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January 31, 2012

Ritalin Gone Wrong


THREE million children in this country take drugs for problems in focusing. Toward the end of last year, many of their parents were deeply alarmed because there was a shortage of drugs like Ritalin and Adderall that they considered absolutely essential to their children's functioning. But are these drugs really helping children? Should we really keep expanding the number of prescriptions filled?

In 30 years there has been a twentyfold increase in the consumption of drugs for attention-deficit disorder. As a psychologist who has been studying the development of troubled children for more than 40 years, I believe we should be asking why we rely so heavily on these drugs.

Attention-deficit drugs increase concentration in the short term, which is why they work so well for college students cramming for exams. But when given to children over long periods of time, they neither improve school achievement nor reduce behavior problems. The drugs can also have serious side effects, including stunting growth.

Sadly, few physicians and parents seem to be aware of what we have been learning about the lack of effectiveness of these drugs.

What gets publicized are short-term results and studies on brain differences among children. Indeed, there are a number of incontrovertible facts that seem at first glance to support medication. It is because of this partial foundation in reality that the problem with the current approach to treating children has been so difficult to see.

Back in the 1960s I, like most psychologists, believed that children with difficulty concentrating were suffering from a brain problem of genetic or otherwise inborn origin. Just as Type I diabetics need insulin to correct problems with their inborn biochemistry, these children were believed to require attention-deficit drugs to correct theirs. It turns out, however, that there is little to no evidence to support this theory.

In 1973, I reviewed the literature on drug treatment of children for The New England Journal of Medicine. Dozens of well-controlled studies showed that these drugs immediately improved children's performance on repetitive tasks requiring concentration and diligence. I had conducted one of these studies myself. Teachers and parents also reported improved behavior in almost every short-term study. This spurred an increase in drug treatment and led many to conclude that the "brain deficit" hypothesis had been confirmed.

But questions continued to be raised, especially concerning the drugs' mechanism of action and the durability of effects. Ritalin and Adderall, a combination of dextroamphetamine and amphetamine, are stimulants. So why do they appear to calm children down? Some experts argued that because the brains of children with attention problems were different, the drugs had a mysterious paradoxical effect on them.

However, there really was no paradox. Versions of these drugs had been given to World War II radar operators to help them stay awake and focus on boring, repetitive tasks. And when we reviewed the literature on attention-deficit drugs again in 1990 we found that all children, whether they had attention problems or not, responded to stimulant drugs the same way. Moreover, while the drugs helped children settle down in class, they actually increased activity in the playground. Stimulants generally have the same effects for all children and adults. They enhance the ability to concentrate, especially on tasks that are not inherently interesting or when one is fatigued or bored, but they don't improve broader learning abilities.

And just as in the many dieters who have used and abandoned similar drugs to lose weight, the effects of stimulants on children with attention problems fade after prolonged use. Some experts have argued that children with A.D.D. wouldn't develop such tolerance because their brains were somehow different. But in fact, the loss of appetite and sleeplessness in children first prescribed attention-deficit drugs do fade, and, as we now know, so do the effects on behavior. They apparently develop a tolerance to the drug, and thus its efficacy disappears. Many parents who take their children off the drugs find that behavior worsens, which most likely confirms their belief that the drugs work. But the behavior worsens because the children's bodies have become adapted to the drug. Adults may have similar reactions if they suddenly cut back on coffee, or stop smoking.

TO date, no study has found any long-term benefit of attention-deficit medication on academic performance, peer relationships or behavior problems, the very things we would most want to improve. Until recently, most studies of these drugs had not been properly randomized, and some of them had other methodological flaws.

But in 2009, findings were published from a well-controlled study that had been going on for more than a decade, and the results were very clear. The study randomly assigned almost 600 children with attention problems to four treatment conditions. Some received medication alone, some cognitive-behavior therapy alone, some medication plus therapy, and some were in a community-care control group that received no systematic treatment. At first this study suggested that medication, or medication plus therapy, produced the best results. However, after three years, these effects had faded, and by eight years there was no evidence that medication produced any academic or behavioral benefits.

Indeed, all of the treatment successes faded over time, although the study is continuing. Clearly, these children need a broader base of support than was offered in this medication study, support that begins earlier and lasts longer.

Nevertheless, findings in neuroscience are being used to prop up the argument for drugs to treat the hypothesized "inborn defect." These studies show that children who receive an A.D.D. diagnosis have different patterns of neurotransmitters in their brains and other anomalies. While the technological sophistication of these studies may impress parents and nonprofessionals, they can be misleading. Of course the brains of children with behavior problems will show anomalies on brain scans. It could not be otherwise. Behavior and the brain are intertwined. Depression also waxes and wanes in many people, and as it does so, parallel changes in brain functioning occur, regardless of medication.

Many of the brain studies of children with A.D.D. involve examining participants while they are engaged in an attention task. If these children are not paying attention because of lack of motivation or an underdeveloped capacity to regulate their behavior, their brain scans are certain to be anomalous.

However brain functioning is measured, these studies tell us nothing about whether the observed anomalies were present at birth or whether they resulted from trauma, chronic stress or other early-childhood experiences. One of the most profound findings in behavioral neuroscience in recent years has been the clear evidence that the developing brain is shaped by experience.

It is certainly true that large numbers of children have problems with attention, self-regulation and behavior. But are these problems because of some aspect present at birth? Or are they caused by experiences in early childhood? These questions can be answered only by studying children and their surroundings from before birth through childhood and adolescence, as my colleagues at the University of Minnesota and I have been doing for decades.

Since 1975, we have followed 200 children who were born into poverty and were therefore more vulnerable to behavior problems. We enrolled their mothers during pregnancy, and over the course of their lives, we studied their relationships with their caregivers, teachers and peers. We followed their progress through school and their experiences in early adulthood. At regular intervals we measured their health, behavior, performance on intelligence tests and other characteristics.

By late adolescence, 50 percent of our sample qualified for some psychiatric diagnosis. Almost half displayed behavior problems at school on at least one occasion, and 24 percent dropped out by 12th grade; 14 percent met criteria for A.D.D. in either first or sixth grade.

Other large-scale epidemiological studies confirm such trends in the general population of disadvantaged children. Among all children, including all socioeconomic groups, the incidence of A.D.D. is estimated at 8 percent. What we found was that the environment of the child predicted development of A.D.D. problems. In stark contrast, measures of neurological anomalies at birth, I.Q. and infant temperament -- including infant activity level -- did not predict A.D.D.

Plenty of affluent children are also diagnosed with A.D.D. Behavior problems in children have many possible sources. Among them are family stresses like domestic violence, lack of social support from friends or relatives, chaotic living situations, including frequent moves, and, especially, patterns of parental intrusiveness that involve stimulation for which the baby is not prepared. For example, a 6-month-old baby is playing, and the parent picks it up quickly from behind and plunges it in the bath. Or a 3-year-old is becoming frustrated in solving a problem, and a parent taunts or ridicules. Such practices excessively stimulate and also compromise the child's developing capacity for self-regulation.

Putting children on drugs does nothing to change the conditions that derail their development in the first place. Yet those conditions are receiving scant attention. Policy makers are so convinced that children with attention deficits have an organic disease that they have all but called off the search for a comprehensive understanding of the condition. The National Institute of Mental Health finances research aimed largely at physiological and brain components of A.D.D. While there is some research on other treatment approaches, very little is studied regarding the role of experience. Scientists, aware of this orientation, tend to submit only grants aimed at elucidating the biochemistry.

Thus, only one question is asked: are there aspects of brain functioning associated with childhood attention problems? The answer is always yes. Overlooked is the very real possibility that both the brain anomalies and the A.D.D. result from experience.

Our present course poses numerous risks. First, there will never be a single solution for all children with learning and behavior problems. While some smaller number may benefit from short-term drug treatment, large-scale, long-term treatment for millions of children is not the answer.

Second, the large-scale medication of children feeds into a societal view that all of life's problems can be solved with a pill and gives millions of children the impression that there is something inherently defective in them.

Finally, the illusion that children's behavior problems can be cured with drugs prevents us as a society from seeking the more complex solutions that will be necessary. Drugs get everyone -- politicians, scientists, teachers and parents -- off the hook. Everyone except the children, that is.

If drugs, which studies show work for four to eight weeks, are not the answer, what is? Many of these children have anxiety or depression; others are showing family stresses. We need to treat them as individuals.

As for shortages, they will continue to wax and wane. Because these drugs are habit forming, Congress decides how much can be produced. The number approved doesn't keep pace with the tidal wave of prescriptions. By the end of this year, there will in all likelihood be another shortage, as we continue to rely on drugs that are not doing what so many well-meaning parents, therapists and teachers believe they are doing.

Posted by Jeff Henriques at 6:44 PM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Wisconsin's "F" on Science Curriculum Standards; "Worthless"; Madison Superintendent Dan Nerad Comments

Fordham Institute: The State of State Science Standards 2012:

Wisconsin's science standards--unchanged since 1998, in spite of much earlier criticism, ours included--are simply worthless. No real content exists to evaluate.

In lieu of content, the "authors" have passed the buck by merely citing unelaborated references to the now outdated National Science Education Standards (NSES). Rather than using the NSES as building blocks for a comprehensive set of science standards, however, Wisconsin has used them as an escape hatch to avoid hard work and careful thought

Madison Schools Superintendent Dan Nerad says the state already has plans to review its standards in all areas.

"I think we have to be cautious not to look at the current state because it is very much in flux right now," Nerad says. "Things are going to change. it doesn't makes sense to look backwards as it does to look forward."

Remarkable. Much more at

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 11:22 AM | Comments (2) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Claremont College Says It Exaggerated SAT Figures for Ratings

Daniel Slotnik & Richard Perez-Pena:

Claremont McKenna College, a small, prestigious California school, said Monday that for the past six years, it has submitted false SAT scores to publications like U.S. News & World Report that use the data in widely followed college rankings.

In a message e-mailed to college staff members and students, Claremont McKenna's president since 1999, Pamela B. Gann, wrote that "a senior administrator" had taken sole responsibility for falsifying the scores, admitted doing so since 2005, and resigned his post.

People briefed on the matter said that the administrator was Richard C. Vos, vice president and dean of admissions, whose name was removed in the last few days from the college's online list of top officials.

Mr. Vos, reached at his home Monday night, said: "No comment. It's an internal personnel matter."

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 3:33 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Higher Dropout Age May Not Lead To More Diplomas

Claudio Sanchez:

In his State of the Union address, President Obama called on every state to require students to stay in school until they graduate or turn 18. "When students don't walk away from their education, more of them walk the stage to get their diploma," he said.

The White House cited studies that showed how raising the compulsory schooling age helps prevent kids from leaving school. And while some of that is true, some of it is also wishful thinking.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 3:22 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

A Score Card for Changing Schools

Elbert Chu:

Sixty-two New York City schools are on a path to be closed or otherwise re-shaped this year. Here's a score card to help you keep track of what schools are affected and how.

This post lists the 19 schools that the Department of Education wants to phase out, along with the six that will have their middle school grades removed (that's called truncation).

Until Feb. 9, when the Panel for Educational Policy votes on the changes, hearings are going on almost every night at the schools that are to be phased out or truncated. You can find the calendar of hearings here.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:56 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas


Ethan Fast:

Do you hold a consistent mental model of the world? For many of us (though less likely for the readers of this blog), the answer is "no." That's troubling. It's hard to be correct, if your world-view doesn't even type check. [1] People are entitled to opinions. But hold them in a state of contradiction, and they're wrong.

Though it's easy enough to apply consistency checks, inconsistent world-views abound. I suspect it's because people never learn to be consistent. Education under-represents logic and reason in the classroom. High school math class is the closest many people come to an education in rationality, and math is "just too abstract."

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:21 AM | Comments (1) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

American school kids trash Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution

Graeme Culliford and Nick Owens:

It was Jamie Oliver's toughest challenge... getting US ­youngsters to ditch junk food and eat a healthier diet.

But six months after he ­convinced an LA school to swap fattening burgers for low-calorie salads, his ­revamped menu is - literally - being binned.

Hundreds of students at West Adams Preparatory High School, where his hit show Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution was filmed, are ­refusing to eat his cuisine.

Instead, bins are overflowing with the TV chef's veg curries, quinoa salads, Thai ­noodles and wheatbread burgers.

Many youngsters even go without lunch altogether.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:16 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

As costs continue to rise, paying for college gets tougher for many students

Deborah Ziff:

She doesn't buy books for her classes if she can help it. She works two jobs, sometimes donating plasma for extra cash. She doesn't own a car, shops at Goodwill and rarely goes out to eat.

Despite all of that, UW-Madison student Dena Ohlinger, 23, could no longer afford tuition as a full-time student and cut back to part-time last year. Ohlinger, a fifth-year senior from a small town in southeastern Wisconsin, said her debt is ballooning and she worries she is a financial burden on her parents. It is a struggle each semester to pay tuition.

"I've felt this over and over again, if I was realistic about my financial situation and was trying to make a responsible decision, it would not include college," she said.

Ohlinger is not alone. The cost of college has far out-paced inflation over the past five decades, making it harder for students to work their way through college and come out debt-free, or even with manageable debt. Tuition, books and living expenses for an in-state student living on an adequate but moderate budget is estimated at $22,542 at UW-Madison for 2011-12. It was $1,430 in 1960, which equates to $10,867 in 2011 dollars, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:54 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Old-school system needs its own recess

Chris Rickert:

The Janesville Gazette reported last week that principals at some of the city's public elementary school are attributing some major positive academic and behavioral trends to a relatively minor change: moving recess from after to before lunch.

I remember the post-lunch recess -- chasing girls, pick-up football, the bloody nose I gave my best friend.

In fact, I remember school-day and school-year schedules being much the same as the ones my 5-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son experience at their Madison public elementary school -- from the timing of recess, to summer vacation, to days off to honor such notables as Polish-born Revolutionary War hero Casimir Pulaski (keep in mind this was the Chicago area, which has a large Polish population).

I suppose that could be because at some point decades ago, the public education establishment discovered the perfect academic schedule and, well, why tinker with something that works?

Janesville's experience suggests something else, though: that post-lunch recess is just another public education tradition among a slew of public education traditions that could benefit from a fresh pair of eyes.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:53 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

My experience with the new iTunes U Course Manager

Sunset Lake Software:

Last week, Apple unveiled two new education-related products: iBooks textbooks and the new iTunes U courses. While both interest me, I was particularly fascinated by the new iTunes U courses and how they bundle information together. I converted my existing Advanced iPhone Development iTunes U class into a full course (which you can subscribe to for free) a few days ago. I wanted to write about what I learned in the process of doing this.

As I mentioned, I taught a course in 2010 at the Madison Area Technical College on advanced iPhone (now iOS) development. We recorded this course and made videos of the sessions available for free on iTunes U. Both the spring semester and fall semester of 2010 can be found as video collections in 720p HD on iTunes U. Each class session is roughly three hours long, because they were part of a once-a-week professional development course.

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

Parents provide clues to autism

Neil Tweedie:

Are you and your partner graduates and prepared to answer a few online questions about your children? If so, Simon Baron-Cohen would like to hear from you.

One of the country's foremost researchers into the causes of autism, Professor Baron-Cohen wants to know what kind of degree you hold. If you are both graduates in the so-called hard sciences, such as engineering and computer science, then you may end up being of particular interest. The reason is that parents who are both "systemisers", as he describes them, appear more likely to have autistic children.

Systemisers are lovers of precision, people who are good at analysing how things work and discerning patterns. Ideal material for code-breaking activities. Current thinking suggests we all sit somewhere on a scale of systemising. At one end are people who have little or no drive to be precise when confronted with structured information - political spin doctors might be an example - and at the other are hyper-systemisers, those whose obsession with analysis and dissection borders on the autistic.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:46 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Obama Proposes College-Aid Changes

Laura Meckler:

Seeking to control spiraling college costs, President Barack Obama is proposing tying federal student aid to universities' tuition rates and the value they provide graduates.

The plan would affect three programs that provide institutions with student aid--Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants, Perkins Loans and Work Study. Under the current formula, schools with the highest tuitions get the most money, because the programs help fill the gap between what students can afford and what they are charged.

Mr. Obama would change that by rewriting the formula so that schools that keep tuition down and that provide "good value" would be rewarded with more money. The White House didn't say what would constitute good value but said the new formula would include measures such as graduation rates; that's in contrast to the current formula, which rewards longevity in the program.

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

High school basketball has always been a great remedy for cabin fever

Kevin Dayhoff:

There's nothing like going out to a high school basketball game with the family to give you a break from cabin fever.

High school sports have always played an important role in Carroll County. Although one may have a lively discussion as to which sport is the favorite in the county, there can no doubt that basketball -- and wrestling -- provide a great respite from Carroll County's cold miserable winter weather.

Many years ago, the old Westminster Armory on Longwell Avenue was the site of many sporting events in the community, especially basketball.

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

Is college too much for disadvantaged students?

Jay Matthews:

A few weeks ago, my colleague Paul Schwartzman introduced readers to a group of Prince George's County residents known as "the Seat Pleasant 59." They were promised in 1988, when they were in elementary school, that their tuition would be paid if they worked hard and got into college. More than two decades later, only 11 have four-year degrees, a consequence of many bad turns, most of them related to growing up in poverty.

Some readers may conclude that most of these children were doomed from the start. Many lacked the parental support, teacher encouragement and personal resilience needed to take advantage of the offer from philanthropists Abe Pollin and Melvin Cohen. Is a tuition promise wasted on such children?

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:22 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Anxiety for two to take away

Susie Boyt:

While my daughter was sitting the first exam of her life, I didn't know what to do with myself. I hovered outside the building in the same way I have done when loved ones are undergoing surgery, transferring my weight from one foot to another - cursing that I have only two - nursing the strange delusion that feeling extreme discomfort myself might just be comforting to another, through the ether. All that kept coming into my mind were her parting words to me: "'All at once' is a good alternative to 'suddenly'. And also 'without warning.'" It cannot be denied.

My anxiety was really surpassing itself. It was citrus-hued and neon-bright. All at once my ring of worries had little multi-faceted briolettes of worries suspended from them and these, in turn, had matching ear and toe rings, necklaces and bracelets. I could almost hear my nerves jangling and looked about myself anxiously as though I were an unwelcome morris dancer about to be shooed from a sophisticated urban setting. I have dispatched such rustic groovers myself with cutting remarks in my time. I regret it now, obviously.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:01 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

January 30, 2012

Madison Prep's Private School Plans "in Doubt"

Matthew DeFour:

Madison Preparatory Academy doesn't have the money to open as a private school next fall and its future is in the hands of the Madison School Board, according to a lead supporter of the charter school proposal.

Supporters still want to open Madison Prep in the fall but haven't been able to raise about $1.2 million needed to run the school because its future beyond next year remains uncertain, Madison Prep board chairman David Cagigal said last week; moreover, a key donor said her support is contingent on School Board backing.

Cagigal said the private school option was never intended to be more than an interim plan before the school opened as a public charter school. One of the most common reasons charter schools fail is lack of funding, he added.

"We can't approach these donors unless we mitigate the risk," Cagigal said. "The only way we can do that is seek a 2013 vote."

Cagigal acknowledged that if the School Board doesn't vote on opening Madison Prep as a charter school in 2013, "then we may have to wait."

Much more on the proposed Madison Preparatory IB charter school, here.

The fate of Madison Prep was discussed at a recent school board candidate forum.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:52 AM | Comments (1) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Oakland schools denied secession bids

Katy Murphy:

Charter schools: The Oakland school board rejected the charter school petitions submitted by the faculties of ASCEND and Learning Without Limits, public elementary schools in the Fruitvale area that want to secede from the school district. The district's charter schools office recommended that the board approve the request, but Superintendent Tony Smith took a different stance, pointing to the financial investment the district has made in the schools since they opened.

This section of a staff resolution seems to sum up the superintendent's position: "Whereas, the District cannot succeed at its strategic plan to create a Full Service Community School District that serves the whole child ... if after millions of dollars in investment, individual schools that have achieved because of the District's investment can separate and opt out of the District, with the consequence that the District loses its collective identity as a school system serving children in all neighborhoods in

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 4:29 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

An L.A. teacher reviews her review

Coleen Bondy:

For the first time this year, LAUSD has prepared reports for teachers that rate their effectiveness. When I received an email saying I could now view my own personal "Average Growth over Time" report, I opened it with a combination of trepidation, resignation and indignation.

First, the indignation. It is, I think, the key factor that has kept me teaching past the five-year mark, when most new teachers quit the profession. I am in my sixth year of teaching after a nearly 20-year career as a professional writer. I know that I am smart, hardworking and competent, and despite the many frustrations of teaching in the Los Angeles Unified School District, I have refused to throw in the towel -- as so many do.

Indignation is also what fueled my reaction when I saw the rating the school district sent. It showed me to be on the low side of average for high school English teachers in the district.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 3:27 AM | Comments (1) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

7th Inter-School Pakistan Mathematics Olympiads held

The Daily Times:

The 7th Inter-Schools Mathematics Olympiad 2012 was organised on Sunday at the Pak-Turk International School Campus. Over 3,000 students from 470 schools of Jhelum, Attock, Chakwal, Rawalpindi and Islamabad participated in the mega educational competition. In order to evoke interest among the students, Pak-Turk International schools and colleges have been arranging the ISMO competition for the last six years. Speaking at the event, educationists said that there are not enough chances for student to exhibit their talent to the world. There is an immense need of such programmes for the brilliant youth, they added. This unique competition provides a great chance for the students of 5, 6, 7 and 8 classes or grades to show their incredible potential and win handsome prizes.

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

Harvard Initiative for Learning and Teaching


PLEASE NOTE: This is a provisional website meant to convey vital information to those interested. Our much-improved website will launch here soon, so stay tuned!

Launched through a generous gift from Gus and Rita Hauser, the Harvard Initiative for Learning and Teaching (HILT) is a Presidential Initiative to catalyze experimentation in teaching that improves student learning. It will capitalize on, strengthen, and broaden the scope of existing learning and teaching activities at Harvard, transform Harvard students' educational experience in keeping with current and future technological and pedagogical needs, build on Harvard's leadership in the research, application, and assessment of innovative pedagogy, and develop a robust, synergistic network of expertise, scholarly work, and creativity through dedicated University support that flows to the Schools and allows for sharing across Harvard campuses.

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

Why Get a Pricey Diploma When Badges Tell Employers More?

James Marshall Crotty:

A secret to widespread educational success - to borrow a football metaphor (indulge me: the World Financial Capital just beat the World Tech Capital for a rematch against Marcia & the Bradys) - is a narrow playing field. For example, certificate-based vocational schools don't grant degrees. They, nevertheless, have consistently higher rates of retention and graduation than four-year colleges or even two-year community colleges.

The logic is clear. Those on limited incomes, with domestic duties (children, a sick parent or spouse), or a full-time job, struggle to get a four-year degree. Circumstances often conspire to prevent the leisurely focus required for sustained study over long periods across many disciplines (many of which are not one's career focus, but are deemed necessary to "Civic Learning and Democratic Education," as this week's AAC&U conference makes clear). In an ideal Republic, every American would get a broad-based, four-year, liberal arts education rooted in great books shared inquiry, as offered at schools like my graduate alma mater of St. John's College Santa Fe. However, most Americans, especially in today's rough economy, just need a low-cost way to obtain the skills that will get them a fulfilling job or at least a better-paying one.

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

Groundswell of Approval for Moving School Board Elections to November

New Jersey Left Behind:

Yesterday there were 38 New Jersey school boards that had voted to move their elections to November. Today, just a week after passage of the new legislation, there are 56. Odds are the numbers will continue to increase as boards hold regular business meetings, debate the pros and cons, and pass the required resolution. (Coverage from NJ Spotlight and Trenton Times; here's a FAQ sheet from the DOE, which includes a sample resolution.)

Assemblyman Wayne DeAngelo, who sponsored the bill, said, "When we spend in the state of New Jersey anywhere from $7 to $9 million a year on school board elections, with voter turnout across the state at approximately 15 percent, I think we're doing a disservice to the residents."

This is a good idea.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:38 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

ALEC Reports on the War on Teachers

Anthony Cody:

As state after state rewrites their education laws in line with the mandates from Race to the Top and the NCLB waiver process, the teaching profession is being redefined. Teachers will now pay the price - be declared successes or failures, depending on the rise or fall of their students' test scores. Under NCLB it was schools that were declared failures. In states being granted waivers to NCLB, it is teachers who will be subjected to this ignominy. Of course we will still be required to label the bottom 5% of our schools as failures, but if the Department of Education has its way, soon every single teacher in the profession will be at risk for the label.

This revelation came to me as I read the Score Card on Education prepared by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), authored by Dr. Matthew Ladner and Dan Lips. This is a remarkable document. It provides their report on where each of the states stands on the education "reform" that has become the hallmark of corporate philanthropies, the Obama administration and governors across the nation.

It begins with a histrionic comparison between the struggle over our schools and the Battle of Britain in the Second World War. The authors write:

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

History, Not "Conspiracy": Kaleem Caire's Connections

Allen Ruff, via a kind email:

First of a series

The recent controversy over the Urban League of Greater Madison's proposal for a Madison Preparatory Academy has been framed primarily as a local story pitting contending interests within the city. The charter school's promoters, supporters and mainstream media have portrayed the ULGM's CEO and President, Kaleem Caire as the Prep's public champion and native son returned home on a mission to help "close the achievement gap," the racial disparities in Madison's schools.

But Caire's well-established national ties, spanning more than a decade, to numbers of conservative foundations, think tanks and individuals bent on privatizing public school coffers, creating for-profit schools, and destroying teachers' unions, certainly suggest that there is more to the story.

Caire has consistently dismissed any suggestion of his links to various right-wing efforts. On occasion he has admitted some distant connections but asserted his independence by saying, "They have their agenda, but we have ours." Lately, he has taken to waving off critic's references to such ties as nothing more than "guilt-by-association crap" or part of a "conspiracy" and "whisper campaign" coming from those trying to discredit the Mad Prep Academy project. However, a readily traceable history reveals some truth to the charges.

180K PDF version.

Much more on the proposed Madison Preparatory IB charter school, here.

Clusty Search: Allen Ruff, Blekko, google, bing.

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January 29, 2012

Under education reform, school principals swamped by teacher evaluations

Amanda Paulson:

School principals, including some who back more rigorous review of teachers, are balking at education reforms required by Race to the Top. New teacher evaluations are all-consuming, they say.

Sharon McNary believes in having tough teacher evaluations.

But these days, the Memphis principal finds herself rushing to cram in what amounts to 20 times the number of observations previously required for veteran teachers - including those she knows are excellent - sometimes to the detriment of her other duties.

"I don't think there's a principal that would say they don't agree we don't need a more rigorous evaluation system," says Ms. McNary, who is president of the Tennessee Principals Association as well as principal at Richland Elementary. "But now it seems that we've gone to [the opposite] extreme."

In New York, which is also beginning to implement a new teacher evaluation system this year, many principals are even less constrained in their opinion

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The True Cost of High School Dropouts

Henry Levin and Cecilia Rouse:

ONLY 21 states require students to attend high school until they graduate or turn 18. The proposal President Obama announced on Tuesday night in his State of the Union address -- to make such attendance compulsory in every state -- is a step in the right direction, but it would not go far enough to reduce a dropout rate that imposes a heavy cost on the entire economy, not just on those who fail to obtain a diploma.

In 1970, the United States had the world's highest rate of high school and college graduation. Today, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, we've slipped to No. 21 in high school completion and No. 15 in college completion, as other countries surpassed us in the quality of their primary and secondary education.

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A Disrupted Higher-Ed System

Jeff Selingo:

The "disruption" of the higher-ed market is a popular refrain these days. Rising tuition prices and student debt have left many wondering if the current model is indeed broken and whether those like Harvard's Clay Christensen are right when they say that innovations in course delivery will eventually displace established players.

What exactly those innovations will look like remains a matter of debate. One view from Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, envisions a future in which every industry will be disrupted and "rebuilt with people at the center."

In this recent interview with The Wall Street Journal, Sandberg talked specifically about the gaming industry, which has been upended by the popularity of social-gaming venues, such as Words With Friends and Farmville.

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Education & The State of Our Union

Matthew McKnight:

On primary and secondary education, Obama essentially advocated three directives: raise the dropout age to eighteen, continue his Race to the Top program, and loosen the standardized restrictions on teachers. Obama is right to say that the minimum requirements set by No Child Left Behind, in the ten years the law has been in effect, have done little to shrink the achievement gap, and to consider an alternative. But it's too early to know if Race to the Top is the right one. The first, sufficiently rigorous evaluation will begin in March, and will only be completed and released two years later. He's also right to say that "teachers matter," and that good ones ought to have the freedom and income to do their job well.

That education cannot be treated in a bubble is an important truth that should not be missed. And yet, while the President's diagnosis--even with its simplifications--was accurate, his prescriptions were light on details. "Challenges remain," he said, but "we know how to solve them." Do we? It was not even clear how to resolve tension between his stated desire not to confine educators to "teaching to the test" and the way the Race to the Top rewards testing, aside from handing it off to individual states. Injunctions like "more competition" miss the wide scope of the problem. Indeed, in a country where the fault lines in education align so neatly along economic, racial, and geographic divisions, there's almost an urge to accept rhetorical shows of confidence, and not look too far beyond them.

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What's Wrong With the Teenage Mind?

Alison Gopnik:

"What was he thinking?" It's the familiar cry of bewildered parents trying to understand why their teenagers act the way they do.

How does the boy who can thoughtfully explain the reasons never to drink and drive end up in a drunken crash? Why does the girl who knows all about birth control find herself pregnant by a boy she doesn't even like? What happened to the gifted, imaginative child who excelled through high school but then dropped out of college, drifted from job to job and now lives in his parents' basement?

If you think of the teenage brain as a car, today's adolescents acquire an accelerator a long time before they can steer and brake.

Adolescence has always been troubled, but for reasons that are somewhat mysterious, puberty is now kicking in at an earlier and earlier age. A leading theory points to changes in energy balance as children eat more and move less.

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Raising Wisconsin's Student Achievement Bar?

Alan Borsuk:

What if you suddenly found out that half of the eighth-graders in Wisconsin, all kids you thought were highly rated readers, really didn't merit being called proficient? That instead of four out of five being pretty decent in math, it was really two out of five?

You better start thinking how you'd react because it's likely that is what's coming right at us. That's how dramatic a proposal last week by the state Department of Public Instruction is.

As parents, teachers, school leaders, politicians, community leaders and taxpayers, will we be motivated to do better? Will we see the need for change? Will we rise to the occasion? Or will we settle for being discouraged and basically locked into what we've come to expect?

Here's what's going on: With Congress failing to pass a revision, originally due in 2007, of the education law known as No Child Left Behind, the U.S. Department of Education has begun issuing waivers from the enforcement program of the increasingly dysfunctional law. Wisconsin wants a waiver - it's one of the things people such as Republican Gov. Scott Walker and Democratic-oriented Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers agree on. So a task force developed a proposal. People have until Feb. 3 to react to the proposal and the application is to be submitted Feb. 21.

The plan will change a lot of important dynamics of what students and schools in Wisconsin are expected to accomplish. It calls for publicly rating all schools on a 1 to 100 point scale, with student outcomes as a key factor. Schools that score low will face orders to improve and, possibly, closing. And that goes for every school with students whose education is paid for with public dollars - in other words, private schools in the voucher programs for Milwaukee and Racine kids are included.

Overall, the waiver plan means we are at the point where Wisconsin gets serious about raising expectations for student achievement. Wisconsin is regarded as having one of the lowest bars in the U.S. for rating a student as proficient. No more, the proposal says.


Eighth-grade reading: Using the WKCE measuring stick, 86% of students were rated as "advanced" or "proficient." Using the NAEP measuring stick, it was 35% - a 51-point difference. At least as vivid: Using the WKCE measure, 47% of eighth-graders were "advanced," the top bracket. Using the NAEP measure, it was 3%. Three percent! In other words, only a handful of kids statewide would be labeled advanced under the new system, not the nearly half we're used to.

Fourth-grade reading: On the WKCE scale, 82% were proficient or advanced. On the NAEP scale, it was 33%.

Eighth-grade math: WKCE, 78% proficient. NAEP: 41%.

Fourth-grade math: WKCE: 79% proficient. NAEP: 47%.

A substantial improvement in academic standards is warranted and possibly wonderful, assuming it happens and avoids being watered down. The rightly criticized WKCE was an expensive missed opportunity.


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The History of English in 10 Minutes

Benjamin Starr:

Did you know that Shakespeare alone contributed more than 2000 new words to the English language? How about that the words cow, sheep and swine, come from English farmers while their culinary versions, beef, mutton and pork, come from French? With its many borrowed and newly invented words, the English language is one that continues to adapt to a changing world. This witty 10 minute animation (in 10 parts) looks at some of the diverse history surrounding the popular language.

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D.C. is ranked the most literate city in the U.S.

Bob Minzesheimer:

For the second consecutive year, Washington, D.C. , is ranked as the most literate city in the country, according to an annual statistical survey to be released today.

Here is the top 10 for 2011, as ranked by Central Connecticut State University President Jack Miller, based on data that includes number of bookstores, library resources, newspaper circulation and Internet resources:

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January 28, 2012

Why The New Yorker's Claim That Brainstorming "Doesn't Work" Is An Overstatement And Possibly Wrong

Bob Sutton:

The current version of The New Yorker has a wonderful article by Jonah Lehrer called "Groupthink" (you can see the abstract here). It does a great job of showing how creativity is a social process, cites wonderful research by Brian Uzzi showing that when people have experience working together in the past they produce more successful Broadway musicals (up to a point, too many old friends is as bad as too few), and offers research showing that groups where members engage in constructive conflict are more creative -- all themes I have talked about at various times on this blog.

I do however have a major quibble. At one point, Lehrer states flatly that brainstorming doesn't work. He later quotes creativity researcher Keith Sawyer as saying that people are more efficient at generating ideas when they work alone than in groups, something that is well-established. But that is not the same as saying there is conclusive evidence they don't work.

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NCTQ Sues UW Ed Schools over Access to Course Syllabi

Kate Walsh, via a kind reader's email:

As reported by the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel and the Associated Press, NCTQ filed a lawsuit yesterday -- a first for us -- against the University of Wisconsin system.

UW campuses issued identically worded denials of our requests for course syllabi, which is one of the many sources of information we use to rate programs for the National Review of teacher preparation programs. They argue that "syllabi are not public records because they are subject to copyright" and therefore do not have to be produced in response to an open records request.

We believe that the University's reading of the law is flawed. We are engaged in research on the quality of teacher preparation programs, and so our request falls squarely within the fair use provision of copyright law. What's more, these documents were created at public institutions for the training of public school teachers, and so should be subject to scrutiny by the public.

You can read our complaint here.

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?
Lake Wobegon has nothing on the UW-Madison School of Education. All of the children in Garrison Keillor's fictional Minnesota town are "above average." Well, in the School of Education they're all A students.

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

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

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

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What Americans Keep Ignoring About Finland's School Success

Anu Partanen:

Everyone agrees the United States needs to improve its education system dramatically, but how? One of the hottest trends in education reform lately is looking at the stunning success of the West's reigning education superpower, Finland. Trouble is, when it comes to the lessons that Finnish schools have to offer, most of the discussion seems to be missing the point.

The small Nordic country of Finland used to be known -- if it was known for anything at all -- as the home of Nokia, the mobile phone giant. But lately Finland has been attracting attention on global surveys of quality of life -- Newsweek ranked it number one last year -- and Finland's national education system has been receiving particular praise, because in recent years Finnish students have been turning in some of the highest test scores in the world.

Finland's schools owe their newfound fame primarily to one study: the PISA survey, conducted every three years by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The survey compares 15-year-olds in different countries in reading, math, and science. Finland has ranked at or near the top in all three competencies on every survey since 2000, neck and neck with superachievers such as South Korea and Singapore. In the most recent survey in 2009 Finland slipped slightly, with students in Shanghai, China, taking the best scores, but the Finns are still near the very top. Throughout the same period, the PISA performance of the United States has been middling, at best.

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Madison Teachers, Inc. Solidarity Newsletter

65K PDF, via a kind email.

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New Study Gives Small Schools Initiative a Thumbs Up

Mary Ann Giordano

The small schools initiative that has been the hallmark of the Bloomberg administration's schools policy seems to be working, a new study has found.

Winnie Hu reports in The New York Times on Thursday that the study found that students who attend public high schools that have about 100 students in each grade were more likely to graduate.

The continuing study is described as "one of the largest and most comprehensive reviews of the impact of small schools on learning." Its $3.5 million cost is covered by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the study is conducted by MDRC, a nonprofit education research group based in Manhattan.

The study found that students at small high schools were more likely to earn a diploma than students who attend larger schools, The Times reports.

Related: Small Learning Communities

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Can Computers Replace Teachers?

Andrew Rotherham:

Steve Jobs didn't think that technology alone could fix what ails American education. It's worth remembering that in the wake of last week's breathless coverage of Apple's new iBooks platform, which the company promises will radically change how students use and experience textbooks. Under Apple's plan, companies and individuals will be able to self-publish textbooks, ideally creating a wider array of content. Students will be able to download and use these books on their iPad much like they would use a regular textbook -- including highlighting passages, making notes and pulling out passages or chapters that are especially important to them. Apple says it also plans to cap the price of textbooks available through iBooks at $14.99, a significant departure from the price of many textbooks now.

Critics were quick to pounce that Apple wasn't being revolutionary enough. Former school superintendent and current ed-tech investor Tom Vander Ark chided Apple for not thinking past textbooks, which he considers hopelessly 20th century. Others worried that Apple's real goal wasn't to open up the textbook industry but to control it and profit from it through restrictive licensing agreements and a platform that dominates the market. I'm sure the for-profit company's shareholders will be horrified at that news.

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Madison to get 1,400 iPads for schools by next fall

Matthew DeFour:

Madison teachers will soon be handing out Apples to students.

The School District for the first time plans to buy more than 600 iPads for use in the majority of schools this spring. Another 800 iPads are expected to be in classrooms by next fall, all paid for with money from a state settlement with Microsoft.

District officials are enthusiastic about the possibilities presented by tablets, from students wirelessly sharing classroom work to replacing workbooks purchased each year with online "apps." Other districts in Dane County and around the state are already experimenting with tablets.

In Madison, the popular computing device presents a "jumping off" moment for technology in classrooms that hasn't happened with desktop and laptop computers, said Bill Smojver, the district's director of technical services.

"This is the most significant transition point for having digital learning at the optimal level," Smojver said.

Matthew DeFour:
Madison isn't the first school district in Dane County to experiment with iPads in the classroom.

Amy Nelson, a Sun Prairie School District speech therapist, uses tablets with all students from fifth graders to 4-year-olds. One program makes it easier to teach verb tenses, as she can show a boy running, rather than explain running with a motionless picture card.

"It's definitely the up-and-coming technology and kids are really excited about it too," Nelson said. "They're learning something and working on skills, but to them they just think they're playing sometimes."

The Monona Grove School District is also using iPads to help autistic and other disabled students communicate, said Kathy Sanders, a library media and technology specialist in the Monona Grove School District.

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Alumni Adrift

Allie Grasgreen:

Researchers created quite a stir last year -- to say the least -- with the release of Academically Adrift, the book about a longitudinal study that found many students don't learn much in college, particularly in the way of skills like critical thinking and analytic reasoning. The culprit, the authors argue, is a lack of academic rigor in most classes that required little reading, writing and studying.

If true, those findings alone are grim enough. But a new study from the same authors says the data's implications for students extend beyond their time in college and into their early years as graduates.

The new study found a positive correlation between poor performance on the Collegiate Learning Assessment -- the test used in Academically Adrift to measure gains over the students' time in college -- and unemployment, credit card debt, and likelihood of living at home.

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High Schools Are Step One Of Two


MG Siegler in his latest TechCrunch article posits that although Apple's new iBooks strategy is admirable in its effort to fix problems in public high schools, that it's not realistic and that their market strategy should revolve around colleges and college textbooks.

On the surface, which seems logical enough, his argument is sound. But It ignores the one, HUGE driving force in education: money.

Nearly all high schools are public, or receive public funding in one way or another and help to satisfy the law which states that students of high school age must attend school. Textbooks are merely a means of teaching these students topics which help these schools qualify for their funding.

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Louisiana Governor Jindal says education reforms can't wait for another generation of kids

Barabar Leader:

Education was the topic of discussion in northeast Louisiana Thursday as Governor Bobby Jindal and the state's new Superintendent of Education John White visited the area.

Jindal spoke to the Monroe Chamber of Commerce about what he called a "critical time" in Louisiana's history and the role his aggressive education reform package will play in the state's continuing journey to improvement.

White joined Jindal at the Monroe Chamber of Commerce but spent most of his visit in area schools observing teachers and students.

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January 27, 2012

Madison Teachers Candidate Endorsement(s)

To all of you with #recallwithdrawal: Time to focus on Arlene and Micheal for #MMSDBOE!! #99percent

MTI is officially endorsing Arlene Silviera for Madison School Board. Come meet her tonight! 100 WI Ave #700 5-7pm

1.25.2012 Madison School Board Candidate DCCPA Event Audio.

Seat 1 Candidates:

Nichele Nichols

Arlene Silveira (incumbent)

Seat 2 Candidates:

Mary Burke

Michael Flores

via a kind reader's email

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Progessive Dane Endorses Michael Flores & Arlene Silveira (i) for Madison School Board

Progressive Dane:

Madison School District Board
Seat 1: Arlene Silveira Website / Facebook
Seat 2: Michael Flores Website / Facebook

Now we have to make sure they get elected! That takes money (some) and work (lots).

The money part is easy--come to the Progressive Dane Campaign Fund-raiser

Sunday February 12, 5-7 pm
Cardinal Bar, 418 E Wilson St
(Potluck food, Cash Bar, Family Friendly)

Meet the candidates, hear about Madison School District and Dane County issues, pick some to work on this year!

Both Madison School Board races are contested this year.

Seat 1 Candidates:

Nichele Nichols

Arlene Silveira (incumbent)

Seat 2 Candidates:

Mary Burke

Michael Flores

1.25.2012 Madison School Board Candidate DCCPA Event Audio.

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First Niagara's $3M to shape CT school-reform debate

Hartford Business, via a kind Doug Newman email:

First Niagara Bank has pledged $3 million to support a nonprofit group that is representing business interests in Connecticut's education reform debate.

The money will go to Hartford's Connecticut Council for Education Reform (CCER), which is led by a group of prominent Connecticut business leaders including former Hartford Financial Services Group CEO Ramani Ayer, and Peyton Patterson, the former chief executive of NewAllinace Bank, which was acquired by First Niagara Bank last year.

The Connecticut Council for Education Reform also unveiled Thursday its education agenda for the upcoming legislative session, which includes urging the state to adopt:

--Teacher and leader employment and retention policies that attract the highest quality professionals and insist upon effectiveness as defined by their ability to demonstrate improvement in student performance, not seniority, as the measure of success defined by redesigned evaluation systems.

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Whistle-blowing teachers to open a Los Angeles charter school

Howard Blume:

Los Angeles teachers who became whistle-blowers during a cheating scandal won the right Tuesday to open their own charter school.

The new enterprise, called Apple Academy, won unanimous approval from the Los Angeles Board of Education. The school's chief executive, former L.A. teachers union president A.J. Duffy, had been a longtime critic of charter schools.

The cheating, which came to public attention last year, ultimately led to the shutdown last summer of all six Crescendo charter schools. As a result, the families of about 1,200 students had to enroll elsewhere on short notice. And Crescendo employees, including teachers who reported the cheating, were left without work.

"It was a rough ending to last year," said former Crescendo teacher Elise Sargent. "We're so excited to move forward."

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Has Students Come First hurt teacher unions in Idaho?

Kristin Rodine:

Idaho's controversial new school reform laws gutted teacher associations' collective bargaining powers, but local union leaders say they can still work effectively with their district administration to help shape policies.

"This (legislation) basically said to districts that if you don't want to work with teachers in these areas, you can say by law you don't have to do it anymore," Boise Education Association President Andrew Rath said. "But I think they've found that districts want to work with the teachers."

Association leaders Sam Stone of Caldwell and Luke Franklin of Meridian agreed.

"We can always talk to our district," Franklin said. "Our relationship isn't really 'us against them.'"

The Students Come First laws, unveiled by schools Superintendent Tom Luna one year ago and approved by the 2011 Legislature, limits teacher contract negotiations to the issues of pay and benefits and eliminates working conditions and other issues from master contracts.

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"Women Worse at Math than Men" Explanation Scientifically Incorrect, MU Researchers Say

Steven Adams:

A University of Missouri researcher and his colleague have conducted a review that casts doubt on the accuracy of a popular theory that attempted to explain why there are more men than women in top levels of mathematic fields. The researchers found that numerous studies claiming that the stereotype, "men are better at math" - believed to undermine women's math performance - had major methodological flaws, utilized improper statistical techniques, and many studies had no scientific evidence of this stereotype.

This theory, called stereotype threat, was first published in 1999 in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. Essentially, the theory is that due to the stereotype that women are worse than men in math skills, females develop a poor self-image in this area, which leads to mathematics underachievement.

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Hong Kong's National education subject to be delayed

Dennis Chong:

A committee tasked with mapping out the controversial introduction of compulsory national education in all Hong Kong government schools has suggested it be delayed until as late as 2015.

The Education Bureau last year proposed introducing the curriculum into primary schools as early as September this year, and into secondary schools in the 2013-14 academic year.

However, a source said the Moral and National Education Ad Hoc Committee had now proposed postponing full introduction of the subject - which critics have labelled as brainwashing - until the 2015-16 academic year.

The source said schools would be given three years to get ready for the new curriculum, and it would not specifically cover sensitive topics such as the June 4, 1989, crackdown in Tiananmen Square. Schools could start teaching the subject before then if they were ready.

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Björk's Latest Experiment: Teaching Science

Nick Neyland:

Björk turned her last album into an app. Now she's turning her music into a science exhibit for city students, with an unusual three-week run at a Queens museum better known for its molecule models and retired spacecraft.

The singer arrives at the New York Hall of Science next month to hold a series of classes for middle school students, as well as six open-to-the-public concerts in the museum's Great Hall. Björk will also stage four shows at a more conventional concert venue: Manhattan's Roseland Ballroom.

"The whole idea is to take music education out of a bookish, academic thing and into a more physical, tactile experience," said Björk, 46 years old, in an interview as she was preparing for the event.

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Let's evaluate all ways to close gap

Madison School Board Candidate Mary Burke

n recent listening sessions with Madison parents, I heard how we can improve our schools, what we can be really proud of and stories about our wonderful teachers. In these discussions and in others, people have talked about addressing the racial achievement gap and shared concerns about Madison Prep.

For the 12 years I have been involved in Madison schools, I have been championing education and addressing the racial achievement gap. An East High teacher and I co-founded the AVID/TOPS program, which I also supported financially and continue to co-chair. This program has increased the number of students graduating and going on to post-secondary education. But AVID TOPS alone is not enough. We need to do more.

When Madison Prep was discussed last fall, it was the only proposal put on the table in the last five years to significantly address the racial achievement gap. At that time the teachers union and the planners of Madison Prep were in agreement that the school would run with Madison School District employees, union teachers and under the leadership of the district (as an instrumentality). A major concern raised was that Madison Prep would pull resources needed by existing schools.

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January 26, 2012

Learning to Write Teaches Westerly Students Science
"Therefore, in conclusion, learning to write promotes scientific thinking. Other districts would do well to take notice."

Posted by Julia Steiny Columnist on January 25, 2012

Back in December 2009, excited 4th graders at Westerly's State Street School ( sat down to take a practice science test. Like little sports jocks, the kids approached the task as if it were training for the big game coming in the spring, the statewide science NECAP (

In 2008, the whole Westerly district had performed so poorly on that test that teachers actually volunteered their time to form a K-12 Science Task Force focused on redeeming their sullied academic reputation. (See last week's column about this Task Force (link to my column from last week) .)

Then, insult to injury, in 2009 State Street's scores tanked again.

The heat was on. State Street had already started implementing the Task Force's recommendations, including its strong emphasis on teaching writing.

Wait. Writing? That's English, not science. But more on this in a moment.

Westerly's students had struggled particularly with the "inquiry" part of the NECAP, where kids to do a hands-on task and draw conclusions from what they see in front of them.

State Street's Principal Audrey Faubert says, "Science (NECAP) is only given at the 4th grade (and later at 8th and 11th), so K-3 weren't exposed to the rigors of testing. We decided to give all the kids an inquiry task to complete. And the faculty also took some of the released test items from the RIDE website. ( Even though they'd been teaching inquiry with the science kits ( , it was interesting for the teachers to be on the other side of a test."

But the spotlight's glare was on those 4th graders.

Faubert smiled sadly, "The room was buzzing. The kids thought they did fantastic."

Working in pairs, the school's entire teaching staff scored the kids' work. The results were enough to induce clinical depression.

But as it turns out, the school's good efforts hadn't quite paid off yet. The Task Force was onto a good thing when they decided writing was key to learning science. State Street's instruction had only just started to take root.

Here's the problem: Old science was about answers. When a test asks a question like: "How does wind change sand dunes?" somewhere in the science textbook was an answer that the kid was supposed to have memorized.

New science is about thinking and reasoning. The way Faubert puts it is: "The (NECAP) science test is a thinking test, not a knowledge test. Science isn't about recall any more, but about synthesizing information." New science poses essential questions, such as the sand dunes example, but now the kids need to derive the answer themselves, by sorting through data. Teachers provide techniques, tools, research methods, and experiences. But like scientists themselves, students must do their own research and figure out what their discoveries mean.

Writing is always the product of thinking. Writing forces a kid to organize her thoughts to be expressive and communicate clearly.

Middle-school principal Paula Fusco says "Prior to the work of the Task Force, we'd left writing up to the English teacher. But whatever the kids did or didn't know, they weren't able to communicate their understanding of science."

To work on that understanding, Fusco says, "we've been taking the vocabulary out of NECAP--infer, predict, explain. So the kids aren't afraid of the words they're encountering."

The ability to define "predict" doesn't help at all if the ability to MAKE a prediction isn't also a familiar habit. Kids need to demonstrate, by their writing, that they understand what they need to DO when the test asks them to predict, infer or explain.

Similarly, Fusco's teachers began to work with the kids on "sentence starters" to guide their thinking--However, In conclusion, Whereas, Therefore.

Fortunately, Westerly's students were in the habit of writing in science journals. But they had used them mainly to record observations. Faubert says, "Every teacher brought in examples of their students' science journals. Oh, here are the strengths and weaknesses right in our own notebooks. We'd never had the kids prove their thinking in their journals. Think like a scientist, based on what's in front of you. Prove your thinking. Prove your thinking. We said that so many times."

At the end of the day, teaching the kids to EXPLAIN their predictions and reasoning was the clearest way to teach them habits of scientific thinking. And those explanations also helped the teachers assess kids' understanding and misunderstanding.

By February, State Street dared to try another practice test with the 4th graders. Again, the staff scored it together. Ahhh, much better. So much so, Faubert felt more confident about improving on the 49 percent proficiency they'd managed in the prior year's test.

In fact, when the results were released last Fall, State Street kids hit 80 percent proficiency, 8th highest in the state, out of over 150 schools that take that test. (And Westerly is the 8th lowest-income community in the state.)

Superintendent Roy Seitsinger's take on the situation is this: "Nobody (meaning veteran educators) signed up for what we're doing now. Most of the people weren't trained to bring students through a thinking process. Now the educators' job is to teach kids how to sift through all that information and to be critical, reflective and make decisions. We have too much information and not nearly enough sorting skills."

Therefore, in conclusion, learning to write promotes scientific thinking. Other districts would do well to take notice.

Julia Steiny is a freelance columnist whose work also regularly appears at and She is the founding director of the Youth Restoration Project, a restorative-practices initiative, currently building a demonstration project in Central Falls, Rhode Island. She consults for schools and government initiatives, including regular work for The Providence Plan for whom she analyzes data. For more detail, see or contact her at or c/o GoLocalProv, 44 Weybosset Street, Providence, RI 02903.

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

Tenured Professor Departs Stanford U., Hoping to Teach 500,000 Students at Online Start-Up

Nick DeSantis:

he Stanford University professor who taught an online artificial intelligence course to more than 160,000 students has abandoned his tenured position to aim for an even bigger audience.

Sebastian Thrun, a professor of computer science at Stanford, revealed today that he has departed the institution to found Udacity, a start-up offering low-cost online classes. He made the surprising announcement during a presentation at the Digital - Life - Design conference in Munich, Germany. The development was first reported earlier today by Reuters.

During his talk, Mr. Thrun explored the origins of his popular online course at Stanford, which initially featured videos produced with nothing more than "a camera, a pen and a napkin." Despite the low production quality, many of the 200 Stanford students taking the course in the classroom flocked to the videos because they could absorb the lectures at their own pace. Eventually, the 200 students taking the course in person dwindled to a group of 30. Meanwhile, the course's popularity exploded online, drawing students from around the world. The experience taught the professor that he could craft a course with the interactive tools of the Web that recreated the intimacy of one-on-one tutoring, he said.

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How School Choice Became an Explosive Issue

Kevin Carey:

Bill Cosby and Dick Morris presumably disagree about most things, so it's instructive to note that both have officially endorsed "School Choice Week," which began yesterday with a series of rallies and events around the country celebrating the idea of parents being able to decide where their children go to school. Indeed, school choice seems like such an obviously good idea that the most interesting thing about School Choice Week is why it exists at all.

That school choice is valuable is beyond dispute. That's why there's a multi-billion dollar private school industry serving millions of students. And it's why there is a much larger system of school choice embedded in the American real estate market. While some parents pay school tuition directly, many more pay it through their monthly mortgage and property tax bills. Anyone who has deliberately purchased a home in a "good" school district is, by definition, a beneficiary and supporter of school choice.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:55 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

An Economic and Rational Choice Approach to the Autism Spectrum and Human Neurodiversity

Tyler Cowen:

That is a new paper of mine, you will find the link here. Here is the abstract:
This paper considers an economic approach to autistic individuals, as a window for understanding autism, as a new and growing branch of neuroeconomics (how does behavior vary with neurology?), and as a foil for better understanding non-autistics and their cognitive biases. The relevant economic predictions for autistics involve greater specialization in production and consumption, lower price elasticities of supply and demand, a higher return from choosing features of their environment, less effective use of social focal points, and higher relative returns as economic growth and specialization proceed. There is also evidence that autistics are less subject to framing effects and more rational on the receiving end of ultimatum games. Considering autistics modifies some of the standard results from economic theories of the family and the economics of discrimination. Although there are likely more than seventy million autistic individuals worldwide, the topic has been understudied by economists. An economic approach also helps us see shortcomings in the "pure disorder" models of autism.

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Matthew Battles: It doesn't take Cupertino to make textbooks interactive

Matthew Battles:

Absent the glamour of the black mock turtleneck, Apple's Thursday event, held at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, still came bearing flowers of rhetoric, lovingly transplanted from their native soil in Cupertino's sunny clime. One such rhetorical staple, the feature checklist, made its appearance about nine minutes in. Usually, the checklist is used to contrast Apple's latest magical object with the feature set of lesser smartphones or other misbegotten tech tchotchkes; it was more than a little eye-popping to see the same rhetoric of invidious comparison used against the book in full -- that gadget which, as senior VP Phil Schiller reminded us, was invented (in its print incarnation) back at the end of the Hundred Years' War.

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

University of Washington Admissions and Failing K-12 Education

Cliff Mass:

A week ago there was an article in the Seattle Times describing a large drop in applicants to the UW this year. Considering that other WA State schools have not seen a similar decline and all state colleges are experiencing essentially the same tuition increases, why are UW applications down?

Could it be the incessant articles and editorials by the Seattle Times about how the UW is turning down strong applicants to let in more out of state students? How about this Seattle Times headline last spring:

"Why straight-A's may not get you into the UW this year"

which suggested that
"High-school seniors with top test scores didn't get in.
Students who got into more prestigious schools were wait-listed at the UW.
Valedictorians with straight-A's were denied admission, while out-of-state students with lower grades were accepted."

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:50 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

School choice is alive and growing -- in other states

Richard Rider:

The most important domestic subject that I FAIL to adequately cover is K-12 education. It's potentially the most effective tool we have for increasing vertical mobility in our society -- and hence is currently misused as the best single method to repress disadvantaged minorities.

What the education unions and their bought-and-paid-for Democrat allies have done to inner city black and Hispanic kids would warm the cockles of any KKK Grand Dragon. The Progressives' steadfast opposition to improving education angers me every time I think about it.

Thus I include intact below an excellent op-ed on the topic from the LOS ANGELES DAILY NEWS. It's upbeat -- giving the growing success of the school choice movement in all its many flavors.

Sadly, California is one of the least successful states in this effort to improve education. All we hear from CA liberals is that we don't spend enough. But the growing popularity and acceptance of school choice in other states is going to make it more and more difficult for our voters to ignore this innovation.

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

Education a key solution

Barbara Prindiville:

The top priority facing southeastern Wisconsin - and, indeed, the biggest challenge for the entire state - is the creation of more new jobs.

There are many good ideas for creating new jobs, and many deserve further consideration. The creation of new venture capital funds, tax breaks for industries and workforce training incentives for companies that locate in Wisconsin are all worthy of further consideration and possible action.

But the best strategy for creating new jobs is to look at what companies want when deciding where to expand a plant or locate a production facility. No doubt, they look at quality of life, housing, transportation, the overall community and other factors.

However, time and again, one of the top assets that attracts new jobs is a quality education system at all levels that produces bright, articulate and engaging future workers who accept the challenge of the new international economy and the interdependent global economic landscape. That starts at kindergarten and continues beyond high school. Gone are the days when a student could graduate from high school and move to a job that could last a lifetime.

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

January 25, 2012

1.25.2012 Madison School Board Candidate DCCPA Event Audio

Listen to the event via this 77MB mp3 audio file.

The event was sponsored by the Dane County Council of Public Affairs.

Seat 1 Candidates:

Nichele Nichols

Arlene Silveira (incumbent)

Seat 2 Candidates:

Mary Burke

Michael Flores

via a kind reader. It is great to see competitive races.

UPDATE 2.8.2012: A transcript is now available.

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Pennsylvania's Property Tax Independence Act

Pennsylvania Representative Jim Cox, via a kind reader's email:

Details of the latest plan to eliminate and replace school property taxes have been finalized and the legislation will be introduced shortly in the Pennsylvania House and Senate.

House Bill 1776, The Property Tax Independence Act, looks in part to the former School Property Tax Elimination Act (SPTEA) for its basic structure. While The Property Tax Independence Act mirrors some of the provisions of the former SPTEA, the plan has been comprehensively rewritten to account for lawmakers' concerns and preferences in order to eliminate objections common to the previous legislation.

  • The Property Tax Independence Act will eliminate school property and local school nuisance taxes across the Commonwealth and will replace those taxes with funding from a single state source.
  • The Property Tax Independence Act introduces a modernized school funding method that is based on 21st century economic realities.
  • The Property Tax Independence Act will ABOLISH the school property tax as well as eliminate the local school earned income tax and nuisance taxes such as the per capita and privilege-to-work taxes imposed by school districts.
  • The Property Tax Independence Act uses in great measure our current sales tax mechanism to fund schools, restoring the original intent of the tax.
  • The sales tax provides a predictable and stable funding source that is tied to economic growth. This is in clear contrast to the school property tax which is not based on economic growth and is subject to much variation.
  • Current school spending regularly exceeds tax revenue and The Property Tax Independence Act addresses this problem head on by limiting school budget increases to the rate of inflation.
Wisconsin's property taxes have increased significantly over the years. How long will this continue?

Much more, here.

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How to Learn to Love Maths

Alex Bellos:

Britain is about to fall in love with maths. Well, that's the dream. Yesterday one of the government's top advisers on further education said that maths should be compulsory for all students until 18 or 19 - no matter what else they are studying. Professor Steve Sparks, chairman of the Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education, also said that he wants a new maths qualification between GCSE and AS-level to be introduced by 2016.

Maths is justified in this country because it is useful. Sparks said his proposals were necessary because young people need a better grasp of maths to compete in the job market, where an understanding of technology and numeracy are increasingly important.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 3:02 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Highland Park (MI) Schools in jeopardy of closing, governor says in letter

Melanie Scott:

As Highland Park schools officials pleaded their case against an emergency manager to officials in Lansing on Friday, Gov. Rick Snyder sent a letter to the district's parents informing them that without state intervention there would be no district by the end of next month.

Parents of Highland Park School District students told district officials today they received a letter from the governor informing them of the school district's dire financial situation.

In a letter dated Jan. 20, Snyder told parents finances for the school district have reached a crisis stage and during the 2010-11 school year, the district was $3 million over budget.

The letter also mentioned the state forwarded an emergency advance of $188,000 to the district on Jan. 13.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:59 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Algorithmic Education (including the Mathematics of Cramming)

Samuel Arbesman:

Many of us don't learn in optimal ways. We know that we forget new material, neglect to review older material, and study in ways that elevate cramming and procrastination to art forms. But there is research about how to be more efficient in these things. For example, dating back to 1885, there is a rich literature that explores how timing our learning of new and old material can affect education.

For a long time, these theories were only loosely applied. They couldn't be put into quantitative practice because of the difficulty of carefully implementing them. But with the ability to create educational software, customized to ensure a student has an optimal learning experience, we have a wonderful opportunity to actually employ this knowledge. Unfortunately, there are so many competing concerns, it's far from trivial: We need to begin constructing new algorithms to figure out how best to learn.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:53 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Metacognition and Student Learning

James Lang:

This evening, my family will sit down on the couch together to enjoy the opening episode of America's favorite spectacle of poor metacognition. Along with millions of others, including some of you, we will marvel at the sight of so many human beings eager to put their deficient cognitive skills on display for the world.

I'm talking, of course, about the season premiere of American Idol, where lousy metacognition will join lousy singing for two cringeworthy hours tonight and another hour tomorrow night, as amateur musicians audition for the opportunity to win fame, fortune, and a recording contract. The opening two episodes of each season have become notorious for featuring the worst singers who auditioned for the show, encouraging viewers to engage in some gentle schadenfreude as Idol participants make fools of themselves on national television.

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

The Dangerous Notion That Debt Doesn't Matter

Steven Rattner:

WITH little fanfare, a dangerous notion has taken hold in progressive policy circles: that the amount of money borrowed by the federal government from Americans to finance its mammoth deficits doesn't matter.

Debt doesn't matter? Really? That's the most irresponsible fiscal notion since the tax-cutting mania brought on by the advent of supply-side economics. And it's particularly problematic right now, as Congress resumes debating whether to extend the payroll-tax reduction or enact other stimulative measures.

Here's the theory, in its most extreme configuration: To the extent that the government sells its debt to Americans (as opposed to foreigners), those obligations will disappear as aging folks who buy those Treasuries die off.

Larry Summers Executive Summary of Economic Policy Work, December 2008 (PDF):
Closing the gap between what the campaign proposed and the estimates of the campaign offsets would require scaling back proposals by about $100 billion annually or adding newoffsets totaling the same. Even this, however, would leave an average deficit over the next decade that would be worse than any post-World War II decade. This would be entirely unsustainable and could cause serious economic problems in the both the short run and the long run.
via Ryan Lizza.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:08 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Teaching programming to a nine-year-old

Dr. Prabhakar Ragde:

My younger daughter is nine. After watching me sit with a laptop all term preparing material using Scheme, she wanted to know something about it. She is self-taught on the application side of computing (browsers, paint programs, word processing) but knows nothing of computation itself. So I opened up a DrScheme Interactions window. "You add like this," I said, typing in (+ 3 4). No problem. "Try some other operations, some bigger numbers." It looks like a calculator without a ten-digit limit.

I wrote out some arithmetic expressions for her to convert to Scheme. She had difficulty with them, but not with Scheme: I had forgotten how much algebraic notation is taught later. She didn't understand concatenation for multiplication, / for division, or putting two expressions one above the other with a horizontal line in between. Once I explained those, she converted them into Scheme expressions very quickly.

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Teenage sailor Laura Dekker becomes youngest to circumnavigate the globe

Nick Meo and Joan Clements:

Miss Dekker, who is 16 years and four months old, has cut six months off the unofficial record set in 2010 by Australian teenager Jessica Watson, who was days away from her 17th birthday when she completed her own non-stop voyage.
Dozens of people jumped and cheered as Miss Dekker stepped aboard a dock in St. Maarten and waved.

"There were moments where I was like, 'What the hell am I doing out here?,' but I never wanted to stop," she told reporters.

"It's a dream, and I wanted to do it."

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:03 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Coming soon: A new Florida school grading formula

Kathleen McGrory:

The way Florida grades its public schools will soon be changing.

On Tuesday, the state Board of Education heard an extensive presentation on proposed changes to the school grading formula.

The ideas ran the gamut, from incorporating the test scores of children with disabilities, to giving extra points to students who boost their test scores into the highest range.

Of course, high school grades will have to take into account the new end-of-course exams, which are being given this year in algebra, geometry and biology. Some middle-school students will also be taking the exams -- and the grades given to middle schools need to reflect that, too.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:57 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Building debt

Michael Pettis:

In the paper Flyvbjerg looks at infrastructure projects in a number of countries (not in China, though, because he needed decent data) and shows how the benefits of these projects are systematically overstated and the costs systematically understated. More important, he shows how these terrible results are simply the expected outcomes of the way infrastructure projects are typically designed and implemented.

It is not a very happy paper in general, but I am pretty sure that many people who read it probably had a thought similar to mine: if infrastructure spending can be so seriously mismanaged in relatively transparent systems with greater political accountability, what might happen in a country with a huge infrastructure boom stretching over decades, much less transparency, and very little political accountability? Isn't the potential for waste vast?

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Learning Matters YouTube Channel

Ted Bauer, via email:

Learning Matters is a 501(c)(3) non-profit production company. We predominantly produce education reports and videos for PBS NewsHour, and have also produced over 30 documentaries focused on education. We also have a weekly podcast, available both here and on iTunes.

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Skype helps Lodi students interact with teacher in Thailand

Pamela Cotant:

Learning about southeast Asia from a teacher in Thailand is making the curriculum come alive for Lodi High School students.

Every morning, the students receive instruction via Skype from Tuke-Karnteera Ingkhaninan, a teacher from the Sa-nguan Ying School in Suphanburi, Thailand. Then early in the evening, Mark Kohl, a Lodi High School teacher, instructs students at the Thailand school about United States history.

"We can see it a lot more clearly instead of reading about it in a textbook," said Lodi senior Becky Thuot, 18.

Senior Savannah Sundt, 17, agreed, noting that is was meaningful when Ingkhaninan talked about a festival she would attend that evening and the Lodi students could hear fireworks going off as part of it.

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

The New American Divide

Charles Murray:

The ideal of an 'American way of life' is fading as the working class falls further away from institutions like marriage and religion and the upper class becomes more isolated. Charles Murray on what's cleaving America, and why.

America is coming apart. For most of our nation's history, whatever the inequality in wealth between the richest and poorest citizens, we maintained a cultural equality known nowhere else in the world--for whites, anyway. "The more opulent citizens take great care not to stand aloof from the people," wrote Alexis de Tocqueville, the great chronicler of American democracy, in the 1830s. "On the contrary, they constantly keep on easy terms with the lower classes: They listen to them, they speak to them every day."

Americans love to see themselves this way. But there's a problem: It's not true anymore, and it has been progressively less true since the 1960s.

People are starting to notice the great divide. The tea party sees the aloofness in a political elite that thinks it knows best and orders the rest of America to fall in line. The Occupy movement sees it in an economic elite that lives in mansions and flies on private jets. Each is right about an aspect of the problem, but that problem is more pervasive than either political or economic inequality. What we now face is a problem of cultural inequality.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:40 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Sharing a Screen, if Not a Classroom

Kyle Spencer:

In a hushed first-grade classroom at Public School 55 in the South Bronx, Edward Muñoz, a bashful 7-year-old in scuffed sneakers and a worn hoodie, was sounding out tricky words with his tutor.

Together they plowed through a book about a birthday barbecue, tackling the words "party" and "presents." Then they played a rousing game of word-based tic-tac-toe, with Edward eventually declaring victory.

Exchanges like theirs take place every day in classrooms around the country, now that links between early literacy gains and later school success have been clearly documented.

But Edward's tutor was not in the classroom. His school, a 20-minute walk from the nearest subway stop in a crime-plagued neighborhood, has long had trouble finding tutors willing to visit. "It is hard to get anyone to volunteer," said the school's principal, Luis Torres, who sometimes cancels fire drills because of the gunfire he hears outside.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:35 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

January 24, 2012

First details of proposed Wisconsin school accountability system revealed

Matthew DeFour:

The state could more aggressively intervene in the lowest-performing publicly funded schools under a proposed accountability system unveiled Monday.

The system would rate schools on a scale of 0 to 100 based on student performance and growth on state tests, closing achievement gaps and preparing students for college and careers. Ratings also would be tied to dropout rates and third-grade literacy levels.

The">">Department of Public Instruction released a draft application to the U.S. Education Department for a waiver from the 10-year-old federal No Child Left Behind Act, which State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers said "has shackled schools by being overly prescriptive and prohibiting creative reforms."

"Wisconsin's request for flexibility from NCLB is driven by the belief that increasing rigor across the standards, assessment and accountability system will result in improved instruction and improved student outcomes," Evers said

DPI's Initial Draft Full Waiver Proposal (2.5MB PDF):
Raising Expectations, Increasing Rigor
As noted in Principle 1, DPI has significantly raised expectations for schools and the proportion of students who graduate ready for college and career, as indicated by the adoption of rigorous academic standards, higher cut scores based on NAEP as the state transitions to SBAC, increasingly rigorous and adaptive assessment systems, and increased graduation requirements. The new accountability report card and the new system of support, rewards, and recognition will reflect these new expectations. While the state has previously emphasized graduation rates (and boasted one of the highest in the nation), DPI also recognizes the state has significant achievement and graduation gaps. The accountability index prioritizes achievement and attainment using measures which emphasize not only graduation, but also the proportion of students graduating college and career ready. Additionally, the system examines achievement gaps within and across schools as a means to address the state's existing gaps. Using a multifaceted index will help pinpoint areas of need within a school, as well as areas of strength, and help schools track their progress at meeting the needs of all student subgroups. Within the system of support, identified schools will participate in diagnostic reviews and needs assessments (Priority and Focus Schools, respectively) to identify their instructional policies, practices, and programming that have impacted student outcomes and to differentiate, and individualize reforms and interventions. While planning and implementing reforms, schools and districts will have access to increasingly expansive and timely data systems to monitor progress. Additionally, the state will require Priority and Focus Schools to implement RtI (with the support of the Wisconsin RtI Center and its resources) to ensure that all students are receiving customized, differentiated services within a least restrictive environment, including additional supports and interventions for SwDs and ELLs as needed, or extension activities and additional challenge for students exceeding benchmarks.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 5:59 PM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

2012 Madison School Board Candidate Website & Contact Information

Seat 1 Candidates:

Nichele Nichols

Arlene Silveira (incumbent)

Seat 2 Candidates:

Mary Burke

Michael Flores

via a kind reader. It is great to see competitive races.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:51 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Hold district accountable for deceit, academic failure and questionable activity
"Where ignorance is bliss, ignorance of ignorance is sublime." - Paul Dunham

Laurie Rogers, via a kind email:

Last week, I went to a Spokane Public Schools math presentation at Indian Trail Elementary School. It was billed as a forum in the school newsletter and on the reader board outside of the school. It was not, in any way, a forum. It was a tightly controlled 20-minute presentation that offered no data, little information, allowed for no parent input and was patronizing in tone.

At one point, parents were asked to define math to the person next to us. (The principal said he would not offer his definition.) We also were told to describe to our neighbor a math experience we'd had. These conversations ended right there, thus being pointless. We watched a video of several small children talking about the importance of math. The kids were cute, but the video was long. It was made clear to us that math is hard, parents don't get it (see slide 7 of the presentation), "traditional math" is no longer useful, and math is intimidating to all. Printed materials reinforced the idea of parent incompetence, with students supposedly "taking the lead" and teaching their parents.

Parents were warned to stay positive about math, however, despite our supposed fear and lack of skill, and we also were told what a "balanced" program looks like - as if that's what Spokane actually has.

Related: Math Forum audio & video.

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Report Card on American Education: Ranking State K-12 Performance, Progress, and Reform

Dr. Matthew Ladner and Dan Lips:

ALEC's 17th edition of the Report Card on American Education contains a comprehensive overview of educational achievement levels (performance and gains for low-income students) for the 50 states and the District of Columbia (see full report for complete methodology). The Report Card details what education policies states currently have in place and provides a roadmap for legislators to follow to bring about educational excellence in their state.

Focusing on the reforms recently enacted in Indiana, and with a foreword by Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, this Report Card on American Education examines the experiences other states can learn from the struggles and triumps in Indiana.

Authors Dr. Matthew Ladner and Dan Lips analyze student scores, looking at both performance as well as how scores have improved over recent years. Additionally, each state is graded based on its current education policies.

Wisconsin ranks 19th.

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Minnesota's public pensions: A worse-case scenario

Mark Haveman:

This is the status of Minnesota's public pension fund obligation. And it may be optimistic.

You've got to be very careful if you don't know where you're going," Yogi Berra once famously said. "Because you might not get there."

Berra's characteristically unique advice is worth keeping in mind for anyone addressing the issue of public pensions.

Lots of uncertainty, to say the least, comes into play in guaranteeing lifetime retirement incomes for hundreds of thousands of Minnesota public employees -- past, present and future. And wherever we do arrive in this effort will have profound implications for government employees and taxpayers, and for the future of public services in our state.

According to the latest data on the condition of Minnesota's public pension funds, the bleeding has stopped but there is still considerable work to do.

As of last summer, the three major statewide pension plans that provide pensions for the bulk of Minnesota's public employees -- the Minnesota State Retirement System for state workers, the Public Employees Retirement Association for local workers and the Teachers Retirement Association for teachers -- were, altogether, $10.5 billion short of meeting their long-term obligations.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:06 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Seattle's Pendulum Problem

Charlie Mas:

District leadership style has swung back and forth between two extremes. It needs to be stopped and held at the center.

The Seattle School Board of 2000 - 2003 contributed to the financial fiasco that toppled the Olchefske administration. It was not just their misplaced trust, but the blindness of their trust that allowed things in the district - not just the financial reporting - to spiral down. They could have found the budget problem in the numbers reported to them (Director Bass did find it), but the majority of them lacked the necessary skepticism to look for it.

In response, the voters replaced them with a more activist board. It started with Director Bass elected in 2001. The four board directors elected in 2003 formed a much more hands-on and skeptical board majority - perhaps too much. They found a District that was poorly managed. They found all kinds of problems that had grown over the years and they were blunt and public about exposing it. I won't say that they were wrong, but they were perhaps impatient. Culture doesn't change overnight. This Board was accused of micro-managing the district and they were accused of being dysfunctional.

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Public speaking for normal people

Jason Freedman:

I just gave a presentation on 42Floors to 150 people. It went well. I was really proud of: 1) our team, 2) our product and 3) the way we were able to present it. It was as if we were telling people about it in our living room, but there just happened to be 150 people there. Afterwards, several people told me that it felt like it was a very polished presentation. But the reality is we didn't practice at all. In fact, three minutes before we went on stage, my co-founder turned to me and said, "Jason, we really should've practiced." I said, "Nah, don't worry. We'll be fine." And we winged it, and it came off ever so naturally.

Before I pat myself on the back too much, let me tell you how I felt inside. Thirty seconds before I was supposed to go on, I was standing there on the side and all of a sudden my heartbeat went from normal to racing like I was in the middle of marathon. Uggghhh. I hate it when this happens. It's kind of like how you feel when you blush: you're reminded how little control you have over your own body. For a brief moment, I was upset with my body for reacting this way. I was upset with myself for reacting this way, actually. I should be more confident than this.

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The Inevitability of the Use of Value-Added Measures in Teacher Evaluations

Madison School Board Member Ed Hughes

Value added" or "VA" refers to the use of statistical techniques to measure teachers' impacts on their students' standardized test scores, controlling for such student characteristics as prior years' scores, gender, ethnicity, disability, and low-income status.

Reports on a massive new study that seem to affirm the use of the technique have recently been splashed across the media and chewed over in the blogosphere. Further from the limelight, developments in Wisconsin seem to ensure that in the coming years value-added analyses will play an increasingly important role in teacher evaluations across the state. Assuming the analyses are performed and applied sensibly, this is a positive development for student learning.

The Chetty Study

Since the first article touting its findings was published on the front page of the January 6 New York Times, a new research study by three economists assessing the value-added contributions of elementary school teachers and their long-term impact on their students' lives - referred to as the Chetty article after the lead author - has created as much of a stir as could ever be expected for a dense academic study.

Much more on value added assessment, here.

It is important to note that the Madison School District's value added assessment initiative is based on the oft-criticized WKCE.

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The business of high school sports drives Wisconsin tournament fight

Kevin Binversie:

Like it or not, sports is a business. From big-time professional leagues like the National Football League to local high school action, sports have been a reliable revenue stream for decades.

At the college level, successful athletic programs have paid dividends for their schools by generating cash. Sporting events boost local economies in tourist dollars, money spent at bars, restaurants and hotels, and of course tax revenue for local government.

It's the fight over local business and tax revenue that has become the real center stage in a battle over tournament scheduling and the location of tournaments that is raging between the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Athletic Department and the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association, which officiates high school sports in the Badger State. At issue is where the boys and girls state basketball tournaments will play in 2013 and beyond.

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Texas school district cuts sports in desperate attempt to improve grades and prevent shutdown

Associated Press:

Eliminating high school athletics during a school year is unusual, especially in a sports-loving state such as Texas.

But that's exactly what's happening in this small ranching community where the school district is taking desperate measures to prevent a state-mandated closure due to poor academics.

The Premont Independent School District is even deploying its superintendent, a constable and high school principal to the homes of truant students in an effort to improve dismal attendance.

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School reform proposals are in limbo in Missouri General Assembly

Jason Hancock:

Missouri lawmakers are facing increasing pressure to deal with a potential flood of student transfers stemming from the loss of accreditation in urban school districts like Kansas City's.

But looming over this year's legislative session is a pledge by House Speaker Steve Tilley, a Perryville Republican, that any plan to deal with school transfers to suburban districts, or adjustments to the state's school funding formula, be coupled with ideas that have doomed previous reform efforts.

Those include controversial measures such as expanding charter schools, eliminating teacher tenure, basing teacher pay on student achievement and offering tax credit vouchers to parents who want to send children to private schools.

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January 23, 2012

Wisconsin DPI seeks comments on draft NCLB waiver request; "Education for today's world requires increased rigor and higher expectations"

Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, via a kind reader's email:

MADISON -- Wisconsin's request for waivers from several provisions of federal education law creates the expectation that every child will graduate ready for college and careers by setting higher standards for students, educators, and schools.

"Education for today's world requires increased rigor and higher expectations," said State Superintendent Tony Evers. "The federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) has shackled schools by being overly prescriptive and prohibiting creative reforms that would help more students gain the skills needed for further education and the workforce. Wisconsin's request for flexibility from NCLB is driven by the belief that increasing rigor across the standards, assessment, and accountability system will result in improved instruction and improved student outcomes."

To receive waivers, state education agencies must demonstrate how they will use flexibility from NCLB requirements to address four principles: transitioning to college- and career-ready standards and assessments; developing systems of differentiated recognition, accountability, and support; evaluating and supporting teacher and principal effectiveness; and reducing duplication. The Department of Public Instruction has posted its draft waiver request online and is asking for public comment through a survey. After the two-week comment period, the agency will revise the waiver request and submit it to the U.S. Department of Education by Feb. 21.

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Positioning The Madison School District's 2012-2013 Budget

Matthew DeFour

Madison School District officials hope to avoid layoffs and spare employees from contributing to their health insurance premiums next school year, though to do so they might have to raise property taxes.

Superintendent Dan Nerad won't make his preliminary budget recommendations until April 1, but in its first look at the 2012-13 school budget, the district is projecting a $12.4 million deficit based on current budget trends.

Factoring in rising insurance and fuel costs, the district projects general fund spending of $319.7 million, up from $310.9 million this year. Revenues are projected to be $307.3 million.

The district is looking at several options to close the gap, such as eliminating its most expensive health insurance option, renegotiating nonunion employee contracts, energy efficiency projects, refinancing debt and raising property taxes, said Erik Kass, assistant superintendent for business services.

"The hope is we won't have to take more out of employee pockets or do any layoffs," Kass said.

Unfortunately, DeFour's article does not include the District's total proposed spending, rather it mentions just one portion. It would be better to not mention such incomplete numbers, rather than further muddying the often challenging budget "transparency". The District will spend roughly $370,000,000 +/- a few million in 2011-2012:
2011-2012 Revised Budget 1.3MB PDF (Budget amendments document). District spending remains largely flat at $369,394,753, yet "Fund Equity", or the District's reserves, has increased to $48,324,862 from $22,769,831 in 2007 (page 24). The District's property tax "underlevy" (increases allowed under Wisconsin school revenue limits which are based on student population changes, successful referendums along with carve-outs such as Fund 80, among others) will be $13,084,310. It also appears that property taxes will be flat (page 19) after a significant 9% increase last year. Interestingly, MSCR spending is up 7.97% (page 28).

2011-2012 enrollment is 24,861. $369,394,753 planned expenditures results in per student spending of $14,858.40.

Related: Wisconsin Property Tax Growth: 1984-2012 (!).

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Governor's education policies fail Wisconsin

Sondy Pope-Roberts:

Over the course of the past year, Gov. Walker and the Republican-controlled Legislature conducted an all-out assault on Wisconsin's cherished public schools.

Last summer, the governor signed a state budget that reduced funding for public education by $1.6 billion. While our public schools were forced to manage these devastating cuts, the governor increased funding to unaccountable and unproven voucher schools by $40 million and approved $2.3 billion in giveaways to large corporations and special interests.

Districts all over the state have already begun to feel the pain of these cuts through larger class sizes, staff reductions and a loss of experienced educators due to massive retirements. Nearly 97 percent of districts are seeing reductions in state aid this year. And a recent nonpartisan national report shows Wisconsin is second in the country in education cuts. However, the worst may be yet to come.

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Oakland schools try new way of placing teachers

Jill Tucker:

In the world outside public education, people apply for a job they want, interview with their potential boss, compete against other applicants and are ultimately selected if they look like a good fit for the position.

It doesn't work that way in public education.

In schools, teachers do all the normal things to get hired, but when it comes to placement, seniority is what counts, not the perfect fit. The teacher with the longest tenure in a district gets first dibs on any available job at a school, with the principal - the school's boss - getting little or no input.

School district officials in Oakland want to change that, believing that it's in the best interests of students when a teacher - new, veteran or in between - wants to work at a school and the school wants that teacher.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 4:40 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Making Longer Chicago School Day Happen May Have a Budget-Busting Price Tag

Rebecca Vevea:

Six months after barely closing a $712 million deficit, Chicago Public Schools officials have spent nearly $10 million that has not yet been budgeted in their aggressive push to lengthen the school day.

Fifty schools have gone to a longer day this year. With the entire city school system moving to a seven-and-a-half-hour school day next year, parents and community members are questioning how the cash-strapped district plans to pay for the extended time at more than 675 schools.

Becky Carroll, the school district's spokeswoman, said that cuts would need to be made elsewhere to allow the costs of a longer day to fit into the district's nearly $6 billion budget.

"A budget is about priorities, and you invest in what your priorities are," she said. "At the end of the day, this is a critical priority."

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New Definition of Autism Will Exclude Many, Study Suggests

Benedict Carey:

Proposed changes in the definition of autism would sharply reduce the skyrocketing rate at which the disorder is diagnosed and might make it harder for many people who would no longer meet the criteria to get health, educational and social services, a new analysis suggests.

The definition is now being reassessed by an expert panel appointed by the American Psychiatric Association, which is completing work on the fifth edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the first major revision in 17 years. The D.S.M., as the manual is known, is the standard reference for mental disorders, driving research, treatment and insurance decisions. Most experts expect that the new manual will narrow the criteria for autism; the question is how sharply.

The results of the new analysis are preliminary, but they offer the most drastic estimate of how tightening the criteria for autism could affect the rate of diagnosis. For years, many experts have privately contended that the vagueness of the current criteria for autism and related disorders like Asperger syndrome was contributing to the increase in the rate of diagnoses -- which has ballooned to one child in 100, according to some estimates.

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Madison Teachers' Solidarity Newsletter

January 17, 2012 PDF

January 09, 2012 PDF. Via Madison Teachers, Inc..

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UK Schools minister cracks down on league table 'incentives'


Schools minister Nick Gibb has said he wants to stop schools prioritising their rankings in exam league tables over ensuring a good education for all their pupils.

New league tables for England, out next week, show which schools boost pupils' progress from ages 11 and 16.

Mr Gibb said the old system allowed schools to exploit tables, and some used it to help boost their rankings.

Labour gave the move a cautious welcome.

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Some college, but no degree

Emily Hanford:

Kai Ryssdal: However students get their textbooks -- on an iPad or the old-fashioned way -- those books don't do any good unless they're actually used.

There are 37 million people in this country who've started college, who have some credits -- but never finished. When they do that, when they drop out, there are costs -- to them, and to the rest of us, in the billions of dollars, in wasted loans and grants and lost opportunities. Those costs are one reason college dropouts are starting to get more attention from the Obama administration on down.

But finding ways for people to finish their degrees might mean rethinking the way Americans go to college. Emily Hanford of American RadioWorks reports.

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Income And Educational Outcomes

Matthew DiCarlo:

The role of poverty in shaping educational outcomes is one of the most common debates going on today. It can also be one of the most shallow.

The debate tends to focus on income. For example (and I'm generalizing a bit here), one "side" argues that income and test scores are strongly correlated; the other "side" points to the fact that many low-income students do very well and cautions against making excuses for schools' failure to help poor kids.

Both arguments have merit, but it bears quickly mentioning that the focus on the relationship between income and achievement is a rather crude conceptualization of the importance of family background (and non-schooling factors in general) for education outcomes. Income is probably among the best widely available proxies for these factors, insofar as it is correlated with many of the conditions that can hinder learning, especially during a child's earliest years. This includes (but is not at all limited to): peer effects; parental education; access to print and background knowledge; parental involvement; family stressors; access to healthcare; and, of course, the quality of neighborhood schools and their teachers.

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Kids Get Smarter Just from Doing This One Simple Thing

Dr. Mercola:

An extensive review of relevant research has demonstrated that the more physically active schoolchildren are, the better they do academically. Researchers analyzed 14 studies, ranging in size from as few as 50 participants to as many as 12,000.

All of the studies involved children between the ages of 6 and 18.

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January 22, 2012

Parents Should Be Allowed to Choose Their Kids' Teacher

Andrew Rotherham:

The most important decision you will make about your children's education is picking their school, right? That's the conventional wisdom, but it's actually wrong -- or at best it's only half-correct. Teacher effectiveness varies a lot within schools, even within good schools, which means that just choosing the right school for your kid is not a proxy for choosing great teachers. So while "school choice" is hotly debated (next week is National School Choice Week, complete with Bill Cosby's blessing and events galore,) there are few rallies being held for giving parents the right to choose a particular teacher. That's because the whole system is stacked against empowering families in this way. In fact, because of how seniority rules generally work, it's a lot more common for teachers to choose their students than for students to choose their teachers.

Just how much individual teachers matter is the big implication of an analysis of 2.5 million students and their instructors that was released in December and highlighted recently in the New York Times. The long-term, large-scale study by economists at Columbia and Harvard used two decades of data to examine differences in student outcomes (including such categories as teen pregnancy and college enrollment) and link those differences with how effective their teachers were at improving student scores on achievement tests. The headline-grabbing finding was that replacing an ineffective teacher with one of average quality would boost a single classroom's lifetime earnings by a quarter-million dollars. And that's just from one year of assigning that group of kids to an average teacher instead of a lousy one. A second study, released January 12 by the Education Trust-West, an education advocacy group in California, examined three years of data on teachers from the Los Angeles public school system and noted that low-income and minority students are twice as likely to have teachers in the bottom 25% of effectiveness. The Ed Trust study did not get as much attention as the one by the Ivy League economists, but it reached the same obvious conclusion: more effective teachers boost learning for students

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Hopes, Fears, & Reality: A Balanced Look at American Charter Schools in 2011

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

Charter schools are public schools. Historically, however, the relationship between school districts and charters has been nonexistent at best, antagonistic at worst. As the charter sector continues to grow steadily, an analysis of the national landscape explores how that relationship needs to start changing--and where it already has.

This year's 6th annual edition of Hopes, Fears, & Reality provides a clear roadmap for school districts and charter schools interested in working together to improve education options. The report explains the risks and technical challenges behind charter-district collaboration and provides powerful examples of how they can be overcome.

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What Hawaii Teachers Are Saying About Agreement

Katherine Poythress:

Emails and direct messages from teachers wanting to vent about the proposed contract between their union and the state have been flowing into my inbox.

Every single one came with a request not to publish the name of the writer. "I just want you to know," they say, of the reason they're writing. The problem with knowing, though, is that you can never un-know. These teachers were sharing thoughts that give deep insight into educators' concerns as they head to the polls Thursday to vote on the new contract.

You might be shocked to learn that some of them said they would prefer abiding with the "last, best and final" offer Gov. Neil Abercrombie imposed on them last July, than take the deal struck earlier this month. They all have their reasons for thinking the way they do about the current agreement. Reasons that deserve to be aired.

So we made a deal of our own. I asked the ones who had contacted me if it would be OK to share their words with our readers -- with the understanding that I will not publish or share names, positions or any information that could betray their identities. We granted them anonymity because they said they feared retaliation and wouldn't share their thoughts otherwise.

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Are national charter schools a game changer or a fad?

Alan Borsuk:

Where will the thin blue line lead these children? What will their path mean to Milwaukee's education scene?

I'm talking about the 330 kindergarten through fifth-grade students at Milwaukee Scholars Charter School.

The corridors of the school's new building at 7000 W. Florist Ave. have gray carpeting - except for blue stripes near each wall.

When students pass in the halls, whether in groups or solo, they are required to walk only on the blue stripe on the right side of the hall as they face it. Get caught off that stripe and you can get marked down in the school's discipline system.

Minus the blue lines and with a discipline system that isn't structured quite so firmly, Milwaukee Math and Science Academy, a charter school at 110 W. Burleigh St., brings to mind the same questions for its 160 kindergarten through fifth-grade pupils.

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IQ scores are malleable

Derek Bownds:

Brinch and Galloway do a rather clean demonstration that contests the common notion that education has little effect on IQ. Here is the abstract and one figure from the paper.:
Although some scholars maintain that education has little effect on intelligence quotient (IQ) scores, others claim that IQ scores are indeed malleable, primarily through intervention in early childhood. The causal effect of education on IQ at later ages is often difficult to uncover because analyses based on observational data are plagued by problems of reverse causation and self-selection into further education. We exploit a reform that increased compulsory schooling from 7 to 9 y in Norway in the 1960s to estimate the effect of education on IQ. We find that this schooling reform, which primarily affected education in the middle teenage years, had a substantial effect on IQ scores measured at the age of 19 y.

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Is Milwaukee back on the reform radar?

Katy Venskus:

There used to be a time when Milwaukee was considered one of the most active education reform cities in the country. The City's private school choice program, the oldest and largest in the country, was our ticket to fame (or infamy, depending on who you ask) through most of the 1990's. The choice program was supposed to be a game changer to public education. It was supposed to set off a chain reaction of innovation and competition that would not only improve the lives of children, but change the way we configured our education policy for the City of Milwaukee. In short, we were going to be the hotbed of the reform movement for decades to come.

Sadly, the game changing education movement we expected didn't come to pass. There is no doubt, however, that the existence of parent choice in Milwaukee has changed the lives of thousands of kids. The movement that created and protected the choice program fostered the development of two of the City's best charter schools and promoted a small sector of independent charters authorizers and schools. Unfortunately, aside from these developments there has been little large-scale reform in Milwaukee since the mid-1990's. Instead of a catalyst, the choice program became a scapegoat for both political parties and many status quo stakeholders. The failing public school district in Milwaukee has been allowed to sink deeper and deeper into the quicksand while union interests and their status quo Democrats blamed the choice program for all the public schools considerable ills. The GOP used the choice program as the be-all-end-all urban education solution, and was happy to let thoughtful public school policy and funding fall by the way side. The independent charter school community put their heads down and tried to stay out of the political fray - they served small pockets of kids very well, but without the ability or the will to take their model to scale. As a result, Milwaukee, not only fell behind, we fell off the map entirely.

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Counting the costs of a digital classroom

Kai Ryssdal:

It's not the iPhone 5, it's not the iPad 3, but there was a big Apple product announcement today. A new version of its iBooks software geared at providing interactive student textbooks, which would be read -- of course -- on the iPad. The potential hurdles are many, including the fact that iPads still cost around $500.

We wanted to get away from the business case study, though, and explore what this might actually eventually mean in the classroom. So we called Katie Cohen. Until June of last year, she was a high school science teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Katie, thanks for being with us.

Katie Cohen: Thank you very much.

Ryssdal: So listen, in any ideal world, if all of your had had iPads, what would that have meant for you as a teacher?

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Government seeks help to stop teacher-led cheating

Greg Toppo:

The move comes 10 months after a USA TODAY investigation found high erasure rates on standardized tests in many District of Columbia public schools, and six months after Georgia's governor released findings of a major investigation that found widespread cheating in Atlanta public schools.

The U.S. Department of Education says it will host a symposium on cheating and publish "best practices" recommendations on how to prevent, detect and respond to cheating in schools.

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Georgia's career academies are retooling high school education for 21st century

Laura Raines:

When Newton College and Career Academy (NCCA) opened last August, Akilah George and Kyle Wright were among the first 240 students to enroll. An innovative education model, the career academy aligns high school education with community economic development goals to better prepare students for the 21st-century workforce.

The concept has been replicated in 26 Georgia communities, thanks to the Georgia Career Academies Project (GCAP), which provides a vital link among high schools, technical colleges or universities and local businesses.

"The key to Georgia's future economic growth rests squarely on our ability to deliver a highly educated, skilled and motivated workforce," said Ron Jackson, commissioner of the Technical College System of Georgia. Each year, GCAP supports that effort by offering grants to launch new academies.

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January 21, 2012

Apple, America and A Squeezed Middle Class

Keith Bradsher & Charles Duhigg:

Companies like Apple "say the challenge in setting up U.S. plants is finding a technical work force," said Martin Schmidt, associate provost at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In particular, companies say they need engineers with more than high school, but not necessarily a bachelor's degree. Americans at that skill level are hard to find, executives contend. "They're good jobs, but the country doesn't have enough to feed the demand," Mr. Schmidt said.

Some aspects of the iPhone are uniquely American. The device's software, for instance, and its innovative marketing campaigns were largely created in the United States. Apple recently built a $500 million data center in North Carolina. Crucial semiconductors inside the iPhone 4 and 4S are manufactured in an Austin, Tex., factory by Samsung, of South Korea.

But even those facilities are not enormous sources of jobs. Apple's North Carolina center, for instance, has only 100 full-time employees. The Samsung plant has an estimated 2,400 workers.


"We shouldn't be criticized for using Chinese workers," a current Apple executive said. "The U.S. has stopped producing people with the skills we need."

Well worth considering from a curricular, finance and social perspective.

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Student Math Scores Jump 20 Percent with HMH Algebra Curriculum for Apple® iPad®; App Transforms Classroom Education

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt:

Pilot study finds students in Riverside Unified School District who used Houghton Mifflin Harcourt's HMH Fuse™: Algebra 1 app were also more motivated, attentive, and engaged than traditionally educated peers.

Global education leader Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) today announced the results of a yearlong pilot of HMH Fuse: Algebra I, the world's first full-curriculum Algebra app developed exclusively for the Apple iPad, involving the Amelia Earhart Middle School in California's Riverside Unified School District. The pilot showed that over 78 percent of HMH Fuse users scored Proficient or Advanced on the spring 2011 California Standards Tests, compared with only 59 percent of their textbook-using peers.

The pilot showed that over 78 percent of HMH Fuse users scored Proficient or Advanced on the spring 2011 California Standards Tests, compared with only 59 percent of their textbook-using peers."

The first assessment of the pilot-- Riverside's district Algebra benchmark -took place during the second trimester of the 2010-2011 year. Students using HMH Fuse scored an average of 10 percentage points higher than their peers. The app's impact was even more pronounced after the California Standards Test in spring 2011, on which HMH Fuse students scored approximately 20 percent higher than their textbook-using peers.

Christina Bonnington has more.

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Third Rail

"Student responsibility is the third rail of the accountability movement." Walt Gardner

If Mr. Gardner is correct, then is that why have we decided to leave student effort and their responsibility for their own learning and academic achievement out of our considerations of the reasons for such results as the 2010 NAEP history exam, which found that fifty-five percent of our high school seniors scored Below Basic?

Japan, South Korea and Singapore are quite forthright in their views that students must work hard, even very hard, in order to do well in their studies. (see Surpassing Shanghai, Harvard 2011, edited by Marc Tucker).

For our part, just about everyone, from journalists to legislators to edupundits of all sorts and degrees, holds everyone else responsible for student academic failure here. They blame legislation, governors, school boards, superintendents, unions, teachers and all other adults working in education, but they never seem to include student responsibility and effort into their calculations.

Anyone who suggests students may have a part to play in whether they learn anything or not risk being called racists, or supporters of poverty, or prejudiced against immigrants and those whose primary language is other than English.

Immigrants have been coming to this country, learning English, and doing well since the earliest days of our country, but lately we seem to enjoy pretending that these tasks are something new and the burden must be place on all the adults in our educational systems to make things easier. They may not realize that Albert Shanker spoke only Yiddish when he entered the New York public schools, and they conveniently ignore the children of Vietnamese boat people, and many others, some of whom come to this country knowing no English and before long are valedictorians of their high school graduating classes.

Of course it is nearly impossible to create educators without compassion, sympathy, even pity as part of their make-up, but at some point making excuses for students who are not trying and making an effort to lift all responsibility from their shoulders turns out to be cruelty of another kind.

Martin Luther King never said that minority children should not be asked to take their share of the load in becoming educated citizens, just that they have a fair chance, and perhaps some extra help.

In fact, some of those who once believed that discrimination and racism could account for the failure of African-American children in our schools began before too long to have difficulty reconciling those notions with the manifest academic success of too many Asian-American children, some of whose parents had been interned in this country, some of whom came here with no knowledge of the country or the language, and often from an even longer history of oppression and discrimination behind them (e.g. the Japanese Burakumin immigrants).

It is interesting that when American black athletes achieve unprecedented success and achievement and multi-million-dollar salaries, no one rushes to explain that result as the outcome of centuries of unpaid labor, rampant racism and discrimination. For some reason it is acceptable to expect, and common to find, outstanding effort and achievement among black athletes, but it is not thought suitable to expect serious academic effort from black students in our schools.

If coaches thought all the effort in sports was their job, and expected nearly nothing from their athletes, we might see the same failure in sports that we have in academics. And we would find that most athletes were less inclined to try their hardest and to take responsibility for their effort and success in sports.

As long as we put all the onus on adults in our education systems, we deprive our students of all kinds of the challenges they need, as we try to disguise from them the fact that their achievement will always in life depend mostly on their own efforts for which they alone have to take the responsibility.

Call me names, if that makes you feel better, but all our students are waiting to be treated more like the responsible human beings they, in fact, are.


"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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Comparability of State and Local Expenditures Among Schools Within Districts: A Report From the Study of School-Level Expenditures

Ruth Heuer RTI International, Stephanie Stullich U.S. Department of Education:

Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA) requires that, taken as a whole, services provided in Title I schools from state and local funds be at least comparable to those provided in non-Title I schools (Section 1120A). The purpose of this comparability requirement is to ensure that federal assistance is providing additional resources in high-need schools rather than compensating for an inequitable distribution of funds that benefits more affluent schools. The Title I comparability requirement allows school districts to demonstrate compliance in a number of ways, including through a district-wide salary schedule, and does not require districts to use school-level expenditures. Several recent policy reports have called for revising the Title I comparability provision to require comparability of actual school-level expenditures (Hall and Ushomirsky, 2010; Miller, 2010; Luebchow, 2009; Roza, 2008).

Until recently, data on school-level expenditures have not been widely available, in part because most school districts have not designed their accounting systems to track revenues and expenditures at the school level. However, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) required each school district receiving Title I, Part A, ARRA funds to report a school-by- school listing of per-pupil education expenditures from state and local funds for the 2008-09 school year to its state education agency and required states to report these data to the U.S. Department of Education.
This report from the Study of School-Level Expenditures presents findings on how state and local education expenditures at the school level vary within school districts. This study is not examining compliance with the current Title I comparability requirement, nor does it examine the comparability of resources between districts. Rather, it focuses on the question of whether Title I schools and higher-poverty schools have comparable levels of per-pupil expenditures as non-Title I schools and lower-poverty schools within the same district. More specifically, this report examines three questions:

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Wisconsin Property Tax Growth: 1984-2012 (!)

A chart from the January 9, 2012 edition of WISTAX's Focus. One wonders how long this can be sustained.


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Kids don't need our sympathy

Tamiko Jordan-Obregon:

Throughout my years of being an educator in a traditional school setting, the most challenging aspect has been dealing with the adults, not the students. My views were often those of the minority and consistently clashed with the culture of failure that had been developed over the decades.

One opinion of mine in particular that seldom receives little to no kudos, and is often met with anger and opposition, is that our children do not need sympathy. And when it came to school work, believe me, I gave very little sympathy, if any at all.

"So harsh," one might say. Well, I have been regularly accused of being unfeeling, insensitive and even heartless. Nevertheless, my students were successful for the most part.

They passed because they knew the material, not because I felt sorry for them. In my classroom, I refused to allow feelings of sympathy to override my charge as an educator. It was my duty to educate students to the best of my ability, regardless of their race, culture, socioeconomic status or family or living situation. My standards were high, and I expected my students to rise to the occasion.

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Madison's Phoenix Program Review

Madison School District (150K PDF):

Basic Information
The Phoenix program began serving students in the fall of 2010-11. The Phoenix program was housed in the Doyle Administration Building

During this school year the program served
35 middle school students and
33 high school students
28 middle school students progressed through the Phoenix program and returned to an MMSD educational environment
24 high school students progressed through the Phoenix program and returned to an MMSD educational environment
7 middle students were expelled from the Phoenix program due to behavioral issues 9 high students were expelled from the Phoenix program due to behavioral issues


The first year the curriculum consisted of on-line academics supported by additional resource material.
Each quarter a student could receive up to a .25 credit in Community Service, Career Planning, English, Writing, Math, Physical Education, Science, Social Studies

The program's partnership with community FACE and district PBST staff allowed the students to participate in social emotional skill development forty-five hours per week.

Much more on the "Phoenix Program", here.

P.S. This Madison School District document includes a header that I've not seen before: "Innovative Education". I also noticed that the District (or someone) placed a billboard on the Beltline marketing Cherokee Middle School's Arts education.

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Intelligence Changes Linked to Genes

Gautam Naik:

Nearly a quarter of the changes seen in a person's intelligence level over the course of a lifetime may be the result of genetic factors, an innovative genetic analysis has shown.

The study, published in the journal Nature, suggests that genes may partly explain why some people's brains age better than others, even though environmental factors are likely to play a greater role over a person's lifetime.

The quest to understand the factors behind healthy mental aging has become an increasingly vital one for societies with large elderly populations. However, it isn't an easy task. Traditional methods of estimating the influence of genes have been limited by comparisons between related groups, such as identical or fraternal twins, rather than people unrelated by birth.

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Nothing Ever Happens

This Recording:

One of the saddest things is that the only thing that a man can do for eight hours a day, day after day, is work. You can't eat eight hours a day nor drink for eight hours a day nor make love for eight hours -- all you can do for eight hours is work. Which is the reason why man makes himself and everybody else so miserable and unhappy.

In spring of 1947, the English department of the University of Mississippi had William Faulkner address one class a day for a week. The teacher of each class was barred from attending the sessions. Faulkner spent the entire time answering questions from students.

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January 20, 2012

Why Does Buffalo Pay for Its Teachers to Have Plastic Surgery?

Jordan Weissmann:

In Buffalo, New York, the heart of the American rust-belt, the public school system pays for its teachers to get plastic surgery. Hair removal. Miscrodermabrasian. Liposuction. If you can name the procedure, it's probably covered.

No, I am not exaggerating. And no, this article is not an excuse to make "Hot For Teacher" cracks. When I write that Buffalo's school system pays, I mean it literally. The perk is included as a self-insured rider in its teachers' contract. Therefore, the district has to cover the cost of each nip and tuck itself. There's no co-pay, so the school district ends up footing the entire bill. It estimates the current annual cost at $5.2 million, down from $9 million in 2009.

This in a city where the average teacher makes roughly $52,000 a year. The plastic surgery tab would pay salaries for 100 extra educators.

s The Buffalo News has reported, the rider existed for years with little notice. It dates back at least to the 1970s, when "getting a little work done" wasn't par for the course among women (and some men) of a certain age. Instead, it was intended to cover serious reconstructive surgery, on burn victims, for instance. In 1996, the rider was nearly cut. But after the daughter of a district employee was hurled through a windshield during a car wreck, requiring surgery to repair scars on her face and body, union officials lobbied to keep the benefit in place.

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How Does a School Board Enforce Policy?

Charlie Mas:

I see a lot of support among the District leadership for clear job descriptions and duties for everyone in the District - everyone, that is, except the District leadership. Each Board member will acknowledge that the Board has the duty to enforce policy yet no Board member will allow that duty to be explicitly stated in any document. It does not appear in the newly adopted Series 1000 Policies. It does not appear in the policy that describes the duties of the Board. It does not appear in the policy on governance. Now the Board is going to adopt two more elements of Board policy that should mention this duty yet fail to do so.

The board policy preamble on the Board meeting agenda this week is an ideal place for it, but instead the preamble makes reference to it only vaguely and euphemistically as "governance tools". It says that policies can be used by the superintendent to hold staff accountable but it neglects to say that they can be used by the Board to hold the superintendent accountable.

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Wisconsin Governor Walker says education bill based on task forces is nearing

Erin Richards:

Before a crowd of hundreds of school district officials and school board members in Milwaukee, Gov. Scott Walker announced Thursday that recommendations from a variety of state education task forces will soon be solidified in formal legislation.

The work of three main groups spearheaded by Walker over the past year - a reading task force, a team that's looked at how to design a statewide teacher and principal evaluation system, and a group figuring out how to rate school quality - will make up a reform package of education legislation, Walker said.

Meanwhile, some critics questioned the governor's tone of collaboration and cooperation Thursday, saying that after cutting education spending and limiting collective bargaining, he's trying to play nice now only because he's likely facing a recall election.

Even state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers, who has worked closely with Walker on the task forces and praised the work of those involved, made it clear he was concerned about being left out of the legislation-drafting process.

Matthew DeFour:
The proposed legislative reforms have been developed over the past year by three statewide task forces working separately on improving literacy, developing a teacher evaluation model and creating a school accountability system to replace No Child Left Behind.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers, who helped lead all three groups, said he wasn't involved in drafting the education legislation, but would support any actions that are the direct product of the task forces "and deliver on the intent of these collaborative groups."

"Many students' schools are already planning for more budget cuts next year on top of cuts made this year," Evers said in a statement. "Education reforms must be fully funded and not simply be more unfunded mandates that result in further cuts to educational programming for our students."

Rep. Sondy Pope-Roberts, D-Middleton, ranking Democrat on the Assembly Education Committee, said in a statement she has concerns the work of the task forces was "being hijacked for political gain."

"It is unnerving to hear that (Evers) was not consulted during the drafting of this legislation," Pope-Roberts said. "Cutting our state's foremost education experts out of the process at this time is very shortsighted and reckless."

Much more on the Read to Lead Task Force, here.

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Stormy waters ahead as 'disruptive forces' sweep the old guard

Sarah Cunnane:

Online education will turn the academy inside out, argue US authors. Sarah Cunnane reports

Graduation rates in the US have fallen, and states have slashed funding for higher education. As a result, public universities have raised tuition fees, and many are struggling to stay afloat during the recession. But two authors working in the US higher education sector claim that the academy has a bigger battle on the horizon: the "disruptive innovation" ushered in by online education.

This disruption, they say, will force down costs, lure prospective students away from traditional "core" universities, transform the way academics work, and spell the end for the traditional scholarly calendar based around face-to-face teaching.

Clayton M. Christensen, the Kim B. Clark professor of business administration at Harvard Business School, and Henry J. Eyring, advancement vice-president at Brigham Young University-Idaho, outline their ideas in The Innovative University: Changing the DNA of Higher Education from the Inside Out.

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Why Education Publishing Is Big Business

Tim Carmody:

On the heels of Apple's big education and iBooks event, it's worth taking a quick snapshot of the education publishing industry as it stands today.

Not because the tools announced today will inevitably transform the future of education the way iTunes and the iPhone did the music and smartphone industries -- however fun that may be to imagine.

Rather, you simply can't understand Apple's interest in breaking into the education market without at least a little understanding of that market's scope. And you can't understand why Apple's adopted the approach that it has without understanding that market's connection to our wider media ecosystem.

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One Education Spending & Reform

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie

Renewing his call for passage of a vouchers pilot program, the Opportunity Scholarship Act, the governor drilled into his education reform proposals for government cost-savings.

"Let's face it: more money does not necessarily lead to a better education," Christie said. "Today, in Newark, we spend $23,000 per student for instruction and services. But only 23% of ninth graders who enter high school this year will receive high school diplomas in four years. Asbury Park is similar: per pupil costs, at almost $30,000 a year, are nearly 75% above the state average. But the dropout rate is almost 10 times the state average. And math S.A.T. scores lag the state average by 180 points.

"It is time to admit that the Supreme Court's grand experiment with New Jersey children is a failure," the Governor added. "63% of state aid over the years has gone to the Abbott Districts and the schools are still predominantly failing. What we've been doing isn't working for children in failing districts, it is unfair to the other 557 school districts and to our state's taxpayers, who spend more per pupil than almost any state in America."

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The Global War Against Baby Girls

Nicholas Eberstadt:

Over the past three decades the world has come to witness an ominous and entirely new form of gender discrimination: sex-selective feticide, implemented through the practice of surgical abortion with the assistance of information gained through prenatal gender determination technology. All around the world, the victims of this new practice are overwhelmingly female -- in fact, almost universally female. The practice has become so ruthlessly routine in many contemporary societies that it has impacted their very population structures, warping the balance between male and female births and consequently skewing the sex ratios for the rising generation toward a biologically unnatural excess of males. This still-growing international predilection for sex-selective abortion is by now evident in the demographic contours of dozens of countries around the globe -- and it is sufficiently severe that it has come to alter the overall sex ratio at birth of the entire planet, resulting in millions upon millions of new "missing baby girls" each year. In terms of its sheer toll in human numbers, sex-selective abortion has assumed a scale tantamount to a global war against baby girls.

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The Coming Higher-Ed Revolution

  Stuart Butler:

In recent decades, key sectors of the American economy have experienced huge and disruptive transformations -- shifts that have ultimately yielded beneficial changes to the way producers and customers do business together. From the deregulation that brought about the end of AT&T's "Ma Bell" system, to the way entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs forever changed the computer world once dominated by IBM, to the way the internet and bloggers have upended the business model of traditional newspapers, we have seen industries completely remade -- often in wholly unexpected ways. In hindsight, such transformations seem to have been inevitable; at the time, however, most leaders in these fields never saw the changes coming.

The higher-education industry is on the verge of such a transformative re-alignment. Many Americans agree that a four-year degree is vastly overpriced -- keeping many people out of the market -- and are increasingly questioning the value of what many colleges teach. Nevertheless, for those who seek a certain level of economic security or advancement, a four-year degree is absolutely necessary. Clearly, this is a situation primed for change. In as little as a decade, most colleges and universities could look very different from their present forms -- with the cost of a college credential plummeting even as the quality of instruction rises.

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Do Sports Build Character or Damage It?

Mark Edmundson:

Do sports build character? For those of us who claim to be educators, it's important to know. Physical-education teachers, coaches, boosters, most trustees, and the balance of alumni seem sure that they do. And so they push sports, sports, and more sports. As for professors, they often see sports as a diversion from the real business of education--empty, time-wasting, and claiming far too much of students' attention. It often seems that neither the boosters nor the bashers want to go too far in examining their assumptions about sports.

But in fact, sports are a complex issue, and it's clear that we as a culture don't really know how to think about them. Public confusion about performance-enhancing drugs, the dangers of concussions in football and of fighting in hockey, and the recent molestation scandal at Penn State suggest that it might be good to pull back and consider the question of athletics and education--of sports and character-building--a bit more closely than we generally do.

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Schools likely to lose accreditation, experts say

Greg Toppo:

It happens more often than you'd think, but it needs to happen more often than it does," says Mark A. Elgart, president and CEO of AdvancED, a private Atlanta-based accreditation agency that works with about 30,000 schools. In the past five years, the organization has pulled accreditation on four school systems and a dozen private schools, for reasons ranging from poor academic performance to governance to financial fraud.

"It's become more rigorous," says Terry Holliday, commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Education. "I think there was a time accreditation just meant you had a certain number of library books and staff." Now, he says, "accreditation does look at outcomes."

Accreditation, sort of a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval for schools, matters to districts because losing it can lead to a state takeover or an exodus of students. For individual high schools, it can mean that students lose a competitive edge as they apply to college.

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January 19, 2012

How to solve the achievement gap in Madison?

Nathan Comp:

Just when all signs indicated that supporters of Madison Preparatory Academy were abandoning hope of joining forces with the Madison school district, they've decided to give it one more shot. They're seeking another vote on the controversial charter-school proposal in late February.

Urban League of Greater Madison CEO and president Kaleem Caire says Madison Prep will open this fall as a private entity, but hopes it will transition into the district in 2013, once the district's union contract expires.

Board members who voted against the charter school in December expressed concerns that it would put the district in breach of its contract with Madison Teachers Inc., due to a provision requiring district schools to hire union staff.

School board president James Howard, who voted for Madison Prep, says the board may not have time to address the proposal in February.

Whether the Urban League -- which proposed Madison Prep as an ambitious step toward closing the district's decades-old achievement gap -- can recapture its earlier momentum is uncertain, considering that Superintendent Dan Nerad and school board members seem particularly excited about their own plans to address the issue.

"We're going at it from so many different angles right now," says board member Beth Moss. "I can't see how we can't make some improvement."

Much more on the proposed Madison Preparatory IB charter school, here.


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Video: Is school choice good or bad for public education?

Ted Bauer, via a kind email:

We produced the above piece for PBS NewsHour in November of 2011; the focus was on new school choice initiatives in Indiana and the backlash they're receiving. School choice remains a major issue in education as 2012 begins, so we wanted to convene several experts for a discussion on the topic. Feel free to add your own comments below, as well.

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Apple's Electronic Textbook/Book Event

The Verge.

Apple's controversial license terms are discussed here.

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The thread of knowledge

Leora Moldofsky:

Two decades after it was first devised at Princeton's Center for Creative Leadership, the learning development concept known as 70/20/10 is transforming Melbourne Business School's approach to workplace learning.

The concept has spurred Mt Eliza, the executive education arm of MBS, to develop an interactive online tool called Thread, which is due to be launched this month. Mt Eliza has high expectations for Thread, with hopes that it can transform the executive education provider in Victoria, Australia, into a world leader in e-learning.

It is canvassing for a partnership with Ashridge - the UK business school that provides Mt Eliza with online modules through Virtual Ashridge - as well as with other international business schools.

While Mt Eliza will not comment on the talks, Matt Williams, design manager for Thread, says: "Whenever we need to partner with a European institution, it tends to be Ashridge". The two schools collaborate on a Masters of Management programme and several executive education courses.

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Slip in India's school standards: Decline in reading, math skills despite right to study

The Telegraph:

The quality of elementary education is falling in rural schools almost two years after education was made a fundamental right in April 2010.

The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2011, a survey of government and private schools in rural areas conducted by the NGO Pratham, shows a decline in schoolchildren's "learning outcome levels" compared with the previous year, whether in reading or arithmetic skills. (See chart)

However, students of private schools have done slightly better than those of government schools, reveals the annual survey, started seven years ago and considered most authoritative.

For example, 56 per cent Class V students at government schools were unable to read Class III-level text but the figure was 38 per cent in private schools.

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School voucher program gets fresh look in Louisiana

Sarah Carr:

When Gov. Bobby Jindal pushed through New Orleans' school voucher program four years ago, political interest in using taxpayer money to send students to private schools had waned across the country. School choice advocates had suffered several stinging defeats, causing some to throw their weight behind charter schools, which generally receive more bipartisan support.

In 2009, St. Joan of Arc School in New Orleans had more than 80 students receiving vouchers.

Now, as officials expect Jindal to begin an effort to expand Louisiana's voucher program, the national landscape has changed dramatically.
Although charter schools continue to dwarf vouchers in terms of overall growth, voucher programs have rebounded on the national political and educational scene in the past year. In 2011, more than 30 states introduced bills that would use taxpayer dollars to send children to privately run schools, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. That's up more than 300% from the previous year, when only nine voucher bills were introduced.

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NY Governor Reduces State Spending .2%; Crafts Budget On Public Pension, Teacher Evaluation Reform

Zack Fink:

Governor Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday proposed an overhaul to the state's pension system and new teacher evaluation system while presenting his $132.5 billion budget plan for the next fiscal year.

The plan reduces overall spending by .2 percent from last year.
In a PowerPoint presentation, Cuomo said his executive budget includes no new taxes, one shot revenues or gimmicks.

It also closes a budget gap of $3.5 billion.

However, while the governor plans to increase education spending by 4 percent or roughly $805 million, he also plans to make that increase contingent upon real reform and, specifically, teacher evaluations.

He's giving the state's teachers 30 days to come up with a statewide evaluation system or he will write his own into the budget for the legislature to approve.

Districts would have one year to get the new system up and running or the state would withhold the promised 4 percent increase in school aid.

Philissa Cramer has more.

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EdWeek Ranks Wisconsin's education system 18th in U.S.

Matthew DeFour:

Wisconsin's education system ranks 18th in the nation, according to an annual analysis published by Education Week.

The analysis draws on a variety of data, some of which are a couple of years old, so it doesn't reflect changes in the past year under Gov. Scott Walker.

The report rated Wisconsin in six categories: chance for success; K-12 achievement; standards, assessments and accountability; teachers; school finance; and transitions and alignment.

The state scored highest in school finance, ranking ninth nationally. The lowest marks came in standards, assessment and accountability, where Wisconsin ranked 46th.

Much more at

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What is this Voucher Loophole?

Mike Ford:

Last Friday's Capital Times included an article by Jessica Van Egeren on the need to close what DPI spokesman John Johnson and others have deemed the voucher loophole. Van Egeren writes:

"The so-called loophole was inserted into the state budget at the final stage of approval in June by members of the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee. The last-minute language allowed voucher schools to expand from their sole location in Milwaukee to Racine."

It is worth pointing out that the while the language enabling the expansion of school choice to Racine did occur near the end of the budget process, expanding the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) to Racine was hardly a new concept. A proposal to bring vouchers to Racine was included and passed in the original Assembly version of the 2007-2009 budget (it was eventually removed during the budget process).

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Trial And Error Is Fine, So Long As You Know The Difference

Matthew DiCarlo:

It's fair to say that improved teacher evaluation is the cornerstone of most current education reform efforts. Although very few people have disagreed on the need to design and implement new evaluation systems, there has been a great deal of disagreement over how best to do so - specifically with regard to the incorporation of test-based measures of teacher productivity (i.e., value-added and other growth model estimates).

The use of these measures has become a polarizing issue. Opponents tend to adamantly object to any degree of incorporation, while many proponents do not consider new evaluations meaningful unless they include test-based measures as a major element (say, at least 40-50 percent). Despite the air of certainty on both sides, this debate has mostly been proceeding based on speculation. The new evaluations are just getting up and running, and there is virtually no evidence as to their effects under actual high-stakes implementation.

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Do Charter Schools Sacrifice Non-Charter Kids?

New Jersey Left Behind:

Dr. Bruce Baker has a good blog post up called "NJ Charter School Data Round-Up" in which he compares demographics between NJ charter schools and traditional schools in high-poverty urban areas and considers the policy implications. He discusses problems with scalability, and that charters in cities like Newark "continue to serve student populations that differ dramatically from populations of surrounding schools" when one examines eligibility for free/reduced lunch, special education enrollment, and students still learning English.

The comments to his post are worth pondering.

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Leveling the field: What I learned from for-profit education

Christopher R. Beha:

It was the second week of UNIV 101: University of Phoenix New Student Orientation, and Dr. U. was talking about goals.

"What is goals?" she asked in her melodious Polish accent. There were four of us in UNIV 101, me and Ty and Rob and Junior, and no one seemed quite sure what to make of the question. Thus far there had been little evidence of Socratic irony or indirection holding a prominent place in the pedagogical toolkit here at Phoenix, so if Dr. U. was asking what is goals? then the answer was almost certainly somewhere in the reading. Shuffling through the printouts in front of me, I saw it written at the top of a page: "Simply stated, goals are outcomes an individual wants to achieve in a stated period of time." By then, Ty's hand was already up.

"Goals," he told Dr. U., "are when you have something you want to accomplish in the future."

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January 18, 2012

Wolfram Education Portal

Wolfram Education:

Wolfram has long been a trusted name in education--as the makers of Mathematica, Wolfram|Alpha, and the Wolfram Demonstrations Project, we've created some of the most dynamic teaching and learning tools available. We are pleased to offer the best of all of our technologies to you here in the Wolfram Education Portal, organized by course. In the portal you'll find a dynamic textbook, lesson plans, widgets, interactive Demonstrations, and more built by Wolfram education experts. You can take a look at the types of materials we offer below, but to get full access to all materials, you need to sign up for a free account.

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The End of Failure

Time magazine this week has an article about the failure of No Child Left Behind, and it highlights the failure of the Rachel Carson Middle School in Herndon, Virginia, to get the last 5% of its student body to achieve grade-level competence in math and reading. This outcome stems from the failure of the teachers, the principal, the counselors, the special needs teachers, the curriculum coordinators, the reading specialists, the math specialists, the superintendent, the state department of education and its staff, the governor, and, of course, the legislature of the Commonwealth of Virginia. While others, such as the federal government, publishers, professional development specialists and the like might share some of the blame, the first group is to be held mainly responsible for the failure of that 5% of the students at the school in question.

Is anyone left out of this analysis, which is the current analytic wisdom available for all school failures in the United States at present? Some might suggest some responsibility on the part of parents, but there is one group which always is, it seems, held blameless and harmless. The students.

I have heard of a time in this country, and even in some other countries, when, if a student failed in school, the failure was the student's. Indeed, even now in Japan, according to Marc Tucker's Surpassing Shanghai, there is the view that if a student fails academically, it is because he has not worked hard enough.

However, it is no longer possible to entertain the idea that a student is responsible for his or her own learning and academic progress in the United States. We like to think of a student in our schools as if under anesthesia on a classroom operating table, being operated on by our surgeon-teachers who are wholly responsible for the success or failure of the operation. Our passive students can not be held responsible for any part of their own education, because if failure occurs, it cannot be theirs. Our children cannot fail at anything, so if there is failure, as, apparently, there is, it must be ours--that is an axiom of our educational philosophy.

There are consequences that flow from this axiom, of course. Students who fail (my mistake)--students whose academic work is failing, understandably come to believe that the school and the teacher are supposed to "do" education to them, and that they have no responsibility for the outcome--whether they learn anything or not is not their problem.

Of course it is their problem, as they will discover when they go to community college or try to find a job, but we feel it is our duty to keep them from knowing that as long as we can.

Naturally, there is a sense of power and control for educators in accepting all the responsibility for student learning, and a noble sort of martyrdom when, in spite of all our efforts, students fail anyway. But in the process students are deprived of ownership of their own education and their own learning.

It was probably Alfred North Whitehead who wrote that "For an education, a man's books and teachers are but a help, the real work is his." How quaint that idea seems to us, that the student must study or the failure will be his, not ours. How we, as legislators, educational leaders, teachers, etc., would hate to have to give up any of "our" territory of study and learning to mere students. What do they know?

Perhaps this folly will soon run its course. One is permitted to hope. Perhaps we will take another look and see that it is the student who decides whether to come to school or not, whether to pay attention or not, whether to do the homework or not, whether, finally, to take his education seriously or not.

You can tell a born teacher by the earnest way he or she turns to a serious student who has a question, and, yes, "a teacher affects eternity." But as Buddha pointed out 2,500 years ago, the student who makes the most progress "must be anxious to learn." He was a good teacher and affected lots of people, but he knew better than to try to outlaw failure by removing all responsibility for learning from the students themselves, as we have seemed so dumbly determined to try to do in recent years.

Posted by Will Fitzhugh at 1:02 PM | Comments (1) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

In schools, self-esteem boosting is losing favor to rigor, finer-tuned praise

Michael Alison Chandler:

For decades, the prevailing wisdom in education was that high self-esteem would lead to high achievement. The theory led to an avalanche of daily affirmations, awards ceremonies and attendance certificates -- but few, if any, academic gains.

Now, an increasing number of teachers are weaning themselves from what some call empty praise. Drawing on psychology and brain research, these educators aim to articulate a more precise, and scientific, vocabulary for praise that will push children to work through mistakes and take on more challenging assignments. Consider teacher Shar Hellie's new approach in Montgomery County.

To get students through the shaky first steps of Spanish grammar, Hellie spent many years trying to boost their confidence. If someone couldn't answer a question easily, she would coach him, whisper the first few words, then follow up with a booming "¡Muy bien!"

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 5:29 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Teaching & Learning with Digital Tools in the Humanities

Monica Bulger:

During graduate school, I participated in an experimental seminar, "Literature+: Cross-Disciplinary Models of Literary Interpretation," taught by Alan Liu. He asked students to form groups around topics of their choosing and perform analyses using digital tools on their materials. Most students shared similar research interests and organized their projects around a content-based theme. Our group represented four different disciplines and formed around our interest in digital tools, rather than content. Professor Liu created a toybox of links to various textual analysis tools that generated visualizations, translations, data about word counts, etc. Each of us took a tool in which we were to become "expert," and applied that tool to data we had collected for our research.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 3:02 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Driven off the Road by M.B.A.s

Rana Foroohar:

Bob Lutz, the former Vice Chairman of General Motors, is the most famous also-ran in the auto business. In the course of his 47-year rampage through the industry, he's been within swiping range of the brass ring at Ford, BMW, Chrysler and, most recently, GM, but he's never landed the top gig. It's because he "made the cars too well," he says. It might also have something to do with the fact that Maximum Bob, who could double as a character on Mad Men, is less an éminence grise than a pithy self-promoter who has a tendency to go off corporate message. That said, his new book, Car Guys vs. Bean Counters: The Battle for the Soul of American Business, has a message worth hearing. To get the U.S. economy growing again, Lutz says, we need to fire the M.B.A.s and let engineers run the show.

Lutz's main argument is that companies, shareholders and consumers are best served by product-driven executives. In his book, Lutz wisecracks his way through the 1960s design- and technology-led glory days at GM to the late-1970s takeover by gangs of M.B.A.s. Executives, once largely developed from engineering, began emerging from finance. The results ranged from the sobering (managers signing off on inferior products because customers "had no choice") to the hilarious (Cadillac ashtrays that wouldn't open because of corporate mandates that they be designed to function at -40°F). It's pretty easy to imagine Car Guy Lutz removing his mirrored shades and shouting to the cowering line manager, "Well, customers in North Dakota will be happy. Too bad nobody else will!"

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:52 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Principal finds hidden treasures at Madison's Emerson Elementary

Pamela Cotant:

Over the past few years, Emerson Elementary School Principal Karen Kepler has made important discoveries as she finished cleaning out classrooms when teachers retired or transferred to another school.

Tucked into closets were old curriculum supplies, costumes, textbooks and other historical items.

They helped Kepler develop a greater appreciation of how teaching has changed over Emerson's 92 years, something she hopes to share some day.

"In some way I want to display this somewhere," Kepler said.

Among the items were a kindergartner-sized metal hoe and rake. A sign from a school event advertises food for sale such as hot dogs for 15 cents and cole slaw for 10 cents.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:51 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Why Kids Need Solitude

Alex Karekezi:

Demand for remedial instruction in colleges is on the rise. About 75 percent of New York City freshmen attending community college last year needed remedial math, reading or writing courses. The organization that administers the ACT found that only one in four of 2010 high school graduates who took the ACT exam were college-ready in four key subjects areas: English, math, reading and science. Statistics like these are startling, as they not only reveal serious flaws in our educational system, but also raise questions as to how these students will fare in the future if they are lacking the knowledge and critical skills needed to succeed in college and beyond.

In her new book, "The Republic of Noise," New York City public school educator and curriculum advisor Diana Senechal argues that one reason for this problem is the students' loss of solitude: the ability to think and reflect independently on a given topic. Schools have become more concerned with the business of keeping students busy in what Senechal deems is a flawed attempt to ensure student engagement. But as a result, students are not given the time and space to devote themselves completely to the study and understanding of one specific thing. It's a need she finds reflected in our culture as a whole: We are a nation glued to smartphones and computer screens, checking email and Twitter feeds in our need to stay in some loop by reading and responding to rolling updates. Senechal is not advocating that we toss out our iPhones or unplug from social media, but rather that we think more slowly, give ourselves time for reflection -- as such practice would only serve to enhance the very conversations new media and technology make possible.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:08 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

January 16, 2012 Reaction to WPRI's Report on Teacher Compensation

Mike Ford:

Unsurprisingly, the new WPRI report on reforming teacher compensation (authored by yours truly) has some critics. The response from the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC) in today's Journal Sentinel was disappointing, but totally expected. WEAC calls my proposal a distraction. President Mary Bell states it is unfair to administrators who, among other things, do not have time to "develop a system for distributing funds."

Opposition from WEAC to $50 million in new funding for teachers on the grounds that administrators will not have the time to find a way to spend it was a surprise. The real threat of the proposal, I imagine, is that it ties additional funding to school performance, and allows principals in successful schools to manage as they see fit.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:07 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

College presidents suggest differentiated tuition

Kathleen McGrory:

Should an engineering degree cost more than a degree in English? Or a degree in education?

The question was posed at a House Education Committee meeting Friday.

On hand for the discussion: University of Florida President Bernie Machen, Florida State University President Eric Barron and state University System Chancellor Frank Brogan.

The topic is timely. Gov. Rick Scott has called on universities to produce more majors in science, technology, engineering and mathematics -- but without extra dollars from the state. Scott's proposed budget does not boost funding for public colleges and universities.

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Mike's school groove: Why taking on union will pay off

Joe Williams:

After a pretty rough year at Department of Education headquarters, Mayor Bloomberg appears to have gotten his school-reform groove back. It couldn't come at a more crucial time. The city's public schools have made some real progress on Bloomberg's watch, but need a new shot in the arm to help many more students meet higher standards and ensure they're ready for college.

The mayor laid out a bold and aggressive agenda in his State of the City Address last week, full of common-sense ideas that hark back to the early days of his tenure when no cow was too sacred in the pursuit of higher achievement.

Back then, he took on the three pillars of the education bureaucracy -- tenure, seniority and lock-step teacher pay -- and refocused our schools on empowerment for teachers and principals and more accountability for results.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:38 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Matt Damon's mom is wrong

Jay Matthews:

Almost all of us say that as a nation we should work out our differences and unite to solve our problems. But we don't mean it.

Exhibit A is the bad blood between the National Education Association, the nation's largest teacher's union, and Teach for America, the most popular public-service option for graduates of selective colleges.

The NEA has been at odds with TFA since the teacher recruitment program began. NEA leaders dislike the idea, conceived in 1989 by 22-year-old Princeton undergraduate Wendy Kopp, of giving young people selected for academic achievement and ambition just five weeks of summer training before having them teach in some of our lowest-performing urban and rural public schools. TFA's steady growth and rising status at prestigious universities has not soothed NEA's distress.

This is both a national and a local issue. The NEA's national headquarters is in the District. One of the largest contingents of TFA teachers works in the District and Prince George's County.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:03 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

January 17, 2012

Emergent Spanish for Educators @ Madison's Cherokee Middle School

Rafael Gomez, via a kind email:

Dear Cherokee Staff:

We have an opportunity to have Emergent Spanish for Educators (Jan. to April 2012) The class will take place at Cherokee every Mondays starting Jan. 23 at 3:30 to 5:45 except the session it will be from 3:45 to 4:45.

Calender:1/30, 2/6, 2/13, 2/20 2/27 3/5 3/12 3/ 19 3/26. 4/4 4/11 4/16 4/23 4/30

All participants will get 3 PAC credits. It is 30 hours of instruction.

Description of the course:
This course will provide participants with skills needed to make an easy transition from English only into Emergent Spanish and have fun while doing it. Participants will be assisted to become more comfortable using their Spanish pronunciation, construction of basic statements and conversing in Spanish with instructor and/or participants.All participants will end up with a learning center to continue learning Spanish.


1. Acquire a repertoire o Spanish vocabulary
2. Increase comfort level to use Spanish
3. Increase awareness of culture and language
4. Gain skill to use their learning center.

Ritual:Participants will interact with parents and students who are native Spanish speakers.

If you have any questions, please contact me.

Rafael Gomez

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:51 PM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Apple to announce tools, platform to "digitally destroy" textbook publishing

Chris Foresman:

Apple is slated to announce the fruits of its labor on improving the use of technology in education at its special media event on Thursday, January 19. While speculation has so far centered on digital textbooks, sources close to the matter have confirmed to Ars that Apple will announce tools to help create interactive e-books--the "GarageBand for e-books," so to speak--and expand its current platform to distribute them to iPhone and iPad users.

Along with the details we were able to gather from our sources, we also spoke to two experts in the field of digital publishing to get a clearer picture of the significance of what Apple is planning to announce.

So far, Apple has largely embraced the ePub 2 standard for its iBooks platform, though it has added a number of HTML5-based extensions to enable the inclusion of video and audio for some limited interaction. The recently-updated ePub 3 standard obviates the need for these proprietary extensions, which in some cases make iBook-formatted e-books incompatible with other e-reader platforms. Apple is expected to announce support for the ePub 3 standard for iBooks going forward.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:54 PM | Comments (1) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Alison Head on How Students Seek Information

David Weinberger:

Alison Head, who is at the Berkman Center and the Library Information Lab this year, but who is normally based at U of Washington's Info School, is giving a talk called "Modeling the Information-Seeking Process of College Students." (I did a podcast interview with her a couple of months ago.)

Project Information Literacy is a research project that reaches across institutions. They've (Michael Eisenberg co-leads the project) surveyed 11,000 students on 41 US campuses to find out how do students find and use information. They use voluntary samples, not random samples. But, Alison says, the project doesn't claim to be able to generalize to all students; they look at the relationships among different kinds of schools and overall trends. They make special efforts to include community colleges, which are often under-represented in studies of colleges

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Exams in South Korea: The system that has helped South Korea prosper is beginning to break down

The Economist:

ON NOVEMBER 10th South Korea went silent. Aircraft were grounded. Offices opened late. Commuters stayed off the roads. The police stood by to deal with emergencies among the students who were taking their university entrance exams that day.

Every year the country comes to a halt on the day of the exams, for it is the most important day in most South Koreans' lives. The single set of multiple-choice tests that students take that day determines their future. Those who score well can enter one of Korea's best universities, which has traditionally guaranteed them a job-for-life as a high-flying bureaucrat or desk warrior at a chaebol (conglomerate). Those who score poorly are doomed to attend a lesser university, or no university at all. They will then have to join a less prestigious firm and, since switching employers is frowned upon, may be stuck there for the rest of their lives. Ticking a few wrong boxes, then, may mean that they are permanently locked out of the upper tier of Korean society.

Making so much depend on an exam has several advantages for Korea. It is efficient: a single set of tests identifies intelligent and diligent teenagers, and launches them into society's fast stream. It is meritocratic: poor but clever Koreans can rise to the top by studying very, very hard. The exam's importance prompts children to pay attention in class and parents to hound them about their homework; and that, in turn, ensures that Korea's educational results are the envy of the world. The country is pretty much the leading nation in the scoring system run by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). In 2009 it came fourth after Shanghai, Singapore and Hong Kong, but those are cities rather than full-sized countries.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 3:48 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Video: Gilman Whiting, Vanderbilt Professor/Scholar Identity Institute Founder

Ted Bauer, via a kind eamil:

My guest here is Gilman Whiting, the creator of the Scholar Identity Model and Scholar Identity Institute out of the Peabody College of Education at Vanderbilt University.

If you'd like to learn more about the Scholar Identity Institute:

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Writing is the Greatest Innovation

Tom Standage

The greatest invention of all must surely be writing. It is not just one of the foundations of civilisation: it underpins the steady accumulation of intellectual achievement. By capturing ideas in physical form, it allows them to travel across space and time without distortion, and thus slip the bonds of human memory and oral transmission, not to mention the whims of tyrants and the vicissitudes of history.

Its origins are prosaic: it was invented by accountants, not poets, in the 4th millennium BC, as a spur of the counting system with which farming societies kept track of agricultural goods. At first transactions were recorded by storing groups of shaped clay tokens - representing wheat, cattle or textiles - in clay envelopes. But why use tokens when pressing one into a tablet of wet clay would do instead? These impressions, in turn, were superseded by symbols scratched or punched into the clay with a stylus. Tokens had given way to writing.

As human settlements swelled from villages to the first cities, writing was needed for administrative reasons. But it quickly became more flexible and expressive, capable of capturing the subtleties of human thought, not just lists of rations doled out or kings long dead. And this allowed philosophers, poets and chroniclers to situate their ideas in relation to those of previous thinkers, to argue about them and elaborate upon them. Each generation could build on the ideas of its forebears, making it possible for there to be species-wide progress in philosophy, commerce, science and literature.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 3:07 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

University of Michigan unveils TeachingWorks, a program to improve teacher education

James David Dickson:

On Thursday, Jan. 12 the University of Michigan School of Education launched TeachingWorks, a program designed to improve teacher education in America.

TeachingWorks centers on the premise that "Great teachers aren't born, they're taught." But too often when great teachers are asked to describe what makes them great, the answers that come involve style, personal traits, and experience, none of which do much for a first-year teacher with little experience or style to work from.

"The training of the professionals who work with youth is fundamentally important to their life changes, and that includes teachers," Deborah Ball, dean of the U-M School of Education, said in her opening remarks.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan joined the ceremony and gave extended remarks, via video message. Duncan visited the University of Michigan in September and praised U-M's contribution to teacher education. During his address on Thursday, Duncan hailed U-M for its leadership in advancing a program to teach the teachers of teachers.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:59 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Unions adapt to new rules, even as they fight to reverse them

Ben Wieder:

It took nearly a year for Dale Kleinert to negotiate his first teachers' contract. When Kleinert started his job as schools superintendent in Moscow, Idaho, the talks were already underway. Then, discussions reached an impasse. There were disagreements over pay and health care costs, and the pace slowed further when first an outside mediator and later a fact-finder didn't render a decision. It wasn't until May of 2011 that Kleinert and his union counterparts finally reached an agreement.

Just before then, while Kleinert and the teachers were still stuck, Republican lawmakers in Boise were finishing work on plans to take away much of the leverage that Idaho teachers had long enjoyed in these kinds of negotiations. So for Kleinert's next round of talks with Moscow's teachers, which began pretty much right after the previous ones wrapped up, the rules were very different.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:49 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Yes, vote for kids by asking the adult questions about school levies

Laurie Rogers, via a kind email:

In Eastern Washington, voters are being asked to approve school district levies in a Feb. 14 election. Spokane residents might have seen one or two or 10 billion signs about it strategically placed around the city. I saw a "vote yes for kids" sign at City Hall, tacked to the incoming side of the city bulletin board. I mentioned it to a woman at the counter, and she took it down.

Twice on its front page, The Spokesman-Review published pro-levy material that (to a journalist), can only be seen as full-page advertisements. First was "Anatomy of a Levy." Then there was "Faces of a Levy." Where can it go from there? Ears of a Levy? Elbows of a Levy? Butt-cheeks of a levy?

Meanwhile, the union president published a pro-levy article in the KIDS Newspaper, and the school district helpfully delivered that pro-levy article to elementary schools and students across the city.

Clearly, the district, union and newspaper want us to support the levy. Some local advocates would rather we not. Whatever you decide, please don't just stay home. If just three people vote on the levy, it will pass or fail based on the three votes. As you're bombarded with a heavy emotional campaign to "vote yes for the kids," however, here are a few things to consider.

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

William Gibson: Opening Lines The Seminal Cyberpunk Author Reveals How He Learned to Write Fiction


To mark the beginning of 2012, sci-fi pioneer William Gibson recalls the first sentence of fiction he ever wrote. The Vancouver-based author releases his first collection of non-fiction essays this month, Distrust That Particular Flavor, tackling subjects as varied as Yakuza films, cyborgs, and Steely Dan. In the following extract from his essay African Thumb Piano, Gibson remembers his early attempts at fiction in a revealing glimpse into his writing process, influences and obsessions.

From African Thumb Piano by William Gibson

When I started to try to learn to write fiction, I knew that I had no idea how to write fiction. This was actually a plus, that I knew I didn't know, but at the time it was scary. I was afraid that people who were somehow destined to write fiction came to the task already knowing how. I clearly didn't, so likely I wasn't so destined. I sat at the typewriter, the one on which I'd written undergraduate essays, trying to figure out how to try.

Eventually I began to try to write a sentence. I tried to write it for months. It grew longer. Eventually it became: "Seated each afternoon in the darkened screening room, Graham came gradually to see the targeted numerals of the academy leader as hypnagogic sigils preceding the dreamstate of film." I'm not sure it was Graham. Maybe it was Bannister. It was a sentence far too obviously in the manner of J.G. Ballard, and Ballard gave his protagonists sturdy, everyman British middle-class surnames.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:39 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Sun Prairie's $2.4M Ashley Field Construction


How does a project increase 42% in less than a year? How does it mushroom 83% in less than 2 years?
WHY WHY WHY does this district continue to pound for more than more, better than best? And how do these numbers keep growing? What originally was discussed as a maximum taxpayer commitment of $475,000 has ballooned into the idea of going to referendum with the "new building (elementary school) referendum? Note once again that no decision has been made to even BUILD a new building...but athletic director McClowry and district administration put forth a Situation Report that sure seems certain that that is what's going to happen?

Let's stroll back through time, shall we? Take a look see at how the landscape of the Ashley Project has changed.

More, here.

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

January 16, 2012

Wisconsin Senate to take up Open Enrollment schools bill Tuesday

Jason Stein:

The state Senate will take up a bill Tuesday to rewrite the open enrollment law governing when students can transfer out of their home district into another district.

The bill would allow students and parents more time to request a move to a district outside their own. It would require students' home districts to share details about any discipline problems with the outside district.

The bill has ping-ponged back and forth between the Senate and Assembly for the last year as the two houses have worked to agree on amendments.

The Senate action will come amid a busy day at the Capitol, with opponents to Walker expected to deliver more than 700,000 signatures seeking to force a recall election against him.

Supporters said the open enrollment bill would help students struggling in one district move into another one where they can thrive. Opponents argue the legislation could harm some school districts by siphoning off students to other districts, including virtual schools that rely on the Internet to help teach students in their own homes.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 8:18 PM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Video: What Can Charter Schools Do?

Eva Moskowitz with Maria Bartiromo, via a kind Doug Newman email.

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Teachers Or Algorithms?

Vinod Khosla:

In my last post, I argued that software will take over many of the tasks doctors do today. And what of education? We find a very similar story of what the popular - and incredibly funny! - TED speaker Sir Ken Robinson calls "a crisis of human resources" (Click here for the RSA talk from the same speaker which has been animated in a highly educational fashion). At the TED 2010 conference, he stated that "we make poor use of our talents." Indeed, in the same way that we misuse the talents and training of doctors, I believe we misuse the talents and training of teachers.

I want to comment on what I consider a far greater misuse of talent and training: that of our children/students, mostly here talking about high school education. We have focused so much of our education system on children attending primary school, then middle school, then high school, all with the objective of attending university. This is a progression that still remains unchanged and largely unchallenged. Yet, this system is completely linear and, most tragically, unwaveringly standardized not only through instruction methods, but also through testing. Worse, it is mostly what I call "fixed time, variable learning" (the four-year high school) instead of "fixed learning, variable time" to account for individual students' capabilities and status.

Identifying Emerging Trends In Education

There are new key trends that I see emerging in education enabled by advancing technology: namely decentralization and gamification. By understanding these trends, it is much easier to imagine why we won't need teachers or why we can free up today's teachers to be mentors and coaches. Software can free teachers to have more human relationships by giving them the time to be guidance counselors and friends to young kids instead of being lecturers who talk at them. This last possibility is very important--in addition to learning, schools enable critical social development for children through teacher student relationships and interacting with other children--classrooms of peers and teachers provide much more than math lessons. And by freeing up teachers' time, technology can lead to increased social development rather than less as many assume.

Well worth reading.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 5:09 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

We Should All Vote in the Same Place We Pay Our Taxes

Mike Nichols:

Six school districts in Wisconsin - Hartland-Lakeside, Phelps, Oregon, Oshkosh, Beloit and Sparta - have scheduled school referendums for either February or April.

My advice to school officials who want to prevail: encourage high turn-out among voters who cast their ballots at polling places that are actually inside the schools themselves. It, oddly enough, makes a significant difference.

You probably don't believe this. Neither did voters who were part of an extensive study of polling places in Arizona in 2000 when a ballot initiative proposed raising the state sales tax to support education spending.

Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study on what's known as "priming" concluded that voters in school buildings are unaware of the influence of so-called "environmental stimuli." We like to think we're smarter than that. Who wants to admit that their vote was based even in part on whether they were standing in a school hallway or a gym rather than a church or a town hall when they cast their ballot? Are we that easily manipulated?

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:44 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Wisconsin K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Medicaid Meltdown

Steven Walters

A long-awaited audit documents the perfect storm that swamped state government's ability to manage Wisconsin's Medicaid program, which provided health care to 1.18 million elderly, poor and disabled at a cost of $7.5 billion last year.

It's an alarming read, even for an eyes-glaze-over financial report. It could be a tea party manifesto. It explains why Democrats, who ran the Capitol for a two-year period that ended a year ago, blocked earlier requests for the audit.

Between 2007 and 2011, state Auditor Joe Chrisman and his staff found, Medicaid budget and program controls were drowned by factors that included:

A state hiring freeze and a requirement that state workers take eight unpaid days for two straight years.

The 2008-'09 expansion of Medicaid to more than 100,000 children, families, pregnant women and adults without dependent children.

The recession, which cost thousands their jobs, forcing them and their families onto Medicaid rolls.

Between 2007 and 2011, the cost of Medicaid went up by 51% (from $5 billion to $7.5 billion), while its caseload went up by 36% (from 870,201 to 1.18 million). But there's so much more to ask about those numbers. At some point, lawmakers who must approve Medicaid budgets should ask the state Department of Health Services:

Out of control healthcare spending certainly affects K-12 budgets....

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:16 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Schools As Collateral Damage: The Price We Pay For A Decade Of Tweed's Failed Policies

Leo Casey:

Much like the brief torrential rain which drenched New Yorkers on Thursday morning, Mayor Bloomberg's Thursday afternoon State of the City Address received a deluge of media attention. Today, the print and electronic media feature talk of his jeremiad against the UFT, of his attempted resurrection of 'market reforms' such as merit pay which have been discredited even in 'reform' circles, as study after study has shown them ineffective, and of his claims that he will introduce a new evaluation system by fiat. Tellingly, nowhere will you read an account of what the Mayor's proposed imposition of closure under the Turn-Around model would mean for the PLA schools, were he to be successful in implementing it.

Consider what is happening to just a few of the PLA schools. Note that we use here the performance data that, the DoE insists, informs their decisions on the future of schools.

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Learn to code at any age

Emma Mulqueeny:

This is a cross-post of something I wrote for The Guardian, but just thought would be handy to have on the blog over here. It is also a small update from an old post: How to teach kids, or anyone, how to code - that's the history bit done! Now the science...

The beauty of programming is that it does not matter how old you are (within reason - under 7 is possibly a bit optimistic) you can learn using exactly the same, mostly free resources to be found on the Internet. You can learn basic programming easily within a year and then you can choose to hone and refine whichever aspects of coding most excite you. Done! It's not hard.

For the purposes of this post I have referred to resources aimed primarily at younger people - but they are all useful for the beginner.

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New York City gets a Software Engineering High School

Joel Spolsky:

This fall New York City will open The Academy for Software Engineering, the city's first public high school that will actually train kids to develop software. The project has been a long time dream of Mike Zamansky, the highly-regarded CS teacher at New York's elite Stuyvesant public high school. It was jump started when Fred Wilson, a VC at Union Square Ventures, promised to get the tech community to help with knowledge, advice, and money.

I'm on the board of advisors of the new school, which plans to accept ninth graders for fall of 2012. Here's why I'm excited about this new school:

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Take note: Buy-in required for teaching success

Alan Borsuk:

Naomi Lemberger says the way she takes notes in class helps things stick in her brain. She doesn't use the usual approach (scribble for page after page, then promptly forget - I've been doing it all my life).

In a typical instance, she takes those conventional notes within a box covering the upper right section of a sheet of paper and equal to about half the sheet. In a column on the left side of the paper, she writes down questions or sometimes phrases that her main notes cover. And, after a class or at the end of a unit, she writes in a box across the bottom of the sheet a reflection - basically, a summary of what she thinks she learned. She reviews the overall results, especially when she's preparing for tests. Teachers frequently review her notes.

It's a system called Cornell Notes. It goes back more than half a century and has been used (and often dropped) in many schools, including several in the Milwaukee area.

At Brookfield East, where Lemberger is a junior, Cornell Notes is a key element of the education program - and a key, in the opinion of school leaders and many teachers, to why the already high-performing school has seen an uptick in overall student success in recent years.

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Commentary on Teacher Pay for Performance, with UW-Madison Ed School Reflections

Todd Finkelmeyer

School principals then would have discretion over how to use those funds, as long as they go to teachers. Those dollars could be spent on one-time teacher bonuses, teacher development projects or however the principal sees fit. "The idea is to give principals more power and to help them create a culture of success," says Ford.

To be eligible to participate in the program, schools also would have to agree to eliminate the traditional teacher pay schedules that mainly reward longevity on the job.

"The No. 1 goal of public education in everything we do is raising academic achievement," says Ford. "So in the report I propose a framework that takes into account the views of teachers and the existing research on what motivates teachers."

It's certainly an interesting concept. But would it work?

Adam Gamoran, a UW-Madison professor of sociology and educational policy studies, says that while research clearly shows some teachers are much more effective than others, what's not so clear is which attributes these top educators share and whether or not it's even possible to lead them to teaching more effectively with incentives.

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January 15, 2012

School superintendents' bonuses may be 'an issue from the public's point of view'

Matthew DeFour:

Next year, Verona superintendent Dean Gorrell is in line to collect a $50,000 longevity bonus on top of his $140,000 salary.

In 2014, Madison superintendent Dan Nerad qualifies for a $37,500 payment for six years of service, which like Gorrell's would be paid into a retirement account. Nerad already receives an annual $10,000 payment into his retirement account, which is separate from his state pension and in addition to a $201,000 yearly salary.

And in 2017, Monona Grove superintendent Craig Gerlach can leave the job with an extra year's salary, currently $150,000, paid into a retirement account over the following five years.

Over the past decade, such perks have been added to some Dane County superintendent contracts, even as, on average, their salary increases outpaced teacher pay hikes, according to data provided by the Department of Public Instruction.

"Any type of payout at that level is clearly going to be an issue from the public's point of view," Dale Knapp, research director at the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, said of the longevity payouts. "The problem becomes once these start getting into contracts, it becomes competition and then they become more prevalent."

Adding bonus language to superintendent contracts became increasingly popular in recent years as school districts faced state-imposed rules on increasing employee compensation.

Perhaps, one day soon, teachers will have similar compensation freedom, or maybe, superintendents should operate under a one size fits all approach...

I'd rather see teacher freedom of movement, and compensation.

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What Happens After Enrollment? An Analysis of the Time Path of Racial Differences in GPA and Major Choice

Peter Arcidiaconoy, Esteban M. Aucejoz & Ken Spennerx:

If affirmative action results in minority students at elite schools having much potential but weak preparation, then we may expect minority students to start off behind their majority counterparts and then catch up over time. Indeed, at the private university we analyze, the gap between white and black grade point averages falls by half between the students' freshmen and senior year. However, this convergence masks two effects. First, the variance of grades given falls across time. Hence, shrinkage in the level of the gap may not imply shrinkage in the class rank gap. Second, grading standards differ across courses in different majors. We show that controlling for these two features virtually eliminates any convergence of black/white grades. In fact, black/white gpa convergence is symptomatic of dramatic shifts by blacks from initial interest in the natural sciences, engineering, and economics to majors in the humanities and social sciences. We show that natural science, engineering, and economics courses are more difficult, associated with higher study times, and have harsher grading standards; all of which translate into students with weaker academic backgrounds being less likely to choose these majors. Indeed, we show that accounting for academic background can fully account for differences in switching behaviors across blacks and whites.

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Straight Talk About Grading @ Princeton

Shirley Tilghman:

In the spring of 2004 the faculty adopted by a two-thirds majority vote a set of simple guidelines regarding the grading of undergraduate academic work. Of all the policies I have overseen in my 10 years as president, this has been the most contentious and misunderstood among students, parents and alumni. With the policy now seven years old, I thought it might be helpful to review its original rationale and update you on its impact on grading at Princeton.

Prior to 2004 there was no policy to guide faculty in awarding grades, and over time two worrisome trends became apparent. First, the percentage of "A" grades for coursework rose over the past four decades, from 30% in the 1970s to 32.5% in the 1980s to 43% in the 1990s and 47% in 2001-04. As much as we like to claim that each new class equals or surpasses the talents of the previous class, this increase was not unique to Princeton, but was happening in many secondary schools, colleges and universities. If left unchecked, grades would soon cease to be a meaningful way to provide feedback to students about their academic progress.

More troubling to me was the fact that the rate of inflation was not uniform throughout the curriculum. As shown in the orange bars in the figure here, "A" grades awarded by departments ranged from 67% at one end of the scale to 35% at the other. The impact of this disparity was clear--students concentrating their academic work in departments at the higher end of the scale had a significant advantage over those at the lower end. This struck many of us as deeply unfair to our students.

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How Smart Do You Think You Are? A Meta-Analysis on the Validity of Self-Estimates of Cognitive Ability

Philipp Alexander Freund and Nadine Kasten:

Individuals' perceptions of their own level of cognitive ability are expressed through self-estimates. They play an important role in a person's self-concept because they facilitate an understanding of how one's own abilities relate to those of others. People evaluate their own and other persons' abilities all the time, but self-estimates are also used in formal settings, such as, for instance, career counseling. We examine the relationship between self-estimated and psychometrically measured cognitive ability by conducting a random-effects, multilevel meta-analysis including a total of 154 effect sizes reported in 41 published studies. Moderator variables are specified in a mixed-effects model both at the level of the individual effect size and at the study level. The overall relationship is estimated at r = .33. There is significant heterogeneity at both levels (i.e., the true effect sizes vary within and between studies), and the results of the moderator analysis show that the validity of self-estimates is especially enhanced when relative scales with clearly specified comparison groups are used and when numerical ability is assessed rather than general cognitive ability. The assessment of less frequently considered dimensions of cognitive ability (e.g., reasoning speed) significantly decreases the magnitude of the relationship. From a theoretical perspective, Festinger's (1954) theory of social comparison and Lecky's (1945) theory of self- consistency receive empirical support. For practitioners, the assessment of self-estimates appears to provide diagnostic information about a person's self-concept that goes beyond a simple "test-and-tell" approach. This information is potentially relevant for career counselors, personnel recruiters, and teachers.

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On History & Geography Curriculum

Edward Luce:

"Americans don't learn about the world, they don't study world history, other than American history in a very one-sided fashion, and they don't study geography," Brzezinski says. "In that context of widespread ignorance, the ongoing and deliberately fanned fear about the outside world, which is connected with this grandiose war on jihadi terrorism, makes the American public extremely susceptible to extremist appeals." But surely most Americans are tired of overseas adventures, I say. "There is more scepticism," Brzezinski concedes. "But the susceptibility to demagoguery is still there."

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A New Approach to Teacher Compensation

Mike Ford:

Teachers are the most important factor in determining the success of students. No technology, curriculum, or standard can supplant the need for a quality teacher in every classroom. We know children learn differently, we know there is no single recipe for a successful teacher, yet we continue to pay teachers as if they are interchangeable assembly-line workers producing an identical commodity called education.

In a report released this week I propose dumping district-wide lock-step pay schedules that reward only formal education and years on the job in favor of a compensation reform that rewards and motivates teachers in a way conducive to raising the academic achievement. I do not propose a merit pay system that gives bonuses to individual teachers in return for raising test scores.

Why? The track record of such systems can at best be called uneven. Teachers are not uniformly motivated by monetary compensation. Research by UW-Madison professor Allan Odden and others shows teachers value collaboration and student success above other factors. Any reform that does not recognize this is doomed to fail. No less important, students need schools that deliver consistent teacher quality from start to finish so that the work of a good teacher in one grade is not undone by a sub-par teacher the next.

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: It's Worse Than You Think

Steve Prestegard

Regular readers know that state finances were worse than the Doyle administration admitted during its eight years of fiscal incompetence. But state finances are also worse than the Walker administration admits now.

The proof is the state's Comprehensive Annual Fiscal Report, an inch-thick annual tree-killer that summarizes the differences between politicians' claims about the state's fiscal health, and the reality of the state's fiscal health.

The differences lie in correctly measuring state finances, as the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance explains:

A recent WISTAX publication mentioned that Wisconsin Medicaid spending increased 87% from 2006 to 2011!

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Charter schools on Washington legislative agenda 'worth the fight': Many say we can't wait longer for solution; others worry

Brian Rosenthal:

The proposals would allow charter schools in the state, establish a process for failing schools to be taken over by outside organizations and continue an overhaul of the way all teachers and principals are evaluated.

Charters, which are public but independent schools allowed to use unconventional techniques, would be closely monitored by a state board, lawmakers said. Only 50 would be allowed in the state - with no more than 10 new ones authorized each year. Each would be required to adopt a specific plan to serve educationally disadvantaged children.

The evaluations, which would include student test scores and classroom observations, would build on a pilot system already used in several districts in the state, lawmakers said.

Poor performance on the evaluations could lead teachers to lose their tenure, but the focus would be on improvement of teaching methods.

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Homeless Long Island Teenager Is Intel Competition Semifinalist

CBS New York:

Samantha Garvey has good reason to be the recipient of high fives and congratulations from the faculty and students in the hallways at Brentwood High School.

The 17-year-old senior says she cannot believe that she is one of the semifinalists in the highly prestigious Intel Science Competition, in part because she lives in a Bay Shore homeless shelter with her parents, brother, and twin sisters.

"I am currently homeless. Like I've said, this motivates me to do better. I do well and I pursue my passion because it's what I have and it's a way out, you know, and it'll lead to better things," Garvey told WCBS 880 reporter Sophia Hall.

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Contempt, confusion, and cheers in State of the City reactions

Philissa Cramer:

Minutes after Mayor Bloomberg finished delivering his State of the City address today, reactions started flying about his aggressive slate of education proposals.

The reactions ranged from withering (in the case of UFT President Michael Mulgrew) to bewildered (Ernest Logan, principals union president) to supportive (charter school operator Eva Moskowitz and others whose organizations would benefit from the proposals).

Below, I've compiled the complete set of education-related reactions that dropped into my inbox. I'll add to the list as more reactions roll in.

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January 14, 2012

Madison Prep backers seek school board re-vote

Nathan Comp:

When asked why he didn't second Ed Hughes' motion at the Dec. 19 meeting to delay the schools' opening until 2013, Howard replied, "We had not discussed the implications of what that means. I think we have time if we're talking about 2013, to make sure we do it correctly, because we don't know what the rules of the game will be in 2013."

Superintendent Dan Nerad said, "Whether it will move forward I don't know. That depends on whether the motion gets on the floor. I don't have a read on it at this point."

Others aren't as diplomatic. "This is a waste of time and money for all involved," said TJ Mertz, an Edgewood College professor and district watchdog who is among Madison Prep's most ardent critics.

"The votes are not there and will not be there," he continued. "It distracts from the essential work of addressing the real issues of the district, including issues of achievement for students in poverty."

Much more on the proposed Madison Preparatory IB charter school, here.

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Thanks to Recent Reforms, Merit Pay Coming to Some Wisconsin School Districts

Christian D'Andrea:

A merit pay program that incentivizes teachers is about to get a test run at the local level. Two Wisconsin school districts are moving forward with a plan that would reward good teachers with salary bonuses in the 2012-2013 school year.

The Cedarburg and Hartland-Lakeside School Districts will be amongst the first to institute merit pay programs for educators in the Badger State. Bonuses will be tied to teacher evaluations - instructors that earn high marks from administrators will be eligible for extra compensation in the following school year. In Cedarburg, these additional payments range from $1,700 to $2,200.

The ability to institute bonus systems on a district-to-district basis is a new one in Wisconsin. In previous years, most plans would have been wiped out by collective bargaining between the school district and their local teachers' union. Since Act 10 removed most of these bargaining scenarios, school boards now have more freedom to enact reforms like merit pay in their classrooms.

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Arkansas Education Board approves 4 new charter Schools

Associated Press:

Arkansas' education board has approved four new charter schools.

The board voted unanimously Monday in favor of Cross County School District's proposed charter elementary school. The board also approved applications for proposed charter schools in Lincoln, Osceola and Warren.

Department of Education spokesman Seth Blomeley says charter schools are eligible to apply for up to $600,000 in federal money to use toward startup and other one-time costs.

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Adelanto parents pull 'trigger' to upgrade school

Christina Hoag:

Cecelia Thornton sets up a makeshift classroom at her kitchen table every day after school to tutor her grandchildren in reading and writing with materials she buys at the local thrift store in the Mojave Desert town of Adelanto (San Bernardino County).

The 5- and 6-year-olds, she said, just aren't learning enough in their classes at Desert Trails Elementary School.

That's the key reason why she and a band of other parents and guardians filed a petition Thursday under California's "parent trigger" law to demand reforms at the K-6 school where just 35 percent of pupils last year tested proficient in reading and 46 percent in math.

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The Evil Economics Of Judging Teachers

Maria Bustillos:

The Times and a host of other publications heralded last week's new study extolling the lifelong money-earning benefits of having a good primary/middle-school teacher. Oh, yay! Let's do what these economists from the National Bureau of Economic Research suggest, right?

Actually, ugh, no. What economists Raj Chetty and John N. Friedman of Harvard and Jonah Rockoff of Columbia want to do, apparently, is to identify and fire "weaker" teachers, for the sake of a barely perceptible increase in students' "lifetime income." Nobody has actually tried this yet; the report doesn't describe an experiment. It's just the conclusion they draw from their analysis of massive amounts of data gathered from public schools in New York City and cross-referenced against IRS records and the like.

Here's a bit from the summary of the original paper. Note that a "high-VA" ("value-added") teacher is a "good" one--meaning by this, solely, that the teacher in question has succeeded in raising standardized test scores.

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It's hard to overestimate the value of a good teacher

Nicholas Kristof:

Our faltering education system may be the most important threat to our economy and well-being, writes Nicholas D. Kristof, so it's frustrating that the presidential campaign is mostly ignoring the issue. The obvious policy solution is more pay for good teachers, more dismissals for weak teachers.

Suppose your child is about to enter the fourth grade and has been assigned to an excellent teacher. Then the teacher decides to quit. What should you do?

The correct answer? Panic!

Well, not exactly. But a landmark new research paper underscores that the difference between a strong teacher and a weak teacher lasts a lifetime. Having a good fourth-grade teacher makes a student 1.25 percent more likely to go to college, the research suggests, and 1.25 percent less likely to get pregnant as a teenager. Each of the students will go on as an adult to earn, on average, $25,000 more over a lifetime -- or about $700,000 in gains for an average size class -- all attributable to that ace teacher back in the fourth grade. That's right: A great teacher is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to each year's students, just in the extra income they will earn

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:12 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

4 reasons your brain loves to learn online

Dave Goodsmith:

Are we offloading our brains onto the web? Are programs better than teachers at knowing what we know? Do virtual badges motivate more than grades? What is it about cartoon foxes that helps us learn to code? As you can read in our piece "How the Internet Revolutionized Education", we've been tracking on-line education closely for some time now- talking to experts and keeping tabs on an industry that's exploding as predicted. Over here at the science desk, recent developments on the learning brain are meshing with what we already know of the web's power to teach.

We've analyzed here four different special powers of online teaching that make brains very happy. Read on to see why curing code-o-phobia is just the beginning...

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Royal Society offers ways to overhaul ICT Teaching


The Royal Society has suggested ways the government can overhaul information and communications technology (ICT) teaching in schools.

It follows promises from Education Secretary Michael Gove to scrap the way the subject is taught currently.

The body, which oversees UK sciences, recommends dividing computing into distinct subjects such as computer science and digital literacy.

It said the government must do more to recruit specialist ICT teachers.

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January 13, 2012

Madison Prep supporters vow to keep pushing until vote is yes

Dan Simmons:

Leaders of a proposed charter school for low-income minority students said Friday that they expect to have sufficient funding and will open Madison Prep as a private academy next fall but will continue to return to the Madison School Board for approval, starting with a proposed revote in February to make the school a publicly funded charter starting in 2013.

That would be just weeks before a Madison School Board election in which two Madison Prep supporters are vying for seats.

"We will go back, and we'll go back, and we'll go back until the vote is a yes," said Laura DeRoche-Perez, director of school development at the Urban League of Greater Madison. "That is because we cannot wait."

The prospects for school board approval for the 2013 opening, at least with the current board, appear uncertain after the same board voted against the school opening in 2012 by a 5-2 margin in December. Those who opposed cited the school's plan to use non-union teachers and staff and concerns over the school's accountability to taxpayers and the district and don't appear to have wavered in their opposition.

Much more on the proposed Madison Preparatory IB charter school, here.

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A poverty solution that starts with a hug

Nicholas Kristof
Perhaps the most widespread peril children face isn't guns, swimming pools or speeding cars. Rather, scientists are suggesting that it may be "toxic stress" early in life, or even before birth.

This month, the American Academy of Pediatrics is issuing a landmark warning that this toxic stress can harm children for life. I'm as skeptical as anyone of headlines from new medical studies (Coffee is good for you! Coffee is bad for you!), but that's not what this is.

Rather, this is a "policy statement" from the premier association of pediatricians, based on two decades of scientific research. This has revolutionary implications for medicine and for how we can more effectively chip away at poverty and crime.

Toxic stress might arise from parental abuse of alcohol or drugs. It could occur in a home where children are threatened and beaten. It might derive from chronic neglect -- a child cries without being cuddled. Affection seems to defuse toxic stress -- keep those hugs and lullabies coming! -- suggesting that the stress emerges when a child senses persistent threats but no protector.

Cues of a hostile or indifferent environment flood an infant, or even a fetus, with stress hormones like cortisol in ways that can disrupt the body's metabolism or the architecture of the brain.

The upshot is that children are sometimes permanently undermined. Even many years later, as adults, they are more likely to suffer heart disease, obesity, diabetes and other physical ailments. They are also more likely to struggle in school, have short tempers and tangle with the law.

The crucial period seems to be from conception through early childhood. After that, the brain is less pliable and has trouble being remolded.

"You can modify behavior later, but you can't rewire disrupted brain circuits," notes Jack P. Shonkoff, a Harvard pediatrician who has been a leader in this field. "We're beginning to get a pretty compelling biological model of why kids who have experienced adversity have trouble learning."

This new research addresses an uncomfortable truth: Poverty is difficult to overcome partly because of self-destructive behaviors. Children from poor homes often shine, but others may skip school, abuse narcotics, break the law, and have trouble settling down in a marriage and a job. Then their children may replicate this pattern.

Liberals sometimes ignore these self-destructive pathologies. Conservatives sometimes rely on them to blame poverty on the poor.

The research suggests that the roots of impairment and underachievement are biologically embedded, but preventable. "This is the biology of social class disparities," Shonkoff said. "Early experiences are literally built into our bodies."

The implication is that the most cost-effective window to bring about change isn't high school or even kindergarten --although much greater efforts are needed in schools as well -- but in the early years of life, or even before birth.

"Protecting young children from adversity is a promising, science-based strategy to address many of the most persistent and costly problems facing contemporary society, including limited educational achievement, diminished economic productivity, criminality, and disparities in health," the pediatrics academy said in its policy statement.

One successful example of early intervention is home visitation by childcare experts, like those from the Nurse-Family Partnership. This organization sends nurses to visit poor, vulnerable women who are pregnant for the first time. The nurse warns against smoking and alcohol and drug abuse, and later encourages breast-feeding and good nutrition, while coaxing mothers to cuddle their children and read to them. This program continues until the child is 2.

At age 6, studies have found, these children are only one-third as likely to have behavioral or intellectual problems as others who weren't enrolled. At age 15, the children are less than half as likely to have been arrested.

Evidence of the importance of early experiences has been mounting like snowflakes in a blizzard. For example, several studies examined Dutch men and women who had been in utero during a brief famine at the end of World War II. Decades later, those "famine babies" had more trouble concentrating and more heart disease than those born before or after.

Other scholars examined children who had been badly neglected in Romanian orphanages. Those who spent more time in the orphanages had shorter telomeres, a change in chromosomes that's a marker of accelerated aging. Their brain scans also looked different.

The science is still accumulating. But a compelling message from biology is that if we want to chip away at poverty and improve educational and health outcomes, we have to start earlier. For many children, damage has been suffered before the first day of school.

As Frederick Douglass noted, "It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men."

Nicholas Kristof is a columnist for The New York Times.

Posted by Jeff Henriques at 10:30 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

The Value-Add Map Is Not the Teaching Territory, But You'll Still Get Lost without It

Greg Forster:

Since we're so deep into the subject of value-added testing and the political pressures surrounding it, I thought I'd point out this recently published study tracking two and a half million students from a major urban district all the way to adulthood. (HT Whitney Tilson)

They compare teacher-specific value added on math and English scores with eventual life outcomes, and apply tests to determine whether the results are biased either by student sorting on observable variables (the life outcomes of their parents, obtained from the same life-outcome data) or unobserved variables (they use teacher switches to create a quasi-experimental approach).

Much more on value added assessment, here.

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The Great Teacher Debate

Jerry Ortiz y Pino:

New Mexico lawmakers are considering a proposal from the Martinez administration to link teacher evaluations to student test scores. This is a crucial element in the overall reform plan offered by Public Education Secretary Hanna Skandera. Not surprisingly, it's proving contentious. It will be a huge topic in the coming 30-day legislative session set to begin Tuesday, Jan. 17.

The Obama administration's education secretary, Arne Duncan, favors eliminating legal barriers to linking student test scores to teacher evaluations. That means student tests could determine tenure, raises and even termination. He talks about it in the Atlantic Monthly article "What Makes a Great Teacher?" which goes into great detail about the efforts of educational researchers to tease out what constitutes excellence in teaching. Are great teachers just hard-wired that way, or can we cultivate them?

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The Costs of Online Learning

Tamara Butler Battaglino, Matt Haldeman, and Eleanor Laurans:

The latest installment of the Fordham Institute's Creating Sound Policy for Digital Learning series investigates one of the more controversial aspects of digital learning: How much does it cost? In this paper, the Parthenon Group uses interviews with more than fifty vendors and online-schooling experts to estimate today's average per-pupil cost for a variety of schooling models, traditional and online, and presents a nuanced analysis of the important variance in cost between different school designs. These ranges--from $5,100 to $7,700 for full-time virtual schools, and $7,600 to $10,200 for the blended version--highlight both the potential for low-cost online schooling and the need for better data on costs and outcomes in order for policymakers to reach confident conclusions related to the productivity and efficiency of these promising new models. Download "The Costs of Online Learning" to learn more.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:38 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Parents Rebel Against School

Stephanie Banchero:

Fed-up parents of students attending a low-performing school in Southern California aim to use the power given to them by the state to take an unusual step: fire the school.

This power, called a Parent Trigger, was passed into law in California in 2010, but parents are attempting for only the second time to use it at Desert Trails Elementary outside Los Angeles. Their effort to force Adelanto Elementary School District to overhaul the school, or turn it into a charter school run by the parents themselves, is expected to be closely watched across the nation.

Similar legislation passed in Texas and Mississippi last year and is under consideration in Florida, Pennsylvania and Indiana this year.

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Bloomberg Vows Tougher Steps to Help Troubled Schools

David Chen & Anna Phillips:

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, directly confronting leaders of the teachers' union, proposed on Thursday a merit-pay system that would award top performers with $20,000 raises and threatened to remove as many as half of those working at New York City's most troubled schools.

Delivering his 11th and penultimate State of the City address, Mr. Bloomberg vowed to double down on his longstanding efforts to revive the city's long-struggling schools, saying, "We have to be honest with ourselves: we have only climbed halfway up the mountain, and halfway isn't good enough."

"We cannot accept failing schools," he said during an often-passionate one-hour speech at Morris High School in the Bronx. "And we cannot accept excuses for inaction or delay."

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January 12, 2012

Madison Prep and Urban League to seek new vote on Madison Prep

Kaleem Caire, via email:


For immediate release: January 12, 2012
Contact: Laura DeRoche-Perez
Director of School Development
Urban League of Greater Madison
2222 S. Park St., Suite 200
Madison, WI 53713
608-729-1230 (office)
608-556-2066 (cell)

Urban League and Madison Prep Boards to Hold Press Conference
Will announce their plans to seek a new vote on authorizing the opening of Madison Prep for 2013

WHAT: Madison Preparatory Academy and the Urban League of Greater Madison will announce their intentions to seek a February 2012 vote by the Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education to authorize Madison Prep to open in the fall of 2013. Three MMSD Board of Education members have already shared their support of the motion.

WHEN: 3:30 pm CST, Friday, January 13
WHERE: Urban League of Greater Madison, 2222 S. Park St., Madison, WI 53713
WHO: Madison Preparatory Academy Board of Directors
Urban League of Greater Madison

For more information, contact Laura DeRoche-Perez, Director of School Development, Urban League of Greater Madison, at or 608-729-1230.

Much more on the proposed Madison Preparatory IB charter school, here.

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Time to Ax Public Programs That Don't Yield Results (Start with Head Start)

Joel Klein, via a kind reader's email:

Barack Obama has been accused of "class warfare" because he favors closing several tax loopholes -- socialism for the wealthy -- as part of the deficit-cutting process. This is a curious charge: class warfare seems to be a one-way street in American politics. Over the past 30 years, the superwealthy have waged far more effective warfare against the poor and the middle class, via their tools in Congress, than the other way around. How else can one explain the fact that the oil companies, despite elephantine profits, are still subsidized by the federal government? How else can one explain the fact that hedge-fund managers pay lower tax rates than their file clerks? Or that farm subsidies originally meant for family farmers go to huge corporations that hardly need the help?

Actually, there is an additional explanation. Conservatives, like liberals, routinely take advantage of a structural flaw in the modern welfare state: there is no creative destruction when it comes to government programs. Both "liberal" and "conservative" subsidies linger in perpetuity, sometimes metastasizing into embarrassing giveaways. Even the best-intentioned programs are allowed to languish in waste and incompetence. Take, for example, the famed early-education program called Head Start. (See more about the Head Start reform process.)

The idea is, as Newt Gingrich might say, simple liberal social engineering. You take the million or so poorest 3- and 4-year-old children and give them a leg up on socialization and education by providing preschool for them; if it works, it saves money in the long run by producing fewer criminals and welfare recipients -- and more productive citizens. Indeed, Head Start did work well in several pilot programs carefully run by professionals in the 1960s. And so it was "taken to scale," as the wonks say, as part of Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty.

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Race talk fuels tension in Madison Prep debate

Pat Schneider:

That Kaleem Caire, the charismatic champion of the Madison Preparatory Academy, is frustrated by the proposal's defeat before the Madison School Board last month should surprise no one.

But the prospect that resentment over the defeat of the proposal runs so deep that it could poison the initiative's future prospects as a private school or public charter -- that's a distressing possibility whose existence is just now emerging.

The proposal for the school by the Urban League of Greater Madison has won many supporters because of the embarrassingly persistent achievement gap between whites and minorities in the Madison School District, but when Caire spoke Monday to Communities United, a community group dedicated to social justice, his passionate appeal to go beyond the district's existing model was laced with anger towards the School Board members who voted down the plan.

Much of the discussion Monday between Caire and a handful of staffers from the Urban League -- where he is president and CEO -- and those at the Communities United meeting centered around the ultra-sensitive topics of race and racism.

Even in that friendly environment (the informal, nonpartisan coalition was already on record in favor of the school), Caire's accusations against school officials were rejected as political spin by a Madison City Council member on hand and criticized as more of the "race card" by an African-American activist who has skirmished with Caire before over Madison Prep. But a Latina parent and activist greeted his words as an apt assessment of the situation in Madison schools.

Much more on the proposed Madison Preparatory IB charter school, here.

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Minnesota Dual High School/College Credit

Center for School Change:

Take advantage of great dual credit courses at your high school! Many of Minnesota's high schools offer Dual Credit programs that allow qualifying students to earn college credit while still in high school at little or no cost. Dual Credit programs are a great way for high school students to challenge themselves academically, earn college credit, and save time and money. Eligible high school students can choose to participate in the following dual credit programs: Postsecondary Enrollment Options (PSEO),Concurrent Enrollment (CE), Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB).

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 3:16 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

On Her Majesty's School Inspection Service

Craig Jerald:

After more than a decade (and four years behind schedule) Congress finally seems ready to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. For years, critics have complained that the law's focus on test scores offers far too narrow a picture for judging school quality. There is also concern that the "adequate yearly progress," or AYP, formula is too inflexible to diagnose the strengths and weaknesses of schools.

The track record of NCLB also suggests that it hasn't been especially successful in turning around the most troubled schools. In fact, among the 1,200 schools identified for "corrective action" in 2005-06, fully 70 percent were still under an improvement category three years later.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:20 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

China: The rise of the 'Precious Snowflakes'

Malcolm Moore:

First there were the Little Emperors, the often chubby and spoiled first generation of children born under China's one-child policy. Now the Precious Snowflakes have emerged - a generation so coddled some cannot even tie their own shoelaces.

They are 'Precious Snowflakes', wrapped in cotton wool from day one," said Paul French, the founder of Access Asia, a China-based research company.

"Nothing is ever quite right for them. It is always either too hot or too cold and they are all hypochondriacs. They get immediately stressed out if they ever have to lift a finger," he said.

In a world of smog, toxic food and unsure medical care, middle-class Chinese parents are spending ever-larger sums of money to insulate their children from harm.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:10 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Oregon districts start their own charter schools to gain federal funding, flexibility

Nicole Dungca:

When a fledgling charter school took over the Cottrell Elementary building this fall, district administrators didn't worry about losing per-pupil state funding, and there were no protests decrying the move as a threat to public education.

That's because the Oregon Trail School District created the charter school.

Amid increasing budget constraints and continued pressure to reform public education, some savvy educators are taking advantage of federal charter school grants of up to $500,000 to create a hybrid: the district-initiated charter school.

In Oregon, taxpayers finance charter schools, which are typically run by organizations independent from school districts. But two Clackamas County districts have discovered the Oregon charter school law can provide extra funds and flexibility for their own innovative programs.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:54 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

A Radical Solution For America's Worsening College Tuition Bubble

Kevin Carey:

Over the last three decades, through good economic times and bad, one of the few constants in American life has been the relentless rise in the price of higher education. The numbers are stark: According to the non-profit College Board, public four-year universities raised tuition and fees by 8.3 percent this year, more than double the rate of inflation. This was typical: Over the last decade, public university tuition grew by an average of 5.6 percent above inflation every year. And the problem is also getting worse: In the 1990s, the annual real increase was 3.2 percent. In the 1980s, it was 4.5 percent.

Even as the economy has reorganized itself to make college degrees increasingly indispensable for the pursuit of a decent career, federal financial aid programs and family income haven't been able to keep up with incredibly buoyant tuition bills. Students and families have been left with only one recourse: borrowing. The federal government is now lending college students over $100 billion per year, a 56 percent per-student increase, after adjusting for inflation, from just ten years ago. Most undergraduates borrow today, and leave college with an average of over $25,000 in debt. And as the many signs displayed by the Occupy movement attest, some young people owe much more than that. For a growing number of students, entering the lucrative college-educated realms of the economy is like being smuggled across the border--you can get to the promised land if you try hard enough, but you arrive in a state of indentured servitude to the shady operators who overcharged you for the trip.

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Madison's La Follette High School team shows off financial savvy at Investment Challenge

Judy Newman:

More than 125 high school students from the Madison area showed off their financial savvy Tuesday at the Finance and Investment Challenge Bowl.

The contest pitted teams from 32 local schools against each other, two teams at a time, with experts in the financial industry serving as moderators and judges.

The teens fielded questions such as:

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Strengthening the civic mission of charter schools

Cheryl Miller, Robin Lake, via a kind Deb Britt email:

Charter schools provide an intriguing opportunity to rethink the role of public schools in preparing students to become informed and engaged participants in the American political system. As public schools of choice, charter schools are freed from many rules and regulations that can inhibit innovation and improvement. They can readily adopt best practices in civic education and encourage (or even mandate) extracurricular activities to enhance civic learning. With their decentralized approach to administration, they can allow parents and students a far greater role in school governance than they would have in traditional public schools.

In exchange for that flexibility, charter schools must define a clear mission and performance outcomes for themselves. In service of their chosen missions, high-performing charters seek to forge a transformative school culture for their students--expressed in slogans on hallway placards, banners, and T-shirts, and heard in chants, ceremonies, and codes of conduct. Successful charters create a culture in which everyone associated with the school is united around a common mission, enabling them to articulate goals and aspirations that might otherwise be hampered by constituency politics and parental objections. Charter school leaders can (and do) speak forthrightly about the need to teach students good social skills, instill among their pupils a sense of community, and encourage students to make positive change in the world.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:25 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Higher education: Options remain crucial

The News Times:

Congratulations to Ridgefield High School for achieving a four-year graduation rate of 97.2 percent -- among the highest in the state -- with its Class of 2010.

As a whole, high schools in Connecticut improved their four-year graduation rates from 2009 to 2010, the most recent year for which state statistics are available, exceeding 81 percent graduation in four years.

But what happens next for all of those high school graduates?
There continues to be a chasm between the economic realities many families face and the exorbitant cost of college. A quality education is well worth a long-term investment, but not lifetime indentured servitude to a student loan provider.

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Gates Foundation Urges Better Teacher Evaluations, Neglects to Mention Quick and Easy Method

Nina Shapiro:

​The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation just came out with its latest advice for how to improve schools. As the foundation sees it, districts don't have a good sense of who their good and bad teachers are, and need better evaluations. But is this really the problem?
Ever since it abandoned its former educational preoccupation, small schools, the Gates Foundation has hit upon stellar teaching as the key to transforming the nation's schools. It's not exactly a new idea, but it's one worthy of rediscovering.

A Stanford economist named Eric Hanushek has put into numerical terms a concept that most people know with their gut. A New Yorker story on the matter a few years ago summarized his findings: "Students of a very bad teacher will learn, on average, half a year's worth of material in one school year. The students in the class of a very good teacher will learn a year and a half's worth of material."

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Soon, $1,000 Will Map Your Genes

Ron Winslow & Shirley Wang:

The quest to harness the power of DNA to develop personalized medicine is on the threshold of a major milestone: the $1,000 genome sequencing.

Life Technologies Corp., a Carlsbad, Calif., genomics company, plans to introduce Tuesday a machine it says will be able to map an individual's entire genetic makeup for $1,000 by the end of this year. Moreover, the machine and accompanying microchip technology, both developed by the company's Ion Torrent unit, will deliver the information in a day, the company says.

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Missouri schools would be required to verify immigration status of students under new proposal

Jason Hancock:

Missouri could be the next battleground in a nationwide fight over tougher immigration laws.

State Sen. Will Kraus, a Lee's Summit Republican, is sponsoring a bill that would mandate that all public schools verify the immigration status of enrollees. It also would require law enforcement officers to check immigration status on all stops when they have reasonable cause, and create a state misdemeanor for not carrying proper citizenship documentation.

The U.S. Department of Justice last year sued to block similar laws after they were passed in Alabama and Arizona. Federal judges have blocked implementation of parts of the laws in both states, with the U.S. Supreme Court agreeing to hear arguments on Arizona's law sometime this year.

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January 11, 2012

Science Envy

Historian David McCullough was asked by a reporter recently if he started writing any of his books with a theme. He said that when he became interested in a subject he started reading to see what he could find out about it, but he had no advance idea of what would result.

Even those of our teachers who do work with students on research papers too frequently indulge in the science envy of requiring them to have a thesis. Students are asked to have some prior notion of the history they will read which they will test to see whether it is falsifiable or not.

Science is rich, famous and powerful, so it is not surprising that it is envied in our culture, but it should be remembered that its practice is to reduce, as much as possible, reality to numbers.

History does not lend itself well to a reduction to numbers, as it is about human beings, who also cannot very well be competently encompassed by numerical descriptions.

Words are the numbers of history, and words connote as much as they denote, they contain and evoke possibility and ambiguity in ways that the number users of science sometimes find annoyingly imprecise and quite uncomfortable.

The study of history should begin with curiosity about people and events: What was that person really like? How did that event come to happen and what resulted from it? These are the sort of non-thesis questions that our students of history should be asking, instead of fitting themselves out for their journey of learning about the past hampered with the straitjacket of a thesis.

Serious history students are often curious over something they have read about. They want to know more, and, when they have learned quite a bit, they frequently want to tell others what they have discovered. Like scientists, they are curious, but unlike them, they are willing to live with the uncertainties that are the essential ingredients of human experience.

Science has earned our admiration, but its methods are not suitable to all inquiries and we should not let envy of the success of science mislead us into trying to shrink-wrap history to fit some thesis with which students would have to begin their study of history.

David McCullough has reported that when he speaks to groups very often he is asked how much time he spends doing research and how much time he spends writing. He said he is never asked how much time he spends thinking.

The secondary students of history published in The Concord Review do not generally begin their work with a thesis to prove or disprove, but rather with wonder about something in history. The quality of their papers reveals that not only have they done a good deal of reading and research--if there is any difference there--but that they also have spent some serious time thinking about what they have learned, as well as how to tell someone else about it.

They have inevitably encountered the complex causes of historical events (no control groups there) and the variety of forces and inclinations both within and without the historical figures they have studied.

Some of these students are very good in calculus, science, and so forth, but they realize that history is a different form of inquiry and provides a non-reductionist view of the truth of human life, but one that may be instructive or inspiring in several ways.

So I urge teachers of students of history, who are asking them to write serious research papers, to let them choose their own topics, based on their own wonder and curiosity about the past, and to relieve them of the science envy of a thesis requirement. Let them embark on their own study of some part of the immense and mysterious ocean of history, and help them return with a story and an understanding they can call their own and can share, through serious research papers, with other students of history.

"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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To Do Well In life, You Have To Read Well

Author Walter Dean Myers is the nation's latest ambassador for young people's literature. The two-year post is something like a youth version of poet laureate. As a young man in Harlem, Myers hid his books so no one would know he liked to read. David Greene talks to Myers about his appointment and what he wants to accomplish.

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James Howard: Board responsible for narrowing gap

Madison School Board President James Howard

Accountability for significantly narrowing the achievement gap must be at the top of the Madison School District agenda in 2012. How long should the current members of the School Board, Superintendant Dan Nerad, the administration and staff have to demonstrate gains in narrowing the gap?

In 2010 a five-year strategic plan was implemented with narrowing achievement gaps as the number one priority, and we are now starting to get results from the initiatives in the plan.

What will the level of accountability be for those of us who approved the plan? What will the level of accountability be for those of us who have responsibility for implementing the plan?

The question must be: Have we achieved the desired results or educational outcomes demanded by the taxpayers?

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:05 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Why Are Smart People Usually Ugly?

Daniel Engber:

It's been a few weeks since we posted the questions that the Explainer was either unwilling or unable to answer in 2011. Among this year's batch of imponderables were inquiries like, Are the blind sleepy all the time? and Does anyone ever get a sex change back? We asked our readers to pick the question that most deserved an answer in the Explainer column. Some 10,000 of you were able to register a vote, and the winning question is presented below. But first, the runners-up:

In third place, with 6.6 percent of the total votes, a bit of speculative evolutionary biology: Let's say that a meteor never hits the earth, and dinosaurs continue evolving over all the years human beings have grown into what we are today. What would they be like?

In second place, with 7.5 percent, an inquiry into pharmacokinetics: Why does it take 45 minutes for the pharmacy to get your prescription ready--even when no one else is waiting?

And in first place, with the support of 9.4 percent of our readers, the winner by a landslide and Explainer Question of the Year for 2011:

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Clean Your Room...or Else

Sue Shellenbarger:

Eighteen-year-old Kayla Perkins explains the organizational system she uses in her bedroom: "I throw something on the ground and I know right where it is."

Funny, her parents, Steve and Deborah Perkins of McKinney, Texas, haven't caught on. They see only mountains of clothing on the floor, empty snack bowls under the bed and soda cups littering the tabletops. Even Kayla acknowledges that, at its worst, her room is "a mess."

The Battle of the Bedroom: Many parents can relate to this picture. Most families at some point have at least one teen or pre-teen whose room resembles a landfill. The mess can disrupt the whole household. Dirty clothes pile up, triggering early morning crises when there is nothing to wear. Soiled dishes get lost in the mess, smell bad and attract critters. Homework is lost, and valuables are ruined.

Some parents let it go, reasoning that a bedroom is private space for children to manage as they wish. Others lecture their children, offer rewards for cleaning or impose consequences when they don't. What doesn't work, parenting experts say, is relentless nagging, hollow threats or getting very angry.

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California community colleges approve overhaul

Nanette Asimov:

Over the objections of angry college students and worried faculty members, California community college leaders voted Monday to support a systemwide overhaul that could end many free classes for older adults and squeeze out students who fail to move quickly through the system.

The 22 recommendations approved by the college system's Board of Governors are intended to address a devilish problem: Essential classes are in critically short supply and thousands of students are turned away from classes they need because of the state's economic crisis.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:11 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Scott Milfred talks Madison Prep, Walker recall, Iowa results on "For the Record"

Wisconsin State Journal:

Click here to watch Sunday's "For the Record" on WISC-TV (Ch. 3) with Neil Heinen. Panelists include State Journal editorial page editor Scott Milfred, Republican insider Brandon Schulz and The Progressive editor Matt Rothschild. They bantered about the recent Iowa caucus results, the U.S. Senate race in Wisconsin, the likely gubernatorial recall and the coming Madison School Board elections, which Milfred argues are likely to decide whether a charter school called Madison Preparatory Academy opens its doors."

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January 10, 2012

Power of Mom's Voice Silenced by Instant Messages

Brandon Keim:

Instant messages are ubiquitous and convenient, but something primal may be lost in translation.

When girls stressed by a test talked with their moms, stress hormones dropped and comfort hormones rose. When they used IM, nothing happened. By the study's neurophysiological measures, IM was barely different than not communicating at all.

"IM isn't really a substitute for in-person or over-the-phone interaction in terms of the hormones released," said anthropologist Leslie Seltzer of the University of Wisconsin, lead author of the new study. "People still need to interact the way we evolved to interact."

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Charter-School Management Organizations: Diverse Strategies and Diverse Student Impacts

Joshua Furgeson, Brian Gill,
Joshua Haimson, Alexandra Killewald, Moira McCullough, Ira Nichols-Barrer, Bing-ru Teh, Natalya Verbitsky-Savitz Mathematica Policy Research; Melissa Bowen, Allison Demeritt,
Paul Hill, Robin Lake Center on Reinventing Public Education

Charter schools--public schools of choice that are operated autonomously, outside the direct control of local school districts--have become more prevalent over the past two decades. There is no consensus about whether, on average, charter schools are doing better or worse than conventional public schools at promoting the achievement of their students. Nonetheless, one research finding is clear: Effects vary widely among different charter schools. Many educators, policymakers, and funders are interested in ways to identify and replicate successful charter schools and help other public schools adopt effective charter school practices.
Charter-school management organizations (CMOs), which establish and operate multiple charter schools, represent one prominent attempt to bring high performance to scale. Many CMOs were created in order to replicate educational approaches that appeared to be effective, particularly among disadvantaged students. Attracting substantial philanthropic support, CMO schools have grown rapidly in the past decade. Some of these organizations have received laudatory attention through anecdotal reports of dramatic achievement results.

The National Study of CMO Effectiveness aims to fill the gap in systematic evidence about CMOs, providing the first rigorous nationwide examination of CMOs' effects on students' achievement and attainment. The study includes an examination of the relationships between the practices of individual CMOs and their effects on student achievement, with the aim of providing useful guidance to the field. Mathematica Policy Research and the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) are conducting the study with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation and project management assistance from the NewSchools Venture Fund. This updated edition of the report provides key findings from the study on CMO practices, impacts, and the relationships between them. A forthcoming report will explore promising practices in greater depth.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 3:38 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Stanford Free Classes - A review from a Stanford Student


Recently Stanford has started a new initiative to bring free classes to the public. From what I've seen from statistics, this venture has been extraordinarily successful with over 100,000 sign ups. Most likely only a fraction went through with the class, but that's still a lot of people, especially for the first time. There has been quite a lot of press about these classes, but none seem to take into account the effects it has on the students that attend Stanford. Despite the success and the raves of great reviews, I was not at all satisfied by the CS229a: Applied Machine Learning, one of the three courses offered to the public fall quarter. Before I begin though, I want to say that I completely agree that education should not be locked up for only a few to use and I also agree that since education, in my mind, is a right, then it should be provided for free. Thus the Stanford initiative to do this is a great thing. However, there are quite a few things that hopefully Stanford will change in the future.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:40 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

How Generous Should Parents Be?

Kelly Greene:

Parents are willing to help out, or bail out, their adult children in many circumstances.

But don't expect help if you run up your credit-card bill or want to buy a house.

A survey released by MetLife's Mature Market Institute today found that nearly half of the parents surveyed feel they have a "strong responsibility" to provide financial support for their children's higher education. They do stop short of paying 100% of college tuition if the cost is particularly high.

Only 11% feel they would have the same obligation to help their children financially if they get into debt due to overspending. About 2,100 Americans ages 21 to 65 with at least $40,000 in household income were surveyed online in June and July by Mathew Greenwald & Associates.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:49 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Madison's K-12 Curriculum Plans

Lisa Wachtel & Sue Abplanap: An update on the Madison School District's literacy and math curriculum.

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

IRA History Project Snags U.S. School

Devlin Barret:

A U.S. appeals court is weighing whether Boston College must turn over to criminal investigators recordings from an oral history project about Northern Ireland that could expose embarrassing secrets of the Irish Republican Army's past.

An Irish paper in 2010 quoted Dolours Price as saying she drove Ms. McConville to her killers.

The case suggests new legal hurdles and costs for universities that gather historical records of conflicts around the world.

At the heart of the legal dispute is the unsolved, nearly 40-year-old killing of Jean McConville, a widowed mother abducted in front of her children and murdered by the IRA as a suspected spy for the British government. The IRA has admitted to the murder though the killers never were identified.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:40 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

School Spotlight: Miracle on Hudson co-pilot Skiles inspires aviation students

Pamela Cotant:

Jeff Skiles, one of the cockpit crew who safely landed a disabled US Airways plane on the Hudson River three years ago, shared the exciting tale when he spoke to Edgewood High School students recently.

Skiles, who was first officer on the last leg of his first assignment in the Airbus A320 when it struck a flock of Canada geese Jan. 15, 2009, encouraged students in the Aviation I and II classes to consider a career in the field.

"It's an exciting life," he said. "I could have never chosen a better thing for my life."

One of the students, Ava Janssen, 16, a junior at Verona Area High School who comes to Edgewood to learn about aviation, is looking at a career flying medical flight helicopters and found Skiles' talk inspiring.

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

January 9, 2012

School Board rips Nerad's diversity proposal

It is taken as conventional wisdom that "there aren't any" teachers, administrators, or other people of color and that's why MMSD's staff lacks diversity. According to the document at the link below, people of color are applying. They aren't getting hired. That is happening in many cases because the applicants - even for entry level jobs - are "screened out" because they "lack the qualifications" or have other deficits. Others are referred for interviews but not hired. This is the case from custodians and educational assistants up through principals and high level administrators.

It is true that recruitment must improve for teachers, but I would argue that is about missed opportunities (e.g. job fairs in urban districts undergoing layoffs, continuing to rely on UW-Madison as the largest source of teacher candidates given the lack of diversity in the School of Education, etc.). It also is about entrenched patterns of hiring, that could be changed with high quality leadership.

The decision to post a position as a strongly HR/employment-related position and then hire someone with no experience in those areas is disturbing given the MMSD's track record and the need to make knowledgeable, skillful, and significant change. Indeed, it points to the fundamental problem in diversifying MMSD staff at any level.

Full story at:

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Teacher Retention: Estimating The Effects Of Financial Incentives In Denver

Eleanor Fullbeck:

There is currently much interest in improving access to high-quality teachers (Clotfelter, Ladd, & Vigdor, 2010; Hanushek, 2007) through improved recruitment and retention. Prior research has shown that it is difficult to retain teachers, particularly in high-poverty schools (Boyd et al., 2011; Ingersoll, 2004). Although there is no one reason for this difficulty, there is some evidence to suggest teachers may leave certain schools or the profession in part because of dissatisfaction with low salaries (Ingersoll, 2001).

Thus, it is possible that by offering teachers financial incentives, whether in the form of alternative compensation systems or standalone bonuses, they would become more satisfied with their jobs and retention would increase. As of yet, however, support for this approach has not been grounded in empirical research.

Denver's Professional Compensation System for Teachers ("ProComp") is one of the most prominent alternative teacher compensation reforms in the nation.* Via a combination of ten financial incentives, ProComp seeks to increase student achievement by motivating teachers to improve their instructional practices and by attracting and retaining high-quality teachers to work in the district.

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The Ignominious Ignorance Behind Bonnie Dumanis' Education Plan for San Diego

Doug Porter:

In a move that qualifies as one of the most ignorant and opportunist positions ever taken by a local politician; the Dumanis Mayoral Campaign announced its "Bold" educational initiative this past Thursday at a press conference. The details of the effort--expanding the school board, creating oversight committees and establishing a bureaucracy within the City government to oversee "liaison" efforts were widely reported in the local news media. Candidate Dumanis got lots of face time on local tv news as her plan was uncritically rolled out to the electorate.

The local press failed to notice that Carmel Valley, where the Dumanis presser was held isn't even in the San Diego Unified School District. The Mayoral candidate appeared blissfully unaware that schools in that area are part of the San Dieguito district as she prattled on about "Leadership, vision and experience are needed to put our schools on a new path because it's clear the path we are on today is the wrong one."

Asked about who she worked with in drafting her plan, Dumanis would only say that she'd consulted with an unnamed group of teachers, parents, students and others interested in reform. It's clear though, that if you look at her list of campaign contributors, the "Bold" plan is largely drawn from the wreckage of the failed San Diegans for Great Schools ballot initiative that, despite receiving over $1 million in donations from a few well heeled "philanthropists", couldn't gather enough signatures to be placed in front of the voters.

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More Commentary on Proposed Wisconsin Teacher Licensing Content Requirements.

Alan Borsuk

In 1998, Massachusetts debuted a set of tests it created for people who wanted teaching licenses. People nationwide were shocked when 59% of those in the first batch of applicants failed a communications and literacy test that officials said required about a 10th-grade level of ability.

Given some specifics of how the tests were launched, people who wanted to be teachers in Massachusetts probably got more of a bum rap for their qualifications than they deserved. But the results certainly got the attention of people running college programs to train teachers. They changed what they did, and the passing rate rose to about 90% in recent years.

One more thing: Student outcomes in Massachusetts improved significantly. Coming from the middle of the pack, Massachusetts has led the nation in fourth- and eighth-grade scores in reading and math on National Assessment of Education Program (NAEP) tests for almost a decade.

Could this be Wisconsin in a few years, especially when it comes to reading?

Gov. Scott Walker and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers released last week the report of a task force aimed at improving reading in Wisconsin. Reading results have been stagnant for years statewide, with Wisconsin slipping from near the top to the middle of the pack nationally. Among low-income and minority students, the state's results are among the worst in the country.

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Senator's bill would cap Cal State University presidents' salaries

Nanette Asimov:

The salaries of California State University campus presidents would be capped, and discussions about their pay would be held in public, under a bill being proposed by a state senator frustrated that CSU has been raising executive pay as well as tuition.

The proposal comes months after CSU trustees hired a campus president in San Diego for $400,000 a year - $100,000 more than his predecessor - and at the same meeting that they approved a 12 percent tuition increase.

"It is not reasonable to give $100,000 raises to executive positions, especially when simultaneously raising tuition," said state Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance (Los Angeles County), author of SB755.

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Fewer Kids in the U.S.

Conor Dougherty:

The U.S. under-18 population fell between 2010 and 2011, the first time in at least two decades that the country has seen its minor population decline, according to demographers and new Census data.

The U.S. under-18 population was 73,934,272 in July 2011, a decline of 247,000 or 0.3% from July of 2010, according to an analysis of Census data by William H. Frey, a demographer at The Brookings Institution. The child population is still up 2.3% from 2000, largely because of gains made in the early-decade boom years.

The child population is falling because fewer immigrant children are coming across U.S. borders, and because fewer children are being born. Meantime, the so-called millennial generation is moving into adulthood. With fertility rates down, Mr. Frey says "it doesn't look like a youth boom will reverberate anytime soon."

The U.S. minor population fell in the 1970s as well, as baby boomers moved into adulthood and women entered the labor force en masse, delaying families in the process. A large drop in fertility was also behind a decline in minors between 1920 and 1930.

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In New Jersey, a year makes quite a difference

Kathleen Nugent:

Sometimes it's hard to realize progress when you're caught up in the daily grind. You tend to take for granted where you are since the focus is always on what's next. So, this post is a glance back at where we were a year ago in three priority areas in New Jersey education: tenure reform, leadership at the NJ Department of Education, and the search for Newark Public Schools' superintendent.

1) New Jersey's tenure reform debate

On December 9, 2010, Senator Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex), Chairwoman of the NJ Senate Education Committee, held the state's first-ever hearing on tenure reform. Although conversations on tenure reform today are commonplace in New Jersey, there was no substantive discussion of it before Ruiz's hearing.

Witnesses at the hearing included officials from NJ Department of Education (NJDOE), Colorado state Senator Michael Johnston (sponsor of Colorado's "Great Teachers and Great Leaders" bill - aka SB 191, considered to be one of the strongest teacher evaluation and tenure reform bills in the nation), TNTP's Executive Vice President and General Counsel Daniel Weisberg, and the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA), among others. A few highlights from the day's testimony:

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New Study Gauges Teachers Impact on Students' Lifetime Earnings


JEFFREY BROWN: And finally tonight, putting a price on the value of good teachers. A large and new study addresses just that.

Ray Suarez has the story.

RAY SUAREZ: The debate over testing in schools, and whether students' scores adequately reflect a teacher's performance, has been raging for well over a decade. Now a new study has tracked more than two-and-a-half million students over two decades.

It found test scores are indeed a good gauge for evaluating student performance. And the study found replacing a bad teacher with an average or a good one can translate into a huge economic difference. Combined, the students could earn hundreds of thousands of dollars more over their working lifetimes.

We look at the study and the response it's stirred with Harvard economist Raj Chetty, one of its three authors. And we hope to be joined by Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, the second largest teachers union.

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A Thing or Two About Twins

Peter Miller:

They have the same piercing eyes. The same color hair. One may be shy, while the other loves meeting new people. Discovering why identical twins differ--despite having the same DNA--could reveal a great deal about all of us.

Every summer, on the first weekend in August, thousands of twins converge on Twinsburg, Ohio, a small town southeast of Cleveland named by identical twin brothers nearly two centuries ago.

They come, two by two, for the Twins Days Festival, a three-day marathon of picnics, talent shows, and look-alike contests that has grown into one of the world's largest gatherings of twins.

Dave and Don Wolf of Fenton, Michigan, have been coming to the festival for years. Like most twins who attend, they enjoy spending time with each other. In fact, during the past 18 years, the 53-year-old truckers, whose identical beards reach down to their chests, have driven more than three million miles together, hauling everything from diapers to canned soup from places like Seattle, Washington, to Camden, New Jersey. While one sits at the wheel of their diesel Freightliner, the other snoozes in the bunk behind him. They listen to the same country gospel stations on satellite radio, share the same Tea Party gripes about big government, and munch on the same road diet of pepperoni, apples, and mild cheddar cheese. On their days off they go hunting or fishing together. It's a way of life that suits them.

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160 Minn. students to compete in regional Science Bowl

Associated Press:

Some 160 high school math and science students from across the state will be competing this month in a regional Science Bowl in St. Paul.

They'll be vying for the chance to represent Minnesota in the national competition in Washington, D.C. The event is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy.

Students compete in teams of five to solve technical problems and to answer questions in all branches of math and science, including astronomy, biology, computer science and physics. The tournament is conducted in a fast-paced question-and-answer format.

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New York Governor Cuomo picks fight with schools, gets one

Associated Press:

Gov. Andrew Cuomo picked a fight last week with what has long been Albany's most powerful force: public schools.

In his State of the State address, he accused teachers' unions, school boards and school aid lobbyists of being more interested in adults than children.

"We need major reform," he said Wednesday. "We need to focus on student achievement. ... We've wasted enough time."

In their best Robert DeNiro, they shot back: "You talkin' to me?"

In the balance could hang whether the poorest school districts, mostly in larger cities and in rural areas, will get a larger share of state school aid. That had been the case for most of the past decade after the state's highest court found New York failed to adequately fund education for years. But not last year, in Cuomo's first budget.

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January 8, 2012

Why I am Not a Professor OR The Decline and Fall of the British University

Dr. Mark Tarver:

This year, 2007, marks the marks the eighth year at which I ceased to be a tenured lecturer in the UK, what is called I think, a tenured professor in the USA. I've never worked out whether I was, in American terms, an assistant professor or an associate professor. But it really doesn't matter, because today I am neither. You see I simply walked out and quit the job. And this is my story. If there is a greater significance to it than the personal fortunes of one man, it is because my story is also the story of the decline and fall of the British university and the corruption of the academic ideal . That is why this essay carries two titles - a personal one and a social one. This is because I was privileged to be part of an historical drama. As the Chinese say, I have lived in interesting times.

Universities are extraordinary institutions. They are in fact, the last bastions of mediaevalism left in modern society outside, perhaps, the church. Like churches they attracted a certain type of person who did not share the values of the commercial world. The oldest universities date from the eleventh and twelfth centuries - hundreds of years before the invention of the printing press. In an age where books were scarce, communication was difficult and people who could read and write were almost as rare as the books, it made sense to centralise the acquisition and dissemination of knowledge. If you wanted to learn, you headed towards where the books were and the people who could read them and that meant the great universities like Paris and Oxford. Poor communication, expensive reading materials and illiteracy were the foundation blocks for the universities. If today we have excellent communications, free online information and general literacy, we also have an environment in which the universities are struggling to maintain their position. That, of course, is not an accident.

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Print media display political agenda and poor skills in attacking Spokane teacher

Laurie Rogers, via email:

This article is third in a series of articles regarding media coverage of public education. This article and its predecessors in the series articulate part of the reason we need a new and better news source.

Instead of discussing the myriad legal and academic issues currently surrounding Spokane Public Schools, the editors for the daily newspaper The Spokesman-Review and the weekly publication The Inlander seem determined to drum up stray rumors and unsupported accusations against AP English teacher Jennifer Walther, who perhaps was caught TWC (Teaching While Conservative).

In October 2011, Walther's Leadership Class at Ferris High School put on the annual political forum "Face-Off at Ferris." Writers for The Spokesman-Review (SR) and The Inlander have since accused Walther of allowing her political views to sway the Ferris forum in favor of mayoral and school board candidates who are thought to be politically conservative.

The accusers have not been able to support their claim by pointing at actual questions that were asked. Sitting at the Ferris forum last October, I heard people all around me saying, "Those are great questions." What does a conservative question even look like? Are only conservatives concerned about accountability, transparency, outcomes, Otto Zehm's death, water rates, union clout and misspent finances? I know plenty of Democrats and progressives who are concerned about these issues.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 3:11 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

In Defense of No Child Left Behind

Andrew Rotherham:

Bashing the No Child Left Behind Act has become so politically popular that it's easy to forget how overwhelmingly bipartisan it was -- the legislation passed the House with 384 votes and the Senate with 91. As the law marks its 10-year anniversary on Jan. 8, it's important to look at both its successes and its failures. Did NCLB solve all of our public education problems? No. But it set a lot of good things in motion and was specifically designed to be revised after five or six years (in a reauthorization that has yet to happen and is unlikely to before this year's election.) The No Child law didn't get everything right the first time, but that's the wrong yardstick. If we held other policy areas -- think food stamps, Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security -- to the same standard No Child is held to these days, i.e., flawlessness, then we would have jettisoned those and many other worthy programs long ago.

No Child Left Behind was designed to bring accountability into public schools. It is not a new federal program. Rather, it is the latest modification to the mammoth Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, the omnibus law that governs most federal involvement in public schools. The No Child revisions built on President Bill Clinton's 1994 Improving America's Schools Act, which built on the lessons learned during the Reagan years. As former governors, both Clinton and President George W. Bush shared a commitment to having specific standards for what skills children should be learning and holding schools accountable for teaching them. By the late 1990s, key organizations including the Education Trust and the Citizens Commission for Civil Rights were calling for stricter accountability measures, and Democrats on Capitol Hill -- including California Representative George Miller, a key player on education policy in the House -- were responding. When Bush became President and got recalcitrant Republicans to fall in line and support his accountability measures, it was a Nixon-to-China move on education policy.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 3:07 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

New Education Report: Does Money Matter?

Matthew Di Carlo:

Over the past few years, due to massive budget deficits, governors, legislators and other elected officials are having to slash education spending. As a result, incredibly, there are at least 30 states in which state funding for 2011 is actually lower than in 2008. In some cases, including California, the amounts are over 20 percent lower.

Only the tiniest slice of Americans believe that we should spend less on education, while a large majority actually supports increased funding. At the same time, however, there's a concerted effort among some advocates, elected officials and others to convince the public that spending more money on education will not improve outcomes, while huge cuts need not do any harm.


Our new report, written by Rutgers professor Bruce Baker and entitled "Revisiting the Age-Old Question: Does Money Matter in Education?" reviews this body of evidence.

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Are Teachers Overpaid?

Room for Debate:

In the private sector, people with SAT and GRE scores comparable to those of education majors earn less than teachers do. Does that mean teachers are overpaid? Or that public schools should pay more to attract top applicants who tend to go into higher-paying professions?

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Is California's "API Growth" A Good Measure Of School Performance?

Matthew Di Carlo:

California calls its "Academic Performance Index" (API) the "cornerstone" of its accountability system. The API is calculated as a weighted average of the proportions of students meeting proficiency and other cutoffs on the state exams.

It is a high-stakes measure. "Growth" in schools' API scores determines whether they meet federal AYP requirements, and it is also important in the state's own accountability regime. In addition, toward the middle of last month, the California Charter Schools Association called for the closing of ten charter schools based in part on their (three-year) API "growth" rates.

Putting aside the question of whether the API is a valid measure of student performance in any given year, using year-to-year changes in API scores in high-stakes decisions is highly problematic. The API is cross-sectional measure - it doesn't follow students over time - and so one must assume that year-to-year changes in a school's index do not reflect a shift in demographics or other characteristics of the cohorts of students taking the tests. Moreover, even if the changes in API scores do in fact reflect "real" progress, they do not account for all the factors outside of schools' control that might affect performance, such as funding and differences in students' backgrounds (see here and here, or this Mathematica paper, for more on these issues).

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Gov. Jerry Brown's new budget plan targets schools

Anthony York and Nicholas Riccardi:

Gov. Jerry Brown unveiled his new budget plan, calling for a painful $4.8-billion cut in public school funds if voters reject a proposed tax hike that he hopes to put on the ballot in November.

Despite the possible reduction -- the equivalent of slashing three weeks from the school year -- the spending blueprint Brown released Thursday is a relatively optimistic document. It assumes he will have to close a $9.2-billion deficit, a vast improvement over last year's $26-billion gap.

Half of the deficit would be wiped out through the temporary half-cent sales-tax hike and increased levies on the wealthy that Brown wants voters to approve -- or by the schools cuts. The remainder would be eliminated with reductions in welfare, Medi-Cal and other programs.

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It's The Teacher!

Harrison Blackmond:

My views about education are, like many others, informed by my own experiences. Born the son of a black sharecropper in rural Alabama near the end of WWII, I attended segregated schools for most of my early years of education, including the first three. And, my teachers in Alabama were all black, all female. The remainder of my primary and secondary schooling was in low income, mostly black communities in Cincinnati, Ohio. All of my teachers in Cincinnati were white and mostly female. I had both good and bad educational experiences in Alabama and Ohio. The one thing these experiences had in common was that those experiences, both good and bad, were determined by the quality of teachers I had. No surprise there.

What is surprising is that the good teachers I had overcame all the "social and economic disabilities" a student like me brought to class with him. My parents were typical of most black families: uneducated or under-educated. My father had no education and could not read or write. My mother had a fifth or sixth grade education. So she could read and write, but knew little about how urban education systems worked. We were very poor, living on the largess of the landowners where we lived in Alabama and on welfare most of the time in Cincinnati. I worked at school and after school from seventh grade on. My experience was not atypical. Most of my classmates had similar stories. Some of us succeeded against great odds. The ones who did succeed educationally did so because there were teachers along the way who encouraged, inspired, and demanded our best.

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Connecticut Teacher's Union Reform Plan: Better education 'not just test scores'

Linda Conner Lambeck:

The education reform package advanced Tuesday by the state's largest teachers' union would speed up the dismissal process for poor teachers, but would not strengthen the link between job security and how well students do on state tests.

Mary Loftus Levine, executive director of the Connecticut Education Association, said student achievement has always factored into teacher evaluations.

"There are multiple indicators. It's not just about test scores," she said, adding true reform would be to streamline the dismissal process for bad teachers and do more to make sure teachers have proper training before and once they get into the classroom.

The CEA package, called A View From the Classroom, contains a number of other suggestions to provide universal preschool and all-day kindergarten and increase state funding for local education expenses.

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Schools Sue States for More Money

Nathan Koppel:

School districts and their supporters around the country have launched a wave of lawsuits asking courts to order more spending on public education, contending they face new pressures as states cut billions of dollars of funding while adding more-rigorous educational standards.

About half of the school districts in Texas have sued the state since the legislature cut more than $5 billion from school budgets last year, citing fiscal pressures. School-funding suits also are pending in California, Florida and Kansas, among other states. The suits generally claim schools lack the resources to provide the level of education required by state constitutions.

Critics of such lawsuits--and states being sued--say it is the prerogative of legislatures to decide how much states should spend on education.

In Washington state, the Supreme Court on Thursday ordered the state legislature to come up with a plan for additional funding. Gov. Christine Gregoire, a Democrat, said in a statement she agreed with the ruling, noting that without ample funds it is "difficult for students to gain the skills and knowledge needed to compete in today's global economy."

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January 7, 2012

Seeing a child like a state: Holding the poor accountable for bad schools -- Guest post by Lant Pritchett

anonymous @ World Bank:

In the early 20th century Helen Todd, a factory inspector in Chicago, interviewed 500 children working in factories, often in dangerous and unpleasant conditions. She asked children the question: "If your father had a good job and you didn't have to work, which would you rather do--go to school or work in a factory?" 412 said they would choose factory work. One fourteen year old girl, who was interviewed lacquering canes in an attic working with both intense heat and the constant smell of turpentine, said "School is the fiercest thing you can come up against. Factories ain't no cinch, but schools is worst."

The recent expansion of the "ASER-like" simple assessments of literacy and numeracy skills of all children in a village based approach provides an accurate, and chilling, picture of just how little learning is going on inside schools in many poor countries. The ASER data can show the learning profile, the association of measured skills and grade completion, by showing what fraction of children who have completed which grade can read a simple story (expected of a child in grade 2) or do simple arithmetic operations. Take Uttar Pradesh in 2010. By the end of lower primary school (grade 5) only one in four children could divide. Even by grade 8, the end of upper primary only 56 percent could. Similarly, by grade 5 only 44 percent could read a level 2 paragraph and by grade 8 still only 77.6 could. A large plurality of children, even of those that had persisted and been promoted through eight full grades or primary school--roughly 8000 hours of available total instruction--were either illiterate or innumerate or both.

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Big Study Links Good Teachers to Lasting Gain

Annie Lowrey, via several kind reader emails:

Elementary- and middle-school teachers who help raise their students' standardized-test scores seem to have a wide-ranging, lasting positive effect on those students' lives beyond academics, including lower teenage-pregnancy rates and greater college matriculation and adult earnings, according to a new study that tracked 2.5 million students over 20 years.

The paper, by Raj Chetty and John N. Friedman of Harvard and Jonah E. Rockoff of Columbia, all economists, examines a larger number of students over a longer period of time with more in-depth data than many earlier studies, allowing for a deeper look at how much the quality of individual teachers matters over the long term.

"That test scores help you get more education, and that more education has an earnings effect -- that makes sense to a lot of people," said Robert H. Meyer, director of the Value-Added Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which studies teacher measurement but was not involved in this study. "This study skips the stages, and shows differences in teachers mean differences in earnings."

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Six things he gave the modern world

Alex Hudson:

With the 200th birthday of Charles Dickens quickly approaching, and an entire series of events planned, what is the lasting legacy of his work and his causes?

Charles Dickens is one of the most important writers of the 19th Century. But his influence goes far beyond just literature. Many of his phrases, characters and ideas have engrained themselves in modern culture.

Two centuries on, what are the things still seen today that Dickens first offered us in his writing?

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The school that George built

Thomas Escritt:

George Soros's latest multimillion dollar gift to the Central European University Business School underlines the gulf between the Budapest-based private institution and its rivals elsewhere in the region.

"They are unique in the region in having a serious endowment," says the head of a competitor school. "Everybody else has to survive off tuition fees."

Soros, the Hungarian-born billionaire investor founded the business school in 1988, a year before the fall of communism in the country. It does not want for resources - all students will receive an iPad this year, for example - but Mel Horwich, who was appointed dean at the beginning of this year, clearly has a mandate to shake things up.

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Spanish unlocks doors to other languages in Cal State program

Carla Rivera:

Priscilla Castro grew up enthralled with French culture despite understanding few words of the movies and music in which she delighted.

Now Castro's facility with Spanish, which her family spoke at home, is serving as an unlikely bridge to mastering le Français in a unique Cal State Long Beach program designed to exploit Spanish speakers' existing language skills.

"I'm not 100% fluent, but I can hold a conversation," said Castro, 21, a journalism major. "A lot of things in Spanish are very similar, although because I learned Spanish at home, I didn't know a lot of the grammatical rules. So learning French is actually helping me to improve my Spanish grammar."

The French for Hispanophones program was developed more than five years ago but recently surged in popularity at the Long Beach campus, where more than 30% of students are Latino.

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Michigan School Banishes 2011 List of Overused Words

Jacob Kittilstad:

Michigan's amazing Lake Superior State University put out it's amazing list of the most overused words of 2011.

Topping the charts - the word 'amazing'. But there's plenty more clichés that you might be amazed made it.

Occupy Duluth, Occupy Minneapolis, Occupy Wall Street.

Folks over at Lake Superior State University, however, have a new protest and it's one of words they want banished in 2012 because of their over usage.

Like this one: "occupy (vb) 1. to be a resident or tenant of, to dwell in."

"I hear that word thrown around all the time," Allison Wegren said. "People using it seriously talking about the Wall Street occupation as well as using it jokingly. Like something to carve into a pumpkin."

Or how about "ginormous (adj) 1. an adjective combining the words giant and enormous."

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Public Education Quotes of the Year

Mike Antonucci:

EIA is proud to present the 2011 Public Education Quotes of the Year, in countdown order. Enjoy!

10) "That's what you're deciding on today - about whether or not you want to inject yourself into the individual, private decisions that employees make about their money." - Kevin Watson, a lobbyist for the Florida Education Association, on a bill in the state legislature that would require unions to get written authorization from members in order to use dues for political purposes. (March 21 Florida Times-Union)

9) "The governor has selected some of the smartest policy thinkers in California. They're experienced, they're thoughtful and they're largely independent minded, with the exception of the CTA staffer." - Bruce Fuller, professor of education at UC Berkeley, commenting on Gov. Brown's appointment of California Teachers Association lobbyist Patricia Ann Rucker to the state board of education. (January 8 Los Angeles Times)

8) "In the 30-some years we were part of the (American Federation of Teachers union), we never had to use their services. There were never any grievances that warranted that. We really - and I'm going to be honest - never really got much out of it." - Becky Seitz, former president of the AFT affiliate in North Cape, Wisconsin. (December 10 Journal-Times)

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January 6, 2012

Middle school teacher takes on giant math problem: Getting kids to love numbers

Katy Murphy:

Some math classrooms are so quiet you can hear the sound of pencils on paper.

Robert MacCarthy's class at Willard Middle School in Berkeley has a different soundtrack. His sixth-graders problem-solve out loud -- sometimes into a big blue microphone -- and applaud each other afterward. They take on lively games and challenges that mix math with art.

Maybe, if they're lucky, they'll get to star in a math music video produced by their teacher and classmates under the label mathisnotacrime productions. "Integer Eyes" is the latest hit. "Math Hustla," released in 2009, quickly became a Willard classic.

"I never met an expression that I couldn't simplify. I never met a problem that I couldn't solve," two students rap, alternating lines, as they move to the beat.

Math can be a tough sell for adolescents. When students hit middle school, they often grow frustrated with math and begin to question the importance of knowing how to isolate a variable or graph an equation. Some end up failing the same courses again and again and eventually drop out of school -- even as their schools devote more time to the subject, said Harold Asturias, director of the Center for Mathematics Excellence and Equity at UC Berkeley's Lawrence Hall of Science.

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California's Higher Education Disaster

Kevin Carey:

There's no doubt that the ongoing crisis of governance in California and resulting disinvestment in the University of California system is deplorable. But this recent Washington Post dispatch from UC-Berkeley doesn't exactly paint a picture of a campus in deep crisis:
Star faculty take mandatory furloughs. Classes grow perceptibly larger each year. Roofs leak; e-mail crashes. One employee mows the entire campus. Wastebaskets are emptied once a week. Some professors lack telephones...The state share of Berkeley's operating budget has slipped since 1991 from 47 percent to 11 percent. Tuition has doubled in six years, and the university is admitting more students from out of state willing to pay a premium for a Berkeley degree...the number of students for every faculty member has risen from 15 to 17 in five years. Many classes are oversubscribed, leaving students to scramble for alternatives or postpone graduation, a dilemma more commonly associated with community college...Berkeley's overall budget continues to rise modestly from year to year. Total university revenue rose from $1.7 billion in fiscal 2007 to $2 billion in 2010.
Reliable email is free and I assume Berkeley professors own cell phones like everyone else. There is not a shred of evidence to suggest that small increases in class size negatively affect learning for the kind of cream-of-the-crop college students who attend Berkeley. Over 90 percent of Berkeley students graduate from the university. If Berkeley's star professors are lured away to Stanford, it's bad for the university but not necessarily bad for America, particularly if (as is frequently the case) those professors teach few if any undergraduates. They'll be the same people doing the same thing at another university an hour away.

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The Disruptive MBA


Thomas Kuhn wouldn't be impressed with the hordes of MBAs departing from top tier business schools to start new media companies, build the next big mobile gaming company, or launch another clone daily-deal site.  But that's not where Kuhn's disappointment would end.  Kuhn would probably be disheartened by the slew of intelligent students learning to code in computer science programs instead of pursuing degrees in electrical engineering or computer engineering degrees.  In short, despite the fact that technology is one of the last bright spots in an otherwise stagnating economy, Kuhn would argue that we're encouraging the wrong types of innovation in the sector.  Kuhn would push the best and brightest in our society away from building Birchbox for Baby Products and ask them to start innovating to enable less qualified builders.

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The Insider View of Education Reform

Whiteboard Advisors:

Education Insider is a monthly report and webinar that provides real-time insights on federal education policy trends, debates, and issues--from the handful of decision makers that are driving the process.

Trying to follow the ins-and-outs of Federal education reform -- a morass of legislation, regulations, grants, mandates and more -- is like assembling a giant jigsaw puzzle. It is often difficult to see the entire picture when all you have is a few pieces. The challenge is piecing together bits of conversations, speeches, legislation, regulations, and other expressions of policy intent to discern what is happening in the debate. This process is even more complex since other policy issues and political agendas can change the trajectory of education policy.

As with any issue, there are only a handful of insiders that will shape the debate but never before has there been an attempt to tap their collective insights and forecasts.

Organizations must anticipate and react to Federal policy and funding changes need high quality information and analysis and the complete picture that Education Insider provides.

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: A Look at California

Richard Rider:

Here's a depressing but documented comparison of California taxes and economic climate with the rest of the states. The news is breaking bad, and getting worse (twice a month, I update crucial data on this fact sheet):

REVISED: California has the 3rd worst state income tax in the nation. 9.3% tax bracket starts at $46,766 for people filing as individuals. 10.3% tax starts at $1,000,000. Governor Brown is putting on the ballot a prop to change the "millionaires' tax" to 12.3%, starting at $500,000. If approved, CA will be #1 in income tax rates.

Highest state sales tax rate in the nation. 7.25% (as of 1 July, 2011 - does not include local sales taxes). Table #15

California corporate income tax rate (8.84%) is the highest west of the Mississippi (our economic competitors) except for Alaska. Table #8 - we are 8th highest nationwide.

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The Ingenious Business Model Behind Coursekit, A Tumblr For Higher Education

Anya Kamenetz:

At universities, educational software largely means enterprise-scale, expensive, feature-stuffed "learning management systems." Blackboard has the majority of the market, but professors and students are about as enthusiastic about its various updates, crashes, and bugs as people are with the latest version of Windows (Blackboard scores a whopping 93% "hated" rating on website Amplicate).

Last week, a new alternative was launched--built by students--that looks and works a lot more like the social platforms people actually choose to use in their spare time. The core of the site is a constantly updated social Stream where instructors and students can conduct discussions or easily post rich media. Picture a cleaner-looking Facebook news feed, centered on a single academic theme, or a group Tumblr blog where each picture, question, or video can accumulate its own discussion in the attached comment thread.

"We wanted to create a simple, elegant LMS that covers 95% of instructors' needs, like grading, file management, calendaring, submitting assignments, and emailing with the class," says Joseph Cohen, 19, who left Wharton after his sophomore year when he scored $1 million in seed funding this past June to start Coursekit. "Blackboard covers 100%-- that's why it's such a cluttered platform."

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K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: On Saving the American Health System: Dr. Donald Berwick's Farewell Speech

Don Berwick is an American hero and also a victim of the obscene stalemate in Washington; the one being heaped on us by our Congress that has a 9% approval rating. Most people that I know with a score that low would have the self-respect to quit rather than to point fingers at others. Well, as part of this mess, Congress wouldn't approve the appointment of Dr. Don Berwick, who is a true American hero because he is among one of the real leaders of the movement to save American health care. Before coming to Washington, the organization he led, a small non-profit called the Institute for Health Improvement, organized and guided an effort in American hospitals that -- by doing simple, evidence things like hand washing, raising the bed when people are on a respirator, and other small but effective things -- saved more than 100,000 lives by some estimates. This little non-profit recruited over 3000 hospitals that had over 70% of the beds in the U.S. to participate in this effort to reduce preventable deaths.

Obama, recognizing his greatness, appointed him as head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Or he tried to. Our do nothing -- or actually do nothing but screw the other side -- Congress opposed his appointment, so Obama did one of those sneaky interim appointments that Berwick to keep the position for 17 months before being forced out. The New York Times Joe Nocera did a great piece on him, check it out.

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January 5, 2012

MTEL 90: Teacher Content Knowledge Licensing Requirements Coming To Wisconsin....

The Wisconsin adoption of teacher content knowledge requirements, on the form of MTEL 90 (Massachusetts Tests for Educator Licensure) by 2013-2014 would (will?) be a significant step forward via the Wisconsin Read to Lead Report), assuming it is not watered down like the oft criticized (and rightfully so) WKCE

There are significant implications for :Education School preparation/curriculum with the addition of content knowledge to teacher licensing requirements. 

Much more on Read to Lead, here and a presentation on Florida's Reading Reforms

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Academic Emphasis forces High School Football Coach to Resign

Jeff Greer:

Former Glades Central football coach Jessie Hester resigned Thursday as coach at Suncoast after just 10 months at the school.

Hester, 48, said the job at one of Palm Beach County's top academic public schools "wasn't the right fit" for him. The academic pressures the students faced made it difficult for the football team to practice and prepare for games, Hester said, adding that his team would go weeks without a full practice because his players had other school obligations.

The Chargers finished 4-6, missing the playoffs and tying for third in a five-team district.

"There are great, great people at the school, and great kids," Hester said, "but it was just not a good fit for me. It was too difficult to do the things I wanted to do in that situation."
It was no secret that Suncoast, with its nationally ranked academic programs and rigorous academic requirements, would be a more challenging job than Hester's previous job at his alma mater.

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Guessing the Teacher's Password


When I was young, I read popular physics books such as Richard Feynman's QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter. I knew that light was waves, sound was waves, matter was waves. I took pride in my scientific literacy, when I was nine years old.

When I was older, and I began to read the Feynman Lectures on Physics, I ran across a gem called "the wave equation". I could follow the equation's derivation, but, looking back, I couldn't see its truth at a glance. So I thought about the wave equation for three days, on and off, until I saw that it was embarrassingly obvious. And when I finally understood, I realized that the whole time I had accepted the honest assurance of physicists that light was waves, sound was waves, matter was waves, I had not had the vaguest idea of what the word "wave" meant to a physicist.

There is an instinctive tendency to think that if a physicist says "light is made of waves", and the teacher says "What is light made of?", and the student says "Waves!", the student has made a true statement. That's only fair, right? We accept "waves" as a correct answer from the physicist; wouldn't it be unfair to reject it from the student? Surely, the answer "Waves!" is either true or false, right?

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Teaching with comics

Karen Sze:

A secondary school teacher recently consulted me on how to manage a student's problematic behavior. The 13-year-old boy, with issues on the autism spectrum, had been wreaking havoc in class with inappropriate comments.

It had started out mildly with his blurting out "I hate so and so" in front of the whole class. However, his latest and most provocative comment was "I want to touch your breasts" - to female students.

The boy would usually broadcast the statement a few more times before terminating the interaction with a pointed look and a triumphant smirk.

The teachers were already busy with the girls, who were obviously upset by the sexually charged statement.

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Five Predictions for the Next Five Years

Om Malik:

In each of the past five years, IBM has come up with a list of five innovations it believes will become popular within five years. In this, the sixth year, IBM has come up with the following technologies it thinks will gain traction. Hold on to your sci-fi novels, because some of these are pretty far out there. And some of them, well, I wish we had them today.

People power will come to life. Advances in technology will allow us to trap the kinetic energy generated (and wasted) from walking, jogging, bicycling, and even from water flowing through pipes. A bicycle charging your iPhone? There's nothing wrong with that, though I think it might be a while before we see this actually become a mainstream practice.

You will never need a password again. Biometrics will finally replace the password and thus redefine the word "hack." Jokes aside, IBM believes multifactor biometrics will become pervasive. "Biometric data--facial definitions, retinal scans, and voice files--will be composited through software to build your DNA-unique online password." Based on the increasing hours we spend online, I would say we need such solutions to come to market ASAP.

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January 4, 2012

Chicago's poor fleeing to Wisconsin for safer streets, greater welfare benefits

New York Times news service, via a kind reader:

In Madison, the influx of poor people from Chicago is testing the city's historical liberalism. About one-quarter of the 3,300 Madison families receiving welfare are former Illinois residents.

Even Mayor Paul Soglin, who earned his liberal stripes in the anti-establishment politics of the 1960s as a Vietnam War protester, now talks of "finite limits of resources" for the poor.

"We're like a lifeboat that holds 12 people comfortably," Mr. Soglin said. "We've got about 16 in it now, and there's a dozen more waiting in the water. Since we're already in danger of going under, what can our community be expected to do?"

A vibrant economy in Wisconsin accounts for much of the migration among poor people, most of them looking for jobs. The state's unemployment rate has dipped below 4 percent while that in Illinois is 4.4 percent.

my correspondent notes:
Here is an interesting article from 1995.  Worth revisiting with Soglin back in office (just because he is the mayor quoted at the time), but mostly as it pertains to our discussions around Madison Prep.  What are the unique attributes and qualities that make up both our white population and our minority population?

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Wisconsin Read to Lead Report Released

Wisconsin Read to Lead Final Report (PDF), via several readers.  Mary Newton kindly provided this summary:

Summary of the Wisconsin Read to Lead Task Force Recommendations, January, 2012
    Teacher Preparation and Professional Development

    All teachers and administrators should receive more instruction in reading pedagogy that focuses on evidence-based practices and the five components of reading as defined by the National Reading Panel (phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension).

  1. There must be more accountability at the state level and a commitment by institutions of higher education to improving teacher preparation.

    Licensure requirements should be strengthened to include the Massachusetts Foundations of Reading exam by 2013.

    Teacher preparation programs should expand partnerships with local school districts and early childhood programs.

    Information on the performance of graduates of teacher preparation programs should be available to the public.

    A professional development conference should be convened for reading specialists and elementary school principals.

    DPI should make high quality, science-based, online professional development in reading available to all teachers.

    Professional development plans for all initial educators should include a component on instructional strategies for reading and writing.

    Professional development in reading instruction should be required for all teachers whose students continually show low levels of achievement and/or growth in reading.

  2. Screening, Assessment, and Intervention

    Wisconsin should use a universal statewide screening tool in pre-kindergarten through second grade to ensure that struggling readers are identified as early as possible.

    Proper accommodations should be given to English language learners and special education students.

    Formal assessments should not replace informal assessments, and schools should assess for formative and summative purposes.

    Educators should be given the knowledge to interpret assessments in a way that guides instruction.

    Student data should be shared among early childhood programs, K-12 schools, teachers, parents, reading specialists, and administrators.

    Wisconsin should explore the creation of a program similar to the Minnesota Reading Corps in 2013.

  3. Early Childhood

    DPI and the Department of Children and Families should work together to share data, allowing for evaluation of early childhood practices.

    All 4K programs should have an adequate literacy component.

    DPI will update the Wisconsin Model Early Learning Standards to ensure accuracy and alignment with the Common Core State Standards, and place more emphasis on fidelity of implementation of the WMELS.

    The YoungStar rating system for early childhood programs should include more specific early literacy criteria.

  4. Accountability

    The Educator Effectiveness Design Team should consider reading outcomes in its evaluation systems.

    The Wisconsin School Accountability Design Team should emphasize early reading proficiency as a key measure for schools and districts. Struggling schools and districts should be given ongoing quality professional development and required to implement scientific research-based screening, assessment, curriculum, and intervention.

    Educators and administrators should receive training on best practices in order to provide effective instruction for struggling readers.

    The state should enforce the federal definition for scientific research-based practices, encourage the use of What Works Clearinghouse, and facilitate communication about effective strategies.

    In addition to effective intervention throughout the school year, Wisconsin should consider mandatory evidence-based summer school programs for struggling readers, especially in the lower grades, and hold the programs accountable for results.

  5. Family Involvement
    Support should be given to programs such as Reach Out and Read that reach low-income families in settings that are well-attended by parents, provide books to low-income children, and encourage adults to read to children.

    The state should support programs that show families and caregivers how to foster oral language and reading skill development in children.

    Adult literacy agencies and K-12 schools should collaborate at the community level so that parents can improve their own literacy skills.

Related:  Erin Richards' summary (and Google News aggregation) and many SIS links

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Improved Videos of December 19 Public Appearances and Vote on Madison Prep Are Available

MMSD has now posted the videos from the December 19, 2011 meeting at which the Board of Education voted on the proposed Madison Preparatory Charter School. The first video contains the public appearances statements; the second contains the board comments, vote, etc., through the vote to adjourn.

The versions that are now posted are much improved - the video that was originally posted had issues with sound quality and ended abruptly during board statements. The new videos have terrific sound quality and contain the full meeting. (Thanks to MMSD staff for the work that went into this.)

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Two contested School Board Races

From today's Wisconsin State Journal.

Two Madison School Board races are shaping up as the city's most high-profile election contests this spring, with the board's vote last month against a controversial charter school proposal front and center.

All four candidates who filed paperwork by Tuesday's 5 p.m. deadline say the election is about more than Madison Preparatory Academy, the proposed single-sex charter school that was voted down by the board last month.

But they agree the issue that drove the charter school debate -- raising achievement levels of low-income, minority students -- will be a key issue over the next three months.

Madison last had multiple contested School Board races in 2007. In the past four years, only two of nine races were contested.

The election will be a referendum on both the district's handling of Madison Prep and the achievement gap, said former School Board member Ray Allen, a Madison Prep supporter.

"The community has a unique opportunity," Allen said. "They've got choices and they can voice their opinions."

The achievement gap has been a critical issue for the district for the past 20 years, said former School Board member Carol Carstensen, a Madison Prep opponent. The Madison Prep debate elevated the conversation about the issue, but there are "a host of issues that you have to deal with as a School Board member."

"You want people coming in who don't have a set agenda, but who have principles that are important to them," Carstensen said. "They are elected to represent the entire district ultimately."

Other major issues include the future of the teachers union contract after it expires in 2013, school building maintenance needs, limited state funding and how to reverse the increasing number of families opting to leave the district.

Read more:

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Spokane Paper declines to inform voters about critical school-district election issues

Laurie Rogers, via a kind email:

This article is second in a series of articles regarding media coverage of public education. This article and its predecessor in the series show that Spokesman-Review coverage of the 2011 school-board election in Spokane was biased in favor of a particular candidate and a particular agenda.

On Sept. 28, I filed a Public Disclosure Commission complaint regarding election activity in 2009 and 2011 by Spokane Public Schools administrators, board directors, (new school board director) Deana Brower, and bond and levy advocacy organization Citizens for Spokane Schools (CFSS).

According to Washington State law, articulated in RCW 42.17.130, school district employees and school board directors are prohibited from using public resources to promote - directly or indirectly - elective candidates or ballot propositions such as bonds and levies. This is what RCW 42.17.130 says, in part: 

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An educational journey

Dr. Robert L. Heichberger:

Editor's note: This is the first of three parts.

It has been a great "trip," so to speak, and it isn't over yet. It was 61 years ago when I stepped into my first classroom as the teacher. During these past 61 years, I have thoroughly enjoyed my work as an educator, every day ... well, nearly every day.

Much has happened in education over that period of time. I have seen schools from nearly all levels: from that of a classroom teacher, university demonstration teacher, school administrator, professor of educational administration, and university administrator. I have seen schools from the standpoint of a school board member, a school board trainer, and a parent and grandparent. Also, in the interest of full disclosure, I have seen education vicariously: as many of my readers know, my wife is a retired teacher of 34 years, and my son and daughter-in-law are teachers.

This columnist has a great respect for education and learning. A well known Swiss developmental psychologist and philosopher Jean Piaget said it well: "the principal goal of education is to develop within people the capability of doing new things, not simply of repeating what other generations have done." Piaget's statement is smartly relevant and applicable as applied to all levels of education.

My entry into the field of teaching had its beginning in September, 1951. It was preceded by generations of some of the most conscientious, dedicated, and competent of teachers, many of whom, received little honor or aggrandizement, but whose influence was monumental. The strength of America's school and of America's teachers is seen in the annals of American Exceptionalism.

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A head start with brainwaves

Clive Cookson:

A fabric cap is fitted to my head and 32 electrodes are inserted into the cap's sockets, each with a dose of conducting gel to make sure there is good contact with my scalp. The final touches are a pair of eye tracking sensors above each eyebrow.

Then the experiment begins, recording brainwaves as I look at film clips with different degrees of violence and romantic engagement. The half-hour session is entirely painless; the apparatus does not irradiate the brain but passively measures its electrical activity at different frequencies to assess my attention, emotional engagement and likely memory retention of each clip. The only after-effect is hair messed up by the gel.

My electroencephalography (EEG) session typifies the experience of hundreds of subjects who have their brains scanned every day in laboratories around the world, in the cause of better marketing. As they look at product prototypes, packaging designs and advertising campaigns, neuromarketing experts read their brainwaves to glean insights into their unconscious likes and dislikes, which might not appear through questioning in conventional market research.

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The Research Bust

Mark Bauerlein:

In my hand I have a hefty article on a canonical English poet, published 10 years ago in a distinguished journal. It runs for 21 pages and has 31 footnotes, with extensive references to philosophy and art. The article is learned, wide-ranging, and conversant with scholarship on the poet and theoretical currents in literary studies. The argument is dense, the analysis acute, on its face a worthy illustration of academic study deserving broad notice and integration into subsequent research in the field.

That reception doesn't seem to have happened. When, on May 25, I typed the title into Google Scholar, only nine citations of the original article showed up. Of those nine, six of them make only perfunctory nods in a footnote, along the lines of "Recent examples include ... " and "For a recent essay on the subject, see. ... " The other three engage with the essay more substantively, but not by much, inserting in their text merely two or three sentences on the original essay. Additionally, in books on the English poet published from 2004 to 2011 that don't show up on Google Scholar (the search engine picks up most major humanities journals but is sketchy on books), the original article receives not a single citation.

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State Board of Education OKs tougher FCAT grading system

Laura Isensee:

With a unanimous vote Monday, the State Board of Education approved a tougher scoring system for the FCAT, the state's standardized reading and math exam.

The change is meant to raise the academic standards for Florida students. Last year, state officials rolled out the FCAT 2.0, a new version of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. A new scoring system is needed for the new test, state officials have said.

However, many students are expected to score lower under the newly approved grading system, which determines the "cut scores" or the scores that determine failing and passing grades. State officials estimate:

Related: Excellence in Education explains Florida's reading reforms and compares Florida's NAEP progress with Wisconsin's at the July 29th Read to Lead task force meeting

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Minority Parents On Education: Schools Need Reform, But Children's Academic Success Is On Us

Huffington Post:

Studies have consistently shown that compared to their white counterparts, minority students are less likely to graduate high school on time or receive any form of higher education, and more likely to drop out of high school.

While some experts point to methods for closing achievement gaps and enhancing the performance of the bottom 5 percent of schools and students by way of legislation and policy, a new report out by the Public Education Network examines the role of the parent.

Whereas just 37 percent of the general public considers schools in their communities -- versus schools in other areas -- as examples of institutions needing reform, about 70 percent of black and Latino parents point to those in their neighborhoods.

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Advancing the Open Front: From Credential to Credit

Steve Kolowich:

Among the "open courseware" projects at elite U.S. institutions, MITx will be the first to offer an institutional credential -- albeit not from MIT proper but from MITx, which will exist as a nonprofit apart from the university. (The Stanford professors who offered an interactive open course in artificial intelligence to all comers in the fall plan to send each non-enrolled student a certifying letter with their cumulative grade and class rank, but Stanford itself is not recognizing them.)

But MIT stamp or no, that is still a big step, says Kevin Carey, policy director at Education Sector, a D.C. think tank.

"I think this is the future," says Carey, who has written on the emerging relevance of nontraditional credentials. "It's just the logical next step for the ethic behind the [open educational resources] movement," he says.

In interviews, MIT officials took care to emphasize that MITx is not meant to supplant the traditional "residential education" that the university cultivates in its Cambridge, Mass., enclave.

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January 3, 2012

America's Best High Schools: A state-by-state look at the best-performing high schools in the U.S. Does your child already go to one?

Prashant Gopal:

Kimberly Lynch, a redhead with freckles, had a keen interest in sunblock. So much so that she spent the past year developing a new method to test the effectiveness of sunscreens and recently submitted the results to a medical journal.

The 17-year-old senior at Bergen Academies in Hackensack, N.J., is quite a bit younger than most scientists submitting papers to accredited medical journals. Then again, Lynch doesn't go to a typical public high school.

Bergen Academies, a four-year high school, offers students seven concentrations including science, medicine, culinary arts, business and finance, and engineering. It even has its own stem-cell laboratory, where Lynch completed her experiments under the guidance of biology teacher Robert Pergolizzi, a former assistant professor of genetic medicine at Cornell University.

View Bloomberg Business Week's "great schools" state by state rankings, here.

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In Washington, Large Rewards in Teacher Pay

Sam Dillon, via a kind Doug Newman email:

WASHINGTON -- During her first six years of teaching in this city's struggling schools, Tiffany Johnson got a series of small raises that brought her annual salary to $63,000, from about $50,000. This year, her seventh, Ms. Johnson earns $87,000.

That latest 38 percent jump, unheard of in public education, came after Ms. Johnson was rated "highly effective" two years in a row under Washington's new teacher evaluation system. Those ratings also netted her back-to-back bonuses totaling $30,000.

"Lots of teachers leave the profession, but this has kept me invested to stay," said Ms. Johnson, 29, who is a special-education teacher at the Ron H. Brown Middle School in Northeast Washington. "I know they value me."

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MIT launches online learning initiative 'MITx' will offer courses online and make online learning tools freely available.

MIT News:

MIT today announced the launch of an online learning initiative internally called "MITx." MITx will offer a portfolio of MIT courses through an online interactive learning platform that will:
  • organize and present course material to enable students to learn at their own pace
  • feature interactivity, online laboratories and student-to-student communication
  • allow for the individual assessment of any student's work and allow students who demonstrate their mastery of subjects to earn a certificate of completion awarded by MITx
  • operate on an open-source, scalable software infrastructure in order to make it continuously improving and readily available to other educational institutions.
MIT expects that this learning platform will enhance the educational experience of its on-campus students, offering them online tools that supplement and enrich their classroom and laboratory experiences. MIT also expects that MITx will eventually host a virtual community of millions of learners around the world.

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Charter schools get voice on school board

Travis Andersen and Christopher J. Girard:

Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino has appointed the founder of a Dorchester charter school to the School Committee, in the latest signal of warming relations between Menino and the independently run institutions.

The appointee, Meg Campbell, is founder and executive director of the Codman Academy Charter Public School. The school has been noted for its good track record for college admissions, the mayor's office said yesterday in a prepared statement.

Campbell said last night in a telephone interview that she believes Menino made a bold choice by appointing her to the panel, given her leadership position at a charter school.

"I think it's a tribute to the mayor's overriding commitment'' to education, she said. "It doesn't matter to the mayor where you go to school. It matters that you get a phenomenal education.''

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Data and GIS Winter Newsletter 2012

John Herndon:

Data driven teaching and research at Duke keeps growing and Perkins Data and GIS continues to increase support for researchers and classes employing data, GIS, and data visualization tools. Whether your discipline is in the Humanities, Sciences, or Social Sciences, Perkins Data and GIS seeks to support researchers and students using numeric and geospatial data across the disciplines.

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Primary Education

Jenna Ashley Robinson:

Editor's note: This is the second in a two-part series discussing the presidential candidates' views and likely policies toward higher education. This part focuses on the Republican candidates' positions. On December 12, Jay Schalin presented the higher education track record and statements of Barack Obama.)

For the most part, the Republican primary has focused on economic issues such as employment, taxation, and government spending. Higher education hasn't been a prime topic.

But for future students, taxpayers, and university officials, the presidential hopefuls' higher education policies could loom large. Decisions at the top could further inflate the higher education bubble or, alternatively, spur educational innovations. A look at the Republican field (in alphabetical order) reveals a variety of policy choices gleaned from their websites, statements, and debates.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:26 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

2011 Closeout - Was Act 10 ALL Bad?


We're in duck and cover mode...purely from the title of this entry.

But, you know what, folks? Whether you are a Walker devotee or a Walker detractor, you have to admit that EVERYTHING that Act 10 did was not bad. Yes, at its heart, Act 10 was a heinous attempt to cut public employees down at the knees. That was neither right nor fair. You can argue whatever you like, but the fact remains that for these scorned public workers, benefits were improved over the years IN LIEU OF salary increases. Rightly or wrongly so, that is what it boiled down to. Publicly, governors declared victory by giving public employees only modest raises (1-2%) each year. In some years, they got nothing. Quietly, however, behind the scenes, they negotiated with the unions to pick up the tab for a greater percentage of benefits...or offered another few days of annual leave(vacation).

This didn't happen overnight, people! This process developed over the past 25-35 YEARS! We know of many examples of private sector workers who took a job with in the public sector at a substantial demotion in terms of pay. These workers made a choice to do so in exchange for enhanced job security. it right or wrong, that's what they did. It took many of these workers 10 years or more to be earning the same salary they did when they left the private sector. But it was a choice, and they were OK with their choice.

Don't tell us that the private sector is struggling. Certainly, many private businesses and employees have suffered since the economic crisis which began over 3 years ago. But many are faring much better. We are hearing of BONUSES being given this holiday season. Public employees have never and WILL never hear of such a thing. We also know many private sector employees that have good to excellent health and retirement benefits.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:16 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

European schools create 'pipeline' of 'boardable' women

Charlotte Clarke:

When Cristina Vicini, chairwoman of the Executives' advisory board of Boston University in Brussels was in the early years of her career, in the late eighties, she had the impression that gender imbalance - a much debated topic at the time - was changing and would soon be resolved. "I cannot believe we are still talking about this in the twenty-first century," she says today.

The discussion is indeed continuing, which is why some of Europe's leading business schools have published a Call to Action designed to increase the number of women on company boards.

Written with the support of European Commission Vice-President Viviane Reding, who appealed to European schools for help in September, the seven-page manifesto has four pillars:

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January 2, 2012

Casper College GIS students map history of Eadsville on Casper Mountain

Elysia Conner:

Only a few logs remain of Eadsville, a mining camp where people worked, lived and raised families on Casper Mountain. A handful of children learned there in a log schoolhouse.

A century later, another school uses computer technology to learn about the natural features and history there. The Casper Mountain Science School (CMSS) teaches K-12 students on that very site as an enrichment program.

A group from Casper College's advanced GIS (geographic information system) class created a layer of digital, interactive maps complete with pictures and historical information about Eadsville for those students. Each year, groups from the college class complete real projects for various local organizations. Three students braved wind and cold on four trips to Casper Mountain. There, they mapped the CMSS property boundary along with historical mine sites and buildings in and around the old mining town of Eadsville using GPS (global positioning system). Those three, Crocker Hollis, Karen Sue McCutcheon and Nancy Doelger, also saw leftovers of a mountain lion's skunk and bird meals.

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AmCham warns of Hong Kong schools 'crisis'

Dennis Chong and Paggie Leung:

The American Chamber of Commerce has warned the chief executive that Hong Kong's status as a world-class city is under threat because the shortage of international school places has reached a "crisis point".

In a paper submitted to Donald Tsang Yam-kuen's government, the business organisation said it wanted a permanent committee to be established to ensure schooling would be available for children of foreign investors and professionals.

"We feel that the situation is hitting a crisis point now," the paper said. "The government urgently needs to work with the private sector to set coherent and long-term, sustainable policies to support Hong Kong's education and talent development."

The chamber, or AmCham, released the paper - sent to the government in August - to the South China Morning Post (SEHK: 0583, announcements, news) last week.

1.7MB PDF: Education Policy Framework on Primary School Places for International Assignees

2007 Study 1.5mb pdf.

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State Threatens to Pull Millions for Schools in the City and Elsewhere

Fernanda Santos:

New York State's education commissioner threatened on Tuesday to withhold tens of millions of dollars in federal grants to struggling schools in New York City and nine other districts statewide if they do not prove by Saturday that they will carry out new evaluation systems for teachers and principals.

Officials and union leaders in each district must first agree on the details of the evaluation systems, like how much weight students' standardized test scores will have on the annual ratings that teachers and principals receive. Compromise has thus far proved elusive.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:38 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Confidential Student And Teacher Data To Be Provided To LLC Run By Gates and Murdoch

Leonie Haimson:

This week, the Wall Street Journal reported that the NY Board of Regents approved the state's sharing of student and teacher information with a new national database, to be funded by the Gates Foundation, and designed by News Corp's Wireless Generation. Other states that have already agreed to share this data, according to the NY State Education Department, include Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, North Carolina, Louisiana and Massachusetts.

All this confidential student and teacher data will be held by a private limited corporation, called the Shared Learning Collaborative LLC, with even less accountability, which in July was awarded $76.5 million by the Gates Foundation, to be spent over 7 months. According to an earlier NYT story, $44 million of this funding will go straight into the pockets of Wireless Generation, owned by Murdoch's News Corp and run by Joel Klein.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:24 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Is Education the Next Industry That Will Be Killed by the Internet?

Tim Worstall:

I'd say that it probably will be, yes, and I've been saying so for some time. Think about it for a moment, we still use the educational techniques of the Early Middle Ages.

I first saw this point at Brad DeLong's place. When books are hand written, extremely expensive (as in, more than a year's wages possibly) then it makes sense for students to gather in one place and listen to the book being read to them.

Thus what we call a lecture. However, once printing has made the book cheap there's really not all that much point to such a gathering. Classes, OK, that's different, they're more interactive. And yes, of course, there's more to college than just the lectures and the education.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:22 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

'Coasting' schools told to improve within six years

Judith Burns @BBC:

Schools which fail to improve within six years of being classed "satisfactory" should be relabelled inconsistent and pushed harder to improve, a report says.

The Royal Society of Arts report says half of the 40% of England's schools classed as "satisfactory" failed to improve within two Ofsted inspections.

Last month Ofsted said nearly 800 schools were "coasting" in this way.

The report says such schools are more likely to be in poorer areas.

The RSA report , published jointly with Ofsted, focused on the 40% of secondary schools in England rated as "satisfactory".

It noted that half of these schools remained "satisfactory" for at least two inspections and about 8% declined to an "inadequate" rating.

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

And the 2011 education awards go to

Alan Borsuk:

Quite the year we had in Wisconsin education in 2011, so we have lots of awards to give out in our annual recognition ceremony. Let's get right to the big one for this year:

The "Honey, I Blew Up the Education Status Quo" Award: No surprise who is the winner. Like him or hate him (and there certainly is no middle ground), when you say Gov. Scott Walker, you've said it all. State aid cuts. Tightened school spending and taxing. Benefit cuts to teachers. An end to teacher union power as we knew it. No need to say more.

Book of the Year: In some school districts - and the number will grow quickly - it was the handbook issued by the school board, replacing contracts with teachers unions. No more having to get union approval for changing every nitpicky rule about the length of the school day or assigning teachers to lunch duty.

Tool of the Year: Well, it wasn't anything small. In the Legislature, it was more like a jackhammer, as Republicans and Democrats engaged in all-out battle. As for schools, Walker talked often about giving leaders tools to deal with their situations. This is where it will get very interesting. Will leaders act as if they are holding precision tools to be used cautiously or as if they, too, are holding jackhammers? As one state school figure said privately to me, how school boards handle their new power is likely to be a key to whether there is a resurgence of teacher unions in the state. Which leads us to:

I think Borsuk's #3 is critical. I suspect that 60ish% of school boards will continue with the present practices, under different names. The remainder will create a new environment, perhaps providing a different set of opportunities for teachers. The April, 2012 Madison School Board election may determine the extent to which "status quo" reins locally.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:02 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

N.J. should revisit fundamental reasons for creating charter schools

Neil Brown:

New Jersey lawmakers are rightfully concerned about the proliferation of applications for new charter schools and their subsequent lack of effective oversight, but legislation proposed by Assemblywoman Mila Jasey requiring proposed charter schools to be approved at the polls is thoroughly misguided and symptomatic of a disappointing trend in how we view charter schools and the role they play in addressing the horrible inequities in our state.

I am disappointed by what is said by many of those who will establish recently approved charters. When asked what is special about their school's program, they often say something like: "We plan to hire high-quality teachers and have longer hours." My former students would call that a "duh" statement -- their fancy term for a tautology.

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January 1, 2012

The IPS (Indianapolis Public Schools) Opportunity Schools Plan

The Mind Trust:

The Mind Trust's plan for transforming Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) would dramatically shrink the central administration, send about $200 million more a year to schools without raising taxes one cent, provide pre-k to all 4-year-olds, give teachers and principals more freedom, hold them accountable for student achievement gains, and provide parents with more quality school choices. It is the boldest school reform plan in the country.

Take five minutes and watch a short video of The Mind Trust's Founder and CEO David Harris outlining highlights from the plan.

Nonprofit's proposal would radically reorganize the Indianapolis Public Schools:
An Indianapolis nonprofit has unveiled an ambitious 160-page reform proposal to completely overhaul Indianapolis Public Schools.

If it came to fruition, the sweeping proposal offered by the Mind Trust would create one of the nation's most radical new organizational approaches to public education.

"If we're going to be serious about doing something transformational, we need an aggressive plan," Mind Trust CEO David Harris said. "Incremental reforms haven't worked here, and they haven't worked in other parts of the country."

The proposal features four key changes:

Report should encourage a serious discussion about district's future
Here's my Christmas wish:

It's that the new Mind Trust report that calls for a sweeping overhaul of the way Indianapolis Public Schools operates will not turn into another tired battle over turf, pride and special interests. Instead, my hope is that it will lead to a broad and much-needed communitywide discussion about the future of the state's largest, and in some ways most important, school district.

The thorough, sensible and provocative report should spark the same kind of urgent discussion and action that we're seeing over mass transit, and that we've seen for decades over sports stadiums.

Those other issues are important. The education debate is vital.

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The Most Important Graphs of 2011

Derek Thompson:

What is it about graphs and economics? In a discipline where facts are murky and certainty is elusive, graphs offer a bright light of information and a small confidence that the world can be summed up between two axes. So when the BBC asked a group of economists to name their graph of the year, we decided to do the same (so did Wonkblog!). Here, from economists on left and right, and from economic journalists from around the beat, are the graphs of the year. Click through the gallery or scroll down to find the graphs organized under categories including Europe, spending & taxing, and energy.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:39 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Navigating Love and Autism

Amy Harmon:

The first night they slept entwined on his futon, Jack Robison, 19, who had since childhood thought of himself as "not like the other humans," regarded Kirsten Lindsmith with undisguised tenderness.

She was the only girl to have ever asked questions about his obsessive interests -- chemistry, libertarian politics, the small drone aircraft he was building in his kitchen -- as though she actually cared to hear his answer. To Jack, who has a form of autism called Asperger syndrome, her mind was uncannily like his. She was also, he thought, beautiful.

So far they had only cuddled; Jack, who had dropped out of high school but was acing organic chemistry in continuing education classes, had hopes for something more. Yet when she smiled at him the next morning, her lips seeking his, he turned away.

"I don't really like kissing," he said.

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Voices of a Quant: 'It's very tempting to just stay in the world where everything can be understood in mathematical language'

Joris Luyendijk:

We're meeting for lunch at a restaurant in Canary Wharf, where many of the major global banks are located. He is a man in his late 40s, inconspicuously dressed, and in possession of a firm handshake. He orders a Coke, and then a pasta dish he will dig in with great relish. In his volunteer email he said he was with a software firm (working in investment banking). When asked for a job description, he simply says he is a "quant".

"My parents discovered that I was of a mathematical bent aged three when I was apparently lining up my toys in order of size and then colour. I was one of these terrible, precocious kids who did their mathematics O-level aged 12. After a long academic career I ended up doing theoretical physics for my PhD, and spent a couple of years at Cern in Geneva. Many people I know from back then are still at universities, doing research and climbing the slippery slope to professorships and fellowships. They work the same astonishing long hours as I do, yet get paid a fraction and, from a purely scientific perspective, get to do some really, really interesting science. I often say (only half jokingly) that I "sold my soul" - I make a little over £200,000 a year, including my bonus.

"I am in a world of data, and I build all sorts of models for banks. For instance, one that helps a bank decide whom to lend a mortgage to. You have all this data about the person who is applying, and then the model works out the risk of lending to that person. You look at both the probability of this happening, and at the size of the loss in such an event.

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Are High-Quality Schools Enough to Increase Achievement Among the Poor? Evidence from the Harlem Children's Zone

Roland Fryer:

Harlem Children's Zone (HCZ), which combines community programs with "No Excuses" charter schools, is one of the most ambitious social experiments to alleviate poverty of our time. We provide the first empirical test of the causal impact of attending the Promise Academy charter schools in HCZ on educational outcomes, with an eye towards informing the long-standing debate on whether schools alone can eliminate the achievement gap or whether the issues that poor children bring to school are too much for educators alone to overcome. Both lottery and instrumental variable identification strategies suggest that the effects of attending the Promise Academy middle school are enough to close the black-white achievement gap in mathematics. The effects in elementary school are large enough to close the racial achievement gap in both mathematics and English Language Arts. We conclude by presenting two pieces of evidence that suggest high-quality schools are enough to significantly increase academic achievement among the poor. Community programs appear neither necessary nor sufficient.

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

What makes some people learn language after language?

The Economist:

CARDINAL MEZZOFANTI of Bologna was a secular saint. Though he never performed the kind of miracle needed to be officially canonised, his power was close to unearthly. Mezzofanti was said to speak 72 languages. Or 50. Or to have fully mastered 30. No one was certain of the true figure, but it was a lot. Visitors flocked from all corners of Europe to test him and came away stunned. He could switch between languages with ease. Two condemned prisoners were due to be executed, but no one knew their language to hear their confession. Mezzofanti learned it in a night, heard their sins the next morning and saved them from hell.

Or so the legend goes. In "Babel No More", Michael Erard has written the first serious book about the people who master vast numbers of languages--or claim to. A journalist with some linguistics training, Mr Erard is not a hyperpolyglot himself (he speaks some Spanish and Chinese), but he approaches his topic with both wonder and a healthy dash of scepticism.

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