children, new research shows.

The findings, based on data collected from 341 Michigan elementary school children, suggests a novel approaching to solving school bullying. Currently, most efforts to curb bullying have focused on protecting victims as well as discipline and legal actions against the bullies. The new data suggests that the problem may be better addressed, at least in part, at the source, by paying attention to some of the unique health issues associated with aggressive behavior.

The University of Michigan study, which was published in the journal Sleep Medicine, collected data from parents on each child's sleep habits and asked both parents and teachers to assess behavioral concerns. Among the 341 children studied, about a third were identified by parents or teachers as having problems with disruptive behavior or bullying.

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June 2, 2011

Children of divorce fall behind peers in math, social skills

UW News Service

Divorce is a drag on the academic and emotional development of young children, but only once the breakup is under way, according to a study of elementary school students and their families.

"Children of divorce experience setbacks in math test scores and show problems with interpersonal skills and internalizing behavior during the divorce period," says Hyun Sik Kim, a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "They are more prone to feelings of anxiety, loneliness, low self-esteem and sadness."

Kim's work, published in the June issue of American Sociological Review, makes use of data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study describing more than 3,500 U.S. elementary school students who entered kindergarten in 1998. The study, which also made subjects of parents while checking in periodically on the children, gave Kim the opportunity to track the families through divorce -- as well as through periods before and after the divorce.

While the children fell behind their peers in math and certain psychological measures during the period that included the divorce, Kim was surprised by to see those students showing no issues in the time period preceding the divorce.

"I expected that there would be conflict between the parents leading up to their divorce, and that that would be troublesome for their child," Kim says. "But I failed to find a significant effect in the pre-divorce period."

The results add nuance to the long-held assumption that divorce is harmful to children all the way through the process.

"There is also some thinking that children are resilient, and that they would learn how to cope with the situation at some point," Kim says.

To a certain extent the detrimental effect of the divorce period fades, but not to the point that Kim would call it resiliency.

"After the divorce, students return to the same growth rate as their counterparts," he says. "But they remain behind their peers from intact families."

Why divorce would be an anchor on elementary school students is not hard to figure. Stressful new experiences associated with the divorce process include a confusingly adversarial relationship between mom and dad, shuttling between homes, the emotional effect the breakup has on parents and more.

But why there wouldn't be a corresponding effect on children before parents decide to divorce is a trickier question.

"The results here support the idea that not all divorces are plagued by harmful parental conflict in the pre-divorce period," Kim says.

Once the effects of a divorce do begin to erode a child's progress, they do their work on more vulnerable developing skills. Mathematics, in which new concepts often build on recently learned material, is seen as more susceptible to external issues than reading -- a subject in which children of divorce showed no detrimental effects.

Similarly, children of divorce maintain their more robust positive externalizing behaviors -- making friends, resolving conflict without fighting and resisting disruption of quiet times -- while losing their grip on more fragile internal emotional aspects.

The study may be useful to parents and educators, though Kim expected that differing school philosophies and variations from child to child may inform different interpretations.

"If a teacher is aware of a student experiencing a divorce situation, it may be in the student's interest that the teachers intervene by adjusting as early as possible to prevent that student from falling behind," Kim says. "Because if that student falls behind, he or she is unlikely to recover even after the divorce."

Posted by Jeff Henriques at 9:04 PM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Newspaper's lawsuit seeks sick notes for Madison school teachers during protest

Matthew DeFour:

The Madison School District failed to follow state law when it denied the Wisconsin State Journal access to more than 1,000 sick notes submitted by teachers who didn't show up for work in February, according to a lawsuit filed by the newspaper Thursday.

The lawsuit, filed in Dane County District Court, asks the court to force the district to release the notes under the state's open records law, which requires government agencies to release public documents in most circumstances.

The lawsuit says the sick notes are public records because the public has a special interest in knowing how governments discipline employees, who are ultimately responsible to the public.

"We can't know if things were dealt with appropriately if we can't see the underlying documents on which decisions were made," said April Rockstead Barker, the newspaper's lawyer.

Dylan Pauly, a School District lawyer, declined comment until she had a chance to review the lawsuit.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 8:25 PM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

For-Profit Colleges: First and Last Victims of Higher Education 'Bubble'?

Derek Thompson:

The for-profit college boom looks an awful lot like the subprime mortgage bubble. But it's the differences that can teach us how to change the market for higher education.

In the 2000s, home prices went on an historic tear. Easy credit backstopped by government loan guarantees and securitized by Wall Street created excess demand for residential investment. "Fringey" market players like exurban developers and subprime lenders finally blew the bubble past the breaking point.

When a bubble watcher like Vikram Mansharamani looks at the market for higher education, he can't help but find parallels. Historic price increase? College inflation outpaces health care inflation. Easy credit? Total financial aid for college has doubled since 2002. Fringey market players? For-profit schools stand accused of luring low-income students into government-sponsored debt to obtain degrees of questionable value. Easy money, moral hazard, artificial demand? Check, check, check.

But the parallels between the housing bubble and education have their limits. The Great Recession started with a domino of broken promises and failed expectations. Families stopped paying back mortgages, banks wrote down mortgage-backed assets, contagion spread. In education, the domino line is shorter. If students don't pay back their loans to the federal government, the government just pays itself the difference. The only way for the market to change is for Washington to change the market.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 3:51 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

At Elite School, Longer Classes To Go Deeper

Jenny Anderson:

At 10:35 a.m. on a Wednesday, six seniors at the Calhoun School, a progressive private school on the Upper West Side, were discussing the role of social class in "Year of Wonders," a historical novel about an English village hit by the plague in the 17th century.

At noon, the students were still at it. They had moved on from deconstructing the novel, by Geraldine Brooks, to hashing out topics for research papers in the science and social studies class, called Disease and Society: one wanted to tackle 17th-century grave digging in London; another would explore the obligation midwives had to report illegitimate children. Throughout, they had staged only one mutiny, asking to work elsewhere because the classroom was first too cold, then too intellectually stifling (requests denied).

If the subject matter was a bit unusual for high school students, the amount of time they had to grapple with it was more so -- 2 hours 10 minutes, in what is called a class block. Long blocks became standard this year at Calhoun, as part of a radical attempt to alter the structure of the school day and school year.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 3:47 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Why not honors courses for all?

Jay Matthews:

Parents in Fairfax County have proved themselves one of the largest and most powerful forces for innovation in American education. But they have taken a wrong turn in their effort to save the three-track system--basic, honors and AP/IB-- in the county's high schools.

Many Fairfax parents actively oppose the elimination of honors courses in upper high school grades. They don't want to leave their children with the choice of just the basic course or the college level Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate version. "Let's keep choices on the table," West Potomac High School parent Kate Van Dyck told me.

They can win this fight and keep the honors courses, but it will take some courage and imagination. Instead of insisting on the old three tracks, tell the schools to keep the honors option and eliminate the basic course.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 3:13 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: U.S. Has Binged. Soon It'll Be Time to Pay the Tab.

Gretchen Morgenson:

SAY this about all the bickering over the federal debt ceiling: at least people are talking openly about our nation's growing debt load. This $14.3 trillion issue is front and center -- exactly where it should be.

Into the fray comes a thoughtful new paper by Joseph E. Gagnon, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, which studies economic policy. Written with Marc Hinterschweiger, a research analyst there, the report states plainly: "That government debt will grow to dangerous and unsustainable levels in most advanced and many emerging economies over the next 25 years -- if there are no changes in current tax rates or government benefit programs in retirement and health care -- is virtually beyond dispute."

The report then lays out a range of outcomes, some merely unsettling, others downright scary, that face us as a nation if we continue down the big-spending path we are on.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:53 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Common Core Standards The New U.S. Intended Curriculum

Andrew Porter, Jennifer McMaken, Jun Hwang, Rui Yang:

The Common Core standards released in 2010 for English language arts and mathematics have already been adopted by dozens of states. Just how much change do these new standards represent, and what is the nature of that change? In this article, the Common Core standards are compared with current state standards and assessments and with standards in top-performing countries, as well as with reports from a sample of teachers from across the country describing their own practices.

The Common Core standards released in 2010 represent an unprecedented shift away from disparate content guidelines across individual states in the areas of English language arts and mathematics. Led jointly by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), the Common Core State Standards Initiative developed these standards as a state-led effort to establish consensus on expectations for student knowledge and skills that should be developed in Grades K-12. By late 2010, 36 states and the District of Columbia had adopted the standards ( These standards are therefore poised to be widely adopted and to become entrenched in state education policy.

How Big a Change Are the Common Core Standards?

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Value of Education - A tale of two college grads

Kimberly Houghton:

Some of New Hampshire's college graduates are questioning the value of their education while they struggle to find jobs in their fields of study and attempt to become independent adults.

But while the job market is still tough, a recent study by the National Association of Colleges and Employers says it isn't quite as bad as it was last year and that this year's graduating class is more likely to have a job offer in hand.

That, however, is not the case for Nate Rowe, who graduated this month from Keene State College with a degree in environmental studies. Rowe has sent out about 75 job applications.

"Most people say that I don't have the experience needed. The problem is that I can't get any experience without first getting a job," said the New Durham resident who has moved back in with his parents until he is able to get a steady paycheck.

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

STEM: Changemakers Competition due 8/3/2011

Carnegie Corporation of New York:

Solving the world's most pressing challenges will require innovations in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (also called STEM). From climate change to fiscal meltdowns, renewable energy to eradicating diseases, from food security to global and local health, the STEM disciplines are at the very center of our quest to improve our lives and the condition of our world.

If we are to bring new ideas to long-standing problems and new talent to emerging opportunities, we need to educate all of our young people to higher levels of understanding in the STEM fields. Despite the heroic efforts of our nation's best teachers and principals, our schools are ill-equipped to do that: According to international comparisons, U.S. students ranked below 22 countries in science and below 30 countries in math. And yet our communities are filled with many of the world's most talented professionals in these fields. They work in hospitals, universities, and museums; biotech, engineering, and architecture firms; graphic-design and urban-planning studios; hedge funds, banks, and computer-software, gaming, and pharmaceutical companies. They just rarely directly impact our public schools.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:11 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Multilingual former spelling champ helps groom state's best spellers

Gena Kittner:

Jeff Kirsch knows what it's like to stand on stage at the Scripps National Spelling Bee, and for the last few years he has helped teens from Wisconsin, Minnesota and Colorado make it there.

This year, Kirsch, director of the Spanish and Portuguese Independent Learning program in the UW-Madison division of continuing studies, is coaching two students and is spending this week in Washington, D.C., cheering them on.

In addition to coaching Waunakee's Parker Dietry this spring, Kirsch has spent about six months tutoring David Phan, a third-time contestant in the national bee from Boulder, Colo.

"Most spellers do have a parent who is actively helping them, but most don't have a parent who is a former spelling champion who knows multiple languages," said Kirsch, who knows six languages and can teach spelling patterns and exceptions in Spanish, French, Portuguese, Italian, German and Latin.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:59 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Cheap houses, poor workers

The Economist:

REAL disposable income for Americans was pretty much flat in the first quarter, according to figures released today. Spending edged up, thanks to a fall in the savings rate. But this is back to the bad old days of consumption financed on the never-never. Indeed, we seem to be attempting to reconstruct the pre-2007 economic model even though that model was shown to be deeply flawed. The recent post on profit margins was evidence of the same effect. And even the rally in the equity markets, propped up by quantitative easing, is merely a subsidy for the better-off and Wall Street traders, whose fortunes are more tied to share prices than those of the average Joe. Surely the point of economic policy is to benefit the average person, not the chosen few.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:57 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Math scholarship started by McFarland woman is rare in bad economy

Matthew DeFour:

In 1964, Sue Kosmo was a high school senior who loved pizza, Pepsi and precalculus, when her parents encouraged her to invest in the stock market.

With a $54 tax return from her part-time bakery job making 75 cents per hour, she bought one share in something familiar -- a cola company marketing itself to a younger generation.

Almost half a century and several stock splits later, Kosmo is cashing in her investment, now worth $10,000, to start a scholarship fund at McFarland High School for young women who excel in math.

The story got the attention of executives at Pepsi, which is donating another $10,000 to Kosmo's scholarship fund.

Local businesses and residents provide more than $1 million a year in scholarships to local college-bound students, though the recent economic downturn has dampened donations somewhat, according to local officials who coordinate local scholarships.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:53 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Spelling whiz gains from early successes

Brian Francisco:

Madalyn Richmond seems to have little time for competitive spelling.

First, there is school. Then there are sports: volleyball, basketball, softball and track. And then there is music: piano, saxophone and choir.

But winning a classroom spelling bee when she was in fifth grade "really inspired me, and I studied a whole lot that year," Maddie, 13, said last week.

She went on to win the Williams County, Ohio, bee in 2009 and finished eighth in The Journal Gazette Regional Spelling Bee. Maddie repeated as county winner as a sixth-grader and finished fifth in the regional bee in 2010.

She captured her third straight county bee this year and won the 17-county regional bee, which is presented by Touchstone Energy Cooperatives and IPFW.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:40 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

RSS Local Schools Waunakee speller advances to national bee's semifinals

Gena Kittner:

Waunakee's Parker Dietry will get his chance to spell on national television Thursday as one of 41 spellers who advanced Wednesday to the semifinal round of the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

Parker correctly spelled "fennec" in Round 2 and "dossier" in Round 3. The points he earned for spelling those words correctly combined with his score on Tuesday's written test propelled him to the next round.

"It's going to be really cool to be on ESPN," Dietry said Wednesday from the competition in Washington, D.C.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:15 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Let me say this about that: Powerpoint in School.....

James Lileks:

Let me say this about that

Daughter comes home from school in the usual mood, with a smile and offhand assurances that school was fine and everything's fine and so on and so forth, but: for moment I catch her staring into the Void, a shadow on her features, and it's time for the parental probe: what's the matter? Oh nothing. C'mon. Something's the matter. You know I'll ask until I get it. Nothing's the matter. i can tell. Nothing - well, there was this one thing.

And so it transpired that she did not get the score in Technology class she thought she deserved, at least relative to the other Powerpoints the kids had done. They had do a PP on an animal. As far as she could tell she had the same amount of content, and applied transitions to the bullet points, which no one else did. Then she said that the kids who got higher marks used all kinds of transitions between the slides, and she only used a fade, so maybe that was it, but that was STUPID.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:11 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

June 1, 2011

Madison School District Final Audit Report: Gifted and Talented Standard

Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction:

On September 20,2010, eight residents of the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) filed a complaint (numerous others were listed as supporting the complaint) alleging the school district was not in compliance with the Gifted and Talented (G/T) standard, Wis. Stat. sec. 121.02(1)(t), that requires that each school board shall "provide access to an appropriate program for pupils identified as gifted and talented." Based upon this complaint, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (department) initiated an audit pursuant to Wis. Admin Code sec. PI 8.02. The purpose ofthe audit was to determine whether the school district is in compliance with Wis. Stat. sees. 121.02(1)(t) and 118.35, and Wis. Admin. Code
sec. PI 8.01(2)(t)2. The investigation focused on three core content areas: English/language arts; science; and social studies; in particular at the 9th and 1oth grade levels, per the letter of complaint.

The department informed the school district of the audit on October 13, 2010, and requested information and documentation for key components of the G/T plan. The school district provided a written response and materials on November 29, 2010 and supplemental materials on December 21 , 2010.

On January 25 and 26, 2011, a team of four department representatives conducted an on-site audit which began with a meeting that included the school board president, the district administrator, the deputy superintendent, the secondary assistant superintendent, the executive director of curriculum and assessment, the interim Talented and Gifted (TAG) administrator, an elementary TAG resource teacher, a secondary TAG resource teacher, and legal counsel. After this meeting, the team visited East, West, LaFollette, and Memorial High Schools. At each of these sites, the team conducted interviews with the building principal, school counselors, teachers, and students. At the end ofeach ofthe two days the department team met with parents.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 9:28 PM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Waiting for a School Miracle

Diane Ravitch

TEN years ago, Congress adopted the No Child Left Behind legislation, mandating that all students must be proficient in reading or mathematics by 2014 or their school would be punished.

Teachers and principals have been fired and schools that were once fixtures in their community have been closed and replaced. In time, many of the new schools will close, too, unless they avoid enrolling low-performing students, like those who don't read English or are homeless or have profound disabilities.

Educators know that 100 percent proficiency is impossible, given the enormous variation among students and the impact of family income on academic performance. Nevertheless, some politicians believe that the right combination of incentives and punishments will produce dramatic improvement. Anyone who objects to this utopian mandate, they maintain, is just making an excuse for low expectations and bad teachers.

To prove that poverty doesn't matter, political leaders point to schools that have achieved stunning results in only a few years despite the poverty around them. But the accounts of miracle schools demand closer scrutiny. Usually, they are the result of statistical legerdemain.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 9:26 PM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Statement by State Education Chiefs Supporting the National Council on Teacher Quality's Review of Colleges of Education

Foundation for Excellence in Education, via a Kate Walsh email:

Today, the following members of Chiefs for Change, Janet Barresi, Oklahoma State Superintendent of Public Information; Tony Bennett, Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction; Steve Bowen, Maine Commissioner of Education; Chris Cerf, New Jersey Commissioner of Education; Deborah A. Gist, Rhode Island Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education; Kevin Huffman, Tennessee Commissioner of Education; Eric Smith, Florida Commissioner of Education; and Hanna Skandera, New Mexico Public Education Department Secretary-Designate, released a statement supporting the National Council on Teacher Quality's colleges of education review.

"Great teachers make great students. Preparing teachers with the knowledge and skills to be effective educators is paramount to improving student achievement. Ultimately, colleges of education should be reviewed the same way we propose evaluating teachers - based on student learning."

"Until that data becomes available in every state, Chiefs for Change supports the efforts of the National Council on Teacher Quality to gather research-based data and information about the nation's colleges of education. This research can provide a valuable tool for improving the quality of education for educators."

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

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

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

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

When A Stands for Average: Students at the UW-Madison School of Education Receive Sky-High Grades. How Smart is That?:

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

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Skin patch could cure peanut allergy

The UK Telegraph:

A revolutionary skin patch that may cure thousands of deadly peanut allergy has been developed by paediatricans.

Researchers believe it presents one of the best possible ways of finding an effective treatment for a life threatening reaction to peanuts.

Developed by two leading paediatricians the device releases minute doses of peanut oil under the skin.

The aim is to educate the body so it doesnt over-react to peanut exposure.

Human safety trials have started in Europe and the United States and it is hoped that the patch could become become available within 3-4 years.

One of its two French inventors, Dr Pierre-Henri Benhamou, said: We envisage that the patch would be worn daily for several years and would slowly reduce the severity of accidental exposure to peanut.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 4:29 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

School Districts Nationwide Implement Controversial 'Pay To Play' Fees

The Huffington Post:

An Ohio school district is the latest to implement a controversial "pay to play" policy, reports The Wall Street Journal. Medina Senior High, faced with budget cuts and repeated rejection of proposals to increase taxes, has started charging students for, well, just about everything. After-school sports, clubs, electives and even required courses such as Spanish all carry a price tag.

The Dombi family is feeling the strain; education and activities for their four children racked up a bill of $4,446.50 this year. And even then, they had to make some tough choices -- their oldest daughter had to forgo choir as it would cost an additional $200.

"It's high school," Ms. Dombi told The Wall Street Journal. "You're supposed to be able to try different things and see what you like."

In a recent editorial, the Los Angeles Times questions the constitutionality of similar fees in California.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:38 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

2011 West Point Commencement Speach

Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff:

What I am suggesting is that we in uniform do not have the luxury anymore of assuming that our fellow citizens understand it the same way. Our work is appreciated. Of that, I am certain. There isn't a town or a city I visit where people do not convey to me their great pride in what we do. Even those who do not support the wars support the troops.

But I fear they do not know us. I fear they do not comprehend the full weight of the burden we carry or the price we pay when we return from battle. This is important, because a people uninformed about what they are asking the military to endure is a people inevitably unable to fully grasp the scope of the responsibilities our Constitution levies upon them. Were we more representative of the population, were more American families touched by military service, like that of the Hidalgos or the Huntoon families, perhaps a more advantageous familiarity would ensue. But we are a small force, rightly volunteers, and less than 1 percent of the population, scattered about the country due to base closings, and frequent and lengthy deployments.

We're also fairly insular, speaking our own language of sorts, living within our own unique culture, isolating ourselves either out of fear or from, perhaps, even our own pride. The American people can therefore be forgiven for not possessing an intimate knowledge of our needs or of our deeds. We haven't exactly made it easy for them. And we have been a little busy. But that doesn't excuse us from making the effort. That doesn't excuse us from our own constitutional responsibilities as citizens and soldiers to promote the general welfare, in addition to providing for the common defense. We must help them understand our fellow citizens who so desperately want to help us.

As the first chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Omar Bradley once said: "Battles are won by the infantry, the armor, the artillery and air teams, by soldiers living in the rains and huddling in the snow. But wars are won by the great strength of a nation, the soldier and the civilian working together."

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:06 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Feeling Groggy? Your Brain May Be Half Asleep

Ann Lukits:

Sleep deprivation can make it hard to concentrate. A possible reason is that neurons in different regions of the brain seem to go "off line," or shut off for brief periods, during forced periods of wakefulness, according to a study of rats published in Nature. U.S. and Italian researchers kept laboratory rats awake for four hours past their normal sleep time by stimulating them with new objects. EEG (electroencephalogram) readings, which test the brain's electrical activity, were typical of an awake state and the rats moved about freely with their eyes open. However, electrodes implanted in the rat brains showed that some neurons went off line briefly in seemingly wide-awake animals while other neurons remained on. Neuronal off periods increased with prolonged sleep deprivation, impairing the rats' performance in the routine task of reaching for a sugar pellet. Researchers said these off periods during wakefulness aren't well understood but they may be a means of conserving energy or part of a restorative process.

Caveat: It's not clear if the periods of neuronal off-time reflect the capacity of neurons to exist in two states, a phenomenon known as bistability, researchers said.

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

How Valuable is a College Degree?

Tina Barseghian:

Most parents dream of seeing their kids graduate from a good college. The assumption is that the vaunted degree will guarantee a successful career, the closest thing to being financially stable, and ultimately, a happy, fulfilling life.

But a number of authors and high-profile businesspeople and entrepreneurs are debunking the notion that college is the best solution. They're questioning whether paying tens of thousands of dollars and investing four or five years in an institution should be the default for young people when so many more options exist. With free, high-quality education available to anyone, is college necessary? These folks say no.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:36 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Illinois Unions will regret not fixing pensions

Marc Levine:

Illinois' runaway pension system is placing the state's fiscal health in jeopardy. State contributions to the pension system have already crowded out payments to social service providers. But less focus has been placed on current state workers and teachers, particularly those with retirements more than a decade away. Their outlook is very much at risk, which is why their unions' opposition to pension reform is contrary to their interests.

Illinois' pension system is hopelessly insolvent with about $60 billion of assets and $200 billion in "legacy" liabilities (using an appropriate discount rate). Illinois state workers and teachers currently have roughly 9 percent of each paycheck withheld and sent to the pension black hole. The premise is that the funds will be held by the pension system, invested responsibly, and used to make payments to the workers upon retirement. Unfortunately, pension officials are using those contributions from current workers to pay current retirees.

Much more, here.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:32 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Wisconsin School districts press to reach agreements

Karen Herzog:

With deadlines looming against a backdrop of uncertainty, some area school districts are scurrying to reach agreements with employee unions, gaining concessions in benefits to avoid mass layoffs and program cuts.

A few agreements are new or extended contracts, including a two-year contract for teachers approved last week in Menomonee Falls. Others, such as an agreement approved for West Allis-West Milwaukee teachers, are more limited. School districts could have made the changes without union approval if the law largely eliminating collective bargaining for most public employees wasn't stalled in court.

School officials also are crafting new employee handbooks to replace union contracts, outlining benefits and working conditions no longer subject to negotiations if, as expected, collective bargaining is limited to wages.

Some districts are obligated by contract to send layoff notices by June 1. Districts also must give 30 days' notice if they want to switch to less expensive insurance plans before the new fiscal year begins July 1. Many districts have union contracts that expire June 30.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:31 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Gainful employment

Kevin P. Chavous:

Against all logic and growing opposition from both sides of the political spectrum, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) seems poised and determined to proceed with the new Gainful Employment regulations, which would serve as a guidepost for their issuance of federal student loans for private sector colleges. The proposed Gainful Employment regulations would require that career education providers and programs provide students for "gainful employment" in recognized occupations.

To determine if these programs are eligible, ED wants to tie its federal loans to students' debt-to-income ratio as well as the repayment rates of the for-profit institution. While there has been much debate over the origin of this proposal, its impact could not be more clear: for-profit colleges would suffer and, more significantly, low-income and minority college enrollment would drop precipitously.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:29 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

College merit aid produces bidding wars

Daniel de Vise:

Gillian Spolarich's college search played out like a romantic triangle. She was set on American University. But the College of Charleston was set on her. The Southern suitor sweetened its admission offer with a pledge of more than $10,000 in merit aid.

In the end, the high school senior from Silver Spring took the better offer from the second-choice school in South Carolina, placing price before prestige.

It is becoming a common scenario post-recession: Affluent applicants, shocked by college sticker prices and leery of debt, are choosing a school not because it is the first choice but because it is the best deal. Students are using their academic credentials to leverage generous merit awards from second- or third-choice schools looking to boost their own academic profiles. Colleges are responding with record sums of merit aid, transforming the admissions process into a polite bidding war.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:19 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

IRS Opens Investigation Into College Retirement Plans

Eric Kelderman:

For the second time in three years, the Internal Revenue Service is investigating colleges for possible tax-code violations.

Late in April, the agency announced that it would send a questionnaire to a random national sampling of 300 public and private colleges of various sizes across the country to determine how well the institutions are complying with federal rules on tax-deferred retirement savings accounts, called 403(b) plans.

The IRS says it is seeking any evidence that the retirement plans offered by colleges discriminate "in favor of highly compensated employees." Under federal rules, all employees at an institution must generally be allowed to participate if such a retirement savings plan is offered.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:18 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

The Saddest Tweet of Them All: We have failed to educate. We must do more.

Dr. Sara Goldrick-Rab

I've been watching as UW Madison moves into the post-NBP phase of life (wait, there is life after NBP?). In particularly, I'm finding the (re)framing of recent events by NBP proponents both fascinating, and disturbing.

Spin is, to some degree, expected. We can't blame Chancellor Martin for trying to save face, or Governor Walker for that matter.

What I didn't expect, and what upsets me most, is the self-righteousness evident in those who proclaim "we accomplished something here." Something, they claim, UW System did not. Could not. Would not.

Sad and short-sighted, perhaps, but not surprising. On the other hand, a recent tweet from a Madison student stopped me in my tracks. On Saturday he wrote, "No #UWNBP. Disappointing. Looks like we have to be tied to the poor decisions #UWSystem makes." Surprised at his statement, I responded, "Ever been to System? Ever met anyone there? Why do you follow blindly what u r told? #UWNBP #UWSystem." To which he replied "It's fun to make assumptions."

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:15 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Controversial DeForest, WI School Administrator Raises


The pressure is off of district administrators and the school board here in Sun Prairie, because of the shocking cajones of the DeForest Board of Education and DeForest Area School District Administrators.

While we're getting worked up --and justifiably so--- about our own district administration on the cusp of getting 1.6% increases in the midst of tight times, the DeForest Administration Team ---with the support of the Board of Education-- awarded themselves titannic raises under the guise of "Dane County Market Equity" adjustments. The raises are retroactive to January 1, 2011. For appearances sake--you just KNOW they'll spin this in budget documents--- their salaries are being frozen for 2011-12. Geeeee whiz! With those increases, they should be frozen permanently.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:04 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

US Education Department Rules on For-Profit Schools Created With Investor's Help

Jim Angle:

A proposed regulation from the Education Department threatens to devastate for-profit career or trade schools, but one thing is even more controversial than the regulation -- how it was crafted.

Education Department officials were encouraged and advised about the content of the regulation by a man who stood to make millions if it were issued.

"Wall Street investors were manipulating the regulatory process and Department of Education officials were letting them," charged Melanie Sloan of a liberal-leaning ethics watchdog called Citizens For Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:01 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas