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January 25, 2014

The Achievement Gap as Seen Through the Eyes of a Student

Robin Mwai and Deidre Green
Simpson Street Free Press

The achievement gap is very prevalent in my school on a day-to-day basis. From the lack of minority students taking honors classes, to the over abundance of minority students occupying the hallways during valuable class time, the continuously nagging minority achievement gap prevails.

Upon entering LaFollette High School, there are visible traces of the achievement gap all throughout the halls. It seems as if there is always a presence of a minority student in the hallway no matter what the time of day. At any time during the school day there are at least 10 to 15 students, many of whom are minorities, wandering the halls aimlessly. These students residing in the halls are either a result of getting kicked out of class due to behavior issues, or for some, the case may be that they simply never cared to go to class at all. This familiar scene causes some staff to assume that all minority students that are seen in the halls during class time are not invested in their education. These assumptions are then translated back to the classroom where teachers then lower their expectations for these students and students who appear to be like them.

While there are some students of color who would rather spend their school time in the halls instead of in the classroom, others wish for the opportunity to be seen as focused students. Sadly many bright and capable minority students are being overlooked because teachers see them as simply another unmotivated student to be pushed through the system. Being a high achieving minority student in the Madison school District continues to be somewhat of a rarity--even in 2014. Three out of the four classes I am taking this semester at La Follette High School, which uses the four-block schedule, are honors or advanced courses. Of the 20 to 25 students in those honors classes, I am one of a total of two minority students enrolled.

Even though a large percentage of the student body is made up of minority students, very few of theses students are taking honors or advanced classes. These honors courses provide students with necessary skills that help prepare them for college. These skills include: critical thinking, exposure to a wider variety of concepts, and an opportunity to challenge their own mental capacities in ways that non-honors courses don't allow. This means that the majority of the schools' population is not benefiting from these opportunities. Instead, they are settling for lower-level courses that are not pushing them to the best of their abilities.

It is unfortunate that so many of our community's young people are missing out on being academically challenged in ways that could ultimately change their lives. This all too familiar issue is a complex community problem with no simple solutions. However it is one that should be addressed with the appropriate sense of urgency.

Robin Mwai is a Sophomore at LaFollette High School and serves as a staff writer for Dane County's Teen Newspaper Simpson Street Free Press. Deidre Green is a LaFollette High School Graduate and is now a UW-Madison Senior. She is also a graduate of Simpson Street Free Press and now serves as Managing Editor.

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January 2, 2014

Gifted in Math, and Poor

New York Times

To the Editor:

Re "Even Gifted Students Can't Keep Up" ("Numbers Crunch" series, editorial, Dec. 15): Educators know that when the curriculum is set at an optimal difficulty level, students learn to persist, attend carefully and gain self-confidence. For mathematically gifted students, the curriculum must move more quickly and in greater depth so that they can become disciplined, resilient students.

When the mathematically gifted sons and daughters of affluent, well-educated parents are not challenged, their parents spend considerable amounts of time and money finding tutors, summer programs and online courses. As a psychologist who has worked for more than 20 years with the families of gifted students, I have seen how much time and money is required for this effort.

For mathematically gifted students from poorer families, there is neither the time nor the money to seek educational opportunities outside the public schools. A weak public school system without flexibility or adequate challenge can seriously limit the educational experiences and lifetime employment opportunities of these students. A weak public school system ultimately limits quality education to those few whose parents can pay for it privately.

Brooklyn, Dec. 19, 2013

Related: "They're all rich, white kids and they'll do just fine -- NOT!"

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December 19, 2013

Poverty influences children's early brain development

University of Wisconsin-Madison News

Poverty may have direct implications for important, early steps in the development of the brain, saddling children of low-income families with slower rates of growth in two key brain structures, according to researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

By age 4, children in families living with incomes under 200 percent of the federal poverty line have less gray matter -- brain tissue critical for processing of information and execution of actions -- than kids growing up in families with higher incomes.

"This is an important link between poverty and biology. We're watching how poverty gets under the skin," says Barbara Wolfe, professor of economics, population health sciences and public affairs and one of the authors of the study, published today in the journal PLOS ONE.

The differences among children of the poor became apparent through analysis of hundreds of brain scans from children beginning soon after birth and repeated every few months until 4 years of age. Children in poor families lagged behind in the development of the parietal and frontal regions of the brain -- deficits that help explain behavioral, learning and attention problems more common among disadvantaged children.

The parietal lobe works as the network hub of the brain, connecting disparate parts to make use of stored or incoming information. The frontal lobe, according to UW-Madison psychology professor Seth Pollak, is one of the last parts of the brain to develop.

"It's the executive. It's the part of the brain we use to control our attention and regulate our behavior," Pollak says. "Those are difficulties children have when transitioning to kindergarten, when educational disparities begin: Are you able to pay attention? Can you avoid a tantrum and stay in your seat? Can you make yourself work on a project?"

The maturation gap of children in poor families is more startling for the lack of difference at birth among the children studied.

"One of the things that is important here is that the infants' brains look very similar at birth," says Pollak, whose work is funded by the National Institutes of Health. "You start seeing the separation in brain growth between the children living in poverty and the more affluent children increase over time, which really implicates the postnatal environment."

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December 5, 2013

"I Came to Duke with an Empty Wallet"

KellyNoel Waldorf
The Chronicle

In my four years at Duke, I have tried to write this article many times. But I was afraid. I was afraid to reveal an integral part of myself. I'm poor.

Why is it not OK for me to talk about such an important part of my identity on Duke's campus? Why is the word "poor" associated with words like lazy, unmotivated and uneducated? I am none of those things.

When was the first time I felt uncomfortable at Duke because of money? My second day of o-week. My FAC group wanted to meet at Mad Hatter's Bakery; I went with them and said that I had already eaten on campus because I didn't have cash to spend. Since then, I have continued to notice the presence of overt and subtle class issues and classism on campus. I couldn't find a place for my "poor identity." While writing my resume, I put McDonald's under work experience. A friend leaned over and said, "Do you think it's a good idea to put that on your resume?" In their eyes, it was better to list no work experience than to list this "lowly" position. I did not understand these mentalities and perceptions of my peers. Yet no one was talking about this discrepancy, this apparent class stratification that I was seeing all around me.

People associate many things with their identity: I'm a woman, I'm queer, I'm a poet. One of the most defining aspects of my identity is being poor. The amount of money (or lack thereof) in my bank account defines almost every decision I make, in a way that being a woman or being queer never has and never will. Not that these are not important as well, just that in my personal experience, they have been less defining. Money influenced the way I grew up and my family dynamics. It continues to influence the schools I choose to go to, the food I eat, the items I buy and the things I say and do.

I live in a reality where:

Sometimes I lie that I am busy when actually I just don't have the money to eat out.

I don't get to see my dad anymore because he moved several states away to try and find a better job to make ends meet.

I avoid going to Student Health because Duke insurance won't do much if there is actually anything wrong with me.

Coming out as queer took a weekend and a few phone calls, but coming out as poor is still a daily challenge.

Getting my wisdom teeth removed at $400 per tooth is more of a funny joke than a possible reality.

I have been nearly 100 percent economically independent from my family since I left for college.

Textbook costs are impossible. Praise Perkins Library where all the books are free.

My mother has called me crying, telling me she doesn't have the gas money to pick me up for Thanksgiving.

My humorously cynical, self-deprecating jokes about being homeless after graduation are mostly funny but also kind of a little bit true.

I am scared that the more I increase my "social mobility," the further I will separate myself from my family.

Finances are always in the back (if not the forefront) of my mind, and I am always counting and re-counting to determine how I can manage my budget to pay for bills and living expenses.

This article is not meant to be a complaint about my life. This is not a sob story. There are good and bad things in my life, and we all face challenges. But it should be OK for me to talk about this aspect of my identity. Why has our culture made me so afraid or ashamed or embarrassed that I felt like I couldn't tell my best friends "Hey, I just can't afford to go out tonight"? I have always been afraid to discuss this with people, because they always seem to react with judgment or pity, and I want absolutely nothing to do with either of those. Sharing these realities could open a door to support, encouragement or simply openness.

Because I also live in a reality where:

I am proud of a job well done.

I feel a great sense of accomplishment when I get each paycheck.

I feel a bond of solidarity with those who are well acquainted with the food group "ramen."

I would never trade my happy family memories for a stable bank account.

I would never trade my perspective or work ethic or appreciation of life for money.

Most times it certainly would be nice to have more financial stability, but I love the person I have become for the background I have had.

It is time to start acknowledging class at Duke. Duke is great because of its amazing financial aid packages. My ability to go here is truly incredible. Duke is not great because so many of the students fundamentally do not understand the necessity for a discussion of class identity and classism. Duke needs to look past its blind spot and start discussing class stratification on campus to create a more welcoming environment for poor students.

If you have ever felt like this important piece of your identity was not welcome at Duke, know that you are not the only one. I want you to know that "poor" is not a dirty word. It is OK to talk about your experiences and your identity in relation to socioeconomic status. It is OK to tell the truth and be yourself. Stop worrying whether it will make other people feel uncomfortable. People can learn a lot about themselves from the things that make them uncomfortable. I want to say to you that no matter what socioeconomic status you come from, your experiences are worthy.

And because no one in four years has said it yet to me: It's okay to be poor and go to Duke.

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November 14, 2013

The Oklahoma Model for American Pre-K

Nicholas Kristof

As readers know, one of my hobby horses is the need for early childhood education as the most cost-effective way to break the cycles of poverty in America. But the issue never gets much traction, and one reason is the perception that it's politically hopeless: Republicans would never go for such a program. My Sunday column tries to push back at the assumption that it's hopeless and notes that one of the leaders in providing pre-K in America is-not Massachusetts, not New York, not some other blue state, but reliably red Oklahoma. It's all the more surprising because Oklahoma spends less per pupil on education than almost any other state, and pays its teachers near the bottom. This is not a state that believes in lavish spending on schooling. Yet, quite remarkably, it provides universal high-quality pre-K, with a ratio of no more than 10 students per staff member, and all teachers have a college degree.

My own take is that even earlier interventions may get even more bang for the buck than pre-K for 4-year-olds, and sure enough Oklahoma also invests in those, including home visitation programs to coach parents on reading to toddlers and talking more to them. It also has some programs for kids 0 to 3 if they're from disadvantaged families. These are no silver bullet to defeat poverty-there isn't one-but there seems a recognition in Oklahoma that they work in improving school performance and life outcomes and reduce the risk that poverty will be transmitted from generation to generation. So if Oklahoma can do it, why not the rest of the country?

Bipartisan legislation is expected to be introduced this coming week in Congress to establish national support for pre-K programs, and polling shows the idea has broad support. It'll be an uphill struggle, but I'm hoping that Congress will, like Oklahoma, see that this isn't a social welfare program exactly, but an investment in our children and our future. Read the column and help spread the word about the need for this legislation!

The column: "Oklahoma! Where the Kids Learn Early"

"The aim is to break the cycle of poverty, which is about so much more than a lack of money."

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November 6, 2013

Childhood Poverty Linked to Poor Brain Development

Caroline Cassels

Exposure to poverty in early childhood negatively affects brain development, but good-quality caregiving may help offset this effect, new research suggests. A longitudinal imaging study shows that young children exposed to poverty have smaller white and cortical gray matter as well as hippocampal and amygdala volumes, as measured during school age and early adolescence.

"These findings extend the substantial body of behavioral data demonstrating the deleterious effects of poverty on child developmental outcomes into the neurodevelopmental domain and are consistent with prior results," the investigators, with lead author Joan Luby, MD, Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri, write.

However, the investigators also found that the effects of poverty on hippocampal volume were influenced by caregiving and stressful life events.
The study was published online October 28 in JAMA Pediatrics.

Powerful Risk Factor

Poverty is one of the most powerful risk factors for poor developmental outcomes; a large body of research shows that children exposed to poverty have poorer cognitive outcomes and school performance and are at greater risk for antisocial behaviors and mental disorders. However, the researchers note, there are few neurobiological data in humans to inform the mechanism of these relationships.

"This represents a critical gap in the literature and an urgent national and global public health problem based on statistics that more than 1 in 5 children are now living below the poverty line in the United States alone," the authors write.

To examine the effects of poverty on childhood brain development and to understand what factors might mediate its negative impact, the researchers used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to examine total white and cortical gray matter as well as hippocampal and amygdala volumes in 145 children aged 6 to 12 years who had been followed since preschool.

The researchers looked at caregiver support/hostility, measured observationally during the preschool period, and stressful life events, measured prospectively. The children underwent annual behavioral assessments for 3 to 6 years prior to MRI scanning and were annually assessed for 5 to 10 years following brain imaging. Household poverty was measured using the federal income-to-needs ratio.

"Toxic" Effect

The researchers found that poverty was associated with lower hippocampal volumes, but they also found that caregiving behaviors and stressful life events could fully mediate this negative effect.

"The finding that the effects of poverty on hippocampal development are mediated through caregiving and stressful life events further underscores the importance of high-quality early childhood caregiving, a task that can be achieved through parenting education and support, as well as through preschool programs that provide high-quality supplementary caregiving and safe haven to vulnerable young children," the investigators write.

In an accompanying editorial, Charles A. Nelson, PhD, Boston Children's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, in Massachusetts, notes that the findings show that early experience "weaves its way into the neural and biological infrastructure of the child in such a way as to impact development trajectories and outcomes."

"Exposure to early life adversity should be considered no less toxic than exposure to lead, alcohol or cocaine, and, as such it merits similar attention from health authorities," Dr. Nelson writes.

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October 23, 2013

Language-Gap Study Bolsters a Push for Pre-K

Motoko Rich (NYT)

Nearly two decades ago, a landmark study found that by age 3, the children of wealthier professionals have heard words millions more times than those of less educated parents, giving them a distinct advantage in school and suggesting the need for increased investment in prekindergarten programs.

Now a follow-up study has found a language gap as early as 18 months, heightening the policy debate.

The new research by Anne Fernald, a psychologist at Stanford University, which was published in Developmental Science this year, showed that at 18 months children from wealthier homes could identify pictures of simple words they knew -- "dog" or "ball" -- much faster than children from low-income families. By age 2, the study found, affluent children had learned 30 percent more words in the intervening months than the children from low-income homes.

The new findings, although based on a small sample, reinforced the earlier research showing that because professional parents speak so much more to their children, the children hear 30 million more words by age 3 than children from low-income households, early literacy experts, preschool directors and pediatricians said. In the new study, the children of affluent households came from communities where the median income per capita was $69,000; the low-income children came from communities with a median income per capita of $23,900.

Since oral language and vocabulary are so connected to reading comprehension, the most disadvantaged children face increased challenges once they enter school and start learning to read.

"That gap just gets bigger and bigger," said Kris Perry, executive director of the First Five Years Fund, an advocate of early education for low-income children. "That gap is very real and very hard to undo."

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August 21, 2013

Help the United Way of Dane County Boost School Attendance

Wisconsin State Journal editorial

About a third of kindergartners in Madison schools miss 10 or more days of classes. And a fifth are "chronically absent," meaning they miss 18 or more days, which is at least 10 percent of the school year.

Attendance improves by fifth grade and into middle school, then falls when students reach high school.

That's why the United Way of Dane County this fall plans to emphasize in new ways the need for young parents to establish strong habits for children going to school every day (barring illness).

The effort -- dubbed "Here!" -- will stress the correlation between good attendance and academic success. It will include promotional materials at schools, follow-up calls to parents and encouragement from community leaders such as church pastors who will include the message in their sermons.

"We shouldn't be surprised that the (high school) graduation rate is about the same as the attendance rate," said Deedra Atkinson, the United Way's senior vice president of community impact and marketing.

The nonprofit, as it launches its annual fundraiser today, also is committing more attention and resources to helping high school dropouts earn diplomas and find work.

The United Way does so much good work for our community that it deserves your financial support and time. The public is welcome at today's lunch and launch of the United Way's annual Days of Caring. So far, the number of volunteers is up about 400 people from last year, to 3,500.

The group's annual fundraising goal is $18.1 million, up 3 percent from last year's total collected, said campaign chairman Doug Nelson, regional president of BMO Harris Bank.

The United Way of Dane County will host its annual Days of Caring this week, starting today with a lunch and campaign kickoff at Willow Island at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. The public is welcome. To donate to the nonprofit's fundraising effort go to or call 608-246-4350. To volunteer, visit or call 608-246-4357. Donate your time; donate your money.

Please help if you can.

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July 31, 2013

Efforts to Recruit Poor Students Lag at Some Elite Colleges

Richard Perez-Pena

With affirmative action under attack and economic mobility feared to be stagnating, top colleges profess a growing commitment to recruiting poor students. But a comparison of low-income enrollment shows wide disparities among the most competitive private colleges. A student at Vassar, for example, is three times as likely to receive a need-based Pell Grant as one at Washington University in St. Louis.

"It's a question of how serious you are about it," said Catharine Bond Hill, the president of Vassar. She said of colleges with multibillion-dollar endowments and numerous tax exemptions that recruit few poor students, "Shame on you."

At Vassar, Amherst College and Emory University, 22 percent of undergraduates in 2010-11 received federal Pell Grants, which go mostly to students whose families earn less than $30,000 a year. The same year, the most recent in the federal Department of Education database, only 7 percent of undergraduates at Washington University were Pell recipients, and 8 percent at Washington and Lee University were, according to research by The New York Times.

Researchers at Georgetown University have found that at the most competitive colleges, only 14 percent of students come from the lower 50 percent of families by income. That figure has not increased over more than two decades, an indication that a generation of pledges to diversify has not amounted to much. Top colleges differ markedly in how aggressively they hunt for qualified teenagers from poorer families, how they assess applicants who need aid, and how they distribute the available aid dollars.

Some institutions argue that they do not have the resources to be as generous as the top colleges, and for most colleges, with meager endowments, that is no doubt true. But among the elites, nearly all of them with large endowments, there is little correlation between a university's wealth and the number of students who receive Pell Grants, which did not exceed $5,550 per student last year.

Related:Travis Reginal and Justin Porter were friends back in Jackson, Miss. They attended William B. Murrah High School, which is 97 percent African-American and 67 percent low income. Murrah is no Ivy feeder. Low-income students rarely apply to the nation's best colleges. But Mr. Reginal just completed a first year at Yale, Mr. Porter at Harvard. Below, they write about their respective journeys.

Reflections on the Road to Yale: A First-Generation Student Striving to Inspire Black Youth by Travis Reginal:

For low-income African-American youth, the issue is rooted in low expectations. There appear to be two extremes: just getting by or being the rare gifted student. Most don't know what success looks like. Being at Yale has raised my awareness of the soft bigotry of elementary and high school teachers and administrators who expect no progress in their students. At Yale, the quality of your work must increase over the course of the term or your grade will decrease. It propelled me to work harder.
Reflections on the Road to Harvard: A Classic High Achiever, Minus the Money for a College Consultant by Justin Porter
I do not believe that increasing financial aid packages and creating glossy brochures alone will reverse this trend. The true forces that are keeping us away from elite colleges are cultural: the fear of entering an alien environment, the guilt of leaving loved ones alone to deal with increasing economic pressure, the impulse to work to support oneself and one's family. I found myself distracted even while doing problem sets, questioning my role at this weird place. I began to think, "Who am I, anyway, to think I belong at Harvard, the alma mater of the Bushes, the Kennedys and the Romneys? Maybe I should have stayed in Mississippi where I belonged."

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May 17, 2013

A Team Approach to Get Students College Ready

David Bornstein

When Parker Sheffy, a first-year teacher in the Bronx Leadership Academy II, a high school in the South Bronx, talks shop with friends who are also new teachers, he often hears about the problems they are facing: students not showing up to class on time, not understanding their work, not doing homework. "I'm thinking: I don't have that problem... I don't have that problem..." Sheffy recalled. In his ninth grade integrated algebra class, he estimates that 80 to 90 percent are on track to pass the Regents exam, more than double last year's figure.

"But I have to remind myself that this is not just because of me," Sheffy said. "I'm one of six people who have created this class."

Sheffy's school is one of three New York City public schools working with an organization called Blue Engine, which recruits and places recent college graduates as full-time teaching assistants in high schools, helps teachers shift to a small-group classroom model with a ratio of one instructor for roughly every six students, uses data tracking to generate rapid-fire feedback so problems can be quickly addressed, and provides weekly instruction in "social cognition" classes, where students are introduced to skills and concepts -- such as the difference between a "fixed" and a "growth" mind-set -- that can help them grasp their untapped potential.

Blue Engine also targets algebra, geometry and English language arts in the ninth and 10th grades because performance in these so-called "gateway" courses is associated with college success.

Despite its modest size and short track record, Blue Engine has already seized the attention of educators and attracted notice from President Obama. Last year, in its schools, as a result of the program, the number of students who met the "college ready" standard -- scoring above 80 on their Regents exams in algebra, geometry or English language arts -- nearly tripled, from 49 to 140.

Katherine Callaghan, the principal of the Bronx Leadership Academy II, who has worked in the school for more than 10 years, said: "Blue Engine has moved a huge number of our students in a way that nothing else that we've ever tried has been able to do." She added: "Last year we had a 44 percent pass rate on the integrated algebra Regents, with two kids scoring above an 80. This year, we're on track for 75 or 80 percent passing, with 20 kids hitting the college-ready mark. We're close to doubling our pass rate and multiplying by a factor of 10 our college-ready rate."

Gains like this are not often seen in education. So it's worth taking note. What's happening?

Read more here.

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May 15, 2013

A Life of Science Was in the Cards

Anjelica L. Gonzalez

I AM a proud member of a small, emerging class of minority women with careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics -- the STEM fields for short. As a professor at Yale University and a scientist in the field of tissue engineering, or regenerative medicine, I'm often asked how I got to where I am. I usually respond with stories of my early interest in problem-solving and puzzles.

But if I really reflect on how I, a Latina from Las Vegas, was able to become a scientist at an elite university, it wasn't my own curiosity. It was the influence of a blackjack dealer who also happens to be my mother.

My mother may not know the ins and outs of academia, but she taught me the essential ingredients needed to make it as a scientist in a white, male-dominated field.

A blackjack dealer works for tips. As you can imagine, a stodgy personality will not do well in a profession where you have to entertain a diverse clientele. My mother can interact with wealthy families from faraway continents as capably as she does with the locals.

As a professor and researcher, I interact with students and colleagues from all over the world, and I must communicate with each of them in an intellectual yet relatable manner. If I fail to do so, the far-reaching implications of my work are lost on the audience.

My mother's most powerful weapon is her sense of humor. Her smile draws customers to the table, and once they are there she can gently tease a shy person into conversation or draw guffaws from an abrasive personality with a crude joke.

Likewise, whether dealing with an egotistic colleague or an insecure or disengaged student, the ability to find common ground and laugh together is the closest thing that we in academia have to a magic bullet.

My students can easily become bored or distracted when I discuss the chemistry behind metal oxidation. However, when I relate the science to descriptions of "bling-blinging rims" on car wheels, I am guaranteed a look of shock, an outburst of laughter and enough attention to relate the basics of the oxidative process. These kinds of interactions have led to the most professionally and personally rewarding experiences I've had as a professor.

My mother never gave up. She raised my brother and me on her own. I cannot recall a time in my life when she did not work. As a single mother, she provided the only source of income to our small family. I know there were days that she wanted to walk out of the casino and never return. Anyone who has worked in the service industry for over 30 years, as she has, knows the feeling. But an overriding sense of responsibility stopped my mom from doing so. I recall asking her, after she had spent a long night bent over the blackjack table, "How do you deal with all of those personalities every day?"

"What choice do we have?" she answered, referring to our family.

Even though I love my work, there are days when I want to run out of the lab or classroom, too. While not every day at work is the best, I stay for the "we," just like my mom. I've made a commitment to myself, my employers, my students, my own family, and anyone else who relies on my accomplishments. I don't have the choice to give up because I'm not really an "I" after all.

My mother was the first innovator I knew. Considered by her friends and family to be a creative genius, she can sew, crochet, paint, cook, sculpture, and do woodworking and metalworking. As fashion trends came and went, it was impractical for my mother to purchase name-brand designer clothes that I would outgrow within a season. She made me some harem pants that would have made MC Hammer jealous!

THE ingenuity and imagination behind this talent have become extremely valuable in my approach to engineering tissues and biomedical tools. In a field where inventiveness and innovation are keys to success, reallocating existing technologies and developing highly effective, yet low-cost, solutions to biomedical problems is what I have come to do best. It's a little embarrassing now to think back on those harem pants, but I'll never regret witnessing my mom's ingenuity growing up.

Though she is not college educated and has been a blue-collar worker all of her life, my mom provided a model for much of my professional development. What are the odds?

This piece brings to mind Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor's memoir, My Beloved World.

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April 29, 2013

No Rich Child Left Behind

Sean F. Reardon

Here's a fact that may not surprise you: the children of the rich perform better in school, on average, than children from middle-class or poor families. Students growing up in richer families have better grades and higher standardized test scores, on average, than poorer students; they also have higher rates of participation in extracurricular activities and school leadership positions, higher graduation rates and higher rates of college enrollment and completion.

Whether you think it deeply unjust, lamentable but inevitable, or obvious and unproblematic, this is hardly news. It is true in most societies and has been true in the United States for at least as long as we have thought to ask the question and had sufficient data to verify the answer.

What is news is that in the United States over the last few decades these differences in educational success between high- and lower-income students have grown substantially.

One way to see this is to look at the scores of rich and poor students on standardized math and reading tests over the last 50 years. When I did this using information from a dozen large national studies conducted between 1960 and 2010, I found that the rich-poor gap in test scores is about 40 percent larger now than it was 30 years ago.

To make this trend concrete, consider two children, one from a family with income of $165,000 and one from a family with income of $15,000. These incomes are at the 90th and 10th percentiles of the income distribution nationally, meaning that 10 percent of children today grow up in families with incomes below $15,000 and 10 percent grow up in families with incomes above $165,000.

In the 1980s, on an 800-point SAT-type test scale, the average difference in test scores between two such children would have been about 90 points; today it is 125 points. This is almost twice as large as the 70-point test score gap between white and black children. Family income is now a better predictor of children's success in school than race.


In San Francisco this week, more than 14,000 educators and education scholars have gathered for the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association. The theme this year is familiar: Can schools provide children a way out of poverty?


If not the usual suspects, what's going on? It boils down to this: The academic gap is widening because rich students are increasingly entering kindergarten much better prepared to succeed in school than middle-class students. This difference in preparation persists through elementary and high school.


But we need to do much more than expand and improve preschool and child care. There is a lot of discussion these days about investing in teachers and "improving teacher quality," but improving the quality of our parenting and of our children's earliest environments may be even more important. Let's invest in parents so they can better invest in their children.

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April 23, 2013

2012-13 MMSD WKCE Results

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Higher bar for WKCE results paints different picture of student achievement

Matt DeFour

Wisconsin student test scores released Tuesday look very different than they did a year ago, though not because of any major shift in student performance.

Similar to recent years, the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam results show gains in math and reading over the past five years, a persistent and growing performance gap between black and white students, and Milwaukee and Racine public school students outperforming their peers in the private school voucher program.

But the biggest difference is the scores reflect a higher bar for what students in each grade level should know and be able to do.

Only 36.2 percent of students who took the reading test last October met the new proficiency bar. Fewer than half, 48.1 percent, of students were proficient in math. When 2011-12 results were released last spring, those figures were both closer to 80 percent.

The change doesn't reflect a precipitous drop in student test scores. The average scores in reading and math are about the same as last year for each grade level.

Instead, the change reflects a more rigorous standard for proficiency similar to what is used for the National Assessment of Educational Progress. NAEP is administered to a sample of students in each state every other year and is referred to as "the nation's report card."

The state agreed to raise the proficiency benchmark in math and reading last year in order to qualify for a waiver from requirements under the federal No Child Left Behind law. The benchmark did not rise for the language arts, science and social studies tests.

"Adjusting to higher expectations will take time and effort," State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers said. "But these are necessary changes that will ultimately help our schools better prepare all students to be college and career ready and link with work being done throughout the state to implement new standards."

Evers also called on the Legislature to include private voucher schools in the state's new accountability system.

He highlighted that test scores for all Milwaukee and Racine students need to improve. Among Milwaukee voucher students, 10.8 percent in reading and 11.9 percent in math scored proficient or better. Among Milwaukee public school students, it was 14.2 percent in reading and 19.7 percent in math.

Gov. Scott Walker has proposed expanding the state's voucher program, including to such districts as Madison.

Changes in Dane County

The state previously announced how the changing bar would affect scores statewide and parents have seen their own students' results in recent weeks, but the new figures for the first time show the impact on entire schools and districts.

In Dane County school districts, the percentage of students scoring proficient or better on the test dropped on average by 42 percentage points in reading and 25 percentage points in math.

Madison schools had one of the smallest drops compared to its neighboring districts.

Madison superintendent Jennifer Cheatham noted schools with a higher number of students scoring in the "advanced" category experienced less of a drop. Madison's smaller drop could reflect a higher proportion of students scoring in the top tier.

At the same time, Madison didn't narrow the gap between minority and white student test results. Only 9 percent of black sixth-graders and only 2 percent of sixth-grade English language learners scored proficient in reading.

"It reinforces the importance of our work in the years ahead," Cheatham said. "We're going to work on accelerating student outcomes."

Middleton-Cross Plains School Board president Ellen Lindgren said she hasn't heard many complaints from parents whose students suddenly dropped a tier on the test. Like Madison and other districts across the state, Middleton-Cross Plains sent home letters bracing parents for the change.

But Lindgren fears the changing standards come at the worst time for public schools, which have faced tougher scrutiny and reduced state support.

"I'm glad that the standards have been raised by the state, because they were low, but this interim year, hopefully people won't panic too much," Lindgren said. "The public has been sold on the idea that we're failing in our education system, and I just don't believe that's true."

Next fall will be the last year students in grades 3-8 and 10 take the paper-and-pencil WKCE math and reading tests. Wisconsin is part of a coalition of states planning to administer a new computer-based test in the 2014-15 school year.

The proposed state budget also provides for students in grades 9-11 to take the EXPLORE, PLAN and ACT college and career readiness tests in future years.

Superintendent Cheatham is to be commended for her informed, intelligent and honest reaction to the MMSD's results when compared to those of neighboring districts.

View a WKCE summary here (PDF).

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April 10, 2013

Rigorous Schools Put College Dreams Into Practice

Kyle Spencer

ALONG his block in Newark's West Ward, where drugs are endemic and the young residents talk about shootings with alarming nonchalance, Najee Little is known as the smart kid. He got all A's his sophomore year, breezing through math and awing his English teachers. His mother, a day care worker, and father, who does odd jobs to make ends meet, have high aspirations for him. They want him to earn a college degree.

So last year, when Bard College opened an early college high school in Newark for disadvantaged students with dreams of a bachelor's degree, he was sure he'd do well there. He wrote his first long paper on Plato's "Republic," expecting a top grade. He got a D minus. "Honestly," he recalled, "I was kind of discouraged."

That paper marked the beginning of a trying academic path that would both excite and disillusion him. The past two years have been peppered with some promising grades -- an A in environmental science -- and some doozies. He failed "Africa in World History" and squeaked by in calculus. Mostly, he came to realize that getting into college and staying there would be a herculean task. There was tricky grammar, hard math and tons of homework. There was the neighborhood cacophony to tune out and the call of his Xbox. And there was the fact that no one in his house could help him.

"My work is more advanced than anyone at home has experienced," he said. And that, it turns out, is why the school had accepted him.

High poverty, high ability, high expectations, high achievement.

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Double Jeopardy: How Third-Grade Reading Skills and Poverty Influence High School Graduation

Donald J. Hernandez

Educators and researchers have long recognized the importance of mastering reading by the end of third grade. Students who fail to reach this critical milestone often falter in the later grades and drop out before earning a high school diploma. Now, researchers have confirmed this link in the first national study to calculate high school graduation rates for children at different reading skill levels and with different poverty rates. Results of a longitudinal study of nearly 4,000 students find that those who don't read proficiently by third grade are four times more likely to leave school without a diploma than proficient readers. For the worst readers, those who couldn't master even the basic skills by third grade, the rate is nearly six times greater. While these struggling readers account for about a third of the students, they represent more than three fifths of those who eventually drop out or fail to graduate on time. What's more, the study shows that poverty has a powerful influence on graduation rates. The combined effect of reading poorly and living in poverty puts these children in double jeopardy.

The study relies on a unique national database of 3,975 students born between 1979 and 1989. The children's parents were surveyed every two years to determine the family's eco- nomic status and other factors, while the children's reading progress was tracked using the Peabody Individual Achievement Test (PIAT) Reading Recognition subtest. The database re- ports whether students have finished high school by age 19, but does not indicate whether they actually dropped out.

For purposes of this study, the researchers divided the children into three reading groups which correspond roughly to the skill levels used in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP): proficient, basic and below basic. The children were also separated into three income categories: those who have never been poor, those who spent some time in poverty and those who have lived more than half the years surveyed in poverty.

The findings include:

-- One in six children who are not reading proficiently in third grade do not graduate from high school on time, a rate four times greater than that for proficient readers.

-- The rates are highest for the low, below-basic readers: 23 percent of these children drop out or fail to finish high school on time, compared to 9 percent of children with basic reading skills and 4 percent of proficient readers.

-- Overall, 22 percent of children who have lived in poverty do not graduate from high school, compared to 6 percent of those who have never been poor. This rises to 32 percent for students spending more than half of their childhood in poverty.

-- For children who were poor for at least a year and were not reading proficiently in third grade, the proportion that don't finish school rose to 26 percent. That's more than six times the rate for all proficient readers.

-- The rate was highest for poor Black and Hispanic students, at 31 and 33 percent respectively--or about eight times the rate for all proficient readers.

-- Even among poor children who were proficient readers in third grade, 11 percent still didn't finish high school. That compares to 9 percent of subpar third grade readers who have never been poor.

-- Among children who never lived in poverty, all but 2 percent of the best third- grade readers graduated from high school on time.

-- Graduation rates for Black and Hispanic students who were not proficient readers in third grade lagged far behind those for White students with the same reading skills.

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April 3, 2013

A.D.H.D. Seen in 11% of U.S. Children as Diagnoses Rise

Alan Schwarz and Sarah Cohen

Nearly one in five high school age boys in the United States and 11 percent of school-age children over all have received a medical diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, according to new data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

These rates reflect a marked rise over the last decade and could fuel growing concern among many doctors that the A.D.H.D. diagnosis and its medication are overused in American children.

The figures showed that an estimated 6.4 million children ages 4 through 17 had received an A.D.H.D. diagnosis at some point in their lives, a 16 percent increase since 2007 and a 41 percent rise in the past decade. About two-thirds of those with a current diagnosis receive prescriptions for stimulants like Ritalin or Adderall, which can drastically improve the lives of those with A.D.H.D. but can also lead to addiction, anxiety and occasionally psychosis.

"Those are astronomical numbers. I'm floored," said Dr. William Graf, a pediatric neurologist in New Haven and a professor at the Yale School of Medicine. He added, "Mild symptoms are being diagnosed so readily, which goes well beyond the disorder and beyond the zone of ambiguity to pure enhancement of children who are otherwise healthy."

Read more here.

A thoughtful (and personal) commentary here.

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March 30, 2013

The Ivy League Was Another Planet

Claire Vaye Watkins

In 12th grade, my friend Ryan and I were finalists for the Silver State Scholars, a competition to identify the "Top 100" seniors in Nevada. The finalists were flown to Lake Tahoe for two days of interviews. On the plane, Ryan and I met a boy from Las Vegas. Looking to size up the competition, we asked what high school he went to. He said a name we didn't recognize and added, "It's a magnet school." Ryan asked what a magnet school was, and spent the remaining hour incredulously demanding a detailed account of the young man's educational history: his time abroad, his after-school robotics club, his tutors, his college prep courses.

All educations, we realized then, are not created equal. For Ryan and me, of Pahrump, Nev., just an hour from the city, the Vegas boy was a citizen of a planet we would never visit. What we didn't know was that there were other, more distant planets that we could not even see. And those planets couldn't see us, either.

A study released last week by researchers at Harvard and Stanford quantified what everyone in my hometown already knew: even the most talented rural poor kids don't go to the nation's best colleges. The vast majority, the study found, do not even try.

For deans of admissions brainstorming what they can do to remedy this, might I suggest: anything.


Of course, finding these students and facilitating their admission into elite universities is only half of the story. The other half is providing the resources and supports they need while they're on campus, so that they don't continue to feel like aliens.

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March 29, 2013

A Simple Way to Send Poor Kids to Top Colleges

David Leonhardt

The packages arrived by mail in October of the students' senior year of high school. They consisted of brightly colored accordion folders containing about 75 sheets of paper. The sheets were filed with information about colleges: their admissions standards, graduation rates and financial aid policies.

The students receiving the packages were mostly high-achieving, low-income students, and they were part of a randomized experiment. The researchers sending the packets were trying to determine whether most poor students did not attend selective colleges because they did not want to, or because they did not understand that they could.

The results are now in, and they suggest that basic information can substantially increase the number of low-income students who apply to, attend and graduate from top colleges.

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March 22, 2013

Alums Help Boston Students Overcome Disadvantages with Match Corps

Brown Daily Herald

It seems like an odd jump from the flexible anti-structure that gives Brown its laid-back reputation to a school where kindergartners are called "scholars" and get demerits for slumping. But for the six Brown alums who work as tutors at Match Corps: Boston, it's not a question of autonomy -- it's a question of equality.

Match Corps is a one-year fellowship program that brings top college graduates to tutor disadvantaged youth in the Boston area. At Match charter schools, tutors work with small groups, often one-on-one, and form close relationships with students and their families, according to the program's website.

"Match's mission is to help all students succeed in college and beyond by giving them the best education they can get," said Match Corps COO Michael Larsson.

The program directs its efforts toward helping kids in city schools in an effort to overcome the stereotype that students in urban areas are unable to achieve their full potentials. If students in urban public schools are less equipped for success, it is because they are "historically extremely underserved in the education system," said Reuben Henriques '12, a current member of Match Corps.

Matching potential

Henriques said he is a firm believer that providing all students with "equal access to structures of power" through skills like reading and critical thinking is crucial not only for the individuals but also for society as a whole.

"A democracy needs people who can advocate for themselves and function in a healthy debate -- not just rich, white students, but everyone," he said.

More about the Match Public Charter School, the Match Corps, and the Match Teacher Residency Program here.

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March 17, 2013

Mayor Soglin: The City Has to Help Students Who Live in Poverty

Jack Craver
The Capital Times

A number of figures stood out at the Ed Talks panel on the achievement gap that I attended last Wednesday night, part of a UW-Madison series of free conversations and presentations on educational issues. Here are two:

• 50: The percentage of children currently defined as low-income in the Madison Metropolitan School District.

• 9: The percentage of children defined as low-income when Paul Soglin was first elected mayor in 1973.

It is not just the schools' responsibility to address the effects of such a dramatic increase in poverty, says the mayor, who participated on the panel along with School Board President James Howard and others.

"The school system has the children about 20 percent of the time," Soglin said. "The remaining 80 percent is very critical."

The city, he says, needs to help by providing kids with access to out-of-school programs in the evenings and during the summer. It needs to do more to fight hunger and address violence-induced trauma in children. And it needs to help parents get engaged in their kids' education.

"We as a community, for all of the bragging about being so progressive, are way behind the rest of the nation in these areas," he says.

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March 7, 2013

The Country That Stopped Reading

David Toscana

Earlier this week, I spotted, among the job listings in the newspaper Reforma, an ad from a restaurant in Mexico City looking to hire dishwashers. The requirement: a secondary school diploma.

Years ago, school was not for everyone. Classrooms were places for discipline, study. Teachers were respected figures. Parents actually gave them permission to punish their children by slapping them or tugging their ears. But at least in those days, schools aimed to offer a more dignified life.

Nowadays more children attend school than ever before, but they learn much less. They learn almost nothing. The proportion of the Mexican population that is literate is going up, but in absolute numbers, there are more illiterate people in Mexico now than there were 12 years ago. Even if baseline literacy, the ability to read a street sign or news bulletin, is rising, the practice of reading an actual book is not. Once a reasonably well-educated country, Mexico took the penultimate spot, out of 108 countries, in a Unesco assessment of reading habits a few years ago.

One cannot help but ask the Mexican educational system, "How is it possible that I hand over a child for six hours every day, five days a week, and you give me back someone who is basically illiterate?"


This is not just about better funding. Mexico spends more than 5 percent of its gross domestic product on education -- about the same percentage as the United States. And it's not about pedagogical theories and new techniques that look for shortcuts. The educational machine does not need fine-tuning; it needs a complete change of direction. It needs to make students read, read and read.

But perhaps the Mexican government is not ready for its people to be truly educated. We know that books give people ambitions, expectations, a sense of dignity. If tomorrow we were to wake up as educated as the Finnish people, the streets would be filled with indignant citizens and our frightened government would be asking itself where these people got more than a dishwasher's training.

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March 6, 2013

The Competition Drug

Roger Cohen

THIS is America's college town par excellence. Kids from all over the world flock to Boston to learn. I have a son who is a freshman here. Last autumn, as he entered school, I listened to warnings about the dangers of binge drinking. I think they missed the point. The real epidemic involves so-called smart drugs, particularly Adderall, an amphetamine prescribed for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (A.D.H.D.) but so freely available as to be the pill to take whenever academic pressure requires pulling an all-nighter with zero procrastination to get a paper done.

"Just popped an Addie, so I'm good to go" -- this sort of pretest attitude has become pervasive. Conversations with several students suggested Adderall was always available, costing from $2 to $5 a pill. Adderall has become to college what steroids are to baseball: an illicit performance enhancer for a fiercely competitive environment. What to say to doctors to get a prescription is now so widely known among students -- "It's like my thoughts are channel-surfing and I can't stop" -- as to have become a kind of joke.

"If there are no A.D.H.D. symptoms prior to college I have a very hard time writing a prescription," Jill Kasper, a pediatrician, told me. "But if somebody wants a prescription for Adderall, they can find someone to give it to them." The problem is that Adderall is dangerous, a Class 2 controlled substance like cocaine. While it has helped countless A.D.H.D. sufferers, it can also lead down a dark road of dependency, ever higher doses, fight-or-flight anxiety levels, sleeplessness and depression.

Here, in his own words, is the Adderall story of Steven Roderick, 24, a smart, soft-spoken, lost senior studying health science at the University of Massachusetts Boston:

I started taking it my first year in college. My performance had always fluctuated a lot. It was hard to pay attention, even in classes I was interested in. I was getting D's. I felt something had to change. Adderall flies around campus. The first time I took it I wrote a paper for an astronomy class that was out of this world. I could not believe it -- I was so inspired it made me want to be a doctor! I thought -- oh my God! -- this is the whole problem. You have the ability. You are intelligent. You just don't have the link between intelligence and the capacity to be productive. The pill is the link. I felt literally unstoppable.

I went to the doctor, said I'd like to give Adderall a try. There were no diagnostic procedures. Doctors give in too easily. I did not think there could be a risk later on. I started on 20 milligrams. I went from D's and F's to straight A's. But your brain adapts, you have to increase the dose, and by 2011 I was up to 45 milligrams. In the spring of that year I started to feel Adderall was my best friend and my worst enemy at the same time. Because I could not sleep I went to see my psychopharm, and she prescribed me Ativan to sleep. That worked O.K. for a while. But I really ran into trouble last year. I was up to 65 milligrams, and then during finals went to 80, even 120, milligrams, and I was just locked into this Adderall-Ativan cycle. My doctor seemed scatterbrained. She'd prescribe something but not follow up.

It's a complicated dependency. I mean I never took Adderall to get high, never took it in a way that was not academically oriented; and I think there's a distinction between dependency and addiction, taking something for a purpose or for a rush. But I feel awful. My baseline anxiety level would be most people's highest anxiety level. The drop of a pin makes me spin around. I am living at home. My parents are clueless, and it is hard to discuss with them, although my Mom helps me now. I alternate between 'on' and 'off' states -- I come off the Adderall, take Ativan and sleep for days. I miss appointments. I know I need to go to the appointments, but I wonder if I will be functional enough.

Adderall suddenly turned its back on me. It enabled me to focus, got me to a higher place academically. But then I could no longer rely on it. I was on my own. And although I have less than three credits to go, I may have to withdraw from school because I have not been able to make it to enough classes. "Look, I am in a culture that constantly justifies the means to an end. So how do we persuade people not to take it? All you hear is how impossible it will be to get a job when you get out, and you are going more and more into debt, and you think without this I won't be top of the class. With other drugs you know you are ruining your life. But Adderall manipulates you into thinking you are doing what is needed to have a great life.

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February 12, 2013

The Secret to Fixing Bad Schools

David Kirp
WHAT would it really take to give students a first-rate education? Some argue that our schools are irremediably broken and that charter schools offer the only solution. The striking achievement of Union City, N.J. -- bringing poor, mostly immigrant kids into the educational mainstream -- argues for reinventing the public schools we have. Union City makes an unlikely poster child for education reform. It's a poor community with an unemployment rate 60 percent higher than the national average. Three-quarters of the students live in homes where only Spanish is spoken. A quarter are thought to be undocumented, living in fear of deportation.

Public schools in such communities have often operated as factories for failure. This used to be true in Union City, where the schools were once so wretched that state officials almost seized control of them. How things have changed. From third grade through high school, students' achievement scores now approximate the statewide average. What's more, in 2011, Union City boasted a high school graduation rate of 89.5 percent -- roughly 10 percentage points higher than the national average. Last year, 75 percent of Union City graduates enrolled in college, with top students winning scholarships to the Ivies.

As someone who has worked on education policy for four decades, I've never seen the likes of this. After spending a year in Union City working on a book, I believe its transformation offers a nationwide strategy. Ask school officials to explain Union City's success and they start with prekindergarten, which enrolls almost every 3- and 4-year-old. There's abundant research showing the lifetime benefits of early education. Here, seeing is believing.

One December morning the lesson is making latkes, the potato pancakes that are a Hanukkah staple. Everything that transpires during these 90 minutes could be called a "teachable moment" -- describing the smell of an onion ("Strong or light? Strong -- duro. Will it smell differently when we cook it? We'll have to find out."); pronouncing the "p" in pepper and pimento; getting the hang of a food processor ("When I put all the ingredients in, what will happen?").

Cognitive and noncognitive, thinking and feeling; here, this line vanishes. The good teacher is always on the lookout for both kinds of lessons, always aiming to reach both head and heart. "My goal is to do for these kids what I do with my own children," the teacher, Susana Rojas, tells me. "It's all about exposure to concepts -- wide, narrow, long, short. I bring in breads from different countries. 'Let's do a pie chart showing which one you liked the best.' I don't ask them to memorize 1, 2, 3 -- I could teach a monkey to count." From pre-K to high school, the make-or-break factor is what the Harvard education professor Richard Elmore calls the "instructional core" -- the skills of the teacher, the engagement of the students and the rigor of the curriculum. To succeed, students must become thinkers, not just test-takers.

When Alina Bossbaly greets her third grade students, ethics are on her mind. "Room 210 is a pie -- un pie -- and each of us is a slice of that pie." The pie offers a down-to-earth way of talking about a community where everyone has a place. Building character and getting students to think is her mission. From Day 1, her kids are writing in their journals, sifting out the meaning of stories and solving math problems. Every day, Ms. Bossbaly is figuring out what's best for each child, rather than batch-processing them. Though Ms. Bossbaly is a star, her philosophy pervades the district. Wherever I went, these schools felt less like impersonal institutions than the simulacrum of an extended family.

UNTIL recently, Union City High bore the scarlet-letter label, "school in need of improvement." It has taken strong leadership from its principal, John Bennetti, to turn things around -- to instill the belief that education can be a ticket out of poverty. On Day 1, the principal lays out the house rules. Everything is tied to a single theme -- pride and respect in "our house" -- that resonates with the community culture of family, unity and respect. "Cursing doesn't showcase our talents. Breaking the dress code means we're setting a tone that unity isn't important, coming in late means missing opportunities to learn." Bullying is high on his list of nonnegotiables: "We are about caring and supporting."

These students sometimes behave like college freshmen, as in a seminar where they're parsing Toni Morrison's "Beloved." They can be boisterously jokey with their teachers. But there's none of the note-swapping, gum-chewing, wisecracking, talking-back rudeness you'd anticipate if your opinions about high school had been shaped by movies like "Dangerous Minds." And the principal is persuading teachers to raise their expectations. "There should be more courses that prepare students for college, not simply more work but higher-quality work," he tells me. This approach is paying off big time: Last year, in a study of 22,000 American high schools, U.S. News & World Report and the American Institutes for Research ranked Union City High in the top 22 percent.

What makes Union City remarkable is, paradoxically, the absence of pizazz. It hasn't followed the herd by closing "underperforming" schools or giving the boot to hordes of teachers. No Teach for America recruits toil in its classrooms, and there are no charter schools. A quarter-century ago, fear of a state takeover catalyzed a transformation. The district's best educators were asked to design a curriculum based on evidence, not hunch. Learning by doing replaced learning by rote. Kids who came to school speaking only Spanish became truly bilingual, taught how to read and write in their native tongue before tackling English. Parents were enlisted in the cause. Teachers were urged to work together, the superstars mentoring the stragglers and coaches recruited to add expertise. Principals were expected to become educational leaders, not just disciplinarians and paper-shufflers. From a loose confederacy, the schools gradually morphed into a coherent system that marries high expectations with a "we can do it" attitude. "The real story of Union City is that it didn't fall back," says Fred Carrigg, a key architect of the reform. "It stabilized and has continued to improve."

To any educator with a pulse, this game plan sounds so old-school obvious that it verges on platitude. That these schools are generously financed clearly makes a difference -- not every community will decide to pay for two years of prekindergarten -- but too many districts squander their resources. School officials flock to Union City and other districts that have beaten the odds, eager for a quick fix. But they're on a fool's errand. These places -- and there are a host of them, largely unsung -- didn't become exemplars by behaving like magpies, taking shiny bits and pieces and gluing them together. Instead, each devised a long-term strategy reaching from preschool to high school. Each keeps learning from experience and tinkering with its model. Nationwide, there's no reason school districts -- big or small; predominantly white, Latino or black -- cannot construct a system that, like the schools of Union City, bends the arc of children's lives.

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January 3, 2013

"I Was Adam Lanza"

The Daily Beast

Recently, the Huffington Post published an article titled "I am Adam Lanza's mother" by a woman named Liza Long. The article presents a picture of a 13-year-old boy who threatened his mother, sometimes going so far as to pull a knife on her, scream obscenities at her, and leap out of cars as they're driving down the highway.

The rest of the world has reacted to the idea of such a child with horror and incomprehension. I sympathize with the horror. I can only wish that I shared the incomprehension. I understand, intimately, how Liza Long's son feels. I was like him.

Like the author of that piece, Liza Long, my mother had no idea what to do about my sudden transformation (in my case, around 16) into a borderline homicidal maniac. Like her son, I used knives to try and make my threats of violence seem more real. Like her son, I would leap out of our car in the middle of the road just to get away from my mother, over the most trivial of offenses. Like her son, I screamed obscenities at my mother shortly after moments of relative peace. And worse than this poor woman's son, whose mindset toward his peers we can only guess, I will admit that I fantasized multiple times about taking ordnance to my classmates.

By the logic which leads Liza Long to say, "I am Adam Lanza's mother," I have to say: "I was Adam Lanza."

This is a very honest, generous, and thought-provoking piece ... and one from an important source.

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December 27, 2012

Stop Subsidizing Obesity

Mark Bittman

Not long ago few doctors - not even pediatricians - concerned themselves much with nutrition. This has changed, and dramatically: As childhood obesity gains recognition as a true health crisis, more and more doctors are publicly expressing alarm at the impact the standard American diet is having on health.

"I never saw Type 2 diabetes during my training, 20 years ago," David Ludwig, a pediatrician, told me the other day, referring to what was once called "adult-onset" diabetes, the form that is often caused by obesity. "Never. Now about a quarter of the new diabetes cases we're seeing are Type 2."

Ludwig, who is director of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center in Boston, is one of three authors, all medical doctors of an essay ("Viewpoint") in the current issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association titled "Opportunities to Reduce Childhood Hunger and Obesity."

That title that would once have been impossible, but now it's merely paradoxical. Because the situation is this: 17 percent of children in the United States are obese, 16 percent are food-insecure (this means they have inconsistent access to food), and some number, which is impossible to nail down, are both. Seven times as many poor children are obese as those who are underweight, an indication that government aid in the form of food stamps, now officially called SNAP, does a good job of addressing hunger but encourages the consumption of unhealthy calories.

Given the role that nutrition plays -- from conception onward -- in brain development, learning, etc., clearly this is an achievement gap issue.

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November 24, 2012

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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September 19, 2012

Young, Gifted and Neglected

Chester E. Finn, Jr.

BARACK OBAMA and Mitt Romney both attended elite private high schools. Both are undeniably smart and well educated and owe much of their success to the strong foundation laid by excellent schools.

Every motivated, high-potential young American deserves a similar opportunity. But the majority of very smart kids lack the wherewithal to enroll in rigorous private schools. They depend on public education to prepare them for life. Yet that system is failing to create enough opportunities for hundreds of thousands of these high-potential girls and boys.

Mostly, the system ignores them, with policies and budget priorities that concentrate on raising the floor under low-achieving students. A good and necessary thing to do, yes, but we've failed to raise the ceiling for those already well above the floor.

Public education's neglect of high-ability students doesn't just deny individuals opportunities they deserve. It also imperils the country's future supply of scientists, inventors and entrepreneurs.

Today's systemic failure takes three forms.

First, we're weak at identifying "gifted and talented" children early, particularly if they're poor or members of minority groups or don't have savvy, pushy parents.

Second, at the primary and middle-school levels, we don't have enough gifted-education classrooms (with suitable teachers and curriculums) to serve even the existing demand. Congress has "zero-funded" the Jacob K. Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education Program, Washington's sole effort to encourage such education. Faced with budget crunches and federal pressure to turn around awful schools, many districts are cutting their advanced classes as well as art and music.

Third, many high schools have just a smattering of honors or Advanced Placement classes, sometimes populated by kids who are bright but not truly prepared to succeed in them.

Here and there, however, entire public schools focus exclusively on high-ability, highly motivated students. Some are nationally famous (Boston Latin, Bronx Science), others known mainly in their own communities (Cincinnati's Walnut Hills, Austin's Liberal Arts and Science Academy). When my colleague Jessica A. Hockett and I went searching for schools like these to study, we discovered that no one had ever fully mapped this terrain.

In a country with more than 20,000 public high schools, we found just 165 of these schools, known as exam schools. They educate about 1 percent of students. Nineteen states have none. Only three big cities have more than five such schools (Los Angeles has zero). Almost all have far more qualified applicants than they can accommodate. Hence they practice very selective admission, turning away thousands of students who could benefit from what they have to offer. Northern Virginia's acclaimed Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, for example, gets some 3,300 applicants a year -- two-thirds of them academically qualified -- for 480 places.

We built a list, surveyed the principals and visited 11 schools. We learned a lot. While the schools differ in many ways, their course offerings resemble A.P. classes in content and rigor; they have stellar college placement; and the best of them expose their pupils to independent study, challenging internships and individual research projects.

Critics call them elitist, but we found the opposite. These are great schools accessible to families who can't afford private schooling or expensive suburbs. While exam schools in some cities don't come close to reflecting the demographics around them, across the country the low-income enrollment in these schools parallels the high school population as a whole. African-American youngsters are "overrepresented" in them and Asian-Americans staggeringly so (21 percent versus 5 percent in high schools overall). Latinos are underrepresented, but so are whites.

That's not so surprising. Prosperous, educated parents can access multiple options for their able daughters and sons. Elite private schools are still out there. So are New Trier, Scarsdale and Beverly Hills. The schools we studied, by and large, are educational oases for families with smart kids but few alternatives.

They're safe havens, too -- schools where everyone focuses on teaching and learning, not maintaining order. They have sports teams, but their orchestras are better. Yes, some have had to crack down on cheating, but in these schools it's O.K. to be a nerd. You're surrounded by kids like you -- some smarter than you -- and taught by capable teachers who welcome the challenge, teachers more apt to have Ph.D.'s or experience at the college level than high school instructors elsewhere. You aren't searched for weapons at the door. And you're pretty sure to graduate and go on to a good college.

Many more students could benefit from schools like these -- and the numbers would multiply if our education system did right by such students in the early grades. But that will happen only when we acknowledge that leaving no child behind means paying as much attention to those who've mastered the basics -- and have the capacity and motivation for much more -- as we do to those who cannot yet read or subtract.

It's time to end the bias against gifted and talented education and quit assuming that every school must be all things to all students, a simplistic formula that ends up neglecting all sorts of girls and boys, many of them poor and minority, who would benefit more from specialized public schools. America should have a thousand or more high schools for able students, not 165, and elementary and middle schools that spot and prepare their future pupils.

With their support for school choice, Mr. Romney and Mr. Obama have both edged toward recognizing that kids aren't all the same and schools shouldn't be, either. Yet fear of seeming elitist will most likely keep them from proposing more exam schools. Which is ironic and sad, considering where they went to school. Smart kids shouldn't have to go to private schools or get turned away from Bronx Science or Thomas Jefferson simply because there's no room for them.

Chester E. Finn Jr., the president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, is the author, with Jessica A. Hockett, of "Exam Schools: Inside America's Most Selective Public High Schools."

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May 9, 2012

Odyssey Project Graduation Ceremony

You are cordially invited to attend the graduation ceremony for students of the UW-Madison Odyssey Project Class of 2011-2012. Project Director Emily Auerbach and Writing Coach Marshall Cook will present certificates attesting to students' successful completion of six introductory UW credits in English. UW-Madison Interim Chancellor David Ward will make congratulatory remarks.

From September to May, students in this rigorous humanities course have discussed great works of literature, American history, philosophy, and art history while developing skills in critical thinking and persuasive writing. The evening will include brief remarks or performances by each graduating student; recognition of supplemental teachers Jean Feraca, Gene Phillips, and Craig Werner; acknowledgment of Odyssey Project donors and supporters; and music and refreshments.
Web site:

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March 21, 2012

Percentages of poor students keep rising

The percentage of low-income students in Wisconsin and Madison schools continues to grow.

Madison's percentage of students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch reached 56.5 percent this year, up from 51 percent last year, according to the state Department of Public Instruction. That's up from 44 percent five years ago and 31 percent a decade ago. Wisconsin's rate reached 42.5 percent, up from 41.5 percent last year and 29.5 percent in the 2003-04 school year. More than 100 of the state's 424 school districts have a majority of students who qualify as low-income.

Children from households with annual incomes at or below 130 percent of the federal poverty rate, or $29,055 for a family of four, qualify for a free lunch. Children from households with annual incomes under 185 percent of the federal poverty rate, or between $29,055 and $41,348 for a family of four, qualify for a reduced-price lunch.

Wisconsin State Journal
March 20, 2012

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February 10, 2012

Education Gap Grows Between Rich and Poor, Studies Say

Sabrina Tavernise
Education was historically considered a great equalizer in American society, capable of lifting less advantaged children and improving their chances for success as adults. But a body of recently published scholarship suggests that the achievement gap between rich and poor children is widening, a development that threatens to dilute education's leveling effects.

It is a well-known fact that children from affluent families tend to do better in school. Yet the income divide has received far less attention from policy makers and government officials than gaps in student accomplishment by race.

Now, in analyses of long-term data published in recent months, researchers are finding that while the achievement gap between white and black students has narrowed significantly over the past few decades, the gap between rich and poor students has grown substantially during the same period.

"We have moved from a society in the 1950s and 1960s, in which race was more consequential than family income, to one today in which family income appears more determinative of educational success than race," said Sean F. Reardon, a Stanford University sociologist. Professor Reardon is the author of a study that found that the gap in standardized test scores between affluent and low-income students had grown by about 40 percent since the 1960s, and is now double the testing gap between blacks and whites.

In another study, by researchers from the University of Michigan, the imbalance between rich and poor children in college completion -- the single most important predictor of success in the work force -- has grown by about 50 percent since the late 1980s.

The changes are tectonic, a result of social and economic processes unfolding over many decades. The data from most of these studies end in 2007 and 2008, before the recession's full impact was felt. Researchers said that based on experiences during past recessions, the recent downturn was likely to have aggravated the trend.

"With income declines more severe in the lower brackets, there's a good chance the recession may have widened the gap," Professor Reardon said. In the study he led, researchers analyzed 12 sets of standardized test scores starting in 1960 and ending in 2007. He compared children from families in the 90th percentile of income -- the equivalent of around $160,000 in 2008, when the study was conducted -- and children from the 10th percentile, $17,500 in 2008. By the end of that period, the achievement gap by income had grown by 40 percent, he said, while the gap between white and black students, regardless of income, had shrunk substantially.

Both studies were first published last fall in a book of research, "Whither Opportunity?" compiled by the Russell Sage Foundation, a research center for social sciences, and the Spencer Foundation, which focuses on education. Their conclusions, while familiar to a small core of social sciences scholars, are now catching the attention of a broader audience, in part because income inequality has been a central theme this election season.

The connection between income inequality among parents and the social mobility of their children has been a focus of President Obama as well as some of the Republican presidential candidates.

One reason for the growing gap in achievement, researchers say, could be that wealthy parents invest more time and money than ever before in their children (in weekend sports, ballet, music lessons, math tutors, and in overall involvement in their children's schools), while lower-income families, which are now more likely than ever to be headed by a single parent, are increasingly stretched for time and resources. This has been particularly true as more parents try to position their children for college, which has become ever more essential for success in today's economy.

A study by Sabino Kornrich, a researcher at the Center for Advanced Studies at the Juan March Institute in Madrid, and Frank F. Furstenberg, scheduled to appear in the journal Demography this year, found that in 1972, Americans at the upper end of the income spectrum were spending five times as much per child as low-income families. By 2007 that gap had grown to nine to one; spending by upper-income families more than doubled, while spending by low-income families grew by 20 percent.

"The pattern of privileged families today is intensive cultivation," said Dr. Furstenberg, a professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania.

The gap is also growing in college. The University of Michigan study, by Susan M. Dynarski and Martha J. Bailey, looked at two generations of students, those born from 1961 to 1964 and those born from 1979 to 1982. By 1989, about one-third of the high-income students in the first generation had finished college; by 2007, more than half of the second generation had done so. By contrast, only 9 percent of the low-income students in the second generation had completed college by 2007, up only slightly from a 5 percent college completion rate by the first generation in 1989.

James J. Heckman, an economist at the University of Chicago, argues that parenting matters as much as, if not more than, income in forming a child's cognitive ability and personality, particularly in the years before children start school.

"Early life conditions and how children are stimulated play a very important role," he said. "The danger is we will revert back to the mindset of the war on poverty, when poverty was just a matter of income, and giving families more would improve the prospects of their children. If people conclude that, it's a mistake."

Meredith Phillips, an associate professor of public policy and sociology at the University of California, Los Angeles, used survey data to show that affluent children spend 1,300 more hours than low-income children before age 6 in places other than their homes, their day care centers, or schools (anywhere from museums to shopping malls). By the time high-income children start school, they have spent about 400 hours more than poor children in literacy activities, she found.

Charles Murray, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute whose book, "Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010," was published Jan. 31, described income inequality as "more of a symptom than a cause."

The growing gap between the better educated and the less educated, he argued, has formed a kind of cultural divide that has its roots in natural social forces, like the tendency of educated people to marry other educated people, as well as in the social policies of the 1960s, like welfare and other government programs, which he contended provided incentives for staying single.

"When the economy recovers, you'll still see all these problems persisting for reasons that have nothing to do with money and everything to do with culture," he said.

There are no easy answers, in part because the problem is so complex, said Douglas J. Besharov, a fellow at the Atlantic Council. Blaming the problem on the richest of the rich ignores an equally important driver, he said: two-earner household wealth, which has lifted the upper middle class ever further from less educated Americans, who tend to be single parents.

The problem is a puzzle, he said. "No one has the slightest idea what will work. The cupboard is bare."

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February 8, 2012

We're ripe for a great disruption in higher education

Margaret Wente:

How would you like to go to MIT - for free? You can now. Starting this spring, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology will be offering free online courses to anyone, anywhere in the world, through its new digital arm, MITx. These courses will be much more than lectures on videotape. Students will be able to interact with other students online and have access to online labs and self-assessment tools. And here's the really revolutionary part: If you can show you've learned the material, for a small fee, MITx will give you a credential to prove it. No, it's not a full-blown MIT degree. But employers will probably be impressed.

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February 7, 2012

Tepid response to Nerad's plan to close achievement gap in Madison school district; $105,600,000 over 5 Years

Nathan Comp:

Madison school superintendent Dan Nerad unveiled his long awaited, and much anticipated plan (mp3 audio) to close the district's more than 40-year-old racial achievement gap Monday night before the full school board and around 75 citizens who packed into a room inside the Fitchburg library.

The 109-page plan, titled "Building Our Future: The Preliminary Plan for Eliminating Gaps in MMSD Student Achievement," makes about 40 recommendations at a cost of $60.3 million over the next five years.

Several recommendations called for building on existing programs, like AVID/TOPS, an acclaimed program that focuses on students in the academic middle.

Others, like a "parent university," a model school for culturally relevant teaching, career academies within the high schools and a student-run youth court, would be new to the district.

Ideally, substantive program review in necessities such as reading and math would occur prior to the addition of new spending.

Matthew DeFour helpfully puts dollars ($105,600,000 over 5 years, about 5.6% of the roughly $1,860,000,000 that the District will spend over the same period) to the proposal. How does that compare with current programs and the proposed the proposed Madison Preparatory IB charter school?

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Turning the Tables: VAM (Value Added Models) on Trial

David Cohen:

Los Angeles Unified School District is embroiled in negotiations over teacher evaluations, and will now face pressure from outside the district intended to force counter-productive teacher evaluation methods into use. Yesterday, I read this Los Angeles Times article about a lawsuit to be filed by an unnamed "group of parents and education advocates." The article notes that, "The lawsuit was drafted in consultation with EdVoice, a Sacramento-based group. Its board includes arts and education philanthropist Eli Broad, former ambassador Frank Baxter and healthcare company executive Richard Merkin." While the defendant in the suit is technically LAUSD, the real reason a lawsuit is necessary according to the article is that "United Teachers Los Angeles leaders say tests scores are too unreliable and narrowly focused to use for high-stakes personnel decisions." Note that, once again, we see a journalist telling us what the unions say and think, without ever, ever bothering to mention why, offering no acknowledgment that the bulk of the research and the three leading organizations for education research and measurement (AERA, NCME, and APA) say the same thing as the union (or rather, the union is saying the same thing as the testing expert). Upon what research does the other side base arguments in favor of using test scores and "value-added" measurement (VAM) as a legitimate measurement of teacher effectiveness? They never answer, but the debate somehow continues ad nauseum.

It's not that the plaintiffs in this case are wrong about the need to improve teacher evaluations. Accomplished California Teachers has published a teacher evaluation report that has concrete suggestions for improving evaluations as well, and we are similarly disappointed in the implementation of the Stull Act, which has been allowed to become an empty exercise in too many schools and districts.

Much more on "value added assessment", here.

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February 6, 2012

Madison Schools Superintendent Nerad unveils $12.4 million plan to close school achievement gap

Matthew DeFour:

Altogether, Nerad makes about 40 recommendations in six categories -- instruction, college and career readiness, culturally relevant practices, school environment, family engagement and staff diversity.

"The plan is based on the view that there isn't one thing alone the school district can do to eliminate achievement gaps," Nerad said. "We're attempting to be comprehensive with the proposal."

The plan's projected cost for next year is $12.4 million, which Nerad is recommending come from the district's untapped property taxing authority under state-imposed limits. The amount includes adding about 67.5 positions, including behavioral support staff, reading specialists and parent liaisons.

Some recommendations wouldn't take effect until future years. The district estimates they will cost $20.9 million in 2013-14 and $26.6 million by 2016-17. The district doesn't have the authority to raise property taxes by that amount, though Nerad said part of the discussion in coming months will involve whether the private and nonprofit sectors can help fund the strategies.

"We're going to have to struggle through the conversation of how to get it done," Nerad said.

Related:Listen to most of the speech via this 25mb .mp3 file.

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Evaluating the Madison Metropolitan School District's 2012 Plan to Eliminate the Racial Achievement Gap

Kaleem Caire, via email:

February 6, 2011

Greetings Community Member.

This evening, at 6pm at the Fitchburg Library, Madison Metropolitan School District Superintendent Daniel Nerad will present his plan for eliminating the racial achievement gap in our public schools to the Board of Education. We anticipate there will be many citizens in the audience listening in.

While we are pleased that our advocacy over the last 19 months has resulted in the District developing a plan to address the gap, we are also mindful of history. Our organization has pushed hard for our public school system to embrace change, address the gap and expand educational opportunity many times before.

In the 1960s, Madison learned that a wide gap existed between black and white students in reading, math and high school completion in Madison's public schools. In the 1970s, the Urban League of Greater Madison reported that just 60% of black students were graduating from the city's public high schools. In the 1980s, ULGM released a widely reported study that found the average GPA for a black high school student attending the city's public high schools was 1.58 on a 4.00 scale, with 61% scoring below a 2.0 GPA. It also found that a disproportionate number of black students were enrolled in remedial math and science classes, and that black students were significantly over-represented in special education and school suspensions. Then, in the 1990s, the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute issued a report that stated there were two school districts in MMSD, one that poorly served black children and one that served everyone else.

Today, just 48% of black and 56% of Latino students are graduating from high school. Just 1% of black and 7% of Latino high school seniors are academically ready for college. Nearly 40% of all black boys in middle school are enrolled in special education, and more than 60% of black and 50% of Latino high school students earn below a 2.0 GPA.

Over the years, several district-wide efforts have been tried. Unfortunately, many of these efforts have either been discontinued, unevenly implemented, ineffective, lacked the support of parents/community/teachers, or failed to go far enough to address the myriad needs of students, families, teachers and schools. Madison also has a well-documented history of not heeding the advice of leaders and educators of color or educational experts, and not investing in efforts to codify and replicate successful strategies employed by its most effective educators. MMSD also has not acted fast enough to address its challenges and rarely looks beyond its borders for strategies that have proven effective elsewhere in the country.

The stakes are higher now; too high to continue on our present course of incrementalism rooted in our fear of the unknown, fear of significant change, and fear of admitting that our view of Madison being the utopic experience of the Midwest and #1 city in the U.S. doesn't apply to everyone who lives here. We no longer have the luxury of time to figure out how to address the gap. We cannot afford to lose nearly 300 black, 200 Latino and an untold number of Southeast Asian and underprivileged white students each year from our public schools. And we cannot afford to see hundreds of students leave our school system each year for public and private schools outside of the Madison Metropolitan School District.

We must embrace strategies that work. We must also behave differently than we have in the past, and can no longer afford to be afraid of addressing intersection or race and poverty, and how they are playing out in our schools, social relationships and community, and impacting the educational success of our kids.

Furthermore, we need all hands on deck. Everyone in our community must play a role in shaping the self-image, expectations and outcomes of our children - in school, in the community and at home. Some children have parents who spend more quality time with their career and coworkers than with their family. Some children have a parent or relative who struggles to raise them alone. Some have parents who are out of work, under stress and struggling to find a job to provide for their family. And unfortunately, some children have parents who make bad decisions and/or don't care about their well-being. Regardless of the situation, we cannot allow the lack of quality parenting to be the excuse why we don't reach, teach, or hold children accountable and prepare them for the future.

As we prepare to review the Superintendent's plan, we have developed a rubric that will allow for an objective review of his proposal(s). The attached rubric, which you can access by clicking here, was developed and informed by members of the staff and Board of Director of ULGM, business and community leaders, and teachers and leading experts in the field of K-12 and higher education. The tool will be used by an independent Community Review Panel, organized by the Urban League. pver the next several weeks to vet the plan. The intent of this review is to ensure MMSD has an optimal plan for ensuring that all of the children it serves succeed academically and graduate from high school prepared for college and work.

Specifically, our reasons for establishing this rubric and a Community Review Panel are four-fold:
  • Develop an objective and comprehensive understanding of the plan and its many elements;
  • Objectively review the efficacy of the plan, its goals and objectives, and desired outcomes;
  • Formally communicate thoughts, concerns and ideas for supporting and/or improving the plan; and
  • Effectively engage the Madison community in supporting and strengthening its public schools.
We have high expectations of the Superintendent's plan. We hope for a bold, transformational, aggressive and concise plan, and stand ready to assist the Superintendent and his team in any way we can. We hope you will be standing their with us, with your arms outstretched and ready to uplift or babies - the next generation.

All Hands on Deck!

Team Urban League of Greater Madison

Phone: 608-729-1200
Fax: 608-729-1205
Urban League of Greater Madison 2012 Agenda

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What would Sharon do?


This is my third and (I hope) last column in a series on education. If things work as planned this is where I'll make some broad generalizations that piss-off a lot of people, incite a small riot in the comments section, after which we'll all feel better and switch to discussing the Facebook IPO. So let's get to it. I believe that education is broken in the U.S. and probably everywhere else, that it is incapable of fixing itself, and our only significant hope is to be found in the wisdom of Sharon Osbourne.

These conclusions are based on my experiences as a teacher, a parent, on the content of those two previous columns, one visit to OzzFest, and on my having this week read a couple books:

The Learning Edge: what technology can do to educate all children, by Alan Bain and Mark E. Weston.

Teaching Minds: How Cognitive Science Can Save Our Schools, by Roger Schank.

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February 5, 2012

Research about the (Achievement) Gap

Mary Battaglia kindly forwarded this email sent to the Madison School Board:

The high school graduation racial gap has been in the Madison news as though it only affects our fair city. It does not require much research, something the local media has failed to do, to see this is a national concern. According to an analysis called "Schott 50 State Report on Black Males in Public Education," nationally only 47% of black males graduated from high school in 2007. (1) It has been reported that Madison's graduation rate for black males is 50%. Obviously a pathetic rate compared to the 87% for whites, but what has not been a part of the local conversation is how Madison compares in relationship to the rest of the nation, and perhaps figure out where black males are graduating at a higher rate, and why. The Schott's report, revealed two communities with large minority populations with much better graduation outcomes than the rest of the nation, Baltimore and Fort Bend, Texas. What MMSD should be looking into is what are these cities doing, and what curricula or community effort has made them successful? One interesting part of the gap for Madison and the state of Wisconsin is the high rate of whites graduating. While Wisconsin is the worst defender in the racial gap, the states total graduation rate is one the highest in the nation.

When you read various assessments of the "reason" for the gap nationally, the theories include the lack of financial investment, lack of good teachers, and the lack of community structure. While I find these proposals reasonable, I fail to understand how in this community they are relevant. MMSD spends well over $13,000 per student, lack the overwhelming urban problems of Milwaukee and Chicago, and have many fine teachers that somehow get non-minority students educated. These excuses ring hallow as to why MMSD has such a poor rate. What does ring true is we are not educating the population as it exist today. In the last 25 years the MMSD's minority rate has increased from 20% to one closer to 48%. (2) In the last 25 years MMSD has changed from a district of less than 25% free and reduced lunch to one that is closer to 50%. (3)Madison is still teaching to the population of 25 years ago, the students have changed, but the curriculum has not.

Perhaps, MMSD could improve the graduation rate for all students, with a significant change of focus. For example, MMSD's high school's emphasize 4 year college candidates when many of the students would do better in a 2 year or technology school focus. There has been an increased coordination with MATC, but what would be beneficial is to offer a dual graduation for students, so as they graduate from MMSD, they also have a 2 year degree or a certificate from MATC. This is a system that has been successful in a high school in North Carolina. (4) A student that wants to head to college still has that opportunity and perhaps a chance to make some money to support the effort. Perhaps, another way to improve graduation outcomes would include an overhaul of the summer school program. Currently, MMSD summer school staff are paid poorly, the programs focus is mostly on students that have flunked their classes and need a recovery grade, and the programs poor reputation have lead many staff to discourage students from participating. (5) Why not invest in a comprehensive retooling of the summer program that provides a better salary for staff, and includes enrichment, regular classes, as well as recovery options. Let's find a creative summer program with smaller class sizes and build a program that is the envy of the country and one that works. If summer school is going to be provided, then make it an awesome program, not just a warehouse for failing kids. Perhaps, as most research reveals, early education is a key component to better graduation outcomes, and the district finally is getting a 4K program up and running after a decade long battle with the union.

Madison Prep was an idea, but it is a unique group of students that would select to participate in such a rigorous program, which means an already motivated student or parents with very high expectations, both factors that frequently mean a student would do well anyway. MMSD needs to look at students that may not be that motivated or academically talented and assess what works to keep them engaged. The one thing MMSD has no control over is probably the most important issue for a students outcome. Research concludes the number one predictor of a students academic success is parental expectations. (6) Our schools cannot change parental expectations, however, they can change what a student expects. MMSD students need to expect a positive future, a purpose and a reason to stay in school. Not all kids will succeed but more than half of the black male students should. Let's develop a district that gives all the students the opportunity to succeed. Public school data

This statement is based on personal experience of having many staff, from middle school up to high school, discourage my daughter who struggles in math from attending summer school. I have also spoke to many parents with the same experience.

*** Of note the data of graduation rate is debated in academic circles as the data is not always standardized. Some data includes GED and 5 year rates others include only 4 year rates.


Mary Kay Battaglia

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

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Metro Denver Promotion of Letters

Metro Denver Promotion of Letters:

We envision a writing community for students in Denver where they can enjoy writing. More often than not, schools cannot provide a place in which creativity and discovery receive one-on-one attention. Students too often view writing as yet another task for which they will be assessed and graded. We hope to help them understand that writing is a vehicle for expression and communication, for publication and storytelling.

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In Texas, a Backlash Against Student Testing

Morgan Smith:

When Christopher Chamness entered the third grade last year, he began to get stomach aches before school. His mother, Edy, said the fire had gone out of a child who she said had previously gone joyfully to his classes.

One day, when he was bored in class, Christopher broke a pencil eraser off in his ear canal. It was the tipping point for Ms. Chamness, a former teacher, and she asked to observe his Austin elementary school classroom. What she saw was a "work sheet distribution center" aimed at preparing students for the yearly assessments that they begin in third grade and that school districts depend upon for their accountability ratings.

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Parents hold keys to setting higher education expectations

Pearl Chang Esau:

Arizonans cannot afford to wait for better education. Although Arizona is one of the fastest improving states in education, at the current rate, it would take decades for our students to catch up with those in the number one state in the country, Massachusetts.

Arizona students continue to lag their national and international peers in academic performance, high school graduation rates and degree attainment. With 74 percent of Arizona fourth graders below proficient in reading and 69 percent of our eighth graders below proficient in math, the gap is only widening between the preparedness of our graduates and the skills and knowledge Arizona employers require.

Fortunately, Tucson has many examples of bright spots that show all of us the potential for Arizona education. Tucson Unified School District's University High School was recently named a 2011 Higher Performing School by the National Center for Education Achievement; Vail Unified School District is nationally recognized for its use of technology to engage students and raise student achievement; BASIS Charter School, which started in Tucson and has grown to other parts of the state, was named a top high school by Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report; and the University of Arizona is ranked among the top public research universities in the nation. All of them embrace a culture of high expectations and are working to ensure all students graduate ready to compete and succeed in the 21st century global economy.

Pearl Chang Esau is President/CEO of Expect More Arizona.

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Imbalance of power in education

The Guardian:

The dangers which Peter Wilby points out (Does Gove realise he is empowering future dictators?, 31 January) were recognised 70 years ago. Unfortunately secretaries of state know very little history. The Oxford historian Dr Marjorie Reeves, when invited to be on the Central Advisory Council For Education (England) in 1946, was told by the permanent secretary, John Redcliffe-Maud, that the main duty of council members was "to be prepared to die at the first ditch as soon as politicians try to get their hands on education".

A war had been fought to prevent the consequences of such concentrated power. The 1944 Education Act, hammered out during the war years, created a "maintained system" of education as a balance of power between central government, local government responsibility, the voluntary bodies (mainly the churches) and the teachers. That balance is now disappearing fast, without the public debate it needs and with hardly a squeak from Labour. The existing education legislation refers to the fast-disappearing "maintained schools", leaving academies and free schools exposed, without the protection of the law, to whatever whimsical ideas are dreamt up by the present or future secretaries of state, to whom they are contracted with minimal accountability to parliament.
Professor Richard Pring
Green Templeton College, Oxford

• The removal of 3,100 vocational subjects from the school performance tables from 2014 (Report, 31 January) has major implications. It is certainly the case that "perverse incentives" were created by the league tables to use soft options to boost school league table positions - the phenomenon known as gaming. However, the cull to 70 accepted vocational subjects, with 55 allowed on the margins, essentially destroys vocational and technical education. Given that the old basis is the one for the current (2012 and 2013) tables, a whole raft of students are on worthless courses.

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February 4, 2012

'Business as usual' isn't working for Madison schools

Nichelle Nichols:

I am running for the Madison School Board because I care about the state of our public schools and this community.

The facts are: I am employed at the Urban League of Greater Madison and spoke in support of Madison Prep as a parent and citizen. Am I running because Madison Prep was voted down? No. My focus is broader than the charter school proposal, but the Madison Prep vote was a defining moment in my decision to declare candidacy.

It became apparent to me as I sat in the auditorium that night that we can no longer afford to wait for our district to take the casual approach to the urgent matter of minority under-achievement. Our entire community is affected by the failure to do so.

Every child in this district -- from the at-risk, the middle-of-the-road student, to the most academically talented -- should have an equal opportunity to thrive in our school system. And here's the reality, Madison -- we are not delivering.

It's been hard for us to accept that we are a different community than we were 10 years ago, but we are. If we move beyond politically correct conversations about race and poverty, we'd readily realize that we cannot go about "business as usual."

The 2012 Madison School Board Contest:

Seat 1 Candidates:

Nichele Nichols

Arlene Silveira (incumbent)


Seat 2 Candidates:

Mary Burke

Michael Flores


Listen to the recent DCCPA candidate forum via this 75MB mp3 audio file.

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February 3, 2012

Harvard Targeted in U.S. Asian-American Discrimination Probe

Daniel Golden:

The U.S. Education Department is probing complaints that Harvard University and Princeton University discriminate against Asian-Americans in undergraduate admissions.

The department's Office for Civil Rights is investigating a complaint it received in August that Harvard rejected an Asian- American candidate for the current freshman class based on race or national origin, a department spokesman said. The agency is looking into a similar August 2011 allegation against Princeton as part of a review begun in 2008 of that school's handling of Asian-American candidates, said the spokesman, who declined to be identified, citing department policy.

Both complaints involve the same applicant, who was among the top students in his California high school class and whose family originally came from India, according to the applicant's father, who declined to be identified.

Steve Hsu on Transparency in college admissions:
Today we learned from Bloomberg that the U.S. Education Department is investigating complaints that Harvard University and Princeton University discriminate against Asian-Americans in undergraduate admissions. It is a common belief among Asian-American families that their children are held to higher academic standards than applicants from other ethnic groups, including whites. Such practices were openly acknowledged as a result of internal investigations at universities like Berkeley and Stanford in the 1980s and 1990s. Have they now been corrected?

Statistics seem to support a claim of widespread discrimination across most of elite higher education. For example, in comprehensive statistics compiled as part of Duke University's Campus Life and Learning project (as reported in a recent analysis by Duke economist Peter Arcidiacono and collaborators), Asian-American students averaged 1457 out of 1600 on the math and reading portion of the SAT, compared to 1416 for whites, 1347 for Hispanics and 1275 for blacks. There is every reason to believe that a similar pattern holds at nearly all elite universities in America, with some notable exceptions such as Caltech. In fact, Duke may be one of the mildest offenders when it comes to Asian-American admissions: with the goal of increasing its overall student quality, Duke has reportedly been more friendly recently to Asian-American applicants than traditional powers such as Harvard and Princeton.

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Transitional kindergarten, California confusion

Katy Murphy:

The parents of 4-year-olds with fall birthdays -- not yet in the public school system -- have already come face to face with the topsy-turvy ways of Sacramento.

Take the parents of kids born in November 2007. Since 2010, they've been told their children will be too young for kindergarten in 2012 under the new cutoff date, but that they will be entitled to a spot in a new grade-level, transitional kindergarten.

Now, about seven months before the first day of school, they learn that the governor is proposing to cut the program to save $223 million.

The final decision is up to the state Legislature, but -- as we all know -- that's likely months away. So, depending on where the families live, their school district might enroll them in transitional kinder anyway, hoping for the best, or inform them the class is being canceled. My colleague at the Mercury News, Sharon Noguchi, wrote about it this week.

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February 2, 2012

Arlene Silveira & Michael Flores Madison Teachers, Inc. Candidate Q & A

Michael Flores

Arlene Silveira

Question 23 has implications for the future of our public schools, along with the proposed Madison Preparatory Academy IB charter school:

Given Act 10's negative Impact on Collective Bargaining Agreements, will you introduce and vote for a motion to adopt the Collective Bargaining Agreements (182 page PDF Document) negotiated between MTI and The Madison Metropolitan School District as MMSD policy?
Both Silveira and Flores answered Yes.

Seat 1 Candidates:

Nichele Nichols

Arlene Silveira (incumbent)

Seat 2 Candidates:

Mary Burke

Michael Flores

1.25.2012 Madison School Board Candidate DCCPA Event Photos & Audio

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

I suspect that at least 60% of Wisconsn school districts will adopt their current teacher contracts as "handbooks". The remainder will try different approaches. Some will likely offer a very different environment for teachers.

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Stakes high for Nerad on achievement gap proposal, including his contract which currently expires June, 2013

Matthew DeFour:

lot is riding on Madison Superintendent Dan Nerad's upcoming plan for improving low-income, minority student achievement.

The plan is billed as a blueprint for addressing an intractable, divisive issue in Madison, and it could also factor into the upcoming School Board discussion of Nerad's future in Madison.

The United Way of Dane County has made closing the achievement gap one of its primary issues for more than 15 years through the Schools of Hope tutoring program. But president Leslie Howard said the recent debate over the proposed Madison Prepatory Academy charter school has drawn more public attention to the issue than ever before.

"I don't want to say something so grandiose that everything's at stake, but in some ways it feels like that," Howard said.

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

Related links:

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

"They're all rich, white kids and they'll do just fine" -- NOT!

Acting White

Event (2.16.2012) The Quest for Educational Opportunity: The History of Madison's Response to the Academic Achievement Gap (1960-2011)

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Wisconsin Schools "Among the Best", Financial Literacy

Tony Evers & Peter Bildsten:

Wisconsin is fortunate to have many fine K-12 schools educating our young people. The quality of this state's educational system is among the best in the United States, and the same can be said for Wisconsin teachers.

Those accolades notwithstanding, there is one area in which Wisconsin schools should consider focusing some of their educational muscle: personal financial literacy.

More than ever before, our children -- by the time they graduate from high school -- need to be able to cope in the increasingly fast-paced world of financial services.

Today, many young people rarely handle cash, opting instead for the use of debit cards, credit cards and smartphones to make purchases. Those who have jobs probably never see a paycheck because most employers use direct deposit for their payrolls. And, most teens probably have never read the fine print of the contract for their mobile telecommunications devices.

Wisconsin 25th in 2011 NAEP Reading, Comparing Rhetoric Regarding Texas (10th) & Wisconsin NAEP Scores: Texas Hispanic and African-American students rank second on eighth-grade NAEP math test.

Fascinating. Tony Evers is Superintendent of the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. Much more at

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Gentle approach is the best way to combat a shouty teacher

Julie McGuire:

My son says his teacher shouts a lot, especially at the naughty members of the class. Although this does not include him, he is quite sensitive and does not like this type of discipline. It is putting him off going to school. Can I broach this with the teacher, or should I just accept that this is her style of teaching?

Different teachers have different teaching styles. Some like to use a loud voice for effect or to make a particular impact. They may actually need to raise their voices on some occasions, depending on the classroom location and the environment. But if this style of interaction or discipline with the children is constant and consistent, it is usually not appropriate.

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How to grade a teacher: United Teachers Los Angeles and the school district should get behind a teacher-led evaluation system.

James Encinas, Kyle Hunsberger and Michael Stryer:

We're teachers who believe that teacher evaluation, including the use of reliable test data, can be good for students and for teachers. Yes, yes, we know we're not supposed to exist. But we do, and there are a lot more of us.

In February the membership of United Teachers Los Angeles will vote on a teacher-led initiative urging union leaders to negotiate a new teacher evaluation system for L.A. Unified. The vote will allow teachers' voices to be heard above the din of warring political figures.

Although LAUSD and UTLA reached a contract agreement in December that embraced important school reforms, they haven't yet addressed teacher evaluation. Good teaching is enormously complex, and no evaluation system will capture it perfectly. But a substantive teacher-led evaluation system will be far better for students and teachers than what we have now, a system in which virtually all teachers receive merely "satisfactory" ratings from administrators.

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February 1, 2012

Ritalin Gone Wrong

L. Alan Sroufe:

THREE million children in this country take drugs for problems in focusing. Toward the end of last year, many of their parents were deeply alarmed because there was a shortage of drugs like Ritalin and Adderall that they considered absolutely essential to their children's functioning.

But are these drugs really helping children? Should we really keep expanding the number of prescriptions filled?

In 30 years there has been a twentyfold increase in the consumption of drugs for attention-deficit disorder.

As a psychologist who has been studying the development of troubled children for more than 40 years, I believe we should be asking why we rely so heavily on these drugs.

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January 31, 2012

Ritalin Gone Wrong


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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American school kids trash Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution

Graeme Culliford and Nick Owens:

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

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

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

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

Many youngsters even go without lunch altogether.

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Old-school system needs its own recess

Chris Rickert:

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

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

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

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

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

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Parents provide clues to autism

Neil Tweedie:

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

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

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

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Is college too much for disadvantaged students?

Jay Matthews:

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

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

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

Anxiety for two to take away

Susie Boyt:

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

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

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January 30, 2012

An L.A. teacher reviews her review

Coleen Bondy:

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

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

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

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7th Inter-School Pakistan Mathematics Olympiads held

The Daily Times:

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

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ALEC Reports on the War on Teachers

Anthony Cody:

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

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

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

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

Allen Ruff, via a kind email:

First of a series

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

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

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

180K PDF version.

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

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

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January 29, 2012

A Disrupted Higher-Ed System

Jeff Selingo:

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

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

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

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What's Wrong With the Teenage Mind?

Alison Gopnik:

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

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

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

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

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January 27, 2012

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

Hartford Business, via a kind Doug Newman email:

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

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

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

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

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January 26, 2012

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

Posted by Julia Steiny Columnist on January 25, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

School choice is alive and growing -- in other states

Richard Rider:

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

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

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

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

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

January 25, 2012

Metacognition and Student Learning

James Lang:

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

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

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Teenage sailor Laura Dekker becomes youngest to circumnavigate the globe

Nick Meo and Joan Clements:

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

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

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

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January 24, 2012

2012 Madison School Board Candidate Website & Contact Information

Seat 1 Candidates:

Nichele Nichols

Arlene Silveira (incumbent)

Seat 2 Candidates:

Mary Burke

Michael Flores

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

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

Laurie Rogers, via a kind email:

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

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

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

Related: Math Forum audio & video.

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

Madison School Board Member Ed Hughes

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

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

The Chetty Study

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

Much more on value added assessment, here.

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

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January 23, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 8:29 PM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Oakland schools try new way of placing teachers

Jill Tucker:

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

It doesn't work that way in public education.

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

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

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

January 22, 2012

Parents Should Be Allowed to Choose Their Kids' Teacher

Andrew Rotherham:

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

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

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IQ scores are malleable

Derek Bownds:

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

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Is Milwaukee back on the reform radar?

Katy Venskus:

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

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

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Government seeks help to stop teacher-led cheating

Greg Toppo:

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

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

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January 21, 2012

Apple, America and A Squeezed Middle Class

Keith Bradsher & Charles Duhigg:

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

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

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


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

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

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:47 PM | Comments (2) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

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

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt:

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

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

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

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

Christina Bonnington has more.

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Third Rail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


"Teach by Example"
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Kids don't need our sympathy

Tamiko Jordan-Obregon:

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

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

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

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

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January 20, 2012

The Global War Against Baby Girls

Nicholas Eberstadt:

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

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January 19, 2012

How to solve the achievement gap in Madison?

Nathan Comp:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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School voucher program gets fresh look in Louisiana

Sarah Carr:

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

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

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

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Do Charter Schools Sacrifice Non-Charter Kids?

New Jersey Left Behind:

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

The comments to his post are worth pondering.

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January 18, 2012

Wolfram Education Portal

Wolfram Education:

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

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

Michael Alison Chandler:

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

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

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

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College presidents suggest differentiated tuition

Kathleen McGrory:

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

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

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

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

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Matt Damon's mom is wrong

Jay Matthews:

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

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

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

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

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January 17, 2012

Alison Head on How Students Seek Information

David Weinberger:

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

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

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

The Economist:

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

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

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

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

Ben Wieder:

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

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

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January 16, 2012

Video: What Can Charter Schools Do?

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

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

Todd Finkelmeyer

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

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

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

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

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

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January 15, 2012

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

Matthew DeFour:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peter Arcidiaconoy, Esteban M. Aucejoz & Ken Spennerx:

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

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Straight Talk About Grading @ Princeton

Shirley Tilghman:

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

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

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

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

Philipp Alexander Freund and Nadine Kasten:

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

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January 14, 2012

Madison Prep backers seek school board re-vote

Nathan Comp:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nicholas Kristof:

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

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

The correct answer? Panic!

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

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January 13, 2012

Parents Rebel Against School

Stephanie Banchero:

Fed-up parents of students attending a low-performing school in Southern California aim to use the power given to them by the state to take an unusual step: fire the school.

This power, called a Parent Trigger, was passed into law in California in 2010, but parents are attempting for only the second time to use it at Desert Trails Elementary outside Los Angeles. Their effort to force Adelanto Elementary School District to overhaul the school, or turn it into a charter school run by the parents themselves, is expected to be closely watched across the nation.

Similar legislation passed in Texas and Mississippi last year and is under consideration in Florida, Pennsylvania and Indiana this year.

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January 12, 2012

Time to Ax Public Programs That Don't Yield Results (Start with Head Start)

Joel Klein, via a kind reader's email:

Barack Obama has been accused of "class warfare" because he favors closing several tax loopholes -- socialism for the wealthy -- as part of the deficit-cutting process. This is a curious charge: class warfare seems to be a one-way street in American politics. Over the past 30 years, the superwealthy have waged far more effective warfare against the poor and the middle class, via their tools in Congress, than the other way around. How else can one explain the fact that the oil companies, despite elephantine profits, are still subsidized by the federal government? How else can one explain the fact that hedge-fund managers pay lower tax rates than their file clerks? Or that farm subsidies originally meant for family farmers go to huge corporations that hardly need the help?

Actually, there is an additional explanation. Conservatives, like liberals, routinely take advantage of a structural flaw in the modern welfare state: there is no creative destruction when it comes to government programs. Both "liberal" and "conservative" subsidies linger in perpetuity, sometimes metastasizing into embarrassing giveaways. Even the best-intentioned programs are allowed to languish in waste and incompetence. Take, for example, the famed early-education program called Head Start. (See more about the Head Start reform process.)

The idea is, as Newt Gingrich might say, simple liberal social engineering. You take the million or so poorest 3- and 4-year-old children and give them a leg up on socialization and education by providing preschool for them; if it works, it saves money in the long run by producing fewer criminals and welfare recipients -- and more productive citizens. Indeed, Head Start did work well in several pilot programs carefully run by professionals in the 1960s. And so it was "taken to scale," as the wonks say, as part of Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty.

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China: The rise of the 'Precious Snowflakes'

Malcolm Moore:

First there were the Little Emperors, the often chubby and spoiled first generation of children born under China's one-child policy. Now the Precious Snowflakes have emerged - a generation so coddled some cannot even tie their own shoelaces.

They are 'Precious Snowflakes', wrapped in cotton wool from day one," said Paul French, the founder of Access Asia, a China-based research company.

"Nothing is ever quite right for them. It is always either too hot or too cold and they are all hypochondriacs. They get immediately stressed out if they ever have to lift a finger," he said.

In a world of smog, toxic food and unsure medical care, middle-class Chinese parents are spending ever-larger sums of money to insulate their children from harm.

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Higher education: Options remain crucial

The News Times:

Congratulations to Ridgefield High School for achieving a four-year graduation rate of 97.2 percent -- among the highest in the state -- with its Class of 2010.

As a whole, high schools in Connecticut improved their four-year graduation rates from 2009 to 2010, the most recent year for which state statistics are available, exceeding 81 percent graduation in four years.

But what happens next for all of those high school graduates?
There continues to be a chasm between the economic realities many families face and the exorbitant cost of college. A quality education is well worth a long-term investment, but not lifetime indentured servitude to a student loan provider.

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January 9, 2012

A Thing or Two About Twins

Peter Miller:

They have the same piercing eyes. The same color hair. One may be shy, while the other loves meeting new people. Discovering why identical twins differ--despite having the same DNA--could reveal a great deal about all of us.

Every summer, on the first weekend in August, thousands of twins converge on Twinsburg, Ohio, a small town southeast of Cleveland named by identical twin brothers nearly two centuries ago.

They come, two by two, for the Twins Days Festival, a three-day marathon of picnics, talent shows, and look-alike contests that has grown into one of the world's largest gatherings of twins.

Dave and Don Wolf of Fenton, Michigan, have been coming to the festival for years. Like most twins who attend, they enjoy spending time with each other. In fact, during the past 18 years, the 53-year-old truckers, whose identical beards reach down to their chests, have driven more than three million miles together, hauling everything from diapers to canned soup from places like Seattle, Washington, to Camden, New Jersey. While one sits at the wheel of their diesel Freightliner, the other snoozes in the bunk behind him. They listen to the same country gospel stations on satellite radio, share the same Tea Party gripes about big government, and munch on the same road diet of pepperoni, apples, and mild cheddar cheese. On their days off they go hunting or fishing together. It's a way of life that suits them.

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January 8, 2012

Print media display political agenda and poor skills in attacking Spokane teacher

Laurie Rogers, via email:

This article is third in a series of articles regarding media coverage of public education. This article and its predecessors in the series articulate part of the reason we need a new and better news source.

Instead of discussing the myriad legal and academic issues currently surrounding Spokane Public Schools, the editors for the daily newspaper The Spokesman-Review and the weekly publication The Inlander seem determined to drum up stray rumors and unsupported accusations against AP English teacher Jennifer Walther, who perhaps was caught TWC (Teaching While Conservative).

In October 2011, Walther's Leadership Class at Ferris High School put on the annual political forum "Face-Off at Ferris." Writers for The Spokesman-Review (SR) and The Inlander have since accused Walther of allowing her political views to sway the Ferris forum in favor of mayoral and school board candidates who are thought to be politically conservative.

The accusers have not been able to support their claim by pointing at actual questions that were asked. Sitting at the Ferris forum last October, I heard people all around me saying, "Those are great questions." What does a conservative question even look like? Are only conservatives concerned about accountability, transparency, outcomes, Otto Zehm's death, water rates, union clout and misspent finances? I know plenty of Democrats and progressives who are concerned about these issues.

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January 7, 2012

Seeing a child like a state: Holding the poor accountable for bad schools -- Guest post by Lant Pritchett

anonymous @ World Bank:

In the early 20th century Helen Todd, a factory inspector in Chicago, interviewed 500 children working in factories, often in dangerous and unpleasant conditions. She asked children the question: "If your father had a good job and you didn't have to work, which would you rather do--go to school or work in a factory?" 412 said they would choose factory work. One fourteen year old girl, who was interviewed lacquering canes in an attic working with both intense heat and the constant smell of turpentine, said "School is the fiercest thing you can come up against. Factories ain't no cinch, but schools is worst."

The recent expansion of the "ASER-like" simple assessments of literacy and numeracy skills of all children in a village based approach provides an accurate, and chilling, picture of just how little learning is going on inside schools in many poor countries. The ASER data can show the learning profile, the association of measured skills and grade completion, by showing what fraction of children who have completed which grade can read a simple story (expected of a child in grade 2) or do simple arithmetic operations. Take Uttar Pradesh in 2010. By the end of lower primary school (grade 5) only one in four children could divide. Even by grade 8, the end of upper primary only 56 percent could. Similarly, by grade 5 only 44 percent could read a level 2 paragraph and by grade 8 still only 77.6 could. A large plurality of children, even of those that had persisted and been promoted through eight full grades or primary school--roughly 8000 hours of available total instruction--were either illiterate or innumerate or both.

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January 6, 2012

The Disruptive MBA


Thomas Kuhn wouldn't be impressed with the hordes of MBAs departing from top tier business schools to start new media companies, build the next big mobile gaming company, or launch another clone daily-deal site.  But that's not where Kuhn's disappointment would end.  Kuhn would probably be disheartened by the slew of intelligent students learning to code in computer science programs instead of pursuing degrees in electrical engineering or computer engineering degrees.  In short, despite the fact that technology is one of the last bright spots in an otherwise stagnating economy, Kuhn would argue that we're encouraging the wrong types of innovation in the sector.  Kuhn would push the best and brightest in our society away from building Birchbox for Baby Products and ask them to start innovating to enable less qualified builders.

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January 5, 2012

MTEL 90: Teacher Content Knowledge Licensing Requirements Coming To Wisconsin....

The Wisconsin adoption of teacher content knowledge requirements, on the form of MTEL 90 (Massachusetts Tests for Educator Licensure) by 2013-2014 would (will?) be a significant step forward via the Wisconsin Read to Lead Report), assuming it is not watered down like the oft criticized (and rightfully so) WKCE

There are significant implications for :Education School preparation/curriculum with the addition of content knowledge to teacher licensing requirements. 

Much more on Read to Lead, here and a presentation on Florida's Reading Reforms

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Academic Emphasis forces High School Football Coach to Resign

Jeff Greer:

Former Glades Central football coach Jessie Hester resigned Thursday as coach at Suncoast after just 10 months at the school.

Hester, 48, said the job at one of Palm Beach County's top academic public schools "wasn't the right fit" for him. The academic pressures the students faced made it difficult for the football team to practice and prepare for games, Hester said, adding that his team would go weeks without a full practice because his players had other school obligations.

The Chargers finished 4-6, missing the playoffs and tying for third in a five-team district.

"There are great, great people at the school, and great kids," Hester said, "but it was just not a good fit for me. It was too difficult to do the things I wanted to do in that situation."
It was no secret that Suncoast, with its nationally ranked academic programs and rigorous academic requirements, would be a more challenging job than Hester's previous job at his alma mater.

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Guessing the Teacher's Password


When I was young, I read popular physics books such as Richard Feynman's QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter. I knew that light was waves, sound was waves, matter was waves. I took pride in my scientific literacy, when I was nine years old.

When I was older, and I began to read the Feynman Lectures on Physics, I ran across a gem called "the wave equation". I could follow the equation's derivation, but, looking back, I couldn't see its truth at a glance. So I thought about the wave equation for three days, on and off, until I saw that it was embarrassingly obvious. And when I finally understood, I realized that the whole time I had accepted the honest assurance of physicists that light was waves, sound was waves, matter was waves, I had not had the vaguest idea of what the word "wave" meant to a physicist.

There is an instinctive tendency to think that if a physicist says "light is made of waves", and the teacher says "What is light made of?", and the student says "Waves!", the student has made a true statement. That's only fair, right? We accept "waves" as a correct answer from the physicist; wouldn't it be unfair to reject it from the student? Surely, the answer "Waves!" is either true or false, right?

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January 4, 2012

Chicago's poor fleeing to Wisconsin for safer streets, greater welfare benefits

New York Times news service, via a kind reader:

In Madison, the influx of poor people from Chicago is testing the city's historical liberalism. About one-quarter of the 3,300 Madison families receiving welfare are former Illinois residents.

Even Mayor Paul Soglin, who earned his liberal stripes in the anti-establishment politics of the 1960s as a Vietnam War protester, now talks of "finite limits of resources" for the poor.

"We're like a lifeboat that holds 12 people comfortably," Mr. Soglin said. "We've got about 16 in it now, and there's a dozen more waiting in the water. Since we're already in danger of going under, what can our community be expected to do?"

A vibrant economy in Wisconsin accounts for much of the migration among poor people, most of them looking for jobs. The state's unemployment rate has dipped below 4 percent while that in Illinois is 4.4 percent.

my correspondent notes:
Here is an interesting article from 1995.  Worth revisiting with Soglin back in office (just because he is the mayor quoted at the time), but mostly as it pertains to our discussions around Madison Prep.  What are the unique attributes and qualities that make up both our white population and our minority population?

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Wisconsin Read to Lead Report Released

Wisconsin Read to Lead Final Report (PDF), via several readers.  Mary Newton kindly provided this summary:

Summary of the Wisconsin Read to Lead Task Force Recommendations, January, 2012
    Teacher Preparation and Professional Development

    All teachers and administrators should receive more instruction in reading pedagogy that focuses on evidence-based practices and the five components of reading as defined by the National Reading Panel (phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension).

  1. There must be more accountability at the state level and a commitment by institutions of higher education to improving teacher preparation.

    Licensure requirements should be strengthened to include the Massachusetts Foundations of Reading exam by 2013.

    Teacher preparation programs should expand partnerships with local school districts and early childhood programs.

    Information on the performance of graduates of teacher preparation programs should be available to the public.

    A professional development conference should be convened for reading specialists and elementary school principals.

    DPI should make high quality, science-based, online professional development in reading available to all teachers.

    Professional development plans for all initial educators should include a component on instructional strategies for reading and writing.

    Professional development in reading instruction should be required for all teachers whose students continually show low levels of achievement and/or growth in reading.

  2. Screening, Assessment, and Intervention

    Wisconsin should use a universal statewide screening tool in pre-kindergarten through second grade to ensure that struggling readers are identified as early as possible.

    Proper accommodations should be given to English language learners and special education students.

    Formal assessments should not replace informal assessments, and schools should assess for formative and summative purposes.

    Educators should be given the knowledge to interpret assessments in a way that guides instruction.

    Student data should be shared among early childhood programs, K-12 schools, teachers, parents, reading specialists, and administrators.

    Wisconsin should explore the creation of a program similar to the Minnesota Reading Corps in 2013.

  3. Early Childhood

    DPI and the Department of Children and Families should work together to share data, allowing for evaluation of early childhood practices.

    All 4K programs should have an adequate literacy component.

    DPI will update the Wisconsin Model Early Learning Standards to ensure accuracy and alignment with the Common Core State Standards, and place more emphasis on fidelity of implementation of the WMELS.

    The YoungStar rating system for early childhood programs should include more specific early literacy criteria.

  4. Accountability

    The Educator Effectiveness Design Team should consider reading outcomes in its evaluation systems.

    The Wisconsin School Accountability Design Team should emphasize early reading proficiency as a key measure for schools and districts. Struggling schools and districts should be given ongoing quality professional development and required to implement scientific research-based screening, assessment, curriculum, and intervention.

    Educators and administrators should receive training on best practices in order to provide effective instruction for struggling readers.

    The state should enforce the federal definition for scientific research-based practices, encourage the use of What Works Clearinghouse, and facilitate communication about effective strategies.

    In addition to effective intervention throughout the school year, Wisconsin should consider mandatory evidence-based summer school programs for struggling readers, especially in the lower grades, and hold the programs accountable for results.

  5. Family Involvement
    Support should be given to programs such as Reach Out and Read that reach low-income families in settings that are well-attended by parents, provide books to low-income children, and encourage adults to read to children.

    The state should support programs that show families and caregivers how to foster oral language and reading skill development in children.

    Adult literacy agencies and K-12 schools should collaborate at the community level so that parents can improve their own literacy skills.

Related:  Erin Richards' summary (and Google News aggregation) and many SIS links

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Advancing the Open Front: From Credential to Credit

Steve Kolowich:

Among the "open courseware" projects at elite U.S. institutions, MITx will be the first to offer an institutional credential -- albeit not from MIT proper but from MITx, which will exist as a nonprofit apart from the university. (The Stanford professors who offered an interactive open course in artificial intelligence to all comers in the fall plan to send each non-enrolled student a certifying letter with their cumulative grade and class rank, but Stanford itself is not recognizing them.)

But MIT stamp or no, that is still a big step, says Kevin Carey, policy director at Education Sector, a D.C. think tank.

"I think this is the future," says Carey, who has written on the emerging relevance of nontraditional credentials. "It's just the logical next step for the ethic behind the [open educational resources] movement," he says.

In interviews, MIT officials took care to emphasize that MITx is not meant to supplant the traditional "residential education" that the university cultivates in its Cambridge, Mass., enclave.

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January 3, 2012

European schools create 'pipeline' of 'boardable' women

Charlotte Clarke:

When Cristina Vicini, chairwoman of the Executives' advisory board of Boston University in Brussels was in the early years of her career, in the late eighties, she had the impression that gender imbalance - a much debated topic at the time - was changing and would soon be resolved. "I cannot believe we are still talking about this in the twenty-first century," she says today.

The discussion is indeed continuing, which is why some of Europe's leading business schools have published a Call to Action designed to increase the number of women on company boards.

Written with the support of European Commission Vice-President Viviane Reding, who appealed to European schools for help in September, the seven-page manifesto has four pillars:

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January 2, 2012

State Threatens to Pull Millions for Schools in the City and Elsewhere

Fernanda Santos:

New York State's education commissioner threatened on Tuesday to withhold tens of millions of dollars in federal grants to struggling schools in New York City and nine other districts statewide if they do not prove by Saturday that they will carry out new evaluation systems for teachers and principals.

Officials and union leaders in each district must first agree on the details of the evaluation systems, like how much weight students' standardized test scores will have on the annual ratings that teachers and principals receive. Compromise has thus far proved elusive.

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January 1, 2012

Navigating Love and Autism

Amy Harmon:

The first night they slept entwined on his futon, Jack Robison, 19, who had since childhood thought of himself as "not like the other humans," regarded Kirsten Lindsmith with undisguised tenderness.

She was the only girl to have ever asked questions about his obsessive interests -- chemistry, libertarian politics, the small drone aircraft he was building in his kitchen -- as though she actually cared to hear his answer. To Jack, who has a form of autism called Asperger syndrome, her mind was uncannily like his. She was also, he thought, beautiful.

So far they had only cuddled; Jack, who had dropped out of high school but was acing organic chemistry in continuing education classes, had hopes for something more. Yet when she smiled at him the next morning, her lips seeking his, he turned away.

"I don't really like kissing," he said.

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Voices of a Quant: 'It's very tempting to just stay in the world where everything can be understood in mathematical language'

Joris Luyendijk:

We're meeting for lunch at a restaurant in Canary Wharf, where many of the major global banks are located. He is a man in his late 40s, inconspicuously dressed, and in possession of a firm handshake. He orders a Coke, and then a pasta dish he will dig in with great relish. In his volunteer email he said he was with a software firm (working in investment banking). When asked for a job description, he simply says he is a "quant".

"My parents discovered that I was of a mathematical bent aged three when I was apparently lining up my toys in order of size and then colour. I was one of these terrible, precocious kids who did their mathematics O-level aged 12. After a long academic career I ended up doing theoretical physics for my PhD, and spent a couple of years at Cern in Geneva. Many people I know from back then are still at universities, doing research and climbing the slippery slope to professorships and fellowships. They work the same astonishing long hours as I do, yet get paid a fraction and, from a purely scientific perspective, get to do some really, really interesting science. I often say (only half jokingly) that I "sold my soul" - I make a little over £200,000 a year, including my bonus.

"I am in a world of data, and I build all sorts of models for banks. For instance, one that helps a bank decide whom to lend a mortgage to. You have all this data about the person who is applying, and then the model works out the risk of lending to that person. You look at both the probability of this happening, and at the size of the loss in such an event.

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What makes some people learn language after language?

The Economist:

CARDINAL MEZZOFANTI of Bologna was a secular saint. Though he never performed the kind of miracle needed to be officially canonised, his power was close to unearthly. Mezzofanti was said to speak 72 languages. Or 50. Or to have fully mastered 30. No one was certain of the true figure, but it was a lot. Visitors flocked from all corners of Europe to test him and came away stunned. He could switch between languages with ease. Two condemned prisoners were due to be executed, but no one knew their language to hear their confession. Mezzofanti learned it in a night, heard their sins the next morning and saved them from hell.

Or so the legend goes. In "Babel No More", Michael Erard has written the first serious book about the people who master vast numbers of languages--or claim to. A journalist with some linguistics training, Mr Erard is not a hyperpolyglot himself (he speaks some Spanish and Chinese), but he approaches his topic with both wonder and a healthy dash of scepticism.

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December 31, 2011

Will high-school football become a big-money sport?

Ben McGrath:

THE SPORTING SCENE about the football program at Don Bosco Preparatory School in Ramsey, New Jersey. Don Bosco, which belongs to the Salesian order of Roman Catholicism, was founded in 1915, as a boarding school for Polish boys, and shut its dormitories for good in 1969. Its reinvention as a football factory began in 1999, with the arrival of a new principal, Father John Talamo.) Talamo, who was thirty-four, had grown up on the outskirts of New Orleans, and brought with him the football-centric values of his native Louisiana.

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Fargo's Plains Art Museum to open K-5 art education center

Dan Gunderson

The Plains Art Museum announced plans Thursday to open a "Center for Creativity" that will teach art to thousands of local elementary school students.

The $2.8 million center will open next fall near the museum in downtown Fargo.

Museum Director Colleen Sheehy said in the first year the center will serve 5,000 Fargo elementary students. Schools will pay a fee for the classes.

Ultimately, Sheehy said the new center will teach art education to the 12,000 K-5 students in the Fargo-Moorhead area. Programs offered at the center will replace some existing art education programs in the schools.

The center will significantly increase the number of people who use the museum, she said.

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Undocumented students learn about path to college

Rupa Shenoy:

More than 100 students attended Minnesota's first-ever conference for undocumented high school students seeking a college education Saturday at the University of Minnesota.

The event, organized by the group Navigate, included workshops on the legal and financial steps to college.

Navigate Executive Director Juventino Meza said the group had a lot of support for the event, but he says there was some criticism over calling it a conference for, quote, "undocumented students."

"And we decided, you know what, there is a negative rhetoric already in our communities and there is fear, and we want to make sure students have a space where they can be undocumented -- where they can talk about it and ask questions," he said.

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Study finds faults in S.C. colleges and universities

Wayne Washington:

Many South Carolina public colleges and universities are excessively expensive and have strayed too far from their core mission: educating students, according to a recent study by a Columbia-based think tank.

Tuition is rising faster than household income in South Carolina, says the study of eight colleges and universities by the S.C. Policy Council, a public policy research and education foundation that advocates for more limited government.

The study, which did not include Winthrop University, The Citadel and many other state institutions, also says:

The colleges and universities do a poor job of retaining and graduating students.

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L.A. schools' healthful lunch menu panned by students

Teresa Watanabe:

It's lunchtime at Van Nuys High School and students stream into the cafeteria to check out the day's fare: black bean burgers, tostada salad, fresh pears and other items on a new healthful menu introduced this year by the Los Angeles Unified School District.

But Iraides Renteria and Mayra Gutierrez don't even bother to line up. Iraides said the school food previously made her throw up, and Mayra calls it "nasty, rotty stuff." So what do they eat? The juniors pull three bags of Flamin' Hot Cheetos and soda from their backpacks.

"This is our daily lunch," Iraides says. "We're eating more junk food now than last year."

For many students, L.A. Unified's trailblazing introduction of healthful school lunches has been a flop. Earlier this year, the district got rid of chocolate and strawberry milk, chicken nuggets, corn dogs, nachos and other food high in fat, sugar and sodium. Instead, district chefs concocted such healthful alternatives as vegetarian curries and tamales, quinoa salads and pad Thai noodles.

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December 30, 2011

Paper pursues a political agenda as it accuses teacher of pursuing a political agenda

Laurie Rogers, via a kind email:

It's dangerous to be away. I briefly left the country a few weeks ago, and while I was gone, the district superintendent announced her retirement and The Spokesman-Review (SR) launched what I see as a media "lynching" of a local high school teacher.

Did you read about the attack on Jennifer Walther, an Advanced Placement English teacher ( search) at Ferris High School in Spokane, WA? Are you shocked by the newspaper's biased coverage? I'm not shocked. Nowadays, the SR doesn't bear much resemblance to the newspapers I've enjoyed reading. Smaller, thinner and nastier, it contains less content, less local news and more ads. Often biased, incomplete or hypocritical, the paper tolerates questionable material that fits an editorial agenda.

I'm an avid newspaper reader, but I canceled the SR in 2008 when it kept quoting unsubstantiated rumors from the ex-boyfriend of the daughter of vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin. Things have not improved since then.

Now, the SR is using its bully pulpit to accuse Walther of doing something the SR appears to do nearly every day of the week - pursue a biased political agenda. Evidence suggests that, rather than stand up for this teacher, the school district and teachers union initiated or are assisting with the pile-on.

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December 29, 2011

Do High Flyers Maintain Their Altitude? Performance Trends of Top Students

Yun Xiang, Michael Dahlin, John Cronin, Robert Theaker, Sarah Durant:

Fordham's latest study, "Do High Flyers Maintain Their Altitude? Performance Trends of Top Students," is the first to examine the performance of America's highest-achieving children over time at the individual-student level. Produced in partnership with the Northwest Evaluation Association, it finds that many high-achieving students struggle to maintain their elite performance over the years and often fail to improve their reading ability at the same rate as their average and below-average classmates. The study raises troubling questions: Is our obsession with closing achievement gaps and "leaving no child behind" coming at the expense of our "talented tenth"--and America's future international competitiveness? Read on to learn more.

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'Alarming' new test-score gap discovered in Seattle schools

Brian M. Rosenthal:

African-American students whose primary language is English perform significantly worse in math and reading than black students who speak another language at home -- typically immigrants or refugees -- according to new numbers released by Seattle Public Schools.

District officials, who presented the finding at a recent community meeting at Rainier Beach High School, noted the results come with caveats, but called the potential trend troubling and pledged to study what might be causing it.

Michael Tolley, an executive director overseeing Southeast Seattle schools, said at the meeting that the data exposed a new achievement gap that is "extremely, extremely alarming."

The administration has for years analyzed test scores by race. It has never before broken down student-achievement data by specific home language or country of origin -- it is rare for school districts to examine test scores at that level -- but it is unlikely that the phenomenon the data suggest is actually new.

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December 28, 2011

How the Food Industry Eats Your Kid's Lunch

Lucy Komisar:

An increasingly cozy alliance between companies that manufacture processed foods and companies that serve the meals is making students -- a captive market -- fat and sick while pulling in hundreds of millions of dollars in profits. At a time of fiscal austerity, these companies are seducing school administrators with promises to cut costs through privatization. Parents who want healthier meals, meanwhile, are outgunned.

Each day, 32 million children in the United States get lunch at schools that participate in the National School Lunch Program, which uses agricultural surplus to feed children. About 21 million of these students eat free or reduced-price meals, a number that has surged since the recession. The program, which also provides breakfast, costs $13.3 billion a year.

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December 27, 2011

Rankings of the States 2010 and Estimates of School Statistics 2011; Wisconsin Ranks 18th in K-12 Staffing

National Education Association Research via a kind reader's email:

The data presented in this combined report―Rankings & Estimates―provide facts about the extent to which local, state, and national governments commit resources to public education. As one might expect in a nation as diverse as the United States--with respect to economics, geography, and politics--the level of commitment to education varies on a state-by-state basis. Regardless of these variations, improvements in public education can be measured by summary statistics. Thus, NEA Research offers this report to its state and local affiliates as well as to researchers, policymakers, and the public as a tool to examine public education programs and services.
Part I of this combined report--Rankings 2010--provides state-level data on an array of topics relevant to the com- plex enterprise of public education. Since the 1960s, Rankings has presented facts and figures useful in determining how states differ from one another--or from national averages--on selected statistics. In addition to identifying emerging trends in key economic, political, and social areas, the state-by-state figures on government financing, state demographics, and public schools permit a statistical assessment of the scope of public education. Of course, no set of tables tells the entire story of a state's education offerings. Consideration of factors such as a state's tax system, pro- visions for other public services, and population characteristics also are needed. Therefore, it is unwise to draw con- clusions based solely on individual statistics in this report. Readers are urged to supplement the ranked data with specific information about state and local service activities related to public education.

Part II of this combined report--Estimates 2011--is in its 67th year of production. This report provides projections of public school enrollment, employment and compensation of personnel, and finances, as reported by individual state departments of education. Not surprisingly, interest in the improvement and renewal of public education continues to capture the attention of the nation. The state-level data featured in Estimates permit broad assessments of trends in staff salaries, sources of school funding, and levels of educational expenditures. The data should be used with the un- derstanding that the reported statewide totals and averages may not reflect the varying conditions that exist among school districts and schools within the state.

Public education in the United States is a joint enterprise between local, state, and federal governments. Yet, progress in improving public education stems primarily from the efforts of state education agencies, local districts, and indi- vidual schools. These public organizations deserve credit for recognizing that spending for education needs to be ac- knowledged as an investment in our nation's most valuable resource--children. Similarly, this publication represents a collective effort that goes well beyond the staff of the National Education Association. Individual state departments of education and the NEA's state affiliates participate in collecting and assembling the data shown here. As a result, the NEA appreciates and acknowledges the cooperation it receives from all those whose efforts make this publication possible.

Wisconsin ranks 21st in average teacher salaries (page 35), 10th in property tax revenue as a percentage of total tax revenue (page 52), 16th in per capita state individual income tax revenue (page 53) and 15th in public school revenue per student.

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Music education key for childhood development

Natalie Tejeda:

Growing up many of us played musical instruments in school but did you know that nearly half of the us population has never had any musical education. And with budget cutbacks it seems today's youth may suffer similar consequences unless parents take it upon themselves to bring music education home. Monica Snow with Primrose School stopped by the Saturday morning show to talk about how to do just that.

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In rating child care provider quality, Wisconsin can learn from other states

Milwaukee Public Policy Forum:

In June 2010, Wisconsin's Joint Committee on Finance approved YoungStar, a new quality rating and improvement system (QRIS) for the state's nearly 8,500 child care providers. YoungStar supporters believe the new system will improve the overall quality of childcare in Wisconsin by motivating and supporting providers to make quality improvements and by providing parents with the information they need to choose high-quality child care options.

In the Forum's latest Research Brief, we examine several issues and challenges that have arisen in other states or jurisdictions with QRIS policies, how those entities have tackled those challenges, and the lessons their experiences might yield for Wisconsin. We found five common implementation challenges that have confronted other states and that have the potential to occur in Wisconsin, as well.

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Trenton brings special ed. in-house

Matt Ruiz:

A year after Luiz Munoz-Rivera School shut its doors as the public school system dealt with a budget shortfall, the district has opted to reopen it for nearly the same reason.

Rebranded as the Rivera Learning Community, the school has become the flagship for the district's efforts to invest in in-house special education programs rather than send students to expensive out-of-district institutions.

The rising cost of out-of-district placement for special education students has dogged the district for years and drawn heavy criticism from the state Department of Education.

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December 26, 2011

Other cities might help Seattle close achievement gaps among black students

Paul Hill:

AFRICAN-American students are lagging behind other students, including other black ethnic students whose home language is not English, according to new numbers released by Seattle Public Schools. ["'Alarming' new test-score gap discovered in Seattle schools," page one, Dec. 19.]

This is an important problem that other cities have confronted head-on. First, they have admitted they really don't know how to solve the problem. Second, they acknowledge that the normal remedies school districts use to solve achievement problems are too weak to work.

These admissions have led other cities to open themselves up to experimentation in schools serving the most disadvantaged: longer school days and years; no-excuses instructional models; new sources of teachers; partnerships with businesses and cultural institutions that can provide enrichment and role models; use of online instruction to teach subjects like science where school staff are often not qualified; new schools run by national institutions with track records of improving achievement for the most disadvantaged.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 4:06 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Madness: Even School Children Are Being Pepper-Sprayed and Shocked with Tasers

Rania Khalek:

There is something truly disturbing about a society that seeks to control the behavior of schoolchildren through fear and violence, a tactic that harkens back to an era of paddle-bruised behinds and ruler-slapped wrists. Yet, some American school districts are pushing the boundaries of corporal punishment even further with the use of Tasers against unruly schoolchildren.

The deployment of Tasers against "problem" students coincides with the introduction of police officers on school campuses, also known as School Resource Officers (SROs). According to the Los Angeles Times, as of 2009, the number of SROs carrying Tasers was well over 4,000.

As far back as 1988, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, National Congress of Parents and Teachers, American Medical Association, National Education Association, American Bar Association, and American Academy of Pediatrics recognized that inflicting pain and fear upon disobedient children is far more harmful than helpful. Yet, we continue to do it with disturbing results, despite mountains of evidence of more effective methods of discipline.

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

3 Kansas counties join rural tuition program

Associated Press:

Three more Kansas counties have enrolled to participate in a new program that aims to attract new residents to rural areas by offering to repay college tuition debts.

The Kansas Department of Commerce said that Chautauqua, Gove and Pawnee counties had joined the state's rural opportunity zone program aimed at slowing or reversing the rate of population decline in the counties. To date, 43 of 50 eligible counties are participating.

Counties participating in the program agree to partner with the state to offer student loan reimbursements of up to $3,000 a year for five years to new college graduates. The department said there were 158 applications from across the country for the program.

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

December 25, 2011

Meet the former high school quarterback who lost a LEG playing football... and is now inspiring Tim Tebow

Associated Press:

Jacob Rainey is inspiring people all across the sports world - and no more so than giants from the NFL.

The Virginia prep quarterback who had to have part of his right leg amputated has moved the likes of Alabama coach Nick Saban, Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews and Denver quarterback Tim Tebow.

A highlight film of Rainey on YouTube shows why college coaches had taken notice.

It shows the once-promising quarterback at Woodberry Forest School throwing a 40-yard dart for a touchdown, running into the line on a quarterback sneak, then emerging from the pile and sprinting 40 yards for a TD. There is also of clip of him running a draw for another 35-yard score.

All that was taken away, without warning when he was tackled during a scrimmage on September 3. He suffered a severe knee injury and a severed artery and part of his right leg had to be amputated.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 3:45 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas


Two of our overriding efforts in Lower Education in recent years have been: 1) raising the low math and reading scores of black and Hispanic students, and 2) increasing the number of our high school and college graduates capable of employment in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics [STEM}.

Very recently evidence has been allowed to surface pointing out that while students in the bottom 10% of academic performance have indeed improved, students in the top ten percent of academic performance have stagnated, where they have not dropped out from boredom. Related evidence now suggests that complacency with secondary public education in our more affluent suburbs may have been quite misplaced as well.

As Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum point out in their recent book, That Used To Be Us, "average is over." That is to say, students in other cities (Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai) and countries (Finland, South Korea, Japan) take their educations so much more seriously than our students (and teachers) do that their economies are achieving gains on our own that are truly startling, if we take the time to notice.

If we are to retain good jobs, restart our manufacturing, and otherwise decide to compete seriously with others who seem to take both education and work more seriously than we have come to do, it might be wise to increase the interest of our students in STEM fields. According to the Kaiser Foundation, our students aged 8-18 are spending, on average, more than seven hours a day with electronic entertainment media.

Now of course we want our young people to buy our electronic entertainment hardware and software and we definitely want them to have a good time and be happy, but probably we would like them to be employable some day as well. Friedman and Mandelbaum point out that not only blue collar jobs and white collar jobs, but increasingly sophisticated professional work can be done to a high standard at a much lower cost in other countries than it can be done here.

Having our students spend 53 hours a week on their electronic entertainment media, while their high school homework tops out, in many cases, according to ACT, at three to four hours a week, is not a plan that will enable us to resume our competitive position in the world's economies.

So perhaps we should assign students in high school 15 hours a week of homework (which would reduce their media time to a mere 38 hours a week) and pass on to them the information that if they don't start working to a much much higher academic standard they will probably face a more depressing future in a greatly diminished nation than they currently imagine they will have.

But, is STEM enough? I remember the story told about a visit Sir Alexander Fleming, who discovered penicillin, made to the gleaming new Salk Laboratory in La Jolla. A young biologist, thrilled to be a guide to the Nobel Prize-winner, was very proud to be able to show off all the bright new spotless expensive state-of-the-art research equipment. When they finished the tour, the young man could not stop himself from saying, "Just think, Sir Alexander, with all this equipment, what you could have discovered!" And Sir Alexander said, "not penicillin."

Because the discovery of penicillin relied on serendipity and curiosity. Fleming found some petri dishes contaminated by something that had come in, probably, through one of the dirty old badly-closed windows in his lab in England. Instead of washing the dishes so he could start over with them, as most scientists would have done, he asked himself what could have killed off those bacteria in the dishes. And a major breakthrough was made possible.

Just in passing, amid the rush for more STEM, I would like to put in a word for serendipity, which often fuels creativity of many kinds, by making possible the association of previously unrelated ideas and memories when in contact with a new fact or situation not deliberately sought out.

I argue that serendipity is more likely to occur and to be fruitful if our students also have a lot of experience with the ROOTS of civilization, that is, the history, literature, art, music, architecture and other fields which have provided the background and inspiration for so much that we find worthwhile in human life. Steve Jobs found his course in calligraphy useful when he came to think about Macintosh software, but there are countless examples of important discoveries and contributions that have been, at least in part, grounded in the ROOTS of civilized life. So let us push for more STEM, by all means, but if, in the process we neglect those ROOTS, our achievements will be fewer, and our lives will be the poorer as a result, IMHO.

Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review

Posted by Will Fitzhugh at 3:25 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Louisiana to Push AP Courses for All

Will Sentell:

Louisiana education leaders have launched a five-year plan to reach the national average for high school students who earn college credit.

The courses, called Advanced Placement, can enhance college success and even make students more likely to attend college, officials said.

But only 4 percent of Louisiana students passed at least one AP exam in 2009, which is 49th in the nation and ahead of only Mississippi.

The national average is 16.9 percent, which state officials said is reachable by 2017.

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

December 24, 2011

We Blew It on Madison Prep

Madison School Board Member Ed Hughes:

I can't shake the feeling that something important was going on at our School Board meeting last Monday night to consider the Madison Prep charter school proposal, and that the actual School Board vote wasn't it.

The bare-bone facts are that, after about 90 public speakers, the Board voted 2-5 to reject the Madison Prep proposal. I reluctantly voted against the motion because I was unwilling to violate the terms of our collective bargaining agreement with our teachers.

After the motion failed, I moved that the Board approve Madison Prep, but delay its opening until the fall of 2013. My motion failed for lack of a second. (And no, I don't have an explanation for why neither James Howard nor Lucy Mathiak, who voted in favor of the first motion, was willing to second my motion.)

Probably like most who attended Monday night's meeting, I have thought a lot about it since. People who know I voted against the proposal have come up to me and congratulated me for what they say was the right decision. I have felt like shaking them and saying, "No, you don't understand. We blew it Monday night, we blew it big time. I just hope that we only crippled Madison Prep and didn't kill it."

I appreciate that that's an odd and surprising place for me to have ended up. To echo the Talking Heads, "Well, how did I get here?" I'll try to explain.

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

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Special education costs threaten to put Darien schools in a $250,000 hole

David DesRoches:

Despite efforts by school administration to streamline its special education services, an unforeseen 59 students joined special ed this year, causing the district to face a deficit for the third year running.

Superintendent Dr. Stephen Falcone told the Board of Education that he's expecting a $251,866 shortfall, primarily due to out of district tuition increases of more than $550,000, and another year of reduced state funding. Darien also lost $225,000 in stimulus money after receiving it for the past two years.

To close some of this gap, Falcone advised a number of saving measures to get the schools back on track. [see related story]

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

Charter association's call for closure of charter schools stirs controversy

Louis Freedberg and Sue Frey:

In a bold move that is generating controversy within its own ranks, the California Charter School Association is urging that 10 of the 145 charter schools up for renewal this year be denied their charters because they failed to meet academic performance benchmarks set by the association.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan hailed the association for its "courageous leadership" in attempting to "hold schools accountable." "This is an important conversation for California to have, and one that we need to have across the country," Duncan said, echoing remarks made by several charter school leaders.

But the association's action has also provoked fierce criticism from schools it has recommended for closure, as well as from some long-time supporters of the charter movement.

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

December 23, 2011

Thoughts on the College Search Process, Money & Parenting

Robert DeCock, via email:

Parents work very hard to get their children into college, and when that work pays off, they breathe a sigh of relief. After enduring mountains of paperwork, ruthless deadlines and constant second-guessing, the elusive acceptance letter suddenly makes it all worthwhile.

But then come the really hard questions. How are we going to pay for this? What if, after all this work, my kid doesn't do well in school? What if he doesn't graduate? What if he can't get a decent job?

The key to college success is asking all of those questions much earlier. And that means starting the planning process itself much earlier.

How early? Think middle school. Seriously.

Starting early achieves a number of significant things:

As parents, you take control of the admissions and financial aid processes, rather than those processes taking control of you.

Your child develops an early sense of purpose as it relates to college - what areas of study interest him, what colleges fit his interests and his personality, and what careers might await
You turn the tables in the admissions process. Instead of hoping that a college says "yes" to your child, the college ends up hoping that your child will say "yes" to them

That last point is important. Colleges are in search of special students - those who stand the greatest chance of success during school and after graduation. Establishing early relationships with potential colleges can put your family in the position of "seller" instead of "buyer," giving you financial leverage and negotiating power. And when that happens, aid packages can go up dramatically - sometimes by $2,000...$5,000...even $10,000 per year.

For parents, an early start in college planning often results in significant tuition savings. For students, starting early greatly improves the chances of success during the college years and the post-graduation job market.

For both of you, there's an added benefit - less stress and a more enjoyable, rewarding experience.

Robert DeCock is a Certified College Planning Specialist (CCPS) with the National Institute of Certified College Planning Specialists. DeCock runs the Quest Pre-College Planning and Financial Aid Workshops, which provide hands-on, step-by-step, proven best practices for parents who want to minimize costs and maximize their child's opportunity for success. Visit or call 608.438.2941 for more information.

Robert is holding a Pre-College Workshop is on Thursday, January 12, 5-8:00. Contact him for details.

Robert recently contacted me via the Madison Chamber of Commerce. I've met him once and found the conversation interesting. Contact him if you'd like to attend a Pre-College workshop or have questions.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:50 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

High School Flight from Reading and Writing

Academic Questions, the journal of the
National Association of Scholars: 90K PDF

As concerns mount over the costs and benefits of higher education, it may be worthwhile to glance at the benefits of high school education at present as well. Of course, high school costs, while high, are borne by the taxpayers in general, but it is reasonable to hope that there are sufficient benefits for such an outlay.

In fact, 30 percent of ninth-grade students do not graduate with their class, so there is a major loss right there. In addition, it appears that a large fraction of our high school graduates who go on to college leave without taking any credential or degree within eight years. On November 17, 2008, the Boston Globe reported, "About two-thirds of the city's high school graduates in 2000 who enrolled in college have failed to earn degrees, according to a first-of- its-kind study being released today."1 The fact that this is a new study shows that the days of taking not just college, but high school education for granted may be ending as well. If public high schools were preparing their graduates (the 70 percent) adequately, they should be able to read and write in college.

Alternatives to high school are coming only slowly. Charter schools, some good and some bad, are being tried. Homeschooling serves some 1.5 million students, and some edupundits (and computer salesmen) are pushing for ever more use of virtual distance learning at the high school level.

Posted by Will Fitzhugh at 4:25 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Segregated Charter Schools Evoke Separate But Equal Era in U.S.

John Hechinger:

At Dugsi Academy, a public school in St. Paul, Minnesota, girls wearing traditional Muslim headscarves and flowing ankle-length skirts study Arabic and Somali. The charter school educates "East African children in the Twin Cities," its website says. Every student is black.

At Twin Cities German Immersion School, another St. Paul charter, children gather under a map of "Deutschland," study with interns from Germany, Austria and Switzerland and learn to dance the waltz. Ninety percent of its students are white.

Six decades after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down "separate but equal" schools for blacks and whites, segregation is growing because of charter schools, privately run public schools that educate 1.8 million U.S. children. While charter-school leaders say programs targeting ethnic groups enrich education, they are isolating low-achievers and damaging diversity, said Myron Orfield, a lawyer and demographer.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 4:16 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Iowa Education report: Minority enrollment up, total student numbers fall

Mike Wiser:

Iowa's school population is shrinking at the same time it becomes poorer and more racially and ethnically diverse, according to an Iowa Department of Education report released Wednesday.

The Annual Condition of Education report compiles a variety of statistics from the previous school year.

Wednesday's 209-page report shows the continuation on several trends in Iowa's school systems across the state.

"It's useful in many ways," said Jay Pennington, the department's bureau chief of information and analysis services. "It provides local districts with a way to compare themselves with others in the state and provides the public with a lot of information about their district and others."

Highlights of the report include:

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 4:13 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Madison Prep, at Bottom

Rebecca Kemble:

The most straightforward, clear and dispassionate vote taken on the Madison Preparatory Academy charter school proposal at last Monday's Madison Metropolitan School District Board meeting didn't even count. It was the advisory vote cast by the student representative, Philippo Bulgarelli.

The School Board turned down the controversial proposal on a 5-2 vote, and after nearly five hours of public testimony, all the school board members gave speeches explaining how they arrived at their decisions. In addition to being the most succinct, Bulgarelli's statement penetrated all of the intense emotions and wildly divergent interpretations of data and personal anecdotes used to argue both for and against the proposal. Bulgarelli said that the students for whom he speaks did not have enough information to make a reasonably good decision, so he voted to abstain.

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

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

December 22, 2011

A Sociobiological Approach for At-Risk High School Students

PLoS/One: A Program for At-Risk High School Students Informed by Evolutionary Science

Improving the academic performance of at-risk high school students has proven difficult, often calling for an extended day, extended school year, and other expensive measures. Here we report the results of a program for at-risk 9th and 10th graders in Binghamton, New York, called the Regents Academy that takes place during the normal school day and year. The design of the program is informed by the evolutionary dynamics of cooperation and learning, in general and for our species as a unique product of biocultural evolution. Not only did the Regents Academy students outperform their comparison group in a randomized control design, but they performed on a par with the average high school student in Binghamton on state-mandated exams. All students can benefit from the social environment provided for at-risk students at the Regents Academy, which is within the reach of most public school districts.

One body of knowledge that we drew upon to design the Regents Academy is based on the work of Elinor Ostrom [19], [20], who received the Nobel Prize for economics in 2009. Ostrom is a political scientist by training but has become part of the evolutionary science community. Working primarily with groups attempting to manage common pool resources, she identified eight design features that contributed to the success of each group, which can also be used by groups attempting to achieve other shared objectives. Briefly, the design features are: 1) a strong group identity, including understanding and agreeing with the group's purpose; 2) benefits proportional to costs, so that the work does not fall unfairly on some individuals and unearned benefits on others; 3) consensus decision-making, since most people dislike being told what to do but will work hard to achieve their own goals; 4) low-cost monitoring, so that lapses of cooperation can be easily detected; 5) graduated sanctions to correct misbehaviors, which begin with friendly reminders and escalate only as needed; 6) conflict resolution that is fast and perceived as fair by group members; 7) sufficient autonomy for the group to make its own decisions without interference from other groups; 8) relations among groups that embody the same principles as the relations among individuals within the group. These design features are consilient with the general evolutionary dynamics of cooperation and the social environment of small-scale human societies throughout our own history as a species. Any educational program, including one for at-risk high school students, can potentially benefit from implementing these design features.

A second body of knowledge that we drew upon concerns development and psychological functioning, e.g., in benign vs. harsh environments [21]-[23]. The dysfunctions that arise from harsh environments are often interpreted as breakdowns of normal development and psychological functioning. While this is sometimes the case, evolutionary science offers an alternative possibility. Humans, like all species, are adapted to cope with harsh environments, but these adaptations involve tradeoffs with respect to long-term individual welfare and conduct toward others. Learning and cooperation to achieve long-term goals are eclipsed by the need to survive and reproduce over the short term. Some adaptations to harsh environments operate early in life and are difficult to reverse, such as the insecure attachment styles first documented by pioneering evolutionary psychologist John Bowlby [24], which has led to an extensive body of recent research [25]. Other mechanisms operate in response to immediate circumstances and can be modified by providing a safer and more secure environment [26], [27]. Most at-risk adolescents have experienced hardship throughout their lives, making it difficult for them to adapt to a safe and secure environment. Moreover, even if such an environment can be provided at school, the rest of their lives often remain harsh. Providing a safe and secure school environment might therefore not be sufficient, but it is surely necessary for at-risk students to cooperate and to achieve long-term goals.

A third body of knowledge that we drew upon concerns basic principles of learning that apply to many species [28], along with more specific adaptations for learning and cultural transmission in human groups [16], [29]-[34]. In a longitudinal study of students who were identified as gifted at the beginning of high school, Csikszentmihalyi et al. [35] examined the factors that led some to fulfill their promise and others to become merely average by the end of high school. It was primarily those who enjoyed what they were doing over the short term that developed their talents. The prospect of a long-term benefit, such as a career in science, was not sufficient to sustain day-to-day activities that were unrewarding. If this is true for the most gifted students, then it applies with even greater force for the most at-risk students [36]. If cooperation and learning outcomes aren't rewarding over the short term (what B.F. Skinner called "selection by consequences" [37]), positive outcomes cannot be expected over the long term. In addition, human groups evolved adaptations for social learning and spreading information for thousands of years before the advent of any formal school program. In modern times, complex bodies of information are culturally transmitted in hunter gatherer and many traditional societies largely without formal instruction [38]. Knowing how this occurs can help teachers shape their curriculum, instruction, and assessment to better maximize their students' natural tendencies to learn, and to make learning and teaching more spontaneous and self-organizing in modern classroom environments [39], [40].

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

The five-member majority of the board blew it this week by voting down the Urban League of Greater Madison's request for an unusual charter school called Madison Prep

Wisconsin State Journal:

The school would have offered a longer school day and year, higher standards and expectations, uniforms, mandatory extracurricular activities, same-sex classrooms, more minority teachers as role models, and stepped-up pressure on parents to get involved in their children's education.

Madison Prep represented a huge opportunity -- with unprecedented community support, including millions in private donations -- to attack the stubborn achievement gap for low-income and minority students.

But a majority of the School Board rejected Madison Prep, citing excuses that include a disputed clause in its teachers union contract and a supposed lack of accountability.

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

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:59 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Cal State campuses overwhelmed by remedial needs

Matt Krupnick:

Wracked with frustration over the state's legions of unprepared high school graduates, the California State University system next summer will force freshmen with remedial needs to brush up on math or English before arriving on campus.

But many professors at the 23-campus university, which has spent the past 13 years dismissing students who fail remedial classes, doubt the Early Start program will do much to help students unable to handle college math or English.

"I'm not at all optimistic that it's going to help," said Sally Murphy, a communications professor who directs general education at Cal State East Bay, where 73 percent of this year's freshmen were not ready for college math. Nearly 60 percent were not prepared for college English.

"A 15-hour intervention is just not enough intervention when it comes to skills that should have been developed over 12 years," Murphy said.

The remedial numbers are staggering, given that the Cal State system admits only freshmen who graduated in the top one-third of their high-school class. About 27,300 freshmen in the 2010 entering class of about 42,700 needed remedial work in math, English or both.

Related: Madison's Math Task Force and K-12 Literacy Program Evaluation.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:15 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Kaleem Caire should run for School Board

The Capital Times:

Madison Urban League President Kaleem Caire fought hard to win approval of his Madison Prep project. But the Madison School Board ultimately rejected a plan that would have steered tens of millions of taxpayer dollars into a project that board members felt lacked sufficient oversight and accountability.

The response of Caire and his fellow Madison Prep advocates was to suggest a variety of moves: the filing of a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice, or perhaps a request for state intervention to allow the project to go forward without state approval.

We would suggest another approach.

Caire has succeeded in garnering a good deal of support for Madison Prep. He could capitalize on that support and make a run for the School Board.

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

Changing the school board would either require: patience (just two of seven seats: Lucy Mathiak, who is not running after two terms and Arlene Silveira, who apparently is seeking a third term) are up in April, 2012 or a more radical approach via the current Wisconsin method (and Oakland): recalls. Winning the two seats may not be sufficient to change the Board, given the 5-2 no vote. Perhaps the "momentum", if realized, might sway a vote or two?

Perhaps the TAG complaint illustrates another approach, via the courts and/or different government agencies.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 9:02 AM | Comments (4) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

An RTT Cookbook With One Recipe

Julie McCargar:

I am ambivalent. My state, Tennessee, is the first state that has implemented the annual teacher and principal evaluations as required by Race to the Top (RTT). In 2010, I was involved with writing Tennessee's successful RTT application, especially the section on "great teachers and leaders." In my state role, I celebrated the RTT requirement for annual teacher and principal evaluations based substantially on student growth as one of the most important levers to accelerate student achievement.

Now, in 2011, I am at the local level watching the fall-out. Although I still support annual teacher evaluations that include student achievement growth and regular teacher observation scores, it is clear that the initiative is off to a rocky start. And this has implications for more than just the educators and students in Tennessee. As noted in Education Week, many policymakers are concerned that the rocky implementation of Tennessee's new teacher evaluation system may hinder efforts in other states.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 4:23 AM | Comments (1) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Madison Prep proponents raise possibility of creating private school

Matthew DeFour:

Supporters of a controversial charter school proposal geared toward low-income, minority students said Tuesday they will continue to fight to establish it next fall -- including possibly as a private school.

Their comments came Tuesday after the Madison School Board voted 5-2 early that day to reject a proposal for Madison Preparatory Academy, which would offer single-sex classrooms and a college preparatory curriculum.

The board didn't vote on an alternate proposal to approve the school but delay its opening until 2013.

David Cagigal, president of the Madison Prep board, said a private school would be expensive because the school's target low-income population wouldn't be able to afford tuition. Instead, the board would ask private donors to replace the roughly $9,300 per pupil it had sought from the School District.

"Maybe money is not the issue if we want to go ahead and prove our point," Cagigal said. "I can assure you we will persist with this idea of closing the achievement gap."

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

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

Whither Madison Prep...

Peter Sobol:

The proposed Madison Prep Charter School was voted down by the Madison school board on Monday. A bold proposal to address the achievement gap in Madison, Madison Prep supporters have a very good point- the status quo is not working for minority students.

There wasn't any magic to the Madison Prep proposal: longer school year, extended school days, smaller class ratios, additional support services, we know these things work, and taken together these things would likely make a significant impact on student achievement. But all these things cost significant amounts of money which is ultimately the problem. What distribution of resources is the most effective and fair?

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

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 3:25 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

December 21, 2011

Shocking outcome of School Board vote: MMSD says NO to Madison Prep

Kaleem Caire, via email:

Dear Madison Prep,

First, thank you to all of you who have supported the Madison Prep effort to this point. Your volunteer hours, work on Design Teams, attendance at meetings, letters to the district and media, and many other acts of support have not gone unnoticed by the Urban League and Madison Prep.

In earlier morning hours today, the MMSD Board of Education voted 5-2 AGAINST Madison Prep. This outcome came after hours of testimony by members of the public, with Madison Prep supporters outnumbering opponents 2:1. Lucy Mathiak and James Howard voted YES for Madison Prep; Ed Hughes, Arlene Silviera, Beth Moss, Maya Cole, and Marj Passman voted NO. After the vote was taken, Ed Hughes made an amendment to the motion to establish Madison Prep in 2013 (rather than 2012) in order to avoid what some see as a conflict between Madison Prep and the teachers' union contract. Mr. Hughes' motion was not seconded; therefore there was no vote on establishing Madison Prep one year later.

While the Urban League and Madison Prep are shocked by last night's outcome, both organizations are committed to ensuring that Madison Prep becomes a reality for children in Madison. We will continue to press for change and innovation in the Madison Metropolitan School District and Dane County to ensure that the racial achievement gap is eliminated and that all children receive a high quality education that adequately prepares them for their future.

We will advance a number of next steps:

1.We will pursue different avenues, both public and private, to launch Madison Prep. We are still hopeful for an opening in 2012. There will be much the community will learn from Madison Prep and our children need this option now.

2.We will continue to coordinate community support and action to ensure that the Madison Metropolitan School District is accountable for eliminating the racial achievement gap. We will consider several strategies, such as implementing a Citizen Review Board that will hold the school board and district administration accountable for good governance, planning, implementation, execution, community engagement and student achievement results. We will also consider legal avenues to ensure MMSD understands and responds to the community's sense of urgency to address the sizable and decades-long failure rates of Black and Latino children.

3.We must also address the leadership vacuum in K-12 education in Madison. Because of this, we will ensure that parents, students and community members are informed of their rights and responsibilities, and have a better understanding of promising educational strategies to close the achievement gap. We will also work to ensure that they have opportunities to be fully engaged in planning, working and deciding what's best for the children educated in our public schools.

4.We will continue to work in collaboration with MMSD through our existing partnerships, and hope to grow these partnerships in the future.

Thank you for everything you have done and continue to do to ensure that children in our schools and families in our community have hope, inspiration, support and opportunity to manifest their dreams and make a difference in their own lives and the lives of others.


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

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After Madison Prep vote, it's time to shake things up

Joseph Vanden Plas:

There's nothing like standing in the schoolhouse door.

For me, the Madison School Board's 5-2 vote to shoot down Madison Preparatory Academy, a proposed charter school specifically designed for low-income minority students, brings to mind images of George Wallace standing in the schoolhouse door to block the integration of the University of Alabama, or state officials blocking James Meredith's enrollment at the University of Mississippi.

If you think that's harsh, remember that those pieces of history were not only about Civil Rights and desegregation, they were about every person's right to pursue a quality education.

In the Madison Metropolitan School District, a 48% graduation rate among African American students indicates that quality has not been achieved. Not even close.

Fortunately, this is one dream that's not going to be allowed to die. Kaleem Caire, president of the Urban League of Greater Madison, is the driving force behind Madison Prep, and he isn't ready to wave the surrender flag.

Following the school board vote, Caire vowed to file a racial discrimination lawsuit with the U.S. Department of Justice, and he also urged supporters of Madison Prep to run for school board.

Love it, love it, love it.

At one point in the development of Madison Prep, Caire sounded optimistic that the school district was a real partner, but the majority of board members had other ideas. Caire and the Urban League did their best to address every objection critics put in their way, and now it's clear that the intent all along was to scuttle the project with a gauntlet of hurdles.

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

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To Stay Great, Never Forget Your Basics

This interview with Geoffrey Canada, president and C.E.O. of the nonprofit Harlem Children's Zone, was conducted and condensed by Adam Bryant.

Q. What were some early management challenges for you?

A. At a school in Massachusetts where I once worked, we managed early on through consensus. Which sounds wonderful, but it was just a very, very difficult way to sort of manage anything, because convincing everybody to do one particular thing, especially if it was hard, was almost impossible.

Q. How big a group was this?

A. There were about 25 teachers and instructors and others. And very quickly I went from being this wonderful person, "Geoff is just so nice, he's just such a great guy," to: "I cannot stand that guy. He just thinks he's in charge and he wants to do things his way." And it was a real eye-opener for me because I was trying to change something that everybody was comfortable with. I don't think we were doing a great job with the kids, and I thought we could perform at a higher level.

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Teachers to be evaluated on new system in 2012-13

Megan Rolland:

Educators from across the state made a last-ditch effort Thursday to sway the state Education Board toward adopting their favorite of three teacher evaluation systems that next year will be used to evaluate every teacher in Oklahoma.

In the end, the board decided not to decide.

After an almost equal amount of support was expressed for two of the three systems, the board voted to adopt all three models for a one-year pilot.

School districts will be able to select any of the three models and will receive a portion of approximately $1.5 million in funding for the evaluation system based on student enrollment numbers.

"When I hear the dialogue back and forth about the strengths and weaknesses of these systems, I wonder if it's really about the strengths and weaknesses of these systems or if it's about who gets the money to further develop their model," said state Education Board Member Lee Baxter, of Lawton. "I'd like to find a way to not make this decision. I'd like to find a way to go through the pilot program and allow the districts to be involved with the evaluation system that they want to over a year's period of time."

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For Cornell Tech School, a $350 Million Gift From a Single Donor

Richard Perez-Pena:

The donor whose $350 million gift will be critical in building Cornell University's new high-tech graduate school on Roosevelt Island is Atlantic Philanthropies, whose founder, Charles F. Feeney, is a Cornell alumnus who made billions of dollars through the Duty Free Shoppers Group.

Mr. Feeney, 80, has spent much of the last three decades giving away his fortune, with large gifts to universities all over the world and an unusual degree of anonymity. Cornell officials revealed in 2007 that he had given some $600 million to the university over the years, yet nothing on its Ithaca campus, where he graduated from the School of Hotel Management in 1956.

The $350 million gift, the largest in the university's history, was announced on Friday, but the donor was not named. Officials at Atlantic Philanthropies confirmed on Monday evening that it was Mr. Feeney, a native of Elizabeth, N.J., who is known for his frugality -- he flies coach, owns neither a home nor a car, and wears a $15 watch -- as well as his philanthropic generosity, particularly to medical research.

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On the 5-2 Madison School Board No (Cole, Hughes, Moss, Passman, Silveira) Madison Preparatory Academy IB Charter School Vote (Howard, Mathiak voted Yes)

The Madison School Board voted early Tuesday morning against a charter school geared toward low-income minority students.

Moments later, Urban League of Greater Madison President Kaleem Caire announced to a crowd of emotional supporters that he planned to file a racial discrimination lawsuit with the U.S. Justice Department. He also urged the supporters to run for School Board.

"We are going to challenge this school district like they've never been challenged before, I swear to God," Caire said.

The School Board voted against the plan 5-2, as expected, just after midnight. In the hours leading up to the vote, however, hundreds of Madison Preparatory Academy supporters urged them to change their minds.

More than 450 people gathered at Memorial High School for public comments, which lasted more than four hours.

It was the first School Board meeting moved to Memorial since a 2001 debate over the Pledge of Allegiance in schools.

Nathan Comp:
But the night's harshest criticism was leveled not at the proposal but at the board itself, over a perceived lack of leadership "from the superintendent on down."

"You meet every need of the unions, but keep minority student achievement a low priority," said one parent.

Others suggested the same.

"This vote is not about Madison Prep," said Jan O'Neill, a citizen who came out to speak. "It's about this community, who we are and what we stand for -- and who we stand up for."

Among the issues raised by opponents, the one that seemed to weigh heaviest on the minds of board members was the non-instrumentality issue, which would've allowed Madison Prep to hire non-union staff.

A work preservation clause in the district's collective bargaining agreement with the teacher's union requires the district to hire union staff. Board member Ed Hughes said he wanted to approve Madison Prep, but feared that approving a non-instrumentality school would put the district in breach of its contract with Madison Teachers, Inc.

"It's undeniable that Madison school district hasn't done very well by its African American students," he said. "But I think it's incumbent upon us to honor the contract."

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

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December 20, 2011

Middleton's Clark Street Community Charter School

Clark Street Community Charter School, via a kind reader's email:

(new charter school being opened in the MASH [Middleton Alternative Senior High School] building. This proposal got started less than a year ago, got a planning grant from DPI in August, and will open in the fall.)
Middleton High School Black Students Find A Voice
It's Thursday morning and a group of students are seated around an oblong table in a classroom at Middleton High School.

Most of the students are black. A few are white. Together they make up the school's Black Student Union (BSU), which was founded last year thanks in large part to the work of a few dedicated teen-agers. Today they are passing around a small toy, a black and white Holstein cow (the student holding the cow has the floor), and talking candidly about issues of race.

"I don't want us to be a joke," said one student. "I don't see other student organizations treated like a joke, and I want this one taken seriously, too."

Another turns her criticism inward, saying she feels it is important that African-American students not perpetuate negative stereotypes about themselves in the school's corridors.

Yet another suggests holding more public events and charitable activities, prompting one young woman to volunteer to prepare food for a bake sale.

Much more on the Clark Street Community Charter School.

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Buying the Professor a BMW

Perry Zirkel:

In a casual conversation between an upper-middle-class parent and a senior faculty member at a four-year institution of higher education, the parent bemoaned the steep increase in the cost of sending his youngest daughter to college, compared to that of her eldest sibling. Clearly intimating that the substantial monetary difference went into the faculty member's pocket, the parent quipped, "I hope you are enjoying the car that I bought for you."

This parent's conclusion raises two questions -- one about rising costs and the other about faculty salaries. Addressing these questions must take into consideration various factors. First, for example, institutions of higher education vary widely. The answers here are limited to four-year public and private, nonprofit colleges and universities. Second, the sources of data vary in their objectivity and in their time periods. These answers identify the sources, which are reputable as not particularly skewed. Similarly, although not uniformly available for the same long-term period, the cited data cover at least 8-10 years so as not to rely on short-term changes.

Question 1: Have college prices to parents really risen steeply, when inflation, institutional financial aid grants, and other sources of "tuition discounting" are taken into account?

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Shorewood writer is voice for change in substitute teaching

Alan Borsuk:

Carolyn Bucior now has greater respect for classroom teachers.

She also has a greater sense of annoyance at some teachers.

And she has a grasp on a generally ignored issue in education that has led to her voice being heard nationally.

Substitute teaching is usually looked at somewhat benignly as one of those things that is part of school life. Like everyone else, teachers get sick sometimes or have other reasons to be absent. So someone gets called in to fill in.

I suspect everyone knows this is unlikely to be productive. Goofing off (or worse) when a sub is in the classroom has been a staple of student life since schools were invented.

You have to have an adult keep an eye on what kids are doing, but to expect education to move forward when someone steps in cold is rarely realistic. Well, maybe to watch a video the teacher left behind.

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School Board won't back Madison Prep Academy opening in 2012

Matthew DeFour:

A majority of the Madison School Board won't support opening next fall a controversial, single-sex charter school geared toward low-income minority students.

But it's unclear whether a compromise proposal to start Madison Preparatory Academy in 2013 will gain enough votes Tuesday night when the board meets.

School Board members Beth Moss and Arlene Silveira were the latest to publicly express their opposition to the current proposal for the school.

Moss said Monday in a letter to the State Journal published on that she doesn't believe the school will help the neediest students. Silveira confirmed her opposition in an interview.

The seven-member board is scheduled to vote Tuesday night on the proposal.

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

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Nothing will change if we do nothing -- or more of the same

Kaleem Caire:

For the last 17 months, I have followed the commentary and misinformation shared about our organization's proposal to establish Madison Preparatory Academy.

Some who have written and commented about our proposal have been very supportive; others don't think Madison Prep should exist. With less than 24 hours until the Madison School Board votes on the school, we would like to bring the public back to the central reasons why we proposed Madison Prep in August 2010.

First, hundreds of black and Latino children are failing to complete high school each year. In 2009, the Madison School District reported that 59 percent of black and 61 percent of Latino students graduated. In 2010, the percentage of graduates dropped to 48 percent for Black and 56 percent for Latino students. This not only has an adverse impact on our young people, their families and our community, it results in millions in lost revenue to the Madison district every year.

Second, in 2010, just 20 percent of the 387 black and 37 percent of the 191 Latino seniors enrolled in the district completed the ACT college entrance exam. The ACT is required for admission by all public colleges and universities in Wisconsin. Unfortunately, just 7 percent of black and 18 percent of Latino student who completed the ACT were "ready for college." This means that only 5 of 387 black and 13 of 191 Latino students were academically ready for college.

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

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December 19, 2011

Education reformer urges zero tolerance for failure

Deidre Williams:

The main principle of the Harlem Children's Zone is simple: When failure is not allowed, success prevails.

"Are your kids graduating high school? No. Are your kids going to college? No. That's not success," Geoffrey Canada, president and chief executive officer of the Harlem Children's Zone, asked a Buffalo audience Friday.

Canada, nationally recognized as an advocate for education reform, was the keynote speaker at the first Education Summit presented by the Community Action Organization of Erie County's Education Task Force.

Entitled "Power of Education -- Children First," the summit was held at the Adam's Mark Hotel in downtown Buffalo. The purpose was to advance the cause of educational reform in the interests of children across Western New York and explore how to create those opportunities. About 300 people attended.

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December 18, 2011

Charter school accountability debate

Katy Murphy:

Yesterday, the California Charter Schools Association caused a stir. The pro-charter group came out with a list of 10 independently-run schools it deemed underperforming -- and encouraged their respective school districts to close them when their 5-year contracts expire!

That list included West County Community High in Richmond, as my colleague Hannah Dreier reported in today's paper. Leadership High in San Francisco was also on it.

The complete list included 31 schools, but the association only published the names of those that are nearing the end of their 5-year terms and seeking a charter renewal.

Here's the reasoning behind the mov, from the news release:

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December 17, 2011

Marijuana Use Growing Among Teenagers

Anahad O'Connor:

One out of every 15 high school students smokes marijuana on a near daily basis, a figure that has reached a 30-year peak even as use of alcohol, cigarettes and cocaine among teenagers continues a slow decline, according to a new government report.

The popularity of marijuana, which is now more prevalent among 10th graders than cigarette smoking, reflects what researchers and drug officials say is a growing perception among teenagers that habitual marijuana use carries little risk of harm. That perception, experts say, is fueled in part by wider familiarity with medicinal marijuana and greater ease in obtaining it.

Although it is difficult to track the numbers, "we're clearly seeing an increase in teenage marijuana use that corresponds pretty clearly in time with the increase in medical marijuana use," said Dr. Christian Thurstone, medical director of the adolescent substance abuse treatment program at Denver Health and Hospital Authority, who was not involved in the study. Medical marijuana is legal in 16 states, including Colorado, and the District of Columbia.

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Cell Phones & Driving

Ed Wallace:

One drive back from Dallas on Interstate 30 is indelibly etched into my memory. I was in the center lane. And just forward of me in the right lane, a soft-top Jeep slowly started drifting across all three lanes of traffic, never slowing down. I honked my horn to alert the driver, but the Jeep left the highway and slammed into the first wooden pike in a crash barrier, throwing the vehicle's rear end so high that I thought it might flip over.

Pulling onto the shoulder 50 or so feet ahead of the Jeep, I ran back, expecting the worst. But, while the driver was certainly going to be bruised, she was actually all right. So was her dog, in the front passenger floorboard. When I asked what had happened, she said she'd leaned over to pour some water into her dog's bowl on the floorboard and just wasn't paying attention. But I'd watched this accident unfold over five to seven seconds: She didn't just lean over for a second, she was completely oblivious to her loss of control of her vehicle until it crashed. I couldn't help but notice all the prescription bottles littering the Jeep's interior; one, filled the day before, was for Valium.

Because I had my cell phone with me, I had called Arlington 911 before I ever made it to her wreck.

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December 16, 2011

Madison Prep Closing Argument, Part II: Yes, but with a Delay

Madison School Board Member, Ed Hughes:

I want to support the Urban League's Madison Prep charter school proposal. It is undeniable that the Madison School District has not done well by its African-American students. We need to accept that fact and be willing to step back and give our friends at the Urban League an opportunity to show us a better way.

The issue is far more complicated than this, however. There are a number of roadblocks on the path to saying yes. I discuss these issues below. Some are more of an obstacle than others.

The biggest challenge is that a vote in favor of Madison Prep as it is currently proposed amounts to a vote to violate our collective bargaining agreement with our teachers. I see no way around this. I believe in honoring the terms of our contracts with our employees. For me, this means that I have to condition my support for Madison Prep on a one-year delay in its opening.

Most other obstacles and risks can be addressed by including reasonable provisions in the charter school contract between the school district and Urban League.

One wonders what additional hurdles will appear between now and 2013, should the District follow Ed's proposal. Kaleem Caire:
For the last 16 months, we have been on an arduous journey to develop a public school that would effectively address the educational needs of children who have under-performed or failed to succeed in Madison's public schools for at least the last 40 years. If you have followed the news stories, it's not hard to see how many mountains have been erected in our way during the process.

Some days, it has felt like we're desperately looking at our children standing dangerously close to the edge of a cliff, some already fallen over while others dangling by their thumbs waiting to be rescued; but before we can get close enough to save them, we have to walk across one million razor blades and through thousands of rose bushes with our bare feet. As we make our way to them and get closer, the razor blades get sharper and the rose bushes grow more dense.

Fortunately, our Board members and team at the Urban League and Madison Preparatory Academy, and the scores of supporters who've been plowing through the fields with us for the last year believe that our children's education, their emotional, social and personal development, and their futures are far more important than any pain we might endure.

Monday's vote will certainly reflect the District's priorities.

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New Policy Brief: The Evidence On Charter Schools And Test Scores

The Shanker Institute:

The public debate about the success and expansion of charter schools often seems to gravitate toward a tiny handful of empirical studies, when there is, in fact, a relatively well-developed literature focused on whether these schools generate larger testing gains among their students relative to their counterparts in comparable regular public schools. This brief reviews this body of evidence, with a focus on high-quality state- and district-level analyses that address, directly or indirectly, three questions:

Do charter schools produce larger testing gains overall?
What policies and practices seem to be associated with better performance?

Can charter schools expand successfully within the same location?
The available research suggests that charter schools' effects on test score gains vary by location, school/student characteristics and other factors. When there are differences, they tend to be modest. There is tentative evidence suggesting that high-performing charter schools share certain key features, especially private donations, large expansions of school time, tutoring programs and strong discipline policies. Finally, while there may be a role for state/local policies in ensuring quality as charters proliferate, scaling up proven approaches is constrained by the lack of adequate funding, and the few places where charter sectors as a whole have been shown to get very strong results seem to be those in which their presence is more limited. Overall, after more than 20 years of proliferation, charter schools face the same challenges as regular public schools in boosting student achievement, and future research should continue to focus on identifying the policies, practices and other characteristics that help explain the wide variation in their results.

Download the "Policy Brief here (PDF).

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Michigan House approves bill lifting caps on charter schools, but growth will come in phases

James Dickson:

The Michigan House of Representatives voted Wednesday night to approve Senate Bill 618, which will lift the state's various caps on charter schools, House sources have confirmed. If and when the bill is signed by Governor Rick Snyder, it will go into law. The bill was passed 58-49, according to the Michigan Information & Resource Service (MIRS).

SB 618 had been tie-barred to a group of other Senate bills in the so-called "parent empowerment package," which means they all would've had to pass for any to take effect. But that tie-bar was broken when the House Education Committee approved SB 618 at its Nov. 30 meeting.

Some 35 amendments were offered, according to a House source. Several were approved. Perhaps the most consequential among the amendments phases in the lifting of the cap on charter schools, allowing up to 300 to be established through the end of 2012, 500 through 2014, and starting in 2015, no cap at all.

State Rep. Jeff Irwin, who represents Ann Arbor in Lansing, said that the "huge, gaping problem" in the bill, lifting the cap all at once, was addressed but he still wasn't happy with the way the bill turned out. None of the amendments proposed by Democrats passed, Irwin said; they weren't even brought to a vote.

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George W. Bush Looks Forward After No Child Left Behind

Andrew Rotherham:

George W. Bush is writing a sequel to his big education act. The No Child Left Behind law was signed almost a decade ago, with overwhelming approval from Congress (384 to 45 in the House and 91 to 8 in the Senate). Now, amid a bipartisan effort to gut its accountability measures, the former President is quietly pushing new education-reform initiatives aimed at improving and empowering school principals, who too often lack the training or authority to effectively run their schools. And once again, he's approaching this massive education problem by blurring political lines.

I was invited in my role as TIME's education columnist to sit in on a small meeting this week that Bush organized in New York City, and I was struck by the roster of advisers he had assembled to guide the George W. Bush Institute's education work. The group included some big names in the education non-profit world as well as leaders of traditional public schools and charter schools. But by my informal count, most of the 10 people around the table were Democrats, including Clinton and Obama administration alums. "He cares about education deeply, and he gets it," one staunchly Democratic education consultant, who now works with the institute, told me. The former President has already recruited officials from his administration as well as liberal stalwarts like Amy Wilkins of the Education Trust and Democratic education leaders like former North Carolina Governor James Hunt.

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Like Ivies, Berkeley Adds Aid to Draw Middle-Class Students

Jennifer Medina:

The University of California, Berkeley, announced Wednesday that it would offer far more financial aid to middle-class students starting next fall, with families earning up to $140,000 a year expected to contribute no more than 15 percent of their annual income, in what experts described as the most significant such move by a public institution.

As state budget cuts have led to rising tuition and fees at the University of California and other prestigious campuses across the nation, the middle class has increasingly been squeezed out of what was long seen as higher education's best balance between quality and affordability.

At Berkeley, officials said, the number of low-income and wealthy students has grown over the last several years, while the number from middle-class families has remained flat. That has raised concerns that some of the state's best and brightest are choosing private schools whose generous financial aid can erase differentials in sticker price or not enrolling at all. The cost of a year at Berkeley has risen sharply to $32,000.

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December 15, 2011


Don Severson, via a kind email:

The Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education will vote December 19, 2011, on the Madison Preparatory Academy proposal for non-instrumentality charter school authorization. Active Citizens for Education endorses and supports the approval of the proposal.

In addition to the rationale and data cited by the Urban League of Greater Madison, and significant others throughout the Madison community, supporting the curricular, instructional, parental and behavioral strategies and rigor of the school, ACE cites the following financial and accountability support for approval of the Academy as a non-instrumentality charter school.

  • Financial: Should the Board deny approval of the proposal as a non-instrumentality the District stands to lose significant means of financial support from state aids and property tax revenue. The District is allowed $10,538.54 per student enrolled in the District the 2011-12 school year. With the possibility of Madison Prep becoming a private school if denied charter school status, the 120 boys and girls would not be enrolled in MMSD; therefore the District would not be the beneficiary of the state and local revenue. The following chart shows the cumulative affect of this reduction using current dollars:
    2012-2013 6th grade 120 students @10,538.54 = $1,264,624.80
    2013-2014 2 grades 240 students @10,538.54 = $2.529,249.60
    2014-2015 3 grades 360 students @10,538.54 = $3,793,874.40
    2015-2016 4 grades 480 students @10,538.54 = $5,058,499.20
    2016-2017 5 grades 600 students @10,538.54 = $6.323.124.00
    2017-2018 6 grades 720 students @10,538.54 = $7,587,748.80
    2018-2019 7 grades 840 students @10,538.54 = $8,852,373.60
    This lost revenue does not include increases in revenue that would be generated from improved completion/graduation rates (currently in the 50% range) of Black and Hispanic students resulting from enrollees in a charter school arrangement.
  • Accountability: The MMSD Administration and Board have been demonstrating a misunderstanding of the terms 'accountability' and 'control'. The State charter school law allows for the creation of charter schools to provide learning experiences for identified student groups with innovative and results-oriented strategies, exempt from the encumbrances of many existing state and local school rules, policies and practices. Charter schools are authorized and designed to operate without the 'controls' which are the very smothering conditions causing many of the problems in our public schools. The resulting different charter school environment has been proven to provide improved academic and personal development growth for learners from the traditional school environment. Decreasing impediments and controls inhibiting learning increases the requirements for 'accountability' to achieve improved learner outcomes on the part of the charter school. Should the charter school not meet its stated and measurable goals, objectives and results then it is not accountable and therefore should be dissolved. This is the 'control' for which the Board of Education has the authority to hold a charter school accountable.

    Let us describe an analogy. Private for-profit business and not-for-profit organizations are established to provide a product and/or service to customers, members and the public. The accountability of the business or organization for its continued existence depends on providing a quality product/services that customers/members want or need. If, for whatever reasons, the business or organization does not provide the quality and service expected and the customer/member does not obtain the results/satisfaction expected, the very existence of the business/organization is jeopardized and may ultimately go 'out of business'. This scenario is also absolutely true with a charter school. It appears that the significant fears for the MMSD Administration and Board of Education to overcome for the approval of the proposed non-instrumentality Madison Prep charter school are: 1) the fear of loss of 'control' instead of accepting responsibility for 'accountability', and 2) the fear that 'some other organization' will be successful with solutions and results for a problem not addressed by themselves.

The MMSD Board of Education is urged to approve the proposed Madison Preparatory Academy non-instrumentality charter school proposal; thereby, relieving the bondage which grips students and sentences them to a future lifetime of under-performance and lack of opportunities. Thank you.

Contact: Don Severson, President, 608 577-0851,

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

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Madison Prep: Closing Argument, Part I

Madison School Board Member Ed Hughes:

Here's a quote from an on-line comment of a Madison Prep opponent responding to one of the several op-ed pieces posted in the Cap Times in recent days: "There are barriers to students with special education needs, barriers to students with behavioral needs, and barriers to kids who rely on public transportation. These children are simply not the 'right fit'. It is Madison Prep's proposal to leave these kids in their neighborhood schools."

The notion seems to be that Madison Prep may not be welcoming for students from all points along the spectrum of educational needs, even though our neighborhood schools are obligated to serve everyone.

I think the self-selection process for Madison Prep should be taken into account in assessing how its students perform. But it does not trouble me that the school is not designed to meet the needs of all our students. No one need apply to attend and no student will be denied current services or programs if Madison Prep is authorized.

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

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December 14, 2011

Penn Professor Doug Lynch on Education

Rachael Wettenstein and Ted Bauer, via a kind email:

Welcome to the third edition of the relaunched Learning Matters podcast. In this episode, Learning Matters web producer Ted Bauer speaks with UPenn vice dean and professor Doug Lynch about various issues in education, including his business plan competition. Lynch draws pointed contrasts between corporate education and public education, and is candid about the notion of success and failure within the field. Enjoy the conversation.

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There really is no difference between men and women's math abilities

Alasdair Wilkins:

There's a longstanding myth of a gender gap between boys' and girls' math performance, suggesting some basic biological difference in how the two genders approach math. It's deeply controversial and widely discredited. And now, a new study has completely debunked it.

Until now, there was maybe a sliver of statistical data to support the existence of this gender gap -- nothing remotely convincing, mind you, but just enough that the idea couldn't be entirely dismissed out of hand. While most who studied the issue pointed for cultural or social reasons why girls might lag behind boys in math performance, there was still room for biological theories to be proposed.

The best-known of these is the "greater male variability hypothesis", which basically says ability among males varies more widely than that of females, which means you'll see more males at the extreme ends of the spectrum, good and bad. Then-Harvard president Larry Summers infamously put forward this idea back in 2005 as a way to explain the lack of great female mathematicians, and this was one of about a dozen different factors that ultimately cost him his job.

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You'd think this city would back Madison Prep plan

Chris Rickert:

Appearances suggest Madisonians would be sympathetic to Madison Preparatory Academy.

Here is a citizenry known for its progressivism, inclusiveness and embrace of the disenfranchised.

And here is a five-year educational experiment aimed at helping students of darker skin and lesser means who are sometimes only a couple of years removed from failing schools in Chicago and Milwaukee.

I guess appearances can be deceiving.

On Monday, the Madison School Board is likely to go along with district administrators' recommendation to vote down a five-year charter for Madison Prep, a project of the Urban League of Greater Madison that would aim to improve the performance and life prospects of students the district has so far failed to reach.

I suspect Madison Prep's future wouldn't be so dire if over the last year Madison's supposedly liberal power structure had been willing to take up its cause.

Much more on the proposed Madison Preparatory Academy IB Charter School, here.

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Why I will vote against Madison Prep

Maya Cole:

My decision to vote against the Madison Prep proposal is very difficult. I pushed for the planning grant over a year ago when only one other School Board member would sponsor the proposal.

I raised many questions because of the complex scope of the Urban League's proposal for a charter school that aims to reduce the achievement gap between white and minority students. My concerns come down to this: Will this proposal be the best investment for the most students? Is this college-prep program the area of focus that would best serve the many struggling students in our district?

The fundamental conclusion I came to over the course of a year is that this proposal would put the district at risk legally and would challenge our district philosophy pertaining to special education students. Perhaps more importantly, the proposal constructs undue barriers such as mandatory information meetings, fundraising and parent contracts. These admission policies would have the effect of excluding students based on language background, prior academic performance, or parental self-selection.

My decision has nothing to do with defending the status quo or protecting the union. However, as a School Board member, parent and neighbor to many children in our district, I believe we have some of the most dedicated and knowledgeable staff in education today.

Much more on the proposed Madison Preparatory Academy IB Charter School, here.

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December 12, 2011

Class Matters. Why Won't We Admit It?

NO one seriously disputes the fact that students from disadvantaged households perform less well in school, on average, than their peers from more advantaged backgrounds. But rather than confront this fact of life head-on, our policy makers mistakenly continue to reason that, since they cannot change the backgrounds of students, they should focus on things they can control.

No Child Left Behind, President George W. Bush's signature education law, did this by setting unrealistically high -- and ultimately self-defeating -- expectations for all schools. President Obama's policies have concentrated on trying to make schools more "efficient" through means like judging teachers by their students' test scores or encouraging competition by promoting the creation of charter schools. The proverbial story of the drunk looking for his keys under the lamppost comes to mind.

The Occupy movement has catalyzed rising anxiety over income inequality; we desperately need a similar reminder of the relationship between economic advantage and student performance.

The correlation has been abundantly documented, notably by the famous Coleman Report in 1966. New research by Sean F. Reardon of Stanford University traces the achievement gap between children from high- and low-income families over the last 50 years and finds that it now far exceeds the gap between white and black students.

Data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress show that more than 40 percent of the variation in average reading scores and 46 percent of the variation in average math scores across states is associated with variation in child poverty rates.

International research tells the same story. Results of the 2009 reading tests conducted by the Program for International Student Assessment show that, among 15-year-olds in the United States and the 13 countries whose students outperformed ours, students with lower economic and social status had far lower test scores than their more advantaged counterparts within every country. Can anyone credibly believe that the mediocre overall performance of American students on international tests is unrelated to the fact that one-fifth of American children live in poverty?

Yet federal education policy seems blind to all this. No Child Left Behind required all schools to bring all students to high levels of achievement but took no note of the challenges that disadvantaged students face. The legislation did, to be sure, specify that subgroups -- defined by income, minority status and proficiency in English -- must meet the same achievement standard. But it did so only to make sure that schools did not ignore their disadvantaged students -- not to help them address the challenges they carry with them into the classroom.

So why do presumably well-intentioned policy makers ignore, or deny, the correlations of family background and student achievement?

Some honestly believe that schools are capable of offsetting the effects of poverty. Others want to avoid the impression that they set lower expectations for some groups of students for fear that those expectations will be self-fulfilling. In both cases, simply wanting something to be true does not make it so.

Another rationale for denial is to note that some schools, like the Knowledge Is Power Program charter schools, have managed to "beat the odds." If some schools can succeed, the argument goes, then it is reasonable to expect all schools to. But close scrutiny of charter school performance has shown that many of the success stories have been limited to particular grades or subjects and may be attributable to substantial outside financing or extraordinarily long working hours on the part of teachers. The evidence does not support the view that the few success stories can be scaled up to address the needs of large populations of disadvantaged students.

A final rationale for denying the correlation is more nefarious. As we are now seeing, requiring all schools to meet the same high standards for all students, regardless of family background, will inevitably lead either to large numbers of failing schools or to a dramatic lowering of state standards. Both serve to discredit the public education system and lend support to arguments that the system is failing and needs fundamental change, like privatization.

Given the budget crises at the national and state levels, and the strong political power of conservative groups, a significant effort to reduce poverty or deal with the closely related issue of racial segregation is not in the political cards, at least for now.

So what can be done?

Large bodies of research have shown how poor health and nutrition inhibit child development and learning and, conversely, how high-quality early childhood and preschool education programs can enhance them. We understand the importance of early exposure to rich language on future cognitive development. We know that low-income students experience greater learning loss during the summer when their more privileged peers are enjoying travel and other enriching activities.

Since they can't take on poverty itself, education policy makers should try to provide poor students with the social support and experiences that middle-class students enjoy as a matter of course.

It can be done. In North Carolina, the two-year-old East Durham Children's Initiative is one of many efforts around the country to replicate Geoffrey Canada's well-known successes with the Harlem Children's Zone.

Say Yes to Education in Syracuse, N.Y., supports access to afterschool programs and summer camps and places social workers in schools. In Omaha, Building Bright Futures sponsors school-based health centers and offers mentoring and enrichment services. Citizen Schools, based in Boston, recruits volunteers in seven states to share their interests and skills with middle-school students.

Promise Neighborhoods, an Obama administration effort that gives grants to programs like these, is a welcome first step, but it has been under-financed.

Other countries already pursue such strategies. In Finland, with its famously high-performing schools, schools provide food and free health care for students. Developmental needs are addressed early. Counseling services are abundant.

But in the United States over the past decade, it became fashionable among supporters of the "no excuses" approach to school improvement to accuse anyone raising the poverty issue of letting schools off the hook -- or what Mr. Bush famously called "the soft bigotry of low expectations."

Such accusations may afford the illusion of a moral high ground, but they stand in the way of serious efforts to improve education and, for that matter, go a long way toward explaining why No Child Left Behind has not worked.

Yes, we need to make sure that all children, and particularly disadvantaged children, have access to good schools, as defined by the quality of teachers and principals and of internal policies and practices.

But let's not pretend that family background does not matter and can be overlooked. Let's agree that we know a lot about how to address the ways in which poverty undermines student learning. Whether we choose to face up to that reality is ultimately a moral question.

Helen F. Ladd is a professor of public policy and economics at Duke. Edward B. Fiske, a former education editor of The New York Times, is the author of the "Fiske Guide to Colleges."

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Why I Am Voting Yes on Madison Prep

Lucy Mathiak:

The Urban League's proposal to create a Madison Preparatory charter school is, at its heart, a proposal about public education in our community. Although the discussions often boil down to overly simplistic assertions about whether one position or the other is supportive of or hostile toward public education, it is not that simple. What we are facing is a larger and more fundamental question about our values when it comes to the purpose of public education and who it is supposed to serve.

I am voting "yes" because I believe that strong public education for all is the foundation for a strong society. While our schools do a very good job with many students who are white and/or living above the poverty line, the same cannot be said for students of color and/or students living in poverty. The record is most dismal for African American students.

The Madison Prep proposal is born of over 40 years of advocacy for schools that engage and hold high academic expectations for African American and other students of color. That advocacy has produced minor changes in rhetoric without changes in culture, practice, or outcome. Yes, some African American students are succeeding. But for the overwhelming majority, there are two Madison public school systems. The one where the students have a great experience and go on to top colleges, and the one that graduates only 48% of African American males.

The individual stories are heartbreaking, but the numbers underscore that individual cases add up to data that is not in keeping with our self-image as a cutting edge modern community. We ALL play a role in the problem, and we ALL must be part creating a sound, systemic, solution to our failure to educate ALL of our public school students. In the meantime, the African American community cannot wait, and the Madison Prep proposal came from that urgent, dire, need.
Our track record with students and families of color is not improving and, in some cases, is going backward rather than forward as we create more plans and PR campaigns designed to dismiss concerns about academic equality as misunderstandings. To be sure, there are excellent principals, teachers, and staff who do make a difference every day; some African American students excel each year. But overall, when presented with opportunities to change and to find the academic potential in each student, the district has failed to act and has been allowed to do so by the complicit silence of board members and the community at large.

A few turning points from the past year alone:

  • The Urban League - not MMSD administration or the board - pointed out the dismal graduation rates for African American students (48% for males)
  • Less than 5% of African American students are college ready.
  • AVID/TOPs does a terrific job with underrepresented students IF they can get in. AVID/TOPs serves 134 (2.6%) of MMSD's 4,977 African American secondary students.
  • The number of African American students entering AVID/TOPs is lower this year after MMSD administration changed the criteria for participation away from the original focus on students of color, low income, and first generation college students.
  • Of almost 300 teachers hired in 2011-12, less than 10 are African American. There are fewer African American teachers in MMSD today than there were five years ago.
  • Over 50 African Americans applied for custodian positions since January 1, 2011. 1 was hired; close to 30 custodians were hired in that time.
  • 4K - which is presented as a means to address the achievement gap - is predominantly attended by students who are not African American or low-income.
  • In June, the board approved a Parent Engagement Coordinator to help the district improve its relations with African American families. That position remains unfilled. The district has engagement coordinators working with Hmong and Latino families.
The single most serious issue this year, however, came in May when MMSD administration was informed that we are a District Identified for Improvement (DIFI) due to test scores for African American students along with students from low income families and those with learning disabilities. This puts Madison on an elite list with Madison (Milwaukee?) and Racine. The superintendent mentioned DIFI status in passing to the board, and the WI State Journal reported on the possible sanctions without using the term DIFI.

Whether one agrees or disagrees with NCLB, DIFI status is a serious matter because of the ladder of increasing sanctions that come with poor performance. In an ideal world, the district would have articulated the improvement plan required by DPI over the summer for implementation on the first day of school. Such a plan would include clear action steps, goals, and timelines to improve African American achievement. Such a plan does not exist as of mid-December 2011, and in the most recent discussion it was asserted that the improvement plan is "just paper that doesn't mean much." I would argue that, to the African American community, such a plan would mean a great deal if it was sincerely formulated and implemented.
At the same time, we have been able to come up with task forces and reports - with goals and timelines - that are devoted to Talented and Gifted Programing, Direct Language Instruction, Fine Arts Programing, and Mathematics Education to name a few.

Under the circumstances, it is hard to see why the African American community would believe that the outcomes will improve if they are 'just patient' and 'work within the existing public school structures to make things better.' Perhaps more accurately, I cannot look people in the face and ask them to hope that we will do a better job if they just give up on the vision of a school structure that does what the MMSD has failed to do for the African American community since the advocacy began some 40 years ago.

Also posted at the Capital Times.

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Mary Burke to run for Madison School Board

Matthew DeFour:

Burke, who made headlines recently for pledging $2.5 million to Madison Preparatory Academy, a controversial charter school proposal, plans to run for the seat being vacated by Lucy Mathiak.

Burke also served as president of the Boys & Girls Club of Dane County for nine years and along with the Burke Foundation has donated about $2.6 million to the AVID/TOPS program, which has shown promising results in improving achievement among low-income, minority students.

Burke emphasized closing the district's racial achievement gap as a motivation for her decision to run.

Several others have expressed interest in running for the seat, including Joan Eggert, a Madison schools parent and reading specialist in the McFarland School District, who issued an official announcement last week.

Others who said they are considering a run include parents Jill Jokela and Mark Stokosa. Tom Farley, who ran unsuccessfully in 2010 against James Howard, said Monday he is no longer interested in running and Burke's entry in the race makes him confident in that decision.

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Another Letter to the Madison School District's Board of Education on Madison Prep

750K PDF - Kaleem Caire, via email

December 11, 2011

Mr. Ed Hughes
Board of Education
Madison Metropolitan School District 545 West Dayton Street
Madison, WI 53713
Dear Mr. Hughes:

This letter is intended to respond to your December 4, 2011 blog post regarding the Madison Preparatory Academy initiative. Specifically, this letter is intended to address what you referred as "a fairly half-hearted argument [advanced by the Urban League] that the state statute authorizing school districts to enter into contracts for non-instrumentality charter schools trumps or pre-empts any language in collective bargaining agreements that restricts school districts along these lines." Continuing on, you wrote the following:

I say the argument is half-hearted because no authority is cited in support and itjust isn't much ofan argument. School districts aren't required to authorize non-instrumentality charter schools, and so there is no conflict with state statutesfor a school district to, in effect, agree that it would not do so. Without that kind of a direct conflict, there is no basis for arguing that the CBA language is somehow pre-empted.
We respectfully disagree with your assessment. The intent of this letter is to provide you with the authority for this position and to more fully explain the nature of our concern regarding a contract provision that appears to be illegal in this situation and in direct conflict with public policy.


As you are aware, the collective bargaining agreement (the "CBA") between MMSD and MTI Iprovides "that instructional duties where the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction requires that such be performed by a certificated teacher, shall be performed only by 'teachers."' See Article I, Section B.3.a. In addition, "the term 'teacher' refers to anyone in the collective bargaining unit." See Article I, Section B.2. You have previously suggested that "all teachers in MMSD schools-- including non-instrumentality charter schools- must be members of the MTI bargaining unit." As we indicated in our December 3, 2011 correspondence to you, under a non-instrumentality charter, the school board may not be the employer of the charter school's staff. See§ 118.40(7)(a).
Under Wisconsin's charter school law, the MMSD School Board (the "Board") has the exclusive authority to determine whether a school is an instrumentality or not an instrumentality of the school district. See§ 118.40(7)(a). That decisio n is an important decision reserved to the Board alone. The effect of that decision drives whether teachers and staff must be, or cannot be, employees of the Board. The language of the CBA deprives the Board ofthe decision reserved to it under the statute and that language cannot be harmonized to give effect to both the statute and the CBA. Alternatively, the CBA language creates a situation whereby the Board may exercise its statutory authority to approve a non- instrumentality charter, but it must staff the school with school district employees, a result clearly prohibited under the statute. For reasons that will be explained below, in our view, the law trumps the CBA in either of these situations.


Under Wisconsin law, "[a]labor contract may not violate the law." Glendale Professional Policeman's Ass'n v. City ofGlendale, 83 Wis. 2d 90, 102 (Wis. 1978). City ofGlendale addressed the tension that can arise between bargained for provisions in a collective bargaining agreement and statutory language. In City of Glendale, the City argued that a provision dealing with job promotions was unenforceable because it could not be harmonized with statutory language. Specifically, the agreement in question set forth parameters for promoting employees and stated in part that openings "shall be filled by the applicant with the greatest department seniority..." City of Glendale, 83 Wis. 2d at 94. Wisconsin law provided the following:

The chiefs shall appoint subordinates subject to approval by the board. Such appointments shall be made by promotion when this can be done with advantage, otherwise from an eligible list provided by examination and approval by the board and kept on file with the clerk.
Wis. Stat.§ 62.13(4)(a).

The City contended that "the contract term governing promotions is void and unenforceable because it is contrary to sec. 62.13(4)(a), Stats." City ofGlendale, 83 Wis. 2d at 98. Ultimately, the court ruled against the City based on the following rationale:

Although sec. 62.13(4)(a), Stats., requires all subordinates to be appointed by the chief with the approval of the board, it does not, at least expressly, prohibit the chief or the board from exercising the power of promotion of a qualified person according to a set of rules for selecting one among several qualified applicants.
The factual scenario in City ofGlendale differs significantly from the present situation. In City of Glendale, the terms of the agreement did not remove the ability of the chief, with the approval of the board, to make promotions. They could still carry out their statutory duties. The agreement language simply set forth parameters that had to be followed when making promotions. Accordingly, the discretion of the chief was limited, but not eliminated. In the present scenario, the discretion of the Board to decide whether a charter school should be an instrumentality or a non-instrumentality has been effectively eliminated by the CBA language.

There is nothing in the CBA that explicitly prohibits the Board from voting for a non-instrumentality charter school. This discretion clearly lies with the Board. Pursuant to state law, instrumentality charter schools are staffed by District teachers. However, non-instrumentality charter schools cannot be staffed by District teachers. See Wis. Stat.§ 118.40. Based on your recent comments, you have taken the position that the Board cannot vote for a non-instrumentality charter school because this would conflict with the work preservation clause of the CBA. Specifically, you wrote that "given the CBA complications, I don't see how the school board can authorize a non-instrumentality Madison Prep to open its doors next fall, and I say that as one who has come to be sympathetic to the proposal." While we appreciate your sympathy, what we would like is your support. Additionally, this position creates at least two direct conflicts with the law.

First, under Wisconsin law, "the school board of the school district in which a charter school is located shall determine whether or not the charter school is an instrumentality of the school district." Wis. Stat. § 118.40(7)(a) (emphasis added.) The Board is required to make this determination. If the Board is precluded from making this decision on December 19"' based on an agreement previously reached with MTI, the Board will be unable to comply with the law. Effectively, the instrumentality/non- instrumentality decision will have been made by the Board and MTI pursuant to the terms and conditions of the CBA. However, MTI has no authority to make this determination, which creates a direct conflict with the law. Furthermore, the Board will be unable to comply with its statutory obligation due to the CBA. Based on your stated concerns regarding the alleged inability to vote for a non-instrumentality charter school, it appears highly unlikely that the Board ever intentionally ceded this level ofauthority to MTI.

Second, if the Board chose to exercise its statutorily granted authority on December 19th and voted for a non-instrumentality charter school, this would not be a violation of the CBA. Nothing in the CBA explicitly prohibits the Board from voting for a non-instrumentality charter school. At that point, to the extent that MTI chose to challenge that decision, and remember that MTI would have to choose to grieve or litigate this issue, MTI would have to try to attack the law, not the decision made by the Board. Pursuant to the law, "[i] f the school board determines that the charter school is not an instrumentality of the school district, the school board may not employ any personnel for the charter school." Wis. Stat.§ 118.40(7)(a) (emphasis added). While it has been suggested that the Board could choose to avoid the legal impasse by voting down the non-instrumentality proposal, doing so would not cure this conflict. This is particularly true if some Board members were to vote against a non-instrumentality option solely based on the CBA. In such a case, the particular Board Member's obligation to make this decision is essentially blocked. Making a decision consistent with an illegal contract provision for the purposes of minimizing the conflict does not make the provision any less illegal. "A labor contract term whereby parties agree to violate the law is void." WERC v. Teamsters Local No. 563, 75 Wis. 2d 602, 612 (Wis. 1977) (citation omitted).

In Wisconsin, "a labor contract term that violates public policy or a statute is void as a matter of law." Board of Education v. WERC, 52 Wis. 2d 625, 635 (Wis. 1971). Wisconsin law demonstrates that there is a public policy that promotes the creation of charter schools. Within that public policy, there is an additional public policy that promotes case-by-case decision making by a school board regarding whether a charter school will be an instrumentality or a non-instrumentality. The work preservation clause in the CBA cannot be harmonized with these underlying public policies and should not stop the creation of Madison Preparatory Academy.

The Madison Prep initiative has put between a rock and a hard place. Instrumentality status lost support because of the costs associated with employing members of MTI. Yet, we are being told that non-instrumentality status will be in conflict with the CBA and therefore cannot be approved. As discussed above, the work preservation clause is irreconcilable with Wisconsin law, and would likely be found void by acourt of law.

Accordingly, I call on you, and the rest of the Board to vote for non- instrumentality status on December 19th. In the words of Langston Hughes, "a dream deferred is a dream denied." Too many children in this district have been denied for far too long. On behalf of Madison children, families and the Boards of the Urban League and Madison Prep, I respectfully request your support.


Kaleem Caire
President & CEO

cc: Dan Nerad, Superintendent
Dylan Pauly, Legal Counsel
MMSD Board ofEducation Members
ULGMand Madison Prep Board Members and Staff
Godfrey & Kahn, S.C.

Related: Who Runs the Madison Schools?

Howard Blume: New teacher contract could shut down school choice program

As schools across California bemoan increasing class sizes, the Alliance Technology and Math Science High School has boosted class size -- on purpose -- to an astonishing 48. The students work at computers most of the school day.

Next door in an identical building containing a different school, digital imaging -- in the form of animation, short films and graphics -- is used for class projects in English, math and science.

At a third school on the same Glassell Park campus, long known as Taylor Yards, high-schoolers get hands-on experience with a working solar panel.

These schools and two others coexist at the Sotomayor Learning Academies, which opened this fall under a Los Angeles school district policy called Public School Choice. The 2009 initiative, the first of its kind in the nation, has allowed groups from inside and outside the Los Angeles Unified School District to compete for the right to run dozens of new or low-performing schools.

Much more on the proposed Madison Preparatory Academy IB Charter School, here.

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The Problem Solvers

Steve Kolowich:

As a fledgling voice of reform in higher education, Salman Khan is an oddity. He cannot name any higher education accrediting agencies off the top of his head. He advocates for competency-based credentialing, but has never heard of Western Governors University. He is capable of talking on the phone for a full hour without using the word "disruptive" once. Until recently, he was an analyst for a hedge fund.

Here is what Khan does know: algebra, statistics, trigonometry, calculus, computer science, biology, chemistry, astronomy, physics, economics, and finance -- well enough, at least, to demonstrate the concepts via brief video tutorials on Khan Academy, his free learning website. What began in 2006 as an attempt to tutor his young cousin from afar has evolved into a 2,700-video library with millions of monthly visitors.

Many have lauded Khan's natural skill as a teacher. Khan's charmingly unpolished home recordings form the public face of the organization and provide a peg for media narratives about online learning and the YouTube-ification of the textbook in an era where the rising prices and demand for higher education has collided with the Internet's culture of free.

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U.S. Universities Feast on Federal Student Aid

Virginia Postrel:

The public is in a foul mood over increasing college costs and student debt burdens. Talk of a "higher education bubble" is common on the contrarian right, while the Occupy Wall Street crowd is calling for a strike in which in which ex-students refuse to pay off their loans.

This week, President Barack Obama held a summit with a dozen higher-education leaders "to discuss rising college costs and strategies to reduce these costs while improving quality." The administration plans to introduce some policy proposals in the run-up to the presidential campaign.

Any serious policy reform has to start by considering a heretical idea: Federal subsidies intended to make college more affordable may have encouraged rapidly rising tuitions.

It's not as crazy as it might sound.

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NAEP comparisons show key points for Milwaukee Public Schools

Alan Borsuk:

What does the Hillsborough County, Fla., school district have that Milwaukee Public Schools doesn't? What about Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools in North Carolina?

Much better overall scores in reading and math, for one thing. They were at the top of the list of 21 urban school districts in results released last week as part of the National Assessment of Education Progress, or NAEP. Milwaukee was near the bottom.

But here's something else Hillsborough County - which is the Tampa school district - has: Among its 193,000 students, 57% are from low-income homes. For Charlotte-Mecklenburg, the percentage of low-income students among its 136,000 students is 52%.

For MPS, with 80,000-plus students, the low-income rate is 83%.

Each of the four urban districts that scored the best in fourth-grade reading had a low-income rate of 61% or less. Among the four with the worst results, MPS was the lowest with its 83% rate. Detroit, with the worst scores, was listed in the NAEP report at 87%, Cleveland at 100%, and Fresno, Calif., at 93%.

Two other things:

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Discovering Autism: Unraveling an epidemic

Alan Zarembo:

Amber Dias couldn't be sure what was wrong with her little boy.

Chase was a bright, loving 2 1/2-year-old. But he didn't talk much and rarely responded to his own name. He hated crowds and had a strange fascination with the underside of the family tractor.

Searching the Internet, Amber found stories about other children like Chase -- on websites devoted to autism.

"He wasn't the kid rocking in the corner, but it was just enough to scare me," recalled Dias, who lives with her husband and three children on a dairy farm in the Central Valley town of Kingsburg.

She took Chase to a psychologist in Los Angeles, who said the boy indeed had autism and urged the family to seek immediate treatment.

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Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal canvasses officials on ideas to boost education

Ed Anderson:

Gov. Bobby Jindal continued his push for overhauling the state's public education system, asking a handful of lawmakers and some members of the state's chief school board for their input Friday. Jindal, who has targeted "education reform" as his chief agenda item for his second term, met with several veteran and rookie lawmakers and Board of Elementary and Secondary Education members behind closed doors at the Governor's Mansion for 90 minutes to get their thoughts on potential programs and legislation.

"We are open to listening to people's ideas," Jindal told reporters after the meeting. "But we will not tolerate those who defend the status quo and (want to) keep doing what we have been doing and expect different results.

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December 11, 2011

Will The Madison School Board Madison Prep IB Charter School Vote Spill over to the 2012 Spring Elections, and More?

Matthew DeFour:

And no matter which way the Dec. 19 vote goes, there's no way to know now whether the school will be entirely effective.

"This is the most difficult decision I will ever make on the School Board," said Marj Passman, who plans to vote against the proposal. "It has the potential for polarizing our community, and that's the last thing I want to happen."

The vote comes more than a year after the charter was proposed and in the wake of a School District report outlining its opposition to Madison Prep. The school would violate the district's contract with its teachers and preclude sufficient oversight of the $17.5 million in district funds the school would receive over five years, the report said.

District opposition likely will lead the board to reject the proposal, said School Board president James Howard.

"I don't see how it can pass," said Howard. He and Lucy Mathiak are the only two board members who said they will vote to approve the school.

In interviews last week, Passman, Maya Cole and Ed Hughes said they expect to vote against the proposal. Arlene Silveira and Beth Moss declined to disclose how they plan to vote.

Urban League of Greater Madison president Kaleem Caire, the lead proponent of the charter, acknowledged he doesn't have the votes. But he's engaged in a full-court press to generate public support for the proposal.

"We have a moral obligation to do whatever it takes to support our children and special interest of adults should not come before that," Caire said last week.

Two School Board seats will be on the Spring, 2012 ballot. They are currently occupied by Lucy Mathiak, who is not running again and Arlene Silveira. I suspect the outcome of this vote will drive new candidates, and perhaps, even recalls.

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The Rot Festers: Another National Research Council Report on Testing

reviewed by Richard P. Phelps, via a kind email:

In research organizations that have been "captured" by vested interests, the scholars who receive the most attention, praise, and reward are not those who conduct the most accurate or highest quality research, but those who produce results that best advance the interests of the group. Those who produce results that do not advance the interests of the group may be shunned and ostracized, even if their work is well-done and accurate.

The prevailing view among the vested interests in education does not oppose all standardized testing; it opposes testing with consequences based on the results that is also "externally administered"--i.e., testing that can be used to make judgments of educators but is out of educators' direct control. The external entity may be a higher level of government, such as the state in the case of state graduation exams, or a non-governmental entity, such as the College Board or ACT in the case of college entrance exams.

One can easily spot the moment vested interests "captured" the National Research Council's Board on Testing and Assessment (BOTA). BOTA was headed in the 1980s by a scholar with little background or expertise in testing (Wise, 1998). Perhaps not knowing who to trust at first, she put her full faith, and that of the NRC, behind the anti-high-stakes testing point of view that had come to dominate graduate schools of education. Proof of that conversion came when the NRC accepted a challenge from the U.S. Department of Labor to evaluate the predictive validity of the General Aptitude Test Battery (GATB) for use in unemployment centers throughout the country.

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An Exemplary Historian: An interview with Will Fitzhugh Publisher of The Concord Review


What inspired you to start The Concord Review?

Diane Ravitch, an American historian of education, wrote a col- umn in The New York Times in 1985 about the ignorance of his- tory among 17-year-olds in the United States, based on a study of 7,000 students. As a history teacher myself at the time, I was interested to see that what concerned me was a national problem, and I began to think about these issues. It occurred to me that if I had one or two very good students writing his- tory papers for me and perhaps my colleagues had one or two, then in 20,000 United States high schools (and more overseas) there must be a large number of high school students doing exemplary history research papers. So in1987, I established The Concord Review to provide a journal for such good work in his- tory. I sent a four-page brochure calling for papers to every high school in the United States, 3,500 high schools in Canada, and 1,500 schools overseas. The papers started coming in, and in the fall of 1988, I was able to publish the first issue of The Concord Review. Since then, we have published 89 issues.

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Dissident Prof (Mary Grabar, Ph.D.)

Will Fitzhugh

Editor's Note: Once again, I have to thank NAS for providing the opportunity for meeting contributor Will Fitzhugh. Will has an AB in English Literature and Ed.M. in Guidance from Harvard. After a number of years in industry, he taught high school for ten years in Concord, Massachusetts. In 1987 he started The Concord Review, the only journal in the world for the academic papers of secondary students, which has now published 978 history essays from 44 states and 38 other countries. These essays truly are examples of outstanding writing and scholarship. Most of us who teach at the college level wish all high school teachers would heed Will's advice.

What follows below is a speech given at the 2010 meeting of NACAC, prefaced by his introductory note.

by Will Fitzhugh

At the 2010 Conference of the National Association of College Admissions Counselors, the primary organization for admissions professionals, I spoke about the way the emphasis on little 500-word personal "college" essays erodes students' chances to learn to do actual academic term papers at least once before they get to college.

"The College Essay"

I propose a thought experiment for what it may be worth:

What if we change the name of our organization from the National Association of College Admissions Counselors to: The National Association of College Completion Counselors?

Note that the new name is more comprehensive, as Completion presupposes Admission, but, as is all too obvious these days, Admission cannot assume Completion.

You are all at least as aware as I am of the numbers about the need for academic remediation in Higher Education and the numbers of dropouts from college, but I will review a couple of them. Tony Wagner of Harvard reports that in general, including community colleges, half of college freshman do not return for a second year, and a huge percentage of our high school graduates take six years or more to complete a Bachelor's degree, and four years or more to complete an Associate's degree.

Students who need remediation in basic academic skills are more likely to drop out, and the more remedial courses they have to take, the more likely they are to drop out.

The California State College System reported at a conference last Fall that 47% of their Freshman students are in remedial reading courses.

Does anybody read any more?

We may assume that these students have had 12 years of reading in school already, but they still can't read well enough to do college work, at least by California standards.

Reading is not calculus or chemistry, it is just a basic academic skill in which we expect that the schools have offered practice for 12 years.

Now, a youngster can start to play Pop Warner football at age 6. By graduation from high school, he could have had 12 years of practice at the basic skills of football. Imagine athletes reporting for a college football team, only to be told that they need a year of remedial blocking and tackling practice before they can be allowed to play. It seems unlikely that they would not have learned basic blocking and tackling skills in their previous 12 years of playing football.

I am not just talking about improvement here. Of course, students in college can learn to read more difficult material in new academic subjects. And of course college athletes can get better at all the skills needed for success in their sports.

But we are talking about basic, entry-level academic skills. 47% of freshmen in the California State College System don't have them in reading, after 12 years of practice in school.

When I went into the Army in 1960, I had never fired a rifle before, but in a week or two on the range in Basic Training, I was able to meet the standard for "Sharpshooter." I missed "Expert" by one target.

I am convinced that if I had had 12 years of practice with my M-1 Garand, I really could have scored "Expert"--perhaps even by the higher standards of the U.S. Marine Corps.

I have to confess I am stunned that so many of our high school students, having been awarded one of our high school diplomas, and having been accepted at one of our colleges, are found [by ACT] to be unable to read well enough to do college work.

The Diploma to Nowhere report of the Strong American Schools project said that more than one million of our high school graduates are now in remedial courses each year when they get to college.

It also notes that these students, having satisfied our requirements for the high school diploma, and graduated--having applied to college and been accepted--are told when they get there, that they can't make the grade without perhaps an additional year of work on their academic fundamentals. Naturally this experience is surprising to them, given that they satisfied our requirements for graduation and admission to college, and embarrassing, humiliating and discouraging, as well.

As you may know, my particular interest since 1987 has been in student history research papers at the high school level. I have published 978 essays by secondary students from 44 states and 38 other countries over the last 25 years.

Start young!

Some of the students who wrote the required Extended Essays for the IB Diploma and were published in The Concord Review, and some of our other authors as well, have told me that in their freshman dorms they are often mobbed by their peers who are facing a serious term paper for the first time and have no idea how to do one.

It is absurd to contemplate, but imagine a well-prepared college basketball player being mobbed for help by his peers who had never been taught to dribble, pass, or shoot in high school.

If even colleges like Harvard and Stanford require all their Freshmen to take a year of expository writing, that may not exactly be remedial writing, but I would argue that a student who has completed an Extended Essay for the International Baccalaureate Diploma, and a student who has published a 12,000-word paper on Irish Nationalism or a 15,000-word paper on the Soviet-Afghan War for The Concord Review, should perhaps be allowed to skip that year of remedial writing. The author of the Soviet-Afghan War paper, from Georgia, is now at Christ Church College, Oxford, where I believe he did not have to spend a year in an expository writing course, and the author of the Irish Nationalism paper is at Princeton, where she may very well have been asked to spend a year in such a course.

If so many of our students need to learn how to do academic writing (not to mention how to read), what are they spending time on in high school?

I believe that writing is the most dumbed-down activity we now have in our schools. The AP program includes no research paper, only responses to document-based questions, and most high school Social Studies departments leave academic writing tasks to the English Department.

Now, in general, English Departments favor personal and creative writing and the five-paragraph essay, but college admission requirements have given them an additional task on which they are working with students. Teaching writing takes time, not only in preparing and monitoring students, but more especially in reading what students have written and offering corrections and advice. Time for one kind of writing necessarily means less time for another kind.

Personal and creative writing and the five-paragraph essay have already taken a lot of the time of English teachers and their students, but as college admissions officers ask for the 500-word personal essay, time has to be given to teaching for that.

While high school English departments work with their students on the 500-word personal essay, they do not have the time to give to serious term papers, so they don't do them, and I believe that is why so many students arrive in our colleges in need of a one-year course on the expository writing they didn't get a chance to do in school.

Lots of the public high school students whose work I publish simply do their papers as independent studies, as there is no place for serious academic writing like that in the curriculum.

I would suggest that college admissions officers ask for an academic research paper from applicants in place of the short little personal essay; while it would be more work for them, it would make it more likely that students would arrive ready for college work.

Making sure that our high school students arrive in college able to manage college-level nonfiction reading and academic expository writing might really help us earn our new credential as professionals who work not just to help students get accepted at college, but to help them complete college as well.

Will Fitzhugh's website is, and he can be reached at

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Teach to the Test? Most of the problems with testing have one surprising source: cheating by school administrators and teachers.

Richard P. Phelps, via a kind email:

Every year, the education magazine Phi Delta Kappan hires the Gallup Organization to survey American opinion on the public schools. Though Gallup conducts the poll, education grandees selected by the editors of the Kappan write the questions. In 2007 the poll asked, "Will the current emphasis on standardized tests encourage teachers to 'teach to the tests,' that is, concentrate on teaching their students to pass the tests rather than teaching the subject, or don't you think it will have this effect?"

The key to the question, of course, is the "rather than"--the assumption by many critics that test preparation and good teaching are mutually exclusive. In their hands, "teach to the test" has become an epithet. The very existence of content standards linked to standardized tests, in this view, narrows the curriculum and restricts the creativity of teachers--which of course it does, in the sense that teachers in standards-based systems cannot organize their instructional time in any fashion they prefer.

A more subtle critique is that teaching to the test can be good or bad. If curricula are carefully developed by educators and the test is written with curricula in mind, then teaching to the test means teaching students the knowledge and skills we agree they ought to learn--exactly what our teachers are legally and ethically obligated to do.

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Differential validity of the SAT

Steve Hsu:

In an earlier comment thread someone asked whether Asian-American college performance is commensurate with their SAT scores. If A-A SAT scores are artificially elevated by cramming then one might expect it to under-predict college GPA. (On the other hand, if Asians are more conscientious and hard working overall, one might* expect both SAT scores and college GPA to be elevated relative to other groups.) This data from the College Board shows that the validity of SAT as a predictor of college GPA is about the same for whites and Asians.

*Regarding cramming, I have yet to see any data which shows that large groups of people can significantly elevate their SAT scores through preparation. Test prep companies will claim this is possible, but detailed studies by ETS suggest otherwise. In our U Oregon data set (covering all students at the university over a 5 year period) it is quite rare to see a change of 1 population SD between max and average score for individual students who take the SAT multiple times.

(Click for larger version. FYGPA = Freshman Year GPA.)

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Education must be relevant

Tamiko Jordan-Obregon:

It is simply time to be honest. If you are sincerely concerned about the educational problems in Milwaukee and want to see real solutions implemented, then it is time to take a look at the truth. The desire to be politically correct for some and the reluctance to accept reality for others is what has delayed real progress in Milwaukee.

So, here it is point blank:

Wisconsin - not just Milwaukee - has a problem educating African-American youths.

According to the recent test scores reported by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the achievement gap continues to widen. In other words, white students continue to outperform minority students, especially African-Americans. In fact, Wisconsin has the largest white-black achievement gap in the nation and continues to be the only state with a gap well above the national average.

Basically, white students have an 86% high school graduation rate, while African-American students graduate at a rate of 49%. So, quality education is not difficult to find in Wisconsin, but for some reason African-American youths are not getting it.

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December 10, 2011

Madison Public Schools: A Dream Deferred, Opportunity Denied? Will the Madison Board of Education Hear the 40-year long cries of its Parents and Community, and Put Children and Learning before Labor and Adults?

Kaleem Caire, via email:

December 10, 2011

Dear Friends & Colleagues.

For the last 16 months, we have been on an arduous journey to develop a public school that would effectively address the educational needs of children who have under-performed or failed to succeed in Madison's public schools for at least the last 40 years. If you have followed the news stories, it's not hard to see how many mountains have been erected in our way during the process.

Some days, it has felt like we're desperately looking at our children standing dangerously close to the edge of a cliff, some already fallen over while others dangling by their thumbs waiting to be rescued; but before we can get close enough to save them, we have to walk across one million razor blades and through thousands of rose bushes with our bare feet. As we make our way to them and get closer, the razor blades get sharper and the rose bushes grow more dense.

Fortunately, our Board members and team at the Urban League and Madison Preparatory Academy, and the scores of supporters who've been plowing through the fields with us for the last year believe that our children's education, their emotional, social and personal development, and their futures are far more important than any pain we might endure.

Our proposal for Madison Prep has certainly touched a nerve in Madison. But why? When we launched our efforts on the steps of West High School on August 29, 2010, we thought Madison and its school officials would heartily embrace Madison Prep.We thought they would see the school as:

(1) a promising solution to the racial achievement gap that has persisted in our city for at least 40 years;

(2) a learning laboratory for teachers and administrators who admittedly need new strategies for addressing the growing rate of underachievement, poverty and parental disengagement in our schools, and

(3) a clear sign to communities of color and the broader Greater Madison community that it was prepared to do whatever it takes to help move children forward - children for whom failure has become too commonplace and tolerated in our capital city.

Initially, the majority of Board of Education members told us they liked the idea and at the time, had no problems with us establishing Madison Prep as a non-instrumentality - and therefore, non-union, public school. At the same time, all of them asked us for help and advice on how to eliminate the achievement gap, more effectively engage parents and stimulate parent involvement, and better serve children and families of color.

Then, over the next several months as the political climate and collective bargaining in the state changed and opponents to charter schools and Madison Prep ramped up their misinformation and personal attack campaign, the focus on Madison Prep got mired in these issues.

The concern of whether or not a single-gender school would be legal under state and federal law was raised. We answered that both with a legal briefing and by modifying our proposal to establish a common girls school now rather than two years from now.

The concern of budget was raised and how much the school would cost the school district. We answered that through a $2.5 million private gift to lower the per pupil request to the district and by modifying our budget proposal to ensure Madison Prep would be as close to cost-neutral as possible. The District Administration first said they would support the school if it didn't cost the District more than $5 million above what it initially said it could spend; Madison Prep will only cost them $2.7 million.

Board of Education members also asked in March 2011 if we would consider establishing Madison Prep as an instrumentality of MMSD, where all of the staff would be employed by the district and be members of the teacher's union. We decided to work towards doing this, so long as Madison Prep could retain autonomy of governance, management and budget. Significant progress was made until the last day of negotiations when MMSD's administration informed us that they would present a counter-budget to ours in their analysis of our proposal that factored in personnel costs for an existing school versus establishing a modest budget more common to new charter schools.

We expressed our disagreement with the administration and requested that they stick with our budget for teacher salaries, which was set using MMSD's teacher salary scale for a teacher with 7 years experience and a masters degree and bench-marked against several successful charter schools. Nevertheless, MMSD argued that they were going to use the average years of experience of teachers in the district, which is 14 years with a master's degree. This drove up the costs significantly, taking teacher salaries from $47,000 to $80,000 per year and benefits from $13,500 to $25,000 per year per teacher. The administration's budget plan therefore made starting Madison Prep as an instrumentality impossible.

To resolve the issue, the Urban League and Board of Madison Prep met in November to consider the options. In doing so, we consulted with every member of MMSD's Board of Education. We also talked with parents, stakeholders and other community members as well. It was then decided that we would pursue Madison Prep as a non-instrumentality of the school district because we simply believe that our children cannot and should not have to wait.

Now, Board of Education members are saying that Madison Prep should be implemented in "a more familiar, Madison Way", as a "private school", and that we should not have autonomy even though state laws and MMSD's own charter school policy expressly allow for non-instrumentality schools to exist. There are presently more than 20 such schools in Wisconsin.

What Next?

As the mountains keep growing, the goal posts keep moving, and the razor blades and rose bushes are replenished with each step we take, we are forced to ask the question: Why has this effort, which has been more inclusive, transparent and well-planned, been made so complicated? Why have the barriers been erected when our proposal is specifically focused on what Madison needs, a school designed to eliminate the achievement gap, increase parent engagement and prepare young people for college who might not otherwise get there? Why does liberal Madison, which prides itself on racial tolerance and opposition to bigotry, have such a difficult time empowering and including people of color, particularly African Americans?

As the member of a Black family that has been in Madison since 1908, I wonder aloud why there are fewer black-owned businesses in Madison today than there were 25 years ago? There are only two known black-owned businesses with 10 or more employees in Dane County. Two!

Why can I walk into 90 percent of businesses in Madison in 2011 and struggle to find Black professionals, managers and executives or look at the boards of local companies and not see anyone who looks like me?

How should we respond when Board of Education members tell us they can't vote for Madison Prep while knowing that they have no other solutions in place to address the issues our children face? How can they say they have the answers and develop plans for our children without consulting and including us in the process? How can they have 51 black applicants for teaching positions and hire only one, and then claim that they can't find any black people to apply for jobs? How can they say, "We need more conversations" about the education of our children when we've been talking for four decades?

I have to ask the question, as uncomfortable as it may be for some to hear, "Would we have to work this hard and endure so much resistance if just 48% of white children in Madison's public schools were graduating, only 1% of white high school seniors were academically ready for college, and nearly 50% of white males between the ages of 25-29 were incarcerated, on probation or under some form of court supervision?

Is this 2011 or 1960? Should the black community, which has been in Madison for more than 100 years, not expect more?

How will the Board of Education's vote on December 19th help our children move forward? How will their decision impact systemic reform and seed strategies that show promise in improving on the following?
Half of Black and Latino children are not completing high school. Just 59% of Black and 61% of Latino students graduated on-time in 2008-09. One year later, in 2009-10, the graduation rate declined to 48% of Black and 56% of Latino students compared to 89% of white students. We are going backwards, not forwards. (Source: MMSD 2010, 2011)
Black and Latino children are not ready for college. According to makers of the ACT college entrance exam, just 20% of Madison's 378 Black seniors and 37% of 191 Latino seniors in MMSD in 2009-10 completed the ACT. Only 7% of Black and 18% of Latino seniors completing test showed they had the knowledge and skills necessary to be "ready for college". Among all MMSD seniors (those completing and not completing the test), just 1% of Black and 7% of Latino seniors were college ready
Too few Black and Latino graduates are planning to go to college. Of the 159 Latino and 288 Black students that actually graduated and received their diplomas in 2009-10, just 28% of Black and 21% of Latino students planned to attend a four-year college compared to 53% of White students. While another 25% of Black and 33% of graduates planned to attend a two-year college or vocation program (compared to 17% of White students), almost half of all of all Black and Latino graduates had no plans for continuing their education beyond high school compared to 27% of White students. (Source: DPI 2011)
Half of Black males in their formative adult years are a part of the criminal justice system. Dane County has the highest incarceration rate among young Black men in the United States: 47% between the ages of 25-29 are incarcerated, on probation or under some form of court supervision. The incarceration phenomena starts early. In 2009-10, Black youth comprised 62% of all young people held in Wisconsin's correctional system. Of the 437 total inmates held, 89% were between the ages of 15-17. In Dane County, in which Madison is situated, 49% of 549 young people held in detention by the County in 2010 were Black males, 26% were white males, 12% were black females, 6% were white females and 6% were Latino males and the average age of young people detained was 15. Additionally, Black youth comprised 54% of all 888 young people referred to the Juvenile Court System. White students comprised 31% of all referrals and Latino comprised 6%.
More importantly, will the Board of Education demonstrate the type of courage it took our elders and ancestors to challenge and change laws and contracts that enabled Jim Crow, prohibited civil rights, fair employment and Women's right to vote, and made it hard for some groups to escape the permanence of America's underclass? We know this is not an easy vote, and we appreciate their struggle, but there is a difference between what is right and what is politically convenient.

Will the Board have the courage to look in the faces of Black and Latino families in the audience, who have been waiting for solutions for so long, and tell them with their vote that they must wait that much longer?

We hope our Board of Education members recognize and utilize the tremendous power they have to give our children a hand-up. We hope they hear the collective force and harmony of our pleas, engage with our pain and optimism, and do whatever it takes to ensure that the proposal we have put before them, which comes with exceptional input and widespread support, is approved on December 19, 2011.

Madison Prep is a solution we can learn from and will benefit the hundreds of young men and women who will eventually attend.

If not Madison Prep, then what? If not now, then when?



Monday, December 19, 2011 at 5:00pm
Madison Metropolitan School District
Doyle Administration Building Auditorium
545 West Dayton Street
Madison, WI 53703
Contact: Laura DeRoche Perez,
Phone: 608-729-1230

Write the School Board and Tell Them to "Say 'Yes', to Madison Prep!"

Madison Prep 2012!


Kaleem Caire
President & CEO
Urban League of Greater Madison
Phone: 608-729-1200
Fax: 608-729-1205


Autonomy: MMSD now says they are concerned that Madison Prep will not be accountable to the public for the education it provides students and the resources it receives. Yet, they don't specify what they mean by "accountability." We would like to know how accountability works in MMSD and how this is producing high achievement among the children it serves. Further, we would like to know why Madison Prep is being treated differently than the 30 early childhood centers that are participating in the district's 4 year old kindergarten program. They all operate similar to non-instrumentality schools, have their own governing boards, operate via a renewable contract, can hire their own teachers "at their discretion" and make their own policy decisions, and have little to no oversight by the MMSD Board of Education. All 30 do not employ union teachers. Accountability in the case of 4K sites is governed by "the contract." MMSD Board members should be aware that, as with their approval of Badger Rock Middle School, the contract is supposed to be developed "after" the concept is approved on December 19. In essence, this conversation is occurring to soon, if we keep with current district practices.

Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA): MMSD and Madison Teachers, Incorporated have rejected our attorney's reading of ACT 65, which could provide a path to approval of Madison Prep without violating the CBA. Also, MTI and MMSD could approve Madison Prep per state law and decide not to pursue litigation, if they so desired. There are still avenues to pursue here and we hope MMSD's Board of Education will consider all of them before making their final decision.

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

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How to Guess Better on an SAT

Stephen Dubner:

A nice analytic giblet from a Times profile of new Nobel economists Thomas Sargent and Christopher Sims:
Because of his father's College Board connections, Mr. Sims got hold of an old SAT exam, which he and Mr. Willoughby used to conduct a statistical analysis. They found that on multiple-choice questions in English and social studies, the "longer answers tended to be correct." In math, they determined that the number that was "closest to all of the other numerical choices" was probably the right one.

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Was Gingrich Right About Putting Kids to Work?

Andrew Rotherham:

Newt Gingrich has a penchant for saying provocative and often downright crazy things. When the former House Speaker gave a lecture at Harvard last month, calling child labor laws "truly stupid" and suggesting that low-income kids should be required to do some manual labor in their schools, it was a classic Gingrich proposal: over-the-top, totally tone-deaf, and way too broad in scope. But it also was not entirely wrong. Although his specifics are often bewildering, it's hard to deny that Gingrich has a knack for spotting trends in education.

In 1994, when Gingrich was the leader of House Republicans, he suggested a radical welfare reform: to break the cycle of poverty, take poor kids away from their unwed teen mothers and put them in state-run facilities. His orphanage idea was designed to free up single parents for job training while simultaneously instilling better work habits in their children. Not surprisingly, the proposal quickly died on Capitol Hill. But in the 17 years since then, hundreds of schools have sprung up across the country that are designed to get students to spend more time on school-related activities and less time exposed to adverse influences in their neighborhoods and, yes, sometimes in their homes. These schools also have clear nonacademic curricula that focus on behavior, self-management and life skills. The goal, as described by journalist David Whitman, the current speechwriter for Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, in Sweating the Small Stuff: Inner-City Schools and the New Paternalism, is to use school as an anti-poverty tool by deliberately fostering a strong work ethic in students.

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December 9, 2011

Madison School District Technology Acquisition Plan and iPad Learning Initiative

Bill Smojver, Director of Technical Services:

Madison Metropolitan School District was provided an award from the Microsoft Cy Pres settlement in the Fall of 2009. Since that time the district has utilized many of these funds to prorate projects across the district in order to free up budgeted funds and to provide for more flexibility. The plan and process for these funds liquidates the General Purpose portion of the Microsoft Cy Pres funds, provides an equitable allocation per pupil to each school, and is aimed at increasing the amount of technology within our schools.

The total allocation remaining from Cy Pres revenues totals $2,755,463.11, which was the target for the technology acquisition plan. Two things happened prior to allocating funds to schools: first was to hold back $442,000 for the future purchase of iPads for our schools (at $479 per iPad this equates to a 923 iPads), and second was to hold back $200,000 necessary for increased server capacity to deal with the increase in different types of technology.

The final step was to allocate the remaining funding ($2,113,463.11) out to the schools on a per pupil basis. This was calculated at $85.09 per pupil across all schools within the district.

I found the device distribution to be quite interesting. The iPad revolution is well underway. Technology's role in schools continues to be a worthwhile discussion topic.

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Madison Teachers, Inc. on The Proposed Madison Preparatory Academy IB Charter School

John Matthews, Executive Director of Madison Teachers, Inc., via email:

The Urban League proposes that Madison Prep be operated as a non-instrumentality of the Madison Metropolitan School District. The Urban League's proposal is unacceptable to Madison Teachers, because it would effectively eliminate supervision and accountability of the school to the Madison School Board regarding the expenditure of millions of dollars in taxpayer money, and because it would also violate long-standing terms and conditions of the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the Madison Metropolitan School District and MTI.

The Urban League proposes to use District funds to hire non-District teaching staff at lower salaries and benefits than called for in the Collective Bargaining Agreement. It was recently stated in a meeting between representatives of Madison Prep, the School District and MTI that the Urban League plans to hire young African-American males and asks that MTI and the District enable them to pay the teachers they hire less than their counterparts, who are employed by the District. MTI cannot agree to enable that. We believe that such is discriminatory, based both on race and gender. The MTI/MMSD Contract calls for teachers to be compensated based upon their educational achievement and their years of service. MTI and MMSD agreed in the early 1970's that the District would not enable such undermining of employment standards. The costing of the Contract salary placement was explained by both Superintendent Nerad and John Matthews. Those explanations were ignored by the Urban League in their budgeting, causing a shortfall in the proposed operational budget, according to Superintendent Nerad.

It is also distasteful to MTI that the Urban League proposes to NOT ADDITIONALLY pay their proposed new hires for working a longer day and a longer school year. Most employees in the United States receive overtime pay when working longer hours. The Urban League proposes NO additional compensation for employees working longer hours, or for the 10 additional school days in their plan.

Finally, the Urban League is incorrect in asserting that MTI and the District could modify the MMSD/MTI Contract without triggering Act 10, Governor Walker's draconian attack on teachers and other public employees. The Contract would be destroyed if MTI and the District agreed to amend it. Such is caused by Walker's Law, Act 10. MTI is not willing to inflict the devastating effects of Act 10 on its members. The Urban League states that Walker's Act 65 would enable the Contract to be amended without the horrible impact cause by Act 10. That claim is unfounded and in error.

The Madison Prep proposal could easily be implemented if it followed the Charter Plan of Wright School, Nuestro Mundo, and Badger Rock School, all of which operate as instrumentalities of the District, under its supervision and the MMSD/MTI Collective Bargaining Agreement.

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

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MTI responds on Madison Prep

Matthew DeFour:

Madison Preparatory Academy could easily open if it followed the same model as the district's other charter schools, Madison Teachers Inc. Executive Director John Matthews said in response to yesterday's Urban League press conference.

But the current proposal is "unacceptable" to Madison teachers because it would "effectively eliminate School Board oversight of the expenditure of millions of dollars in taxpayer money" and violate the district's contract with its union, Matthews said.

Matthews initially declined to comment on Madison Prep when I contacted him yesterday, but later responded in an e-mail.

In his response, Matthews criticized Madison Prep's plan to pay its teachers lower salaries and benefits than other district teachers, and not offer overtime for working longer days.

He also said the Urban League is incorrect in asserting that the current union contract can be modified without nullifying it under the state's new collective bargaining law.

Related: Some Madison Teachers & Some Community Members (*) on the Proposed Madison Preparatory Academy IB Charter School.

Related: student learning has become focused instead on adult employment - Ripon Superintendent Richard Zimman.

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The US's Education Bubble

Doug Hornig and Alex Daley:

In the world of finance, there is always talk of bubbles - mortgage bubbles, tech stock bubbles, junk bond bubbles. But bubbles don't develop only in financial markets. In recent years, there's been another one quietly inflating, not capturing the attention of most observers.

It's an education bubble - just not the one of student debt that has graced the pages of the New York Times and so many other publications in recent months.

The problem is not that we are overeducating ourselves as many would have you believe. Rather, it's that we are spending a fortune to undereducate ourselves.

The United States has always been a very educated country. But it is becoming less and less so, especially in the areas that matter to our individual and collective economic futures. Our undereducation begins with a stubbornly high dropout rate among secondary education students. About a quarter of those who begin high school don't finish.

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Don't Worry About It


I have never let my schooling interfere with my education. - Mark Twain

Disclaimer: I write this as a university student. Some of my points may or may not be applicable in a high school environment.

The grading system in schools and universities has a long history of opponents and criticism. I won't go into the arguments here because, quite frankly, I don't have anything new to say about it. In short: the system sucks. It encourages memorization and frenzied, last-minute studying, can be played in a variety of ways, etc. Educators can debate the alternatives and run pilot projects, and that's all well and good. But what can we - the students - do about it?

My answer: Don't Worry About It.

Of course, this could easily be interpreted as a call to rebel against the system, forget grades entirely, and party night and day. So let me expand on that:

Pick courses that interest you, and focus on learning. And don't worry about the grades - they will come with the territory.

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The Federal Role in College Pricing

Persistently rising college tuitions, high spending per student, and mounting student debt burdens have re-emerged as key issues in Washington. Secretary Arne Duncan has called on college and university officials to show more urgency in keeping down their prices and spending, the House subcommittee on postsecondary education has held another hearing to wring its hands about college unaffordability, and President Obama has now summoned a select group of college presidents and higher education thought leaders to consider what can be done.

Federal efforts in the past have focused on shining a spotlight on institutions with the highest rates of tuition growth and exhorting college officials to do more to restrain their spending growth and rein in their price increases. Recent news stories indicate that these largely symbolic approaches will continue to dominate the debate as the focus seems to be on extolling the virtues of those schools or states that freeze or reduce their tuition levels, move to three-year degrees, measure learning outcomes, or find ways to use technology to lower their costs per student and hopefully their prices.

But these efforts are unlikely to yield satisfactory results, just as previous efforts have failed to slow cost and price growth or to reduce the amount students must borrow to pay for their education and related expenses. They will continue to fail unless the aim is to reshape the relationship between governments and institutions and the rules that determine how much students can and do borrow. Federal and state officials must recognize that the signals embedded in a number of policies have contributed to the past growth in costs, prices and student debt -- and then do something about it.

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Some Asians' college strategy: Don't check 'Asian'

Jesse Washington:

Lanya Olmstead was born in Florida to a mother who emigrated from Taiwan and an American father of Norwegian ancestry. Ethnically, she considers herself half Taiwanese and half Norwegian. But when applying to Harvard, Olmstead checked only one box for her race: white.

"I didn't want to put 'Asian' down," Olmstead said, "because my mom told me there's discrimination against Asians in the application process."

For years, many Asian-Americans have been convinced that it's harder for them to gain admission to the nation's top colleges.

Studies show that Asian-Americans meet these colleges' admissions standards far out of proportion to their 6 percent representation in the U.S. population and that they often need test scores hundreds of points higher than applicants from other ethnic groups to have an equal chance of admission. Critics say these numbers, along with the fact that some top colleges with race-blind admissions have double the Asian percentage of Ivy League schools, prove the existence of discrimination.

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December 8, 2011

Urban League/Madison Prep to Address Madison School District Report on Charter School

Kaleem Caire, via email:

Fails to address core issues impacting racial achievement gap and middle class flight

WHAT: The Urban League of Greater Madison and the founding Board of Madison Preparatory Academy will share their response to the Madison Metropolitan School District Administration's recommendation that the Board of Education not Support Madison Prep, and will call for immediate and wider education reforms within the Madison Metropolitan School District to address the racial achievement gap and middle-class flight and crises.

WHEN: 12:00 pm, Thursday, December 8, 2011

WHERE: Urban League of Greater Madison, 2222 S. Park St., Suite 200, Madison, WI 53713

WHO: Kaleem Caire, Urban League President & CEO Urban League of Greater Madison Board of Directors Madison Preparatory Academy Board of Directors Community Leaders and Parents

For more information, contact Laura DeRoche Perez, Director of School Development, Urban League of Greater Madison, at or 608-729-1235.

Related: "They're all rich, white kids and they'll do just fine" -- NOT!.

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

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Our Enemy, the Book

Fellow members of the Electronic Educational Entertainment Association. My remarks will be brief, as I realize you all have texts to read, messages to tweet, and you will of course want to take photos of those around you to post on your blog.

I only want to remind you that the book is our enemy. Every minute a student spends reading a book is time taken away from purchasing and using the software and hardware the sale of which we depend on for our livelihoods.

You should keep in mind the story C.S. Lewis told of Wormwood, the sales rep for his uncle Screwtape, a district manager Below, who was panicked when his target client joined a church. What was he to do? Did this mean a lost account? Screwtape reassured him with a story from his own early days. One of his accounts went into a library, and Screwtape was not worried, but then the client picked up a book and began reading. However, then he began to think! And, in an instant, the Enemy Above was at his elbow. But Screwtape did not panic--fortunately it was lunchtime, and he managed to get his prospect up and at the door of the library. There was traffic and busyiness, and the client thought to himself, "This is real life!" And Screwtape was able to close the account.

In the early days, Progressive Educators would sometimes say to students, in effect, "step away from those books and no one gets hurt!" because they wanted students to put down their books, go out, work for social justice, and otherwise take part in "real life" rather than get into those dangerous books and start thinking for themselves, for goodness' sake!

But now we have more effective means of keeping our children in school and at home away from those books. We have Grand Theft Auto and hundreds of other games for them to play at escaping all moral codes. We have smartphones, with which they can while away the hours and the days texting and talking about themselves with their friends.

We even have "educational software" and lots of gear, like video recorders, so that students can maintain their focus on themselves, and stay away from the risks posed by books, which could very possibly lead them to think about something besides themselves. And remember, people who read books and think about something besides themselves do not make good customers. And more than anything, we want and need good customers, young people who buy our hardware and software, and who can be encouraged to stay away from the books in libraries, which are not only free, for goodness's sake, but may even lead them to think. And that will be no help at all to our bottom line. Andrew Carnegie may have been a philanthropist, but by providing free libraries he did nothing to help us sell electronic entertainment products. We must never let down our guard or reduce our advertising. Just remember every young person reading a book is a lost customer! Verbum Sap.


"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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Athletic Hours Sample

I recently received a history paper submitted by a high school Junior who was kind enough
to enumerate the hours he has spent on athletics in a recent year:

Football: 13 hours a week, 13 weeks per year. (169 hours)

Basketball: 12 hours a week, 15 weeks per year. (180 hours)

Lacrosse: 12 hours a week, 15 weeks per year. (180 hours)

Summer Lacrosse: 10 hours per week, 15 weeks per year. (150 hours)

This yields a total, by my calculations, of

169 + 180 + 180 hours = 529 hours + 150 in the summer, for a new total of 679 hours.

We are told that there is no time for high school students to write serious history research papers, which they need to do to prepare themselves for college academic requirements. It seems likely that this young man will be better prepared in athletics
than in academics.

If it were considered important for all students to read history books and to write a serious history research paper, 679 hours (84 eight-hour days) might just be enough for them to manage that.

This particular young man made the time on his own to write a 28-page history research paper with a bibliography and 107 endnotes and submit it to The Concord Review, but this was not his high school requirement.


"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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Some Madison Teachers & Some Community Members (*) on the Proposed Madison Preparatory Academy IB Charter School

200K PDF File, via a kind reader.

Madison Teacher's Inc. Twitter feed can be found here.

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

* Please see TJ Mertz's comment below. A link to the document was forwarded to me via a kind reader from Madison Teachers, Inc. Twitter Feed (a "retweet" of Karen Vieth's "tweet"). Note that I enjoyed visiting with Karen during several Madison School District strategic planning meetings.

A screenshot of the link:

The outcome of the Madison Prep "question" will surely reverberate for some time.

Finally, I suspect we'll see more teacher unions thinking different, as The Minneapolis Federation of Teachers has done: Minneapolis teacher's union approved to authorize charter schools.

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Why Innovation Can't Fix America's Classrooms

Marc Tucker:

Most Atlantic readers know that, although the U.S. spends more per student on K-12 education than any other nation except Luxembourg, students in a growing number of nations outperform our own. But think about this: Among the consistent top performers are not only developed nations (Japan, Finland, Canada), but developing countries and mega-cities such as South Korea, Hong Kong, and Shanghai.

Even if we find a way to educate our future work force to the same standards as this latter group -- and we are a very long way from that now -- wages in the United States will continue to decline unless we outperform those countries enough to justify our higher wages. That is a very tall order.

You would think that, being far behind our competitors, we would be looking hard at how they are managing to outperform us. But many policymakers, business leaders, educators and advocates are not interested. Instead, they are confidently barreling down a path of American exceptionalism, insisting that America is so different from these other nations that we are better off embracing unique, unproven solutions that our foreign competitors find bizarre.

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The courage of Kaleem Caire

Dave Cieslewicz:

Kaleem Caire has only been back in Madison for less than two years, but he sure has grabbed our attention.

Caire didn't waste any time after coming home from a successful private sector career on the East Coast to be the new president for the Urban League of Greater Madison, starting to shake up the local establishment more or less immediately upon arrival. He has been pushing a bold proposal to attack the long-standing issue of minority underachievement in the Madison public schools. His idea for the Madison Preparatory Academy was vetted well in Nathan Comp's cover story for Isthmus last week.

For well over a year now, Caire has been shuttling between the district administration, Madison Teachers, Inc. (MTI) union leaders, school board members, parents, editorial boards and community meetings fighting for this idea.

In response to union and district administration concerns, he changed the proposal to make the school an "instrumentality" of the district, meaning it would be under school board control and be staffed by MTI member teachers. But that proposal came in at a cost for the district of $13 million over five years. Superintendent Dan Nerad, for whom I have a lot of respect, told the League that he couldn't support anything over $5 million.

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Why School Choice Fails

Natalie Hopkinson:

IF you want to see the direction that education reform is taking the country, pay a visit to my leafy, majority-black neighborhood in Washington. While we have lived in the same house since our 11-year-old son was born, he's been assigned to three different elementary schools as one after the other has been shuttered. Now it's time for middle school, and there's been no neighborhood option available.

Meanwhile, across Rock Creek Park in a wealthy, majority-white community, there is a sparkling new neighborhood middle school, with rugby, fencing, an international baccalaureate curriculum and all the other amenities that make people pay top dollar to live there.

Such inequities are the perverse result of a "reform" process intended to bring choice and accountability to the school system. Instead, it has destroyed community-based education for working-class families, even as it has funneled resources toward a few better-off, exclusive, institutions.

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A Degree of Practical Wisdom: The Ratio of Educational Debt to Income as a Basic Measurement of Law School Graduates' Economic Viability

Jim Chen:

This article evaluates the economic viability of a student's decision to borrow money in order to attend law school. For individuals, firms, and entire nations, the ratio of debt to income serves as a measure of economic stability. The ease with which a student can carry and retire educational debt after graduation may be the simplest measure of educational return on investment.

Mortgage lenders evaluate prospective borrowers' debt-to-income ratios. The spread between the front-end and back-end ratios in mortgage lending provides a basis for extrapolating the maximum amount of educational debt that a student should incur. Any student whose debt service exceeds the maximum permissible spread between mortgage lenders' front-end and back-end ratios will not be able to buy a house on credit.

These measures of affordability suggest that the maximum educational back-end ratio (EBER) should fall in a range between 8 and 12 percent of monthly gross income. Four percent would be even better. Other metrics of economic viability in servicing educational debt suggest that the ratio of total educational debt to annual income (EDAI) should range from an ideal 0.5 to a marginal 1.5.

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December 7, 2011

Van Hise student is world chess champ

Doug Moe:

The grin hasn't changed. It still reaches his eyes.

The grin was there last week at Van Hise Elementary School when one of his classmates asked Awonder Liang, age 8, about his medal.

"Where is it?"

"Right here," Awonder said. It lay on a nearby table. Awonder picked it up and put it around his neck.

The grin - I'd first seen it a year earlier - is evidence that Awonder can light up a room like any happy 8-year-old.

The medal is evidence of something else. It means Awonder Liang is the best chess player his age in the world.


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The Power of Education Data

Anne Hyslop:

If policymakers (see Brown, Jerry) still aren't convinced that education data matters, two reports released this week demonstrate that high quality, actionable information about schools and students is vital in efforts to improve education and student outcomes.

Bill summarized the important work of the Data Quality Campaign yesterday. More states than ever are collecting the information educators and policymakers need to make informed decisions about what's working and what isn't in schools. But just because the data can be collected, it doesn't mean that states' work is complete. Data for Action 2011 identifies four challenges - turf, trust, technical issues, and time - that continue to hinder states' efforts to utilize the full potential of their data (shameless plug: you should read my report, Data That Matters, for another set of 4 Ts that all states should follow to make their data user-friendly and actionable for school leaders).

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Let's get together on Madison Prep

Dave Zweifel:

The debate over whether the Madison School Board should give the final OK to the Madison Preparatory Academy is getting a bit nasty.

And that should not be.

While the passion on the part of the advocates for the school, led by the energetic Urban League CEO Kaleem Caire, is perfectly understandable given our schools' dismal record on minority achievement, so is the questioning from those who aren't convinced the prep idea will solve that problem.

Now, on the eve of a vote on that final approval, is not the time to point fingers and make accusations, but to come together and reasonably find ways to overcome the obstacles and reassure those who fret about giving up duly elected officials' oversight of the school and the impact it will have on the entire district's union contracts if not done correctly.

The union problem is not the fault of the union, but stems from Gov. Scott Walker and the Legislature's action to dramatically change public employee collective bargaining in Wisconsin. If the union or the School Board makes concessions for Madison Prep, the collective bargaining agreement for the entire district, which is to expire in June 2013, could be negated.

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

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Online Learning, Personalized

Somini Sengupta:

Jesse Roe, a ninth-grade math teacher at a charter school here called Summit, has a peephole into the brains of each of his 38 students.

He can see that a girl sitting against the wall is zipping through geometry exercises; that a boy with long curls over his eyes is stuck on a lesson on long equations; and that another boy in the front row is getting a handle on probability.

Each student's math journey shows up instantly on the laptop Mr. Roe carries as he wanders the room. He stops at each desk, cajoles, offers tips, reassures. For an hour, this crowded, dimly lighted classroom in the hardscrabble shadow of Silicon Valley hums with the sound of fingers clicking on keyboards, pencils scratching on paper and an occasional whoop when a student scores a streak of right answers.

The software program unleashed in this classroom is the brainchild of Salman Khan, an Ivy League-trained math whiz and the son of an immigrant single mother. Mr. Khan, 35, has become something of an online sensation with his Khan Academy math and science lessons on YouTube, which has attracted up to 3.5 million viewers a month.

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December 6, 2011

Seattle Cluster (Spectrum) Grouping Discussion

Chris Cronas, Principal, Wedgwood Elementary

Prior to the Thanksgiving break, we administered a survey asking for feedback from families about their knowledge and thoughts on the changes we are making to the curriculum delivery model at Wedgwood. Thank you to the 259 families who responded to the survey. We have 449 students currently enrolled at Wedgwood, 185 of whom are siblings. If respondents only completed one survey per family, as requested, our sample is quite accurate.

Overall, families want more information about what cluster grouping is. This was expressed in a variety of ways by families of general education, spectrum and special education students. I will attempt to clarify what it is here and how Wedgwood staff is using this information to move forward.

For those who do not know, cluster grouping is a method of grouping gifted students (gifted being identified as students who score in the 98th - 99th percentile on a cognitive ability test) into clusters of 6 students in one classroom that also include high achievers and above average students. The remaining students would be clustered so that the highest achieving students and lowest achieving students are not in the same classroom. With that as a guide, Wedgwood is developing plans to move from having self-contained spectrum classrooms to integrated classrooms using an interpretation of this model. We are already doing this in 1st grade, albeit more heterogeneously than what the research we based our 1st grade model on suggests.

Charlie Mas has more:
Are you confused about what Wedgwood is doing with their Spectrum program? Join the club. Everyone is confused about what Wedgwood is doing with their Spectrum program. The president of the confusion club appears to be the school's principal, Chris Cronas.

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Proposed Teacher Evaluation Law May Appear on Massachusetts' November Ballot

Dan Ring:

In another issue, Sam Castaneda Holdren, a spokesman for Stand for Children, said the organization collected about 100,000 voter signatures for a ballot question that would codify into law new educator-evaluation regulations approved in June by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

The new state regulations call for evaluating teachers and administrators partly by the scores of their students on the MCAS statewide tests, feedback from students and parents, by state and local observations in classrooms and other measures.

The ballot question would go beyond the state regulations in some respects, said Jason Williams, executive director of Stand for Children in Massachusetts. For example, the question would mandate that the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education approve evaluation plans developed through bargaining with unions in school districts if those local plans differ from a state model that will eventually be developed. Right now, the department could only review those local plans, not reject them, Williams said

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Who wants to be a teacher?

Leon Young:

America now finds itself at an interesting crossroads. Over the next few years, it is estimated that this country will need one million new teachers, as more and more baby boomers begin to retire. (A baby boomer is a person who was born during the demographic Post-War II baby boom and who grew up during the period between 1946 and 1964.)

This impending shortfall of public educators is further exacerbated by the disturbing national trend that has severely undermined job security for many public-sector employees by restricting, or outright prohibiting workers from engaging in the collective bargaining process.

As we have seen, Wisconsin has become the embarrassing leader of the political attack now being orchestrated against the poor and working-class families in this country. But vilifying teachers is nothing new for the Badger State. Former Governor and now U.S. Senate hopeful, Tommy Thompson used teachers and its union (WEAC) as convenient political scapegoats back in the 1990s. He succeeded in making the case that state property taxes were so out of whack, solely as a result of the exorbitant salaries and benefits being afforded to teachers. Talk about pure political demagoguery!

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December 5, 2011

What's the real graduation rate in our schools?

Ericka Mellon:

Roughly one-third of students in Harris County's public schools leave without a diploma, according to a new analysis from Children at Risk.

The Houston-based research and advocacy nonprofit calculated for the first time a decade of average graduation rates for Harris County. It also calculated graduation rates for all the public high schools with available data in Harris, Brazoria, Chambers, Fort Bend, Galveston, Liberty, Montgomery and Waller counties for the ninth-grade class of 2004-05. The rate reflects students who graduated within six years.

As the graphic below shows, the percentage of students graduating high school has increased over the decade, but black and Hispanic students and those from low-income families graduate at much lower rates than their Anglo, Asian and more affluent classmates.

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Programming should take pride of place in our schools

John Naughton:

If we don't change the way ICT is thought about and taught, we're shutting the door on our children's futures

So, in the immortal words of Rory Cellan-Jones, the BBC's technology correspondent, coding (ie computer programming) is "the new Latin". This was the headline on his blog post about the burgeoning campaign to boost the teaching of computer skills in UK schools.

Dedicated readers will recall that it is also a bee in the bonnet of this particular columnist. The ICT (information and communications technology) curriculum in our secondary schools has been a national disgrace for as long as I can remember. This is because it effectively conflates ICT with "office skills" and generally winds up training them to use Microsoft Office when what they really need is ICT education - that is to say preparation for a world in which Microsoft (and maybe even Google) will be little more than historical curiosities, and PowerPoint presentations will look like Dead Sea scrolls.

Rory Cellan-Jones's blog post was prompted by signs that the campaign to rethink ICT education is gathering momentum. It was first given a boost by a report written by two elders of the computer games world, Ian Livingstone and Alex Hope, on the need to transform the UK into "the world's leading talent hub for the video games and visual effects industries". Their report recommended, among other things, that computer science should become part of the national curriculum.

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December 4, 2011

Madison Schools' Administration Opposes the Proposed Madison Preparatory IB Charter School

Superintendent Dan Nerad:

We are in agreement that the achievement gaps for low-income students, students of color, students with disabilities, and English Language Learners must be eliminated. The Administration agrees that bolder steps must be taken to address these gaps. We also know that closing these gaps is not a simple task and change will not come overnight, but, the District's commitment to doing so will not waiver. We also know that to be successful in the long run, we must employ multiple strategies both within our schools and within our community. This is why the District has held interest in many of the educational strategies included in the Madison Prep's proposal like longer school days and a longer school year at an appropriately compensated level for staff, mentoring support, the proposed culture of the school and the International Baccalaureate Program.

While enthusiastic about these educational strategies, the Administration has also been clear throughout this conversation about its concern with a non-instrumentality model.

Autonomy is a notion inherent in all charter school proposals. Freedom and flexibility to do things differently are the very reasons charter schools exist. However, the non-instrumentality charter school model goes beyond freedom and flexibility to a level of separateness that the Administration cannot support.

In essence, Madison Prep's current proposal calls for the exclusion of the elected Board of Education and the District's Administration from the day-to-day operations of the school. It prevents the Board, and therefore the public, from having direct oversight of student learning conditions and teacher working conditions in a publicly-funded charter school. From our perspective, the use of public funds calls for a higher level of oversight than found in the Madison Prep proposal and for that matter in any non-instrumentality proposal.
In addition, based on the District's analysis, there is significant legal risk in entering into a non- instrumentality charter contract under our collective bargaining agreement with our teachers.

In our analysis of Madison Prep's initial instrumentality proposal, the Administration expressed concerns over the cost of the program to the District and ultimately could not recommend funding at the level proposed. Rather, the Administration proposed a funding formula tied to the District's per pupil revenues. We also offered to continue to work with Madison Prep to find ways to lower these costs. Without having those conversations, the current proposal reduces Madison Prep's costs by changing from an instrumentality to a non-instrumentality model. This means that the savings are realized directly through reductions in staff compensation and benefits to levels lower than MMSD employees. The Administration has been willing to have conversations to determine how to make an instrumentality proposal work.

In summary, this administrative analysis finds concerns with Madison Prep's non-instrumentality proposal due to the level of governance autonomy called for in the plan and due to our collective bargaining agreement with our teachers. Based on these issues, we cannot recommend to the Board that Madison Prep be approved as a non-instrumentality charter school.

We know more needs to be done as a district and a community to eliminate our achievement gaps. We must continue to identify strategies both within our schools and our larger community to eliminate achievement gaps. These discussions, with the Urban League and with our entire community, need to continue on behalf of all of our students.

Matthew DeFour:
In anticipation of the recommendation, Caire sent out an email Friday night to School Board members with a letter responding to concerns about the union contract issue.

The problem concerns a "work preservation" clause in the Madison Teachers Inc. contract that requires all teaching duties in the district be performed by union teachers.

Exceptions to the clause have been made in the past, such as having private day-care centers offer 4-year-old kindergarten, but those resulted from agreements with the union. Such an agreement would nullify the current union contract under the state's new collective bargaining law, according to the district.

Caire said a recent law signed by Gov. Scott Walker could allow the district to amend its union contract. However, School Board member Ed Hughes, who is a lawyer, disagreed with Caire's interpretation.

Nerad said even if the union issue can be resolved, he still objects to the school seeking autonomy from all district policies except those related to health and safety of students.


Caire said Madison Prep's specific policies could be ironed out as part of the charter contract after the School Board approves the proposal. He plans to hold a press conference Tuesday to respond to the district's review.

"The purpose of a charter school is to free you from red tape -- not to adopt the same red tape that they have," Caire said. "We hope the board will stop looking at all of those details and start looking at why we are doing this in the first place."

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

The fate of Madison Prep, yea or nea, will resonate locally for years. A decisive moment for our local $372M schools.

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More on How the NEA Spends $133 Million to Preserve Influence

RiShawn Biddle:

As Dropout Nation reported on Wednesday, the National Education Association reported in its recent U.S. Department of Labor filing that it spent $133 million in 2010-2011 on lobbying and contributions to groups whose agendas (in theory) dovetail with its own. And the list of organizations and players who have benefited from the union's largesse grows even larger.

The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, a longtime beneficiary of NEA funds, garnered $400,373 from the union during its last fiscal year. The Great Lakes Center for Education, which, like the Economic Policy Institute, always churns out studies that dovetail nicely with NEA positions, got $250,000 from the national union. (Three affiliates -- Michigan Education Association, Education Minnesota, and the Illinois Education Association -- chipped in another $30,000, according to each of their respective federal filings.) National Board for Professional Teaching Standards got $10,000 from the union last fiscal year. And the University of Colorado at Boulder also picked up $250,000 for a "sponsored project", likely something being put together by one of the NEA's longtime fellow-travelers, Kevin Welner's National Education Policy Center that is based on the university's campus.

More here.

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Just 31% of California students pass P.E. test

Teresa Watanabe:

Fewer than one-third of California students who took a statewide physical fitness test this year managed to pass all six areas assessed, new results show.

State Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, a longtime cross-country coach who has made physical fitness a signature issue, announced the results this week as he launched a program to improve children's health. The campaign will use such celebrity athletes as NBA all-star Bill Walton and others to visit schools to urge students to drink more water, eat more fruits and vegetables and increase their exercise.

"When only 31% of children are physically fit, that's a public health challenge we can't wait to address," Torlakson said in a statement.

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Straight Time: The boy's pot habit was out of control, so his parents enrolled him at The House, a nonresidential rehab facility attended by the kids of well-connected Westsiders. Now his family questions everything

Michael Angeli:

When the end finally came, it came fast. Spotting Steve's red BMW convertible parked in the driveway, Culver City police in tactical vests and armed with assault weapons quickly deployed, swarming the front and rear entrances. Wearing a green nylon jacket with RAID splashed across the shoulders, Sergeant Jason Sims knocked on the front door, then ordered his men to break it down with a battering ram. Inside, kids screamed, cried, or just stood there trying to wrap their heads around what they were witnessing--and what their parents were witnessing. Because this was a Thursday, this was Family Night. Expecting to endure an evening of candor with impunity--Guess what, Mother? The world doesn't revolve around you!--parents had their bean dip and decaf upended by an armed raid. Tilling the big wayward ship of their children's adolescence had left them chronically alert to trouble, but not like this.

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Madison School District Talented and Gifted Update

Madison Superintendent Dan Nerad:

Elementary Support & Services
National Novel Writing Month
Future Problem Solving
Math enrichment
William & Mary Literature groups
M2 and M3 Math groups
American Math Competition 8
Science enrichment pilot College for Kids I (support)

Middle School Support & Services
WCATY courses
Future Problem Solving
Online courses
Advanced Math courses
Assistance with Science Symposium
American Math Competition 8
College for Kids II (support)
Great Books Pilot
Hybrid Geometry Pilot

High School Support & Services
College Matters at UW Madison
Math Meets (competitions)
Respectful Relationship days
Leadership Conference (pilot, grant application in progress)
Assistance with High School Science Symposium

Mentor Services
1. Falk- Working with students in a writing group
2. Stephens- Working with a group of students in math
3. Lapham-1'1/2"dgrade-Math
4. Schenk- Science/math enrichment
5. Crestwood- Math enrichment
6. Crestwood- Math enrichment
7. Crestwood-Math enrichment
8. Franklin- Math enrichment
9. Randall- Math enrichment
10. Randall - Math enrichment

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Madison Prep IB Charter: Making sense of the controversial charter school

Nathan Comp:

On Dec. 19, the Madison school board is scheduled to vote on whether to approve Madison Preparatory Academy, a charter school that would target at-risk minority students.

For more than 18 months, the proposal -- drawn up by the Urban League of Greater Madison as an ambitious step toward closing the district's racial achievement gap -- has polarized the community, with a broad range of critics taking aim on multiple fronts.

The proposal, at least by local standards, is a radical one, under which the Urban League would operate two largely taxpayer-funded, gender-specific secondary schools with an unprecedented level of autonomy. If approved, Madison Prep would open next fall with 120 sixth-graders and peak at 840 students in grades 6 through 12 by its seventh year.

Opponents say the Urban League's proposal combines flawed educational models, discredited science, fuzzy budgeting and unrealistic projections of student success. While some applaud certain elements of the proposal, like longer school days and academic years, they maintain that Madison Prep won't help enough students to justify the $17.5 million cost to the district over its first five years.

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December 3, 2011

Madison Schools for Whites Equivalent to Singapore, Finland (!); Troller Bids Adieu

Susan Troller, Via email:

Madison schools aren't failing, by any stretch of the imagination, for many students.

In fact, if you're a white, middle-class family sending your children to public school here, your kids are likely getting an education that's on a par with Singapore or Finland -- among the best in the world.

However, if you're black or Latino and poor, it's an unquestionable fact that Madison schools don't as good a job helping you with your grade-point average, high school graduation, college readiness or test scores. By all these measures, the district's achievement gap between white and minority students is awful.

These facts have informed the stern (and legitimate) criticisms leveled by Urban League President Kaleem Caire and Madison Prep backers.

But they doesn't take into account some recent glimmers of hope that shouldn't be discounted or overlooked. Programs like AVID/TOPS support first-generation college-bound students in Madison public schools and are showing some successes. Four-year-old kindergarten is likely to even the playing field for the district's youngest students, giving them a leg up as they enter school. And, the data surrounding increasing numbers of kids of color participating in Advanced Placement classes is encouraging.

Stepping back from the local district and looking at education through a broader lens, it's easy to see that No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top have aimed to legislate, bribe and punish their way toward an unrealistic Lake Wobegon world where all the students are above average.

Remarkable. Are there some excellent teachers in Madison? Certainly. Does Madison's Administration seek best in the world results? A look at the math task force, seemingly on hold for years, is informative. The long one size fits all battle and the talented and gifted complaint are worth contemplating.

Could Madison be the best? Certainly. The infrastructure is present, from current spending of $14,963/student to the nearby UW-Madison, Madison College and Edgewood College backed by a supportive community.

Ideally, Madison (and Wisconsin) should have the courage to participate in global examinations (Florida Students Take Global Examinations, Wisconsin's Don't). Taxpayers and parents would then know if Troller's assertions are fact based.

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How Madison Prep Can Be a Non-Instrumentality (Non-Union)?

Kaleem Caire, via email

December 2, 2011

Greetings Madison Prep.

Tomorrow afternoon, we are expecting to learn that MMSD's Administration will inform the Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education that Madison Prep should not be approved. A possible reason we expect will be MMSD's concern that the current collective bargaining agreement between the District and Madison Teachers Inc. (MTI) has a "work preservation clause" which the teacher's union advocated for long ago to ensure that it was the only game in town to represent public school teachers in Madison.

Below, is the cover note that I forwarded to Ed Hughes of the Board of Education and copied to a number of others, who had asked a thoughtful question about our proposal to establish Madison Prep as a non-instrumentality charter school, we hope, in fall 2012. Also see the letter attached to this email.
---------------------------------------- --------------------------------------------------------------------------
December 2, 2011

Greetings Ed.

Attached, please find a letter that contains the answer to your question referenced in your email below. The letter contains the explanation of a path to which Madison Prep could be established as a non-instrumentality public charter school, under Wisconsin law, and in a way that would not violate the current collective bargaining agreement between MMSD and Madison Teachers Inc.

We look forward to answering any questions you or other members of the Board of Education may have.

Thank you so much and Many blessings to you and your family this holiday season.


cc: Daniel Nerad, MMSD Superintendent
Dylan Pauly, MMSD Legal Counsel
MMSD Board of Education Members
ULGM Board of Directors
Madison Prep Board of Directors
Godfrey & Kahn, S.C.
Steve Goldberg, CUNA Mutual Foundation

PDF letter:
This letter is intended to respond to your November 78,207I email and to suggest that there is a viable option for moving forward with Urban League's proposal for the Madison Preparatory Academy ("Madison Prep") that: [i) will reduce cost; and (ii) will not sacrifice the union security provisions of the Collective Bargaining Agreement "Agreement" or "Contract") between the Madison Metropolitan School District ("MMSD" or "District") and Madison Teachers, Inc. ("MTI").

Your email asks for a response to a question concerning how the school district could authorize Madison Prep as a non-instrumentality charter without thereby violating the terms of the District's Agreement with MTI. Your email references a provision in the MTI Agreement that provides "that instructional duties where the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction requires that such be performed by a certifìcated teacher, shall be performed only by'teachers."' .See Article I, Section 8.3.a. In addition you note that "the term 'teacher' refers to anyone in the collective bargaining unit." See Article I, Section 8.2. You conclude your email by stating that "it appears that all teachers in MMSD schools -- including non-instrumentality charter schools - must be members of the MTI bargaining unit."

The Urban League is aware of the Agreement's language and concedes that the language, if enforceable, poses an obstacle as we look for School Board approval of the plan to open and operate a "non-instrumentality" school. Under an instrumentality charter, the employees of the charter school must be employed by the school board. Under a non-instrumentality charter, the school board may not be the employer of the charter school's staff. See S 118.40(7)(a). Thus, the statement in your email that all teachers, including those in a non-instrumentality charter school - "must be members of the MTI bargaining unit" and, presumably, employed by the school board is not permitted under Wisconsin law.

Under Wisconsin's charter school law the School Board has the exclusive authority to determine whether a school is an instrumentality or not an instrumentality of the school district. .See S 118.40(7)(a). That decision is an important decision reserved to the School Board alone. The effect of that decision drives whether teachers and staff must be, or cannot be, employees of the School Board. The language of the Contract deprives the School Board of the decision reserved to it under the statute and that language cannot be harmonized to give effect to both the statute and the Agreement. Alternatively the Contract language creates a situation whereby the School Board may exercise its statutory authority to approve a non-instrumentality charter but it must staff the school with school district employees, a result clearly prohibited under the statute. In our view the law trumps the Contract in either of these situations.

The situation described above could likely only be resolved in a court of law. The Contract includes a "savings clause" that contemplates that where a court invalidates a provision in the Agreement, the invalid provision is deleted and the remainder of the contract remains intact. See Article VIII, Section E.

The Urban League is, however, mindful that litigation is both expensive and time consuming. Moreover it is clear that the Contract language will become a prohibited subject of bargaining in the near future when the current Agreement expires. Unfortunately, the children we seek to serve, do not have the time to wait for that day.

Our second purpose in writing is to make you aware of a possible solution to a major obstacle here. One of the major obstacles in moving forward has been the cost associated with an instrumentality school coupled with MTI's reluctance to work with the District in modifying the Contract to reduce costs associated with staffing and certain essential features of Madison Prep, like an extended school day, As we understand it MTI does not want to modify the Contract because such a modification would result in an earlier application of 2077 Wisconsin Act L0 to the District, members of the bargaining unit and to MTI itself.

We understand MTI's reluctance to do anything that would hasten the application of Act 10 in the school district, With the passage of 2011. Wisconsin Act 65, that concern is no longer an obstacle.

Act 65 allows the parties to a collective bargaining agreement to enter into a memorandum of understanding that would run for the remaining term of the collective bargaining agreement, for the purpose of reducing the cost of compensation or fringe benefits in the collective bargaining agreement,

The Act also provides that entering into such a memorandum would not be considered a "modification" of the collective bargaining agreement for the purposes of Act 10. Act 65 was published on November 23,2077 and took effect the following day. The law allows the parties to a collective bargaining agreement to enter into such a memorandum no later than 90 days after the effective date of the law.

The Urban League believes that Act 65 gives the Board and MTI the opportunity to make changes that will facilitate cost reductions, based in compensation and fringe benefits, to help Madison Prep move forward. And, the law allows the parties to do so in a way that does not adversely impact the teachers represented by MTI or the union security provisions of the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

For example, the parties could agree to reduce the staffing costs for Madison Prep, The parties could also agree that a longer school day would not have to cost more. And, the parties could agree that the work preservation clause referenced in the first part of this letter does not apply where the School Board has determined a charter school willbe a non-instrumentality of the District, a move that would also most certainly reduce costs. These changes would not be forced upon any existing MTI represented teacher as teachers would apply for vacancies in the school.

We hope that the School Board will give serious consideration to the opportunity presented by Act 65. 0n behalf of the Urban League of Greater Madison and Madison Preparatory Academy, we thank you for your support of Madison Prep.

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

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Schools Get White House Advice on Race, Admissions

Jess Bravin:

The Obama administration issued new guidance Friday advising schools and colleges on how they can make race-based enrollment decisions to promote campus diversity, shortly before the Supreme Court is set to consider whether to re-examine a 2003 case holding that universities could sometimes use race in admissions decisions.

"Diverse learning environments promote development of analytical skills, dismantle stereotypes and prepare students to succeed in an increasingly interconnected world," Attorney General Eric Holder said in a joint release by the Justice and Education departments.

The departments withdrew prior guidance from the Bush administration, which officials said was too vague to assist school administrators seeking to promote diverse student enrollment. The new guidance parses the Supreme Court's most recent rulings on student diversity to suggest policies the administration believes would not violate the 14th Amendment's guarantee of equal protection of the laws.

Like the former Bush administration guidance, the new documents advise schools to use race-neutral policies if possible. If those prove insufficient, however, the new guidance states that a school "may consider a student's race as a 'plus factor' (among other, nonracial considerations) to achieve its compelling interests" in diversity.

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College for All?

Kevin Carey:

It would have been understandable if President Barack Obama had ignored education in his first speech to Congress. There were other things to worry about in February 2009: an economy in free fall, health care costs threatening to bankrupt the federal government, a nation bleeding in two protracted foreign wars. Obama had said little about education on the campaign trail. Yet when he took the podium, he made a bold declaration: By 2020, America would regain its historical international lead in college attainment.

Months earlier, Bill Gates had announced a similar priority for his charitable foundation, the richest on the planet. After years of focusing on improving education for students in kindergarten through 12th grade, the Microsoft billionaire had set his sights on college. As would Obama, he called for a major increase in the number of adults with college degrees. Together, the most powerful man in the world and one of the richest created a rare moment of purpose and clarity in American education policy.

But effecting a major increase in college attainment is a daunting task. The percentage of American working-age adults who have graduated from college has hovered around 40 percent for years, with roughly 30 percent holding four-year degrees and another 10 percent associate's degrees. Obama and Gates were calling for a rise in the college attainment rate to nearly 60 percent in less than a generation, even though many public colleges and universities were already bursting at the seams, and cash-strapped state legislatures were handing down further punishing budget cuts.

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December 2, 2011

Is Suburbia Doomed?

Joel Kotkin:

This past weekend the New York Times devoted two big op-eds to the decline of the suburb. In one, new urban theorist Chris Leinberger said that Americans were increasingly abandoning "fringe suburbs" for dense, transit-oriented urban areas. In the other, UC Berkeley professor Louise Mozingo called for the demise of the "suburban office building" and the adoption of policies that will drive jobs away from the fringe and back to the urban core.

Perhaps no theology more grips the nation's mainstream media -- and the planning community -- more than the notion of inevitable suburban decline. The Obama administration's housing secretary, Shaun Donavan, recently claimed, "We've reached the limits of suburban development: People are beginning to vote with their feet and come back to the central cities."

Yet repeating a mantra incessantly does not make it true. Indeed, any analysis of the 2010 U.S. Census would make perfectly clear that rather than heading for density, Americans are voting with their feet in the opposite direction: toward the outer sections of the metropolis and to smaller, less dense cities. During the 2000s, the Census shows, just 8.6% of the population growth in metropolitan areas with more than 1 million people took place in the core cities; the rest took place in the suburbs. That 8.6% represents a decline from the 1990s, when the figure was 15.4%.

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After Decades of Building Colleges, South Korea Faces a Lack of Students

David McNeill:

It has become something of a joke here. At the same time President Obama is lavishly praising South Korea's education system, South Koreans are heaping criticism on it.

In speeches about America's relative decline, Mr. Obama has repeatedly singled out South Korea's relentless educational drive, its high university enrollment, and its steady production of science and engineering graduates as worthy of emulation.

His South Korean counterpart, meanwhile, warns of a glut of university graduates and a work force hard-wired to outdated 20th-century manufacturing skills. "Reckless entrance into college is bringing huge losses to families and the country alike," said President Lee Myung-bak of South Korea recently.

Mr. Lee has raised eyebrows, and hackles, by suggesting that fewer people should go to college from a population of 50 million that sustains 3.8 million undergraduate and graduate students.

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December 1, 2011

Low-income, minority students shine in Madison schools' college prep program, analysis shows

Matthew DeFour:

Black and Hispanic students in a special Madison School District college preparatory program have higher grade point averages, attendance rates and test scores than their peers who aren't in the program, according to a UW-Madison analysis.

The study of the AVID/TOPS program -- geared toward preparing low-income, minority students for college -- comes as the Madison School Board contemplates a proposal to create Madison Preparatory Academy, a controversial charter school with similar goals.

Some opponents of Madison Prep argue the AVID/TOPS program is a proven way of helping close the achievement gap between white and minority students.

Superintendent Dan Nerad said the district is pushing ahead with a proposal to expand the program in middle school. It currently serves 491 students at East, West, Memorial and La Follette high schools and Black Hawk Middle School.

"I would not tell you that AVID alone will make the difference," Nerad said. "But it's a very important piece for us."

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School Choice?

Andrew Rotherham:

The new Brookings index on school choice is interesting and worth a look but as I go through it two things seem to jump out. First, despite the rhetoric in the public square there still isn't a great deal of real choice in education. And second, the index seems to reward places (relatively speaking) that have limited choices but still do all the things you should do (information, transportation etc...nonetheless). That's like having an incredible restaurant with easy valet parking, wonderful fresh food, great service, and lovely ambiance - but that can only seat four people a night. Nice but limited.

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The Extraordinary Syllabus of David Foster Wallace What his lesson plans teach us about how to live.

Katie Roiphe:

Lately David Foster Wallace seems to be in the air: Is his style still influencing bloggers? Is Jeffrey Eugenides' bandana-wearing depressed character in The Marriage Plot based on him? My own reasons for thinking about him are less high-flown. Like lots of other professors, I am just now sitting down to write the syllabus for a class next semester, and the extraordinary syllabuses of David Foster Wallace are in my head.

I am not generally into the reverential hush that seems to surround any mention of David Foster Wallace's name by most writers of my generation or remotely proximate to it; I am not enchanted by some fundamental childlike innocence people seem to find in him. I am suspicious generally of those sorts of hushes and enchantments, and yet I do feel in the presence of his careful crazy syllabuses something like reverence.

Wallace doesn't accept the silent social contract between students and professors: He takes apart and analyzes and makes explicit, in a way that is almost painful, all of the tiny conventional unspoken agreements usually made between professors and their students. "Even in a seminar class," his syllabus states, "it seems a little silly to require participation. Some students who are cripplingly shy, or who can't always formulate their best thoughts and questions in the rapid back-and-forth of a group discussion, are nevertheless good and serious students. On the other hand, as Prof --- points out supra, our class can't really function if there isn't student participation--it will become just me giving a half-assed ad-lib lecture for 90 minutes, which (trust me) will be horrible in all kinds of ways."

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More kids are missing school shots

Associated Press:

More parents are opting out of school shots for their children. In eight states now, more than one in 20 public school kindergartners aren't getting all the vaccines required for attendance, an Associated Press analysis found.

That growing trend among parents seeking vaccine exemptions has health officials worried about outbreaks of diseases that once were all but stamped out.

Take measles, for example. It can lead to pneumonia, encephalitis and death. Since 2000, one in every 250 Americans who got measles died.

The measles vaccine is so effective, 99.9% of those who get vaccinated gain immunity, said Geoffrey Swain, associate professor at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health and chief medical officer for the Milwaukee Health Department.

Many children cannot get the measles vaccine, though, because they aren't old enough - the first dose of vaccine is recommended between 12 and 15 months. Or, they have medical issues or families with religious beliefs that leave them unprotected and susceptible to measles through no fault of their own, Swain said.

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Proposed High School Angers Parents at Gifted and Talented School

Emily Canal:

Parents gathered in the auditorium of the Talented and Gifted School for Young Scholars on Tuesday morning were not happy.

Their school, one of only three citywide gifted and talented programs in Manhattan, shares space in an East Harlem building with three middle schools. They learned recently that one of the schools, Esperanza Preparatory Academy, wants to expand to a high school, and they are concerned that the expansion will cause overcrowding and bring other problems.

Tuesday's meeting was called by the Education Department last week after parents flooded the office with calls and e-mails expressing concern about the addition of high school grades when their school has children as young as kindergarten.

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Keys to college students' success often overlooked, report says

Carla Rivera:

Colleges should examine a wider set of social, economic and personal characteristics to determine how they can help students remain in school and graduate, a new report has found (PDF report link).

Aside from SAT scores and high school grade point averages, students' success in college relies on a number of other factors -- often overlooked -- that more accurately predict whether they will stay in school, according to the report scheduled for release Tuesday by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA.

Using information from a national survey of college freshmen in public and private institutions as well as graduation data, the report found, for example, that students who visit a college before enrolling, participate in clubs and other activities and those who have used the Internet for research and homework are more likely to complete a degree earlier than others. The costs of attending a college and the institution's size also contribute to students' success, the report found.

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November 30, 2011

Masters of the Game and Leaders by Example

Dylan Loeb McClain via a kind reader's email:

Fewer than 2 percent of the 77,000 members of the United States Chess Federation are masters -- and just 13 of them are under the age of 14.

Among that select group of prodigies are three black players from the New York City area -- Justus Williams, Joshua Colas and James Black Jr. -- who each became masters before their 13th birthdays.

"Masters don't happen every day, and African-American masters who are 12 never happen," said Maurice Ashley, 45, the only African-American to earn the top title of grandmaster. "To have three young players do what they have done is something of an amazing curiosity. You normally wouldn't get something like that in any city of any race."

The chess federation, the game's governing body, does not keep records on the ethnicity of its members. But a Web site called the Chess Drum -- which chronicles the achievements of black chess players and is run by Daaim Shabazz, an associate professor of business at Florida A&M University -- lists 85 African-American masters. Shabazz said many of them no longer compete regularly.

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Chicago Public Schools' Unveils School Turnaround Targets

Rebecca Vevea:

Chicago Public Schools officials plan to overhaul 10 schools next year, six of which will be managed by a private organization in the latest move by Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration to turn to the private sector to aid poorly performing public schools.

The proposed overhauls--commonly called turnarounds--involve the firing of existing staff and improvements to school curriculum and culture. Turnarounds are the first step in a series of school actions that include consolidating and closing underperforming schools.

A new state law requires CPS to announce all school closings and turnarounds by Thursday. There was vociferous opposition to any proposed closings at recent public hearings, which were also required by the law, even though though the list of targeted schools had not yet been released.

The elementary schools slated for turnaround are: Pablo Casals, 3501 W. Potomac Ave.; Melville W. Fuller, 4214 S. Saint Lawrence Ave.; Theodore Herzl, 3711 W. Douglas Blvd.; Marquette, 6550 S Richmond St.; Brian Piccolo, 1040 N Keeler Ave.; Amos Alonzo Stagg, 7424 S Morgan St.; Wendell Smith, 744 E 103rd St. and Carter G. Woodson South Elementary Schools, 4414 S Evans. The Chicago Vocational Career Academy, at 2100 E 87th St., and Tilden Career Community Academy, 4747 S Union Ave., high schools also are targeted for turnaround.

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America's Public Sector Union Dilemma

Lee Ohanian:

There is much less competition in the public sector than the private sector, and that has made all the difference.

Since the Great Recession began in 2008, there has been a growing criticism of public sector unions, reflecting taxpayer concerns about union compensation and unfunded pension liabilities. These concerns have led to proposals to change public sector union policy in very significant ways. Earlier this month, voters in Ohio defeated by a wide margin a law that would have restricted union powers, although polls showed broad support for portions of the law that would have reduced union benefits. In Wisconsin, a state with a long-standing pro-union stance, Governor Scott Walker advanced policy in February that would cut pay and substantially curtail collective bargaining rights of many public sector union workers. In Florida, State Senator John Thrasher introduced legislation that would prevent governments from collecting union dues from union worker state paychecks. And it is not just Ohio, Wisconsin, and Florida that are attempting to change the landscape of public unions. Cash-strapped governments in many states are considering ways to reduce the costs associated with public unions.

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November 29, 2011

Taking healthcare to students

Anna Gorman:

As soon as the school day ended, the rush at the health clinic began.

Two high school seniors asked for sports physicals. A group of teenagers lined up for free condoms. A girl told a counselor she needed a pregnancy test.

The clinic, at Belmont High School near downtown Los Angeles, is part of a rapidly expanding network of school-based centers around the nation offering free or low-cost medical care to students and their families.

In California, there are 183 school health centers, up from 121 in 2004. Twelve more are expected to open by next summer, according to the California School Health Center Assn.

The centers have become a small but important part of the nation's healthcare safety net, experts say, treating low-income patients who might otherwise not have regular medical care. Now, they add, campus clinics are serving as a model for health officials trying to reduce costs.

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The other student loan problem: too little debt

Justin Pope:

Jesse Yeh uses the University of California-Berkeley library instead of buying textbooks. He scrounges for free food at campus events and occasionally skips meals. He's stopped exercising and sleeps five to six hours per night so he can take 21 credits -- a course load so heavy he had to get special permission from a dean.

The only thing he won't do: take out a student loan.

"I see a lot of my friends who took out student loans, then they graduated and because of the economy right now they still couldn't find a job," said the third-year student, whose parents both lost their jobs in 2009 and who grew up in the boom-and-bust town of Victorville, Calif., on a block with several houses in foreclosure. "The debt burden is really heavy on them."

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November 28, 2011

Korean teen held after pushy mother's death

Christian Oliver and Song Jung-a:

South Korean police have detained a teenager suspected of murdering his mother after she allegedly beat him with a golf club to get better school grades, in a case that has raised questions about the high-pressure nature of the country's education system.

The macabre incident has shocked the nation, with younger mothers questioning the values of previous generations who have been pushing children hard to improve their school performance.

"Children are being driven to the limit ... so many of them suffer from depression, kill themselves or commit impulsive crimes out of desperation," says Oh Sung-sook, head of the Citizens' Council for Educational Reform, an activist group.

Psychologists argue that the educational rat-race - children are routinely forced to study late into the night seven days a week and corporal punishment is still permitted - is stunting social development.

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Do schools conceal violent incidents and threats to avoid negative press and parent outrage?

Maureen Downey:

Among the extended family I saw over the holiday was a young relative who is working as a substitute teacher in the Northeast since he can't find a full-time teaching post. He shared a story that surprised me, and I wanted to run it by folks here.

He was subbing at a low-performing high school that recently had a well-publicized stabbing. A student in his class pulled what he thought was a real gun on him, and they had a standoff for several minutes until the teen put the "gun" away and the teacher tackled him to the floor. It turned out the gun was a toy, and the student received a three-day suspension for the incident.

The substitute teacher was disappointed with the punishment, but said the school wanted to prevent another round of negative press.

Would such an incident be kept quiet in Georgia? Could it go so easily unreported under zero tolerance policies in which students can get suspended for Tweety Bird key chains?

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November 27, 2011

Welcome to India's Higher Education system . God Bless You!!!


I have been taking an Under-Graduate Course in Computer Science and Engineering(in short B.Tech CSE) in a reputed Private Engineering in India for one and half years.My college has given me 7.5 grades till now. I would rate them 5/10. I wanted to give them 2 or 3 but presence of Infrastructure and some encouraging professors saved them.

Every day when I go to college I expect to learn something new that would encourage me for research and thinking. And after coming back to my hostel room, I do have something new that make me thinking. But mind you its not because of the college or their intensive study program that I'm paying high fees for; but it is the Internet, the articles at Hacker News and Reddit and other sites that does this. Whenever I get time I tend to open these sites on my not so good Nokia touchscreen phone. It doesn't have much of features that i can boost of but it does my work. That is the state of our private Universities.

Well I agree with my college friends that most of the students that come to private universities don't want education but a degree, a campus life and guys they can hook up with. They have their contacts and their Dad's business after that. Most of the students that come here want spoon feeding. Tell them what is important and coming in exam and they will cram it, cram it so much they can recite it word to word. But still it doesn't mean professors also does spoon feeding for them and come here for high salaries, comfort and increasing their teaching experience so that later on can go to some Top Government College.

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Smart, Young, and Broke: White-collar workers are China's newest underclass.

Melinda Liu:

At first glance, Guo Yilei looks like a Chinese success story. Born to a poor peasant family in China's remote Gansu province, he's now a 26-year-old computer programmer in the Big Cabbage (as some call Beijing nowadays). By Chinese standards he makes decent money, more than $70 a week. When he has work, that is. It can take months to find the next job. And meanwhile, he's living in Tangjialing, a reeking slum on the city's edge where he and his girlfriend rent a 100-square-foot studio apartment for $90 a month. "When I was at school, I believed in the saying, 'Knowledge can help you turn over a new leaf,'" says Guo. "But since I've started working, I only half-believe it."

Guo and an estimated million others like him represent an unprecedented and troublesome development in China: a fast-growing white-collar underclass. Since the '90s, Chinese universities have doubled their admissions, far outpacing the job market for college grads. This year China's universities and tech institutes churned out roughly 6.3 million graduates. Many grew up in impoverished rural towns and villages and attended second- or third-tier schools in the provinces, trusting that studying hard would bring them better lives than their parents had. But when they move on and apply for jobs in Beijing or Shanghai or any of China's other booming metropolises, they get a nasty shock.

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November 26, 2011

Perth Amboy superintendent: Tenure laws keep bad apples in the classroom

Janine Walker Caffrey:

As the superintendent of the Perth Amboy school district, I am responsible for the education of more than 10,000 children.

We are fortunate to have the dedication of hundreds of committed and talented teachers and administrators who focus on education every day. But for 15 to 20 percent of each week, I shift focus from our students, who should be at the center of all we do, to certain adults who no longer have a place in our education system, yet simply can't be dismissed.

There has been much discussion about teacher evaluation and its potential to improve learning in our classrooms. This issue focuses on things like linking teacher tenure and pay to student test scores, and so-called value-added data. There are many disagreements about these measures, but I believe we can agree on the fact that there are certain teachers who just should not be working with children. We don't want teachers in our classrooms who talk explicitly about sexual acts, or who hit children, put soap in their mouths or curse at them. We certainly don't want teachers who make repeated sexual advances to other teachers, do drugs at school or fly into rages for no apparent reason. I have active cases like these, and have returned almost all of these teachers to their positions.

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November 25, 2011

A Closer Look at Wisconsin's Test Scores Reveals Troubling Trend

Christian D'Andrea:

When the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) released their 2011 results, things seemed to be working out well for Wisconsin's public schools. The state posted above average numbers in key subjects like reading and mathematics in fourth and eighth grade.

However, a deeper look into those numbers exposes some troubling trends. Namely, Wisconsin's Hispanic students are regressing when it comes to reading in the state's classrooms.

The state's 2011 results held steady at 202 points for fourth-grade reading amongst Hispanic pupils. This was down from a score of 208 in 2007 and less than the state's score of 209 in 1992, the first iteration of the test. In eighth grade, the average score dropped from 250 to 248. This is a decrease from 1998's average of 256 - the first year the test was recorded for the group.

These results highlight a grim trend. Over the past two decades, reading achievement amongst the state's Hispanic students has regressed. While national averages have seen a growth of 5.7 percent in fourth grade reading and 5.5 percent in eighth grade reading amongst Hispanic test takers, Wisconsin has posted losses. The state's scores dropped by 3.4 percent and 2.8 percent in the two grades, respectively.

Related: Updating the 2009 Scholastic Bowl Longhorns 17 - Badgers 1; Thrive's "Advance Now Competitive Assessment Report"
Earlier this year Wisconsin teachers and their supporters compared Wisconsin and Texas academically and claimed that Wisconsin had better achievement because it ranked higher on ACT/SAT scores. The fact that this claim ignored the ethnic composition of the states, prompted David Burge to use the National Assessment of Educational Progress(NAEP) to compare educational achievement within the same ethnic groups. His conclusion, based on the 2009 NAEP in Reading, Mathematics, and Science (3 subject areas times 2 grades, 4th and 8th, times 3 ethnicities, white, black, and hispanic equals 18 comparisons), was Longhorns 17 - Badgers 1.

The 2011 NAEP results are now available for Reading and
Mathematics. The updated conclusion (2 subject areas times 2 grades, 4th and 8th, times 3 ethnicities, white, black, and hispanic equals 12 comparisons) is Longhorns 12 - Badgers 0. Not only did Texas students outperform Wisconsin students in every one of the twelve ethnicity-controlled comparisons, but Texas students exceeded the national average in all 12 comparisons. Wisconsin students were above the average 3 times, below the average 8 times, and tied the average once.

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November 24, 2011

Lady Gaga Makes It to Harvard

[well, at least these guys don't have students reading history books, writing history papers--stuff like that!!]

Charlotte Allen:

What is it about academics and Lady Gaga? Last year it was a freshman writing course at the University of Virginia titled "GaGa for Gaga: Sex, Gender, and Identity." This fall there's an upper-division sociology course at the University of South Carolina titled "Lady Gaga and the Sociology of Fame." Meghan Vicks, a graduate student in comparative literature at the University of Colorado, co-edits a postmodernist online journal, "Gaga Stigmata: Critical Writings and Art About Lady Gaga," in which the names "Judith Butler" and "Jean Baudrillard" drip as thickly as summer rain and the tongue-tripping sentences read like this: "And her project?--To deconstruct the very pop culture that creates and worships her, and to explore and make problematic the hackneyed image of the pop icon while flourishing in the clichéd role itself."

And now Gaga has reached the very pinnacle of academic recognition: a Harvard affiliation. On Nov. 2 she announced that she and Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet Society will launch a nonprofit foundation, to be called Born This Way (after one of Gaga's songs), which will focus on mentoring teenagers and combating bullying.

What is fascinating is how, well, gaga the tenured scholars and highly placed academic administrators are for the 25-year-old singer whose main claim to fame is her rise from unknown to superstar and multiple Grammy winner in just three years. She managed this feat mostly on the basis of outré costumes and transgressive dancing--plus her world-class flair for self-promotion--rather than her ho-hum musical ability. Mathieu Deflem, the sociology professor who is teaching the Gaga course at South Carolina, for example, owns more than 300 of her records, maintains a fan website called, and (according to a 2010 New York Times article) has attended more than 28 of her live concerts, following her from city to city around the world. Similarly, Harvard's Berkman Center is a well-funded interdisciplinary think tank whose faculty consists of prestigious professors of law, engineering, and business at Harvard (two of the biggest names are Lawrence Lessig and Charles Ogletree). But when the forthcoming Gaga-Berkman partnership went public last week, the center's mental heavyweights sounded as besotted as the teen-age girls and starstruck gays who hang onto every Gaga Twitter tweet. In an interview with the Harvard Crimson John Palfrey, a Harvard law professor who is the Berkman Center's co-director, praised as "impressive" the "research" that Gaga had done and hailed the forthcoming partnership as "a good chance for Harvard to be one University."

Gaga's faculty fans like to clothe their obsessive interest in her with a dense coat of academic-speak. Christa Romanosky, the graduate student at U.Va. who made Gaga the centerpiece of her freshman writing course last year, told the student newspaper, the Daily Cavalier, "We're exploring how identity is challenged by gender and sexuality and how Lady Gaga confronts this challenge." The reading list for Deflem's course at South Carolina includes several articles about Gaga by Victor Corona, a postdoctoral fellow in sociology at the Polytechnic Institute of New York University. Corona's writing is a kudzu-like tangle of po-mo jargon: "Gaga's hypermodern gospel of liberation hints at the irrelevance of truth or, rather, the creation of one's own truth, a performance that is relentlessly enacted until some version of it becomes true."

Yet Corona has nothing on Judith "Jack" Halberstam, English professor and director of the Center for Feminist Research at the University of Southern California. In an essay analyzing Gaga's Grammy-nominated 2010 music video "Telephone" for Gaga Stigmata, Halberstam drops trendy poststructuralist surnames like coins into a wishing well: "[I]t is a [Michel] Foucaultian take on prison and 'technological entrapment'; here... it has been read as the channeling of [Judith] Butler's 'Lesbian Phallus'; it is obscene, murderous, cruel to animals, misogynist, man-hating, homophobic and heterophobic; and I think you could safely place it as a [Gilles] Deleuzian exploration of flow and affect not to mention an episode in Object Oriented Philosophy. So whether the philosophy in question is drawn from [Slavoj] Zizek on speed, [Avital] Ronell on crack or [Quentin] Meillassoux on ecstasy, this video obviously chains a few good ideas to a few very good bodies and puts thought into motion." Neither Halberstam nor Corona permit any negative assessments of their idol. Corona characterized a recent critical biography, Poker Face: The Rise and Rise of Lady Gaga, as "embittered."

Since Gaga's academic fan base indulges heavily in "theory," as the po-mo types like to call it, allow me to indulge in my own "theory" about why college professors and other self-proclaimed avant-garde intellectuals have taken her to their bosoms. Take note of the academic fields represented by the scholars I have quoted above: sociology (Deflem and Corona), English (Halberstam), comparative literature (Vicks), and creative writing (Romanosky). Once those were real fields, with genuine bodies of knowledge to be studied and then enlarged by their scholarly practitioners. English professors taught and wrote about the literature of English-speaking nations. Sociologists studied the writings of Emil Durkheim and C. Wright Mills and built upon their paradigms for understanding how human beings function in social groups. Instructors of freshman writing focused on teaching their students how to write, often using models of particularly effective rhetoric and style.

Now, it seems, professors and their graduate students want to do anything but teach or do research in the fields with which they are supposedly affiliated. Sociologists want to devote class time to their record collections. English professors want to gush on about music videos. Writing instructors want to immerse their students in "gender and sexuality," not the mechanics of constructing a coherent term paper. In short, professors want to teach pop culture and nothing but pop culture. Christa Romanosky, for example, was hardly unusual in turning her freshman writing class into a class about something else besides writing. The freshman writing course list for this fall at U.Va. includes sections titled "Gender in Film," "Graffiti and Remix Culture," "Cinematic Shakespeare," "Queer Studies," "Race Matters," "Pirates," and "Female Robots." Fortunately for themselves, those professors who have turned the humanities and social sciences into vehicles for indulging their hobbies have the vast and unintelligible apparatus of postmodern theory to give their fanboy preoccupations intellectual respectability. Or at least to make it look that way to outsiders--such as parents--who might wonder why they are spending up to $6,000 per course so that little Johnny or Jenna can write an essay about "Telephone."

I admit that I'm not much of a fan of Lady Gaga. I find her music monotonous, although she cleverly camouflages that defect with histrionic visuals and shocking costumes. I give her an A+, however, for brains, a sure market sense, and an entrepreneurial spirit worthy of Henry A. Ford. She has also snookered an entire generation of academics into deeming her profound. The Harvard Business School has just added Lady Gaga to its curriculum, with a case study of the decisions she and her manager made that catapulted her to fame. Now that's where Lady Gaga belongs as an object of scholarly study.

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Mathematical beauty

Javier Irastorza:

Reading science books for the general public, you'll often find physicists talking about elegance, beauty and words of the like describing laws or theories.

The Wikipedia has an entry for "Mathematical Beauty". Another entry says "Many mathematicians talk about the elegance of mathematics, its intrinsic aesthetics and inner beauty. Simplicity and generality are valued. There is beauty in a simple and elegant proof [...]".

The Spanish journal El Pais is publishing each week a mathematical challenge to its readers to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Spanish Royal Mathematics Society.

Last week's challenge was to solve the sides of the different inner squares that compose the following rectangle, knowing that the red one has a side of 3.

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Thumbs Up for Leopold; Thumbs Down for No Child Left Behind

Madison School Board Member Ed Hughes:

As my previous post described, things are looking up at Leopold Elementary School. Leopold, the largest elementary school in Madison, has strong leadership and a talented and hard-working staff. Their efforts are paying positive dividends for the school's 700+ young students.

There's a millstone around Leopold's neck, however, and it's called No Child Left Behind. According to that much-maligned federal law, Leopold is a "School Identified for Improvement" (SIFI).

What gives? If so many signs point toward Leopold succeeding, why do the feds consider that it is falling short.

While many criticize the Ted Kennedy / Bush No Child Left Behind initiative, we parents certainly have a great deal more information on our publicly financed schools than before. For that, I am thankful. I am also thankful that NCLB has, to some extent, increased attention on our schools, including curricular issues.

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Detroit School District Shoring Up its Finances

Matthew Dolan:

After more than two years under state control, Detroit's public school district appears to be getting its basic finances in order by privatizing services, cutting wages, restructuring debt and aggressively seeking out students to fill its classrooms.

The district's operating deficit stands at $83 million, down from $327 million at the start of the year, according to documents released by the district Monday. The progress under the district's new state-appointed emergency financial manager could offer a roadmap for the city of Detroit, which is running out of cash and may itself fall into state hands.

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November 23, 2011

Connecticut Graduation Rates, via a kind Doug Newman email:

For the past five years, ConnCAN has analyzed the state's graduation rates; this Issue Brief provides a more detailed examination of the latest data. In addition to relatively flat graduation rates across the board in Connecticut, the data reveal dramatic, persistent gaps by race.1 These numbers point to an urgent need for policy change to reverse these trends. By 2020, nearly one-third of Connecticut's population and nearly half of the youngest workers (25-29 year olds) will be non-white.2 If we fail to increase graduation rates significantly, especially for students of color, we risk seeing a continued increase in the proportion of children who are not prepared for success in our state--and we put our state's economic future in peril.

As with previous years, our analysis also reveals that Connecticut State Department of Education graduation rates are significantly higher than the rates reported in Education Week's Diplomas Count report. Edu- cation Week uses a more accurate cohort method to calculate these rates. Connecticut plans to use this method beginning with the class of 2009.3 The analyses in this report draw on data for the Class of 2008, which is the most recent data available from both the Connecticut State Depart- ment of Education and from Education Week's Diplomas Count report.4

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State now can track kids from kindergarten to college

Donna Gordon Blankinship:

Washington state education officials know a lot more about your kids than they ever knew about you.

They can now track a child from kindergarten through college enrollment and soon will be able to tell you everything about every kid who has gone to school in Washington from preschool through their first job.

Everything includes every school they attended, every achievement test they passed or failed, their ethnic identity, whether they qualified for free lunch, what college they chose, if they had to take remedial courses, when they started college, and more.

Of course this information is anonymous to outside viewers, including researchers and the public, but it gives local school officials a lot to comb through to find ways to improve their preparation of students for college and the world.

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November 22, 2011

Updated Madison Prep Business and Education Plan and Response to Administrative Analysis

The Urban League of Greater Madison:

Response to P4-5 of the Admin Analysis (No College Going Culture) [Page 23 of BP][Response] MMSD and the Boys & Girls Club have done an excellent job implementing the AVID/TOPS program in MMSD's four high schools. While AVID is beginning to build a college going culture among the students it serves (students with 2.0 - 3.5 GPAs), more than 60% of African American high school students in MMSD, for example, have GPAs below a 2.0 and therefore do not qualify for AVID. At 380 students, AVID serves just 10% of all students of color enrolled in MMSD high schools.

While the Urban League believes AVID/TOPS should continue to grow to serve more students, it also believes MMSD must invest more resources in programs like Schools of Hope, MSCR, Aspira/Juventud, ACT Prep, Culturally Relevant Teaching and Commonwealth's middle school careers program.

It must also invest in a system-wide, whole school reform agenda that addresses not only educational skill-building among students, but establishes a college going culture in all of
its schools for all students while addressing curriculum quality, instructional and school innovation, teacher effectiveness, diversity hiring and parent engagement at the same time. ULGM is ready to help MMSD accomplish these goals.

Response to P6 of the Admin Analysis (NO COLLEGE GOING CULTURE) [Page 23 of BP]
[Response] While MMSD offers advanced placement classes, very few African American and Latino students enroll in or successfully complete AP classes by the end of their senior year (see page 5 of the Madison Prep Business Plan). Nearly half of African American and Latino males don't make it to senior year. Additionally, MMSD states that its students "opt to participate," meaning, they have a choice of whether or not to take such classes. At Madison Prep, all students will be required to take rigorous, college preparatory courses and all Madison Prep seniors will complete all IB examinations by the end of their senior years, which are very rigorous assessments.

E. Response to questions from P7 of Admin Analysis (STUDENT PERFORMANCE MEASURES) [Page 29 of BP]
[Response] The Urban League acknowledges that WKCE scores of proficient are not adequate to predict success for college and career readiness. In the Madison Prep business plan, WKCE is not mentioned; instead, ULGM mentions "Wisconsin's state assessment system." It is ULGM's understanding that by the time Madison Prep reaches the fifth and final year of its first charter school contract, Wisconsin will have implemented all of the new standards and assessments affiliated with the Common Core State Standards that it adopted last year. ULGM anticipates that these assessments will be more rigorous and will have an appropriate measurement for "proficiency" that is consistent with the knowledge and skills needed to succeed in college and work. Additionally, Madison Prep will provide several supports to assist students below proficiency. These strategies are explained in Madison Prep's business and education plans.

F. Response to Recommendation on P7 of Admin Analysis (STUDENT PERFORMANCE MEASURES) [Page 29 of BP]
[Response] Madison Prep will adjust its goals in its charter school contract to be commensurate with existing state and district accountability standards. However, to move a school whose student body will likely have a sizeable number of young people who are significantly behind academically to 100% proficiency in one academic year will require a miracle sent from heaven.

Related: Madison School District Administrative Analysis of the Proposed Madison Preparatory Academy IB Charter School; WKCE Rhetoric.

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From Gingrich, an Unconventional View of Education

Trip Gabriel:

Newt Gingrich has some unconventional ideas about education reform. He wants every state to open a work-study college where students work 20 hours a week during the school year and full-time in the summer and then graduate debt-free.

In poverty stricken K-12 districts, Mr. Gingrich said that schools should enlist students as young as 9 to14 to mop hallways and bathrooms, and pay them a wage. Currently child-labor laws and unions keep poor students from bootstrapping their way into middle class, Mr. Gingrich said.

"This is something that no liberal wants to deal with," he told an audience at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard on Friday, according to Politico.

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Madison School District ordered to turn over sick notes

Ed Treleven:

A Dane County judge on Monday ordered the Madison School District to turn over more than 1,000 sick notes submitted by teachers who didn't come to work in February during mass protests over collective bargaining.

Dane County Circuit Judge Juan Colas said the district violated the state's Open Records Law by issuing a blanket denial to a request for the notes from the Wisconsin State Journal rather than reviewing each note individually.

Under the records law, government agencies must make public the records they maintain in most circumstances.

State Journal editor John Smalley said the court ruling was a victory for open records and government accountability. He said the newspaper was not planning to publish individual teacher names but rather report on the general nature of the sick notes the district received from employees.

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November 21, 2011

LAUSD won't release teacher names with 'value-added' scores

Jason Song:

The Los Angeles Unified School District has declined to release to The Times the names of teachers and their scores indicating their effectiveness in raising student performance.

The nation's second-largest school district calculated confidential "academic growth over time" ratings for about 12,000 math and English teachers last year. This fall, the district issued new ones to about 14,000 instructors that can also be viewed by their principals. The scores are based on an analysis of a student's performance on several years of standardized tests and estimate a teacher's role in raising or lowering student achievement.

Much more on value-added assessment, which, in Madison is based on the oft-criticized WKCE.

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November 20, 2011

Stepping Back on Madison Prep Governance Rhetoric

Susan Troller:

Late last week I got an email from Kaleem Caire, Urban League CEO and champion of the Madison Preparatory Academy charter school proposal.

Caire was unhappy with the way I had characterized the latest version of the charter school proposal.

In a blog post following the Madison Prep board's decision late Wednesday to develop the proposed school as what's known as a "non-instrumentality" of the school district, I described this type of school as being "free from district oversight."

While it's true that the entire point of establishing a non-instrumentality charter school is to give the organization maximum freedom and flexibility in the way it operates on a day-to-day basis, I agree it would be more accurate to describe it as "largely free of district oversight," or "free of routine oversight by the School Board."

In his message, Caire asked me, and my fellow reporter, Matt DeFour from the Wisconsin State Journal, to correct our descriptions of the proposed school, which will be approved or denied by the Madison School Board in the coming weeks.

In his message, Caire writes, "Madison Prep will be governed by MMSD's Board of Education. In your stories today, you (or the quotes you provide) say we will not be. This continues to be a subject of public conversation and it is just not true."

I wonder if other Madison School District programs, many spending far larger sums, receive similar substantive scrutiny compared with the proposed Madison Preparatory Academy IB charter school? The District's math (related math task force) and reading programs come to mind.

Ideally, the local media might dig into curricular performance across the spectrum, over time along with related expenditures and staffing.

From a governance perspective, it is clear that other regions and states have set the bar much higher.

Related: Updating the 2009 Scholastic Bowl Longhorns 17 - Badgers 1; Thrive's "Advance Now Competitive Assessment Report".

In my view, the widely used (at least around the world) IB approach is a good start for Madison Prep.

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Could Apprenticeships Replace College Degrees?

Liz Dwyer:

With college costs skyrocketing and the number of jobs for new grads on the decline, it's no wonder that students are questioning whether a degree is worth the investment. But given that the jobs of the future are projected to require some form of post-secondary education, a key question is how to provide academic knowledge and industry-specific training that will prepare students for the future. The answer might come from a throwback to the Middle Ages: apprenticeships.

Traditionally, we think of interning as the way for students to get on-the-job experience. But internships vary in quality and often aren't paid, which means that students from low-income backgrounds are unable to take advantage of the opportunity. Apprenticeships offer a new model, combining paid on-the-job training with college or trade school classes.

The demand for apprenticeships is particularly acute in the United Kingdom, where a recent BBC survey of high schoolers revealed that two-thirds say they'd forgo attending college in favor of entering an apprenticeship. Businesses there also support the apprenticeship revival. Adrian Thomas, head of resourcing for Network Rail, a company that maintains the U.K.'s rail infrastructure told The Independent that "the investment that we make in our apprentices is driven by needing people with the right skills coming in to support our maintenance teams." Thomas says organizing an apprenticeship program makes "both economic and safety sense," because without the trainees, his company would be in the position of having to look outside the country for employees, or retrain workers from other industries.

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How Should We Pay Teachers?

Andrew Rotherham:

Listen to the pundits, and public education has a Goldilocks problem. Are teachers being overpaid, underpaid or paid just right? Few arguments in education are as contentious -- or as misleading. A report released Nov. 1 by two conservative think tanks, the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation, set off fireworks with the claim that teachers are overpaid by a collective $120 billion each year and that their pensions, health care and other benefits make their total compensation 52% higher than "fair market levels."

The report looked at a variety of factors to reach its conclusion. Some are well known issues; for instance, teachers enjoy more generous benefits than most workers. But the analysis also rested on a variety of debatable assumptions about the quality of the teaching force, the job security that teachers have and opportunities for teachers in the private sector. Only by accepting all of the authors' assumptions do you reach the eye-popping $120 billion figure.

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November 19, 2011

Quality doesn't follow rise in voucher schools

Alan Borsuk:

Keith Nelson says it has been a godsend for Wisconsin Academy to take part in Milwaukee's school voucher program. Thirteen voucher students are enrolled this fall, which stands to bring the school more than $83,000 in public money this school year.

The 13 students are less than a thousandth of the 23,198 city of Milwaukee residents whose education in private schools - the vast majority of them religious - is being supported by tax dollars this fall.

But the Wisconsin Academy involvement is eye-catching: The coed boarding high school with about 100 students is in Columbus, northeast of Madison and more than 70 miles from Milwaukee.

And the school's involvement illustrates the core essence of the voucher program. Whether you find it wonderful, enraging or simply really interesting, it is (best as I've ever figured out) a fact that nowhere in America, present or past, has so much public money been spent on sending children to religious schools. Both the Wisconsin and United States supreme courts have found this constitutional.

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Georgia Tech Invokes FERPA, Cripples School's Wikis

Audrey Watters:

Does FERPA ban schools from allowing students to post their schoolwork on the open Web?

Of the trio of laws that address children's and students' privacy and safety online, FERPA is often the one least cited outside of educational circles. The other two, COPPA and CIPA, tend to be in the news more often; the former as it relates to some of the ongoing discussions about privacy and social networking, the latter as it relates to BYOD and filtering programs. But in all cases, there seems to be a growing gulf between the laws and their practical application or interpretation, particularly since these pieces of legislation are quite old: COPPA was enacted in 1998, and CIPA in 2000. FERPA, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, dates all the way back to 1974.

FERPA is meant to give students control over access to and disclosure of their educational records. This prevents schools from divulging information about a student's grades, behavior or school work to anyone other than the student without that student's consent (with some exceptions, such as to parties involved with student aid or to schools to which students are transferring). The classic example used to explain how FERPA works: you can't post a list of students' names and grades on a bulletin board in the hallway.

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A Vested Interest in the Traditional School Recipe

Larry Grau:

I recently read an editorial piece by Arlene Ackerman, former Philadelphia public schools superintendent and longtime educator, on how she came to the realization that our public education system will not improve on its own. I have come to the same realization, because among other reasons, there is no indication school districts are suddenly going to hold themselves accountable for elevating the academic achievement of all students; or take every step necessary to ensure all students only have effective teachers. There are also just too many people who have a vested interest in keeping the current system intact, who are resistant to even the smallest of changes - let alone the dramatic improvements most of us recognize must be made in order for the system to succeed.

The traditional school establishment and its supporters know if you change the ingredients, it likely changes the recipe. If you change the recipe, you get a different dish; and, there are no real internal motivators to change a system that has served a whole bunch of adults so well for such a long time.

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November 18, 2011

The Educational Lottery: on the four kinds of heretics attacking the gospel of education

Steven Brint:

Education is as close to a secular religion as we have in the United States. In a time when Americans have lost faith in their government and economic institutions, millions of us still believe in its saving grace. National leaders, from Benjamin Rush on, oversaw plans for extending its benefits more broadly. In the 19th century, the industrialist Andrew Carnegie famously conceived of schools as ladders on which the industrious poor would ascend to a better life, and he spent a good bit of his fortune laying the foundations for such an education society. After World War II, policy makers who believed in the education gospel grew numerous enough to fill stadiums. One by one, the G.I. Bill, the Truman Commission report, and the War on Poverty singled out education as the way of national and personal advance. "The answer to all of our national problems," as Lyndon Johnson put it in 1965, "comes down to one single word: education."

The American education gospel is built around four core beliefs. First, it teaches that access to higher levels of education should be available to everyone, regardless of their background or previous academic performance. Every educational sinner should have a path to redemption. (Most of these paths now run through community colleges.) Second, the gospel teaches that opportunity for a better life is the goal of everyone and that education is the primary -- and perhaps the only -- road to opportunity. Third, it teaches that the country can solve its social problems -- drugs, crime, poverty, and the rest -- by providing more education to the poor. Education instills the knowledge, discipline, and the habits of life that lead to personal renewal and social mobility. And, finally, it teaches that higher levels of education for all will reduce social inequalities, as they will put everyone on a more equal footing. No wonder President Obama and Bill Gates want the country to double its college graduation rate over the next 10 years.

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Teachers and test scores: A lawsuit spotlights the need for unions to work with school districts on effective evaluations.

The Los Angeles Times:

Smaller schools? More charters? Those are yesterday's headlines in the world of school reform. The hot-button topic now is the inclusion of student test scores in teacher evaluations. Yet as school administrators and the teachers union battle it out in current contract negotiations in Los Angeles, who would have guessed that state law addressed this issue long ago?

A lawsuit filed by a group of parents, aided by the reform group EdVoice, claims that the Los Angeles Unified School District must include standardized test scores or some other measure of student progress to comply with the 40-year-old Stull Act. Though filed only against the district, the suit has statewide implications.

The Stull Act mainly concerned itself with the appeals process for teachers who had been fired. But it included some common-sense language about teacher evaluations, instructing school districts to make student progress one of many factors in teachers' performance reviews. In 1999, specifics were added to the law, requiring teacher evaluations to measure that progress in part through state-approved assessments.

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November 17, 2011

Florida Students Take Global Examinations, Wisconsin's Don't

Lydia Southwell

Before full implementation of the Common Core State Standards, Florida is gathering information about how our students compare internationally in reading, mathematics and science. We are participating in Trends in the International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), and the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). Adjustments to Florida standards will be made based on the results of these studies.
How does Wisconsin compare? Learn more at

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November 17, 2011 Madison, Wis. - Last night, by unanimous vote, the Board of Directors of Madison Preparatory Academy announced they would request that the Madison Metropolitan School District's Board of Education approve their proposal to establish it

The Urban League of Madison, via a kind Kaleem Caire email:

November 17, 2011

Madison, Wis. - Last night, by unanimous vote, the Board of Directors of Madison Preparatory Academy announced they would request that the Madison Metropolitan School District's Board of Education approve their proposal to establish its all-boys and all-girls schools as non-instrumentality public charter schools. This means that Madison Preparatory Academy would employ all staff at both schools instead of MMSD, and that Madison Prep's staff would not be members of the district's collective bargaining units.

If approved, the Board of Education would retain oversight of both schools and likely require Madison Prep to submit to annual progress reviews and a five year performance review, both of which would determine if the school should be allowed to continue operating beyond its first five-year contract.

"We have worked for six months to reach agreement with MMSD's administration and Madison Teachers Incorporated on how Madison Prep could operate as a part of the school district and its collective bargaining units while retaining the core elements of its program design and remain cost effective," said Board Chair David Cagigal.

Cagigal further stated, "From the beginning, we were willing to change several aspects of our school design in order to find common ground with MMSD and MTI to operate Madison Prep as a school whose staff would be employed by the district. We achieved agreement on most positions being represented by local unions, including teachers, counselors, custodial staff and food service workers. However, we were not willing to compromise key elements of Madison Prep that were uniquely designed to meet the educational needs of our most at-risk students and close the achievement gap."

During negotiations, MMSD, MTI and the Boards of Madison Prep and the Urban League were informed that Act 10, the state's new law pertaining to collective bargaining, would prohibit MMSD and MTI from providing the flexibility and autonomy Madison Prep would need to effectively implement its model. This included, among other things:

Changing or excluding Madison Prep's strategies for hiring, evaluating and rewarding its principals, faculty and staff for a job well done;
Excluding Madison Prep's plans to contract with multiple providers of psychological and social work services to ensure students and their families receive culturally competent counseling and support, which is not sufficiently available through MMSD; and
Eliminating the school's ability to offer a longer school day and year, which Madison Prep recently learned would prove to be too costly as an MMSD charter school.

On November 1, 2011, after Madison Prep's proposal was submitted to the Board of Education, MMSD shared that operating under staffing and salary provisions listed in the district's existing collective bargaining agreement would cost $13.1 million more in salaries and benefits over five years, as compared to the budget created by the Urban League for Madison Prep's budget.

Cagigal shared, "The week after we submitted our business plan to the Board of Education for consideration, MMSD's administration informed us that they were going to use district averages for salaries, wages and benefits in existing MMSD schools rather than our budget for a new start-up school to determine how much personnel would cost at both Madison Prep schools."

Both MMSD and the Urban League used the same district salary schedule to write their budgets. However, MMSD budgets using salaries of district teachers with 14 years teaching experience and a master's degree while the Urban League budgeted using salaries of teachers with 7 years' experience and a master's degree.

Gloria Ladson Billings, Vice Chair of Madison Prep's Board and the Kellner Professor of Urban Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison stated that, "It has been clear to all parties involved that the Urban League is committed to offering comparable and competitive salaries to its teachers but that with limited resources as a new school, it would have to set salaries and wages at a level that would likely attract educators with less teaching experience than the average MMSD teacher. At the budget level we set, we believe we can accomplish our goal of hiring effective educators and provide them a fair wage for their level of experience."

Madison Prep is also committed to offering bonuses to its entire staff, on top of their salaries, in recognition of their effort and success, as well as the success of their students. This also was not allowed under the current collective bargaining agreement.

Summarizing the decision of Madison Prep's Board, Reverend Richard Jones, Pastor of Mount Zion Baptist Church and Madison Prep Board member shared, "Our Board has thought deep and hard about additional ways to compromise around the limitations that Act 10 places on our ability to partner with our teachers' union. However, after consulting parents, community partners and the MMSD Board of Education, we ultimately decided that our children need what Madison Prep will offer, and they need it now. A dream deferred is a dream denied, and we must put the needs of our children first and get Madison Prep going right away. That said, we remain committed to finding creative ways to partner with MMSD and the teachers' union, including having the superintendent of MMSD, or his designee, serve on the Board of Madison Prep so innovation and learning can be shared immediately."

Cagigal further stated that, "It is important for the public to understand that our focus from the beginning has been improving the educational and life outcomes of our most vulnerable students. Forty-eight percent high school graduation and 47 percent incarceration rates are just not acceptable; not for one more day. It is unconscionable that only 1% of Black and 7% of Latino high school seniors are ready for college. We must break from the status quo and take bold steps to close the achievement gap, and be ready and willing to share our success and key learning with MMSD and other school districts so that we can positively impact the lives of all of our children."

The Urban League has informed MMSD's administration and Board of Education that it will share with them an updated version of its business plan this evening. The updated plan will request non-instrumentality status for Madison Prep and address key questions posed in MMSD's administrative analysis of the plan that was shared publicly last week.

The Board of Education is expected to vote on the Madison Prep proposal in December 2011.

Copies of the updated plan will be available on the Urban League ( and Madison Prep (www.madison-prep) websites after 9pm CST this evening.

For more information, contact Laura DeRoche Perez at or 608.729.1230.
Much more on the proposed Madison Preparatory IB charter school, here.

Matthew DeFour:

A Madison School Board vote to approve Madison Preparatory Academy has been delayed until at least December after the proposed charter school's board decided to amend its proposal to use nonunion employees.

The Madison Prep board voted Wednesday night after an analysis by the school district found the pair of single-sex charter schools, geared toward low-income minority students, would cost $10.4 million more than previously estimated if it were to use union staff.

Superintendent Dan Nerad said the district would have to update its analysis based on the new proposal, which means a vote will not happen Nov. 28. A new time line for approval has not been established.

In announcing Wednesday's decision, the Madison Prep board said the state's new collective bargaining law made the school district and teachers union inflexible about how to pay for employing teachers for longer school days and a longer school year, among other issues.

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Will Madison School Board go for non-union Madison Prep?

Susan Troller:

Backers of the Madison Preparatory Academy are now recommending establishing the proposed single-sex public charter school as what's known as a "non-instrumentality" of the district.

Ultimately, that means the school's staff would be non-union, and the Urban League-backed charter school would have an unprecedented degree of autonomy in its operations, free from district oversight.

With the recommendation, made at a meeting Wednesday, Madison Prep supporters, the school district and the local School Board wade into uncharted waters.

Because of the change, school officials will need to revise their administrative analysis of the charter school proposal in advance of a School Board vote on whether to approve the Madison Prep plan.

Related: Madison School Board Member Ed Hughes provides his perspective on the proposed Madison Preparatory IB charter school.

Much more on Madison Prep, here.

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The Two Year Window: The new science of babies and brains--and how it could revolutionize the fight against poverty.

Jonathan Cohn:

A decade ago, a neuroscientist named Charles Nelson traveled to Bucharest to visit Romania's infamous orphanages. There, he saw a child whose brain had swelled to the size of a basketball because of an untreated infection and a malnourished one-year-old no bigger than a newborn. But what has stayed with him ever since was the eerie quiet of the infant wards. "It would be dead silent, all of [the babies] sitting on their backs and staring at the ceiling," says Nelson, who is now at Harvard. "Why cry when nobody is going to pay attention to you?"

Nelson had traveled to Romania to take part in a cutting-edge experiment. It was ten years after the fall of the Communist dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu, whose scheme for increasing the country's population through bans on birth control and abortion had filled state-run institutions with children their parents couldn't support. Images from the orphanages had prompted an outpouring of international aid and a rush from parents around the world to adopt the children. But ten years later, the new government remained convinced that the institutions were a good idea--and was still warehousing at least 60,000 kids, some of them born after the old regime's fall, in facilities where many received almost no meaningful human interaction. With backing from the MacArthur Foundation, and help from a sympathetic Romanian official, Nelson and colleagues from Harvard, Tulane, and the University of Maryland prevailed upon the government to allow them to remove some of the children from the orphanages and place them with foster families. Then, the researchers would observe how they fared over time in comparison with the children still in the orphanages. They would also track a third set of children, who were with their original parents, as a control group.

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Why Kids Can't Search

Clive Thompson:

We're often told that young people tend to be the most tech-savvy among us. But just how savvy are they? A group of researchers led by College of Charleston business professor Bing Pan tried to find out. Specifically, Pan wanted to know how skillful young folks are at online search. His team gathered a group of college students and asked them to look up the answers to a handful of questions. Perhaps not surprisingly, the students generally relied on the web pages at the top of Google's results list.

But Pan pulled a trick: He changed the order of the results for some students. More often than not, those kids went for the bait and also used the (falsely) top-ranked pages. Pan grimly concluded that students aren't assessing information sources on their own merit--they're putting too much trust in the machine.

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November 16, 2011

Lawmakers Probe Law Schools' Data

Ashby Jones:

U.S. Senate staff members are gathering a trove of information about legal education in the U.S., including figures on law school job placement and student-loan debt, in response to questions about whether the nation's law schools have been luring students with bogus data.

The information could serve as a backdrop to hearings on legal education that U.S. senators are "strongly considering," according to a congressional staffer.

So far this year, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D., Calif.), has sent three letters to the American Bar Association, a section of which accredits law schools, urging the organization to do more "to increase its efforts to protect current and prospective law school students from misleading information."

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The New Physiocrats, or, Is There Value in the Humanities?

Kenneth Anderson:

In general, I agree entirely with the many commentators who have argued that the United States needs to produce more STEM graduates. But I also take note of the many people who have written to me to argue that the only truly employable STEM fields at the moment are engineering and computer science, and only certain disciplines within those. (I.e., I take the point made by many commenters that STEM graduates are not doing all that well in this economy either -- when we say STEM = employment, so commenters point out, we don't mean scientists or mathematicians as such, we mean particular fields of engineering and computer science. I can't vouch for that but do accept it.)

It's also worth keeping in mind that the United States could easily produce an excess of engineers -- yes, even engineers. The labor market of a complicated, division-of-labor society means many, many specializations, and most of them are not STEM. We need lawyers, human resources staff, janitors, communications specialists, and many things that too-reductionist a view might lead one to believe are purely frivolous intermediary occupations. Maybe they are parasitical, and maybe they will get squeezed out of existence over time. But there is a sometimes incorrect tendency these days to believe that since innovation is the heart of all increases in productivity and hence in long run growth and wealth, STEM must be responsible for it and that because STEM is the root of innovation, only STEM jobs are truly value added. I exaggerate for effect, but you see the point.

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Concern Over Changing Teacher Evaluations

Rebecca Vevea:

For the first time next year, thousands of Chicago Public Schools teachers will be evaluated based partly on how well their students are doing academically. Many fear they will face dismissal if the standards are not applied fairly.

"It's going to make people really angry," said Ruth Resnick, a librarian at O'Keefe Elementary School, who spoke last week at a public forum about carrying out a new state law that changes how teachers, principals, librarians and other staff are graded.

But state and district leaders say the new evaluations will be better than the decades-old system now in use. They say more thoughtful and effective evaluations will not only increase student achievement, but also provide teachers with better feedback for how to improve.

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Parents applaud huge breakthrough as Gove's great schools shake-up spreads to special needs children

Simon Walters:

A major breakthrough in Michael Gove's education revolution will be heralded tomorrow with the launch of the first-ever 'free schools' for special needs children.pecial needs children Read more: http://www.dailym

And two of Britain's oldest football clubs, Everton and Derby County, are to open free schools for children from difficult backgrounds.

Education Secretary Mr Gove believes the latest batch of establishments will silence critics who claim they are designed to be the elitist preserve of pupils of sharp-elbowed, middle-class parents.

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November 15, 2011

Occupy School Boards?

Mike Petrilli:

After its big referendum victory last week, Ohio teachers union vice president Bill Leibensperger said "There has always been room to talk. That's what collective bargaining is about. You bring adults around a table to talk about serious issues." He voiced an argument made by union supporters through the fight over Senate Bill 5 (and the similar battle in Wisconsin over public sector union rights): All employees want is the right to bargain; they are more than willing to make concessions during these difficult times.

If we want to win the fight for the more immediate future, we're going to need to take on the unions directly, and take over the school boards.And to be sure, you can find examples of unions--of police, firefighters, even teachers--who have agreed to freeze wages or reduce benefits in order to protect the quality of services or keep colleagues from being laid off. But they are the exceptions that prove the rule.

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What's Wrong With Education?

Wall Street Journal Video:

Peter Thiel, founder of Clarium Capital and The Thiel Foundation, explains why young Americans need to be encouraged to take on more risk to spur innovation and why the cost of a U.S. education is hindering that.

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November 14, 2011

Cost for union teachers could be game changer for Madison Prep deal

Nathan Comp:

A new analysis (PDF) by the Madison school district shows that the budget submitted by the Urban League of Greater Madison for a pair of sex-segregated charter schools could potentially cost the district an additional $13 million over the schools' first five years.

The new numbers came as a shock to Urban League president Kaleem Caire, who says that Madison Prep may pull out of a tentative agreement with Madison Teachers, Inc., that would require Madison Prep to hire mostly union staff.

"It's become clear to us that the most reasonable path to ensure the success of these kids is as a non-instrumentality," says Caire. "Others on our board want to look at a couple of other options, so we're looking at those before we make that final determination."

One of those options would be to scale back the program, including the proposed longer school days and extended school year.

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

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Spokane Public Schools is a "tale of two cities" - and I live in the other one

Laurie Rogers:

On Nov. 10, Spokane Public Schools hosted a lovely “Breakfast for Community Leaders.” The district’s goal was to assure well-connected and like-minded folks in the city that – as the district put it – it’s “better preparing all students for success after graduation.” A few students also were brought in to “share their stories about the effectiveness of that preparation and what high school is like today.”

Superintendent Nancy Stowell began the breakfast by saying she wanted to “put to rest” the “fingerpointing and blame” the district faced during the 2011 board election. Here are a few examples of how she put things to rest.
  • Stowell praised the district for higher graduation rates, saying the next challenge is college readiness. Wasn't college readiness always the goal? Most parents think so. So, the district is letting more of the kids leave, and at some point, they'll start getting them ready for postsecondary life? How does that work?
  • Stowell showed us how enrollment is increasing in Advanced Placement classes. Had she shown AP pass rates -- we also would have seen a precipitous drop in the percentage passing, and an alarming drop in the average AP grade.

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November 13, 2011

Real answer to poverty, and poor schools, has to be the power to chose

Chuck Mikkelsen:

The Star article, "Poverty tightens its grip in cities," described a recent Brookings Institution study on the increasing concentration of poverty in cities, including Kansas City.

Poor public schools, such as the Kansas City School District, are a major factor in creating pockets of poverty. Those with enough resources move out of underperforming districts leaving the poorest of the poor behind.

Reversing this trend requires, among other things, fixing the school district problem. A number of solutions have been proposed, most of which will be as effective as rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Real change requires something more fundamental: What the left calls giving "power to the people" and what the right calls being "free to choose."

Educational diversity is essential to progress.

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The ABCs of Online Schools

Stephanie Simon:

The growing popularity of online public schools lets states and local school districts effectively outsource some teaching functions--to parents.

Students enrolled in an online school full-time are required to work closely with a "learning coach," usually mom or dad, to ensure that they are staying on track in their studies.

For younger students, the learning coach becomes the primary teacher. A typical first-grade language arts lesson, for instance, asks the student to brainstorm a list of words about her favorite place, then write three complete sentences. Parents go online to certify that their child has done the work and to answer questions about its quality--for instance, did the child use proper punctuation?

"It's not about just putting them in front of a computer and saying, 'Here, get this work done,'" says Allison Brown, who has three young children attending Georgia Cyber Academy, a statewide online charter school run by the private firm K12 Inc.

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November 12, 2011

Wisconsin's annual school test (WKCE) still gets lots of attention, but it seems less useful each year

Alan Borsuk:

Wisconsin (and just about every other state) is involved in developing new state tests. That work is one of the requirements of getting a waiver and, if a bill ever emerges form Congress, it will almost certainly continue to require every state to do testing.

But the new tests aren't scheduled to be in place for three years - in the fall of 2014. So this fall and for at least the next two, Wisconsin's school children and schools will go through the elaborate process of taking a test that still gets lots of attention but seems to be less useful each year it lives on.

The oft-criticized WKCE often provides grist for "successes". Sometimes, rarely, the truth about its low standards is quietly mentioned.

I remember a conversation with a well educated Madison parent earlier this year. "My child is doing well, the WKCE reports him scoring in the 95th percentile in math"...... is worth a visit.

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Madison School District Administrative Analysis of the Proposed Madison Preparatory Academy IB Charter School; WKCE Rhetoric

Madison Superintendent Dan Nerad:

Critique of the District (MMSD)
Page # 23: MPA - No College Going Culture among Madison's New Student Population
The data on student performance and course-taking patterns among students in MMSD paint a clear picture. There is not a prevalent college going culture among Black, Hispanic and some Asian student populations enrolled in MMSD. In fact, the opposite appears to be true. The majority of these students are failing to complete a rigorous curriculum that would adequately prepare them for college and 21st century jobs. Far too many are also failing to complete college requirements, such as the ACT, or failing to graduate from high school.

Page # 23: No College Going Culture among Madison's New Student Population -

MMSD Response
MMSD has taken many steps towards ensuring college attendance eligibility and readiness for our students of color. Efforts include:

East High School became the first MMSD school to implement AVID in the 2007-2008 school year. Teens of Promise or TOPS became synonymous with AVID as the Boys and Girls Club committed to an active partnership to support our program. AVID/TOPS students are defined as:
"AVID targets students in the academic middle - B, C, and even D students - who have the desire to go to college and the willingness to work hard. These are students who are capable of completing rigorous curriculum but are falling short of their
potential. Typically, they will be the first in their families to attend college, and many are from low-income or minority families. AVID pulls these students out of their unchallenging courses and puts them on the college track: acceleration instead of remediation."


The MMSD has 491 students currently enrolled in AVID/TOPS. Of that total, 380 or 77% of students are minority students (27% African-American, 30% Latino, 10% Asian, 10% Multiracial). 67% of MMSD AVID/TOPS students qualify for free and reduced lunch. The 2010- 2011 school year marked an important step in the District's implementation of AVID/TOPS. East High School celebrated its first cohort of AVID/TOPS graduates. East Highs AVID/TOPS class of 2011 had a 100% graduation rate and all of the students are enrolled in a 2-year or 4- year college. East High is also in the beginning stages of planning to become a national demonstration site based on the success of their program. This distinction, determined by the AVID regional site team, would allow high schools from around the country to visit East High School and learn how to plan and implement AVID programs in their schools.

MMSD has a partnership with the Wisconsin Center for the Advancement of Postsecondary Education (WISCAPE) and they are conducting a controlled study of the effects of AVID/TOPS students when compared to a comparison groups of students. Early analysis of the study reveals positive gains in nearly every category studied.

AVID pilot studies are underway at two MMSD middle schools and support staff has been allocated in all eleven middle schools to begin building capacity towards a 2012-2013 AVID Middle School experience. The program design is still underway and will take form this summer when school based site teams participate in the AVID Summer Institute training.

I found this commentary on the oft criticized WKCE exams fascinating (one day, wkce results are useful, another day - this document - WKCE's low benchmark is a problem)" (page 7):

Page # 28: MPA - Student Performance Measures:
85% of Madison Prep's Scholars will score at proficient or advanced levels in reading, math, and science on criterion referenced achievement tests after three years of enrollment.

90% of Scholars will graduate on time.
100% of students will complete the SAT and ACT assessments before graduation with 75% achieving a composite score of 22 or higher on the ACT and 1100 on the SAT (composite verbal and math).
100% of students will complete a Destination Plan before graduation.
100% of graduates will qualify for admissions to a four-year college after graduation.
100% of graduates will enroll in postsecondary education after graduation.

Page # 28: Student Performance Measures - MMSD Response:
WKCE scores of proficient are not adequate to predict success for college and career readiness. Cut scores equated with advanced are needed due to the low benchmark of Wisconsin's current state assessment system. What specific steps or actions will be provided for students that are far below proficiency and/or require specialized support services to meet the rigorous requirements of IB?

No Child Left Behind requires 100% proficiency by 2014. Madison Prep must be held to the same accountability standards as MMSD.

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

Madison School District links & notes on Madison Prep.

TJ Mertz comments, here.

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Why the ACLU is targeting the Proposed Madison Prep IB Charter School

Susan Troller:

Single-gender classrooms, and, to a lesser degree, single-gender schools, are a hot trend in education circles. In less than a decade, Wisconsin has gone from zero classrooms segregated by gender to more than a dozen scattered across the state. That mirrors increasing numbers throughout the country.

But there's growing pushback from researchers, who claim the desire to separate boys from girls in school is based on what they call "pseudoscience."

In September, the prestigious journal, Science, published results of a study that showed sex segregation did not contribute to increased academic performance and harmed students by making sex stereotypes acceptable. Seven well-regarded researchers, including UW-Madison psychology professor Janet Hyde, write in the article, "A new curriculum, like a new drug or factory production method, often yields a short-term gain because people are motivated by novelty and belief in the innovation. Novelty-based enthusiasm, sample bias and anecdotes account for much of the glowing characterization of (single-sex) education in the media."

In addition, the American Civil Liberties Union has successfully sued on the basis of sex discrimination, recently forcing a public high school in Pittsburgh to abandon its single-sex classrooms and a school board in Louisiana to end its practice of separating boys and girls at a middle schoo

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

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Panel Urges Cholesterol Testing for Kids

Ron Winslow & Jennifer Corbett Dooren:

Government health experts recommended Friday that all children be tested for high cholesterol before they reach puberty, in an effort to get an early start in preventing cardiovascular disease.

The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute said a child's first cholesterol check should occur between ages 9 and 11 and the test should be repeated between ages 17 and 21. The American Academy of Pediatrics endorsed the guideline.

The recommendation reflects growing evidence the biological processes that underlie heart attacks and other consequences of cardiovascular disease begin in childhood, even though manifestations of the diseases generally don't strike until middle age or later.

The guidelines also come amid broad concern about growing numbers of American children who are overweight or obese and thus potentially on course for diabetes, high blood pressure and other abnormalities. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 17% of American children are obese, triple the level three decades ago.

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Princeton University Acceptance Letter

Edward Tufte:

Source: Howard Wainer, "Clear Thinking Made Visible: Redesigning Score Reports for Students," Chance 15 (Winter 2002), pp. 56-58. Howard Wainer (Distinguished Research Scientist at the National Board of Examiners, Philadelphia) discusses Princeton's admission letter and also the forms for reporting SAT scores in his interesting article in Chance.

Perhaps the rejection letter should be less blunt. In fact, applicants can detect their fate by whether they get the thick or the thin envelope.

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Reforming Higher Education: Incentives, STEM Majors, and Liberal Arts Majors -- the Education versus Credential Tradeoff

Kenneth Anderson:

The Wall Street Journal's excellent series on jobless young people features an article today on why students study liberal arts in college over STEM subjects, and why so many would-be STEM majors shift to liberal arts, despite the apparent loss of career prospects. Larry Ribstein follows up with commentary suggesting that law school becomes a logical option for students who were badly guided in their choices of majors -- leading them to liberal arts with few skills and few prospects in today's world.

I want to reiterate something I wrote about a few weeks ago about the incentive structures for students. I'm basing this on my current experience as a law professor who talks a lot with students at a mid-tier law school and what led them there, as well as my experience as a parent of a student who will be doing humanities as her major at Rice, a school with world class STEM and world class humanities.

There are a lot of smart students out there who will nonetheless not be able to compete in world class institutions in STEM. Why? They might have, say, near 800s in verbal and writing, and mid 600s in math on the SAT. (This matches up, btw, to Gene Expression blog's mapping of the GRE scores of various college majors for the highest testing of the humanities majors -- the philosophy students, who have about exactly those scores. I'll put up the charts in a later post, but very roughly the verbal and math scores flip for the highest scoring of the sciences -- physics, and are somewhere in the middle for the highest scoring of the social sciences, economics.) At a school like Rice -- and any university ranked above it -- specialization has already taken place, sorting by subject area. A tiny handful of students can be true polymaths, but that's hardly the norm. Instead, the STEM students are sought competitively on a world-wide basis, and it will be academic suicide and frankly impossible for a student who is not at the top of those competitive areas even to pass the classes.

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November 11, 2011

Inclusion: The Right Thing for All Students

Cheryl Jorgensen:

It's time to restructure all of our schools to become inclusive of all of our children.

We have reached the tipping point where it is no longer educationally or morally defensible to continue to segregate students with disabilities. We shouldn't be striving to educate children in the least restrictive environment but rather in the most inclusive one.

Inclusion is founded on social justice principles in which all students are presumed competent and welcomed as valued members of all general education classes and extra-curricular activities in their local schools -- participating and learning alongside their same-age peers in general education instruction based on the general curriculum, and experiencing meaningful social relationships.

Cheryl M. Jorgensen, Ph.D., is a member of the affiliate faculty with the National Center on Inclusive Education at the Institute on Disability at the University of New Hampshire. In 2008 she received the National Down Syndrome Congress Education Award for her leadership and pioneering research supporting the inclusion of students with Down syndrome. She has written this open letter to Shael Polakow-Suransky, the chief academic officer for New York City schools.

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Teacher evaluations should not be watered down

Jocelyn Huber:

Excellent teachers and excellent education are inseparable. In fact, teacher quality is one of the most important determinants of whether a child succeeds in school and continues to college.

A handful of states have been working hard to recruit and nurture great teachers -- starting with strong, effective evaluation systems. Tennessee has led the charge.

When it comes to improving public schools, ideas can only take us so far. It's effective implementation of those ideas that yields results. Last year, the state passed bold, bipartisan legislation, the First to the Top Act, to create a rigorous teacher and principal evaluation system that has the potential to set an example for the rest of the country. The legislation was supported by the teachers' union, the business community and a wide range of education stakeholders.

Related: Teacher evaluation system a good start, but seems not to go far enough by Chris Rickert:
It was encouraging to see the state Department of Public Instruction release a framework for evaluating public school teachers that is the product of much time and thought by a broad array of smart people.

I can even ignore that it took until now to devise such a framework when the quality of public school teachers and, indeed, public education itself have been among the hottest of public policy topics since, well, forever.

Harder to ignore is that while the state took a decidedly top-down approach to grading teachers, it's taking a decidedly hands-off approach to how districts use the grades.

DPI's 17-page "preliminary report and recommendations" employs plenty of euphemisms and academia-speak to go into great detail about technical aspects of the proposed evaluation system without saying how the evaluations should be used when it comes to paying teachers -- or dismissing bad ones.

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Tantrum Tamer: New Ways Parents Can Stop Bad Behavior

Shirley Wang:

Forget everything you may have read about coping with children's temper tantrums. Time-outs, sticker charts, television denial--for many, none of these measures will actually result in long-term behavior change, according to researchers at two academic institutions.

Instead, a set of techniques known as "parent management training" is proving so helpful to families struggling with a child's unmanageable behavior that clinicians in the U.S. and the U.K. are starting to adopt them.

Aimed at teaching parents to encourage sustained behavior change, it was developed in part at parenting research clinics at Yale University and King's College London.

Even violent tantrums, or clinging to the point of riding on a parent's leg, can be curbed, researchers say.

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November 10, 2011

Madison School Board's DIFI (District Identified for Improvement) Plan Discussion

The Madison School Board (the discussion begins at about 58 minutes) video archives (11.7.2011) is worth a watch.

Related: Madison School District Identified for Improvement (DIFI); Documentation for the Wisconsin DPI

1. Develop or Revise a District Improvement Plan

Address the fundamental teaching and learning needs of schools in the Local Education Agency (LEA), especially the academic problems o f low-achieving students.

MMSD has been identified by the State of Wisconsin as a District Identified for Improvement, or DIFI. We entered into this status based on District WKCE assessment scores. The data indicates that sub-groups of students-African American students, English Language Learner Students with Disabilities or Economically Disadvantaged -did not score high enough on the WKCE in one or more areas of reading, math or test participation to meet state criteria.

Under No Child Left Behind, 100% of students are expected to achieve proficient or advanced on the WKCE in four areas by 2014. Student performance goals have been raised every year on a regular schedule since 2001, making targets more and more difficult to reach each year. In addition to the curriculum changes being implemented, the following assessments are also new or being implemented during the 2011-12 school year (see Attachment 1):

Perhaps the No Child Left Behind requirement waivers that Education Secretary Duncan has discussed remove the urgency to address these issues. Of course, the benchmark used to measure student progress is the oft-criticized WKCE "Wisconsin, Mississippi Have "Easy State K-12 Exams" - NY Times".

Related: Comparing Wisconsin & Texas: Updating the 2009 Scholastic Bowl Longhorns 17 - Badgers 1; Thrive's "Advance Now Competitive Assessment Report".

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Updating the 2009 Scholastic Bowl Longhorns 17 - Badgers 1; Thrive's "Advance Now Competitive Assessment Report"

Peter Theron via a kind Don Severson email:

Earlier this year Wisconsin teachers and their supporters compared Wisconsin and Texas academically and claimed that Wisconsin had better achievement because it ranked higher on ACT/SAT scores. The fact that this claim ignored the ethnic composition of the states, prompted David Burge to use the National Assessment of Educational Progress(NAEP) to compare educational achievement within the same ethnic groups. His conclusion, based on the 2009 NAEP in Reading, Mathematics, and Science (3 subject areas times 2 grades, 4th and 8th, times 3 ethnicities, white, black, and hispanic equals 18 comparisons), was Longhorns 17 - Badgers 1.

The 2011 NAEP results are now available for Reading and
Mathematics. The updated conclusion (2 subject areas times 2 grades, 4th and 8th, times 3 ethnicities, white, black, and hispanic equals 12 comparisons) is Longhorns 12 - Badgers 0. Not only did Texas students outperform Wisconsin students in every one of the twelve ethnicity-controlled comparisons, but Texas students exceeded the national average in all 12 comparisons. Wisconsin students were above the average 3 times, below the average 8 times, and tied the average once.

Again, as in 2009, the achievement gaps were smaller in Texas than in Wisconsin.

2011 Data from
2011 4th Grade Math

White students: Texas 253, Wisconsin 251 (national average 249)
Black students: Texas 232, Wisconsin 217 (national 224)
Hispanic students: Texas 235, Wisconsin 228 (national 229)

2011 8th Grade Math

White students: Texas 304, Wisconsin 295 (national 293)
Black students: Texas 277, Wisconsin 256 (national 262)
Hispanic students: Texas 283, Wisconsin 270 (national 269)

2011 4th Grade Reading

White students: Texas 233, Wisconsin 227 (national 230)
Black students: Texas 210, Wisconsin 196 (national 205)
Hispanic students: Texas 210, Wisconsin 202 (national 205)

2011 8th Grade Reading

White students: Texas 274, Wisconsin 272 (national 272)
Black students: Texas 252, Wisconsin 240 (national 248)
Hispanic students: Texas 254, Wisconsin 248 (national 251)

2009 data compiled by David Burge from NAEP
2009 4th Grade Math

White students: Texas 254, Wisconsin 250 (national average 248)
Black students: Texas 231, Wisconsin 217 (national 222)
Hispanic students: Texas 233, Wisconsin 228 (national 227)

2009 8th Grade Math

White students: Texas 301, Wisconsin 294 (national 294)
Black students: Texas 272, Wisconsin 254 (national 260)
Hispanic students: Texas 277, Wisconsin 268 (national 260)

2009 4th Grade Reading

White students: Texas 232, Wisconsin 227 (national 229)
Black students: Texas 213, Wisconsin 192 (national 204)
Hispanic students: Texas 210, Wisconsin 202 (national 204)

2009 8th Grade Reading

White students: Texas 273, Wisconsin 271 (national 271)
Black students: Texas 249, Wisconsin 238 (national 245)
Hispanic students: Texas 251, Wisconsin 250 (national 248)

2009 4th Grade Science

White students: Texas 168, Wisconsin 164 (national 162)
Black students: Texas 139, Wisconsin 121 (national 127)
Hispanic students: Wisconsin 138, Texas 136 (national 130)

2009 8th Grade Science

White students: Texas 167, Wisconsin 165 (national 161)
Black students: Texas 133, Wisconsin 120 (national 125)
Hispanic students: Texas 141, Wisconsin 134 (national 131)

Related: Comparing Madison, Wisconsin & College Station, Texas.

Thrive released its "Advance Now Competitive Assessment Report," which compares the Madison Region to competitors Austin, TX, Des Moines, IA, and Lincoln, NE, across the major areas of People, Prosperity and Place, 3MB PDF via a kind Kaleem Caire email.

Finally, is worth a visit.

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Charter Schools: Getting Your Child on the List

Gene Maddaus:

On a weekday evening in early spring, about 40 parents crammed into a classroom at Larchmont Charter elementary school. They perched on kindergarten chairs, or sat on the floor, or stood in the hallway, craning their necks.

Larchmont is one of the most desirable schools in Los Angeles. It's also nearly impossible to get into. At that moment, 500 kids were on the waiting list. Admission is by lottery, so it comes down to luck.

Unless you can find a way around the lottery.

That's why these parents came to Larchmont. They were looking for a way to cut to the front of the line.

School officials explained how it would work. Parents who agreed up front to make an extraordinary volunteer commitment to the school could get admissions priority. They would be called "founding parents."

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Reading, Writing And Roasting: Schools Bring Cooking Back Into The Classroom

Allison Aubrey:

Lots of kids have tried lentils. But what about Ethiopian-style lentils, accompanied by injera bread, couscous and cucumber salad?

Fourth graders in Santa Fe, N.M. prepared this lunch feast themselves as part of a nutrition education program called Cooking with Kids. And nutrition experts say programs like this one are not just about expanding timid kids' palates.

Even as home economics classes have been phased out in recent years, some schools are bringing cooking back. And a new study that evaluates cooking curriculum says these hands-on classes do more than just prepare students to cook a decent meal.

"Teachers and principals are seeing how the classroom cooking experience helps support critical thinking, collaboration, and problem-solving skills," says study author Leslie Cunningham-Sabo, a nutrition researcher at Colorado State University. The study appears this week in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.

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U. of Texas at Arlington Proposes a Tuition Freeze

Beckie Supiano:

As president of the Student Congress, Jennifer Fox knew in advance that the University of Texas at Arlington was going to propose a tuition freeze for the 2012-13 academic year.

When Ms. Fox, a senior accounting major, was told of the plan by the university's president, James Spaniolo, a couple of weeks ago, "my initial reaction was shock," she says. Student leaders had assumed tuition would go up, Ms. Fox says, especially in light of state budget cuts.

Ms. Fox was not alone in her response. On Tuesday, Mr. Spaniolo presented the plan to the Tuition Review Committee, which includes students representing each of the university's colleges, as well as representatives of other groups, like faculty and alumni, and is chaired by Ms. Fox. "I think there was a little bit of surprise," Mr. Spaniolo says.

Under the plan, UT-Arlington would not raise undergraduate or graduate tuition and fees, or the price of room and board, for the coming year. Currently, undergraduate tuition and fees average $9,292 for full-time students (the price varies depending on which college students are in), and room and board costs $7,554. Nearly all of the university's students are Texas residents.

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Generation Jobless: Students Pick Easier Majors Despite Less Pay

Joe Light & Rachel Emma Silverman:

Biyan Zhou wanted to major in engineering. Her mother and her academic adviser also wanted her to major in it, given the apparent career opportunities for engineers in a tough job market.

Robert Pizzo
But during her sophomore year at Carnegie Mellon University, Ms. Zhou switched her major from electrical and computer engineering to a double major in psychology and policy management. Workers who majored in psychology have median earnings that are $38,000 below those of computer engineering majors, according to an analysis of U.S. Census data by Georgetown University.

"My ability level was just not there," says Ms. Zhou of her decision. She now plans to look for jobs in public relations or human resources.

Ms. Zhou's dilemma is one that educators, politicians and companies have been trying to solve for decades amid fears that U.S. science and technology training may be trailing other countries. The weak economy is putting those fears into deeper relief.

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Are We Deluding Ourselves About Our Schools?

Jon Schnur:

Today, I walked my first-grade son to our neighborhood public school before joining over 500 leaders converging on New York City to make tangible commitments to promote economic mobility in America at the Opportunity Nation summit. I told Matthew that people were coming virtually every sector -- business, education, non-profit and community organizations, religious institutions and the military -- to focus on how to provide him and his peers from every background a great education and a shot at the American dream. When I dropped Matthew off at his school's front door, he looked at me and warned me with a big smile not to follow him inside -- something I occasionally do partly to make him laugh and partly out of that desire to support him wherever he goes.

I didn't follow my son inside that schoolhouse door. But I have been working hard to determine what commitments I can personally make to provide our kids and all of America's children with tools they can use to create opportunity once they walk as young adults out of our sight-line into America's future.

One must know where one is in order to determine where to go and how to get there, but today's parents face significant challenges in that regard.

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November 9, 2011

Autism Linked to Excess Neurons

Crystal Phend, via a kind Larry Winkler email:

Children with autism appear to have bigger brains with more neurons than normal for their age, a small preliminary study affirmed.

Postmortem examinations of seven boys with autism showed 67% more neurons in the prefrontal cortex (1.94 billion), which controls social and emotional development as well as communication, compared with six controls (1.16 billion, P=0.002), Eric Courchesne, PhD, of the University of California San Diego, and colleagues found.

Autistic brains also weighed 17.6% above normal for age (P=0.001), the group reported in the Nov. 9 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Point out that the brains from autistic boys in this study were 17.6% above what is considered normal brain weight based on age.
Neuron counts in the autistic children should have been accompanied by brain weights of 29.4% versus the observed 17.6% enlargement, they said. "Thus, the size of the autistic brain, overlarge though it is, might actually underestimate the pathology of excess neuron numbers," the group explained.

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XIAO HUA Interview; Chinese International School, Hong Kong

William Hughes Fitzhugh, Founder & Publisher, The Concord Review

1. Please tell us about yourself. What inspired you to start The Concord Review?

Diane Ravitch, an American historian of education, wrote a column in The New York Times in 1985 about the ignorance of history among 17-year-olds in the United States, based on a recent study of 7,000 students, and as a history teacher myself at the time, I was interested to see that what concerned me was a national problem. I did have a few students at my high school who did more than they had to in history, and when I began a sabbatical leave in 1986, I began to think about these issues. In March 1987, it occurred to me that if I had one or two very good students writing history papers for me and perhaps my colleagues had one or two, then in 20,000 United States high schools (and more overseas) there must be a large number of high school students doing exemplary history research papers. In June of 1987, I incorporated The Concord Review to provide a journal for such good work in history. In August 1987, I sent a four-page brochure calling for papers to every high school in the United States, 3,500 high schools in Canada, and 1,500 schools overseas. The papers started coming in, and in the Fall of 1988 I was able to publish the first issue (of now 89 issues) of The Concord Review.

2. What makes for a great history research essay?

In order to write a great history essay it is first necessary to know a lot of history. Students who read as much as they can about a historical topic have a better chance of writing an exemplary history paper. Of course they must make an effort to write so that readers can understand what they are saying and so they will be interested in what they are writing, and they must re-write their papers, but without knowing a good deal about their topic, their paper will probably not be very interesting or very good.

3. Please tell us about some of the most outstanding essays you have received. What made them special?

In 1995, I as able to begin awarding the Ralph Waldo Emerson Prizes for the best few papers from the 44 published in each volume year of The Concord Review. Many of these papers are now on our website at, and students and teachers who are interested may read some there. I have several favorites and would be glad to send some to anyone who asks me at

4. Please tell us about some of your most interesting authors. Where did they go to college, what did they study, and what are they doing now?

About 30% of our authors have gone to Harvard, Princeton, MIT, Stanford and Yale, and many have gone to other good colleges, such as those at Cambridge and Oxford. Three, that I know of, have been named Rhodes Scholars. I work alone, so that I am not able to follow up on authors very well. I know that many are doctors and lawyers and some are professors and entrepreneurs, but I have lost track of almost all of them, for lack of funding and staff to help me keep in touch with them.

5. Please tell us how you evaluate and select essays for publication in The Concord Review.

The purpose of The Concord Review is two-fold. We want to recognize exemplary work in history by secondary students (from 39 countries so far) but we also want to distribute their work to inspire their peers to read more history and work harder on their own research papers, because being able to read nonfiction and write term papers are important skills for future success in college and beyond, and also because students should know more history if they want to be educated. So I look for papers that are historically accurate, well-researched, serious and worth reading.

6. What are your favorite books and why?

I was an English Literature major at Harvard College and I read English Literature at Cambridge for one year, and I still enjoy Dickens, Thackeray, Jane Austen, Shakespeare, Samuel Johnson, Alexander Pope, and so on, but I also have a number of favorite historians, such as Martin Gilbert, David McCullough, David Hackett Fischer, James McPherson, G.M. Trevelyan, John Prebble, Max Hastings, and others. I also read a fair number of books on education and contemporary intellectual culture.

7. Do you have any advice on how to write well?

As I suggested, there is no substitute for knowing a lot about the subject you are writing about. I think it helps to read your drafts to a friend or family member as you go along as well. You will find all sorts of things you want to improve or correct as you offer what you write to another person. So, read (study), write, and re-write...that is about it. And read the good writing of other authors.

8. Do you have advice on how students can best prepare themselves to do well in college?

There is a great deal of emphasis, at least in the United States, on math and science, but, in my view, there is much too little attention here on the importance for secondary students of being able to read complete nonfiction books and to write serious (e.g. 6,000-word) research papers. I have heard from a few of my authors that they are mobbed when they get to college by their peers who never had to write a research paper when they were in high school and so have no idea how to do it. Students who write Extended Essays for the International Baccalaureate Diploma have an advantage, as do the many students from all over the world who write history research papers on their own as independent studies and send them to The Concord Review.

Chinese International Schools' website, Hong Kong.

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Focus on standardized tests may be pushing some teachers to cheat

Howard Blume:

The stress was overwhelming.

For years, this veteran teacher had received exemplary evaluations but now was feeling pressured to raise her students' test scores. Her principal criticized her teaching and would show up to take notes on her class. She knew the material would be used against her one day.

"My principal told me right to my face that she -- she was feeling sorry for me because I don't know how to teach," the instructor said.

The Los Angeles educator, who did not want to be identified, is one of about three dozen in the state accused this year of cheating, lesser misconduct or mistakes on standardized achievement tests.

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Banning Sugary Soda From School Fails to Cut Teen Consumption, Study Finds

Nicole Ostrow:

Banning sugar-filled sodas from American schools as an effort to combat childhood obesity doesn't reduce overall consumption levels of sweetened beverages, research found.

In U.S. states that banned only soda, about 30 percent of middle-school students still purchased sugary drinks like sports and fruit beverages at school, similar to states that had no policy, according to a study released online today in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. In states that banned all sugar-sweetened beverages, students still consumed the drinks outside of school, the researchers said.

Over the past 25 years, children have gotten more of their calories from sugary beverages and consumption of the drinks has been associated with childhood obesity and weight gain, the authors said. Today's study is the first to look at whether efforts by states to curb these drinks really works, said Daniel Taber, the lead study author.

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November 8, 2011

Is an Ivy League Diploma Worth It?

Melissa Korn:

Daniel Schwartz could have attended an Ivy League school if he wanted to. He just doesn't see the value.

Mr. Schwartz, 18 years old, was accepted at Cornell University but enrolled instead at City University of New York's Macaulay Honors College, which is free.

Mr. Schwartz says his family could have afforded Cornell's tuition, with help from scholarships and loans. But he wants to be a doctor and thinks medical school, which could easily cost upward of $45,000 a year for a private institution, is a more important investment. It wasn't "worth it to spend $50,000-plus a year for a bachelor's degree," he says.

As student-loan default rates climb and college graduates fail to land jobs, an increasing number of students are betting they can get just as far with a degree from a less-expensive school as they can with a diploma from an elite school--without having to take on debt.

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Why Science Majors Change Their Minds (It's Just So Darn Hard)

Christopher Drew:

LAST FALL, President Obama threw what was billed as the first White House Science Fair, a photo op in the gilt-mirrored State Dining Room. He tested a steering wheel designed by middle schoolers to detect distracted driving and peeked inside a robot that plays soccer. It was meant as an inspirational moment: children, science is fun; work harder.

Politicians and educators have been wringing their hands for years over test scores showing American students falling behind their counterparts in Slovenia and Singapore. How will the United States stack up against global rivals in innovation? The president and industry groups have called on colleges to graduate 10,000 more engineers a year and 100,000 new teachers with majors in STEM -- science, technology, engineering and math. All the Sputnik-like urgency has put classrooms from kindergarten through 12th grade -- the pipeline, as they call it -- under a microscope. And there are encouraging signs, with surveys showing the number of college freshmen interested in majoring in a STEM field on the rise.

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Scientists and autism: When geeks meet

Simon Baron-Cohen:

In the opening scene of The Social Network, Jesse Eisenberg portrays a cold Mark Zuckerberg getting dumped by his girlfriend, who is exasperated by the future Facebook founder's socially oblivious and obsessive personality. Eisenberg's Zuckerberg is the stereotypical Silicon Valley geek -- brilliant with technology, pathologically bereft of social graces. Or, in the parlance of the Valley: 'on the spectrum'.

Few scientists think that the leaders of the tech world actually have an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), which can range from the profound social, language and behavioural problems that are characteristic of autistic disorder, to the milder Asperger's syndrome. But according to an idea that is creeping into the popular psyche, they and many others in professions such as science and engineering may display some of the characteristics of autism, and have an increased risk of having children with the full-blown disorder.

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November 7, 2011

Wisconsin Framework for Educator (Teacher) Effectiveness

Design Team Report & Recommendation:

1. Guiding Principles

The Design Team believes that the successful development and implementation of the new performance-based evaluation system is dependent upon the following guiding principles,
which define the central focus of the entire evaluation system. The guiding principles of the educator evaluation system are:

The ultimate goal of education is student learning. Effective educators are essential to achieving that goal for all students. We believe it is imperative that students have highly effective teams of educators to support them throughout their public education. We further believe that effective practice leading to better educational achievement requires continuous improvement and monitoring.

A strong evaluation system for educators is designed to provide information that supports decisions intended to ensure continuous individual and system effectiveness. The system must be well-articulated, manageable

Related: Wisconsin 25th in 2011 NAEP Reading, Comparing Rhetoric Regarding Texas (10th) & Wisconsin NAEP Scores: Texas Hispanic and African-American students rank second on eighth-grade NAEP math test, Wisconsin, Mississippi Have "Easy State K-12 Exams" - NY Times and Seidenberg endorses using the Massachusetts model exam for teachers of reading (MTEL 90), which was developed with input from reading scientists. He also supports universal assessment to identify students who are at risk, and he mentioned the Minnesota Reading Corps as a model of reading tutoring that would be good to bring to Wisconsin.

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Our Universities: Why Are They Failing?

Anthony Grafton:

American universities crowd the tops of many world rankings, and though these ratings are basically entertainment for university administrators and alumni, they do reflect certain facts. A number of American universities offer their faculty salaries and working conditions, laboratories and libraries that few institutions elsewhere can match. They spend more not only on their staff, but also on their graduate and undergraduate students, than their peers overseas. Though their fees seem enormous by European or Asian standards, they have worked hard in recent years to keep them from deterring poor students by offering more generous aid for undergraduates and by paying full fees for all doctoral students. At every level of the system, dedicated professors are setting students on fire with enthusiasm for everything from the structure of crystals to the structure of poems.

Yet American universities also attract ferocious criticism, much of it from professors and from journalists who know them well, and that's entirely reasonable too. Every coin has its other side, every virtue its corresponding vice--and practically every university its festering sores. At the most prestigious medical schools, professors publish the work of paid flacks for pharmaceutical companies under their own names. At many state universities and more than a few private ones, head football and basketball coaches earn millions and their assistants hundreds of thousands for running semiprofessional teams. Few of these teams earn much money for the universities that sponsor them, and some brutally exploit their players.

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Does Inequality Make Us Unhappy?

Jonah Lehrer:

Inequality is inevitable; life is a bell curve. Such are the brute facts of biology, which can only evolve because some living things are better at reproducing than others. But not all inequality is created equal. In recent years, it's become clear that many kinds of wealth disparity are perfectly acceptable -- capitalism could not exist otherwise -- while alternate forms make us unhappy and angry.

The bad news is that American society seems to be developing the wrong kind of inequality. There is, for instance, this recent study published in Psychological Science, which found that, since the 1970s, the kind of inequality experienced by most Americans has undermined perceptions of fairness and trust, which in turn reduced self-reports of life satisfaction:

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November 6, 2011

Analysis of New Jersey's Census-Based Special Education Funding System

Augenblick, Palaich and Associates:

As part of the School Funding Reform Act of 2008, New Jersey changed how special education was funded. Prior to 2008, special education students in New Jersey were funded based on their level of need. Each student was placed into one of four need tiers, with higher per pupil funding associated with the higher need tiers. A study done in 2003 by Center for Special Education Finance (CSEF) showed that New Jersey had higher per pupil spending for special education than the national average. 1 The study suggested switching to a census-based special education funding model might help New Jersey control its spending. In 2008, the state made the switch to a census-based model.

Under a census-based funding model all districts are funded for the same percentage of special education students. For the 2008-09 through 2010-11 school years the funding percentage was 14.69%. (This percentage does not include students receiving only speech services, who are funded separately.) Each district's special education funding, excluding extraordinary aid2, is calculated by multiplying the district's resident student population by 14.69% to determine the number of special education students to fund. This funded count is then multiplied by the special education per pupil funding amount to determine the total special education funding allotted to the district. The new system then wealth equalizes two thirds of this amount, splitting it up into a state and local share, and then funds the remaining third entirely from the state. Wealth equalization is a process commonly used in school funding formulas that determines what percentage of funding the state pays based inversely on the relative wealth of each individual district (the wealthier the district, the lower percentage the state pays). It is important to note that districts also receive extraordinary aid for special education students who are extremely expensive to serve. This aid is beyond the basic special education funding.

New Jersey Left Behind:
First, a little back story. New Jersey currently has about 185,000 kids who are eligible for special education services, out of a total enrollment of about 1.3 million. Before SFRA, costs for special ed kids was calculated based on the individual level of need. But after the passage of SFRA, we went to a census-based model which calculates state aid for kids with disabilities based on a percentage above cost-per-pupil of 14.69%. The idea behind the census-based model was that we could control our special ed costs, which are among the highest across the nation.

The formula is also weighted for high high cost-disabilities (like autism, emotional disturbances, deaf/blind, severe cognitive impairment); moderate-cost disabilities (like moderate cognitive impairment, auditory); and low-cost disabilities (like specific learning disabilities or communication-impaired).

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Intelligence Is Still Not Fixed at Birth

Dr. Scott Barry Kaufman:

In 1932, the entire population of Scottish 11-year olds (87, 498 children) took an IQ test. Over 60 years later, psychologists Ian Deary and Lawrence Whalley tracked down about 500 of them and gave them the same test to take again. Here are the results:

Some things to note here. Firstly, the correlation is pretty high-- .66, to be exact. Those who were at the top of the pack at age 11 also tended to be at the top of the pack at age 80, and those who were at the bottom also tended to stay at the bottom. Secondly, the correlation is not perfect. A few outliers can be found. One person had an IQ of over 100 at age 11, but scored just over 60 at age 80. There are many possible reasons for this outlier, including dementia. Other folks showed IQ increases as they aged. In fact, on average, people's individual (or absolute) scores on the test taken again at age 80 was much higher (over 1 standard deviation) than their scores had been at age 11, even though the rank ordering among people stayed roughly the same.

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November 5, 2011

Madison Prep, More Questions than Answers

TJ Mertz:

With only 24 days remaining till the Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education will vote on the Madison Preparatory Academy charter and only 9 days until the MMSD administration is required to issue an analysis of their proposal (and that is assuming the analysis is issued on a Sunday, otherwise we are talking only one week), there are still many, many unanswered questions concerning the school. Too many unanswered questions.

Where to start?

All officially submitted information (and more) can be found on the district web site (scroll down for the latest iterations, and thanks to the district public info team for doing this).

The issues around instrumentality/non instrumentality and the status of staff in relation to existing union contracts have rightfully been given much attention. It is my understanding that there has been some progress, but things seem to be somewhat stalled on those matters.

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

Do current schools face the same scrutiny as the proposed Madison Preparatory Academy IB Charter?

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November 4, 2011

Madison School District Identified for Improvement (DIFI); Documentation for the Wisconsin DPI

Madison School District Superintendent Dan Nerad 15MB PDF

1. Develop or Revise a District Improvement Plan

Address the fundamental teaching and learning needs of schools in the Local Education Agency (LEA), especially the academic problems o f low-achieving students.

MMSD has been identified by the State of Wisconsin as a District Identified for Improvement, or DIFI. We entered into this status based on District WKCE assessment scores. The data indicates that sub-groups of students-African American students, English Language Learner Students with Disabilities or Economically Disadvantaged -did not score high enough on the WKCE in one or more areas of reading, math or test participation to meet state criteria.

Under No Child Left Behind, 100% of students are expected to achieve proficient or advanced on the WKCE in four areas by 2014. Student performance goals have been raised every year on a regular schedule since 2001, making targets more and more difficult to reach each year. In addition to the curriculum changes being implemented, the following assessments are also new or being implemented during the 2011-12 school year (see Attachment 1):

  1. The Measures of Academic Progress (MAP): Grades 3-7. MAP is incorporated into the MMSD Balanced Assessment Plan as a computer adaptive benchmark assessment tool for grades 3-7. Administration of the assessment was implemented in spring, 2011.
  2. Cognitive Ability Test (CogAT): Grades 2 and 5. As proposed in the Talented and Gifted Plan approved by the Board of Education in August, 2009, the district requested approval of funds to purchase and score the Cognitive Ability Test (CogAT) which was administered in February, 2011, to all second and fifth graders.
  3. The EPAS System: Explore Grades 8-9, Plan Grade 10, ACT Grade 11. The EPAS system provides a longitudinal, systematic approach to educational and career planning, assessment, instructional support, and evaluation. The system focuses on the integrated, higher-order thinking skills students develop in grades K-12 that are important for success both during and after high school. The EPAS system is linked to the College and Career Readiness standards so that the information gained about student performance can be used to inform instruction around those standards.
Attached are six documents describing programs being implemented for the 2011-12 school year to address the needs of all students.

1. Strategic Plan Document: Year Three (Attachment 2)
2. Strategic Plan Summary of Three Main Focus Areas (Attachment 3)
3. Addressing the Needs of All Learners and Closing the Achievement Gap Through K-12 Alignment (Attachment 4)
4. Scope and Sequence (Attachment 5)
5. The Ideal Graduate from MMSD (Attachment 6)
6. 4K Update to BOE- Program and Sites- (Attachment 7)

Clusty Search: District Identified for Improvement (DIFI)

Matthew DeFour:

Madison School District administrators aren't keeping track of the best classroom instruction. Not all principals create a culture of high expectations for all students. And teachers aren't using the same research-based methods.

Such inconsistencies across the district and within schools -- stemming from Madison's tradition of school and teacher autonomy -- are hurting student achievement, according to a district analysis required under the federal No Child Left Behind law.

"There are problems within the entire system," Superintendent Dan Nerad said. "We do have good practice, but we need to be more consistent and have more fidelity to our practices."

Inconsistencies in teaching and building culture can affect low-income students, who are more likely to move from school to school, and make teacher training less effective, Nerad said.

The analysis is contained in an improvement plan the district is scheduled to discuss with the School Board on Monday and to deliver next week to the state Department of Public Instruction.

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Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis on Rahm, Brizard, Arne Duncan, and the Longer School Day

Carol Felsenthal:

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis has had some ugly squabbles with Rahm Emanuel--the longer school day battles, for starters, including his recent charge that the union is "cheating children out of an education"--and, in my opinion, she has often emerged the loser.

Last week, she filed the CTU's latest lawsuit against the city, charging that the school board is using its "TeacherFit" questionnaire to hire teachers who are willing to buck the union.

The camera doesn't favor her, and in her battle to stop the new mayor from pushing through a longer school day, she seems on the side of outmoded, lumbering labor. Who, after all, wants to deny Chicago public school kids more time for math, reading, lunch, and recess?

But in person, Lewis, 58--South Sider (grew up in Hyde Park, now lives in the Oakland neighborhood), CPS lifer (Kenwood, '71), daughter of two teachers, former high-school chemistry teacher (Sullivan, Lane Tech, King College Prep), wife of a now-retired CPS P.E. teacher--has a sharp sense of humor, and intelligence and articulateness to spare. After an hour spent with her at a conference table at the CTU's headquarters in the Merchandise Mart, if someone asked me to choose a few words to describe her, I'd say "substantial, self-confident, direct."

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College College Bobollege

Joseph Knippenberg:

But today, I want to talk about higher education, where the long and steep upward climb of tuition offers at least prima facie evidence of yet another bubble. We've been willing to pay more and more for our "higher" education because it was supposed to be the guarantee of a good job upon graduation (hence a good investment of time and money) and because the government's willingness to subsidize it (thorough grants and guaranteed loans) would help insulate us from the real costs.

The Occupiers aren't the only ones wondering about the former. There are lots of reasons to ask about the value of a college education, not just in terms of the connection between credentials and the marketplace, but even in terms of the more intangible relationship between higher education and a life well-led. That latter relationship is, for me, the central concern, but in terms of the economics of higher education, it's a luxury good.

Properly understood, of course, it's a relatively cheap luxury good. You need students, professors, and great (or at least good) books. Unfortunately, however, we've lost our focus on that time-honored nexus (the first discussion of it that I can think of is in Xenophon's Memorabilia). Instead, we have professors who have science envy and need to do ground-breaking research (which means studying things that have in the past, for better or worse, been neglected and inventing new ways of looking at things, as if novelty were always a good thing). And we have students who wish to be entertained and coddled in country club-like surroundings. Finally, although I'm leaping ahead of myself a bit here, the fact that so much of this already bloated enterprise is financed by the federal government means that there are significant costs connected with regulatory compliance.

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November 3, 2011

School Has a Charter, Students and a Strong Opponent: Its District

Winnie Hu, via a kind Carla McDonald email:

Charter schools, publicly financed but independently operated, have encountered fierce resistance in many suburban communities, criticized by parents and traditional educators who view them as a drain on resources.

But since the Amani Public Charter School won state approval to open this year, officials at the Mount Vernon City School District have taken that opposition to a new level.

The district, in Westchester County, sued the State Education Department and the Amani school this year, calling the approval an "arbitrary and capricious" decision, and sought to block Amani from moving forward. It has refused to turn over state, federal and local aid money to Amani, so the state has begun paying the charter directly. During the summer, district workers were sent to knock on the doors of Amani students to check that they lived in the district, a tactic that angered some parents. And in recent weeks, the district has delayed providing special education services to Amani students.

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Everything you wanted to know about urban education and its solutions!

Dr. Armand A. Fusco, via a kind email:

"No one has been able to stop the steady plunge of young black Americans into a socioeconomic abyss." Bob Herbert / Syndicated columnist

Everything you wanted to know about urban education and its solutions!

For over 50 years this shame of the nation and education has remained as a plague upon its most vulnerable children. All reform efforts involving billions of dollars have not alleviated this scourge in our public schools. The rhetoric has been profound, but it has been immune to any antidote or action and it is getting worse; but it doesn't have to be!

The following quotes summarize the 285 pages and over 400 references from my book.

Edited Insightful Quotes

The explanations and references are found in the contents of the book.

  • School pushouts is a time bomb exploding economically and socially every twenty-six seconds
  • Remember what the basic problem is--they are in all respects illiterate and that is why they are failing.
  • Every three years the number of dropouts and pushouts adds up to a city bigger than Chicago.
  • Politics trump the needs of all children to achieve their potential.
  • One reason that the high school dropout crisis is known as the "silent epidemic" is that the problem is frequently minimized.
  • Simply stated black male students can achieve high outcomes; the tragedy is most states and districts choose not to do so.
  • In the majority of schools, the conditions necessary for Black males to systematically succeed in education do not exist.
  • While one in four American children is Latino--the largest and fastest growing minority group in the United States--they are chronically underserved by the nation's public schools and have the lowest education attainment levels in the country.
  • Miseducation is the most powerful example of cruel and unusual punishment; it's exacted on children innocent of any crime.
  • Traditional proposals for improving education--more money, smaller classes, etc.--aren't getting the job done.
  • The public school system is designed for Black and other minority children to fail.
  • The U.S. Department of Education has never even acknowledged that the problem exists.
  • Though extensive records are kept...unions and school boards do not want productivity analysis done.
  • Educational bureaucracies like the NEA are at the center of America's dysfunctional minority public schools.
  • Does bonus pay alone improve student outcomes? We found that it does not.
  • Performance pay is equivalent to "thirty pieces of silver."
  • Data necessary to distinguish cost-effective schools are all available, but our system has been built to make their use difficult.
  • Districts give credit for students who fail standardized tests on the expectation that students someday will pass.
  • We saw some schools that were low performing and had a very high parent satisfaction rate.
  • We're spending ever-greater sums of money, yet our high school graduates' test results have been absolutely flat.
  • America's primary and secondary schools have many problems, but an excess of excellence is not one of them.
  • Not only is our use of incarceration highly concentrated among men with little schooling, but corrections systems are doing less to correct the problem by reducing educational opportunities for the growing number of prisoners.
  • Although states will require school districts to implement the common core state standards, the majority of these states are not requiring districts to make complementary changes in curriculum and teacher programs.
  • We can show that merit pay is counterproductive, that closing down struggling schools (or firing principals) makes no sense.
  • The gap between our articulated ideals and our practice is an international embarrassment.
  • It's interesting to note that despite the growing support by minority parents for charters, the NAACP, the National Urban League, and other civil rights groups collectively condemn charter schools.
  • Public schools do respond constructively to competition by raising their achievement and productivity.
  • Gates Foundation has also stopped funding the small school concept because no results could be shown.
  • The policies we are following today are unlikely to improve our schools.
  • Our country still does a better job of tracking a package than it does a student.
  • Indeed, we give these children less of all the things that both research and experience tell us make a difference.
  • Reformers have little knowledge of what is working and how to scale what works.
  • The fact is that illiteracy has persisted in all states for generations, particularly among the most vulnerable children, and getting worse is a testament that national policy and creative leadership rings hollow.
  • We can't change a child's home life, but what we can do is affect what they do here at school.
  • Only a third of young Americans will leave high school with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed.
  • Black churches can no longer play gospel in the sanctuaries while kids drop out into poverty and prison. They must embrace school reform and take the role that Catholic churches have done for so long and for so many.
  • There is only one way to equalize education for all--technology.
  • Whatever made you successful in the past won't in the future.
  • The real potential of technology for improving learning remains largely untapped in schools today.
  • Can't read, can't learn, can't get a job, can't survive, so can't stay within the law.
  • Of the 19.4 million government workers, half work in education, which rivals health care for the most wasteful sector in America.
  • The only people not being betrayed are those who feed off our failing education system...that group gets larger every year.
  • Mediocrity, not excellence, is the national norm as demonstrated by the deplorable evidence.
  • Parents are left to face the bleak reality that their child will be forever stuck in a failing school and a failing system.
  • The key is that unless there is accountability, we will never get the right system.
  • The very public institutions intended for student learning have become focused instead on adult employment.
  • We conclude that the strategies driving the best performing systems are rarely found in the United States.
  • No reform has yet lived up to its definition!
  • Minority males don't get the beef, they get the leftovers.
  • The cotton plantations have become the school plantations (children held in bondage of failing schools) and the dropouts move on to the prison plantations.

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9.27.2011 Wisconsin Read to Lead Task Force Notes

Wisconsin Reading Coalition, via a kind Chan Stroman-Roll email:

Guest Speaker Mark Seidenberg (Donald O. Hebb and Hilldale Professor of Psychology and Cognitive Neuroscience, UW-Madison): Professor Seidenberg gave an excellent presentation on the science of reading and why it is important to incorporate the findings of that science in teaching. Right now there is a huge disconnect between the vast, converged body of science worldwide and instructional practice. Prospective teachers are not learning about reading science in IHE's, and relying on intuition about how to teach reading is biased and can mislead. Teaching older students to read is expensive and difficult. Up-front prevention of reading failure is important, and research shows us it is possible, even for dyslexic students. This will save money, and make the road easier for students to learn and teachers to teach. Seidenberg endorses using the Massachusetts model exam for teachers of reading (MTEL 90), which was developed with input from reading scientists. He also supports universal assessment to identify students who are at risk, and he mentioned the Minnesota Reading Corps as a model of reading tutoring that would be good to bring to Wisconsin.
Lander: Can Seidenberg provide a few examples of things on which the Task Force could reach consensus?

Seidenberg: There is a window for teaching basic reading skills that then will allow the child to move on to comprehension. The balanced literacy concept is in conflict with best practices. Classrooms in Wisconsin are too laissez-faire, and the spiraling approach to learning does not align with science.
Michael Brickman: Brickman, the Governor's aide, cut off the discussion with Professor Seidenberg, and said he would be in touch with him later.

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

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Madison Prep's ambitious plan to close achievement gap sparks vigorous debate

Susan Troller:

Nicole is a teacher's dream student. Bright, curious and hard-working, she has high expectations for herself and isn't satisfied with anything less than A grades. In fact, her mother says, she sometimes has to be told not to take school too seriously.

But when Nicole was tested in seventh grade to see if she'd qualify for an eighth-grade algebra course that would put her on track for advanced math courses in high school, her score wasn't top-notch. She assured the teacher she wanted to tackle the course anyway. He turned her down.

In fact, her score could not predict whether she'd succeed. Neither could the color of her skin.

As an African-American girl, Nicole didn't look much like the high-flying students her teacher was accustomed to teaching in his accelerated math classes at a Madison middle school. But instead of backing off, Nicole and her family challenged the recommendation. Somewhat grudgingly, her teacher allowed her in the class.

Fast forward a year: Nicole and one other student, the two top performers in the eighth-grade algebra class, were recommended for advanced math classes in high school.

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

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November 2, 2011

Wisconsin 25th in 2011 NAEP Reading

Wisconsin Reading Coalition E-Alert, via a kind Chan Stroman Roll email:

The 4th and 8th grade NAEP reading and math scores were released today. You can view the results at The presentation webinar is at

Following is commentary on Wisconsin's NAEP reading scores that was sent to the Governor's Read to Lead task force by task force member Steve Dykstra.

2011 NAEP data for reading was released earlier than usual, this year. Under the previous timeline we wouldn't get the reading data until Spring.

While we returned to our 2007 rank of 25 from our 2009 rank of 30, that is misleading. All of our gains come from modest improvement among Black students who no longer rank last, but are still very near the bottom. The shift in rank is among Wisconsin and a group of states who all perform at an essentially identical level, and have for years. We're talking tenths of points as the difference.

It is always misleading to consider NAEP scores on a whole-state basis. Different states may have very different demographic make-ups and those difference can either exaggerate or mask the actual differences between the two states. For instance, the difference between Florida and Wisconsin (all scores refer to 4th grade reading) at the whole-state level is only 3 points. In reality, the difference is much greater. Demographic variation masks the real difference because Florida has far more minority students and far more poverty than Wisconsin. When we look at the subgroups, comparing apples to apples, we see that the real differences are vast.

When we break the groups down by gender and race, Florida outperforms Wisconsin by a statistically significant margin in every group. The smallest difference is 8 and some are as large as 20. If we break the groups down by race and school lunch status Florida outperforms Wisconsin by a statistically significant margin in every group, except black students who don't get a free lunch. For that group Florida does better, but not by enough to declare statistical certainty. The smallest margin is 9, and many are at or above 15.

10 points are generally accepted as a grade level for this range of the NAEP. Every Florida subgroup except one exceeds it's Wisconsin counterpart by a nearly a full grade level, and most by a lot more.

When we compare Wisconsin to Massachusetts the story is the same, only worse. The same groups are significantly different from each other, but the margins are slightly larger. The whole-state difference between Wisconsin and Massachusetts (15+ pts) only appears larger than for Florida because Massachusetts enjoys many of the same demographic advantages as Wisconsin. In fact, Wisconsin students are about the same 1.5 grade levels behind both Florida and Massachusetts for 4th grade reading.

If you want to dig deeper and kick over more rocks, it only gets worse. Every Wisconsin subgroup is below their national average and most are statistically significantly below. The gaps are found in overall scores, as well as for performance categories. We do about the same in terms of advanced students as we do with low performing students. Except for black students who don't get a free lunch (where the three states are in a virtual dead heat), Wisconsin ranks last compared to Florida and Massachusetts for every subgroup in terms of percentage of students at the advanced level. In many cases the other states exceed our rate by 50-100% or more. Their children have a 50 -100% better chance to read at the advanced level.

We need a sense of urgency to do more than meet, and talk, and discuss. We need to actually change the things that will make a difference, we need to do it fast, and we need to get it right. A lot of what needs to be done can be accomplished in a matter of days. Some of it takes a few hours. The parts that will take longer would benefit from getting the other stuff done and out of the way so we can devote our attention to those long term issues.

Our children are suffering and so far, all we're doing is talking about it. Shame on us.

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Comparing Rhetoric Regarding Texas (10th) & Wisconsin NAEP Scores: Texas Hispanic and African-American students rank second on eighth-grade NAEP math test

Texas Hispanic and African-American students rank
second on eighth-grade NAEP math test

Texas Education Agency:

Texas Hispanic and African-American students earned the second highest score among their peer groups on the 2011 eighth-grade National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) mathematics test. The state's white eighth grade students ranked fourth, missing out on the second place position themselves by less than one point.

Only Hispanic students in Montana earned a higher scale score on the math test than did eighth-grade Hispanic Texans. Only African-American students in Hawaii earned a higher average score than did their counterparts in Texas.

White students in the District of Columbia earned an average scale score of 319, the highest score for that ethnic group. Texas students ranked fourth, with less than a fraction of a point separating this group from students in Massachusetts and New Jersey. Massachusetts students had the second highest scale score at 304.2876, while Texas received an average score of 303.5460.
Overall, the state ranked 10th among the states with an average scale score of 290, substantially above the national average score of 283.

NAEP math on upward trend, state reading results stable

Wisconsin DPI:
Wisconsin's biennial mathematics and reading results held steady on the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as the Nation's Report Card. The state's overall trend in mathematics is improving.

For fourth-grade mathematics, the state's 2011 scale score was 245, up one point but statistically the same as in 2009, compared to the national scale score of 240, a one-point increase from 2009. Wisconsin results for fourth-grade math are significantly higher than in 2003 when the average scale score was 237. At eighth grade, the Wisconsin scale score for mathematics was 289,
the same as in 2009 and up five points from 2003, which is statistically significant. For the nation, the 2011 mathematics scale score was 283, up one-point from 2009. State average scale scores in mathematics at both grade levels were statistically higher than the national score.

Average scores for fourth grade
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Average scores for eighth grade
via a kind Richard Askey email.

Erin Richards has more on Wisconsin's results.

Steve Dykstra's comments on Wisconsin's NAEP reading scores.

Related: Madison and College Station, TX.

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The End of College Admissions as We Know it

Kevin Carey:

But there's another culprit at work: the college admissions process itself. If you want to buy shares of stock, bid on antiques, search for a job, or look for Mr. Right in 2011, you will likely go to a marketplace driven by the electronic exchange of information. There will be quick, flexible transactions, broad access to buyers and sellers, and powerful algorithms that efficiently match supply and demand. If you are a student looking for a college or a college looking for a student, by contrast, you're stuck with an archaic, over-complicated, under-managed system that still relies on things like bus trips to airport convention centers and the physical transmission of pieces of paper. That's why under-matching is so pervasive. The higher education market only works for students who have the resources to overcome its terrible inefficiency. Everyone else is out of luck.

As a result, the odds appear to be against Jameel, who attends a 1,600-student public high school where the large majority of children qualify for the federal free and reduced-price lunch program and the staff of three guidance counselors was cut to two last year. Determination can take you only so far if there's no one to help you find your way.

But Jameel's local school system has made one recent move that might work significantly in his favor. A few days after returning from the college fair, Jameel logged on to a new Web site that is the result of a contract between the Miami-Dade County school system and a Boston-based company called ConnectEDU. The site offered Jameel loads of information about different colleges and universities, along with strategies for filling out college applications and getting scholarships and financial aid. It was also a vessel for information about Jameel himself--his grades, courses, and activities, along with short animated quizzes designed to identify his strengths and goals. There were checklists and schedules and friendly reminders, all tailored to the personal aspirations the site had gleaned from Jameel, all focused on identifying the colleges that might meet them.

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Teacher layoffs: Did the sky fall or not?

The National Council on Teacher Quality :

Since the recession began, the specter of massive teacher layoffs has been hanging over the nation's schools. The feds have repeatedly come to the rescue--even when some parts of the country didn't seem to be particularly struggling--providing funds first in the form of stimulus dollars, followed by last year's EduJobs.

So far this year there appears to be little likelihood of a comparable rescue package. The president's job bill offers the only hope, but we all know how far that one isn't going. The White House has been making the case nonetheless, supplying sobering evidence of a decline in education jobs and that as many as 280,000 "educator jobs" are at risk this school year.

Not discounting this evidence, we've been struck by the lack of reports on layoffs in newspapers this fall. Last spring, they were all reporting about school districts handing out pink slips by the thousands, but there's been little follow up on teachers converting from pink-slip status to no-job-at-all status.

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Student loans - forgive and forget

Debra Saunders:

One of the great things about America, President Obama told students at the University of Colorado, is that no matter how humble your roots, you still have a shot at a great education. He also told students that his goal is to "make college more affordable." Alas, the president's prescription for making higher education affordable seems likely to yield the same results as his plan for curbing health care costs - that is, it is likely to drive prices higher than inflation.

The nation's next fiscal nightmare may well be a higher-education bubble.

Americans now owe more on student loans than on credit cards. As USA Today reported, America's student loan debt is expected to exceed $1 trillion this year. Rising costs have left many graduates in a deep hole. Many of last year's graduates walked away with a diploma and, on average, $24,000 in student loans. The default rate on student loans rose to 8.8 percent in 2009.

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A Shocking Chart on Vaccination

Megan McArdle:

Yet I am surprised--surprised and disappointed. This is a very dangerous level of immunization--the level where herd immunity gets lost, disease reservoirs are established, and children emerge from their school to infect infants, immunocrompromised adults, and people whose vaccinations didn't take or have waned, with potentially fatal diseases.

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November 1, 2011

The $10,000 College Degree Rick Perry's $10,000 degree plan is just one option to obtain an inexpensive education.

Jenna Ashley Robinson:

Editor's Note: Scroll down to the bottom to view's infographic about rising costs and the $10,000 degree.

The latest news on Wall Street is that the occupiers want forgiveness of student debt. And while President Obama didn't meet their demands in his recent speech, he is still focusing on the same side of the equation: more money for higher education.

But down the road, the best way to deal with the high cost of college education is to reduce it! And Texas governor Rick Perry has thrown out the gauntlet by demanding that his regents come up with a plan for a $10,000 degree--not $10,000 per year but $10,000 for a full degree.

Is such a price possible? At the Pope Center, we've looked at affordability--and the innovation that will be required to get prices to that level--from many angles. My view is that extreme reductions are possible, but they may be far in the future. Meanwhile, however, you can save a lot of money if you take care.

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Student loans in America Nope, just debt The next big credit bubble?

The Economist:

IN LATE 1965, President Lyndon Johnson stood in the modest gymnasium of what had once been the tiny teaching college he attended in Texas and announced a programme to promote education. It was an initiative that exemplified the "Great Society" agenda of his administration: social advancement financed by a little hard cash, lots of leverage and potentially vast implicit government commitments. Those commitments are now coming due.

"Economists tell us that improvement of education has been responsible for one-fourth to one-half of the growth in our nation's economy over the past half-century," Johnson said. "We must be sure that there will be no gap between the number of jobs available and the ability of our people to perform those jobs."

To fill this gap Johnson pledged an amount that now seems trivial, $1.9m, sent from the federal government to states which could then leverage it ten-to-one to back student loans of up to $1,000 for 25,000 people. "This act", he promised, "will help young people enter business, trade, and technical schools--institutions which play a vital role in providing the skills our citizens must have to compete and contribute in our society."

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Parents Outsource the Basics

Sophia Hollander & Melanie Grayce West:

Some New York City children take after-school classes in dance, pottery or softball. Once a week, Gillian and Hunter Randall add an unusual activity to the list: lessons on how to shake hands.

It's a class taught by SocialSklz:-), a company founded in 2009 to address deteriorating social skills in the age of iPhones, Twitter and Facebook friends.

"It's hard to have a real conversation anymore. And you know what? I'm guilty of it too," said the Randalls' mother, Lisa LaBarbera, noting that her 10-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son both have iPod touches and handheld videogame devices. "You get carpal tunnel, but you're not building those communication

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Parents Outsource the Basics

Sophia Hollander & Melanie Grayce West:

Some New York City children take after-school classes in dance, pottery or softball. Once a week, Gillian and Hunter Randall add an unusual activity to the list: lessons on how to shake hands.

It's a class taught by SocialSklz:-), a company founded in 2009 to address deteriorating social skills in the age of iPhones, Twitter and Facebook friends.

"It's hard to have a real conversation anymore. And you know what? I'm guilty of it too," said the Randalls' mother, Lisa LaBarbera, noting that her 10-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son both have iPod touches and handheld videogame devices. "You get carpal tunnel, but you're not building those communication

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A Scottish child stumbling to school in the dark. An English child strolling to class in daylight: How Berlin Time could spell the end of the United Kingdom

Tim Luckhurst:

A compelling new argument has emerged to clinch the case against Berlin Time - otherwise known as Double Summer Time.

This unwelcome import from the Eurozone could be the straw that breaks Britain, and the rapture with which the Scottish National Party has greeted Government plans to consult on implementation proves it.

Already euphoric about the first opinion poll in years to put support for independence ahead of opposition to it, the SNP has seized on the proposed time shift like manna from heaven. Nationalist spokesmen blame 'Tory time bandits' for plans they claim will endanger the lives of Scottish children, cripple business and plunge Scotland into perpetual darkness.

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Physics vs. Phys Ed: Regardless of Need, Schools Pay the Same

Tom Gantert:

There are 19 gym teachers in the Farmington School District who make more than $85,000 a year each. The average gym teacher's salary in Farmington is $75,035. By comparison, the science teachers in that district make $68,483 per year on average.

That's not unusual in Michigan schools, according to Freedom of Information Act requests received from around the state.

In the Woodhaven-Brownstown district, 18.5 (FTE) science teachers average some $58,400 per year in salary, while 12 gym teachers averaged nearly $76,700. In Harrison, science teachers earned $49,000 on average while gym teachers averaged $62,000.

This is not unusual, because school districts don't differentiate what a teacher does when considering compensation, regardless of the district's educational needs. Teachers are paid on a single salary schedule based on seniority and education level.

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October 31, 2011

School Board Election Shootout in Seattle

Dan Dempsey, via a kind email:

r spent slightly more than $500,000 combined on their four campaigns, which was 81% of the total amount spent by those running in 2007. These incumbent Directors are endorsed for reelection in 2011 by the Seattle Times while The Stranger, an alternative newspaper, recommends three of the challengers.

This election has parallels to dissatisfaction underlying Occupy Wall Street. Many Seattle residents see the "School Reform" pushed by the District as largely driven by those more interested in profit by corporations than student learning. Public records of where the $500,000 plus came from in 2007 indicate likely pro corporate connections.

On March 2, 2011 after giving the public only 22 hours notice, the Board bought out Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson and her CFO-COO Mr. Don Kennedy for $360,000. The Superintendent had Broad Academy training and pushed for School Reform along the lines advocated by the Broad Academy in her 3.5 years in Seattle.

It will be interesting to see if Madison has contested board races in 2012...

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Comparing Racine to Madison, others; Racine school district holding itself accountable to goals, but academic achievement still lags peer districts

The Public Policy Forum

Racine Unified School District (RUSD) implemented a district-wide vision for improvement in March 2009. Called the North Star vision, it is intended to specify "the path to successful completion of high school for all RUSD students with an ultimate goal of every graduate being ready for a career and/or college." It includes performance targets at each grade level to be used in creating school improvement plans and in setting school-level learning targets.

The vision is the result of a collaborative effort by the school board, district administrators, the teachers and administrators unions, and the support staff union. A simple graphic illustrating the measures of focus at each grade level has been widely distributed to parents, teachers, and district stakeholders.

Public Policy Forum Report (PDF):
For dedicated readers, this 14th Annual Comparative Analysis of the Racine Unified School District will look quite different from the previous 13 reports. For the first time, we compare the district's performance to its own goals, as well as to its peers and to its past performance. The peer comparison tables, which have been the hallmark of previous reports, appear in Appendix I. The body of the report is focused on the district goals established in 2009 as the North Star vision, which according to the district, "is a shared vision that clearly identifies the path to successful completion of high school for all RUSD students with an ultimate goal of every graduate being ready for a career and/or college."

As in previous reports, we also present contextual information about the Racine community and student body. RUSD has experienced many changes over the past 14 years, including: slipping from the third largest district in the state to the fourth largest, becoming a majority minority district, and now having most of its students quality for free or reduced-price lunch. The community has also become less wealthy during this time and seen fewer adults obtain college degrees. It is clear that RUSD has many challenges to overcome and a loss of significant state aid for this school year is yet another challenge. Consequently, this year's report also includes a more in-depth analysis of the district's fiscal situation.

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Parents of jailed Mississippi teens say they may sue

Henry Bailey:

The parents of three 15-year-olds who were strip-searched and jailed for three days after a trespassing charge expressed outrage Thursday during a press conference and called for the removal of Tate County Youth Court referee Leigh Ann Darby.

"If we don't stand up for our rights, no one else will," Dexter Burton of Senatobia, father of Lakiya Burton, told reporters at the Church of Christ at 401 W. Gilmore.

The three youths, who had not previously been identified because of their ages, were at the gathering with their parents and the families' attorney, J. Cliff Johnson II of Jackson. They are Larandra Wright of Southaven, and Lakiya Burton and Kevonta Mack, both of Senatobia.

Burton and Mack are 10th-graders at Senatobia High School; Wright is a 10th-grader at Southaven High. None had prior brushes with the law before they crossed a renter's yard at a duplex that faces Morgan Drive in Senatobia this summer.

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Too much too soon about birds and bees

China Daily:

Recently there has been a significant move among Chinese educators to provide better sex education to students in college, primary schools and even kindergartens.

The Ministry of Education recently issued a circular requiring colleges to make courses on reproductive physiology and sex psychology part of the standard curriculum.

This kind of education as a rule is included in courses known as physiology and hygiene in middle schools, but in actual practice some more sensitive topics are either not addressed or glossed over by instructors who consider them embarrassing and not essential.

In the past, this kind of information about sexuality was generally passed on informally outside the schools, by young people.

One of the many stated reasons for offering formal, medically accurate instruction is to protect children from sex abuse, and to prevent teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

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Affordable at Last: A New Student Loan System

Erin Dillon:

Last year, the United States reached a troubling new milestone in higher education: for the first time, total student loan debt in the United States exceeded total credit card debt. It's a development that should have come as no surprise. Over the past 15 years, the amount that students borrow to finance their postsecondary education has grown by every available measure: between 1993 and 2008, the percentage of bachelor's degree recipients who borrowed for their educations jumped from 49 percent to 66 percent, with average total debt at graduation increasing over 50 percent, from $15,149 to $24,700. Borrowing money to go to college, like borrowing money to buy houses and cars, is fast becoming a fact of American life--and so, it is turning out, is the struggle to pay it back.

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October 30, 2011

Proposed Madison Preparatory Academy IB Charter School Business & Education Plans

Education Plan (PDF) via a kind Kaleem Caire email:

Madison Preparatory Academy's educational program has been designed to be different. The eight features of the educational program will serve as a powerful mix of strategies that allow Madison Prep to fulfill its mission: to prepare students for success at a four-year college or university by instilling Excellence, Pride, Leadership and Service. By fulfilling this mission, Madison Prep will serve as a catalyst of change and opportunity for young men and women who live in a city where only 48% of African American students and 56% of Latino students graduate from high school. Madison Prep's educational program will produce students who are ready for college; who think, read, and write critically; who are culturally aware and embrace differences among all people; who give back to their communities; and who know how to work hard.

One of the most unique features of Madison Prep is the single gender approach. While single gender education has a long, successful history, there are currently no schools - public or private - in Dane County that offer single gender education. While single gender education is not right for every student, the demand demonstrated thus far by families who are interested in enrolling their children in Madison Prep shows that a significant number of parents believe their children would benefit from a single gender secondary school experience.

Madison Prep will operate two schools - a boys' school and a girls' school - in order to meet this demand as well as ensure compliance with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. The schools will be virtually identical in all aspects, from culture to curriculum, because the founders of Madison Prep know that both boys and girls need and will benefit from the other educational features of Madison Prep.

The International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum is one of those strategies that Madison Prep's founders know will positively impact all the students the schools serve. IB is widely considered to be the highest quality curricular framework available. What makes IB particularly suitable for Madison Prep is that it can be designed around local learning standards (the Wisconsin Model Academic Standards and the Common Core State Standards) and it is inherently college preparatory. For students at Madison Prep who have special learning needs or speak English as a second language, IB is fully adaptable to their needs. Madison Prep will offer both the Middle Years Programme (MYP) and the Diploma Programme (DP) to all its students.

Because IB is designed to be college preparatory, this curricular framework is an ideal foundation for the other aspects of Madison Prep's college preparatory program. Madison Prep is aiming to serve a student population of which at least 65% qualify for free or reduced lunch. This means that many of the parents of Madison Prep students will not be college educated themselves and will need the school to provide considerable support as their students embark on their journey through Madison Prep and to college.

College exposure, Destination Planning, and graduation requirements that mirror admissions requirements are some of the ways in which Madison Prep will ensure students are headed to college. Furthermore, parents' pursuit of an international education for their children is increasing rapidly around the world as they seek to foster in their children a global outlook that also expands their awareness, competence and comfort level with communicating, living, working and problem solving with and among cultures different than their own.

Harkness Teaching, the cornerstone instructional strategy for Madison Prep, will serve as an effective avenue through which students will develop the critical thinking and communication skills that IB emphasizes. Harkness Teaching, which puts teacher and students around a table rather than in theater-style classrooms, promotes student-centered learning and rigorous exchange of ideas. Disciplinary Apprenticeship, Madison Prep's approach to literacy across the curriculum, will ensure that students have the literacy skills to glean ideas and information from a variety of texts, ideas and information that they can then bring to the Harkness Table for critical analysis.

Yet to ensure that students are on track for college readiness and learning the standards set out in the curriculum, teachers will have to take a disciplined approach to data-driven instruction. Frequent, high quality assessments - aligned to the standards when possible - will serve as the basis for instructional practices. Madison Prep teachers will consistently be analyzing new data to adjust their practice as needed.

Business Plan (PDF), via a kind Kaleem Caire email:
Based on current education and social conditions, the fate of young men and women of color is uncertain.

Black and Hispanic boys are grossly over-represented among youth failing to achieve academic success, are at grave risk of dropping out of school before they reach 10th grade, are disproportionately represented among adjudicated and incarcerated youth, and are far less likely than their peers in other subgroups to achieve their dreams and aspirations. Likewise, boys in general lag behind girls in most indicators of student achievement.

Research indicates that although boys of color have high aspirations for academic and career success, their underperformance in school and lack of educational attainment undermine their career pursuits and the success they desire. This misalignment of aspirations and achievement is fueled by and perpetuates a set of social conditions wherein men of color find themselves disproportionately represented among the unemployed and incarcerated. Without meaningful, targeted, and sustainable interventions and support systems, hundreds of thousands of young men of color will never realize their true potential and the cycle of high unemployment, fatherless homes, overcrowded jails, incarcerated talent, deferred dreams, and high rates of school failure will continue.

Likewise, girls of color are failing to graduate high school on-time, underperform on standardized achievement and college entrance exams and are under-enrolled in college preparatory classes in secondary school. The situation is particularly pronounced in the Madison Metropolitan School District where Black and Hispanic girls are far less likely than Asian and White girls to take a rigorous college preparatory curriculum in high school or successfully complete such courses with a grade of C or better when they do. In this regard, they mimic the course taking patterns of boys of color.

Additionally, data on ACT college entrance exam completion, graduation rates and standardized achievement tests scores provided to the Urban League of Greater Madison by the Madison Metropolitan School District show a significant gap in ACT completion, graduation rates and standardized achievement scores between students of color and their White peers.

Madison Preparatory Academy for Young Men and Madison Preparatory Academy for Young Women will be established to serve as catalysts for change and opportunity among young men and women in the Greater Madison, Wisconsin area, particularly young men and women of color. It will also serve the interests of parents who desire a nurturing, college preparatory educational experience for their child.

Both schools will be administratively separate and operated by Madison Preparatory Academy, Inc. (Madison Prep), an independent 501(c)(3) established by the Urban League of Greater Madison and members of Madison Prep's inaugural board of directors.
The Urban League of Greater Madison, the "founder" of Madison Prep, understands that poverty, isolation, structural discrimination, limited access to schools and classrooms that provide academic rigor, lack of access to positive male and female role models in different career fields, limited exposure to academically successful and achievement-oriented peer groups, and limited exposure to opportunity and culture experiences outside their neighborhoods contribute to reasons why so many young men and women fail to achieve their full potential. At the same time, the Urban League and its supporters understand that these issues can be addressed by directly countering each issue with a positive, exciting, engaging, enriching, challenging, affirming and structured learning community designed to specifically address these issues.

Madison Prep will consist of two independent public charter schools - authorized by the Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education - designed to serve adolescent males and females in grades 6-12 in two separate schools. Both will be open to all students residing within the boundaries of the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) who apply, regardless of their previous academic performance.

Much more on the proposed Madison Preparatory Academy IB Charter School, here.

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Lawsuits for School Reform?: Parent Power May Insert Itself in L.A. Unified's Teachers' Contract; Demand that the LAUSD Immediately Comply with the Stull Act

RiShawn Biddle:

Earlier this year, Dropout Nation argued that one way that school reformers -- including school choice activists and Parent Power groups -- could advance reform and expand school choice was to file lawsuits similar to school funding torts filed for the past four decades by school funding advocates. But now, it looks like Parent Power activists may be filing a lawsuit in Los Angeles on a different front: Overhauling teacher evaluations. And the Los Angeles Unified School District may be the place where the first suit is filed.

In a letter sent on behalf of some families Wednesday to L.A. Unified Superintendent John Deasy and the school board -- and just before the district begins negotiations with the American Federation of Teachers' City of Angels unit over a new contract -- Barnes & Thornburg's Kyle Kirwan demanded that the district "implement a comprehensive system" of evaluating teachers that ties "pupil progress" data to teacher evaluations. Kirwan and the group he represents are also asking for the district to begin evaluating all teachers "regardless of tenure status" and to reject any contract with the American Federation of Teachers local that allows for any veteran teacher with more than a decade on the job to go longer than two years without an evaluation if they haven't had one in the first place.

We represent minor-students currently residing within the boundaries of the Los Angeles Unified School District (the "District" or "LAUSD"), the parents of these students, and other adults who have paid taxes for a school system that has chronically failed to comply with California law.

Our clients seek to have the District immediately meet its obligations under the Stull Act, a forty year old law that is codified at California Education Code section 44660 et seq. (the "Stull Act").

In relevant part, the Stull Act requires that "[t]he governing board of each school district establish standards of expected pupil achievement at each grade level in each area of study."

Cal. Educ. Code § 44662(a). The Stull Act requires further that "[t]he governing board of each school district ... evaluate and assess certificated employee performance as it reasonably relates to ... [t]he progress of pupils toward the standards established pursuant to subdivision (a) and, if applicable, the state adopted academic content standards as measured by state adopted criterion referenced assessments ...." Cal. Educ. Code§ 44662(b)(l).

In the forty years since the California Legislature passed the Stull Act, the District has never evaluated its certificated personnel based upon the progress of pupils towards the standards established pursuant to Education Code section 44662(a) and, if applicable, the state adopted academic content standards as measured by the state adopted criterion referenced assessments; never reduced such evaluations to writing or added the evaluations to part of the permanent records of its certificated personnel; never reviewed with its certificated personnel the results of pupil progress as they relate to Stull Act evaluations; and never made specific recommendations on how certificated personnel with unsatisfactory ratings could improve their performance in order to achieve a higher level of pupil progress toward meeting established standards of expected pupil achievement.

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October 29, 2011

Seattle Cluster Grouping Talk

Melissa Westbrook:

I attended the talk last night by Dr. Dina Bulles put on by Wedgwood Elementary (and held at Nathan Hale High). (FYI, her name is pronounced Bree-yays.) The other SPS staff represented were the principal of Wedgwood, Chris Cronas, Ex. Director, Phil Brockman, and head of Advanced Learning, Bob Vaughn. Mr. Cronas pointed out that several Wedgwood teachers were in attendance as well. There were a large number of seats put out but the room wasn't full. My guess is it was about 60 people.

Dr. Bulles explained that in her district, Paradise Valley School district (which is just outside of Phoenix, Arizona), all of their elementary schools use cluster grouping. (Her district is about 35,000 students and there are 31 elementary schools.) She said out of those 35,000, about 5,000 student received gifted classes/services. (Help me out anyone else who attended; I thought she said towards the end that this was included high school students taking AP/IB. Is that what you heard?) She also made a startling statement that 68% of her teachers (and I believe this is in elementary) had 3 years or less of teaching experience. Wow.

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

Seattle Cluster Grouping Talk

Melissa Westbrook:

I attended the talk last night by Dr. Dina Bulles put on by Wedgwood Elementary (and held at Nathan Hale High). (FYI, her name is pronounced Bree-yays.) The other SPS staff represented were the principal of Wedgwood, Chris Cronas, Ex. Director, Phil Brockman, and head of Advanced Learning, Bob Vaughn. Mr. Cronas pointed out that several Wedgwood teachers were in attendance as well. There were a large number of seats put out but the room wasn't full. My guess is it was about 60 people.

Dr. Bulles explained that in her district, Paradise Valley School district (which is just outside of Phoenix, Arizona), all of their elementary schools use cluster grouping. (Her district is about 35,000 students and there are 31 elementary schools.) She said out of those 35,000, about 5,000 student received gifted classes/services. (Help me out anyone else who attended; I thought she said towards the end that this was included high school students taking AP/IB. Is that what you heard?) She also made a startling statement that 68% of her teachers (and I believe this is in elementary) had 3 years or less of teaching experience. Wow.

What was most fascinating to me and an absolute pleasure is that here was a educator who made no apologies for wanting to serve gifted students. She gave a PowerPoint and several times talked about the need to serve these students needs as a district would any other student with a special need like ELL or Special Education. It was very refreshing and I have never, in all my years in SPS, heard any SPS principal or Board member or staff member or Superintendent speak in this manner.

She started out by showing a list from J. Skabos about differences between gifted children and bright children (and I note that she believes both groups need to be served). I couldn't find the exact list but here is link to one that is quite similar.

Paradise Valley School District's website.

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October 28, 2011

US Ed Department Takes Aim at Schools of Education

The Federal Register (PDF):

The Department has identified the following constituencies as having interests that are significantly affected by the topics proposed for negotiations. The Department plans to seat as negotiators individuals from organizations or groups representing these constituencies:
  • Postsecondary students, including legal assistance organizations that represent students.
  • Teachers.
  • Financial aid administrators at postsecondary institutions.
  • Business officers and bursars at postsecondary institutions.
  • Admissions officers at postsecondary institutions.
  • State officials, including officials with teacher preparation program approval agencies, State teacher licensing boards, higher education executive officers, chief State school officers, State attorneys general, and State data system administrators.
  • Institutions that offer teacher preparation programs, including schools of education.
  • Institutions of higher education eligible to receive Federal assistance under Title III, Parts A, B, and F, and Title V of the HEA, which include Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Hispanic-Serving Institutions, American Indian Tribally Controlled Colleges and Universities, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian- Serving Institutions, Predominantly Black Institutions, and other institutions with a substantial enrollment of needy students as defined in Title III of the HEA.
  • Two-year public institutions of higher education.
  • Four-year public institutions of higher education.
  • Private, non-profit institutions of higher education.
  • Private, for-profit institutions of higher education.
  • Operators of programs for alternative routes to teacher certification.
  • Accrediting agencies.
  • Students enrolled in elementary and secondary education, including parents of students enrolled in elementary and secondary education.
  • School and local educational agency officials, including those responsible for hiring teachers and evaluating teacher performance.

    The topics the committee is likely to address are as follows:

    • The requirements for institutional and program report cards on the quality of teacher preparation (Section 205(a) of the HEA);
    • The requirements for State report cards on the quality of teacher preparation (Section 205(b) of the HEA);
    • The standards to ensure reliability, validity, and accuracy of the data submitted in report cards on the quality of teacher preparation (Section 205(c) of the HEA);
    • The criteria used by States to assess the performance of teacher preparation programs at higher education institutions in the State, the identification of low-performing programs (Section 207(a) of the HEA), and the consequences of a State's termination of eligibility of a program (Section 207(b) of the HEA);
    • The definition of the term ''high quality teacher preparation program'' for the purpose of establishing the eligibility of an institution to participate in the TEACH Grant program (Section 420L(1) of the HEA);
    • The definition of the term ''high quality professional development services'' for the purpose of establishing the eligibility of an institution to participate in the TEACH Grant program (Section 420L(1) of the HEA); and
    • The service and repayment obligations for the TEACH Grant Program (Subpart E of 34 CFR 686).

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Neuroscience vs philosophy: Taking aim at free will

Kerri Smith:

Scientists think they can prove that free will is an illusion. Philosophers are urging them to think again.

The experiment helped to change John-Dylan Haynes's outlook on life. In 2007, Haynes, a neuroscientist at the Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience in Berlin, put people into a brain scanner in which a display screen flashed a succession of random letters1. He told them to press a button with either their right or left index fingers whenever they felt the urge, and to remember the letter that was showing on the screen when they made the decision. The experiment used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to reveal brain activity in real time as the volunteers chose to use their right or left hands. The results were quite a surprise.

"The first thought we had was 'we have to check if this is real'," says Haynes. "We came up with more sanity checks than I've ever seen in any other study before."

The conscious decision to push the button was made about a second before the actual act, but the team discovered that a pattern of brain activity seemed to predict that decision by as many as seven seconds. Long before the subjects were even aware of making a choice, it seems, their brains had already decided.

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Rise in Sticker Price at Public Colleges Outpaces That at Private Colleges for 5th Year in a Row

Beckie Supiano:

The State of California enrolls about 10 percent of the country's full-time students attending public four-year colleges, and about 15 percent of those at public two-year colleges. So when the state's public colleges have a big tuition hike--as they did this year--it has a big impact on the average tuition increase at public colleges across the country, says a new report from the College Board.

For the fifth year in a row, the percentage increase in average published tuition and fees at public four-year colleges was higher than it was at private ones, according to the report, "Trends in College Pricing 2011." The report, released on Wednesday, examines annual changes in colleges' sticker prices, as well as the net prices students pay after grant aid and tax benefits are considered. A companion report, "Trends in Student Aid 2011," looks at the money that helps students meet those growing prices. (The pricing report looks at data through this academic year, while the student-aid report has information through 2010-11.)

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The Latest Pitch to College Savers More firms are marketing life insurance as a way to help parents save for college. But is it a good deal?

Annamaria Andriotis:

For the many parents who are reeling from recent losses to their college-savings plans, insurers are pitching another option they claim can help: life insurance.

Last week, Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company launched a "Kids Take Charge" marketing campaign that promotes life insurance as a way to pay for college. Allianz Life Insurance Company of North America will roll out its latest campaign on life insurance as a college savings vehicle next month. Both firms join Illinois-based insurer Mutual Trust Financial Group, which this year has been promoting college savings as one of the main reasons to buy life insurance. In addition, insurance companies like National Life Group and Aviva USA have been encouraging their agents to talk about college planning and insurance with their clients.

While insurance companies have long touted whole life and universal polices as a back door way to finance college, experts say rarely have so many companies made such targeted pitches directly to parents. Why now? College savings plans have been hit hard by market losses over the past few months and low interest rates, say financial advisers, while tuition costs continue their steady rise. Insurers, they say, see a ready market in panicked parents.

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Toughest Exam Question: What Is the Best Way to Study?

Sue Shellenbarger:

Here's a pop quiz: What foods are best to eat before a high-stakes test? When is the best time to review the toughest material? A growing body of research on the best study techniques offers some answers.

Chiefly, testing yourself repeatedly before an exam teaches the brain to retrieve and apply knowledge from memory. The method is more effective than re-reading a textbook, says Jeffrey Karpicke, an assistant professor of psychological sciences at Purdue University. If you are facing a test on the digestive system, he says, practice explaining how it works from start to finish, rather than studying a list of its parts.

In his junior year of high school in Cary, N.C., Keenan Harrell bought test-prep books and subjected himself to a "relentless and repetitive" series of nearly 30 practice SAT college-entrance exams. "I just took it over and over again, until it became almost aggravating," he says.

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Denver's Moment of Reckoning is Approaching

Moira Cullen:

Is Denver going to follow in the footsteps of other reform minded urban school districts that saw momentum, change, and improvement fade away? Or will we be one of the few cities to sustain and even accelerate effective school reform?

In less than two weeks, the most hotly contested and expensive school board race in the history of Colorado will come to an end. It looks like nearly $1 million will be spent by both sides in this election by the time Election Day arrives on November 1st.

Denver has a seven-person school board with four members currently supporting the Superintendent Tom Boasberg and a broad set of reforms while the remaining three board members have relied upon Diane Ravitch to try to thwart nearly every reform initiative. Needless to say, if two of the three seats go to anti-reform candidates, Boasberg will need to look for another job and the Colorado reform community is going to have to look to some other districts for bold leadership.

Denver has been the epicenter for reform in Colorado since Michael Bennet took the helm of Denver Public Schools (DPS). Most of the reforms, which were highlighted in Colorado's Race to the Top application and elsewhere, are dependent upon Denver leading the charge.

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October 27, 2011

Madison Prep's proposal raises questions

Anne Arnesen, Barbara Arnold, Nan Brien and Carol Carstensen:

We applaud the Urban League's energy and persistence in identifying the significant achievement gap that remains in Madison schools. We welcome the fact that the Urban League has helped focus broader community discussion on this issue, and the need to serve more effectively and successfully African-American and Hispanic students. The achievement gap is real and must be addressed.

While the Madison Preparatory Academy may provide a fine educational experience for 840 students, the Madison Metropolitan School District is charged with improving outcomes for more than 12,000 children of color. We may be better served by using our limited and diminishing resources:

1. To increase the number of students in AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) by expanding this nationally proven and successful program, now in all four high schools, to lower grade levels. AVID is a college readiness system that accelerates learning for students in the academic middle who may not have a college tradition in their families. Ultimately, AVID uses research-based instructional strategies to increase academic performance schoolwide. East High, the first Madison school to implement AVID, has had two graduating classes. These graduates, who attend a variety of Wisconsin colleges and universities, are 90 percent students of color and 74 percent low income; 52 percent of these graduates speak a language other than English as their first language.

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Why no school? Really no good reason

Chris Rickert:

I will not be working in the office Thursday. I have to care for my kids, two of whom, like lots of other Wisconsin public school students, have the day off.

Why, you ask, are classes canceled on this entirely unremarkable Thursday the week before Halloween? On a day not set aside for any national holiday, nor part of any traditionally recognized vacation season, nor beset by record-breaking snowfall or some other natural cataclysm?

Well, because historically, a couple of consecutive weekdays in October have been something of a Wisconsin public schools-recognized holiday -- the traditional time for the annual convention of the statewide teachers union, the Wisconsin Education Association Council.

I know what you're saying: "Don't be ridiculous. Teachers have two and a half months in the summer to hold their convention! Why wouldn't they have it then?"

And I hear you; an October teachers convention does defy logic. Yet, that's been the case until this year, when things managed to get even more illogical.

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The Times They are a Changing....

via a kind Larry Winkler email.

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At Elite Schools, Easing Up a Bit on Homework

Jenny Anderson:

It was the kind of memo that high school students would dream of getting, if they dreamed in memos.

Lisa Waller, director of the high school at Dalton, a famously rigorous private school on the Upper East Side, sent a letter to parents this summer announcing that tests and papers would be staggered to make sure students did not become overloaded. January midterms would be pushed back two weeks so students would not have to study during vacation.

Across town at the Trinity School, another of Manhattan's elite academies, the administration has formed a task force to examine workload, and the upper school, grades 9 to 12, has been trying ways to coordinate test-taking with papers, labs and other projects.

Horace Mann School, in the Bronx, opened a tutoring center this year to help students manage their work. Hunter College High School, which has a tough admissions exam, is for the first time this year offering homework holidays, on Halloween, the Chinese New Year (Jan. 23) and a day nearer spring, March 14.

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Dropping out is probably not for you

Jacques Mattheij:

I get a ton of mail because of this blog, for the most part it is lots of fun and I really enjoy it. The thing that I don't enjoy is when people ask me if they should drop out of school or university to 'start their own business', typically accompanied by some minimal description of their circumstances.

Of course it's my own fault, putting up a guide on how to run a small software consultancy business makes it look fairly easy and exciting compared to being in school or secondary education. Another reason is that I've documented that I (successfully) dropped out of school but circumstances have changed dramatically since then.

I landed on my feet but that's absolutely no guarantee. It was blood, sweat and tears and an uncommon dose of luck. At first I worked a crappy physical job, and from there I somehow found my way into being a professional programmer which in turn led to my first business. At the time anybody that could hold a keyboard without dropping it was making money hand over fist (because microcomputers were so new there was hardly any software for it, and there were hardly any people that knew how to write such software) but it was *still* hard work.

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

Toughest Exam Question: What Is the Best Way to Study?

Sue Shellenbarger:

Here's a pop quiz: What foods are best to eat before a high-stakes test? When is the best time to review the toughest material? A growing body of research on the best study techniques offers some answers.

Chiefly, testing yourself repeatedly before an exam teaches the brain to retrieve and apply knowledge from memory. The method is more effective than re-reading a textbook, says Jeffrey Karpicke, an assistant professor of psychological sciences at Purdue University. If you are facing a test on the digestive system, he says, practice explaining how it works from start to finish, rather than studying a list of its parts.

In his junior year of high school in Cary, N.C., Keenan Harrell bought test-prep books and subjected himself to a "relentless and repetitive" series of nearly 30 practice SAT college-entrance exams. "I just took it over and over again, until it became almost aggravating," he says.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:37 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Chicago Charter Schools Could Get Longer Day Money

Rebecca Vevea:

Chicago charter schools could soon receive financial incentives similar to those being offered to city elementary schools that vote to lengthen the school day.

The Chicago Board of Education will vote on a resolution Wednesday that would create a $4.4 million grant fund for charter schools that choose to extend their day. Individual schools would eligible to receive $75,000 and individual teacher stipends of $800. Roughly 42 schools will be awarded money under the program, which Chicago Public Schools spokeswoman Becky Carroll estimated will cost about $6 million.

Carroll told the Chicago News Cooperative in September that charter schools would not be included in the city's longer day incentive program, which has been one of Mayor Rahm Emanuel's signature education initiatives. She said the decision to incorporate charters followed "an organic conversation" between CPS and charter operators and is about ensuring "equity in the system."

The move to include charter schools is the latest salvo in the fight between the district and the Chicago Teachers Union over the length of the school day.

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October 26, 2011

Wisconsin budget panel backs expanding charter school program statewide

Jason Stein:

An independent charter school program would expand to medium and large school districts around Wisconsin, under a bill passed Wednesday by Republicans on the Legislature's budget committee.

The proposal passed 12-3 on a party-line vote, with Republicans voting in favor and Democrats voting against.

The bill would take an independent charter school program currently operating in only Milwaukee and Racine and extend it statewide to districts with more than 2,000 students. That would apply to roughly a quarter of the state's districts.

Republicans said it would help provide another options for students whose schools are failing them.

"The bill we are taking up today is truly something that is going to help the long-term prospects of Wisconsin," said Rep. Robin Vos (R-Burlington), a co-chairman of the committee.

But Democrats said that the program would undermine local control of schools by elected officials in favor of an unelected board. They said the proposal could also prove another financial blow to regular public schools that are losing nearly $800 million in state aid over two years as part of the state budget and having tight state caps placed on their property tax levies.

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The Effect of Charter Schools on Student Achievement

Julian R. Betts and Y. Emily Tang via a kind Deb Britt email:

Charter schools are largely viewed as a major innovation in the public school landscape, as they receive more independence from state laws and regulations than do traditional public schools, and are therefore more able to experiment with alternative curricula, pedagogical methods, and different ways of hiring and training teachers. Unlike traditional public schools, charters may be shut down by their authorizers for poor performance. But how is charter school performance measured? What are the effects of charter schools on student achievement?
Assessing literature that uses either experimental (lottery) or student-level growth- based methods, this analysis infers the causal impact of attending a charter school on student performance.

Focusing on math and reading scores, the authors find compelling evidence that charters under-perform traditional public schools in some locations, grades, and subjects, and out-perform traditional public schools in other locations, grades, and subjects. However, important exceptions include elementary school reading and middle school math and reading, where evidence suggests no negative effects of charter schools and, in some cases, evidence of positive effects. Meta-analytic methods are used to obtain overall estimates on the effect of charter schools on reading and math achievement. The authors find an overall effect size for elementary school reading and math of 0.02 and 0.05, respectively, and for middle school math of 0.055. Effects are not statistically meaningful for middle school reading and for high school math and reading. Studies that focus on urban areas tend to find larger effects than do studies that examine wider areas. Studies of KIPP charter middle schools suggest positive effects of 0.096 and 0.223 for reading and math respectively. New York City and Boston charter schools also appeared to deliver achievement gains larger than charter schools in most other locations. A lack of rigorous studies in many parts of the nation limits the ability to extrapolate.

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2011 Global Education Digest

UNESCO Institute for Statistics, via a kind Kris Olds email:

Two out of three children in Africa are left out of secondary school
Governments are struggling to meet the rising demand for secondary education, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, where there are enough school places for just 36% of children of age to enrol, according the latest edition of the Global Education Digest.

Globally, secondary schools have been accommodating almost one hundred million more students each decade, with the total number growing by 60% between 1990 and 2009. But the supply is dwarfed by demand as more countries approach universal primary education.

In 2009, 88% of children enrolled in primary school reached the last grade of this level of education, compared to 81%. Yet, in 20 countries -- mostly in sub-Saharan Africa -- a child in the last grade of primary school has a 75% chance at best of making the transition to lower secondary school.

The path to prosperity
"There can be no escape from poverty without a vast expansion of secondary education. This is a minimum entitlement for equipping youth with the knowledge and skills they need to secure decent livelihoods in today's globalized world. It is going to take ambition and commitment to meet this challenge. But it is the only path towards prosperity," said UNESCO's Director-General Irina Bokova.

"An educated population is a country's greatest wealth," she added. "The inequalities signalled in this Report, especially in relation to girls' exclusion from secondary education in many countries, have enormous implications for the achievement of all the internationally agreed development goals, from child and maternal health and HIV prevention to environmental security."

In terms of enrolment, sub-Saharan Africa has made the greatest gains of all regions, with gross enrolment ratios rising from 28% to 43% for lower secondary and from 20% to 27% for upper secondary education between 1999 and 2009. Nevertheless, more than 21.6 million children of lower secondary school age remain excluded from education across the region and many will never spend a day in school.
The complete report is available here (PDF).

October 25, 2011

Wisconsin school districts adjust to canceled teacher convention

Matthew Bin Han Ong:

The annual state teachers union convention that has traditionally meant a two-day school holiday at the end of October is off this year, leaving public school districts with decisions about how to schedule students and teachers.

The Wisconsin Education Association Council canceled the convention, which would have been Thursday and Friday this week, after changes in state law weakened the union and its local affiliates.

Without the certainty of having input into school calendars through the negotiations process, members could not guarantee that they could all get the days off from school, said WEAC President Mary Bell, who added that the convention was "the flagship piece of professional development that we provided for members."

Some school districts, with their calendars already set before the convention was called off, are keeping the school holiday for students but bringing teachers in for training or other activities. Others, such as Waukesha, are keeping the holiday and treating it as two unpaid days for teachers.

The Brown Deer School District scheduled classes.

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When charter schools get too picky

Jay Matthews:

The Pacific Collegiate School in Santa Cruz, Calif., is a public charter school. It must hold a random lottery when it has more applicants than vacancies. It is not supposed to be selective.

Yet somehow its average SAT score has risen to the top 10th of 1 percent nationally. Less than 10 percent of its students are from low-income families, compared with 40 percent in its city. Maybe that has something to do with the fact that the school is allowed to ask (not require, it emphasizes) that every family donate $3,000 and 40 hours of volunteer time a year.

As a supporter of the charter school movement, I get grief from people who say that charters -- independent public schools using tax dollars -- are private schools in disguise. They are almost always wrong about that, but there are enough Pacific Collegiate situations to make me wonder whether the rules need revision.

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There's Enough Math in Finance Already. What's Missing is Imagination.

Jason Gots:

For some of us, it was Spock. For others, a humiliating performance as a pilgrim in the kindergarten musical.  For me, it was William Blake's relentless (and beautiful) attacks on Reason. But everyone at some point encounters - and many of us swallow - the dangerous notion that creativity and calculation are irreconcilable enemies. 

This perspective lives at the very heart of our school curricula from first grade through graduate school, as our talents are identified and we, complicit in the scheme, label ourselves 'artistic' or 'sporty' or 'scientific.' No doubt there are real, epigenetic differences in the way people think and see the world, but in epigenesis lies the key: Nature gives us talents, but nurture determines how we use them, and how mono or multidimensional our minds become. 

Like many quants - the mathematicians whose equations shape high-stakes decision making on Wall Street - Emanuel Derman arrived on Wall Street with little knowledge of economic theory. Unlike many of his colleagues, though, he had a background in theoretical physics, a field in which imagination and mathematics are happy bedfellows. From 1990-2000, Derman led Goldman Sachs' Quantitative Strategies group, presiding over the rise of mathematical modeling as the engine driving financial betting on Wall Street. 

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Navigating Public School Admissions, With a Consultant's Help

Rebecca Vevea:

Armed with tote bags for the handouts awaiting them, thousands of Chicago parents shuffled through display tables adorned with brightly colored posters as they faced the daunting task of selecting schools for their children.

For many parents, the school fair, put on by the Neighborhood Parents Network, is their first encounter with the public school system. It is timed to coincide with the opening of the district's admissions process, which ends in December. Many parents hope to place their children in the growing number of charter, magnet and selective-enrollment elementary schools."If you hang out with parents of 4-year-olds, the conversation never stops," said Christine Whitley, a Chicago Public Schools parent. "That's all they talk about: 'Where are you sending your child to school?' "

As choosing a school becomes increasingly complicated, some entrepreneurial parents, including Ms. Whitley, have started small consulting businesses aimed at helping parents navigate the admission process. But some observers have raised concerns about the potential for parents to game the system.

The district has 482 elementary schools, multiple application forms and five specialty school options in addition to the neighborhood elementary schools: gifted, classical, magnet, magnet cluster and charter. Magnet, magnet cluster and charter schools select students largely through a computerized lottery, but gifted and classical require admission tests for children at age 4 because the schools offer an accelerated curriculum.

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Should everyone take honors classes?

Jay Matthews:

Earlier this year, I said educators should try eliminating grade-level courses in high school and move everyone into honors or AP courses. Did I think anyone would actually do that? No.

Wrong again. As some upset e-mailers have been telling me, the Anne Arundel County schools are going ahead with such a plan, in a slapdash way made worse by not preparing parents for the change.

Karen Colburn, who has a seventh-grader at Central Middle School in Edgewater, said her advanced-track son found himself in mixed math and English classes slowed to a crawl so non-honors students could catch up. "Kids are repeating things they learned in elementary school," Colburn said. "Also, supports are not in place for special education children and some standard-level children."

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October 24, 2011

A Silicon Valley School That Doesn't Compute

Matt Richtel:

The chief technology officer of eBay sends his children to a nine-classroom school here. So do employees of Silicon Valley giants like Google, Apple, Yahoo and Hewlett-Packard.

But the school's chief teaching tools are anything but high-tech: pens and paper, knitting needles and, occasionally, mud. Not a computer to be found. No screens at all. They are not allowed in the classroom, and the school even frowns on their use at home.

Schools nationwide have rushed to supply their classrooms with computers, and many policy makers say it is foolish to do otherwise. But the contrarian point of view can be found at the epicenter of the tech economy, where some parents and educators have a message: computers and schools don't mix.

This is the Waldorf School of the Peninsula, one of around 160 Waldorf schools in the country that subscribe to a teaching philosophy focused on physical activity and learning through creative, hands-on tasks. Those who endorse this approach say computers inhibit creative thinking, movement, human interaction and attention spans.

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We Petition the Obama Administration to promote legislation to prevent public schools from starting earlier than 8 a.m.

Terra Snider, via a kind JH Snider email:

Considerable research confirms the relationship between school start times, sleep deprivation, and student performance, truancy, and absenteeism, as well as depression, mood swings, impulse control, tobacco and alcohol use, impaired cognitive function and decision-making, obesity, stimulant abuse, automobile accidents, and suicide. Mounting evidence about the biology of adolescent sleep, and about the impact of later start times, shows that starting school before 8 a.m. not only undermines academic achievement but endangers health and safety. Because logistical and financial issues prevent local school systems from establishing safe and educationally defensible hours, however, federal legislation mandating start times consistent with student health and educational well-being is essential.
Terra Snider:
As the parent of two former and one current Severna Park High School student, I've been living with the issue of early high school start times for years. Although the consensus of scientific opinion is that teenagers (and young adults) would be better off if school hours were better aligned with their biological clocks, the possibility of changing school hours inevitably sparks raging controversy, both here and across the country.

Changing school hours costs money, and we all know school systems don't have a lot of that on hand. It also means changing the way we do things, and most of us don't like doing that much either. On the other hand, Moses didn't come down from Mount Sinai with commandments that schools must start at 7:17 a.m. and end at 2:05 p.m.

Surely if we know students learn better, and are healthier and safer, with different hours, we should make that our number one priority. Shouldn't we?

The Severna Park High School CAC (and the now defunct countywide CAC) have been working on the issue of high school start time for years, decades even - to no avail. Many of us have become convinced that the only solution to the problem is a national mandate. That's why I created a petition on We the People on, a new platform that allows anyone to create and sign petitions asking the Obama Administration to take action on a range of issues.

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Will Dropouts Save America?

Michael Ellsberg:

I TYPED these words on a computer designed by Apple, co-founded by the college dropout Steve Jobs. The program I used to write it was created by Microsoft, started by the college dropouts Bill Gates and Paul Allen.

And as soon as it is published, I will share it with my friends via Twitter, co-founded by the college dropouts Jack Dorsey and Evan Williams and Biz Stone, and Facebook -- invented, among others, by the college dropouts Mark Zuckerberg and Dustin Moskovitz, and nurtured by the degreeless Sean Parker.

American academia is good at producing writers, literary critics and historians. It is also good at producing professionals with degrees. But we don't have a shortage of lawyers and professors. America has a shortage of job creators. And the people who create jobs aren't traditional professionals, but start-up entrepreneurs.

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Parents Urged Again to Limit TV for Youngest

Benedict Carey:

Parents of infants and toddlers should limit the time their children spend in front of televisions, computers, self-described educational games and even grown-up shows playing in the background, the American Academy of Pediatrics warned on Tuesday. Video screen time provides no educational benefits for children under age 2 and leaves less room for activities that do, like interacting with other people and playing, the group said.

The recommendation, announced at the group's annual convention in Boston, is less stringent than its first such warning, in 1999, which called on parents of young children to all but ban television watching for children under 2 and to fill out a "media history" for doctor's office visits. But it also makes clear that there is no such thing as an educational program for such young children, and that leaving the TV on as background noise, as many households do, distracts both children and adults.

"We felt it was time to revisit this issue because video screens are everywhere now, and the message is much more relevant today that it was a decade ago," said Dr. Ari Brown, a pediatrician in Austin, Tex., and the lead author of the academy's policy, which appears in the current issue of the journal Pediatrics.

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Why do we still vary?

Razib Khan:

I notice that last summer Karl Smith asked "Why Are There Short People?" His logic is pretty good, except for the fact that the fitness variation seems to be much starker in males than females (there is some evidence I've seen that shorter women can be more fertile, though that's balanced by the fact that larger women seem to be able to manage gestation better). In any case, height seems to be a fitness enhancing trait which is highly heritable, and yet the variation in height remains!

Karl's readers offered some reasons. What do you think? Mind you, something which immediately comes to mind is that the logic presented for why everyone should be tall and vary only a touch is logic. Not all the assumptions need to hold. For example, has the advantage to height been invariant at all times and places? I have posited for example that the fact that humans became smaller after the Ice Age may have something to do with increased morbidity and declining mortality, where agricultural settlements "hugged" the Malthusian boundary more consistently than hunter-gatherers. In this sort of environment smaller individuals may have gained a fitness advantage because they required fewer resources to make it through the inevitable "starving times."*

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