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November 30, 2012

Cross-District Comparisons of Students are Indeed Helpful

Mike Ford:

"Is it helpful to compare student performance across school districts with differing demographics?"

The question was spurred by the reaction to the recent release of their annual report on school performance in Racine. I answer their question with an enthusiastic yes. In fact I will go further, it is not only helpful, it is essential.

Why? Well, graduates of districts across the state will be competing for the same spots in universities, and/or for the same jobs. It is crucial that districts know how their students are faring compared to others, regardless of their students' demographics and socio-economic situation. If we do not know how they compare, how can we even begin to close achievement gaps?

It is not enough to simply present data on how students of any given school district are faring given the non-classroom challenges they face. That does not mean we shouldn't measure and celebrate (or lament) how Milwaukee is performing compared to other urban districts. We should. But we also need to know where students stand compared to others they will compete with in the real world.


Posted by Jim Zellmer at 3:18 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

40% of foreign students in the US have no close friends on campus: The culture shock of loneliness

Andrea Van Niekirk:

Foreign students are flocking to the higher education system in the US. A recent study found that in 2011-2012, the number of international students in the US increased by 6.5% over the last year to a record high of 764,495 students. Of these, 56% came from only five countries: China, India, South Korea, Saudi Arabia and Canada.

The reasons for the shift and the consequences of this massive migration have been discussed at great length within universities, in papers with titles such as "The Chinese are Coming." When the students arrive on American campuses, however, they have to wrestle with social and educational experiences that are fundamentally foreign to them. Most anticipate their American adventure as an exciting opportunity laced with some inevitable adjustments, caught off guard by the extent and nature of the obstacles they encounter, in the classroom and on campus.

Studying and writing in a foreign academic language is difficult enough, but it is often the classroom dynamic that is most daunting to foreign students. They are disconcerted by the interaction, often marked by an easy familiarity and questioning rapport, between American teachers and students. Yongfang Chen, one of the authors of A True Liberal Arts Education, co-written about his academic experiences as a Chinese student at Bowdoin, noted in an interview after the book was published, that, "Coming from a culture in which a 'standard answer' is provided for every question, I did not argue with others even when I disagreed. However, Bowdoin forced me to re-consider 'the answer' and reach beyond my comfort zone." The intense and narrow focus required of Chinese students as they spend high school preparing for the gaokao, the national test that is the sole determinant of entry into China's universities, is also at odds with an American emphasis on ongoing assessment through tests and midterm exams.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:40 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

The Myth of American Meritocracy: How corrupt are Ivy League admissions?

Ron Unz:

Just before the Labor Day weekend, a front page New York Times story broke the news of the largest cheating scandal in Harvard University history, in which nearly half the students taking a Government course on the role of Congress had plagiarized or otherwise illegally collaborated on their final exam.1 Each year, Harvard admits just 1600 freshmen while almost 125 Harvard students now face possible suspension over this single incident. A Harvard dean described the situation as "unprecedented."

But should we really be so surprised at this behavior among the students at America's most prestigious academic institution? In the last generation or two, the funnel of opportunity in American society has drastically narrowed, with a greater and greater proportion of our financial, media, business, and political elites being drawn from a relatively small number of our leading universities, together with their professional schools. The rise of a Henry Ford, from farm boy mechanic to world business tycoon, seems virtually impossible today, as even America's most successful college dropouts such as Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg often turn out to be extremely well-connected former Harvard students. Indeed, the early success of Facebook was largely due to the powerful imprimatur it enjoyed from its exclusive availability first only at Harvard and later restricted to just the Ivy League.

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Little Qatar goes big on education

Chris Cook:

Qatar has enormous oil and gas reserves, but the little state is trying to kick the petroleum habit and become a high-tech society. It wants a sustainable economy for when the oil runs out - and a more cultured society in the meantime.

The Qatar Foundation is the institution that is leading this drive: I am in the little Gulf state this week for WISE, their annual summit on education, where I was a speaker on the finance of education. The whole thing is rather spectacular.

When they say they are going to do something, they go big - sometimes to a rather baffling degree. One of my favourite examples of this is their super-duper equine health centre, which trains horse-handlers and apparently features a sauna for the horses.

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

The Most Beautiful Periodic Table Products in the World

Element Collection:

The Alexander Arrangement is a three-dimensional paper sculpture of the periodic table designed by Roy Alexander, with whom I collaborated on this version. For the first time this clever form of the table has been combined with my photographs of real element samples, resulting in a quite lovely object.

If you know anyone who likes elements, chemistry, or science in general, and you need a gift that you know they don't have yet, this is it! It's completely new for x-mas 2012.

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Chicago offers to pause school closings after 2013 cuts

Mary Wisniewski:

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said on Monday he wants a five-year moratorium on closing public schools after anticipated cuts in 2013, but the teachers union called his gesture a "sleight of hand."

The third-largest school district in the United States, which was hit with a strike by public school teachers in September, was already facing a financial crisis that was made worse by granting pay rises to teachers.

The school district forecasts a $1 billion deficit next year and is widely expected to try to balance its budget in part by closing public schools.

Enrollment in Chicago Public Schools has fallen nearly 20 percent in the last decade, mainly because of population declines in poor neighborhoods. The district said it can accommodate 500,000 students, but only about 400,000 are enrolled.

Some 140 schools are half-empty, according to the district. The union said 86 Chicago public schools have closed in the past decade, but the district could not confirm that number.

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Does Texas Have an Answer to Sky-High Tuition?

Lara Seligman:

Texas is experimenting with an initiative to help students and families struggling with sky-high college costs: a bachelor's degree for $10,000, including tuition fees and even textbooks. Under a plan he unveiled in 2011, Republican Gov. Rick Perry has called on institutions in his state to develop options for low-cost undergraduate degrees. The idea was greeted with skepticism at first, but lately, it seems to be gaining traction. If it yields success, it could prompt other states to explore similar, more-innovative ways to cut the cost of education.

Limiting the price tag for a degree to $10,000 is no easy feat. In the 2012-13 academic year, the average annual cost of tuition in Texas at a public four-year institution was $8,354, just slightly lower than the national average of $8,655. The high costs are saddling students with huge debt burdens. Nationally, 57 percent of students who earned bachelor's degrees in 2011 from public four-year colleges graduated with debt, and the average debt per borrower was $23,800--up from $20,100 a decade earlier. By Sept. 30, 2011, 9.1 percent of borrowers who entered repayment in 2009-10 defaulted on their federal student loans, the highest default rate since 1996.

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November 29, 2012

Come see the new documentary about the UW-Odyssey Project

The UW-Odyssey Project changes lives for adults near the poverty level. Now in its tenth year, this inspirational project has empowered more than 250 low-income adults to find their voices and get a jumpstart at earning college degrees they never thought possible. Graduates of the program have journeyed from homelessness to UW-Madison degrees, from incarceration to meaningful work in the community.

You are warmly invited to a special screening of a new documentary about the UW-Odyssey Project on Thursday, December 6, at the Sundance Cinema (Hilldale Shopping Mall). Showings will be at 5:00, 5:40 and 6:20 p.m. in theater #3. Refreshments will be served in the second floor bistro. This event is free, but donations to the Odyssey Project's important work will be gratefully appreciated.

For more information about the UW-Odyssey Project, the new documentary, and how to vote for Emily Auerbach (Odyssey Project founder and director) for Lady Godiva Chocolate's Inspirational Woman of the Year, go to

Posted by Laurie Frost at 9:18 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Index of cognitive skills and educational attainment

Economist intelligence Unit:

The Global Index of Cognitive Skills and Educational Attainment compares the performance of 39 countries and one region (Hong Kong) on two categories of education: Cognitive Skills and Educational Attainment. The Index provides a snapshot of the relative performance of countries based on their education outputs.

The indicators used in this Index are:

- Cognitive Skills: PISA, TIMSS and PIRLS scores in Reading, Maths and Science

- Educational Attainment: literacy and graduation rates

How is the Index calculated?

The overall index score is the weighted sum of the underlying two category scores. Likewise, the category scores are the weighted sum of the underlying indicator scores (see below for the default weights applied). Each indicator score is calculated on the basis of a z-score normalisation process. This process enables the comparison and aggregation of different data sets (on different scales), and the scoring of countries on the basis of their comparative performance.

What is a z-score?

A z-score indicates how many standard deviations an observation is above or below the mean. To compute the z-score, the EIU first calculated each indicator's mean and standard deviation using the data for the countries in the Index, and then the distance of the observation from the mean in terms of standard deviations.


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Palm scanners get thumbs up in schools, hospitals

Brian Shane:

At schools in Pinellas County, Fla., students aren't paying for lunch with cash or a card, but with a wave of their hand over a palm scanner.

"It's so quick that a child could be standing in line, call mom and say, 'I forgot my lunch money today.' She's by her computer, runs her card, and by the time the child is at the front of the line, it's already recorded," says Art Dunham, director of food services for Pinellas County Schools.

Students take about four seconds to swipe and pay for lunch, Dunham says, and they're doing it with 99% accuracy.

"We just love it. No one wants to go back," Dunham says.

Palm-scanning technology is popping up nationwide as a bona fide biometric tracker of identities, and it appears poised to make the jump from schools and hospitals to other sectors of the economy such as banking and retail. It also has applications as a secure identifier for cloud computing.

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The Cost of Dropping Out Millions Struggle With High College Debt and No Degree

Ben Casselman:

The rising cost of a college education is hitting one group especially hard: the millions of students who drop out without earning a degree.

A bachelor's degree remains by far the clearest path to the American middle class. Even today, amid mounting concerns about the rising cost of higher education and questions about the relevance of many college degrees, recent graduates have lower rates of unemployment, higher earnings and better career prospects than their less educated peers.

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Before firing, West Virginia superintendent acted on audit

Lawrence Messina:

Jorea Marple was carrying out numerous recommendations from the much-discussed audit of West Virginia's public schools system when she was fired as superintendent, by Board of Education members eager to signal to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and the Legislature that they supported the extensive review of education spending, policy and organization.

Those board members have cited the need for change when explaining Marple's ouster, in light of struggling student performance. At least one member, Gayle Manchin, has commented further.

"My viewpoint was, we should all embrace this audit and garner from its findings and recommendation that would help us make the changes that needed to be made," Manchin told The Associated Press last week. "My personal opinion is that wasn't necessarily the way it was received at the Department of Education."

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Parents, teachers fear growing pains at Badger Rock charter school

Matthew DeFour:

Madison's newest charter school opened in a state-of-the-art green building this fall, but parents and teachers are already worried there isn't enough room for additional students next year.

It's not that the classrooms at Badger Rock Middle School are cramped -- they're more spacious than most others in the district. But parents and teachers say there just aren't enough rooms to serve the needs of the school.

The principal had to negotiate with the building owner to carve out an area for private meetings between teachers, parents and students. The nurse's clinic doubles as a teacher break room. And when the number of students increases from 100 to 150 next year, a grade level will move into what is now the art and science room.

"When they planned out the building they said, 'We have this great idea and it looks like this,'" said Tom Purnell, the parent of twin seventh-graders at Badger Rock. "Do I want to send my kids where the vision is or where the reality is?"

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Lowering the bar for students isn't the answer

Leonard Pitts:

Indeed, for all the talk about the so-called reverse racism of affirmative action, I have long argued that the real problem with it - and the reason it needs an expiration date - is that it might give African-American kids the mistaken idea they carry some inherent deficiency that renders them unable to compete with other kids on an equal footing.

We should be wary of anything, however well-intentioned, however temporary, which conveys that impression to our children. I am proof we have been doing just that for a very long time. And it burns - I tell you this from experience - to realize people have judged you by a lower standard, especially when you had the ability to meet the higher one all along. So this "interim" cannot end soon enough.

Because ultimately, you do not fix education by lowering the bar. You do it by lifting the kids.


November 28, 2012

Treating our kids like suspects

James Causey:

One of the best lines in the movie "Lean on Me" was delivered by high school Principal Joe Clark, who told a custodian to "tear down" the cages in the cafeteria that were used to protect the cooks from the students.

"If you treat them like animals, that's exactly how they will behave," said Clark, portrayed by Morgan Freeman.

Clark is right, and that's why Milwaukee Public Schools should not subject thousands of children to daily metal detector scans.

Metal detectors and hand-held wands only give educators, students and parents the false illusion that their schools are safe, when there is little proof that they cut down on violence.

The district says it does the scans to be proactive in light of the workplace and school shootings that have taken place across the country since 1999's attack at Columbine High School in Colorado.

MPS spokesman Tony Tagliavia said, "We'd much rather have a conversation on why we scan instead of having the conversation on why we didn't."

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 5:56 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: The US Fiscal Outlook

Mary Meeker's Address on the State of USA Inc.

1) America is losing its edge - some of this is inevitable as other countries improve their competitiveness, some of this is self inflicted.

2) Financial strength is vital to competitiveness - it's core to a healthy economy, job creation, vibrant education / culture and military leadership.

3) Positive cash flow and a strong balance sheet are key to financial strength - bottom line, it's bad to spend more than one brings in, as America is doing. In effect, as each day passes - with our rising losses and debt load - we rob just a little bit more from the future.

4) America does not need to lose its edge, it needs conviction and leadership to move its 'business model' in the right direction - we are all in this together, we need to understand and acknowledge our problems and agree to move forward with collective inspiration and sacrifice.

5) American tax dollars fund our government - we all need to understand where our taxes go and decide if we believe our hard-earned dollars are put to their highest-and-best use. The politicians we elect decide where our money goes.

View Meeker's complete presentation, here (1.6MB PDF).

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 5:08 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Jeb Bush, with cash and clout, pushes contentious school reforms

Stephanie Simon:

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush soared to rock star status in the education world on the strength of a chart.

A simple graph, it tracked fourth-grade reading scores. In 1998, when Bush was elected governor, Florida kids scored far below the national average. By the end of his second term, in 2007, they were far ahead, with especially impressive gains for low-income and minority students.

Those results earned Bush bipartisan acclaim. As he convenes a star-studded policy summit this week in Washington, he is widely regarded as one of the most influential education reformers in the U.S. Elements of his agenda have been adopted in 36 states, from Maine to Mississippi, North Carolina to New Mexico.

Many of his admirers cite Bush's success in Florida as reason enough to get behind him.

But a close examination raises questions about the depth and durability of the gains in Florida. After the dramatic jump of the Bush years, Florida test scores edged up in 2009 and then dropped, with low-income students falling further behind. State data shows huge numbers of high school graduates still needing remedial help in math and reading.

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Wisconsin's report cards get an 'incomplete' for high schools

Dennis Conta And Sean Robert:

Erin Richards' Oct. 22 article on Wisconsin's new school report cards shed light on the limitations of the proposed accountability system and illustrated the need to improve it.

The report card is a good idea with much promise, but in its current form it places high schools, especially those serving low-income and minority students, at a serious disadvantage.

The ratings assigned to schools are supposed to be based on reading and math test scores recalculated to meet a higher proficiency bar, test scores growth and the progress schools are making toward closing achievement gaps. In theory, it is a balanced system that will judge schools not on the types of students they receive but the actual impact a school has on student achievement.

But because of data limitations, the report card does not measure what it is designed to for high schools.

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Political indoctrination replacing academics as the mission of K-12 public education

Laurie Rogers, via a kind email:

What's the mission of any school district? Most parents seem to agree that it's academics. Schools should prepare students academically for postsecondary life - whether it's college, a trade, a career, the military or some other endeavor.

Alas, many public schools don't focus on college or career readiness, and their mission statements don't say they have to. Instead, other, more nebulous goals are their stated priorities, such as turning students into global citizens, "challenging" them, helping them develop "supportive relationships," and having them engage in "relevant, real-life applications."

"Equity" and "social justice" also are emphasized in many districts. Some districts have created new departments, applied for federal grants or hired $100,000+ personnel - supposedly to foster equity and social justice. But what's behind the terminology?

Actual equity and social justice entail providing ALL students with the academic skills they need to lead a productive postsecondary life. But in public education, the terms tend to be ambiguous and politically laden, focusing instead on perceived unfairness. In the typical social-justice curriculum, America frequently is portrayed as the bad guy.

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A grammar school confusion

Chris Cook:

Last week, the excellent Paul Francis, political editor of the Kent Messenger, reported that Kent, the most significant selective county left in England had come up with a clever plan: to make the entry test for grammar schools "tutor-proof".

This idea comes up a lot, largely from people promoting selection. You can see why: it is often presented as a means of squaring a problem. They can argue that grammar schools help bright poor children while dealing with the fact that very few get into them.

But, in truth, a properly administered test, which accurately captures the education enjoyed by people at the age of 11, should exclude large numbers of poor children. Not because they are intrinsically less able. But, at 11, the poor-rich divide is already a chasm.

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McCullough on Teaching Training: Don't Major in Education!

Laura Waters:

David McCullough, author of Truman and John Adams and two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, was interviewed by Morley Safer on Sixty Minutes recently. During a discussion regarding Americans' "historical illiteracy," McCullough opined on teacher training:
Well we need to revamp, seriously revamp, the teaching of the teachers. I don't feel that any professional teacher should major in education. They should major in a subject, know something. The best teachers are those who have a gift and the energy and enthusiasm to convey their love for science or history or Shakespeare or whatever it is. "Show them what you love" is the old adage. And we've all had them, where they can change your life. They can electrify the morning when you come into the classroom.
Related: When A Stands for Average: Students at the UW-Madison School of Education Receive Sky-High Grades. How Smart is That? and the National Council for Teacher Quality has been looking into school of education curriculum.

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Schools Head Finds a Formula Data-Driven Approach Helps St. Louis Become Latest System to Improve Grades

Stephanie Banchero:

Five years ago, students in the public-school system here were almost as likely to drop out as earn a diploma. School-board meetings routinely devolved into shouting matches, with a board member once pouring a pitcher of ice water over an administrator's head.

St. Louis schools chief Kelvin Adamsmeets with his management team this fall to review such data as the number of students expelled or truant.

Then, the state of Missouri stepped in, stripped the district's accreditation and installed a new board to run the schools. That board hired Kelvin Adams, an unpretentious leader who had spent the previous 18 months as the chief of staff of the New Orleans Recovery School District, which had been created by the state to transform the hurricane-ravaged schools.

Since taking over here, Mr. Adams has lifted the high-school graduation rate by 18 percentage points and eliminated $25 million in debt. Attendance is up and misbehavior is down. State test scores are still painfully low--about three-quarters of elementary-school students can't read or do math at grade level--but the progress on tests was enough to persuade state officials last month to grant the district provisional accreditation.

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November 27, 2012

Advice to a Young Mathematician

Timothy Gowers:

The most important thing that a young mathematician needs to learn is of course mathematics. However, it can also be very valuable to learn from the experiences of other mathematicians. The five contributors to this article were asked to draw on their experiences of math- ematical life and research, and to offer advice that they might have liked to receive when they were just setting out on their careers. (The title of this entry is a nod to Sir Peter Medawar's well-known book, Advice to a Young Scientist.) The resulting contributions were every bit as interesting as we had expected; what was more surprising was that there was remarkably little overlap between the contributions. So here they are, five gem intended for young mathematicians but surely destined to be read and enjoyed by mathematicians of all ages.

I. Sir Michael Atiyah

What follows is very much a personal view based on my own experience and reflecting my personality, the type of mathematics that I work on, and my style of work. However, mathematicians vary widely in all these char- acteristics and you should follow your own instinct. You may learn from others but interpret what you learn in your own way. Originality comes by breaking away, in some respects, from the practice of the past.

Clusty search: Timothy Gowers.

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Wisconsin's graduation rate is second best in the country (officially)

Matthew DeFour

It's official. Wisconsin has the second-highest high school graduation rate in the country.

The U.S. Education Department reported Monday for the first time a list of state graduation rates based on a uniform formula developed by the National Governors Association.

The new method tracks a cohort of ninth graders who graduated with a diploma in 2011. Wisconsin was one of 26 states that saw graduation rates decline under the new measurement.

Wisconsin officials have long touted the state as having one of the top graduation rates in the country, but it was never an apples-to-apples comparison until now. According to the Education Department, "the varying methods formerly used by states to report graduation rates made comparisons between states unreliable."

The new graduation data show:

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Swedish Study: Voucher Schools Improve Everyone's Achievement

Anders Böhlmark Mikael Lindahl

What will free schools mean for the quality of education -- in the new schools, and in the old ones they compete with? In Sweden, they don't have to guess. They have almost 400 free schools, and data from millions of pupils. The latest study has just been published, and has strong results that I thought might interest CoffeeHousers (you can read the whole paper here). It makes the case for Michael Gove to put the bellows under the free school movement by following Sweden and let them be run like expanding companies (that is to say, make a profit). It finds that:
  1. Growth of free schools has led to better high school grades & university participation, even accounting for other factors such as grade inflation.
  2. Crucially, state school pupils seem to benefit about as much as independent school ones. When 'bog standard comprehensive' face new tougher competition, they shape up. They know they'll lose pupils if they don't. As the researchers put it: 'these positive effects are primarily due to spill-over or competition effects and not that independent-school students gain significantly more than public school students.'
  3. Free schools have produced better results on the same budget. Their success cannot be put down to cash. Or, as they say, 'We are also able to show that a higher share of independent-school students in the municipality has not generated increased school expenditures.'
  4. That the 'free school effect' is at its clearest now because we now have a decade's worth of development and expansion.
Via Competition in Schools by Chris Cook.
Fraser Nelson, editor of the Spectator, has written up a paper on Swedish school reforms, which you can download here. I thought it was worth using to quickly flag up two important statistical public policy points.

The context to this is that Sweden has, since the early 1990s, allowed private (including for-profit) institutions to enter the school system - and parallels are often drawn between it and the ongoing reforms of England's school system. This paper, as Fraser rightly says, comes to the view that increasing the volume of private schools in an area is associated with improved results. Mikael Lindahl and Anders Böhlmark say:

If we transform our estimates to standard deviation (S.D.) units (using the variation across all individuals) we find that a 10 percentage point increase in the share of independent-school students has resulted in 0.07 S.D. higher average educational achievement at the end of compulsory school.
This is a statistically significant finding. That is to say that it is not likely to be the result of random happenstance. But it is important to look beyond the significance to effect size - so it's not luck, but is it a big effect? That is where the Swedish paper makes me suck my teeth. It suggests that if you were to introduce a ten percentage point increase in private provision, you would only get a 0.07 standard deviation increase. I cannot help thinking that's a pretty meagre return on such a massive disruption in the system.

Read the paper here (500K PDF).

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Accountability, Ever for Traditional Public School Districts: Newark

Andy Smarick:

By putting the district on the clock, Christie can offer a brighter future to Newark's residents and, in the process, emerge as the nation's most aggressive and forward-thinking education reform governor.
Via Laura Waters.

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Still in high school, science researcher excels

Pamela Cotant:

Memorial High School senior Sohil Shah is at an academic level above most of his peers.

Sohil, 17, who takes classes and conducts research at UW-Madison, also is more advanced than many college students.

Findings from his nanoscience research project were published in the prestigious Journal of Materials Chemistry -- a feat that could be expected of third-year doctorate students, said Robert Hamers, chemistry professor at UW-Madison and Sohil's mentor.

"Sohil is the most amazing high school student I have ever seen," said Hamers, who is impressed by the high school student's overall scientific knowledge and outstanding math skills. "It's hard to remember that he's not a college student."

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Jersey City Parent Responds to Union Prez's Veto of Grant and Diane Ravitch's Enconium

Laura Waters:

Earlier this month Jersey City Education Association President Ron Greco refused to sign off on the district's $40 million Race to the Top application (see coverage here) and wrote a letter to JCEA members explaining that he vetoed the grant because "not one cent is dedicated to negotiation of a new contract. Diane Ravitch then blogged about Mr. Greco's decision, noting his "courage, insight, wisdom, and conviction."

A reader who calls herself Jersey Mom, a parent of a Jersey City public school student, responded to Dr. Ravitch and also posted her rebuttal on NJLB's comment section. (See here.) In addition to pointing out various factual errors in Dr. Ravitch's blog, she also references Jersey City Superintendent Marcia Lyle's recent presentation, "Mind the Gap," which details some of the district's challenges:

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Cooperative & In Unison

Elementary ESL Teacher:

"Why did you choose this text?", I asked the ninth grader, noticing the I Have A Dream speech in his hands.

"I had always heard about MLK and wanted to read the speech," he smiled. He gave me a copy and gathered the other two members of his group to the table.

They began to read aloud together and at the second sentence, a student breached, or stopped the group, "Five score? What does that mean?"

"A game?" a student replied.

There were no handy dictionaries, so I gave them my phone to google it. They learned a score was equal to twenty years, so five score meant 100. "Why didn't he just say that?" a student quipped. "Well, it's a speech, and that's an old-fashioned way of speaking, so maybe he is just trying to make it sound special or formal." Satisfied, the group kept reading.

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Districts combine resources for alternative charter high school

Erin Richards:

Bob Kazmierski once struggled in a traditional high school classroom setting where he couldn't get enough individualized attention, so he turned to Connects Learning Center, an alternative high school program in Cudahy.

Alternative schools often carry a stigma of catering to students lacking ambition, but Kazmierski said Connects serves students who simply learn differently. He graduated last year and has been working full-time at a fast food restaurant to save money for Gateway Technical College, where he's registered to start classes in January.

"It's not like (Connects) classes are easier at all," Kazmierski said. "It's just in a different format."

The small school's emphasis on personalized help for students is a key part of that, but its operational structure may be its most innovative feature. Connects is a charter school run by multiple districts that work together to provide a cost-efficient alternative path for students.

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As charter schools get going here (Washington State), best-known charter chains may stay away

Linda Shaw:

The first charter schools in Washington probably won't be run by the nation's best-known charter groups with years of experience and strong reputations.

During the successful campaign for Initiative 1240, which will allow as many as 40 charters to open here over five years, supporters talked about wanting Washington students to have a chance to attend the kind of schools operated by the nation's top charter operators.

But the highest profile chains are in such demand that most won't be looking to expand here anytime soon -- if at all.

Instead, assuming the new law survives a legal challenge, Washington likely will start out with kitchen-table charters, cooked up by a teacher or principal or two with a passion to try something new.

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November 26, 2012

Infinite Campus & The Madison School District

Madison Teachers, Inc. Solidarity enewsletter (PDF), via a kind Linda Doeseckle email:

As the District contemplates consequences for those teachers who are not using Infinite Campus, MTI has heard from several members about the difficulty in meeting this District expectation. District Assistant Superintendent Joe Gothard sent a letter to all middle and high school teaching staff in late August, mandating that they use the grade book within IC and enter grades at least once weekly. While this poses challenges across the board, it has been especially difficult for specials teachers as they see literally hundreds of students each week.

MTI Executive Director John Matthews and Assistant Director Sara Bringman have spoken with Gothard about how to alleviate this burden for specials teachers. Gothard reports that he has spoken with principals and shared this message: "If specials teachers have large classes, and/or an A/B day (schedule), they would not be held to the standard of weekly input. At a minimum they should be using it for progress and grade reports." Gothard's accommodation should help allay concerns among specials teachers for not following the District's earlier mandate.

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High school students cheating less, survey finds

Cathy Payne:

Are American students making the grade when it comes to ethics?

A new survey from the Josephson Institute of Ethics finds that the portion of high school students who admit to cheating, lying or stealing dropped in 2012 for the first time in a decade. The reasons aren't totally known, but the results of the poll of 23,000 high school students give leaders of the Los Angeles-based non-profit organization hope.

The survey is "a pretty good sign that things may be turning around," said Michael Josephson, the founder and president of the Josephson Institute. "I'm quite optimistic this is the beginning of a downward trend."

Among the highlights from the survey, which is done every two years:

For the first time in a decade lying cheating stealing among American students drops:
A continual parade of headline-grabbing incidents of dishonest and unethical behavior from political leaders, business executives and prominent athletes suggests that we are in a moral recession. But a new report -- the 2012 Report Card on the Ethics of American Youth -- suggests that a robust recovery is underway.

The survey of 23,000 high school students, which was conducted by the Los Angeles-based Josephson Institute of Ethics, reveals that for the first time in a decade students are cheating, lying and stealing less than in previous years. The Institute conducts the national survey every two years.

CHEATING: In 2010, 59 percent of students admitted they had cheated on an exam in the past year; in 2012 that rate dropped to 51 percent. Students who copied another's homework dropped 2 percent, from 34 percent in 2010 to 32 percent this year. Other good news:

LYING: Students who said they lied to a teacher in the past year about something significant dropped from 61 percent in 2010 to 55 percent in 2012. Those who lied to their parents about something significant also dropped from 80 percent to 76 percent. In 2012, 38 percent of the students said they sometimes lie to save money; that is a drop of 3 percent from 2010.

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The Cost of Dropping Out Millions Struggle With High College Debt and No Degree

Ben Casselman:

The rising cost of a college education is hitting one group especially hard: the millions of students who drop out without earning a degree.

A bachelor's degree remains by far the clearest path to the American middle class. Even today, amid mounting concerns about the rising cost of higher education and questions about the relevance of many college degrees, recent graduates have lower rates of unemployment, higher earnings and better career prospects than their less educated peers.

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Give charter schools their due The campuses have spurred reform in L.A. Unified and should be appreciated, not assailed.

Los Angeles Times Editorial:

By now, it should be apparent that charter schools have been the spark to the education reform flame in the Los Angeles Unified School District. At first, applicants hoping to open publicly funded but independently operated charter schools had to fight for every new campus, opposed by school board members who were strong union allies. But as charters showed remarkable progress with disadvantaged and minority students who had been failing in regular public schools, appreciation for them increased. New laws limited the grounds on which the school board could reject charter applications, and the election of a more reform-oriented board brought the number of students attending charter schools to nearly 100,000, about twice as many as in the New York City school system.

Yet misguided attacks on charter schools still occur, most recently when L.A. Unified school board member Steve Zimmer introduced a resolution to temporarily halt the approval of new charters. The resolution was softened, but eventually, and rightly, it was rejected by the board.

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An ABC proof too tough even for mathematicians

Kevin Hartnett:

On Aug. 30, a Japanese mathematician named Shinichi Mochizuki posted four papers to his faculty website at Kyoto University. Rumors had been spreading all summer that Mochizuki was onto something big, and in the abstract to the fourth paper Mochizuki explained that, indeed, his project was as grand as people had suspected. Over 512 pages of dense mathematical reasoning, he claimed to have discovered a proof of one of the most legendary unsolved problems in math.

The problem is called the ABC conjecture, a 27-year-old proposition considered so impossible that few mathematicians even dared to take it on. Most people who might have claimed a proof of ABC would have been dismissed as cranks. But Mochizuki was a widely respected mathematician who'd solved hard problems before. His work had to be taken seriously.

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In the Book Bag, More Garden Tools

Lisa Foderaro:

In the East Village, children planted garlic bulbs and harvested Swiss chard before Thanksgiving. On the other side of town, in Greenwich Village, they learned about storm water runoff, solar energy and wind turbines. And in Queens, students and teachers cultivated flowers that attract butterflies and pollinators.

Across New York City, gardens and miniature farms -- whether on rooftops or at ground level -- are joining smart boards and digital darkrooms as must-have teaching tools. They are being used in subjects as varied as science, art, mathematics and social studies. In the past two years, the number of school-based gardens registered with the city jumped to 232, from 40, according to GreenThumb, a division of the parks department that provides schools with technical support.

But few of them come with the credential of the 2,400-square-foot garden at Avenue B and Fifth Street in the East Village, on top of a red-brick building that houses three public schools: the Earth School, Public School 64 and Tompkins Square Middle School. Michael Arad, the architect who designed the National September 11 Memorial in Lower Manhattan, was a driving force behind the garden, called the Fifth Street Farm.

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Future Of Cash-Strapped Historic Black Colleges


Many of the nation's historically black colleges and universities are facing financial problems, and some have had to shut down altogether. Guest host Celeste Headlee discusses the issue with Dillard University President Walter Kimbrough and Professor Marybeth Gasman of the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education.

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November 25, 2012

Feds: Teachers paid for ringers to take aptitude tests

Adrian Sainz, via a kind reader's email:

Clarence Mumford Sr. is facing more than 60 fraud and conspiracy charges after authorities said he made tens of thousands of dollars from aspiring teachers who paid to have someone else take tests for them.

It was a brazen and surprisingly long-lived scheme, authorities said, to help aspiring public school teachers cheat on the tests they must pass to prove they are qualified to lead their classrooms.

For 15 years, teachers in three Southern states paid Clarence Mumford Sr. -- himself a longtime educator -- to send someone else to take the tests in their place, authorities said. Each time, Mumford received a fee of between $1,500 and $3,000 to send one of his test ringers with fake identification to the Praxis exam. In return, his customers got a passing grade and began their careers as cheaters, according to federal prosecutors in Memphis.

Authorities say the scheme affected hundreds -- if not thousands -- of public school students who ended up being taught by unqualified instructors.

Mumford faces more than 60 fraud and conspiracy charges that claim he created fake driver's licenses with the information of a teacher or an aspiring teacher and attached the photograph of a test-taker. Prospective teachers are accused of giving Mumford their Social Security numbers for him to make the fake identities.

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On US K-12 Staff Growth: Greater than Student Growth

Joe Rodriguez:

In a recent opinion piece, James L. Huffman requests Oregonians to ask "why those who run our public schools have seen fit to increase their own ranks at three times the rate of growth in student enrollment while allowing for a small decline in the number of teachers relative to students" ("Oregon's schools: Are we putting money into staff at students' expense?" Commentary, Nov. 17).

He references a report by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice that uses data from the National Center for Education Statistics to document that K-12 personnel growth has outstripped K-12 student enrollment growth. The data are completely accurate, but the conclusions Huffman and the report reach are erroneous.

Huffman writes that some might be suspicious of the foundation as the source of the data. In reading the report's conclusion (pages 19-22), such suspicion is justified.

Related: The School Staffing Surge: Decades of Employment Growth in America's Public Schools:
America's K-12 public education system has experienced tremendous historical growth in employment, according to the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics. Between fiscal year (FY) 1950 and FY 2009, the number of K-12 public school students in the United States increased by 96 percent while the number of full-time equivalent (FTE) school employees grew 386 percent. Public schools grew staffing at a rate four times faster than the increase in students over that time period. Of those personnel, teachers' numbers increased 252 percent while administrators and other staff experienced growth of 702 percent, more than seven times the increase in students.

In a recent Heritage Foundation Backgrounder, Lindsey Burke (2012) reports that since 1970, the number of students in American public schools increased by 8 percent while the number of teachers increased 60 percent and the number of non-teaching personnel increased 138 percent.

That hiring pattern has persisted in more recent years as well. This report analyzes the rise in public school personnel relative to the increase in students since FY 1992. Analyses are provided for the nation as a whole and for each state.

Between FY 1992 and FY 2009, the number of K-12 public school students nationwide grew 17 percent while the number of full-time equivalent school employees increased 39 percent, 2.3 times greater than the increase in students over that 18-year period. Among school personnel, teachers' staffing numbers rose 32 percent while administrators and other staff experienced growth of 46 percent; the growth in the number of administrators and other staff was 2.7 times that of students.

1.2MBPDF report and,

Ripon Superintendent Richard Zimman:
"Beware of legacy practices (most of what we do every day is the maintenance of the status quo), @12:40 minutes into the talk - the very public institutions intended for student learning has become focused instead on adult employment. I say that as an employee. Adult practices and attitudes have become embedded in organizational culture governed by strict regulations and union contracts that dictate most of what occurs inside schools today. Any impetus to change direction or structure is met with swift and stiff resistance. It's as if we are stuck in a time warp keeping a 19th century school model on life support in an attempt to meet 21st century demands." Zimman went on to discuss the Wisconsin DPI's vigorous enforcement of teacher licensing practices and provided some unfortunate math & science teacher examples (including the "impossibility" of meeting the demand for such teachers (about 14 minutes)). He further cited exploding teacher salary, benefit and retiree costs eating instructional dollars ("Similar to GM"; "worry" about the children given this situation).

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Debunking "Learning Styles": Popular 'neuromyths' about how we learn are creating confusion in the classroom

Christopher Chabris & Daniel Simons:

The myth about learning styles was the most popular: 94% of the teachers believed that students perform better when lessons are delivered in their preferred learning style. Indeed, students do have preferences about how they learn; the problem is that these preferences have little to do with how effectively they learn.

Cognitive psychologist Daniel Willingham explained this conundrum in his 2009 book "Why Don't Students Like School?" In the best tests of the learning-styles theory, researchers first ascertain students' preferred styles and then randomly assign them to a form of instruction that either matches their preferences or doesn't. For example, in one study, students were randomly assigned to memorize a set of objects presented either verbally (as names) or visually (as pictures). Overall, visual presentation led to better memory, but there was no relationship between the learners' preferences and the instruction style. A study comparing "sensing" to "intuitive" learners among medical residents being taught new procedures reached a similar conclusion.

Of course, good teachers sense when students are struggling or progressing, and they adjust accordingly. Students with disabilities have individual needs that should be addressed. But a comprehensive review commissioned by the Association for Psychological Science concluded that there's essentially no evidence that customizing instruction formats to match students' preferred learning styles leads to better achievement. This is a knock not on teachers--we are teachers ourselves--but on human intuition, which finds the claim about learning styles so self-evident that it is hard to see how it could be wrong.

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Seeing the light: Ed Boyden's tools for brain hackers

Ed Yong:

Ed Boyden, an engineer turned neuroscientist, makes tools for brain hackers. In his lab at MIT, he's built a robot that can capture individual neurons and uses light potentially to control major diseases -- all in his quest to 'solve the brain'. To break into a neuron within a living brain, you need a good eye, extreme patience, months of training, and the ability to suck with gentle care. A mouse lies in front of you, brain exposed. Your mission is to impale one of its neurons with the micrometre-wide tip of a glass pipette.

An electrode in the pipette measures the resistance at its tip, and relays the signal to a monitor. You're watching out for the subtle spikes that tell you that the tip has struck cellular gold. When it is in place, you suck on a rubber tube connected to the pipette - gently at first, to form a seal, and then slightly harder to create a small hole.

If it works, you now have full access to the neuron's inner workings. You can inject a dye through the hole to map the cell's many branches. You can measure its electrical activity as it communicates with its neighbours. You can suck out its contents to analyse the chemicals inside it. If you did that for hundreds of connected neurons, you could start to understand the molecules and electric pulses behind the rodent's thoughts, emotions and memories.

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Students continue to leave the Milwaukee Public Schools

Alan Borsuk:

Step this way for a guided tour of the amazing, morphing education system in Milwaukee!

See the shrinking giant! Before your very eyes, watch the rapid growth of America's most significant program to use public money for children to go to religious schools! Look in awe as thousands of kids head every day to the suburbs! Don't miss the opening of new schools run by people from distant places!

In other words, the last figures are in and we can now take our annual tour of the many and sometimes wondrous ways a child can get publicly funded education in one of America's most complex education environments. Here are some high points:

The shrinking giant: It was amazing several years ago to say that one out of every three Milwaukee children getting a publicly funded education was going to a school outside the traditional Milwaukee public school system. It signaled how much the definition of public education was being reshaped here. But that statement is out of date. It's not 33% any more. It's very close to 40%. The figure goes up about 1 1/2 points a year, which it did again this year.

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Scientists see promising deep learning programs

John Markoff:

Using an artificial intelligence technique inspired by theories about how the brain recognizes patterns, technology companies are reporting startling gains in fields as diverse as computer vision, speech recognition and the identification of promising new molecules for designing drugs.

The advances have led to widespread enthusiasm among researchers who design software to perform human activities like seeing, listening and thinking. They offer the promise of machines that converse with humans and perform tasks like driving cars and working in factories, raising the specter of automated robots that could replace human workers.

The technology, called deep learning, has already been put to use in services like Apple's Siri virtual personal assistant, which is based on Nuance Communications' speech recognition service, and in Google's Street View, which uses machine vision to identify specific addresses.

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Alice Bell on Science Books for Children

The Browser:

Children learn in many different ways and the best science books for young people reflect that, says the science writer. Her suggested reading takes in robots used to explain sex and a picture book about dinosaurs.

hat first got you interested in science?

When I was little, my mum was very keen on taking me to the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum in London. We would go to Kensington Gardens and play in the playground, and then walk down to Exhibition Road where she'd drag me round the dinosaurs and the spaceships. I found them a bit boring, but if I hung out with her at the spaceships and the dinosaurs then I would get to go and play in the Launchpad gallery, and have a go with some physics, which I enjoyed.

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School Principals: Students Have Privacy and Free Speech Rights Too!

Jay Stanley:

One of the technology-related civil liberties battles that ACLU affiliates around the country have been fighting in recent years involves defending students' rights to privacy and free expression in the new electronic media that are becoming such a large part of their lives. For some reason many school officials seem to believe that when it comes to online communications, students have no such rights

We have a case underway in Minnesota, for example, that exemplifies these problems. I got on the phone with Teresa Nelson, Legal Counsel at the ACLU of Minnesota, and she told me about it:

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November 24, 2012

After Act 10, WEAC sees hope in local teacher advocacy

Erin Richards:

Unions actively reorienting themselves - even in states without Act 10-like legislation in place - are mobilizing teachers around curriculum and instruction issues. That could mean organizing teachers to champion what's working best in the classroom by bringing new ideas to the school board, or working to get the community to support specific practices.

It means working more collaboratively, and offering solutions.

But collaboration can break down over ideological differences regarding what's best for kids. Or teachers.

For example, while WEAC has supported a statewide evaluation system for educators in recent years, it has resisted emphasizing test scores in such evaluations. Others argue that robust data on test-score performance can say a lot about a teacher's quality and should be used to make more aggressive decisions in termination or promotion.

Asking teachers to take a more active role in their union could also become an additional stress.

Related: WEAC: $1.57 million for Four Wisconsin Senators.

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When 'Grading' Is Degrading

Michael Brick via a kind Dan Dempsey email:

IN his speech on the night of his re-election, President Obama promised to find common ground with opposition leaders in Congress. Yet when it comes to education reform, it's the common ground between Democrats and Republicans that has been the problem.

For the past three decades, one administration after another has sought to fix America's troubled schools by making them compete with one another. Mr. Obama has put up billions of dollars for his Race to the Top program, a federal sweepstakes where state educational systems are judged head-to-head largely on the basis of test scores. Even here in Texas, nobody's model for educational excellence, the state has long used complex algorithms to assign grades of Exemplary, Recognized, Acceptable or Unacceptable to its schools.

So far, such competition has achieved little more than re-segregation, long charter school waiting lists and the same anemic international rankings in science, math and literacy we've had for years.

And yet now, policy makers in both parties propose ratcheting it up further -- this time, by "grading" teachers as well.

It's a mistake. In the year I spent reporting on John H. Reagan High School in Austin, I came to understand the dangers of judging teachers primarily on standardized test scores. Raw numbers don't begin to capture what happens in the classroom. And when we reward and punish teachers based on such artificial measures, there is too often an unintended consequence for our kids.

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NY Times: LSAT Takers and Law School Enrollments Plunge Amidst Poor Placement Prospects


Following up on Tuesday's posts:
Number of LSAT Test-Takers Falls 16.4% (Nov. 20, 2012)

The Job Market for Law Grads Has Been Declining for a Long Time (Nov. 20, 2012)

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Study: The Human Brain Can Solve Maths Problems Subconsciously

No Camels:

The results constitute a challenge to existing theories of unconscious processes that maintain that reading and solving maths problems - two prime examples of complex, rule-based operations - require consciousness.

To present sentences and equations unconsciously, the researchers used a cutting-edge technique called Continuous Flash Suppression (CFS). In CFS, one eye is exposed to a series of rapidly changing images, while the other is simultaneously exposed to a constant image. The rapid changes in the one eye dominate consciousness, so that the image presented to the other eye is not experienced consciously. Using this technique, more than 270 students at the Hebrew University were exposed to sentences and arithmetic problems.

In one set of experiments using this technique, participants were asked to pronounce numbers that appeared on a computer screen. These numbers were preceded with unconscious arithmetic equations. The results of the experiments showed that participants could more quickly pronounce the conscious number if it had been the result of the unconscious equation. For example, when 9-5-1 was shown non-consciously, the participants were faster in pronouncing 3 than 4, even though they did not consciously see the equation.


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Attorney Representing Madison Teachers, Inc and WEAC Profiled in the Capital Times

Steven Elbow:

To complete the hat trick, late last month Pines, representing Madison Teachers Inc. and the Wisconsin Education Association Council, stuck it to Republicans again when Dane County Judge Amy Smith struck down part of a law that consolidated rule-making authority in the governor's office. That law gave Gov. Scott Walker control over rules that govern agencies like the Attorney General's Office, the Government Accountability Board, the Employment Relations Commission, the Public Service Commission and the Department of Public Instruction, all of which were previously independent. Pines argued, and Smith agreed, that State Superintendent Tony Evers had constitutional powers beyond the governor's reach.

"They extended (the law) to the Department of Public Instruction despite the fact that they were told in the brief legislative hearings they held on that bill that it was likely unconstitutional," says Pines. "But they didn't care. They just did it."

While Pines' recent wins are likely to be appealed, one thing is clear: He's on a roll. How did he get to be such a pain in the collective GOP butt?

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Younger Students More Likely to Get A.D.H.D. Drugs

Anahad O'Connor

A new study of elementary and middle school students has found that those who are the youngest in their grades score worse on standardized tests than their older classmates and are more likely to be prescribed stimulants for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

The findings suggest that in a given grade, students born at the end of the calendar year may be at a distinct disadvantage. Those perceived as having academic or behavioral problems may in fact be lagging simply as a result of being forced to compete with classmates almost a full year older than them. For a child as young as 5, a span of one year can account for 20 percent of the child's age, potentially making him or her appear significantly less mature than older classmates.

The new study found that the lower the grade, the greater the disparity. For children in the fourth grade, the researchers found that those in the youngest third of their class had an 80 to 90 percent increased risk of scoring in the lowest decile on standardized tests. They were also 50 percent more likely than the oldest third of their classmates to be prescribed stimulants for A.D.H.D. The differences diminished somewhat over time, the researchers found, but continued at least through the seventh grade.

The new study, published in the journal Pediatrics, used data from Iceland, where health and academic measures are tracked nationally and stimulant prescription rates are high and on par with rates in the United States. Previous studies carried out there and in other countries have shown similar patterns, even among college students.

Helga Zoega, the lead author of the study, said she had expected there would be performance differences between students in the youngest grades, but she did not know that the differences, including the disparity in stimulant prescribing rates, would continue over time.

"We were surprised to see that," said Dr. Zoega, a postdoctoral fellow at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York and an assistant professor at the University of Iceland. "It may be that the youngest kids in class are just acting according to their age. But their behavior is thought of as symptoms of something else, rather than maturity."

In the study, Dr. Zoega and her colleagues tracked over 10,000 students born in Iceland in the mid-1990s, following them from fourth through seventh grade, or roughly ages 9 to 12. Iceland has detailed national registries containing health and academic information, so the researchers were able to compare students' scores on standardized tests and look at the medications prescribed to them.

The researchers then divided the subjects based on the months in which they were born. In Iceland, children start school in September of the calendar year in which they turn 6, and the nationwide birthday cutoff in schools is Jan. 1. So the oldest third in any grade are born between January and April. The middle third are born between May and August, and the youngest third are born between September and December.

The study showed that average test scores in mathematics and language arts, which covers grammar, literature and writing, were lowest among the youngest students in each class. On standardized tests at age 9, the children that made up the youngest third ranked, on average, about 11 percentile points lower in math and roughly 10 percentile points lower in language arts than their classmates who made up the oldest third. Compared to the oldest students, the younger ones were 90 percent more likely to earn low test scores in math and 80 percent more likely to receive low test scores in language arts. By the seventh grade, the risk had diminished somewhat, but the younger children were still 60 percent more likely to receive low test scores in both subjects.

A similar pattern was seen with A.D.H.D. medication, with students in the youngest third of their grade significantly more likely to receive stimulant prescriptions than their classmates in the oldest third. Dr. Zoega found that gender had some influence as well. Over all, girls scored higher than boys on tests, and had lower rates of stimulant prescriptions. But ultimately there was still an age effect among girls for both academic performance and the use of A.D.H.D. medication.

The findings dovetail with research carried out by two economists, Kelly Bedard and Elizabeth Dhuey. In looking at fourth graders around the world, the two found that the oldest children scored up to 12 percentile points higher than the youngest children. Their work, which was described in the best-selling 2008 book "Outliers" by Malcolm Gladwell, has shown a similar pattern among college students.

"At four-year colleges in the United States," Mr. Gladwell wrote, "students belonging to the relatively youngest group in their class are underrepresented by about 11.6 percent. That initial difference in maturity doesn't go away with time. It persists. And for thousands of students, that initial disadvantage is the difference between going to college -- and having a real shot at the middle class -- and not."

Dr. Zoega said she did not want her study to be seen as an indictment against stimulants. Instead, parents and educators should consider a child's age relative to his or her classmates when looking at poor grades and at any behavioral problems.

"Don't jump to conclusions when deciding whether a child has A.D.H.D.," she said. "It could be the maturity level. Keep in mind that he or she might not be performing as well as the older kids in the class, and that should not be a surprise."

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8 math talks to blow your mind

Morton Bast:

Mathematics gets down to work in these talks, breathing life and logic into everyday problems. Prepare for math puzzlers both solved and unsolvable, and even some still waiting for solutions.

Ron Eglash: The fractals at the heart of African designs
When Ron Eglash first saw an aerial photo of an African village, he couldn't rest until he knew -- were the fractals in the layout of the village a coincidence, or were the forces of mathematics and culture colliding in unexpected ways? Here, he tells of his travels around the continent in search of an answer.

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November 23, 2012

Waukesha School District considering rewarding teachers for performance

Erin Richards:

One of the largest school systems in the state is considering changing its salary structure to reward teachers based on the quality of their performance, rather than on their seniority and education.

According to a contract proposal completed this month in the Waukesha School District, the administration wants to bring on national consultant Battelle for Kids to design a compensation and benefits system.

Waukesha's School Board is holding off on voting on that approximately $77,000 contract until December, but individual board members said they supported the exploration.

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Free Textbooks Spell Disruption for College Publishers Startup companies offering knockoff textbooks are attracting students, and lawsuits.

Michael Fitzgerald:

Ask Ariel Diaz why he's taking on the college textbook industry and he'll tell you, "Quaternions."

Quaternions are a number system used for calculating three-dimensional motion, popular in computer graphics. And Diaz needed a crash course to help him with a consulting gig after his online video platform startup, Youcastr, had failed. He started with Wikipedia and found it was surprisingly good at explaining this complicated mathematics.

Diaz, who still resents how much he'd paid for textbooks in college and graduate school, realized he'd hit on his next business idea. In 2011, he started Boundless Learning, a Boston company that has begun giving away free electronic textbooks covering college subjects like American history, anatomy and physiology, economics, and psychology.

What's controversial is how Boundless creates these texts. The company trawls for public material on sites like Wikipedia and then crafts it into online books whose chapters track closely to those of top-selling college titles. In April, Boundless was sued by several large publishers who accused the startup of engaging in "the business model of theft."

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Student Suspended for Refusing to Wear a School-Issued RFID Tracker

David Kravets:

2:30 p.m. PST UPDATE: A local Texas judge on Wednesday tentatively blocked the suspension, pending further hearings next week.

A Texas high school student is being suspended for refusing to wear a student ID card implanted with a radio-frequency identification chip.

Northside Independent School District in San Antonio began issuing the RFID-chip-laden student-body cards when the semester began in the fall. The ID badge has a bar code associated with a student's Social Security number, and the RFID chip monitors pupils' movements on campus, from when they arrive until when they leave.

Radio-frequency identification devices are a daily part of the electronic age -- found in passports, and library and payment cards. Eventually they're expected to replace bar-code labels on consumer goods. Now schools across the nation are slowly adopting them as well.

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Charter School Special Education Enrollment Analysis

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

Responding to concerns that charter schools do not provide equal access to students with special needs, advocates in districts, states, and courts across the country have sought to improve such access. Lawsuits and complaints allege that some charter schools systematically discriminate against high-needs students. Additionally, the U.S. Government Accountability Office released a report showing that charter schools, on average, serve a smaller proportion of students with disabilities than do district-run public schools. In response, policymakers in some states are looking for ways to better ensure that financial, incentive, and support systems are in place to aid charter schools in providing greater access and services to students with special needs.

This report provides some context to these policy responses by describing the distribution of students with disabilities in New York State charter and district-run schools. The analysis shows that different levels of comparison--state level, school type, district level, and authorizer level--yield different results, and comparisons at high levels of aggregation (such as those made at the state level) mask important information and variation. Whether, and in what ways, charter schools appear to systemically underserve students with special needs depends on how you answer the question, "Compared to what?"

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A Chinese Education, for a Price

Dan Levin:

For Chinese children and their devoted parents, education has long been seen as the key to getting ahead in a highly competitive society. But just as money and power grease business deals and civil servant promotions, the academic race here is increasingly rigged in favor of the wealthy and well connected, who pay large sums and use connections to give their children an edge at government-run schools.

Nearly everything has a price, parents and educators say, from school admissions and placement in top classes to leadership positions in Communist youth groups. Even front-row seats near the blackboard or a post as class monitor are up for sale.

Zhao Hua, a migrant from Hebei Province who owns a small electronics business here, said she was forced to deposit $4,800 into a bank account to enroll her daughter in a Beijing elementary school. At the bank, she said, she was stunned to encounter officials from the district education committee armed with a list of students and how much each family had to pay. Later, school officials made her sign a document saying the fee was a voluntary "donation."

"Of course I knew it was illegal," she said. "But if you don't pay, your child will go nowhere."


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November 22, 2012

Coursera takes step to enable students to receive college credit for its courses

Ki Mae Hauser:

Since launching in April, Coursera has been on a tear, enrolling more than 1.8 million students and forging partnerships with 33 top-tier universities from around the world.

But, to date, the vast majority of Coursera students haven't been able to receive credit for their online classes or count them toward a degree.

If all goes according to plan, however, that could change in a matter of months because, on Tuesday, the startup announced that it was working with the American Council on Education (ACE) to evaluate credit equivalency for its courses.

"Ever since we launched Coursera, we've known that university degrees are important," said Coursera co-founder and Stanford professor Andrew Ng. "We wanted a more systematic way for students to earn academic credit... This is just a step in that direction."

Over the past few months, a few institutions, including the University of Helsinki and the University of Washington, have unilaterally announced that they would award credit for some Coursera courses. And, last month, the Palo Alto startup announced a licensing deal with Antioch College that would enable Antioch students to take some Coursera courses for college credit, at a cost that is less than the per-credit cost of traditional courses.

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Brazil education standards contribute to learning crisis: Brazil's dismal education standards are too low for the world's No. 6 economy and threaten to stunt the nation's development.

Vincent Bevins:

JUAZEIRO, Brazil -- As 6-year-old Ana Jamil skips up to the school gates, she has a simple question for the principal: "Is there class today?"

Children here are in the habit of asking, because their teachers often don't show up, as hers didn't the day before.

When Jose Pereira da Silva Municipal School does hold class, students spend just a little more than three hours a day with teachers who are woefully unprepared.

"Around here, there are teachers who can't even read and write," principal Maria Olivia Andrade says. "We're waiting for the government to install air conditioning. We need a library. That's essential. But by far the thing we need most desperately is training for the teachers."

With salaries starting at just $350 a month and their jobs as state workers secure, teachers regularly stay at home. Although more kids are showing up for class, partly because of free lunches and government programs, they still have little chance of leaving with a decent education.

At Andrade's school, the annual goal is that 70% will learn to read and write before they leave at age 14.

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Private (Union) Takeover of Public Schools Privately run unions have ruined public schools, critics say

Tyler O'Neil:

President Barack Obama and the Democrats have portrayed themselves as supporters of public education, but their policies have turned public schools into strongholds for powerful private groups of teachers unions, critics say.

"The union is not some branch of public government--they're just a private corporation," said James Sayler, a 20-year public school teacher and founder of Colorado Educators for Bush in 2000 and 2004.

"Should a school district give away public authority to a private organization?" Sayler asked. "The unions, with the blessing and cooperation of the Democratic Party, have privatized education."

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Union questioning Florida teacher evaluation plan

Bill Kaczor:

Margaret Goodman says she received high marks from all five principals she's worked for during 39 years, yet Florida's new evaluation system gave her a low rating of "needs improvement."

The third-grade teacher at St. Petersburg's Westgate Elementary School on Tuesday said the system's value-added model, or VAM, is demoralizing and unfair. It's based on student test scores, but Goodman said her evaluation was based on exams taken by students she didn't teach.

"The reality is the value-added model has nothing at all to do with adding, nor does it have anything to do with my proficiency as a teacher," Goodman said.

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The Best (and Worst) Education News of 2012

Larry Ferlazzo:

Here is my annual humble attempt to identify the best and the worst education news that occurred during the past 12 months. I don't presume to say it's all-encompassing, so I hope you'll take time to share your own choices in the comment section.

I'll list the ones I think are the best first, followed by the worst. However, it's too hard to rank them within those categories, so I'm not listing them in any order.

You might also be interested in seeing my previous year-end "round-ups":

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Between the Rap Sheets

Ron Isaac:

The best thing to happen to democracy in recent years may be the popularity of blogs. They're especially influential in politics and education. Anyone can access everyone these days. The marketplace of ideas is wide open. Edwize is, of course, the UFT's blog. But the views contained in the following piece are solely those of the author and are independent of the UFT's positions and policies.

Remember Rick Perry, the governor of Texas and unflappable former front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination until he blew his chances during a debate by plumb forgetting the name of the federal agency that he had sworn a thousand times to destroy? It was a helluva "aw shucks" moment for the supporter of state-sponsored murder.

But last year he showed leadership, for better or worse, in a way that is both highly uncharacteristic and typical of him. He signed into law a bill that extended rights to teachers but at the expense of their students. Whether that trade-off is fair is the question I pose to you.

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November 21, 2012

High Standards Help Struggling Students: New Evidence

Constance Clark and Peter W. Cookson Jr.:

The Common Core State Standards, adopted by 46 states and the District of Columbia, promise to raise achievement in English and mathematics through rigorous standards that promote deeper learning. But while most policymakers, researchers, and educators have embraced these higher standards, some question the fairness of raising the academic bar on students who are already struggling.

Do higher standards hurt struggling students? High Standards Help Struggling Students: New Evidence, argues that the answer to that question is "no." In the analysis, Education Sector analysts Constance Clark and Peter Cookson Jr. use state-by-state NAEP data to examine the effect of high standards on student achievement. They find there is no evidence that high standards have hurt low-achieving students. In fact, they found that higher standards have probably helped.

Clark and Cookson compare struggling students ─ those who score at "below basic" levels on the NAEP in reading and math ─ across states with low and high standards in 2003 and 2011. To define the rigor of the standards, they use a measure proposed by researchers Paul E. Peterson and Frederick M. Hess that evaluates standards based on the cut scores states use to set proficiency categories. The higher the cut score, the higher the state's standards are judged to be. Here is what Clark and Cookson found on the extremes of the Peterson-Hess rating:

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Ghana: On the Education Debate - Is It Free Vs. Quality?

I K Gyasi:

If not, why does the NDC appear to take up the position that free secondary education is not only impossible to achieve, but also, that free secondary education is poor quality education?

On Tuesday, November 13, 2012, Joy FM played the voice of Dr. Ekwow Spio-Garbrah, one-time Minister of Education. I heard Dr. Spio-Garbrah say, "If you don't pay for what is important, you don't get the right quality."

As someone who fully benefitted from a policy of free education, I find the idea that free education is synonymous with poor quality education as strange, ridiculous, nonsensical and offensive.

My father paid for my elementary school education at the Adansi Brofoyedru Methodist Primary School all the way to the T. I. Ahmadiyya Secondary School in Kumasi. He paid my examination registration fee.

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Mazomanie Eagle Scout earns every merit badge, a rare honor

Nico Savidge, via a kind reader's email:

There isn't a lot of open space, to say the least, on the sash Colin Paiva wears across his chest.

That's because just about every inch of it seems to be taken up by the Eagle Scout's merit badges -- 133 of them, in all. Every single one a Scout can now earn plus three that have been discontinued.

Such an accomplishment puts Paiva, a 16-year-old student at Edgewood High School, in rarified air among scouts: More than 100 million young men have joined the Boy Scouts since it was founded in 1910, but fewer than 200 have gotten every badge.

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Madison School Board election starting to take shape

Matthew DeFour:

The upcoming Madison School Board election is drawing plenty of interest from potential candidates, including at least two who say they definitely will run for an open seat.

Dean Loumos, executive director of low-income housing provider Housing Initiatives, and Ananda Mirilli, restorative justice program coordinator at YWCA Madison, both told me they plan to run no matter who else jumps in the race.

Several others, including state Rep. Kelda Roys, Edgewood College history professor T.J. Mertz, Democratic legislative aide Greg Packnett and attorney Jeff Spitzer-Resnick all told me they are considering a run.

Interest in the School Board election has grown since Beth Moss announced she would not seek a third term. Some are waiting until Maya Cole makes a decision about a third term before committing one way or the other.

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When You Hear Claims That Policies Are Working, Read The Fine Print

Matthew DiCarlo

When I point out that raw changes in state proficiency rates or NAEP scores are not valid evidence that a policy or set of policies is "working," I often get the following response: "Oh Matt, we can't have a randomized trial or peer-reviewed article for everything. We have to make decisions and conclusions based on imperfect information sometimes."

This statement is obviously true. In this case, however, it's also a straw man. There's a huge middle ground between the highest-quality research and the kind of speculation that often drives our education debate. I'm not saying we always need experiments or highly complex analyses to guide policy decisions (though, in general, these are always preferred and sometimes required). The point, rather, is that we shouldn't draw conclusions based on evidence that doesn't support those conclusions.

This, unfortunately, happens all the time. In fact, many of the more prominent advocates in education today make their cases based largely on raw changes in outcomes immediately after (or sometimes even before) their preferred policies were implemented (also see here, here, here, here, here, and here). In order to illustrate the monumental assumptions upon which these and similar claims ride, I thought it might be fun to break them down quickly, in a highly simplified fashion. So, here are the four "requirements" that must be met in order to attribute raw test score changes to a specific policy (note that most of this can be applied not only to claims that policies are working, but also to claims that they're not working because scores or rates are flat):

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Scott Walker Tilts K-12 Education Toward the Needs of Business

Rebecca Kemble:

Under Scott Walker's reign in Wisconsin, multinational corporations are given undue influence over public policy. Nowhere is this more evident than in public education. Some of the largest corporations in the world - GE, Caterpillar, Koch Industries - have privileged seats at Walker's policy table, but they don't necessarily show up themselves. Instead, they activate a whole network of local actors to do their bidding.

In his seminal work, Propaganda (1928), the "Father of Public Relations" Edward Louis Bernays wrote:

The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of.

Putting ideology aside, how have Wisconsin's K-12 policies over the past few decades improved student learning, at all?

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Why private school vouchers aren't enough

Jay Mathews:

If I were a D.C. parent with little money and a child in a bad public school, I would happily accept a taxpayer-supported voucher to send my kid to a private school. But I still don't think voucher programs are a good use of education dollars, particularly after reading a startling story on The Washington Post's front page on Sunday.

My colleagues Lyndsey Layton and Emma Brown revealed that the $133 million appropriated for vouchers in the District since 2004 have gone to private schools with no requirements to report publicly how well their students are doing. Some of those schools have dubious curriculums and inadequate facilities. At least eight of the 52 schools with voucher students are not accredited.

Paulette Jones-Imaan poses for a portrait photograph inside the cafeteria of the Academy for Ideal Education. (Astrid Riecken - For The Washington Post) Take a look at the Academy for Ideal Education in Northeast Washington. Almost all of its students are in the voucher program run by the nonprofit D.C. Children and Youth Investment Trust Corp. The school's founder, Paulette Jones-Imaan, believes in learning through music, stretching and meditation, Layton and Brown report.

The Academy for Ideal Education does not have to reveal its results on the nationally standardized test that voucher students are required to take, but I suspect those children are not learning much. I have some experience with the Ideal Academy, a charter high school also founded by Jones-Imaan. In 2009 I wrote about it having some of the lowest achievement rates in the city, which I knew because charters have to report their test scores. The D.C. authorizing board for charters forced it to close. Sadly, no agency has that power over private schools using vouchers.

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November 20, 2012

In L.A., inexperienced teachers more likely to be assigned to students behind in math, study says

Teresa Watanabe:

A new study has found that inexperienced teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District are disproportionately more likely to be assigned to lower-performing math students, perpetuating the achievement gap.

The study also found that L.A. Unified teachers "vary substantially" in their effectiveness, with top teachers able to give students the equivalent of eight additional months of learning in a year compared with weaker instructors.

Such findings raise "deep concerns," said Drew Furedi, the district's executive director of talent management, who oversees teacher training. "For us, it's a call to action."

The study by the Strategic Data Project, which is affiliated with Harvard University's Center for Education Policy Research, analyzed the performance of about 30% of L.A. Unified teachers and presented findings based primarily on students' standardized math test scores from 2005 through 2011 in grades three through eight. The study's authors acknowledged that test scores were only one measure of teacher effectiveness.


The study also found:

Teacher effects vary substantially in LAUSD, more than in many other districts. The difference between a 25th and 75th percentile elementary math teacher is over one-quarter of a standard deviation, which is roughly equivalent to a student having eight additional months of instruction in a calendar year.

Teach for America and Career Ladder teachers have higher math effects on average than other novices in their first year by 0.05 and 0.03 standard deviations respectively, which is roughly equivalent to one to two months of additional learning. These differences persist over time

The performance of math teachers improved quickly in the first five years, then leveled off.

Those with advanced degrees were no more effective than those without, although L.A. Unified pays more to teachers pursuing such degrees.

Long-term substitute teachers -- who have been employed more frequently to fill in amid widespread layoffs -- have positive effects in teaching middle-school math

View the complete 1.4MB PDF study, here.

Related: Math forum audio/video.

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The Chosun News; Seoul, South Korea; 19 November 2012: "For College and Jobs, Practice your Non-fiction Writing skills"

"The Secrets to Good Writing" from the editor of The Concord Review [TCR]

Increase time spent on research, hone the quality of your writing

Stay away from "How to Write Well" books

Serious writing is no longer the specialty of a scholar. Ever since writing essays have become an important part of the college admission process, high schools have become in the grip of "writing fever." Also known as the "Olympiad of History," TCR is the first organization to put the publication of high school students' essays into practice. Since 1987, TCR has published history papers by 1044 students in 39 countries around the world. Of all the participants, 36% (371) of them have been admitted to an Ivy League university. The rest have been admitted to Stanford, MIT, Oxford and Cambridge. Delicious Study held an interview on November 12th with Mr. Will Fitzhugh, the founder of TCR, and two students, Han Jae Hyuk (Seoul International School, Senior) and Lee Seon Woo (Asia Pacific International School, Sophomore), who are preparing for applying to colleges in the States. With the invitation from the Asian representative of TCR, Caroline Lee, Mr. Fitzhugh visited Korea for the first time. The following article describes what Mr. Fitzhugh had told the students about "Writing for College."

The Quality of Writing comes from the Strong Facts

For each issue of The Concord Review, Mr. Fitzhugh reads at least 140 essays every 3 months. His "criteria for a good paper" were rather simple. "An interesting history paper is a good paper. However, for a paper to be enjoyable to read, the writer must have a genuine interest in the topic. In essays, for example, an interesting work has both a unique stance on a topic and a solid support of evidence. No matter how original one's perspective is, without evidence, the essay is empty. It's rare to find sources of evidence that fit perfectly with your interpretations. In fact, some students who have published essays in TCR have spent 18 months writing the essay. Had these students not been interested in what they were writing, they could not have put in such an effort."

Then, Lee Sun Woo pointed out a difficulty many students faced: "Even with interest in a topic, it can be difficult to connect that to a topic one can write about." Mr. Fitzhugh responded with an anecdote. "A student in an international school in Hong Kong sent an essay about the Needham Question (1900~1995). Cambridge Professor Joseph Needham studied why Chinese science had stopped advancing ahead of Western Science in 1500 as it had been until the 16th century. To satisfy his curiosity about Needham, Jonathan Lu organized an answer in essay form. He was able to connect the familiar topic of China with an unfamiliar one, science, through history. It's a good example."

Read First...Write Later

Throughout the interview, Mr. Fitzhugh continued to emphasize the importance of reading. From finding an interesting subject to research, reading has to be continually done. However, it is not necessary to read books that surpass one's reading level. "How to Write Well" tutorials will jeopardize the genuineness of your writing and only the fancy phrases and diction will stand out." Pertaining to writing, Han Jae Hyuk raised a concern whether "Other forms of communication (debating for example) can be as helpful as writing." "Well," Mr. Fitzhugh simply answered, "the main way to improve one's writing skills is to write more." "Writing a 1,000-word paper is much harder than speaking for the same amount. Of course, during the process of preparing for a speech, you encounter knowledge that you can use for a paper. However, without writing a single word, there will be no improvement in one's writing aptitude." He added, "What is needed for high school students today is practice in non-fiction writing." "Today's American high school students are given fiction-writing assignments to test and expand their creativity. However, even those who receive such assignments will one day attend college and encounter a variety of non-fiction writing. Because there is such a big gap between reality and today's high school education, some companies spend $3 billion dollars each year in remedial writing courses for their employees. I'm assuming that the situation in Korea is not so different."

The Concord Review

The only journal in the world that publishes papers written by high school history students (American school standard 9th to 12th grade). Under the principle "writing skill is a valuable asset," TCR publishes 11 essays in each online issue every 3 months. Created by Mr. Will Fitzhugh in 1987. Funded by donations and subscriptions. Chooses 5 exceptional essays (of 44) each year for the Emerson Prize. The number of Koreans who have published in the journal is 22. With a payment of $40 (43,000 won), any high school can submit an essay for consideration.


"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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You Are What You Read: A lucid exposition of how Proust put his reading to work in the creation of "In Search of Lost Time."

Joseph Epstein:

No one should read Marcel Proust's "In Search of Lost Time" for the first time. A first reading, however carefully conducted, cannot hope to unlock the book's complexity, its depth, its inexhaustible richness. Roughly a million words and more than 3,000 pages long, it is a novel I have read twice, and one of the reasons I continue to exercise and eat and drink moderately and have a physical every year into my 70s is that I hope to live long enough to read it one more time.

Told with France's Belle Epoque (that bright and lavish quarter of a century before World War I permanently darkened all life in Europe) as its background, "In Search of Lost Time" is the recollections of a first-person narrator over several decades. This narrator, who bears many resemblances to its author (he is called Marcel, and his family and circumstances are similar to Proust's) but who also differs from him in striking ways (chief among them that his life is not devoted to writing a great novel), is relentless in his energy for analysis. In his detailed attempt to remember all things past, he is as all-inclusive as literature can get; what normal people filter out of memory the narrator channels in. And so it was with Proust himself: While most authors working at revision tend to take things out of their manuscripts, up to his death in 1922 Proust was continuing to add things to his.

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"Standards based report cards and the Milwaukee Schools

Joy Pullman:

Milwaukee Public Schools plans to expand districtwide a pilot program in which schools ditch traditional letter grades. Instead of A, B, C, D and F, teachers will compare students to a list of things the state expects students to know on core subjects in each grade and mark their skills advanced, proficient, basic or minimal. It's called a "standards-based report card."

The idea has some merits and several significant flaws.

Parents and students benefit from objective, specific standards for academic performance. If a father knows Julia must learn to define a story's theme in second grade, he can ask her to do so when they read together. Grading metrics can also help counter grade inflation, where teachers give students high marks they have not earned. A 2005 ACT study found high school grades inflated 12.5% between 1991 and 2003.

The Madison School District implemented the ill-advised middle school "standards - based report cards" several years ago. Unfortunately, this initiative was incompatible with the multi-million dollar "Infinite Campus" system.

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I'm Not "Waiting for Superman." Why is MMSD?

Karen Vieth:

In 2010, an anti-public education documentary made its debut. Waiting for Superman features Geoffrey Canada, a controversial education "reformer" who promotes anti-union sentiment and charter schools as a solution to the struggles that face our public education system. The documentary largely appeals to the heart, as it uses weak data and a faulty premise. For this reason, another documentary made its debut in 2011. The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman features the New York City teachers and counters the position taken in Waiting for Superman. With this documentary shedding light on the true nature of charter schools and faux reformers like Geoffrey Canada, I would hope this matter is settled, at least for those of us who rely on real data and results to drive decisions.

Why then is the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) listed as both a sponsor and partner of an upcoming event featuring the "legendary" Geoffrey Canada? Geoffrey Canada is the creator of the Harlem Children's Zone. The two Charter Schools included in this zone are called "Promise Academy I" and "Promise Academy II." Students win a spot in the schools based on a lottery. Canada believes that money is the answer for these children. The Harlem Children's Zone invests $16,000 per student per year for expenses in the classroom, and thousands more per student for expenses outside the classroom. These expenses include student incentives, such as a trip to Disney World or the Galapagos Islands.

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Madison Memorial High School Evening Meal Program Aims to Reduce Achievement Gap

Madison Teachers, Inc. Solidarity Newsletter:

Often one does not realize how information gathered may be used to benefit others when the information is first received. Such is the case of the Memorial High School Evening Meal Program. Several years ago, Art Camosy, MTI Vice President and MTI's Senior Faculty Representative for Memorial High School, attended a lecture given by Columbia Teachers' College Professor Richard Rothstein. The lecture was sponsored by MTI, State Representative Cory Mason (Racine), and several entities within the UW. Professor Rothstein spoke about the impact of poverty on learning, citing, among other things, that a lack of medical and dental care result in lack of readiness for school, one of the causes of an achievement gap for the children growing up in poverty.

According to Rothstein in his book, "Class and Schools: Using Social, Economic, and Educational Reform to Close the Achievement Gap" (, children of high school drop-outs probably know 400 words by the time they enter school; children of high school graduates 1600 words; and children of college graduates 2400 words. That preparedness deficit added to poor nutrition and lack of regular meals makes it almost impossible for a child to catch up with his/her peers who do not experience the described complicating factors. Rothstein states, "Low-income kindergartners whose height and weight are below normal children for their age tend to have lower test scores .... Indeed, the relationship between good nutrition and achievement is so obvious, that some school districts, under pressure recently to increase poor children's test scores, boosted caloric content of school lunches on test days."

Having heard Rothstein's passion on the impact of poverty on nutrition, and nutrition on the achievement gap, Camosy approached MTI Executive Director John Matthews about providing an evening meal at Memorial. Matthews approached United Way President Leslie Howard, who was excited about the idea and offered UWDC support. MTI and United Way met last spring with various Memorial staff, students, parents and community members to get the project rolling. The Memorial Evening Meal Project got under way. Matthews also contacted Madison Mayor Paul Soglin to ensure appropriate bus transportation. Kick-off was last Monday, with 100 meals served and the number of participants rising. Added benefit to the students participating is tutoring by upper level students and teachers, all of whom are volunteering their time and talents. Thanks to the progressive Memorial Principal Bruce Dahmen, who not only has worked with Camosy to make the project a reality, but whose efforts in working with others in the District have made the Evening Meal Program an instant success. Camosy's idea is sure to spread to other schools. It's impact on the achievement gap is certain.

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Milwaukee follows national trend of expanding charter school networks

Erin Richards:

At many traditional public high schools, the last bell of the school day signals the imminent transition to extracurricular activities, from musical rehearsals to sports practices.

But at Carmen High School of Science & Technology in Milwaukee, the after-school scene is predominantly focused on academics. Any student at the charter high school making below a C in a core subject is required to stay after school until 5 p.m. to work with teachers.

Mandatory after-school tutoring is a feature Carmen can more easily implement because of its status as a charter school within Milwaukee Public Schools. The district has approved Carmen opening a second high school, making it part of a network of Milwaukee charter schools that are serving more students than ever, according to a new national report that places Milwaukee among the top districts for percentage of students in charter schools.

The growth in market share of students for Milwaukee charter schools underscores important changes in the local landscape for such publicly financed, independently operated schools. MPS, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and the City of Milwaukee are approving more charter schools, and a growing number of those proposals are coming from national operators.

Related: A Growing Movement: America's Largest Charter School Communities.

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November 19, 2012

It's right to test learning by heart

Christopher Caldwell:

Professing himself an "enemy of those who would deprecate the study of French lesbian poetry", Michael Gove, the UK education secretary, told a gathering of the Independent Academies Association in London on Wednesday that education was not so much about what one learnt as how one learnt it. He wants more - and more rigorous - meritocratic tests. Mr Gove also wants more rote learning.

Examinations can indeed help merit-based power structures to topple privilege - but Mr Gove is wrong if he thinks they do so reliably. "In America," he says, "the use of scholastic aptitude tests opened up access to colleges which had in the past arbitrarily blocked minority students." That may have been true three-quarters of a century ago, when a numerus clausus kept Jews out of elite universities. Something different happens today. While the SAT has certainly helped some recent Asian immigrants, its general tendency is to decrease, not increase, diversity. Where that happens, politics usually requires that the SAT be ignored or played down.

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Using Just 10% of Your Brain? Think Again

Christopher Chabris & Daniel Simons:

Pop quiz: Which of these statements is false?

1. We use only 10% of our brain.

2. Environments rich in stimuli improve the brains of preschool children.

3. Individuals learn better when they receive information in their preferred learning style, whether auditory, visual or kinesthetic.

If you picked the first one, congratulations. The idea that we use only 10% of our brain is patently false. Yet it so permeates popular culture that, among psychologists and neuroscientists, it is known as the "10% myth." Contrary to popular belief, the entire brain is put to use--unused neurons die and unused circuits atrophy. Reports of neuroimaging research might perpetuate the myth by showing only a small number of areas "lighting up" in a brain scan, but those are just areas that have more than a base line level of activity; the dark regions aren't dormant or unused.

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EdX to offer learners option of taking proctored final exam

Pearson VUE:

Online learning venture edX continues to transform higher education by announcing today its agreement with Pearson VUE to offer learners the option of taking a proctored final exam.

"Our online learners who want the flexibility to provide potential employers with an independently validated certificate may now choose to take the course exam at a proctored test site," said Anant Agarwal, president of edX. "This option enhances the value of our courses in the real world, helps us maintain our goal of making high-quality education both accessible and practical and thus is a natural evolution of ed's core philosophy of transforming lives through education."

Pearson VUE, a Pearson business, is the global leader in computer-based testing. Due to this new agreement, edX learners now have the option of taking a course final exam at one of over 450 Pearson VUE test centers in more than 110 countries. Proctors at the centers will verify the identity of the examinee and administer the tests. Examinees using the Pearson VUE centers will take the same rigorous exam as online learners and will be charged a modest fee for the proctoring service. EdX will offer the option to test takers for one of its online courses this Fall.

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Tentative deal struck for some Ontario high school teachers

Kate Hammer:

The Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF) has reached a deal with two school boards, offering signs of hope in a school year that had teachers cut back report cards comments, sports teams and student supervision.

The deals were struck with York Region District School Board and Upper Grand District School Board. They are tentative, and will still require approval from the Minister of Education and possibly also from union membership.

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The Science and Art of Listening

Seth Horowitz:

HERE'S a trick question. What do you hear right now?

If your home is like mine, you hear the humming sound of a printer, the low throbbing of traffic from the nearby highway and the clatter of plastic followed by the muffled impact of paws landing on linoleum -- meaning that the cat has once again tried to open the catnip container atop the fridge and succeeded only in knocking it to the kitchen floor.

The slight trick in the question is that, by asking you what you were hearing, I prompted your brain to take control of the sensory experience -- and made you listen rather than just hear. That, in effect, is what happens when an event jumps out of the background enough to be perceived consciously rather than just being part of your auditory surroundings. The difference between the sense of hearing and the skill of listening is attention.

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Wisconsin Governor Walker promises major tax reforms, school funding changes

Daniel Bice:

Walker also said he wants to require the state's public schools, including the technical colleges and the University of Wisconsin System, to meet performance-based targets to receive increased state funding - similar to programs in Florida and Pennsylvania. The first-term Republican governor said he will push to expand the state's voucher program for private schools and further streamline the state's rules and regulations.

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Urban League's David Cagigal to Join Walker's Team

Allen Ruff, via a kind email

An interesting little tid-bit has been bounced my way - a notice going out to various Wisconsin state agencies from Mike Huebsch, Scott Walker's Secretary of Administration, to various Wisconsin agencies announcing the appointment of David Cagigal as the Chief Information Officer (CIO) for the state's Division of Enterprise Technology (DET). Cagigal is scheduled to begin in his new position on November 19th.

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November 18, 2012

Standards-based education is nothing new in this public space

David Weinstein:

As the founder of Harbor Connections, the experiential education program adopted by Thompson Island in 2008, I was pleased to see your Nov. 12 editorial "Thompson Island: A new way to excel on MCAS." Whereas the educational value of the Boston Harbor cannot be overstated, some clarification and context are necessary.

Standards-based education has been happening on various Boston Harbor Islands since 1998 -- on Georges, Gallops (closed in 2001), Lovells, Peddocks, Bumpkin, Grape, Little Brewster, Spectacle, Great Brewster, Rainsford, and Thompson. More than 17,000 Boston Public Schools students from more than 30 schools have extended their classrooms to these islands.

Hundreds of dedicated, creative Boston teachers and several forward-thinking administrators were essential to the success of the program. Other key allies were the National Park Service and the Metropolitan District Commission and Division of Environmental Management, which later merged into the state Division of Conservation and Recreation. Like Thompson Island, these government institutions are among the managing partners of the Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area.

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A shakeup of higher education

Joseph E. Aoun:

As President Obama develops his second-term agenda, his administration will no doubt focus on a range of higher-education priorities, including affordability, attainment levels, and career preparation. Yet as important as these issues are, something more fundamental is happening: We're witnessing the end of higher education as we know it.

This transformation is being brought on by "MOOCs" -- massive open online courses being offered for little or no cost through entities like edX, Coursera, and Udacity, which aggregate classes from multiple universities onto a single computer-based platform. Millions of people are already utilizing them to tap into higher learning.

In the process, they're spurring a shakeup of higher education -- with dramatic implications.

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Online Courses Keep Grades Up, Athletes In Play

Weekend Edition:

Host Scott Simon speaks to Brad Wolverton from the The Chronicle of Higher Education about his recent profile of Western Oklahoma State College. The school's online courses are popular with NCAA student athletes at risk of losing their eligibility to participate in sports.

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Education data needs to be used carefully

Alan Borsuk:

From Washington to the classroom, everybody in education is more and more into data. Just look at the new report cards for every public school put out several weeks ago by the state Department of Public Instruction.

Data can drive quality, many policy-makers say, and there are schools that are justified in proclaiming how they have improved by being data driven.

Schools and districts are increasingly being judged by data.

There's a lot of good in this. Not paying close attention to how students are doing - including test scores and similar data - is the road to mediocrity or worse.

But it also makes me nervous, especially when I hear things such as calls for "performance pay" or firing bad teachers based on student test scores and rates of improvement, despite the lack of evidence that such efforts can be reliable and useful, especially on a large scale.

In other words, if data is taking over how we judge schools and everyone who works in them, that will be good only if we use data well.

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Indiana Teachers hope Ritz will help slow school changes

Associated Press:

Indiana teachers frustrated by sweeping changes in the state's education system under schools chief Tony Bennett say they hope his successor will be able to slow the pace of change, but they say they don't expect it to stop altogether.

Democrat Glenda Ritz, a library media specialist at an Indianapolis school, defeated Bennett in the Nov. 6 election with a grassroots campaign that largely was conducted through social media and backed by teachers across the state.

Teachers have been frustrated with the changes under Bennett, which include the nation's broadest use of school vouchers, the state's takeover of six schools and changes that tie teacher pay to student performance. Many have said they feel that they are being blamed for failing schools.

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'Do your parents know you are here?' A new generation of young Indians is partying hard

Amy Kazmin:

It's Halloween at Love Shack, a spacious rooftop bar in Bangalore, the epicentre of India's information technology and call centre industries. The venue, evocative of a beach shack, is filled with students, software engineers, management consultants and other upwardly mobile youth - the boys still clad in office-casual and the girls decked out in form-fitting tops and minidresses, with teased hair and bright lipstick. Most patrons are knocking back drinks - women get two free - as Martin DSouza, a 27-year-old karaoke jockey, or KJ, spins the tunes.

Karaoke is popular in Bangalore, and customers vie for the microphone while the cheering crowd dances around the singers. Among the revellers is Priyanka Blah, 26, a free-spirited singer and artist manager with upswept hair, a gold hoop through her nostril and a tight, spaghetti-strapped top. Blah, who grew up in the northeastern town of Shillong, came to Bangalore as a student at just 16, and has lived here ever since. She has performed with her now-defunct electronica duo, Tempo Tantrick, and other singers, and writes about music, designs clothes and promotes musicians.

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Up next for Washington charter schools: plans and lawyers

Donna Gordon Blankinship:

Now that voters have spoken about charter schools will the new, independent public schools be an option at the beginning of the next academic year?

It seems unlikely.

Voters narrowly approved Initiative 1240 earlier this month, but opening charter schools by 2013 would require many things to happen quickly -- and there's a strong possibility that the state's top education officer will sue to block them.

First the state Board of Education has to figure out the next steps. The board has until March 6 to adopt rules to govern most aspects of charter schools in Washington. Board spokesman Aaron Wyatt said that schedule is tight, so people shouldn't expect them to beat their deadline.

Next on the agenda: The new Washington Charter School Commission will be formed and begin its work. The independent state agency created by the initiative will be authorizing and supervising the new entities.

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November 17, 2012

The brain in numbers, colours and wow

Dwayne Godwin and Jorge Cham:

An amazing picture by Dwayne Godwin and Jorge Cham from PhD Comics. Click for the full size image just published at the Scientific American site. Definitely worth seeing in its hi-res glory.

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Arthur Levine - The Suburban Education Gap: The U.S. economy could be $1 trillion a year stronger if Americans only performed at Canada's level in math

Arthur Levine, via a kind Erich Zellmer email:

Parents nationwide are familiar with the wide academic achievement gaps separating American students of different races, family incomes and ZIP Codes. But a second crucial achievement gap receives far less attention. It is the disparity between children in America's top suburban schools and their peers in the highest-performing school systems elsewhere in the world.

Of the 70 countries tested by the widely used Program for International Student Assessment, the United States falls in the middle of the pack. This is the case even for relatively well-off American students: Of American 15-year-olds with at least one college-educated parent, only 42% are proficient in math, according to a Harvard University study of the PISA results. That is compared with 75% proficiency for all 15-year-olds in Shanghai and 50% for those in Canada.

Compared with big urban centers, America's affluent suburbs have roughly four times as many students performing at the academic level of their international peers in math. But when American suburbs are compared with two of the top school systems in the world--in Finland and Singapore--very few, such as Evanston, Ill., and Scarsdale, N.Y., outperform the international competition. Most of the other major suburban areas underperform the international competition. That includes the likes of Grosse Point, Mich., Montgomery County, Md., and Greenwich, Conn. And most underperform substantially, according to the Global Report Card database of the George W. Bush Presidential Center.

Related: The Global Report: Compare US School Districts to the World.

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More on UW-LaCrosse's Remedial Math Courses

Karen Herzog, via a kind Erich Zellmer email:

A free, widely available online math course being developed by the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse could dramatically reduce the need for students to take remedial math when they start college and put them on a faster, less expensive track to graduation, the UW System announced this week.

It also could better position the state to meet the needs of employers who have difficulty finding employees with adequate basic math skills, as the course would be available to people of all ages - literally anyone with an Internet connection.

An increasing number of freshmen in the UW System need remedial math when they start college, according to UW officials. As of 2007 - the latest data available - 21% of UW System freshmen did not have the necessary skills to succeed in college-level math. Among minority students, the percentage is significantly higher (40%).

Nationally, about 25% of high school graduates require remedial math in college.

That puts them at risk of not graduating, or of taking longer to finish a college degree, increasing the cost of their education, UW officials say.

Much more, here, including this: What impact do high school mathematics curricula have on college-level mathematics placement? by James Wollack and Michael fish.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:19 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

UFT: Where's the curriculum?

Maisie McAdoo:

A high-level gubernatorial commission on education reform on Oct. 16 got a rapid-fire earful from UFT President Michael Mulgrew, who warned that most teachers still do not have the curricula to prepare students for new state assessments this year that will incorporate challenging Common Core Learning Standards.

"Millions of students will be tested on a curriculum that was never supplied to their teachers," Mulgrew warned the commissioners, to a round of audience applause, in his allotted three minutes of testimony.

Standards are not curricula, he wrote in lengthier submitted testimony. If the state and the city impose a new set of standards without the supports in place to teach to them, students and teachers will flounder. Some schools encourage common curriculum planning, he said, but many others leave teachers to come up with it on their own.

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November 16, 2012

Tough exams and learning by rote are the keys to success, says Michael Gove

Peter Walker:

Learning facts by rote should be a central part of the school experience, the education secretary, Michael Gove, will argue on Wednesday in a speech which praises traditional exams to the extent of arguing they helped spur the US civil rights struggle.

In the address, titled In Praise of Tests, Gove describes the ideological underpinning to his planned shakeup of GCSEs and A-levels, a philosophy which will further delight educational traditionalists but is likely to prompt criticisms that he is seeking a return to the teaching styles of the 1940s and 50s.

Competitive, difficult exams for which pupils must prepare by memorising large amounts of facts and concepts will promote motivation, solidify knowledge and guarantee standards, Gove is to tell the Independent Academies Association, a trade body for academy schools.

"Exams matter because motivation matters," Gove will say, according to extracts of the speech provided by his department.

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Getting Down to Dollars and Cents: What Do School Districts Spend to Deliver Student-Centered Learning?

Larry Miller, Betheny Gross, Monica Ouijdani, via a kind Deb Britt email:

Student-centered learning (SCL) is an approach to learning that emphasizes authentic instruction, mastery-based assessment, and engaging students in real-life experiences that take their learning beyond the school walls and school day--all in an effort to connect students' learning to their experiences, strengths, and interests.

This report offers the first detailed look into how districts and schools deal with funding issues when they adopt the SCL approach. Researchers examined district spending on SCL by comparing spending at SCL high schools to traditional high schools with similar characteristics. The researchers also performed a statistical analysis using New York City's high schools, which included 79 SCL schools.

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A Design Lens on Education

Tim Brown:

Recently I asked Sandy to share her thoughts on design thinking in education. Here's an excerpt:

What's different when you look at the world of education through the lens of design?

Most of us have deeply embedded ideas about what's "right" for education. But when you look at the world of education through the lens of design, you start to see that there isn't one right answer, there are many. And when you really examine the world of education, you realize that "the system" is actually an outcome of millions of different solutions, organizations, priorities, and experiences. As designers, our job is to understand the conditions in any given situation deeply enough to be able to find new, relevant solutions for a particular context, need, or challenge--whether it's about interactions in the classroom or the structures that drive our system.

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Please let them Fail and Make Mistakes

King Sidharth:

The best thing was seeing them make mistakes. Good mistakes.

Same mistakes that we made when we were younger. First urge was to tell them not to make those mistakes. After all that's how adults behave around us - learn from our experience, don't make same mistakes as we did, they say. But does that really work? Is it even healthy to intend that?

When I read back old notes on this website. I don't agree with many of them! One day I was about to pull them down or re-write them. But then I remembered how strongly I felt about each one of them at the time of writing. Somewhere a kid is making same mistakes as I did and those are the things s/he will relate to more. And anyway, if no one is reading it I am proud to look at how far I've come.

Wisdom comes from experience and telling them not to repeat your mistakes it to deprive them of experience and hence the wisdom. Never do that. Please. You telling them that it something won't work is knowledge, not experience.

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Student Debt: Onerous for the young, a drag on society - and a major future problem

Fabius Maximus:

We have heard from a number of sources that researchers at the New York Federal Reserve Bank are worried that without some form of mortgage debt relief we may face a crisis in a couple of years that eclipses the one that took place in 2008. In line with such worries, the New York Fed has started collecting previously unavailable data on student debt, a form of indebtedness that's a major burden on the young, and also more of a macroeconomic drag than many analysts realize. Here are some details on all that.

Runaway Inflation

The rise in college tuition has been relentless, far outpacing the famous rise in the cost of health care (see graph, below). Since 1980, the overall CPI is up 194%. Its medical care component is up 436%, more than twice as much. But its college tuition component is up 829%, more than four times as much.

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Bureaucrats Paid $250,000 Feed Outcry Over College Costs

John Hechinger:

J. Paul Robinson, chairman of Purdue University's faculty senate, strode through the halls of a 10- story concrete-and-glass administrative tower.

"I have no idea what these people do," said Robinson, waving his hand across a row of offices, his voice rising.

The 59-year-old professor of biomedical engineering is leading a faculty revolt against bureaucratic bloat at the public university in Indiana. In the past decade, the number of administrative employees jumped 54 percent, almost eight times the growth of tenured and tenure-track faculty.

Purdue has a $313,000-a-year acting provost and six vice and associate vice provosts, including a $198,000 chief diversity officer. It employs 16 deans and 11 vice presidents, among them a $253,000 marketing officer and a $433,000 business school chief.

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Public responses to school report cards raise key questions

Matthew DeFour:

Gov. Scott Walker recently solicited feedback on the state's new school report cards and received a few dozen responses offering a variety of suggestions and critiques.

The report cards are part of the state's new school accountability system. They rate schools on a scale of 0 to 100 based on student math and reading achievement, improvement on test performance over time, how well schools are closing achievement gaps, and whether students are on track for college or a career.

Some themes that emerged from the responses Walker received:

Is the rating scale confusing?

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Manhattan district schools protest Moskowitz co-locations

Micah Landau:

"Hey, Eva, we're no fools! We won't let you ruin our schools!" chanted more than 70 teachers from the six schools on the Washington Irving Campus, near Manhattan's Union Square, as they rallied on the campus steps on Oct. 18 against the possible co-location of a new Success Academy charter school inside their building.

Washington Irving is one of two Manhattan high school campuses outside the Success Academy's traditional domain in Harlem that the charter school chain has targeted for co-location. The other, Graphic Arts, is located in Hell's Kitchen and is home to three schools. Parents, teachers and students from both campuses are putting up a spirited fight against the co-location proposals.

Speaking at the rally outside Washington Irving, International HS at Union Square Chapter Leader Thomas Hasler blasted Harlem Success founder and CEO Eva Moskowitz for creating "separate and unequal schools."

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What's the Impact of Drop-Out Rates on High School Proficiency Scores?

Laura Waters:

Today's Trenton Times reports on a recent Trenton School Board meeting at which board members puzzled over seemingly conflicting test scores: high school students performed better on standardized tests last year but younger students did worse than in previous years.

Specifically, last year 38% of high school students taking the HSPA reached proficiency in math and 65% reached proficiency in language art, an increase from the previous year. But at grades 3 -8, scores were flat, less than 50% proficient, and sometimes much lower than 50% proficient. Board President Toby Sanders complained about the district's lack of academic leadership:

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November 15, 2012

Hong Kong Baptist University 'Blue Book' criticises recruitment of foreign teachers

Stuart Lau:

A Baptist University-initiated publication already under academic investigation contains another contentious allegation about the British Council's role in recruiting teachers under the native English-speaking (NET) scheme, the South China Morning Post found.

The Chinese-language Blue Book of Hong Kong: Annual Report on Development of Hong Kong (2012) says the NET scheme, in place since 1997, should be abolished because of its social and political bearing on Hong Kong. It describes some of the teachers selected as having "taken root in Hong Kong".

The British Council said it had long stopped playing a role in the selection of these teachers.

Chinese University has already complained about the Blue Book's "defamatory" claim that its liberal studies curriculum was influenced by a US foundation. Baptist University vice-chancellor Professor Albert Chan Sun-chi pledged yesterday to offer a satisfactory apology to Chinese University should its academic investigation panel find material in the book was not accurate.

"If we have been wrong, we should apologise," he said.

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Math Professor Teaches High School Classes

Darryl Long:

During the 2009-2010 academic year I did something unusual for a university mathematician on sabbatical: I taught high school mathematics in a large urban school district. This might not be so strange except that my school does not have a teacher preparation program and only graduates a few students per year who intend to be teachers.

Why did I do this? I, like many of you, am deeply concerned about mathematics education and I wanted to see what a typical high school in my city is like. Because I regularly work with high school mathematics teachers, I wanted to experience the life of a high school teacher for myself. I had neither a research project nor an agenda for changing schools or teachers.

I kept a blog during my adventure, but it took some months after that experience before I could begin to process all that had happened. Four lessons emerged from my experience that I hope will give college and university educators a clearer view of what teaching high school mathematics is like.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 4:15 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

A Growing Movement: America's Largest Charter School Communities

National alliance for public charter schools:

For the past 20 years, the public charter school movement has been a leader in innovation and education reform. By unleashing an environment of creativity in states and communities, charter schools have demonstrated that children of all backgrounds are capable of achieving high standards and that college and career readiness is a goal attainable for all. Charter schools have led efforts to narrow achievement gaps and are showing that success is possible in neighborhoods where schools have been failing for generations.

For these reasons, public charter schools have been the fastest-growing sector of America's public education system. Beginning with a handful of charter schools in 1992, the number of charters has grown rapidly, especially in the past four years. Today, demand for public charter schools is at an all time high. In 41 states and the District of Columbia, more than 2 million students - almost 5 percent of total enrollment in public schools - now attend a charter school. The growth in public charter school enrollment presented in this report shows that parent demand for school options continues.

For seven years, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS) has tracked the growth in student enrollment at public charter schools. The enclosed report, A Growing Movement: America's Largest Charter School Communities identifies school districts that have the highest percentage and highest number of public school students enrolled in public charter schools. In communities where families have choice, families are increasingly selecting public charter schools over the traditional public schools. The 2012 Phi Delta Kappa (PDK)/Gallup poll indicates that two thirds of Americans favor charter schools. A recent poll of Detroit residents, for example, found that more than half of them believe charters are a better option than the schools in the traditional public system. In countless other communities, parents are clamoring for more high quality public options for their children. As a result, the public education landscape is shifting in many major cities.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 3:27 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Why online education works

Alex Tabarrok:

Oxford University was founded in 1096, Cambridge in 1209. Harvard, a relative newcomer, was founded in 1636. Other than religions, few institutions appear to have maintained their existence or their relative status for as long as major universities. And few institutions, notably again other than religions, have seen so little change. Oxford in 2012 teaches students in ways remarkably similar to Oxford in 1096, seated students listening to professors in a classroom.

I suspect that these two facts are related; stasis in methods has led to stasis in status. And I suspect that both of these facts are about to change. Online education will change how universities teach; as a result, online education will change which universities teach.

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Wanted: More school board candidates

The Wisconsin State Journal

Local school boards prioritize spending and programs, hire top staff and help shape curriculums. They set long-term goals and schedule building referendums.

Too many school board races go uncontested. And a big reason for the lack of competition is simple: Being a school board member is a difficult, time-consuming and in many ways thankless job.

Yet strong school leadership is crucial to the success of your city, village or town.

Four candidates competed for two Madison School Board seats last spring. It wasn't just an opportunity to pick leaders for the local district. It was a chance to have a high-profile conversation about how our schools and students are doing -- and what they need to do better.

Three Madison school board seats will be on the Spring, 2013 ballot. Beth Moss recently announced that she does not plan to seek re-election during the spring, 2013 contest. James Howard is running. Maya Cole, according to Matthew DeFour's article will decide after Thanksgiving if she plans to seek re-election.

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Middle school students to showcase Girls' Biz at Women's Expo

Dennis Punzel:

When Sarah Buob moved from Rockford, Ill., to Madison last year, one of her first moves was to join the Wisconsin Women's Entrepreneurs South Central Chapter.

As a freelance graphic artist, she figured it would be the best way to make some business contacts and develop some friendships along the way.

It didn't take long for her to realize her daughter Quinn could accomplish much the same thing by joining the Girls'Biz program co-sponsored by the WWE and the Girls Scouts of America-Badgerland Council.

"I thought it would be good for Quinn because she didn't know anybody up here either," Buob said. "She liked the fact that she could make some money, make some friends and learn a little bit about business and make some money on top of it."

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November 14, 2012

UW-La Crosse gets $50K from the Gates Foundation to improve remedial math


The University of Wisconsin-La Crosse has received a $50,000 grant to help incoming students who need remedial math courses.

The UW System says one in five incoming freshmen needs remedial math. And for under-represented minority students, that figure is double.

To bring those students up to speed faster, the La Crosse campus is using the grant money to develop an online math course. The program will be available to high school students who want to evaluate how ready they are for college, and for non-traditional students who've been away from school and need a refresher before coming back.

Remarkable. Are we making no progress? Perhaps it is time to revisit the math forum audio and video.

Related: What impact do high school mathematics curricula have on college-level mathematics placement? by James Wollack and Michael fish.

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Struggle For Smarts? How Eastern And Western Cultures Tackle Learning

Alix Spiegel:

In 1979, when Jim Stigler was still a graduate student at the University of Michigan, he went to Japan to research teaching methods and found himself sitting in the back row of a crowded fourth-grade math class.

"The teacher was trying to teach the class how to draw three-dimensional cubes on paper," Stigler explains, "and one kid was just totally having trouble with it. His cube looked all cockeyed, so the teacher said to him, 'Why don't you go put yours on the board?' So right there I thought, 'That's interesting! He took the one who can't do it and told him to go and put it on the board.' "

Stigler knew that in American classrooms, it was usually the best kid in the class who was invited to the board. And so he watched with interest as the Japanese student dutifully came to the board and started drawing, but still couldn't complete the cube. Every few minutes, the teacher would ask the rest of the class whether the kid had gotten it right, and the class would look up from their work, and shake their heads no. And as the period progressed, Stigler noticed that he -- Stigler -- was getting more and more anxious.

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Firestorm Erupts Over Virginia's Race-based Education Goals

Claudio Sanchez:

As part of Virginia's waiver to opt out of mandates set out in the No Child Left Behind law, the state has created a controversial new set of education goals that are higher for white and Asian kids than for blacks, Latinos and students with disabilities.

Virginia Democratic state Sen. Donald McEachin first read about the state's new performance goals for schoolchildren in a newspaper editorial.

"And I was shocked to find that the state board of education [was] putting in place permanent disparities between different subgroups -- Asians at the top, African-Americans at the bottom," says McEachin.

Here's what the Virginia state board of education actually did. It looked at students' test scores in reading and math and then proposed new passing rates. In math it set an acceptable passing rate at 82 percent for Asian students, 68 percent for whites, 52 percent for Latinos, 45 percent for blacks and 33 percent for kids with disabilities.

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Newark teacher contract a turning point for teachers, students

Star-Ledger via Laura Waters:

The long effort to improve Newark schools faces a critical test on Wednesday when teachers will vote on a pioneering new contract that would put city schools on the vanguard of national reform. It's an opportunity that can't be missed, one that is good for kids and generous to teachers.

Despite the huge investment, half of Newark kids drop out of school. And of those who make it to college, 90 percent need remedial help. Clearly, money is not the entire answer. Reform of the teaching profession is needed as well.

The contract provides generous increases averaging 14 percent over three years. It offers highly effective teachers $5,000 bonuses, another $5,000 if they agree to work in struggling schools, and yet another $2,500 if they teach subjects such as math and science, jobs that are harder to fill.

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Beaver Dam School District looking back and ahead

Beaver Dam Superintendent Steve Vessey, via a kind Erich Zellmer email:

I would like to take this opportunity to look back at the 2011-2012 school year in the Beaver Dam Unified School District and glance forward to the advancements we will make throughout this year.

It has been an exciting time in education at the local, state and federal levels. We have accomplished much and will continue to move forward, reaching for excellence and continuing to sustain our position as the district of choice in South Central Wisconsin.

Academically, we have made significant gains in growing our students' academic capabilities, increasing the academic rigor throughout our schools and offering new and exciting opportunities for the youth of Beaver Dam and the greater Dodge County area.

This past school year, we had in excess of 175 students take advantage of 300 advanced placement (AP) testing opportunities at our high school, resulting in 14 National Advanced Placement Academic Scholars. Through our full menu of AP courses, our students collected more than $100,000 worth of college credits. We have expanded our middle school math program to include eighth grade Algebra. We currently have 133 middle school Algebra students who will be positioned to explore advanced math opportunities as early as their sophomore year.

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Federal Barriers to K-12 Innovation

Raegen Miller & Robin Lake, via a kind Deb Britt email:

While some federal initiatives have been aimed at promoting innovation in education, some of the fiscal requirements of two large federal education programs stand in the way. This paper identifies three fiscal requirements that encourage the status quo, instilling in districts a profound deference for existing staffing and spending patterns. The report recommends closing the Title I comparability loop hole, streamlining its supplement-not-supplant requirement, and instituting a "challenge waiver" system for IDEA Part B maintenance of effort. The report also recommends redirecting Title II funds to support programs and initiatives designed to develop effective new instructional technologies and take them to scale. According to the authors, these modifications would break down barriers to innovation as well as promote smarter, fairer uses of taxpayer money to support public education.

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White House Petition: provide University graduates ability to trade their diplomas back for 100% tuition refunds.

Whitehouse Petition Website

Because of the inability of recent college graduates to find gainful employment in order to repay their college debt, and since this college debt cannot be eliminated in bankruptcy, and most of the recent additions to the job market have been in service related industries, the Obama administration should take up the cause of reducing college debt and hold those accountable responsible.

In the name of Consumer Protection, recent college graduates should have the ability to return the diploma and not make any reference to receiving education from the college in exchange for a 100% refund of college tuition. This may be extended with a graduated (ha, get it?) reduction for the last four years, with a red line at January 20, 2008.

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What's the future of the family in America? How will that change our government?

Fabius Maximus:

Summary: As the dust from the election settles, let's not forget the powerful elements of the conservative critique of 21st C America. Here we look at one of the many forces driving the expansion of the government -- the family. What might be its fate in the next few generations?

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Admissions 101: Obama-Romney guide to great college essays

Jay Matthews:

Are you feeling the tension among the college-applying families you know? Nov. 1 -- Thursday -- is the deadline for many early action and early decision applications. Applicants still have time to use a tip demonstrated recently by President Obama and Mitt Romney. Their technique, if done well, guarantees an essay that will capture the hearts of every admissions officer.

This isn't from the debates. If you use those rhetorical devices -- insult, ire, overloaded erudition -- your application will be consigned to the wastebasket.

I am referring to the candidates' speeches at the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner -- all those jokes you saw on TV. Some of their wit didn't work, but both men revealed a keen grasp of a device that is not only funny but sends the powerful message that you would be great to have on campus.

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November 13, 2012

Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses (Book Review)

Bill Gates:

The quality of our colleges and universities - particularly for undergraduates - should be a topic we all care about as a country. College is crucial in educating and preparing young people to succeed in an increasingly competitive global economy.

We've seen for some time the disturbing data that America is falling behind other countries in the number of students who attend and complete post-secondary education. Now, new data suggests that many U.S. students who make it to college, and even succeed there, are actually learning very little.

The data comes from the book Academically Adrift, which raises some fundamental and surprising questions about the quality of U.S. undergraduate education. The authors, Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa, are sociologists who analyzed results from essay tests and surveys given to more than 2,000 students at the beginning of their freshman year and the end of their sophomore year. Between 2005 and 2007, data was collected from 24 four-year institutions, including state universities and liberal-arts colleges.

Two key findings have received a lot of attention:

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Should this school be saved? The fight over Chicago's Dyett High

Stephanie Simon and James B. Kelleher:

By just about any definition, Walter H. Dyett High School has failed.

Just 10 percent can pass the state math exam; barely one in six is proficient in reading. The technology lab is so ancient, some of the computers still take 3-inch floppy disks. More teens drop out than graduate.

Yet when the Chicago Board of Education announced plans to shut the place down, it sparked a community uprising.

Students, parents and teachers have staged sit-ins outside the mayor's office; earlier this month, 10 were arrested for refusing to leave the fifth floor of City Hall. The protestors have held rallies. They've sued the school board. A group of students has filed a federal civil-rights complaint seeking to keep Dyett open.

Their quest to save a failed school may seem quixotic. But it is echoed in communities across the United States, as a rising anger at school closures takes hold.

The bipartisan education reform movement sweeping the nation - and promoted by President Barack Obama - calls for rating schools by their students' test scores and then taking drastic steps to overhaul the worst performers by firing the teachers, turning the schools over to private management or shutting them down altogether.

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Fighting for privilege Residents clash over plans to let the children of migrants sit exams in Beijing

The Economist:

The heart of the problem is China's system of household registration, or hukou. It forms the basis by which local governments define the privileges to which residents are entitled. Beijing has a large migrant population and is also home to many of the country's best government-funded schools and universities. The city is not keen to make it easier for holders of non-Beijing hukou to grab a share of these spoils. Even private schools set up specifically for the children of rural migrants are routinely razed by city officials. In effect, a kind of apartheid is at work./i>

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Online Courses Put Pressure on Third-World Universities How a teacher in El Salvador became an advocate of massive open online courses, and why hardly anyone listens to him yet.

Antonio Regalado:

When prominent U.S. universities began offering free college classes over the Web this year, more than half of the students who signed up were from outside the United States. Consider the story of one of them: Carlos Martinez, a professor of electrical engineering at the University of El Salvador.

Last spring, Martinez enrolled in a class on electronic circuits offered by edX, the $60 million collaboration between MIT and Harvard to stream "massive open online courses," or MOOCs, over the Web. He thought it was so good that he began traveling around El Salvador to convince others to join the class and launched a blog in English to document his adventures as his country's first "MOOC advocate."

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Tennessee Higher Education Commission report on Fast Track Teacher Certification

Professor Baker's Blog:

Beginning public school teachers who earn their credentials from alternative types of programs in Tennessee are as effective as veteran teachers in some subject areas and even more effective in a few areas, according to a state report released this morning.

The alternative programs, such as Teach for America, allow college graduates from other fields to teach while participating in a fast track to certification.

"In looking at both traditionally and alternatively licensed graduates, there are four programs that stand out," said Jamie Woodson, president and CEO of the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, or SCORE.

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Teachers' benefits cuts offset much of school-aid losses

Jason Stein:

In the state budget, Walker and GOP lawmakers sharply reduced aid to schools and then also dropped by more than 5% the cap on how much money schools can raise through state aid and local property taxes.

To offset that cut amounting to $451 million in the first year, Walker and lawmakers eliminated through the Act 10 legislation most collective bargaining for teachers and most other public workers and then required most public employees to pick up at least half the required contributions to their pensions. The legislation also required state workers to pay 12% of their health insurance premiums and allowed schools to require the same of their employees.

These changes, however, don't currently apply in districts such as Milwaukee Public Schools, where unions and the district still have a valid contract laying out different terms.

The taxpayers alliance found that districts reduced their benefit costs by $366.3 million overall, which amounted to 81% of the total amount of revenue cuts to schools. However, part of that was due to schools shedding staff.

The study found that, through layoffs or simply not filling vacancies, districts statewide cut 2,312 positions, or 2.3%, last year, up from 1,519 positions, or 1.5%, the previous year.

Those staff cuts accounted for about $79 million of the overall benefits savings. They also contributed to a statewide rise in average student-to-teacher ratios to 14.4, up from 14.1 in 2011 and 13.9 in 2010.

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Solidarity eNewsletter: Sick Leave Bank Assessment

Madison Teachers, Inc., via a kind Linda Doeseckle email 82K PDF.

he Sick Leave Bank (see Section VII-G of MTI's Teacher Collective Bargaining Agreement) is an innovative and progressive Contract provision. Because of its value to those in need, unions across the country have tried to emulate it. A sign of Union solidarity, the Sick Leave Bank (SLB) has provided income to many teachers who otherwise would go without.

The SLB was created by MTI's 1980 negotiations, with each member of MTI's teacher collective bargaining unit donating three sick days to fund the "Bank". The Sick Leave Bank acts as a short-term disability policy for teachers needing to be off of work for medical reasons and who have consumed their earned sick leave. SLB benefits begin after a teacher has been absent eleven (11) consecutive work days and has exhausted his/her Personal Sick Leave Account. SLB benefits are payable for a maximum of forty-four (44) days, or until the Contract provided long term disability benefit begins, whichever occurs first. The SLB Contract provision enables pay at 100% of the individual's daily rate of pay for each work day from the SLB. Without the SLB, teachers without sufficient sick leave to cover an extended illness would be forced to go without pay until long term disability benefits begin when one is absent for 55 work days; i.e. until one qualifies for long term disability coverage.

Teacher recipients are not required to "repay" the bank for days withdrawn; rather all teachers are assessed an additional day from their personal sick leave account, when the balance of days in the SLB drops below the contractually defined threshold of six (6) days per teacher. To help offset the need for assessment, MTI negotiated that 80% of the unused sick leave of the Retirement Insurance Account of one who resigns or dies is transferred to the SLB. This has minimized the need for members of the bargaining unit to be assessed days to fund the Bank.

The SLB is yet another way that, through our collective efforts, MTI members are able to assist each other.

Given that the Sick Leave Bank balance has now dropped below the contractual minimum, all teachers will be assessed one earned sick leave day on their February 1 paycheck. Teachers who do not have at least one sick day in their personal sick leave account may be docked one day's pay on the February 1 paycheck. This is only the fourteenth (14th) time in the thirty-two (32) year existence of the SLB that an assessment has been necessary.

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Wisconsin DPI Superintendent Tony Evers (running for re-election in 2013) Proposes New State Tax $ Redistribution Scheme

Jennifer Zahn and Erin Richards:

State Superintendent Tony Evers on Monday reintroduced a proposal from two years ago to increase state funding for public education and change the way the state finances its public schools as part of his 2013-'15 budget request.

The proposal calls for a 2.4% increase in state aid in the first year of the budget and a 5.5% increase in 2014-'15, which Evers said would put the state back on track to return to two-thirds' state support for public school costs by 2017.

The Department of Public Instruction's 2013-'15 budget proposal guarantees state funding of $3,000 per pupil and would result in every school district either getting more state money or the same money as before, but Republican legislators on Monday did not express confidence in the total package.

Luther Olsen, chair of the Senate Education Committee and a Republican from Ripon, said Evers' "Fair Funding for our Future" plan just shifts money around between districts and doesn't really award more money to schools.

Olsen did say he would like to increase districts' revenue limit authority per student - or the combined amount they can raise in state general aid and local property taxes - by at least $200 per pupil starting in the first year of the next biennial budget.

Evers announced his 2013-'15 state public education budget request Monday at Irving Elementary School in West Allis.

Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie said the proposal will be reviewed in the context of the overall budget, but said education is one of Walker's top budget priorities.

"The governor will work to build off of the work done with Superintendent Evers on school district accountability and Read to Lead as he creates the first version of the state budget, which will be introduced early next year," Werwie said.

Evers also said he'll run for re-election next year, adding that despite the funding cuts, he's excited to continue pushing reform and accountability.

"In order for us to create a new middle class and to move our state forward in a positive way, our public schools need to be strong, and the reforms we're implementing now are going a long way toward accomplishing that," Evers said. "We're in a great place as a state and we'll keep plugging away."

Various conservative education sources said no candidate has come forward to challenge Evers yet, but talks were ongoing with potential challengers. Nomination papers can be circulated Dec. 1 and are due back to the GAB Jan. 2.

Matthew DeFour has more.

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November 12, 2012

Sun Prairie Teacher Contract Bargaining Documents

Teacher Union proposal via sp-eye:

Really? You really think that under the new climate in Wisconsin that your existing contract should be allowed to stand? What the teachers union needs to come to grips with is that its getting harder and harder for the public to support their petulant positioning.

Can you name one...just one...occupation that gets an automatic 3% pay raise every year just for being a year older? And then...on TOP of that, you expect a big raise from the school board as well? About 4-6 weeks ago, you fine folks made a plea for a 3.1% increase. Those on "the grid" would then receive a 6.1% increase. What other occupation still gets an annual "step increase for basically continuing to work and having a birthday.

The District's Contract proposal, via sp-eye:
SPEA, and across the state other teachers' unions, have long spoken out about the low wage paid to entry level teachers. In the past, the "grid" has impeded the district's ability to single out one group of SPEA members for above average pay increases. In addition, SPEA, like many teachers unions, establishes a "negotiations committee" which is heavily (if not totally) comprised of teachers earning wages either at the far end of the salary grid, or even "off" the grid. It can be argued that these "negotiators" are looking out more for their own interests than those of their lesser paid brethren.

Act 10, however, changed all that. And SPASD administration and members of the school board worked diligently to develop an offer that would earmark roughly one-third of the budgeted $552,392 towards raising the base wage for all entry level teachers. The new starting salary would be raised from $32,505 to $35,000 for a Bachelor's Degree and $38,000 for a Master's Degree. 96 SPEA members (roughly 17% of all SPEA members) would see their base wages increased to $35,000.

How could SPEA's negotiation team argue against such a plan? It's a no-brainer, right? Raising the floor would allow SPASD to be more competitive and attract the best and brightest teachers to work in the district. And that's consistent with SPEA's desires...right?

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What will the 2012 election mean for education?

American enterprise Institute:

Although education was not the most salient issue of the 2012 US election season, a panel of education experts unveiled the issue's growing significance at an AEI event on Thursday. AEI's own Andrew Kelly began by asking what America's largely status-quo election results mean for education.

Panelists agreed that Indiana State Superintendent Tony Bennett's defeat was the most surprising outcome for education. AEI's Rick Hess noted that the incumbent Republican's loss is a foreboding trend on the national education horizon, one that indicates both union strength and a frustration with the highly partisan nature of the Common Core State Standards.

Panelists expressed a less-unified response to the next four years of education policy. Kristen Soltis of the Winston Group emphasized that the Obama administration must shift public opinion about education policies such as teacher pay, teacher evaluation, the Common Core, and class sizes to make progress in education reform and improve student outcomes.

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How to Get an A in Lifelong Learning

Yvette Kantrow:

Albert Einstein once said, "Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death." And these days, experts on aging agree. Studies continue to show that lifelong learning is the key to keeping our minds sharp and our brains strong, an important contributor to wellness overall, as we grow older. "Cognitive decline is not a normal function of aging," insists Andrew J. Carle, executive in residence and the founding director of the program in senior housing administration at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. "The brain doesn't have to be in decline. You can keep it strong; you can exercise your brain."

For many years, the idea of cognitive calisthenics conjured up images of silvered-hair retirees playing bridge or noodling over the New York Times crossword puzzle, ideally while relaxing by the pool. While those activities certainly do contribute to brain health, they're only the tip of the iceberg of what's available to mature adults who want to educate themselves in effective, enjoyable, and, in some cases, luxurious, ways. From downloading Harvard lectures to their computers, to spending a semester at sea with a ship full of students and professors, options for lifelong learners abound. Here are five of the best:

Lectures in the Living Room
You don't have to leave home to exercise your brain -- just pop a disc into your CD or DVD player, or download a digital video. The Great Courses of Chantilly, Va., formerly known as the Teaching Company (, makes and sells video and audio recordings of some 390 classes, taught by professors of top universities, on everything from literature to math to wine-tasting. Best sellers include "Understanding the Universe: An Introduction to Astronomy" ($229.95 on DVD); and "How to Listen to and Understand Great Music" ($699.95 on DVD).

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Teaching Career Pathways: Curriculum Design and School Partnerships

David B. Cohen:

Note: in November 2012, Accomplished California Teachers (ACT) released the policy report "Promoting Quality Teaching: New Approaches to Compensation and Career Pathways." The following post is the second in a series of profiles showing how California teacher leaders are beginning to develop and follow diversified career pathways. California teachers, and our peers around the nation, are looking for opportunities to innovate and lead in our field, but without having to leave the classroom. Our argument is that educational leadership will improve the more its carried out by those still in the classroom, and that students will benefit from having more accomplished educators remaining the in classroom rather than taking on entirely non-teaching positions.

This profile focuses on the Algebra Success Academy (see video, below), a project founded and directed by math teacher Wendy Gallimore, and funded in part by the California Teachers Association through its Institute for Teaching. The program has become a model of collaboration involving a district, union, and university. The policy recommendations in our report, if adopted, would pave the way for districts to staff similar programs, and to cultivate the conditions that lead to similar innovations aimed at improving student learning.

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Vouchers can break union's grip on Illinois education

Scott Reeder:

A while back, I showed up at the post office a half-hour before closing time and got in line to mail a package.

An officious man came up to me, pointed at the clerks working behind the counter and said, "If you are still in line at 5:30 p.m. you'll have to leave because I'm not going to pay those people overtime."

So I left the post office and drove across town to FedEx.

I can't imagine standing in line to pay for groceries at the supermarket and being turned away out of fear that maybe I'd still be in line past closing time.

To be sure, I've had my share of annoying experiences with private businesses.

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November 11, 2012

Election Day brings victories and setbacks for teachers unions

Lyndsey Layton:

Teachers unions scored political victories in several states Tuesday, beating back proposals that ranged from merit pay to school vouchers and unseating a Republican school superintendent with a national reputation for aggressively changing the way teachers are evaluated and compensated.

But the unions also lost several battles, including an attempt to enshrine bargaining rights in the Michigan constitution and to quash proposals to create public charter schools in Washington state and Georgia.

The mixed election results reflect the complexity of a larger national debate about how to improve public education.

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Madison Education Event: 12.6 & 12.7 John Legend, Geoffrey Canada and more

via a kind Kaleem Caire email:

Join John Legend, Geoffrey Canada and Madison's own education luminaries, Gloria Ladson-Billings and Sal Carranza as they discuss what our children need to succeed in school and life, and answer questions from the audience.

Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings is the Kellner Family Professor of Urban Education in the Department of Curriculum & Instruction at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and former president of the American Education Research Association.

Salvadore Carranza is a Senior Academic Planner in the Office of Academic and Student Affairs at the University of Wisconsin System and co-founder and Chair of the Latino Education Council of Dane County.

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Michigan Proposal 2: Unions lose big-money, high-profile effort to restore clout in Michigan

Dave Murray:

Proposal 2, which unions and Democrats hoped would restore some of the clout lost in the 2010 elections and potentially head off right-to-work legislation in Michigan, apparently was soundly rejected by voters.

With more than $45 million spent by both sides, the campaign was the most expensive for a ballot issue in the state's history, drew national attention and, was considered a potential template for unions in other states.

The measure failed 58 percent to 42 percent, with 2,571,501 voting against the proposal and 1,855,063 voting in favor, with 95 percent of the precincts counted..

The coalition backing Proposal 2 said its goal was to protect workers from corporate special interests, restoring the ability for employees to have a voice in a state with a rich tradition of organized labor.

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Switch to healthy, fresh foods a hit at Sacred Hearts school

Doug Erickson:

Two years ago, administrators at Sacred Hearts Catholic School noticed a sudden drop in the number of students buying hot lunches from the cafeteria.

They soon learned a boycott was under way, led by a group of seventh-graders and involving dozens of students.

"We weren't getting the nutrition we needed," said Kelly Brehmer, 13, an eighth-grader who took part in the boycott as a sixth-grader. The food wasn't healthy enough, she said, and the menus were too repetitious.

The student revolt led to sweeping changes. Made-from-scratch meals, using fresh vegetables grown locally, replaced much of the highly processed government food. An amped-up salad bar sprouted garbanzo beans, cabbage and pea pods. Sweet desserts faded to just a twice-a-month treat.

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Hoosier Fiasco a Wakeup Call to Both Sides of Common Core Debate

Matthew Ladner:

Let me start by noting that what I write here, as always, is my own personal view. It does not reflect the views of my employer or any other group with whom I collaborate. It is my hope, for reasons I will explain below, to serve as an equal opportunity offender. Three days later I can speak only daggers to both sides of our currently idiotic Common Core debate.

A few days before the election some polling data was released from Indiana showing that Superintendent Tony Bennett had a problem with-of all people-conservative Republicans. It has quickly passed into the Conventional Wisdom that Tony's support for Common Core cost him re-election. This result is an insult to a dumpster fire for both sides of the Common Core debate.

Let's get two things clear from the outset: no one has yet to convince me that Common Core is a good idea and Common Core opponents have revealed themselves to be unsophisticated ya-hoos as easily led by weak arguments as any Ravitch-zombie. Whether Indiana adopts or chooses not to adopt Common Core is ultimately of trivial to modest importance in driving academic outcomes in Indiana. Neither side of the argument in Indiana seemed to appreciate this stunningly obvious fact.

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Great teaching inspires us. The Fishman Prize honors amazing teachers with $25,000 and the chance to share their knowledge with educators nationwide. Apply for the 2013 Prize today!


Launched in 2012, the Fishman Prize for Superlative Classroom Practice is an annual award for exceptionally effective teachers working in high-poverty public schools. No more than five teachers are awarded the prize each year. The prize is named for Shira Fishman, a TNTP-trained math teacher currently teaching at McKinley Technology High School in Washington, DC.

In addition to receiving $25,000 each, Fishman Prize winners participate in an intensive summer residency during which they reflect critically on their classroom practice, explore the larger issues that shape their profession, and write a short paper on the elements of effective teaching. The residency enables the winners to share their expertise with educators across the country without taking time away from the classrooms where they do their best work.

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Spokane will seek charter school

Jody Lawrence-Turner:

Although votes are still being counted on Washington's charter school initiative, Spokane Public Schools officials have already decided the district will apply to have one if it passes.

"If we are trying to do some innovative programs, we should have a good shot," said Superintendent Shelley Redinger, who helped set up a charter school as a superintendent in Oregon. "Part of it is if we don't have one to offer our community and someone else does, I'm afraid the students will go elsewhere."

Initiative 1240, which in Thursday night vote totals was leading with 51 percent approval, allows for as many as 40 charter schools - eight per year, set up over the next five years. They would be established either by public school districts or by nonprofit organizations.

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For Seniors, a College Checklist for November

Darnell Heywood & Jen Fitzpatrick:

For this week's installment of The Choice on India Ink, we present our Counselor's Calendar, designed to keep students on track during the college admissions process.

We've asked Darnell Heywood and Jen FitzPatrick, the director and associate director of college counseling at Columbus Academy in Gahanna, Ohio, for admissions advice for high school seniors. -- Tanya Abrams

Seniors often need to brace themselves around this time of year, when relatives all ask the same question: "So, where are you going to college next year?"

In our experience, this is the last question seniors want to hear. They want a break. They need a break. Many feel vulnerable, as this question has been posed to them hundreds of times over the last three months.

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Adoption: why the system is ruining lives

Meg Henderson:

Troubled children are driving many adoptive parents to nervous breakdowns - or worse - because the social services aren't giving them adequate support.

In Glasgow two months ago a 14-year-old boy was jailed for seven years for fatally stabbing his 34-year-old foster mother. The incident took place a year ago. In the days leading up to the murder, the boy had been grounded, and his Xbox, mobile phone and laptop - which he used to keep in contact with his natural mother - were taken from him as punishment for his behaviour. According to his foster father, Bryan McKenzie, who had left the family home an hour before the attack, the boy didn't seem overly upset by the punishment. Dawn and Bryan McKenzie were first-time foster parents and were, perhaps, through no fault of their own, out of their depth with the boy. As seasoned fosterers/adopters are aware, there is a fine line when it comes to disciplining children who are already disturbed by their backgrounds, and taking so much from him was obviously inadvisable.

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Northwest Secondary closure shows Milwaukee Public Schools isn't complacent

Alan Borsuk

I watched President Barack Obama's first inaugural address four years ago with hundreds of students at Northwest Secondary School.

The truth is, the adults in the room were paying attention, but hardly any of the kids were. They were noisy and unfocused. Maintaining control was clearly a challenge and priority for the staff. Whatever anyone thinks about hope and change in terms of Obama - not my subject here - I left the Milwaukee Public Schools building near N. 76th St. and W. Silver Spring Drive that day feeling unhopeful about change there.

With barely a ripple, the Milwaukee School Board voted a couple weeks ago to make official what Superintendent Gregory Thornton's administration effectively set in place a year ago: The school will be closed at the end of this year.

The decision comes a year after MPS leaders took the extraordinary step of pulling more than 500 eighth- and ninth-graders out of the school midyear, citing, at various times, the poor academic results, safety issues and the inability to find qualified teachers willing to work there. (My reaction, in order, is ugh, ugh and wow.)

The demise of Northwest Secondary speaks to several major issues shaping MPS and Milwaukee education in general. Among them:

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Childhood Autism and Assortative Mating

Hays Golden:

Diagnosed rates of autism spectrum disorders have grown tremendously over the last few decades. I find that assortative mating may have meaningfully contributed to the rise. I develop a general model of genes and assortative mating which shows that small changes in sorting could have large impacts on the extremes of genetic distributions. I apply my theory to autism, which I model as the extreme right tail of a genetic formal thinking ability distribution (systemizing). Using large sample data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, I find strong support for theories that autism is connected to systemizing. My mating model shows that increases in the returns to systemizing, particularly for women, can contribute signi ficantly to rising autism rates. I provide evidence that mating on systemizing has actually shifted, and conclude with a rough calculation suggesting that despite the increase in autism, increased sorting on systemizing has been socially bene ficial.

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Madison West High Student's Logo Chosen by Wisconsin Christmas Tree Growers


The Wisconsin Christmas Tree Producers Association (WCTPA) announces the winner of its Logo Design Contest as Lisa Feigl, a junior from Madison West High School in Madison. Her entry received the highest number of votes by Christmas tree growers at the WCTPA summer convention. The contest was open to Wisconsin high school students, giving them an opportunity to use their skills in a real life situation.

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November 10, 2012

The Best Teachers in the World: Why we don't have them and how we could get them

John Chubb, via a kind email:

"My manicurist requires a license to do my nails, but our nation isn't sure we should license teachers." Camilla Benbow, Peabody College

Camilla Benbow is the dean of the top-ranked school of education in the United States, Peabody College at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. Under her leadership, which began in 1999, Peabody has risen in stature--passing Harvard, Stanford, and other elite institutions--to reach the top spot in the U.S. News & World Report rating system, which it has occupied since 2009. Peabody is the only school of education in an elite national university that trains undergraduates to become licensed K-12 teachers.

Because Vanderbilt is a very selective institution overall (ranked in the top twenty of national universities), and because the brightest high school students in the United States have few choices if they wish to become teachers upon graduation from a four-year institution, Peabody enrolls extremely high-achieving students. Their average SAT combined math and critical reading score in 2011 was 1438.3

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University of Wisconsin Regents discuss economic future of higher education

Cheyenne Langkamp:

The University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents discussed Thursday the national and state higher education climate in relation to economic development--a topic that Board of Regents President Brent Smith said will be brought up in many upcoming board meetings.

The board streamed a video conference with Anthony Carnevale, research professor and director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, who spoke about the nation's increasing skills gap.

According to Carnevale, while technology-based, post-secondary skills are becoming increasingly necessary to get a job, access to higher education is becoming less attainable.

Carnevale said he predicts this inconsistency will continue and may prevent economic improvement, saying access to the middle class is becoming more and more dependent on access to post-secondary education.

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On Madison School District Administrator Accuracy & Accountability

TJ Mertz:

Or who should be held accountable for the accountability design work being done by MMSD? These aren't easy questions. Accountability is confusing, maybe not as confusing as the Abbott and Costello routine, but confusing (who should or should not be held accountable for the results of accountability measures is even more confusing....add teachers, families, the economy, inequality, .... to the list below). The chain of accountability goes from the voters who elect Board Members, to the Superintendent who the Board hires, fires and evaluates, to the administrators the Superintendent hires (with the consent of the Board, but for better or worse this has been a rubber stamp consent), supervises and evaluates. It also loops back to the Board, because they are responsible for making sure administrators have the resources they need to do good work, but this chain continues back to the Superintendent and the administrators who prepare draft budgets and should communicate their needs and capacities to the Board. The Superintendent is the bottleneck in this chain each time it loops around because the the MMSD Board has almost entirely limited their action in evaluation, hiring and firing to the Superintendent. Right now MMSD has an Interim Superintendent, so evaluation, hiring and firing is moot and the key link in the chain is broken. Like I said, confused.

What is clear is that the only lever of accountability community members hold is their vote in school elections. Three seats are up in April (Board President James Howard has announced his intent to run for re-election; Maya Cole and Beth Moss have not publicly stated their plans).


Mary Burke noted that the left hand and the right hand didn't appear to be coordinating. To be more specific, she pointed out that on page 15 (of the pdf) there is a chart with the stated goal "95% of all 11th graders will take the ACT in 2012-13," but chart itself shows annual incremental increases, culminating at 95% for all groups in 2016-17. It was long ago decided that all students would take the ACT in 2012-13, whoever prepared the left part of the chart knew this, but whoever did the increments on the right did not (and apparently didn't read the left part). Here it is:

This is not the first time administrative accountability issues have been raised.

It would certainly be a new day in the Madison schools should radical governance change arrive via school board elections.

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UK 11-year-olds to be barred from using calculators in tests

Richard Garner, via a kind reader's email:

Children are to be barred from using calculators in the maths national curriculum tests for 11-year-olds.

Schools Minister Elizabeth Truss is announcing the move today in a bid to encourage pupils to master mental arithmetic skills whilst in primary school.

Research shows 10-year-olds from England are amongst the highest users of calculators in the world - with 98 per cent resorting to them in lessons compared with an international average of 46 per cent.

Ms Truss said children were too reliant on calculators at present, adding that there was a need to get more rigour into maths lessons. Calculators should omnly be introduced when pupils were confident in their mental and written arithmetic and knew their times tables.

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Thinking Boldly at 18

Geoffery Gagnon:

When he was 14, Wilson built a nuclear-fusion reactor. Then, a bomb-sniffing device that impressed even the president. Now 18, the prodigy is skipping college and using a $100,000 Thiel Fellowship to try to crack the riddle of harnessing energy from nuclear fusion--a feat that plenty consider impossible.

I was about 10 when I got into nuclear science. That was when that spark hit me. It took a few years of research, but when I was 14, I produced my first nuclear-fusion reaction.

Since then, the areas where I've made a lot of innovation are counterterrorism and nuclear medicine. I've been focused on detecting nuclear terrorism at ports, in cargo containers, and I developed and built detectors that are extremely cheap and also very sensitive. My other big development is a system to produce medical isotopes that are injected into patients and used to diagnose and treat cancer. It's a design that costs less than $100,000 and wheels right into a hospital room--replacing multimillion-dollar, warehouse-size facilities.

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Teacher Absence as a Leading Indicator of Student Achievement

Daniela Fairchild:

The sun rises in the East. Grass is green. And teachers are the most important in-school factor in determining student achievement. This last truth has long guided the push for more robust teacher-preparation programs, heartier evaluation systems, and altered HR policies. This short report by Raegen Miller highlights another strategy, small but fruitful, for eking more out of today's instructional workforce: Ensure that teachers come to school each day. Using data from the Civil Rights Data Collection survey, Miller discovers that, on average, 36 percent of teachers were absent (whether for sick or disability leave or vacation time) ten or more days during the 2009-10 school year. Nationally, these missed school days cost taxpayers $4 billion.

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November 9, 2012

John Dewey on comparing students -- Blast from the Past/Quote of the Day

TJ Mertz

The current "accountability" madness is almost all based on misusing metrics of questionable value to make comparisons among students, among teachers, among schools, among districts, among nations (see here and here for two recent manifestations). If we are going to be "holding people accountable," I'd prefer the metric be whether they are providing all students with the "opportunities to employ his [or her] own powers in activities that have meaning."

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Korea's obsession with education

Simon Mundy and Laeticia Ock:

At no time this year was South Korea's national obsession with education more starkly on show than on Thursday, as more than 660,000 youngsters sat their university entrance exams. Traffic was diverted away from exam halls, airline schedules were tweaked to avoid distractions and police cars were put at the disposal of students who risked arriving late for their exams.

Such a sweeping show of support would doubtless be appreciated by stressed-out, sleep-deprived examinees in other countries. But the degree of national interest in the entrance exams reflects what, according to critics, is an excessive level of pressure on the shoulders of the country's youth.

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The Election Has Compromised Education Reform

Andrew Rotherham:

The 2012 Presidential election sidestepped the issue of school reform. Neither candidate spent much time laying out, let alone talking up, an education policy agenda. But around the country, there were ballot referendums and state and local races with big implications for schools. Teachers unions had a good night, but so did charter schools. In other words, Nov. 6 left the country with an education mandate as unclear as the electoral mandate overall. Still, what happened in various states will influence what happens in Washington during President Obama's second term. Here are four key education issues to watch:

The biggest omen for the Obama Administration is, ironically, the defeat of a high-profile Republican, Indiana state schools superintendent Tony Bennett. He has been a quiet Obama ally, most notably in the fight to reform teacher evaluations and develop common academic standards in all 50 states. The latter effort didn't endear him to conservatives, and Bennett's Democratic opponent said she'd pull the state out of the standards initiative. Bennett also angered teachers unions with his blunt talk and his support for one of the toughest teacher-evaluation laws in the country. This left-right convergence led to Bennett's losing on the same night a conservative Republican won the governorship, and that doesn't bode well for Obama's centrist approach to education reform. Or, for that matter, for GOP leaders on these issues including former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who has championed many of the initiatives that got trounced on Tuesday night.

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New Jersey's annual teachers conference is an outdated idea

Laura Waters:

Ask any New Jersey parent: it's been a long week and a half with most school districts shuttered by Hurricane Sandy; many still remain closed. But parents got an unexpected gift when the New Jersey Education Association announced that it was cancelling its convention in Atlantic City, scheduled for November 8-9 this year.

According to the union, that's the first time that's happened in 158 years.

Not only did NJEA cancel the convention, but it also generously supported local districts' desire to reclaim those two days for instruction and deserves hearty applause. But let's push this a little further: the tragedy of Sandy is an opportunity to reconsider the wisdom of cancelling school for two days in November. 

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Washington, DC 2012 Charter School Performance Reports

DC Public School Charter Board:

The DC Public Charter School Board (PCSB) provides school performance reports as a way to share how PCSB evaluates each public charter school. Although each charter school is unique, PCSB's Performance Management Framework (PMF) enables the board to look at school performance across common measures. See the frequently asked questions sheet for further information on how the PMF works. See a brief PowerPoint presentation on the School Performance Reports here.

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New Report Cards Grade Wisconsin Schools

Senator Kathleen Vinehout:

Every student received a report card at the end of the first quarter. This fall every school also received a report card.

The Department of Public Instruction recently released report cards on almost all of Wisconsin's over 2,000 schools. High schools, middle schools, elementary schools and charter schools are all rated.

The report card gives a grade from 0 to 100. The grade is based on four priority areas: student achievement, student growth, on-track and post secondary readiness including attendance, ACT participation and graduation rates, and closing gaps among disadvantaged and disabled students.

Most of our area schools scored average or above average; an exception was the Whitehall Middle School where over half of the students are economically disadvantaged.

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A School Distanced From Technology Faces Its Intrusion

Past the chicken coop and up a hill, in a spot on campus where the wooden buildings of the Mountain School can seem farther away than the mountains of western New Hampshire, there sometimes can be found a single bar, sometimes two, of cellphone reception.

The spot, between the potato patch and a llama named Nigel, is something of an open secret at the school in this remote corner of Vermont where simplicity is valued over technology. "We're at the periphery of civilization here," said Doug Austin, a teacher.

But that is about to change.

The school offers high school juniors, many from elite private institutions in the Northeast, a semester to immerse themselves in nature. The students make solo camping trips to a nearby mountain for a day or two of reflection, and practice orienteering skills without a GPS device. Between English and environmental science classes, they care for farm animals, chop wood and read the works of Robert Frost. And in the process, many say, they stop scouring the campus for its sparse bars of reception and lose the habit of checking their Facebook pages at every opportunity.

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November 8, 2012

Teacher Union Governance: A Seat in the Room?

Lisa Alva Wood:

United Teachers Los Angeles may be on the brink of an unwelcome change. Currently, there is a groundswell of teachers nominating themselves for the UTLA House of Representatives - teachers who have not been actively involved in UTLA in the past but who are motivated to do something now. For teachers who are alienated by the current brand of union rhetoric or feel de-professionalized by narrow perspectives, this is a terribly important time. It's election time at the union.

The UTLA House of Reps is the policy-making body of the union. Decisions made here are binding on UTLA leadership. A UTLA member can nominate herself and likely be "elected" in an uncontested race until November 9. What an excellent opportunity this is for bringing children and education to the forefront of policy debate, and for hearing education professionals who currently feel alienated or unrepresented. This is also, perhaps, not in the best interest of the status quo.

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One Man, One Computer, 10 Million Students: How Khan Academy Is Reinventing Education

Michael Noer:

"I could have started a for-profit, venture-backed business that has a good spirit, and I think there are many of them-Google for instance," says Khan, his eyes dancing below his self-described unibrow. "Maybe I could reach a billion people. That is high impact, but what happens in 50 years?"

It's a fair question, with an increasingly sure answer: The next half-century of education innovation is being shaped right now. After decades of yammering about "reform," with more and more money spent on declining results, technology is finally poised to disrupt how people learn. And that creates immense opportunities for both for-profit entrepreneurs and nonprofit agitators like Khan.

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Teachers unions notch big wins on state education votes

Stephanie Simon:

(Reuters) - Teachers unions won several big victories in both red and blue states Tuesday, overturning laws that would have eliminated tenure in Idaho and South Dakota, defeating a threat to union political work in California, and ousting a state schools chief in Indiana who sought to fundamentally remake public education.

The night didn't belong entirely to big labor; advocates of charter schools, which are typically non-union, scored a win in Georgia and looked likely to prevail in a tough fight in Washington state.

But unions had the bigger trophies - none bigger than in Indiana, where they stunned pundits by handing a loss to State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett, who was running for a second term.

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PhDs from the Faculty's Perspective

Jason Hong:

One of Blog@CACM's new bloggers, Philip Guo, has been doing a great job in discussing grad school from the PhD student's perspective (here and here). I figured it would be good to offer an complementary perspective of graduate school, distilling what I've learned over the past years in advising and working with PhD students.

Break Out of the Undergraduate Mentality
A common challenge for a lot of new PhD students is that they still have an "undergraduate mentality," where they believe that grades still matter (they do, but only marginally so), and that there will always be someone there to tell you what to do.

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The Fifth problem: math & anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union: A look at anti-Semitic university admissions in the USSR from the perspective of a leading mathematician

Edward Frenkel:

When I was growing up in the Soviet Union in the 1980s, I thought math was a stale, boring subject.1 I could solve all of the problems and ace all of the exams at school, but what we discussed in class seemed pointless, irrelevant. What really excited me was Quantum Physics. I devoured all the popular books on this subject I could get my hands on. But these books didn't go far enough in answering deeper questions about the structure of the universe, so I wasn't fully satisfied.

As luck would have it, I got help from a family friend. I grew up in a small industrial town called Kolomna, population 150 thousand, which was about seventy miles away from Moscow, or just over two hours by train. My parents worked as engineers at a large company, making heavy machinery. One of their friends was a mathematician by the name of Evgeny Evgenievich Petrov, who was a professor at a local college preparing school teachers. A meeting was arranged.

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Fuzzy math? Austin advocate questions Chicago Public Schools' draft guidelines for school actions

Dwayne Truss:

Chicago Public Schools just released its draft guidelines for school actions as required by state law. The draft guidelines can be reviewed here.

After reviewing the guidelines, I had to take a shot of vodka because of the blatant lie that the CPS community engagement process resulted in CPS adding the space utilization criteria.

CPS poorly attempted a facade of community engagement in the drafting of the 2012 School Actions Guidelines by providing a confusing online survey for the public to comment on the 2011 guidelines and organizing orchestrated community roundtable meetings in which participants were only given 24 to 48 hour notices of the meetings.

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Middleton-Cross Plains voters OK school building plan

Barry Adams:

Overcrowding at the elementary schools and aged facilities at Kromrey Middle School will be corrected after voters in the Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved a nearly $60 million referendum.

The proposal was the largest in the state this fall and was approved after voters turned back referendums in 2005 and 2009.

"What we tried to do is combine and do a common-sense plan that everyone could understand, was fiscally responsible and looked at the long-term needs of the community," Superintendent Don Johnson said.

The district was among nine area school districts that combined to ask 12 referendum questions in south central Wisconsin.

Related: Minnesota voters approve most school levy requests
Most Minnesota school districts with levy referendums on the ballot yesterday met with success.

Voters in 29 of 40 districts approved levies, essentially pledging local taxpayer support for their schools, in addition to state-provided funds.

This year's approval is better than average in a year crowded with local, state and federal races, said Greg Abbott, a spokesman for the Minnesota School Boards Association.

"This passing percentage is a good 20, 25 percent above what a presidential [election] year usually runs," Abbott said. "That means they really did their work and they got out there and got people to the polls."

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November 7, 2012

Peg Tyre Interview: phonics, grammar, choosing a school, parents and crime

Peg Tyre SIS interviewI recently had an opportunity to talk [42mb mp3 file] with the intriguing Peg Tyre. Tyre recently wrote "The Writing Revolution" for The Atlantic:

For years, nothing seemed capable of turning around New Dorp High School's dismal performance--not firing bad teachers, not flashy education technology, not after-school programs. So, faced with closure, the school's principal went all-in on a very specific curriculum reform, placing an overwhelming focus on teaching the basics of analytic writing, every day, in virtually every class. What followed was an extraordinary blossoming of student potential, across nearly every subject--one that has made New Dorp a model for educational reform.
Peg has authored two books: The Good School: How Smart Parents Get Their Kids The Education They Deserve, The Trouble with Boys and blogs here.

An excerpt:

Peg: You cover crime for a long time and you realize that it's very banal. You start to realize that one person killed another person in a horrendous way, but if you look at their lives, it looks like it was two trains on a track heading for each other. The miracle would have been if they didn't end up killing each other.

Interviewer: [laughing]

Peg: They became a kind of inevitability to the conflicts that I saw. I asked my self, my intellectual journey of why is this happening? Why are theses trains set on a collision course? What I came to was lack of opportunity. You dig deeper into that, and it's lack of education.

Interviewer: Right.

Peg: I actually come at education... Most journalists come at education because they have kids or they think that kids are cute or they have parents who are teachers and they have warm feelings about school. I have really mixed feelings about school. Yes, kids are cute, but I actually come at this from a social...I don't know. It's sort of like a harder nosed perspective.

Interviewer: Yeah.

Peg: Also, I hate education blah blah. I hate people using school words and pretending that their having a dialogue when they're really just jargoning at each other.

Interviewer: [laughing]

Peg: I hate people telling me they have the answer to poverty, that they have the answer to the achievement gap, when you know and I know every intelligent person who's listening to this knows that it's more complicated than that. I'm not exactly misanthropic, but I'm an investigative reporter by trade, so I'm just like a "show me" kind of gal. I'm just like, "Yeah, really? Very interesting froth. Show me."

Listen to the interview via this 42mb mp3 file , or read the transcript.

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The Problem With America's History Books

Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick:

Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick are co-authors of The Untold History of the United States (Gallery Books, $30)

It has become commonplace to deplore U.S. students' dismal performance in math and science when their test results are compared to those of students in other advanced and not-so-advanced industrial countries.

But, it turns out, according to the Nation's Report Card, or National Assessment of Educational Progress, the federally administered test results released in June 2011, the area in which U.S. students perform most poorly is actually U.S. history. According to the results, only 12 percent of high school students were proficient in U.S. history. And only a scant 2 percent could identify the social problem addressed in Brown v. Board of Education, even though the answer should have been obvious from the wording of the question itself.

Historically-challenged students turn into historically-challenged adults who make for unqualified citizens. Our republican system requires a literate, educated, and knowledgeable public. No wonder Santayana's famous comment that "he who forgets the past is condemned to repeat it" has been borne out repeatedly over the past century and a quarter of U.S. history.

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WEBINAR 15 November 2012: Does It Cost More? What Districts Spend on Student-Centered Learning

Center on Reinventing Public Education via a kind Deb Britt email:

In an effort to raise student performance, a growing number of schools are embracing the principles of student-centered learning (SCL)--an approach that espouses personalized, authentic instruction and takes learning beyond the typical school schedule and calendar. Given the interest in SCL and concerns about spending, researchers from the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington and from the School of Public Affairs and Administration at Rutgers University-Newark, with funding from the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, conducted comparative case studies of seven public high schools in six states. The case studies explore three questions:

1) How is SCL delivered?
2) What resources are needed to implement SCL?
3) How does district spending on SCL compare with spending on traditional schools?

The cross-case analysis finds that SCL can be delivered for the same price as traditional schools, provided that districts offer (and schools take advantage of) resource flexibility. In this webinar, the authors will share their findings and policy recommendations, as well as answer questions about their research. Their full report, "Getting Down to Dollars and Cents: What Do School Districts Spend to Deliver Student-Centered Learning?"will be available on November 15.

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Power, Ideology, and the Use of Evidence: In National Politics and School Reform

Larry Cuban:

On the eve of the nation's voters going to the polls, a truth about policymakers' use of evidence arrives in plain sight. Sure, the obscene spending from Super PACs on political ads shows how evidence can be bent into grotesque shapes to support one candidate over another. Fact-checkers have had a bumper season. But political ads are a genre that all of us can shrug and accept as part of life. Much like accepting that garbage is collected weekly.

But when I read that the U.S. Senate Republican leadership had put pressure on the independent Congressional Research Service, a nonpartisan department of the U.S. Library of Congress, to withdraw an economic analysis of the top tax rates and economic growth that the CRS had published in September, well, that was taking away the fig-leaf that covers the persistent practice of decision-makers selectively choosing evidence to support their policies.

The New York Times described Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (Kentucky) questioning the report's methodologies, language, and conclusions. What did the economist who did the analysis say in the report?

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

Welcome to Star Scholar U., Where a Personal Brand Is the Credential

Jeffrey Young:

A new kind of university has begun to emerge: Call it Star Scholar U.

Professors with large followings and technical prowess are breaking off to start their own online institutions, delivering courses with little or no backing from traditional campuses.

Founding a university may sound dramatic, but in an era of easy-to-use online tools it can be done as a side project--akin to blogging or writing a textbook. Soon there could be hundreds of Star Scholar U's.

Two recent examples are Marginal Revolution University, started by two economics professors at George Mason University, and Rheingold U, run by the author and Internet pioneer Howard Rheingold. To be clear, these professors are using the word "university" loosely--they award no credit and claim no spot on any college ranking. And they probably won't become rich through their teaching. But the gambit gives them full control over the content and delivery methods. And it offers their personal brands as a kind of credential.

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Unhealthy snacks common in Minnesota high schools

Julie Sipple:

A new study shows many Minnesota high schools offer unhealthy snacks in vending machines or snack bars.

The results come from a nationwide analysis by The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Minnesota ranked among the best in the nation in the percentage of schools offering healthy snacks, like fruit. But it was one of the worst on a measure of schools offering cookies, pastries or crackers.

Erik Olson, directer of food programs at The Pew Charitable Trusts, said those snacks compete with healthier options.

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New Outlook on Colorblindness Phone Apps, Videogames Offer Color Help; Seeking a Cure Through Gene Therapy

Melinda Beck:

For people who are colorblind, life involves little workarounds and big compromises alike. Daily challenges range from not knowing whether meat is fully cooked to not being able to read whether a horizontal traffic light is showing green or red. More serious repercussions include being shut out of a dream job, like piloting planes, because misreading landing-strip lights can have life-or-death consequences.

Now, a host of new research and tools promise to improve life for the estimated 32 million Americans--8% of men and 0.5% of women--who have some degree of colorblindness. For many, getting through the day--avoiding wardrobe perils and worse--has often involved bringing in a second pair of eyes. But new websites and smartphone apps offer to help identify or enhance hard-to-see colors. Videogame manufacturers are increasingly including "colorblind" modes in their games. And researchers are homing in on more specific vision tests that may allow mildly colorblind people to qualify for jobs that, until now, have been closed to them.

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

'F' for Myanmar Schools Threatens Makeover Companies Eager to Pour In Find Dearth of Skilled Workers; Rot at Once-Strong University Embodies Leaders' Challenge

Patrick Barta:

The University of Yangon was once one of Asia's best colleges. Today, abandoned buildings rot away on its overgrown campus, with some walkways deserted except for dogs.

Its state of affairs embodies a crucial challenge for leaders as Myanmar opens to the outside world. The military junta that dominated the country for five decades all but destroyed the university system after a series of student protests convinced its leaders that schools were breeding grounds for dissent.

But now that the lifting of most Western sanctions has paved the way for an expected wave of investment, companies are finding a nation largely bereft of skilled workers. Doctors and lawyers often lack up-to-date training, and other professions are desperately short of qualified staff with even basic critical-thinking skills, employers say.

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Opt Out -- Just Say No to the WKCE

TJ Mertz:

The WKCE testing and related assessments are scheduled for next week in the Madison Metropolitan School District schools (full schedule of MMSD assessments, here), but your child doesn't have to be part of it. You can opt out. Families with students in grades 4,8, & 10 have a state statutory right to opt out of the WKCE; I have been told that it is district practice to allow families to opt out of any and all other, discretionary, tests. We opted out this year. In order to opt out, you must contact your school's Principal (and do it ASAP, (contact info here).

The WKCE does your child no good. Just about everyone agrees that even in comparison to other standardized tests, it is not a good assessment. Because results are received so late in the year, it isn't of much use to target student weaknesses or guide instruction. There are no benefits for students.

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November 6, 2012

Betty Hart Dies at 85; Studied Disparities in Children's Vocabulary Growth

William Yardley

Betty Hart, whose research documenting how poor, working-class and professional parents speak to their young children helped establish the critical role that communicating with babies and toddlers has in their later development, died on Sept. 28 in Tucson. She was 85. The cause was lung cancer, said Dale Walker, a colleague and longtime friend. Dr. Hart was a graduate student at the University of Kansas in the 1960s when she began trying to help poor preschool children overcome speech and vocabulary deficits. But she and her colleagues later concluded that they had started too late in the children's lives -- that the ones they were trying to help could not simply "catch up" with extra intervention.

At the time, a prevalent view was that poor children were essentially beyond help, victims of circumstances and genetics. But Dr. Hart and some of her colleagues suspected otherwise and revisited the issue in the early 1980s, beginning research that would continue for a decade. "Rather than concede to the unmalleable forces of heredity, we decided that we would undertake research that would allow us to understand the disparate developmental trajectories we saw," she and her former graduate supervisor, Todd R. Risley, wrote in 1995 in "Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children," a book about their findings, which were reported in 1992. "We realized that if we were to understand how and when differences in developmental trajectories began, we needed to see what was happening to children at home at the very beginning of their vocabulary growth."

They began a two-and-a-half-year study of 42 families of various socioeconomic levels who had very young children. Starting when the children were between 7 and 9 months old, they recorded every word and utterance spoken to them and by them, as well as every parent-child interaction, over the course of one hour every month. It took many more years to transcribe and analyze the data, and the researchers were astonished by what they eventually found. "Simply in words heard, the average child on welfare was having half as much experience per hour (616 words per hour) as the average working-class child (1,251 words per hour) and less than one-third that of the average child in a professional family (2,153 words per hour)," Drs. Hart and Risley wrote.

"By age 4, the average child in a welfare family might have 13 million fewer words of cumulative experience than the average child in a working-class family," they added. They also found disparities in tone, in positive and negative feedback, and in other areas -- and that the disparities in speech and vocabulary acquisition persisted into school years and affected overall educational development.

"People kept thinking, 'Oh, we can catch kids up later,' and her big message was to start young and make sure the environment for young children is really rich in language," said Dr. Walker, an associate research professor at Kansas who worked with Dr. Hart and followed many of the children into their school years.

The work has become a touchstone in debates over education policy, including what kind of investments governments should make in early intervention programs. One nonprofit program whose goals are rooted in the findings is Reach Out and Read, which uses pediatric exam rooms to promote literacy for lower-income children beginning at 6 months old.

Prompted by the success of Reach Out and Read, Dr. Alan L. Mendelsohn, a developmental-behavioral pediatrician at Bellevue Hospital and New York University Langone Medical Center, pushed intervention even further. He created a program through Bellevue in which lower-income parents visiting doctors are filmed interacting and reading with their children and then given suggestions on how they can expand their speaking and interactions. "Hart and Risley's work really informed for me and many others the idea that maybe you could bridge the gap," Dr. Mendelsohn said, "or in jargon terms -- address the disparities."

Bettie Mackenzie Farnsworth was born on July 15, 1927, in Kerr County, Tex. (She spelled her name Betty even though it was Bettie on her birth certificate.) Her family moved to South Dakota when she was a girl, and her mother died when she was quite young, Dr. Walker said. Dr. Hart, who lived in Kansas City, Kan., graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1949, and later taught in a preschool laboratory at the University of Washington directed by Sidney W. Bijou, a psychologist who helped establish modern behavioral therapy for childhood disorders. She accepted a research position at the University of Kansas in the mid-1960s, and received her master's degree and Ph.D. there. She married John Hart in 1949; they divorced in 1961. Her three siblings are deceased, Dr. Walker said.

"Today, much of her research is being applied in many different ways," said Dr. Andrew Garner, the chairman of a work group on early brain and child development for the American Academy of Pediatrics. "I think you could also argue that the current interest in brain development and epigenetics reinforces at almost a molecular level what she had identified 20 years ago."

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How Authors Write The technologies of composition, not new media, inspire ­innovations in literary styles and forms

Jason Pontin:

Early in Nicholson Baker's slim first novel, The Mezzanine (1988), whose entire action takes place during an escalator ride at lunchtime, the narrator describes buying milk and a cookie, and then pauses to consider, in a page-long footnote, the "uncomfortable era of the floating drinking straw":

I stared in disbelief the first time a straw rose up from my can of soda and hung out over the table, barely arrested by burrs in the underside of the metal opening. I was holding a slice of pizza in one hand, folded in a three-finger grip so that it wouldn't flop and pour cheese-grease on the paper plate, and a paperback in a similar grip in the other hand--what was I supposed to do? The whole point of straws, I had thought, was that you did not have to set down the slice of pizza to suck a dose of Coke while reading a paperback.

Baker speculates about how the straw engineers had made "so elementary a mistake," designing "a straw that weighed less than the sugar-water in which it was intended to stand"; pardons the engineers who had forgotten to take into account how bubbles of carbonation might affect a straw's buoyancy; explains how such unsatisfactory straws came to be sold to restaurants and stores in the first place; and, in a kind of musical resolution, concludes by remembering the day when he noticed a plastic straw, "made of some subtler polymer," once again anchored to the bottom of a soda can.

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The Science of Scientific Writing If the reader is to grasp what the writer means, the writer must understand what the reader needs

George Gopen, Judith Swan:

Science is often hard to read. Most people assume that its difficulties are born out of necessity, out of the extreme complexity of scientific concepts, data and analysis. We argue here that complexity of thought need not lead to impenetrability of expression; we demonstrate a number of rhetorical principles that can produce clarity in communication without oversimplifying scientific issues. The results are substantive, not merely cosmetic: Improving the quality of writing actually improves the quality of thought.

The fundamental purpose of scientific discourse is not the mere presentation of information and thought, but rather its actual communication. It does not matter how pleased an author might be to have converted all the right data into sentences and paragraphs; it matters only whether a large majority of the reading audience accurately perceives what the author had in mind. Therefore, in order to understand how best to improve writing, we would do well to understand better how readers go about reading. Such an understanding has recently become available through work done in the fields of rhetoric, linguistics and cognitive psychology. It has helped to produce a methodology based on the concept of reader expectations.

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

How tougher classes in high school can help kids make it through college

Stacy Teicher Khadaroo::

Some 40 percent of students are failing to graduate from college in six years. A study calls for higher-quality college prep, with more advanced math, advanced placement classes, and better advising.

But what if high schools had a better recipe for preparing their students to stay in college? The National School Boards Association released a study Thursday afternoon highlighting some key ingredients: more advanced math courses, challenging courses such as Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB), and better academic advising.

If students are exposed to those factors - even if they don't earn high scores on the course exams - they are more likely to continue college after their first year, a point at which many drop out, the study notes.

From the report:
We analyzed longitudinal data tracking high school sophomores in 2002 through their second year in two- and four-year colleges in 2006 (ELS 2002-2006). We were able to identify three factors that were related to increasing a postsecondary students' chances of staying on track to a credential as much as 53 percent, and the process begins in high school. Moreover, the impact of these factors is greatest for students who enter college as the least likely to succeed: students who began high school with below average achievement and below average socioeconomic status.

What it takes to stay on track
High-level mathematics: Our findings comport with previous studies that show the highest level of math in high school can be one of the largest predictors of college success (Adelman 2006, Conley 2007). Our analysis found that a student with above average SES and achievement had a 10 percent better chance of persisting in a four-year institution if that student had taken Pre-calculus or Calculus or math above Algebra II. Low SES/achievement students with high-level math were 22 percent more likely to persist.

The impact is greatest for students in two-year institutions: The persistence rates of students who took mathematics beyond Algebra II in high school increased by 18 percent for the higher SES/achievement group and 27 percent for the lower SES/achievement students.

Advanced Placement/International Baccalaureate courses: Taking an AP/IB course had a dramatic effect on students' chance of persisting even when students fail the end-of-course test. Low achieving and low SES students who took an AP/IB course were 17 percent more likely to persist in four-year colleges and 30 percent more likely to persist in two-year institutions. The more of these courses a student took, the higher their persistence rates were.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:43 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Education dominates Singapore's 'different'

Brent Larkin:

"People in America and other places in the West always talk about Asians being so smart," said the 20-year-old college student as she helped shuttle tourists onto buses outside a spectacular new convention center, casino and hotel complex.

"But it's really more about discipline than intelligence. And we are more disciplined. It's built into our culture to study all the way through school.
"In America, your culture is much different."

Is it ever.

In less than 50 years, the culture here has transformed a tiny patch of tropical land at the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula into one of the great economic success stories of this or any other century.


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Seattle School Reports

Charlie Mas:

The Annual School Reports and the District Scorecard have been released.

Discussion follows.

The District Scorecard reports that the District is on pace to reach ZERO (0) of the 23 Goals. That is how bad they suck. Not only are they missing, they are missing badly. The District is within ten percentage points of the target in only four of the twenty-three categories. I cannot imagine a worse report.

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In defense of direct instruction: Constant constructivism, group work and arrogant attitude are abusive to children

Laurie Rogers:

"Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. ... Those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience."
-- C.S. Lewis

Many educators believe children should learn math by struggling and failing, inventing their own methods, drawing pictures and boxes, counting on fingers, play-acting, continually working in groups, and asking several classmates for help before asking the teacher. This process of learning is called constructivism (also known as "discovery" or "student-centered learning"). Developed in the early 1900s, it was foisted on the country about 30 years ago, along with reform math curricula.

Proponents call constructivism "best practices" (as if calling it that can make it so). The supposed value of heavy constructivism is one of the most pernicious lies told today about education. Having listened now to students, parents, teachers and proponents of reform, I've come to see heavy constructivism as abusive to children. I don't choose the word lightly.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:10 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Thinking about School Reform, Teaching, and "Great" Teachers

Larry Cuban:

Writing about school reform from a historical perspective can be, well, depressing. So many examples of hype-on-steroids, past and present, of school reform solving community and national problems. So much policy talk, past and present, that overestimates success while underestimating the difficulties of converting words into classroom deeds. But melancholia and teaching a seminar twice a week do not go hand-in-hand.

For me, teaching about school reform and the history of making "good" schools and districts stimulates the brain and clutches the heart. It lifts me up. My mind races with the questions that I need to ask students. And in asking questions, who do I call upon, which student to probe further with a follow-up question, what to do when a student asks me a question-answer it? Redirect to the class? Ask student to answer her own question?

And over the past six weeks in the seminar of "good' schools and districts my brain has raced a lot. So, too, have my emotions. In any given class, they range from anxiety to a soaring feeling of connection with a group to tedium to spontaneous outbreaks of laughter. Thus, both the brain and heart are fully engaged when I am teaching my seminar. I am not depressed when I teach although when a part of a lesson flops I surely feel blue for that moment. But most of the time, student engagement with the readings I assigned, questions I ask, questions students ask, when students disagree with me, all of these keep me thinking on my feet as I improvise my way to what I had hoped would happen in the lesson.

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November 5, 2012

MTI Again Overturns Governor Walker's Legislation

Solidarity eNewsletter (178K PDF), via a kind Linda Doeseckle email

MTI was again successful in challenging legislation forced through the Legislature by Governor Walker. Dane County Circuit Court Judge Amy Smith agreed with MTI's argument that Act 21, as it pertains to the State Superintendent, is unconstitutional.

Act 21 was created to enable the Governor to control all state agencies' creation of Administrative Rules. Historically an agency wrote a proposed Administrative Rule, sent it to the Legislature which held a hearing, and if no modifications were made, the Administrative Rule became law. Act 21 mandated that a Agency send a "proposed" Administrative Rule to the Governor, who could change it before it could go to the Legislature. Walker even forced his appointees to the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission to make the calculation of "base wage" for teachers even more restrictive than WERC had proposed.

MTI's challenge to Act 21 was based on the fact that the State Superintendent is a Constitutional Officer - has been since 1848. Based on that, and that the Wisconsin Supreme Court previously ruled that the State Superintendent has the authority not only to "advocate, but (is) an officer with the ability to put plans into action", MTI, joined by WEAC, claimed that as a Constitutional Officer the State Superintendent is equal to, not subordinate to, the Governor. Judge Smith agreed, and voided that part of Act 21, as it applied to the State Superintendent.

MTI was represented by Lester Pines, Tamara Packard and Susan Crawford, Cullen Weston Pines Bach.

Related: Wisconsin Education Rule-Making Battle: Should We Care? Yes; DPI Election Politics.

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Innovation in Education is Here. We're Ignoring It.

Howard Tullman:

For-profit education has been taking a beating lately. Enrollments are down. A bunch of (presumably former) employees of these schools did a lot of dumb, deceptive and greedy things, on tape and video no less. Some of these guys are to quality education what the Olive Garden is to Italian cuisine.

Ironically, the part that seems to be really upsetting people is that these colleges and universities are trying to make a profit. Call me crazy, but I thought making a profit was one of the most important things that a good business needed to do. Making a profit is how you stay in business, how your employees and families stay fed, and how the marketplace ultimately tells you that you're doing the right things. Focusing on profitability helps to make sure that you keep your business and your offerings truly competitive.

Now, if you're a well-regarded and selective non-profit college, you'll always be turning a certain crowd of wanna-bes away; your tuition prices can soar every year; and your facilities and non-teaching faculty (and salaries) can grow to the sky. Those colleges are living off their endowments and the stock market, not the market for their services.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 4:10 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

How to build a high school football powerhouse

Linda Thomas:

Creating a successful football program is more about the culture - which starts at a very young age for players and families - than it is about the current team.

710 ESPN's Brock Huard, a former Husky and former Seahawk, says the sport today is much different than when he was playing high school football in Puyallup.

"They've got kids that start at 6, 7, 8 years old in their feeder programs and it is a machine," Huard says. "The investment they make at a young age, all the way through, running the same system, doing the same drills, working towards that same goal of winning state championship after state championship is what they're about."

"This is a higher achieving area," adds Coach Taylor. "The families take education, and life in general, more seriously and they have high expectations. Whatever it is you do, you put your best foot forward."

Skyline Quarterback Max Browne is putting his best arm forward, on the verge of setting a new state passing record.

Spartan number 4 is considered the number 1 high school quarterback in the country.

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Tanya Khovanova:

When I came to the US, I heard about Mensa -- the high IQ society. My IQ had never been tested, so I was curious. I was told that there was a special IQ test for non-English speakers and that my fresh immigrant status and lack of English knowledge was not a problem. I signed up.

There were two tests. One test had many rows of small pictures, and I had to choose the odd one out in each row. That was awful. The test was English-free, but it wasn't culture-free. I couldn't identify some of the pictures at all. We didn't have such things in Russia. I remember staring at a row of tools that could as easily have been from a kitchen utensil drawer as from a garage tool box. I didn't have a clue what they were.

But the biggest problem was that the idea of crossing the odd object out seems very strange to me in general. What is the odd object out in this list?

Cow, hen, pig, sheep.

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Teachers make extra money selling educational materials online

Associated Press:

Kristine Nannini spent her summer creating wall charts and student data sheets for her fifth-grade class -- and making $24,000 online by selling those same materials to other teachers.

Teachers like Nannini are making extra money supplying materials to their cash-strapped and time-limited colleagues on curriculum sharing sites such as, providing an alternative to more traditional -- and generally more expensive -- school supply stores. Many districts, teachers and parents say these sites are saving teachers time and money and giving educators a way to make additional income.

There is potentially a lot of money to be made. Deanna Jump, a first-grade teacher at Central Fellowship Christian Academy in Macon, Ga., is's top seller, earning about $1 million in sales over the last two years. She believes that the site has been successful because educators are looking for new ways to engage their students, and the materials are relatively inexpensive and move beyond textbooks

"I want kids to be so excited about what they're learning that they can't wait to tell Mom and Dad," she said.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:59 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Time to ditch elitist Hong Kong expat class system

Alex Lo:

Hong Kong does not need more international schools. It needs local schools that are capable of educating expatriate students at an affordable price. That is the way it is done in almost all international cities in the Western world.

It is the only way for a modern city like Hong Kong to reform its wasteful and monstrously complicated education system to achieve both equal opportunity and quality for all - local and expat, rich and poor, Chinese and ethnic minority. That ought to be our vision and our goal. Yet few people in Hong Kong share it.

It infuriates me every time the international business community complains about insufficient places and demands the building of more international schools with public resources. Local educators and lawmakers, who ought to know better, duly repeat the demand. Officials like Eddie Ng Hak-kim act guiltily for failing to please the expats. The latest call came from British Chamber of Commerce executive director Christopher Hammerbeck. "This is not an education issue any more," he said. "It's a business issue. This is a strong case for adding facilities." Really? How can someone be so wrong on so many counts in such a short statement?

First, if we tackle education like a business issue, then it will follow the business cycle too. This means when China goes into a downturn or their own countries' economies improve, many expat families will go, just like they did during the Asian financial crisis and the Sars outbreak, leaving empty places at international schools. These will be filled by locals. But it makes a mockery of free local education, now effectively for the poor; and it creates a shortage for expats in the next upturn cycle.

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

Inspiring teachers and playground rivalries - what makes school stories so special?

Susie Boyt:

Picture the scene: I am 13 years old in a biology lab, dissecting an innocent amphibean whose life has been laid down for science. A serious hush has broken over this class famed for its chatterboxes. The frog is lying on its dorsal side, limbs pinned to the dissection pan. Vulnerable isn't even in it. The dissecting scissors are icy in our hands. First the skin must be pierced and it isn't very yielding. Bits of back bone are hard, the flesh is dark and menacing. We have rinsed our creatures and patted them dry with paper towels but the reek of the formaldehyde makes me nauseous.

Now, I don't care anything for frogs - things that can't talk don't appeal to me yet - but before I even make the first incision, tears are rolling down my face and soon I am sobbing. What am I crying for? Life cut short? The odour of death? I am permitted to leave the room and I linger in the corridor, clutching my sides. After a while the biology teacher comes out to find me, head inclined, eyes brilliant with sympathy.

"Is it about a boy?" she asks.

I am so flattered I cannot speak.

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

The Bar is Different: Asian-Americans & Affirmative Action

Steve Hsu

The NYTimes on Asian-Americans and affirmative action. Asians rated only a couple of mentions in the Fisher v Texas oral arguments, and always by a conservative justice. I recommend the reader comments at the link (use the Reader Picks filter).
NYTimes: ... "If you look at the Ivy League, you will find that Asian-Americans never get to 20 percent of the class," said Daniel Golden, author of "The Price of Admission" and editor at large for Bloomberg News. "The schools semiconsciously say to themselves, 'We can't have all Asians.' " Mr. Golden says it is helpful to think of Asians as the new Jews because some rules of college admissions, like geographic diversity, were originally aimed at preventing the number of Jews from growing too high.

Commenting on similar efforts involving Asian applicants, Rod Bugarin, a former admissions officer at Wesleyan, Brown and Columbia, said: "The bar is different for every group. Anyone who works in the industry knows that." ...

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November 4, 2012

Neanderthal Babies All Around: Synthetic Biology Is Closer Than You Think

Ashlee Vance:

George Church--he of the beard, tall man's lope and overwhelming credentials--has hit the circuit to promote a new book: Regenesis: How Synthetic Biology Will Reinvent Nature and Ourselves. As the title explains, the book explores the field of synthetic biology, which centers on how man can program DNA to create things ranging from new fuels to seeds that grow into fully-formed houses. This subject often veers into the fanciful, and Church keeps up that tradition. Yet when he says things about bringing Neanderthals back to life, you have to take notice instead of chuckling.

For about the last 35 years, Church has been at the cutting edge of genetics and radical biology in academic and entrepreneurial settings. Today, he's the professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School, the super-sought-after adviser to more than 20 companies in genetics and synthetic biology, and co-founder of a handful of companies. Church, 58, relishes the academic side of his work and has scores of researchers doing cutting-edge stuff at his Harvard lab. That said, he likes to make sure that people see him as a man of action and not just some big brain in an ivory tower. "I still do things with my own hands," he says.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 3:20 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

The Most Important Education Technology in 200 Years Students anywhere are being offered free instruction online. What will that do to the trillion-dollar education business?

Antonio Regalado:

Now answer this one: what's been the single biggest innovation in education?

Don't worry if you come up blank. You're supposed to. The question is a gambit used by Anant Agarwal, the computer scientist named this year to head edX, a $60 million MIT-Harvard effort to stream a college education over the Web, free, to anyone who wants one. His point: it's rare to see major technological advances in how people learn.

Agarwal believes that education is about to change dramatically. The reason is the power of the Web and its associated data-crunching technologies. Thanks to these changes, it's now possible to stream video classes with sophisticated interactive elements, and researchers can scoop up student data that could help them make teaching more effective. The technology is powerful, fairly cheap, and global in its reach. EdX has said it hopes to teach a billion students.

Online education isn't new--in the United States more than 700,000 students now study in full-time "distance learning" programs. What's different is the scale of technology being applied by leaders who mix high-minded goals with sharp-elbowed, low-priced Internet business models. In the stories that will follow in this month's business report, MIT Technology Review will chart the impact of free online education, particularly the "massive open online courses," or MOOCs, offered by new education ventures like edX, Coursera, and Udacity, to name the most prominent (see "The Crisis in Higher Education").

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The 2013 Maclean's Canadian University Rankings

Josh DeHaas:

The 22nd annual Maclean's University Rankings issue--the holy book for anyone planning their education in Canada--is now available on newsstands and tablets.

The 2013 issue, our biggest-ever, features 132 pages of charts, stories and advice designed to help future students choose the right school, while sparking conversations on the quality of the post-secondary experience from the size of classes to the cost of textbooks.

The issue also offers a peek inside campus life from coast to coast, including an examination of the viral videos phenomenon, a deeper look at the scourge of drinking, Emma Teitel on fraternities, the college advantage and pages more. There are online extras, too, like photo tours of life at 24 campuses.

And, of course, the issue features the 22nd annual rankings.

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Literature is not Data: Against Digital Humanities

Stephen Marche:

Data banks are the Encyclopedia of tomorrow. They transcend the capacity of each of their users. They are "nature" for postmodern man.

- Jean-François Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge

BIG DATA IS COMING for your books. It's already come for everything else. All human endeavor has by now generated its own monadic mass of data, and through these vast accumulations of ciphers the robots now endlessly scour for significance much the way cockroaches scour for nutrition in the enormous bat dung piles hiding in Bornean caves. The recent Automate This, a smart book with a stupid title, offers a fascinatingly general look at the new algorithmic culture: 60 percent of trades on the stock market today take place with virtually no human oversight. Artificial intelligence has already changed health care and pop music, baseball, electoral politics, and several aspects of the law. And now, as an afterthought to an afterthought, the algorithms have arrived at literature, like an army which, having conquered Italy, turns its attention to San Marino.

The story of how literature became data in the first place is a story of several, related intellectual failures.

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Are There (Finally) More Teachers?

Floyd Norris:

The October job numbers out Friday will show whether the erosion of teaching jobs in public schools has ended. It will reflect the month when all teachers who are going to work in the fall semester have jobs, and allow comparisons of the non-seasonally adjusted figures for state and local government education jobs from one October to the next, showing what school districts did around the country.

The chart below shows the changes in state and local education jobs since 2000, from one October to the next:

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Madison parents start their own foundations when kids have chronic conditions

Sari Judge:

"When your child suffers from a chronic condition like epilepsy, you never feel like you have control, " says Anne Morgan Giroux. "You can't control what drugs might work to control the seizures or even control what a typical day might look like. I think we started Lily's Fund to be able to gain control over something."

And while starting your own charitable organization may sound like more work added on top of a time-consuming situation, several Madison families have found that it's a very positive step.

Giroux's daughter Lily, now 17 and a junior at Madison West High School, was diagnosed with epilepsy when she was 2 years old. Anne and her husband, Dave, spent much of Lily's childhood experimenting with medications and procedures to keep her atonic seizures at bay. In the fall of 2006, they noticed an article describing the work a team of UW-Madison researchers was conducting on epilepsy.

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Real Women Speak Out: How Student Loans Have Affected Me

Alden Wicker:

You can't help but notice the dire chatter surrounding student loans these days.
In fact, student loans are one of the hottest topics here at LearnVest, whether in LV Discussions, your comments or stories we write. Some are calling it the newest lending crisis, equal in scope to the subprime mortgages that torpedoed the economy in 2008.

No wonder-a record one in five households now holds student debt. Increasingly, this debt burden is altering lives, and not in the way students imagined when they first took out the loans. Enrollment in graduate programs has dropped, as students face mounting undergraduate loans. 44% of graduates are delaying buying a home, and 23% will delay having children because of their debt burden.

Defaults on student loans are at a record 13.4%, and there's no clean slate in sight-student loans are rarely dischargeable in bankruptcy.

One NYU professor has even said that student loans are immoral.

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November 3, 2012

Arthur R. Jensen Dies at 89; Set Off Debate About I.Q.

Margalit Fox

Arthur R. Jensen, an educational psychologist who ignited an international firestorm with a 1969 article suggesting that the gap in intelligence-test scores between black and white students might be rooted in genetic differences between the races, died on Oct. 22 at his home in Kelseyville, Calif. He was 89. His death was confirmed by the University of California, Berkeley, where he was an emeritus professor in the Graduate School of Education.

Professor Jensen was deeply interested in differential psychology, a field whose central question -- What makes people behave and think differently from one another? -- strikes at the heart of the age-old nature-nurture debate. Because of his empirical work in the field on the quantification of general intelligence (a subject that had long invited a more diffuse, impressionistic approach), he was regarded by many colleagues as one of the most important psychologists of his day.

But a wider public remembered him almost exclusively for his 1969 article "How Much Can We Boost I.Q. and Achievement?" Published in The Harvard Educational Review, a scholarly journal, the article quickly became -- and remains even now -- one of the most controversial in psychology. In the article, Professor Jensen posited two types of learning ability. Level I, associative ability, entailed the rote retention of facts. Level II, conceptual ability, involved abstract thinking and problem-solving. This type, he argued, was roughly equivalent to general intelligence, denoted in psychology by the letter "g."

In administering I.Q. tests to diverse groups of students, Professor Jensen found Level I ability to be fairly consistent across races. When he examined Level II ability, by contrast, he found it more prevalent among whites than blacks, and still more prevalent among Asians than whites. Drawing on these findings, Professor Jensen argued that general intelligence is largely genetically determined, with cultural forces shaping it only to a small extent. For this reason, he wrote in 1969, compensatory education programs like Head Start are doomed to fail.

While some observers praised Professor Jensen as a scientist unafraid to go where the data led him, others called him a racist. He continued to be heckled at speaking engagements throughout his career. He was burned in effigy on some college campuses and received death threats; for a time, he was accompanied by bodyguards.

The idea that intelligence cleaved along racial lines quickly became known as Jensenism, and its merits were the subject of heated public discussion for years afterward. The evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould, for instance, devoted much of his 1981 book, "The Mismeasure of Man," to criticizing Professor Jensen's claims.

More recently, Professor Jensen's ideas about race and the heritability of intelligence were cited approvingly in "The Bell Curve," the 1994 book by Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray that engendered renewed debate on the subject. Today, some psychologists say that Professor Jensen's work has been misunderstood. In a telephone interview on Wednesday, Douglas Detterman, a psychologist at Case Western Reserve University who edits the journal Intelligence, said: "If you look at the Harvard Educational Review paper, he discusses race very little in that paper, but he did say that it's a possibility that there are genetic differences among racial groups. And that was not a very popular idea when that paper came out."

Professor Detterman, who in 1998 devoted a special issue of Intelligence to Professor Jensen's work, added: "When he wrote that paper, probably a large portion of psychologists wouldn't have believed that there was a hereditary basis for intellectual ability. Now, there's very little argument about that in the field. Whether there are differences between races is another thing altogether."

Arthur Robert Jensen was born in San Diego on Aug. 24, 1923. An accomplished clarinetist, he considered pursuing a career as an orchestra conductor before taking a bachelor's degree in psychology from Berkeley, followed by a master's in the field from San Diego State College and a Ph.D. from Columbia. He joined the Berkeley faculty in 1958. Professor Jensen's wife, Barbara, died before him. Survivors include a daughter, Bobbi Morey. Among his books are "Genetics and Education" (1972), "Educability and Group Differences" (1973), "The g Factor: The Science of Mental Ability" (1998) and "Clocking the Mind: Mental Chronometry and Individual Differences" (2006).

Even psychologists who disagree with Professor Jensen's conclusions defend him against charges of racism.

"Arthur Jensen's life is emblematic of the extent to which American scholarship is inhibited by political orthodoxy," James R. Flynn, an emeritus professor of psychology at the University of Otago in New Zealand, said on Wednesday.

"Jensen was a true scientist, and he was without racial bias," Professor Flynn added. "It never occurred to Arthur Jensen that people would use his data to argue for racial supremacy. Now, to be fair to his critics, over time he became more and more convinced that the evidence did show a genetic component." A noted authority on intelligence, Professor Flynn has long opposed Professor Jensen's views on the subject. "Take it from me, the evidence is highly complicated," he said. "The best we can say is that it is more probable that the I.Q. gap between black and white is entirely environmental in origin."

It is precisely such environmental factors, some scholars maintain, that Professor Jensen's work did not sufficiently take into account.

"Socioeconomic status turns out to be the best predictor of your I.Q. score," Sonja C. Grover, an educational psychologist at Lakehead University in Ontario, said on Wednesday. "Socioeconomic status has to do with your quality of schooling, the quality of the teachers that you're exposed to. Many people who do poorly on an I.Q. test have a very poor fund of general knowledge, but it doesn't mean that they're not intelligent."

A 1981 book by Professor Grover, "The Cognitive Basis of the Intellect," was written as a response to Professor Jensen's book "Bias in Mental Testing" (1980). In that book, he argued that it is possible to construct tests of general intelligence that are free of cultural bias, which in turn makes it possible to isolate heredity as a wellspring of intellect.

But in focusing on the link between genetics and intellectual ability, Professor Grover said on Wednesday, Professor Jensen's work has sweeping, and potentially grave, implications. "It was irrelevant and not particularly useful to suggest, as those who endorse Jensen have, that Jensen was just holding a politically incorrect point of view and that's why he was being criticized," she said. "His studies and his influence would have a dramatic effect on the perception that people have about minority groups and their potential, and even their right to a quality education."

She added: "In no way am I suggesting that he wasn't completely well intentioned. But I would make the point that you cannot separate social science from human rights, regardless of what side of the fence you're on."

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Make college relevant not a resort vacation

Ed Leap:

My oldest son is now a high school senior. Therefore, we have been looking at college options in South Carolina.

He is a born and bred South Carolinian who doesn't really want to leave his home state. He has a sense of family, and a sense of place.

I have made several observations while reading brochures, comparing prices and traveling to different locales in the search for the right school for him to attend. First, this is a beautiful state with some magnificent centers of learning. I had no idea how many majors there are now, how many opportunities to study abroad, how many honors colleges and possible career paths! When I was in school it was, you know, wheel-making and Mammoth studies. But I digress.

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How Do You Raise a Prodigy?

Andrew Solomon:

Drew Petersen didn't speak until he was 3½, but his mother, Sue, never believed he was slow. When he was 18 months old, in 1994, she was reading to him and skipped a word, whereupon Drew reached over and pointed to the missing word on the page. Drew didn't produce much sound at that stage, but he already cared about it deeply. "Church bells would elicit a big response," Sue told me. "Birdsong would stop him in his tracks."

Sue, who learned piano as a child, taught Drew the basics on an old upright, and he became fascinated by sheet music. "He needed to decode it," Sue said. "So I had to recall what little I remembered, which was the treble clef." As Drew told me, "It was like learning 13 letters of the alphabet and then trying to read books." He figured out the bass clef on his own, and when he began formal lessons at 5, his teacher said he could skip the first six months' worth of material. Within the year, Drew was performing Beethoven sonatas at the recital hall at Carnegie Hall. "I thought it was delightful," Sue said, "but I also thought we shouldn't take it too seriously. He was just a little boy."

On his way to kindergarten one day, Drew asked his mother, "Can I just stay home so I can learn something?" Sue was at a loss. "He was reading textbooks this big, and they're in class holding up a blowup M," she said. Drew, who is now 18, said: "At first, it felt lonely. Then you accept that, yes, you're different from everyone else, but people will be your friends anyway." Drew's parents moved him to a private school. They bought him a new piano, because he announced at 7 that their upright lacked dynamic contrast. "It cost more money than we'd ever paid for anything except a down payment on a house," Sue said. When Drew was 14, he discovered a home-school program created by Harvard; when I met him two years ago, he was 16, studying at the Manhattan School of Music and halfway to a Harvard bachelor's degree.

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61 Page Madison Schools Achievement Gap Plan -Accountability Plans and Progress Indicators

Madison Superintendent Jane Belmore (2.5mb PDF)

Background on Goals: During the Student Achievement Committee meeting of October 1, several Board members discussed the issue of setting reasonable goals and the time needed to accomplish them. Most of the goals presented today are based on a five-year convergence model. Under this approach, achievement gaps are closed for every student subgroup in five years.

Forr example the baseline four-year graduation rate among white students is 85%. It is 61% among Hispanic students, and 54% among African American students.. With a five-year convergence model, the goal is for all student subgroups to reach a 90% on-time graduation rate. It is a statement that all student subgroups should improve and all gaps should close.

The reason for this approach is twofold. First, as adopted by the Board, the Achievement Gap Plan is a five-year plan. It is important that the student achievement goals reflect the timeline in the plan itself. The timeline for goals could be pushed out to ten years or more, but it would require formal directive from the Board to adopt ten years as the district's new timeline for the Achievement Gap Plan.

Second, other models can be seen as conveying different expectations for students based on race/ethnicity or other characteristics like poverty, and that is not our intent. Taking ten years or longer to achieve stated goals may be viewed as a more reasonable time frame, but a five-year plan comes with a natural snapshot half way through that will illustrate persistent gaps and potentially convey varying expectations. Again, that is not our intent or our goal.

A note on Chapter 1, Literacy: The Accountability Plans for literacy are an example of two important concepts:

1. The district wide, instructional core in literacy must be strengthened in every school and every grade. Chapter 1, #1 speaks to a part of strengthening that core.

2. Once the core is strong fewer interventions are needed. However, some students will continue to need additional support. Chapter 1, #2 speaks to one example of an intervention that will help to prevent summer reading loss and close gaps.

The Board approval of $1.9 million for the purchase of elementary literacy materials provides a powerful framework for bringing cohesion to the elementary literacy program. The purchase will provide a well-coordinated core literacy program that is aligned with the common core standards and meets the needs of all learners.

The first steps will bring together an Elementary Literacy Leadership team to clarify the purpose and framework for our program. The overall framework for our entire elementary literacy program is Balanced Literacy. Building upon the current MMSD core practices in 4K-12 Literacy and Focus documents, the work being done to align our instruction and assessment with common core standards will increase rigor and take our current Elementary Balanced Literacy Program to what could be seen as an Elementary Balanced Literacy Program version 2.0. The Elementary Literacy Leadership team will bring clarity to the components of the program and what is expected and what is optional.

Chapter 1, #1 and #2 are important supports for our Balanced Literacy Program

Reading is certainly job number one for the Madison School District - and has been for quite some time....

Related: November, 2005: When all third graders read at grade level or beyond by the end of the year, the achievement gap will be closed...and not before

On November 7, Superintendent Art Rainwater made his annual report to the Board of Education on progress toward meeting the district's student achievement goal in reading. As he did last fall, the superintendent made some interesting claims about the district's success in closing the academic achievement gap "based on race".

According to Mr. Rainwater, the place to look for evidence of a closing achievement gap is the comparison of the percentage of African American third graders who score at the lowest level of performance on statewide tests and the percentage of other racial groups scoring at that level. He says that, after accounting for income differences, there is no gap associated with race at the lowest level of achievement in reading. He made the same claim last year, telling the Wisconsin State Journal on September 24, 2004, "for those kids for whom an ability to read would prevent them from being successful, we've reduced that percentage very substantially, and basically, for all practical purposes, closed the gap". Last Monday, he stated that the gap between percentages scoring at the lowest level "is the original gap" that the board set out to close.

Unfortunately, that is not the achievement gap that the board aimed to close.

In 1998, the Madison School Board adopted an important academic goal: "that all students complete the 3rd grade able to read at or beyond grade level". We adopted this goal in response to recommendations from a citizen study group that believed that minority students who are not competent as readers by the end of the third grade fall behind in all academic areas after third grade.

"All students" meant all students. We promised to stop thinking in terms of average student achievement in reading. Instead, we would separately analyze the reading ability of students by subgroups. The subgroups included white, African American, Hispanic, Southeast Asian, and other Asian students.

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California ballot holds credit risk for school districts

Jim Christie:

If voters in California next week reject ballot measures to raise taxes, school districts in the Golden State will be among the first victims of spending cuts - a major concern not only for teachers and parents but also bondholders.

According to the latest polls, support for Proposition 30, the measure Governor Jerry Brown proposed to raise personal income and sales taxes, stands at below 50 percent for the Nov.6 vote. A rival measure - Proposition 38, which would also increase taxes - appears to be backed by even fewer voters.

If Proposition 30 fails, the state government will impose $6 billion in so-called "trigger cuts" that mostly fall on education spending to try to keep its books balanced.

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Let a new teacher-union debate begin

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

Everyone knows that teacher unions matter in education politics and policies, a reality that is never more evident than at election time. In recent weeks, for example, state affiliates have been pushing for higher taxes on businesses to boost education spending in Nevada, successfully suing to limit the governor's authority over education in Wisconsin, and working to sink an initiative to allow charter schools in Washington State. Of course, those instances are but the tip of a very large iceberg. Across the land, unions are doing their utmost to prevent all sorts of changes to education that they deem antithetical to their interests.

The role of teacher unions in education politics and policy is deeply polarizing. Critics (often including ourselves) typically assert that these organizations are the prime obstacles to needed reforms in K-12 schooling, while defenders (typically, also, supporters of the education status quo) insist that they are bulwarks of professionalism and safeguards against caprice and risky innovation.

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How Strong Are U.S. Teacher Unions? A State-By-State Comparison

Amber M. Winkler, Janie Scull, Dara Zeehandelaar

The study analyzed factors ranging from union membership and revenue to state bargaining laws to campaign contributions, and included such measures such as the alignment between specific state policies and traditional union interests and a unique stakeholder survey. The report sorts the fifty-one jurisdictions into five tiers, ranking their teacher unions from strongest to weakest and providing in-depth profiles of each.
Wisconsin's teacher unions ranked 18th out of 50 and are considered strong [PDF report]:
Wisconsin's teacher unions have been
active donors over the past decade. Not only did their contributions amount to 1.0
percent of donations to candidates for state office (16th), but those donations equaled a whopping 22.7 percent of all donations to candidates from the ten highest-giving sectors in the state (2nd), indicating that the unions were real heavyweights
in Wisconsin politics. They also gave 1.9 percent of the donations received by
state political parties (16th). Finally, 17.2 percent of all Wisconsin delegates to the Democratic and Republican national conventions identified as teacher union members (15th).

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Rapides School District may drop no-retention policy

Leigh Guidry:

The Rapides Parish School Board is expected to determine next week whether to retain the district's current no-retention policy for young students.

The board is scheduled to vote Monday on a motion to abolish its policy of not holding back pupils in grades kindergarten through third.

The policy was instituted in the 2006-07 school year by former Superintendent Gary L. Jones based on a "critical goal" set by the state. It was intended to reduce student dropout rates by getting students to grade level on time, he said.

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November 2, 2012

Technology Changing How Students Learn, Teachers Say

Matt Richtel

There is a widespread belief among teachers that students' constant use of digital technology is hampering their attention spans and ability to persevere in the face of challenging tasks, according to two surveys of teachers being released on Thursday. The researchers note that their findings represent the subjective views of teachers and should not be seen as definitive proof that widespread use of computers, phones and video games affects students' capability to focus. Even so, the researchers who performed the studies, as well as scholars who study technology's impact on behavior and the brain, say the studies are significant because of the vantage points of teachers, who spend hours a day observing students.

The timing of the studies, from two well-regarded research organizations, appears to be coincidental. One was conducted by the Pew Internet Project, a division of the Pew Research Center that focuses on technology-related research. The other comes from Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization in San Francisco that advises parents on media use by children. It was conducted by Vicky Rideout, a researcher who has previously shown that media use among children and teenagers ages 8 to 18 has grown so fast that they on average spend twice as much time with screens each year as they spend in school.

Teachers who were not involved in the surveys echoed their findings in interviews, saying they felt they had to work harder to capture and hold students' attention.

"I'm an entertainer. I have to do a song and dance to capture their attention," said Hope Molina-Porter, 37, an English teacher at Troy High School in Fullerton, Calif., who has taught for 14 years. She teaches accelerated students, but has noted a marked decline in the depth and analysis of their written work. She said she did not want to shrink from the challenge of engaging them, nor did other teachers interviewed, but she also worried that technology was causing a deeper shift in how students learned. She also wondered if teachers were adding to the problem by adjusting their lessons to accommodate shorter attention spans.

"Are we contributing to this?" Ms. Molina-Porter said. "What's going to happen when they don't have constant entertainment?"

Scholars who study the role of media in society say no long-term studies have been done that adequately show how and if student attention span has changed because of the use of digital technology. But there is mounting indirect evidence that constant use of technology can affect behavior, particularly in developing brains, because of heavy stimulation and rapid shifts in attention.

Kristen Purcell, the associate director for research at Pew, acknowledged that the findings could be viewed from another perspective: that the education system must adjust to better accommodate the way students learn, a point that some teachers brought up in focus groups themselves. "What we're labeling as 'distraction,' some see as a failure of adults to see how these kids process information," Ms. Purcell said. "They're not saying distraction is good but that the label of 'distraction' is a judgment of this generation."

The surveys also found that many teachers said technology could be a useful educational tool. In the Pew survey, which was done in conjunction with the College Board and the National Writing Project, roughly 75 percent of 2,462 teachers surveyed said that the Internet and search engines had a "mostly positive" impact on student research skills. And they said such tools had made students more self-sufficient researchers. But nearly 90 percent said that digital technologies were creating "an easily distracted generation with short attention spans."

Similarly, of the 685 teachers surveyed in the Common Sense project, 71 percent said they thought technology was hurting attention span "somewhat" or "a lot." About 60 percent said it hindered students' ability to write and communicate face to face, and almost half said it hurt critical thinking and their ability to do homework. There was little difference in how younger and older teachers perceived the impact of technology.

"Boy, is this a clarion call for a healthy and balanced media diet," said Jim Steyer, the chief executive of Common Sense Media. He added, "What you have to understand as a parent is that what happens in the home with media consumption can affect academic achievement."

In interviews, teachers described what might be called a "Wikipedia problem," in which students have grown so accustomed to getting quick answers with a few keystrokes that they are more likely to give up when an easy answer eludes them. The Pew research found that 76 percent of teachers believed students had been conditioned by the Internet to find quick answers.

"They need skills that are different than 'Spit, spit, there's the answer,' " said Lisa Baldwin, 48, a high school teacher in Great Barrington, Mass., who said students' ability to focus and fight through academic challenges was suffering an "exponential decline." She said she saw the decline most sharply in students whose parents allowed unfettered access to television, phones, iPads and video games. For her part, Ms. Baldwin said she refused to lower her expectations or shift her teaching style to be more entertaining. But she does spend much more time in individual tutoring sessions, she added, coaching students on how to work through challenging assignments.

Other teachers said technology was as much a solution as a problem. Dave Mendell, 44, a fourth-grade teacher in Wallingford, Pa., said that educational video games and digital presentations were excellent ways to engage students on their terms. Teachers also said they were using more dynamic and flexible teaching styles.

"I'm tap dancing all over the place," Mr. Mendell said. "The more I stand in front of class, the easier it is to lose them." He added that it was tougher to engage students, but that once they were engaged, they were just as able to solve problems and be creative as they had been in the past. He would prefer, he added, for students to use less entertainment media at home, but he did not believe it represented an insurmountable challenge for teaching them at school.

While the Pew research explored how technology has affected attention span, it also looked at how the Internet has changed student research habits. By contrast, the Common Sense survey focused largely on how teachers saw the impact of entertainment media on a range of classroom skills.

The surveys include some findings that appear contradictory. In the Common Sense report, for instance, some teachers said that even as they saw attention spans wane, students were improving in subjects like math, science and reading. But researchers said the conflicting views could be the result of subjectivity and bias. For example, teachers may perceive themselves facing both a more difficult challenge but also believe that they are overcoming the challenge through effective teaching. Pew said its research gave a "complex and at times contradictory" picture of teachers' view of technology's impact.

Dr. Dimitri Christakis, who studies the impact of technology on the brain and is the director of the Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development at Seattle Children's Hospital, emphasized that teachers' views were subjective but nevertheless could be accurate in sensing dwindling attention spans among students. His own research shows what happens to attention and focus in mice when they undergo the equivalent of heavy digital stimulation. Students saturated by entertainment media, he said, were experiencing a "supernatural" stimulation that teachers might have to keep up with or simulate. The heavy technology use, Dr. Christakis said, "makes reality by comparison uninteresting."

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NCTQ Wins Minnesota Court Battle over Open Records Access to Ed School Curriculum

National Council on Teacher Quality, via a kind email:

Yesterday, a court in Minnesota delivered a summary judgment ordering the Minnesota State Colleges and University system to deliver the documents for which we asked in our open records ("sunshine") request for our Teacher Prep Review.

At the heart of our Teacher Prep Review is a simple idea: the more information that aspiring teachers, district and school leaders, teacher educators and the public at large have about the programs producing classroom-ready teachers, the better all teacher training programs will be.

In our effort to produce the first comprehensive review of U.S. teacher prep, we've faced a number of challenges -- perhaps the most serious of which has been the argument made by some universities that federal copyright law makes it illegal for public institutions publicly approved to prepare public school teachers to make public documents that describe the training they provide.

We want to make sure that everyone understands what this ruling does and does not mean. The Minnesota State colleges and universities system agreed with us that the syllabi we seek are indeed public record documents. Their case came down to the claim that because the course syllabi are also the intellectual property of professors, they should not have to deliver copies of their syllabi to us.

Minnesota's open records law, the court ruled, is clear: public institutions must make documents accessible to individuals seeking them -- which includes delivering copies to them. Delivering copies of these documents to us in no way, shape or form deprives the professors who created them of their intellectual property rights. NCTQ is conducting a research study, which means that our use of these syllabi falls under the fair use provision of the copyright law. This is the exactly the same provision that enables all researchers, including teacher educators, to make copies of key documents they need to analyze to make advances in our collective knowledge.

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A new kind of tutoring aims to make students smarter

Dan Hurley:

IN the back room of a suburban storefront previously occupied by a yoga studio, Nick Vecchiarello, a 16-year-old from Glen Ridge, N.J., sits at a desk across from Kathryn Duch, a recent college graduate who wears a black shirt emblazoned with the words "Brain Trainer." Spread out on the desk are a dozen playing cards showing symbols of varying colors, shapes and sizes. Nick stares down, searching for three cards whose symbols match.

"Do you see it?" Ms. Duch asks encouragingly.

"Oh, man," mutters Nick, his eyes shifting among the cards, looking for patterns.

Across the room, Nathan Veloric, 23, studies a list of numbers, looking for any two in a row that add up to nine. With tight-lipped determination, he scrawls a circle around one pair as his trainer holds a stopwatch to time him. Halfway through the 50 seconds allotted to complete the exercise, a ruckus comes from the center of the room.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 3:31 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Given Tablets but No Teachers, Ethiopian Children Teach Themselves

Daniel Talbot:

With 100 million first-grade-aged children worldwide having no access to schooling, the One Laptop Per Child organization is trying something new in two remote Ethiopian villages--simply dropping off tablet computers with preloaded programs and seeing what happens.

The goal: to see if illiterate kids with no previous exposure to written words can learn how to read all by themselves, by experimenting with the tablet and its preloaded alphabet-training games, e-books, movies, cartoons, paintings, and other programs.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 3:27 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

How do you stop online students cheating?

Sean Coughlan:

Imagine taking a university exam in your own home, under the watchful eye of a webcam or with software profiling your keystrokes or your syntax to see whether it really is you answering the questions.

Online university courses have become the Next Big Thing for higher education, particularly in the United States, where millions of students have signed up for courses from some of the most upmarket universities.

With spiralling costs and student loan debts crossing the trillion dollar barrier this year, the online university has been seen as a way of reaching many more people for much less money.

But a major stumbling block has been how such digital courses are assessed.

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

Explore Shakespeare Apps


But we didn't stop there. We wanted to open up the play in ways that are only possible on a touch-based device such as an iPad. After prototyping several possible visualisations, we created three new ways to explore and visualise the play. The first are circles, which illustrate the relationships between different characters, to give context to their interaction within the play. Secondly, we created themelines, to show how different themes ebb and flow throughout the play. And thirdly, we created our own word clouds, to visualise how language is used per play, per scene and per character.

Each of these visualisations gives a clearer picture of the play, especially for those who are new to Shakespeare. They also act as navigation into the play - to view the play from the point of view of a particular character, or to use language as a way of navigating the text itself.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:24 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Shanghai Business School Vies With Top Programs

Melissa Korn:

If you learn anything in business school, it's to aim high. China Europe International Business School is doing just that.

The Shanghai school, which opened 18 years ago, recently made clear its ambition to vault into the top tier of schools globally, alongside Harvard Business School, Stanford Graduate School of Business and London Business School. The business school offers a full-time M.B.A. in English and executive M.B.A. and nondegree executive education in Mandarin Chinese.

Leading the charge is John Quelch, a former Harvard administrator and London dean, whom CEIBS brought on last year to raise its global profile. The 61-year-old Mr. Quelch has opened the school's pocketbook to lure coveted faculty from elite schools with large pay packages and generous housing stipends. His reasoning: "Outstanding faculty" will draw "outstanding students," who will attract blue-chip recruiters, which then create a successful alumni body.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:11 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

November 1, 2012

Education should be a top priority for president

Alan Borsuk:

There was a lot of consistency in federal education policy when we went from President George W. Bush to President Barack Obama four years ago. Some changes in strategy, of course, but quite similar philosophies on using federal clout to put the heat on for change all across the country.

That's one reason I doubt that there will be an abrupt shift in the overall thrust of what the feds are doing when it comes to schools, even if Mitt Romney wins Tuesday. A second reason: Romney has not espoused the blow-up-the-ed-department line of several other Republican candidates. A third: The Washington gridlock reality makes it hard to actually change the direction of things (for example, using federal policy to push school vouchers, as Romney favors).

As for Obama, he has a track record by now and, I assume, would proceed along that line.

So let's skip over the outcome of Tuesday's presidential vote and jump into the postelection period with a few questions for the president for the next four years:

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 5:17 PM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Trends Shaping Education 2012


What does the increasing diversity of our societies mean for education? How is global economic power shifting toward new countries? In what ways are work patterns changing? Trends Shaping Education 2012 brings together international evidence to address questions such as these.

Each trend is presented in an accessible double-page format containing an introduction, two charts with brief descriptive text, and a set of pertinent questions. The trends presented are based on high-quality international data. The charts contain dynamic links (StatLinks) so that readers can access the original data online.

This book is designed to give policymakers, researchers, educational leaders, administrators, and teachers a robust, nonspecialist source to inform strategic thinking and stimulate reflection on the challenges facing education, whether in schools, universities, or programs for older adults. It will also be of interest to students and the wider public, including parents.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 4:16 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

The Bennett Hypothesis: When and Why, Not True or False

Andrew Gillen:

My last post on the Bennett Hypothesis (the idea that federal financial aid can lead to higher tuition) elicited a comment from "Craigie" which is worth addressing. After acknowledging that aid (GradPLUS loans) does lead to higher tuition for law schools, Craigie declares that it is "the exception that proves the rule: the Bennett hypothesis is false." This tendency to discount mixed evidence is a common mistake. Whenever evidence in support of the Bennett Hypothesis is put forward, evidence against the hypothesis is quickly brought up (and vice versa). While annoying from a sound bite perspective, this mixed evidence is a bit of a blessing from a scientific standpoint because it allows for a deeper investigation into the relationship between aid and tuition to try and answer why the hypothesis seems to hold in some cases but not others. In other words, with mixed evidence, "Is the Bennett Hypothesis true?" is the wrong question as it has no consistent answer. The better question is "When does the Bennett Hypothesis hold/not hold and why."

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

Understanding matrices intuitively, part 1

William Gould:

I want to show you a way of picturing and thinking about matrices. The topic for today is the square matrix, which we will call A. I'm going to show you a way of graphing square matrices, although we will have to limit ourselves to the 2 x 2 case. That will be, as they say, without loss of generality. The technique I'm about to show you could be used with 3 x 3 matrices if you had a better 3-dimensional monitor, and as will be revealed, it could be used on 3 x 2 and 2 x 3 matrices, too. If you had more imagination, we could use the technique on 4 x 4, 5 x 5, and even higher-dimensional matrices.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:27 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Undocumented Students Take Education Underground

Kathy Lohr:

About 35 students meet every Sunday at an undisclosed location in Georgia to study. They are undocumented and banned from attending some of the most prestigious colleges in the state.

Georgia is one of three states to bar undocumented students from attending schools. But a group of professors at the University of Georgia has created a fledgling school to provide a place for students to learn.

They call it Freedom University, named after the schools set up during the civil rights era to teach African-Americans in the Deep South. University of Georgia history professor Pam Voekel is one of the volunteer instructors.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:25 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

In defense of proper process: Reform methods lead to lost information and incorrect answers

Laurie Rogers:

Whenever I tutor students who were taught math via reform-math methods, one of the first things they have to do is learn a structured and consistent way to write down problems and calculations. Their experiences with reform math have left them with poor habits, leading to many errors and muddied understanding.

Repairing poor process isn't a small undertaking. By the time reform-math students get to middle school or high school, entire books of math content are missing and many poor habits are ingrained. Developing good habits, therefore, is Job One, and it takes months and months of reinforcement before an efficient process becomes habitual. (That's in addition to the actual math procedures, which also must be taught and learned.)

It's harder to "unteach" a poor process and replace it, than it is to teach an efficient process from the beginning. The "Law of Primacy" says students tend to learn best what they learned first - even if what they learned was wrong-headed. Once students learn something, they tend to go back to it, as a habit and an instinctive first reaction. This is why proper process should be taught from the beginning. Unteaching requires extra dedication, patience, diligence and consistency. It's hard work to change bad habits, but it can be done. And with mathematics, it must be done. It's so important to instill good habits and efficient methods. Clarity is critical to accuracy; students who wish to be accurate in math must be focused on clarity as they write down their work.

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

Wisconsin Education Rule-Making Battle: Should We Care? Yes; DPI Election Politics

Why should parents, citizens, taxpayers and students pay attention to this type of "rulemaking" case?

WKCE (Wisconsin's oft-criticized soft academic standards - soon to be replaced) and MTEL-90 (Wisconsin adopts Massachusetts' teacher content knowledge requirements).

I found Ed Treleven's article interesting, particularly the special interests funding the rule making legal challenge. I am a big fan of our three part government system: judicial, legislative and executive. That said, the Wisconsin DPI has not exactly distinguished itself over the past decade. The WKCE "tyranny of low expectations" is exhibit one for this writer.

Ed Treleven

Even before the change in the law, rules ultimately have to be approved by the Legislature.

Democrats had labeled the law a power grab by Walker when it was proposed after Walker was elected and before he took office. He signed it into law in May 2011.

The ruling came in a lawsuit brought by Madison Teachers Inc., the Wisconsin Education Association Council and others. Defendants were Walker, DOA Secretary Mike Huebsch and schools superintendent Tony Evers. Smith's decision, however, notes that Evers also asked the court to block the law. Evers issued a statement Tuesday saying he was pleased with Smith's ruling.

Lester Pines, who represented the teachers groups in court, said the law as applied to DPI ran counter to a unanimous state Supreme Court decision in 1996 that said the Legislature cannot give equal or superior authority to any "other officer."

Finally, it appears that current DPI Superintendent Tony Evers is ready to roll for the spring, 2013 election. I have noticed a number of DPI related inquiries on this site. Perhaps this will be a competitive race!

UPDATE: Gilman Halsted:

The Madison teachers union was one was one of seven plaintiffs that challenged this provision of ACT 21. Union President John Matthews says he's pleased with the ruling.

"It's simply because of the way the Constitution defines the role of the state superintendent," he said. "The governor has equal authority not superior authority to the state superintendent and we think because of the enterprise if you will of public education that should not be a political issue. And Judge Smith saw it our way."

But a spokesman for the governor's office says he's confident that Judge Smith's ruling will be overturned on appeal and that the governor will retain his rule making veto power. Opponents of this new executive power see it as a power grab. And although this ruling appears to limit the governor's power over rules that affect education it leaves his authority intact for administrative rules from any other state agency. State Superintendent Tony Evers released a statement hailing the ruling and pointing out that he had proposed language that would have carved out his exemption from the governor's rule vetoes before the law was passed.

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

New school report cards another tool for achievement gap

A. David Dahmer:

It's not just the students who are getting report cards during the 2012-13 school year.

On Monday, Oct. 22, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) issued a School Report Card for every public school in Wisconsin. The new school year has brought new measures on how the MMSD and other districts throughout the state evaluate its progress and makes improvements. Madison superintendent Jane Belmore said the ratings reflect data the district is already using to improve schools.

"There were no really surprises for us because we've been working with this data for over a year now," Belmore tells The Madison Times. "It's a complex picture - and maybe a better picture than we've had before -- but we still believe we are on track with the strategies that we've developed and have started to put in place with this first year of the achievement gap plan."
The school report cards, she adds, confirm MMSD's knowledge about how the schools are doing on increasing student achievement, closing gaps, and preparing students for college or career.
Seven Madison schools -- Van Hise, Randall, Shorewood Hills, Marquette, Franklin and Lapham elementary schools and Hamilton Middle School -- "significantly exceed expectations" according to the report cards. That's a designation only 3 percent of schools in the state received.

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