All posts by Jeff Henriques

Don’t expect less of low-income minority students and their families

Esther Cepeda

We’ve heard for years that when it comes to African-Americans, Hispanics and low-income minority communities in general, expectations for academic achievement are low.

Indeed, the Center for American Progress found in 2014 that 10th-grade teachers thought African-American students were 47 percent, and Hispanic students were 42 percent, less likely to graduate college than white students.

But parents and families of these students disagree. They want public schools to be rigorous and to set high expectations for their children.

According to a new nationwide survey conducted by the Leadership Conference Education Fund on the attitudes and aspirations of African-American and Hispanic parents — who were interviewed in person and via landline and cellphone, in both English and Spanish — a third of African-Americans and a quarter of Latinos do not believe that the nation’s schools are really trying to educate low-income students in their communities.

This belief goes hand in hand with these parents’ certainty that their students should be challenged more in school than they currently are to help ensure they are successful later in life.

This could be a potentially groundbreaking insight if we can get it into the heads of teachers.

You see, educators insist they have a particularly difficult time teaching low-income and minority students because these kids tend to show up in classrooms lacking the fundamentals of a stable home — reliable schedules, quiet places to study, nutritious meals, enough sleep, the ability to control impulses — that set them up for success in the classroom

If a child doesn’t do homework and does not participate constructively in class or show the adults in school respect — perhaps because the child does not have the basic routines and resources a college-educated teacher might expect at home — it becomes easy for teachers to believe that his or her parent must not care about the child’s education.

According to Wade Henderson, the Education Fund’s president, not only are minority parents (which his group calls “new majority parents,” since students of color are the new majority in schools) highly interested in their children’s education, they are “a sophisticated group of respondents who are savvy consumers of public education, want more funding for schools and more rigor for their kids.”

Interestingly, though one might have expected such a survey to confirm that African-American and Hispanic parents prioritize racial issues at school — due to news headlines about violence in schools and the school-to-prison pipeline — the parents who responded actually listed good teachers as the No. 1 important quality, by far, of a great school. Good core curricula and parental involvement rounded out the top three.

Not to say that diversity is completely unimportant to these families — it is in the eighth spot on a list of nine factors for ensuring great schools — but it certainly takes a back seat to the same qualities that white parents expect from their schools: adequate funding, low class size and high standards.

A full 90 percent of both African-American and Latino parents said that they believe expectations for low-income students should be either the same or higher than those of other students.

And both minority groups take personal responsibility quite seriously, saying that when low-income students succeed, it is mostly because of the support they receive at home. Their student’s own hard work is seen as the next biggest reason, while few parents cited schools as the driving factor in a low-income student’s success.

This is, potentially, a revelation for school systems, administrators and teachers who have for years equated poor educational outcomes for students with a lax attitude at home about academic potential.

If the results of this survey truly reflect the mindset of minority parents, then it bodes well for schools to partner with them. After all, education leaders are always talking about how crucial parents are to the task of catalyzing changes necessary to ensure low-income community schools meet their academic potential.

At a bare minimum, these findings should provide education policymakers a new lens through which to view low-income and minority students: Don’t underestimate them — and don’t expect less of their parents and families, either.

If schools endeavor to push these kids harder and expect them to achieve on par with their white peers, they are likely to find that parents, too, will rise to the challenge of helping their students succeed.

Continue reading Don’t expect less of low-income minority students and their families

Newsroom Open House

The Simpson Street Free Press will celebrate 23 years of academic success – Sunday, November 2, 12-3pm. Visit Dane County’s first after-school (and summer) youth center dedicated solely to core subject academics. Meet our student writers and see academic achievement in action. Get a newsroom tour from local kids who tackle achievement gaps everyday – with writing and hard work. Preview data that shows real results. SSFP students will thank all of you, the many Friends and supporters who make this youth center, and our students, successful. Location: South Towne Mall, 2311 West Broadway.

The Simpson Street Free Press (SSFP) delivers core subject academic instruction in after-school settings. Students (ages 8-18) write and produce five separate youth newspapers, including a new bilingual publication: La Prensa Libre de Simpson StreetSSFP graduates (now in college) supervise younger students. SSFP also operates a network of youth book clubs. The goal of the SSFP is to foster literacy, spark student success, and bridge achievement gaps.

The SSFP formula accomplishes multiple outcomes. Central to SSFP pedagogy is across the curriculum instructional practices. Lesson plans are designed to support in-school learning. Students encounter predictable connections to the school day. Young writers conduct research, use technology, write and read extensively. They learn practical and transferable academic strategies. They acquire real-world workplace skills. School grades and attendance are measured.  SSFP students participate in civic discourse and influence their peers. As their name suggests, free speech and journalism are great ways to spark learning.

Want better schools America? Make it harder to become a teacher.

Amanda Ripley

So far this month in education news, a California court has decimated rigid job protections for teachers, and Oklahoma’s governor has abolished the most rigorous learning standards that state has ever had. Back and forth we go in America’s exhausting tug-of-war over schools—local versus federal control, union versus management, us versus them.

But something else is happening, too. Something that hasn’t made many headlines but has the potential to finally revolutionize education in ways these nasty feuds never will.

In a handful of statehouses and universities across the country, a few farsighted Americans are finally pursuing what the world’s smartest countries have found to be the most efficient education reform ever tried. They are making it harder to become a teacher. Ever so slowly, these legislators and educators are beginning to treat the preparation of teachers the way we treat the training of surgeons and pilots—rendering it dramatically more selective, practical, and rigorous. All of which could transform not only the quality of teaching in America but the way the rest of us think about school and learning.

Over the past two years, according to a report out Tuesday from the National Council on Teacher Quality, 33 states have passed meaningful new oversight laws or regulations to elevate teacher education in ways that are much harder for universities to game or ignore. The report, which ranks 836 education colleges, found that only 13 percent made its list of top-ranked programs. But “a number of programs worked hard and at lightning speed” to improve. Ohio, Tennessee, and Texas now have the most top-ranked programs. This summer, meanwhile, the Council for Accreditation of Educator Preparation is finalizing new standards, which Education Week called“leaner, more specific and more outcomes-focused than any prior set in the 60-year history of national teacher-college accreditation.”

We Need to Talk About the Test: A problem with the common core

Elizabeth Phillips

I’D like to tell you what was wrong with the tests my students took last week, but I can’t. Pearson’s $32 million contract with New York State to design the exams prohibits the state from making the tests public and imposes a gag order on educators who administer them. So teachers watched hundreds of thousands of children in grades 3 to 8 sit for between 70 and 180 minutes per day for three days taking a state English Language Arts exam that does a poor job of testing reading comprehension, and yet we’re not allowed to point out what the problems were.

This lack of transparency was one of the driving forces that led the teachers at my school to call for a protest rally the day after the test, a rally that attracted hundreds of supporters. More than 30 other New York City schools have scheduled their own demonstrations.

I want to be clear: We were not protesting testing; we were not protesting the Common Core standards. We were protesting the fact that we had just witnessed children being asked to answer questions that had little bearing on their reading ability and yet had huge stakes for students, teachers, principals and schools. (Among other things, test scores help determine teacher and principal evaluations, and in New York City they also have an impact on middle and high school admissions to some schools.) We were protesting the fact that it is our word against the state’s, since we cannot reveal the content of the passages or the questions that were asked.

In general terms, the tests were confusing, developmentally inappropriate and not well aligned with the Common Core standards. The questions were focused on small details in the passages, rather than on overall comprehension, and many were ambiguous. Children as young as 8 were asked several questions that required rereading four different paragraphs and then deciding which one of those paragraphs best connected to a fifth paragraph. There was a strong emphasis on questions addressing the structure rather than the meaning of the texts. There was also a striking lack of passages with an urban setting. And the tests were too long; none of us can figure out why we need to test for three days to determine how well a child reads and writes.

Teachers and administrators at my school have spoken out against the overemphasis on testing for years, but our stance is not one of “sour grapes.” Last year we were one of the 25 top-scoring schools in New York State. We have implemented the Common Core standards with enthusiasm, and we have always supported the idea that great teaching is the best test preparation. But this year’s English Language Arts exam has made a mockery of that position.

It is frightening to think what “teaching to the test” would mean, given the nature of the test. We won’t do it, but some schools will, or at least will try, despite a new state law that mandates that schools limit test prep to 2 percent of instructional time. How does one even begin to monitor or enforce such a mandate?

When people are forbidden to talk about something it is almost always because someone has something to hide.

Over the past few years, as higher stakes have been attached to the tests, we have seen schools devote more time to test prep, leaving less time and fewer resources for instruction in music, the arts, social studies and physical education. This is especially true for schools with a high proportion of low-income students, who tend to do worse on the test, and whose teachers and principals have to worry more about the scores.

At Public School 321, we entered this year’s testing period doing everything that we were supposed to do as a school. We limited test prep and kept the focus on great instruction. We reassured families that we would avoid stressing out their children, and we did. But we believed that New York State and Pearson would have listened to the extensive feedback they received last year and revised the tests accordingly. We were not naïve enough to think that the tests would be transformed, but we counted on their being slightly improved. It truly was shocking to look at the exams in third, fourth and fifth grade and to see that they were worse than ever. We felt as if we’d been had.

For two years, I have suggested that the commissioner of education and the members of the Board of Regents actually take the tests — I’d recommend Days 1 and 3 of the third-grade test for starters. Afterward, I would like to hear whether they still believed that these tests gave schools and parents valuable information about a child’s reading or writing ability.

We do not want to become cynics, but until these flawed exams are released to the public and there is true transparency, it will be difficult for teachers and principals to maintain the optimism that is such an essential element of educating children.

Elizabeth Phillips has been the principal of Public School 321 in Park Slope, Brooklyn, for 15 years.

Wasting Time Is New Divide in Digital Era

Matt Richtel, New York Times
In the 1990s, the term “digital divide” emerged to describe technology’s haves and have-nots. It inspired many efforts to get the latest computing tools into the hands of all Americans, particularly low-income families. Those efforts have indeed shrunk the divide. But they have created an unintended side effect, one that is surprising and troubling to researchers and policy makers and that the government now wants to fix.
As access to devices has spread, children in poorer families are spending considerably more time than children from more well-off families using their television and gadgets to watch shows and videos, play games and connect on social networking sites, studies show. This growing time-wasting gap, policy makers and researchers say, is more a reflection of the ability of parents to monitor and limit how children use technology than of access to it.
“I’m not antitechnology at home, but it’s not a savior,” said Laura Robell, the principal at Elmhurst Community Prep, a public middle school in East Oakland, Calif., who has long doubted the value of putting a computer in every home without proper oversight. “So often we have parents come up to us and say, ‘I have no idea how to monitor Facebook,’ ” she said.
The new divide is such a cause of concern for the Federal Communications Commission that it is considering a proposal to spend $200 million to create a digital literacy corps. This group of hundreds, even thousands, of trainers would fan out to schools and libraries to teach productive uses of computers for parents, students and job seekers. Separately, the commission will help send digital literacy trainers this fall to organizations like the Boys and Girls Club, the League of United Latin American Citizens, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Some of the financial support for this program, part of a broader initiative called Connect2Compete, comes from private companies like Best Buy and Microsoft.
These efforts complement a handful of private and state projects aimed at paying for digital trainers to teach everything from basic keyboard use and word processing to how to apply for jobs online or use filters to block children from seeing online pornography. “Digital literacy is so important,” said Julius Genachowski, chairman of the commission, adding that bridging the digital divide now also means “giving parents and students the tools and know-how to use technology for education and job-skills training.”
F.C.C. officials and other policy makers say they still want to get computing devices into the hands of every American. That gaps remains wide — according to the commission, about 65 percent of all Americans have broadband access at home, but that figure is 40 percent in households with less than $20,000 in annual income. Half of all Hispanics and 41 percent of African-American homes lack broadband.
But “access is not a panacea,” said Danah Boyd, a senior researcher at Microsoft. “Not only does it not solve problems, it mirrors and magnifies existing problems we’ve been ignoring.” Like other researchers and policy makers, Ms. Boyd said the initial push to close the digital divide did not anticipate how computers would be used for entertainment. “We failed to account for this ahead of the curve,” she said.
A study published in 2010 by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that children and teenagers whose parents do not have a college degree spent 90 minutes more per day exposed to media than children from higher socioeconomic families. In 1999, the difference was just 16 minutes.

Continue reading Wasting Time Is New Divide in Digital Era

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:

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

At the PTA, Clashes Over Cupcakes and Culture

Kyle Spencer
The Cupcake Wars came to Public School 295 in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, in October. The Parent-Teacher Association’s decision to raise the price of a cupcake at its monthly bake sale — to $1, from 50 cents — was supposed to be a simple way to raise extra money in the face of city budget cuts. Instead, in a neighborhood whose median household income leaped to $60,184 in 2010 from $34,878 a decade before, the change generated unexpected ire, pitting cash-short parents against volunteer bakers, and dividing a flummoxed PTA executive board, where wealthier newcomers to the school serve alongside poorer immigrants who have called the area home for years.
“A lot of people felt like they really needed to be heard on this,” recalled Dan Janzen, a mild-mannered freelance copywriter with children in first and third grades who leads the school’s development committee and devised the price increase. One mother expressed dismay at being blindsided, while others said they were worried about those at the school without a dollar to spare. Ultimately, the PTA meeting at which the issue came to a head was adjourned without a resolution.
Such fracases are increasingly common at schools like P.S. 295, where changing demographics can cause culture clashes. PTA leaders are often caught between trying to get as much as possible from parents of means without alienating lower-income families. Sometimes, the battles are over who should lead the PTA itself: many of the gentrifiers bring professional skills and different ideas of how to get things done, while those who improved the school enough to attract them become guardians of its traditions.
So along with cross-cultural exchanges, international festivals and smorgasbords, school diversity can mean raw feelings about race and class bubbling to the surface. “It’s never just about the cupcake,” said Jeffrey Henig, a professor of political science and education at Teachers College, who has written extensively about this topic. “The cupcake is the spark.”

The Myth of the ‘Student-Athlete’

Gary Gutting
People often dismiss philosophical disputes as mere quibbles about words. But shifts in terminology can turn the tide in public debates. Think of the advantage Republicans gained when discussion of the Affordable Health Care Act became discussion of “Obamacare.” (Conversely, suppose we talked about “Bush-ed” instead of “No Child Left Behind”). Or consider how much thinking about feminism has changed with the demise of “men” as a term for people in general.
These thoughts about philosophy and language occur to me as a significant portion of our nation takes part in the mounting frenzy of “March Madness,” the national college basketball championship. Throughout the tournament, announcers and commentators careful enough to heed the insistence of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, will refer to the players as “student-athletes.”
But is this term accurate? Or should we perhaps leave it behind for a more honest and precise name?
The term “student-athletes” implies that all enrolled students who play college sports are engaged in secondary (“extra-curricular”) activities that enhance their education. Their status, the term suggests, is essentially the same as members of the debate team or the band. As the N.C.A.A. puts it, “Student-athletes must, therefore, be students first.”
There are, of course, many cases of athletes who are primarily students, particularly in “minor” (i.e., non-revenue producing) sports. But what about Division I football and men’s basketball, the big-time programs with revenues in the tens of millions of dollars that are a major source of their schools’ national reputation? Are the members of these teams typically students first?
The N.C.A.A.’s own 2011 survey showed that by a wide variety of measures the answer is no. For example, football and men’s basketball players (who are my primary focus here) identify themselves more strongly as athletes than as students, gave more weight in choosing their college to athletics than to academics, and, at least in season, spend more time on athletics than on their studies (and a large majority say they spend as much or more time on sports during the off-season).

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.

Continue reading Education Gap Grows Between Rich and Poor, Studies Say

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.

Continue reading Ritalin Gone Wrong

A poverty solution that starts with a hug

Nicholas Kristof
Perhaps the most widespread peril children face isn’t guns, swimming pools or speeding cars. Rather, scientists are suggesting that it may be “toxic stress” early in life, or even before birth.
This month, the American Academy of Pediatrics is issuing a landmark warning that this toxic stress can harm children for life. I’m as skeptical as anyone of headlines from new medical studies (Coffee is good for you! Coffee is bad for you!), but that’s not what this is.
Rather, this is a “policy statement” from the premier association of pediatricians, based on two decades of scientific research. This has revolutionary implications for medicine and for how we can more effectively chip away at poverty and crime.
Toxic stress might arise from parental abuse of alcohol or drugs. It could occur in a home where children are threatened and beaten. It might derive from chronic neglect — a child cries without being cuddled. Affection seems to defuse toxic stress — keep those hugs and lullabies coming! — suggesting that the stress emerges when a child senses persistent threats but no protector.
Cues of a hostile or indifferent environment flood an infant, or even a fetus, with stress hormones like cortisol in ways that can disrupt the body’s metabolism or the architecture of the brain.
The upshot is that children are sometimes permanently undermined. Even many years later, as adults, they are more likely to suffer heart disease, obesity, diabetes and other physical ailments. They are also more likely to struggle in school, have short tempers and tangle with the law.
The crucial period seems to be from conception through early childhood. After that, the brain is less pliable and has trouble being remolded.
“You can modify behavior later, but you can’t rewire disrupted brain circuits,” notes Jack P. Shonkoff, a Harvard pediatrician who has been a leader in this field. “We’re beginning to get a pretty compelling biological model of why kids who have experienced adversity have trouble learning.”
This new research addresses an uncomfortable truth: Poverty is difficult to overcome partly because of self-destructive behaviors. Children from poor homes often shine, but others may skip school, abuse narcotics, break the law, and have trouble settling down in a marriage and a job. Then their children may replicate this pattern.

Continue reading A poverty solution that starts with a hug

To Do Well In life, You Have To Read Well

Author Walter Dean Myers is the nation’s latest ambassador for young people’s literature. The two-year post is something like a youth version of poet laureate. As a young man in Harlem, Myers hid his books so no one would know he liked to read. David Greene talks to Myers about his appointment and what he wants to accomplish.

She’s Warm, Easy to Talk to, and a Source of Terror for Private-School Parents

Jenny Anderson
Elisabeth Krents loves eating hot fudge sundaes, reading Wilkie Collins novels and trying, often unsuccessfully, to grow tomatoes. Yet in certain living rooms, in coffee shops and on Web sites, Ms. Krents, 61, incites the kind of fear and fascination usually reserved for a head of state or an over-covered celebrity.
“When sending thank you to Babby, address envelope to ‘Elisabeth Krents,’ correct? And leave off ‘PhD’?” one anxious parent asked on the online forum Urban Baby. “It’s like Santa Claus,” responded a more experienced anxious parent. “Just send it to the Babster, UES. She’ll get it.”
Ms. Krents, called Babby by intimates and hopeful applicants alike, is a singularly powerful New Yorker whose name inspires endless opinion — some informed, much unsubstantiated.
As admissions director since 1996 at the Dalton School on the Upper East Side, Ms. Krents decides each year which of the city’s supply of high-achieving 4-year-olds get the privilege of attending one of the nation’s best-regarded kindergartens, which costs $36,970 a year. Because many people believe admission to be a golden ticket leading to the Ivy League and a successful life beyond, and because of the increasingly bad math of private-school admissions in Manhattan, a kind of Babby Krents mythology has developed in certain precincts.
Admissions directors are a feared lot in a city where 10 children often apply for a single seat. Ms. Krents is, to some extent, the queen bee, if only because she has been doing it longer than most and is doing it at Dalton. The school is among the most selective in the city, in part because many parents believe it has perfected the balance between progressive education (learning matters) and results (graduates get into top colleges).
Power brokers fear her, well-heeled mothers seek advice on how to dress for her, wads of money are spent on preparing small children to impress her — and people, it seems, are unwilling to share their names along with their thoughts about her.
“I lived in fear of her because of all the rumors,” said one Dalton mother, speaking, like more than a dozen others interviewed, on the condition of anonymity out of concern that it could affect her children, one of whom has yet to face the admissions gantlet.

Continue reading She’s Warm, Easy to Talk to, and a Source of Terror for Private-School Parents

Closing the achievement gap, but at gifted students’ expense

Michael J. Petrilli and and Frederick M. Hess
President Obama’s remarks on inequality, stoking populist anger at “the rich,” suggest that the theme for his reelection bid will be not hope and change but focus on reducing class disparity with government help. But this effort isn’t limited to economics; it is playing out in our nation’s schools as well.
The issue is whether federal education efforts will compromise opportunities for our highest-achieving students. One might assume that a president determined to “win the future” would make a priority of ensuring that our ablest kids have the chance to excel.
To Obama, however, as for President George W. Bush, such concerns are a distraction at best. Last year the Education Department’s civil rights division announced that it would investigate local school policies that have a “disparate impact” on poor or minority students — signaling a willingness to go to court if department officials think that school systems have too few of such children in gifted programs or Advanced Placement courses. This bit of social engineering ignores the unseemly reality that advantaged children are statistically more likely to be ready to succeed in tough classes than are low-income children raised in households with fewer books and more television.
The result is a well-intended but misguided crusade to solve via administrative fiat the United States’ long-standing achievement gap: the dramatic differences in test scores between white and minority students and between middle-class and poor youngsters. The message to schools was unmistakable: Get more poor and minority children into your advanced courses or risk legal action by Uncle Sam.
Then, in September, the president offered states and school districts flexibility around onerous provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act — linked to certain conditions. Among these: States must explain how they are going to move more students into “challenging” courses. The effect will be yet another push to dilute high-level classes.
The goal of helping more young people succeed in challenging coursework is laudable. But pushing ill-prepared students into tougher classes without adequate preparation isn’t doing anyone any favors. Indeed, the administration’s strategy has been tried. Nationally, the number of graduates who had taken Advanced Placement exams rose from 1 million students in 2003 to 1.6 million in 2008. In a 2009 study of AP teachers, just 14 percent of educators said that the growth stemmed from an increase in the pool of qualified students. Half of the AP teachers in high-poverty schools said that their African American and Hispanic students were not prepared for AP instruction. Fifty-six percent said that too many students were in over their heads, with adverse consequences for those students and their better-prepared classmates.
Our single-minded focus on closing achievement gaps has almost certainly hurt our top students. In 1996, Rand Corp. scholars determined that low-achieving pupils benefit when placed in mixed-ability classrooms, faring about five percentage points better than those placed in lower-track classes, but that high-achievers score six percentage points worse in such general classes.
In 2008, six years after No Child Left Behind became law, a survey of teachers found 60 percent saying that struggling students were a “top priority” at their schools, while just 23 percent said the same of “academically advanced” students. Eighty percent said that struggling students were most likely to get one-on-one attention from teachers; only 5 percent said the same of advanced students.
The Thomas B. Fordham Institute and the Northwest Evaluation Association released a study in September that tracked more than 100,000 high-achieving pupils over time and found that more than one-third lost steam as they progressed through school. The Brookings Institution’s Tom Loveless has reported that, while the nation’s lowest-achieving students made significant gains in reading and math between 2000 and 2007, top students’ gains were “anemic.”
There are trade-offs here. But the possibility that what’s best for our worst-off students is bad for high achievers is blithely ignored by the Obama team and many other school reformers. (To be fair, it was ignored by the Bush team, too.) Advocates with a single-minded focus on closing achievement gaps have insisted that what’s good for the neediest kids is best for all kids. Those who question this mantra risk being labeled racist.
It’s not like we can afford to coast. Just 6 percent of U.S. eighth-graders scored “advanced” on the 2007 international Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study assessment, while many nations fared at least twice that well.
Implemented thoughtfully, a commitment to getting more students into advanced classes is an objective worthy of a great nation. But it’s not going to happen overnight — not without defining “excellence” down.
At this very moment, millions of high-achievers are waiting to be challenged. Meeting their needs is another objective worthy of a great nation. They deserve our encouragement, not our indifference.
Michael J. Petrilli is executive vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Frederick M. Hess is director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute and author of “Our Achievement-Gap Mania,” an article published in the journal National Affairs’ Fall 2011 edition.

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.

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Rick Hess’s Critique of Achievement-Gap Mania

By Reihan Salam
I’ve been eagerly awaiting the release of the latest issue of National Affairs, which includes Rick Hess’s fascinating and at times provocative discussion, or perhaps I say “devastating takedown,” of “achievement-gap mania.” The following paragraph gives you a hint as to Hess’s conclusion:

In essence, NCLB was an effort to link “conservative” nostrums of accountability to Great Society notions of “social justice.” The result was a noble exercise hailed for its compassion. The sad truth, however, is that the whole achievement-gap enterprise has been bad for schooling, bad for most children, and bad for the nation.

I found his discussion of the neglect of advanced and gifted education particularly convincing, as well as his recounting of how the “delusion of rigor” has undermined quality control across many domains. Hess ends his essay with an accounting of where “achievement-gap mania” has left the politics of K-12.
(1) Reforming education has become someone else’s problem:

First, achievement-gap mania has signaled to the vast majority of American parents that school reform isn’t about their kids. They are now expected to support efforts to close the achievement gap simply because it’s “the right thing to do,” regardless of the implications for their own children’s education. In fact, given that only about one household in five even contains school-age children — and given that two-thirds of families with children do not live in underserved urban neighborhoods, or do not send their kids to public schools, or otherwise do not stand to benefit from the gap-closing agenda — the result is a tiny potential constituency for achievement-gap reform, made up of perhaps 6% or 7% of American households.
Because middle-class parents and suburbanites have no personal stake in the gap-closing enterprise, reforms are tolerated rather than embraced. The most recent annual Gallup poll on attitudes toward schooling reported that just 20% of respondents said “improving the nation’s lowest-performing schools” was the most important of the nation’s education challenges. Indeed, while just 18% of the public gave American schools overall an A or a B, a sizable majority thought their own elementary and middle schools deserved those high grades. The implication is that most Americans, even those with school-age children, currently see education reform as time and money spent on other people’s children.

(2) Reforming education for the majority of students who come non-poor families is seen as somehow unnecessary:

Second, achievement-gap mania has created a dangerous complacency, giving suburban and middle-class Americans the false sense that things are just fine in their own schools. Thus it’s no surprise that professionals and suburbanites tend to regard “reforms” — from merit pay to charter schooling — as measures that they’ll tolerate as long as they’re reserved for urban schools, but that they won’t stand for in their own communities. …
Gap-closing strategies can be downright unhelpful or counterproductive when it comes to serving most students and families, and so can turn them off to education reform altogether. Longer school years and longer school days can be terrific for disadvantaged students or low achievers, but may be a recipe for backlash if imposed on families who already offer their kids many summer opportunities and extracurricular activities. Policies that seek to shift the “best” teachers to schools and classrooms serving low-achieving children represent a frontal assault on middle-class and affluent families. And responding to such concerns by belittling them is a sure-fire strategy for ensuring that school reform never amounts to more than a self-righteous crusade at odds with the interests of most middle-class families.

This is one reason why Hess rightly bristled at the crusader mentality that informs films like the recent Waiting for ‘Superman.’

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SpongeBob In Hot Water From Study Of 4-Year-Olds

The cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants is in hot water from a study suggesting that watching just nine minutes of that program can cause short-term attention and learning problems in 4-year-olds.
The problems were seen in a study of 60 children randomly assigned to either watch “SpongeBob,” or the slower-paced PBS cartoon “Caillou” or assigned to draw pictures. Immediately after these nine-minute assignments, the kids took mental function tests; those who had watched “SpongeBob” did measurably worse than the others. Previous research has linked TV-watching with long-term attention problems in children, but the new study suggests more immediate problems can occur after very little exposure — results that parents of young kids should be alert to, the study authors said.
Kids’ cartoon shows typically feature about 22 minutes of action, so watching a full program “could be more detrimental,” the researchers speculated, But they said more evidence is needed to confirm that.
The results should be interpreted cautiously because of the study’s small size, but the data seem robust and bolster the idea that media exposure is a public health issue, said Dr. Dimitri Christakis. He is a child development specialist at Seattle Children’s Hospital who wrote an editorial accompanying the study published online Monday in the journal Pediatrics.
Christakis said parents need to realize that fast-paced programming may not be appropriate for very young children. “What kids watch matters, it’s not just how much they watch,” he said.
University of Virginia psychology professor Angeline Lillard, the lead author, said Nickelodeon’s “SpongeBob” shouldn’t be singled out. She found similar problems in kids who watched other fast-paced cartoon programming. She said parents should realize that young children are compromised in their ability to learn and use self-control immediately after watching such shows. “I wouldn’t advise watching such shows on the way to school or any time they’re expected to pay attention and learn,” she said.
Nickelodeon spokesman David Bittler disputed the findings and said “SpongeBob SquarePants” is aimed at kids aged 6-11, not 4-year-olds. “Having 60 non-diverse kids, who are not part of the show’s targeted (audience), watch nine minutes of programming is questionable methodology and could not possibly provide the basis for any valid findings that parents could trust,” he said.
Lillard said 4-year-olds were chosen because that age “is the heart of the period during which you see the most development” in certain self-control abilities. Whether children of other ages would be similarly affected can’t be determined from this study. Most kids were white and from middle-class or wealthy families. They were given common mental function tests after watching cartoons or drawing. The SpongeBob kids scored on average 12 points lower than the other two groups, whose scores were nearly identical.
In another test, measuring self-control and impulsiveness, kids were rated on how long they could wait before eating snacks presented when the researcher left the room. “SpongeBob” kids waited about 2 1/2 minutes on average, versus at least four minutes for the other two groups. The study has several limitations. For one thing, the kids weren’t tested before they watched TV. But Lillard said none of the children had diagnosed attention problems and all got similar scores on parent evaluations of their behavior.
Online: Pediatrics:

School Curriculum Falls Short on Bigger Lessons

Tara Parker-Pope
Now that children are back in the classroom, are they really learning the lessons that will help them succeed?
Many child development experts worry that the answer may be no. They say the ever-growing emphasis on academic performance and test scores means many children aren’t developing life skills like self-control, motivation, focus and resilience, which are far better predictors of long-term success than high grades. And it may be distorting their and their parents’ values.
“What are we really trying to do when we think about raising kids?” asked Dr. Kenneth R. Ginsburg, an expert in adolescent medicine at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “We’re trying to put in place the ingredients so the child is going to be a successful 35-year-old. It’s not really about getting an A in algebra.”
Take the question of praising a child’s academic achievement. In his new book “Letting Go With Love and Confidence: Raising Responsible, Resilient, Self-Sufficient Teens in the 21st Century” (written with Susan Fitzgerald), Dr. Ginsburg draws a crucial distinction between hard work and simply getting an A or “being smart.”
In one set of studies, children who solved math puzzles were praised for their intelligence or for their hard work. The first group actually did worse on subsequent tests, or took an easy way out, shunning difficult problems. The research suggests that praise for a good effort encourages harder work, while children who are consistently told they are smart do not know what to do when confronted with a difficult problem or reading assignment.
“When we focus on performance, when we say ‘make sure you get A’s,’ we have kids who are terrified of B’s,” Dr. Ginsburg said. “Kids who are praised for effort, those kids learn that intelligence is something that can be built.”
Academic achievement can certainly help children succeed, and for parents there can be a fine line between praising effort and praising performance. Words need to be chosen carefully: Instead of saying, “I’m so proud you got an A on your test,” a better choice is “I’m so proud of you for studying so hard.” Both replies rightly celebrate the A, but the second focuses on the effort that produced it, encouraging the child to keep trying in the future.
Praise outside of academics matters, too. Instead of asking your child how many points she scored on the basketball court, say, “Tell me about the game. Did you have fun? Did you play hard?”
Dr. Ginsburg notes that parents also need to teach their children that they do not have to be good at everything, and there is something to be learned when a child struggles or gets a poor grade despite studying hard.

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At Sleepaway Camp, Math Is Main Sport

Rachel Cromidas

As camps go, the Summer Program in Mathematical Problem Solving might
sound like a recipe for misery: six hours of head-scratching math
instruction each day and nights in a college dorm far from home.But Mattie Williams, 13, who attends Middle School 343 in the Bronx, was
happy to attend, giving up summer barbecues with her parents and
afternoons in the park with her Chihuahua, Pepsi. She and 16 other
adolescents are spending three weeks at Bard College here in a free, new camp for low-income students who are gifted in mathematics.

All are entering eighth grade at New York City public middle schools
where at least 75 percent of the student body is eligible for free
lunches. And all love math. At this camp, asking “What kind of math do
you like, algebra or geometry?” is considered an appropriate icebreaker,
and invoking the newly learned term “the multiplication principle”
elicits whoops and high-fives.

In a Bard classroom one afternoon, it seemed for a moment that Arturo
Portnoy had stumped everyone. Dr. Portnoy, a math professor visiting
from the University of Puerto Rico, posed this question: “The length of a
rectangle is increased by 10 percent and the width is decreased by 10
percent. What percentage of the old area is the new area?” The 17 campers whispered and scribbled. One crumpled his paper into a
ball. Mattie Williams may have looked as if she was doodling as she drew
dozens of tiny rectangles in her notebook, but she was hard at work on
the problem, which was taken from the American Mathematics Competitions,
a contest series known for its difficulty. In less than 10 minutes, she had the answer — 99 percent — and was ready for the next question.

For some schoolchildren, mathematics is a competitive sport, and summer
is the time for training — poring over test-prep books, taking practice
exams and attending selective math camps. But for students who cannot
afford such programs, or have not been exposed to many advanced math
concepts, the avenues to new skills are limited.

Daniel Zaharopol, the director of the camp at Bard,
is trying to change that. He has brought four math educators to the
Bard campus to teach the middle school students concepts as varied as
number theory and cryptography. Among the instructors is Mr. Portnoy, a
director of the Puerto Rico Mathematical Olympiads. The camp is financed by the Art of Problem Solving Foundation, the
nonprofit arm of an online school that promotes math education for gifted students. Classes meet in two-hour sessions and cover topics including voting theory, graph theory, and math and the arts.

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Children of divorce fall behind peers in math, social skills

UW News Service
Divorce is a drag on the academic and emotional development of young children, but only once the breakup is under way, according to a study of elementary school students and their families.
“Children of divorce experience setbacks in math test scores and show problems with interpersonal skills and internalizing behavior during the divorce period,” says Hyun Sik Kim, a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “They are more prone to feelings of anxiety, loneliness, low self-esteem and sadness.”
Kim’s work, published in the June issue of American Sociological Review, makes use of data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study describing more than 3,500 U.S. elementary school students who entered kindergarten in 1998. The study, which also made subjects of parents while checking in periodically on the children, gave Kim the opportunity to track the families through divorce — as well as through periods before and after the divorce.
While the children fell behind their peers in math and certain psychological measures during the period that included the divorce, Kim was surprised by to see those students showing no issues in the time period preceding the divorce.
“I expected that there would be conflict between the parents leading up to their divorce, and that that would be troublesome for their child,” Kim says. “But I failed to find a significant effect in the pre-divorce period.”

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Parents Battle School Districts for Special Support

Trey Bundy
In October, after months of anxiety, Caroline Barwick and her husband, Russell Huerta, celebrated the arrival of their son Sebastian’s third birthday. It was the day the San Francisco Unified School District became legally responsible for addressing Sebastian’s severe autism.
Ms. Barwick and Mr. Huerta met with school clinicians to discuss their son’s education and treatment. But the meeting did not go as they had hoped — the district offered Sebastian fewer than half of the therapeutic services recommended by three private doctors and did not offer a choice of schools.
“You’re reeling from what’s already been a tragic diagnosis,” Ms. Barwick said, “then it’s almost like you’re slapped across the face.”
The couple took legal action against the district. Last week, an administrative law judge criticized the district for its handling of the case and ordered it to reimburse Sebastian’s parents for about $55,000 they spent on his therapy and education during the dispute.
Ms. Barwick and Mr. Huerta are part of a growing number of parents of special-needs children who are battling the school district over federally mandated support. The stakes are high. The district is facing a $25 million budget shortfall, and the types of intensive services in dispute can run into hundreds of thousands of dollars per child.
There is not always agreement on what constitutes appropriate treatment. Disputes between the district and parents are initially addressed in Individualized Education Program meetings, and sometimes in hearings involving lawyers.

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Next US education reform: Higher teacher quality

Christian Science Monitor
Compared with more than 70 economies worldwide, America’s high school students continue to rank only average in reading and science, and below average in math. But this sorry record for a wealthy nation can be broken if the US focuses on recruiting and keeping first-rate teachers.
That’s the conclusion of a new paper that looks at the latest achievement tests of 15-year-olds in the 34 developed countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), as well as many other nations.
America has been trying to raise its academic standards for more than two decades, an effort that cannot be abandoned in tough times. But it can learn more from other countries about the difficult task of teacher training, selection, and compensation – even as cash-strapped states take on teacher unions.
The government-union wrangling would be less if both sides focused on quality investments in better teachers. The goal is not debatable. Studies show that matching quality teachers with disadvantaged students is an effective way to close the black-white achievement gap. Good teachers are more effective than small class sizes, for instance.
For starters, the United States needs to increase its pool of quality teachers. Almost half of its K-12 teachers come from the bottom third of college classes. Classroom leaders such as Singapore, South Korea, and Finland select from the top ranks. In Finland, only 1 in 10 applicants is accepted into teacher training.
Part of the hurdle in the US is compensation. Teaching offers job security but not great pay compared with other professions that top college graduates might choose. As states tussle over budgets, one solution might be to lower teacher benefits and end tenure while bulking up salaries.
And yet pay isn’t the only consideration. Last year, 11 percent of graduates from US elite colleges applied to the federally funded Teach for America program. Participants teach in low-achieving rural and urban districts for two years.
In Finland, teachers earn only about what their American counterparts do (US teacher pay starts, on average, at $39,000). The difference is that in Finland, teaching is a high-status, well-respected job, right up there with doctoring and lawyering.
Another US hurdle is teacher training. Many states require a master’s degree in education in order to be certified to teach. This automatically locks out a talented population such as second-career experts in a field who don’t want to invest the time or money in a graduate degree that’s often short on classroom skills and long on pedagogy.
President Obama’s “Race to the Top” fund encourages states through competitive grants to open up alternative, effective routes to teacher certification. Hopefully, that fund will survive budget cutting (same for Teach for America).
Public schools won’t be able to attract and keep high quality teachers if they don’t reward and develop them once they get into the classroom.
That’s next to impossible given the standard operating procedure of teacher unions. As the nation is witnessing, a rigid rule such as last-hired, first-fired lops off enthusiastic newcomers in favor of those with seniority. Experience is important in education, but it does not always add up to quality. Performance must be the determiner.
Unions need to accept that the main goal is high teacher performance and student outcomes, not job preservation. That’s what the teacher union did in Ontario, Canada, according to the paper based on the OECD findings.
Teachers in Ontario are heavily organized. Yet, in 2003, the union and the premier of Ontario reached a grand bargain based on the need to elevate student achievement.
“The educators, through their union, agreed to accept responsibility for their own learning and the learning of their students; the government agreed to supply all of the necessary support,” according to the report.
The paper, called “What the U.S. Can Learn from the World’s Most Successful Education Reform Efforts,” says that Ontario students subsequently shot up from the bottom to the top of test scores.
Investing in high quality teaching is necessary to boost US economic competitiveness. The study argues that the US also needs to elevate the teaching profession to one of high status and respect. But respect doesn’t come overnight. Government and educators will have to earn it by working together to improve teacher quality.

Education reform: the problem with helping everyone reach ‘average’

Ann Robinson
The alarm clock is sounding on American education. While China’s emergence as an educational powerhouse is relatively new, the continued poor performance by US students – though improved, still 31st place in math on the most recent international test – is not. Today, Shanghai tops the charts, but yesterday, it was other nations. Even a casual observer of education news knows the US long ago ceded its place as world leader in student performance. It’s an unsettling state of affairs.
West loses edge to Asia in education: Top five OECD findings
But what’s more unsettling is how prominent education leaders like Education Secretary Arne Duncan have called America’s sorry standing a “wakeup call.” President Obama has called for a new “Sputnik moment” to reignite the nation’s commitment to science education. But the wakeup alarm didn’t just start going off. It sounded decades ago; the US has just repeatedly hit the snooze button.
The crisis in American education includes both our overall poor national performance and the miniscule numbers of US students achieving at the highest levels. Even our best students are less competitive. The problem with previous education reform efforts is that they have poured time, money, and resources into bringing all students up to proficiency – at the expense of our most gifted students. If we want the best educational performance, we have to target our brightest students, not ignore them in the fight to help everyone reach “average.”
Moving from paper to practice
We’ve been inundated with reams of reports, studies, and expert panels advising us how to fix this problem. During one week last fall, two government-convened panels released reports full of prescriptions for what the nation must due to reclaim its position as a leading innovator.
The reports by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) and the National Science Board offer a plethora of recommendations including better teacher training, creating 1,000 new STEM-focused (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) schools, and holding schools accountable for the performance of high-achieving students.

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Changes Schools Should Make to Better Serve Students: A Student’s View

Adora Svitak
My mom once asked me about the first steps I would hypothetically take to make a “better school.” I don’t claim to be an education expert, but I do have personal opinions about the ideal school — one I’d like to go to. Among many other things, I said that I would change school starting times, improve cafeteria lunches, and bring back recess. These would be good first steps because they help a lot of students a little bit. And they can have wide-reaching impacts.
Starting Times
Studies have repeatedly shown that everyone, especially children with developing brains, need a good amount of high-quality sleep. It’s difficult to get when you have to worry about waking up at 7 in the morning to go to school. Not everyone is a morning lark, and by starting school so early, not only students but also educators have to stave off yawns throughout the day.
I was at a conference where a well-respected sleep researcher, Dr. James Maas, revealed that adolescent sleep cycles tend to begin at 3 a.m. and end at 11 a.m. Yet we’re starting school at 7 or 7:30 a.m. While I wouldn’t quite change school start times to 11 a.m. (since we have to consider parents who have to go to work), I think it would be reasonable to move them to 8:45 AM or after. Then hypothetically a teenager could go to bed at 12 a.m. (as many often do), wake up at 8, shower and eat breakfast, and go to school with eight rather than five or six hours of sleep.
Another step: improve cafeteria lunches. Put a cap on the amount of sodium, fat, and calorie content allowed in each lunch. Mandate nonfat or 1 to 2 percent milk (and in smaller containers — who really drinks that much milk?) instead of whole milk. Get rid of chocolate milk, soft drinks, and vending machines with unhealthy items. Require a certain percentage of food served be organic and/or local, and have smaller portions to help minimize cost (we all know how much food gets dumped out). Have the school’s cooking classes (or maybe the entire student body) help make lunch on certain days.
A bigger step: I think it would be a good idea to have randomly assigned seating during lunch. This might be controversial among students, but the social division that occurs when students simply pick out where they want to sit can be hurtful and exclusive to students new to the school or children with difficulty making friends. Also, it seems that teachers rarely eat lunch and converse with the students. I’ve learned a lot from being able to have conversations with adults. So, teachers would be required to eat lunch with the students — at least on certain days — (and really, if they really can’t stand students to the extent that they can’t eat with them, should they be teaching?)

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NBER Report: Great Teachers Are Worth $400,000 A Year

Huffington Post
How much is a good teacher worth? Some would say they’re priceless, but recent findings in the National Bureau of Economic Research’s The Economic Value of Higher Teacher Quality, is a bit more exact. The report, written by Eric A. Hanushek, suggests that quality teachers with 20 students are worth $400,000 more in the future earnings of their students than an average teacher, annually.
Hanushek examines how the quality and effectiveness of a good teacher can impact a student’s future success and how this achievement can effect future economic outcomes for the country as a whole.
According to his calculations, it isn’t just that good teachers are worth a lot when considering our economic future as a country; alternatively, bad teachers are costing us trillions. Hanushek says that by exchanging the bottom 5-8 percent of crummy teachers with average teachers, the United States, as a country, could jump up the ranks to top in math and science, generating an astounding $100 trillion in present-day value.
The full report can be found at the NBER website.

American Education, Curbing Excellence

Steve Chapman
America’s primary and secondary schools have many problems, but an excess of excellence is not one of them. Not only do our weak students fare poorly in international comparisons, so do our strong ones. Mediocrity is the national norm. The very best students are the ones most likely to do things of great benefit to the rest of us — cure malaria, devise revolutionary inventions, start the next Apple or plumb the secrets of the universe. But we don’t always put much importance on helping them realize their full potential.
A case in point is Evanston Township High School in Evanston, Ill., a racially and economically mixed suburb of Chicago that is home to Northwestern University. It recently decided to eliminate a high honors freshman English course aimed at challenging the top students. Henceforth, these youngsters will be grouped with everyone else in a regular “honors” class in humanities. Next year, the same may be done with biology. Your kid is an honor student at ETHS? Heck, everyone is an honors student at ETHS. It’s hardly the only school in America where grouping students according to their ability is in disrepute. There is a widespread impulse to treat all kids as equally able and willing to learn. But the results often fall dismally short of the hopes.
When the Chicago public schools scrapped remedial classes for ninth graders and put everyone in college-prep courses, “failure rates increased, grades declined slightly, test scores did not improve and students were no more likely to enter college,” according to a study by the Consortium on Chicago School Research at the University of Chicago. Among average and above-average students, absenteeism rose. The danger in putting the brightest kids in general classes is that they will be bored by instruction geared to the middle. But their troubles don’t elicit much sympathy. Brookings Institution scholar Tom Loveless told The Atlantic magazine, “The United States does not do a good job of educating kids at the top. There’s a long-standing attitude that, ‘Well, smart kids can make it on their own.'”
But can they? Only 6 percent of American kids achieve advanced proficiency in math — lower than in 30 other countries. In Taiwan, the figure is 28 percent.
School administrators in Evanston insist the change is aimed at making the curriculum more demanding, even as they make it less demanding for some students. Thanks to the abolition of this elite course, we are told, “high-achieving students” will profit from “experiencing multiple perspectives and diversity in their classes to gain cultural capital.”
In other words, racial balance will take priority over academic rigor. Blacks and Hispanics make up nearly half of all students but only 19 percent of those in advanced placement courses and 29 percent of those in honors courses. This is because minority students at Evanston, which has an enrollment of nearly 3,000, generally score lower on achievement tests. Putting all students together is supposed to give everyone an equal opportunity.
But if you have a fever, you don’t bring it down by breaking the thermometer. The low numbers of black and Hispanic students are a symptom of a deeper problem, namely the failure of elementary and middle schools to prepare them for the most challenging course work. Evanston has had a big racial gap in academic performance for decades, and there is nothing to gain from pretending it doesn’t exist. Schools that group (or “track”) kids by ability generally get better overall results. Chester Finn Jr., president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, notes in a recent report, “Middle schools with more tracks have significantly more math pupils performing at the advanced and proficient levels and fewer students at the needs improvement and failing levels.”
Why would that be? Teaching is not easy, and teaching kids with a wide range of aptitude and interest is even harder. Grouping students by ability allows the tailoring of lessons to match the needs of each group. Putting them all together is bound to fail one group or another. Shortchanging gifted teens creates the risk of another unwanted effect: inducing their parents to leave. Families in Evanston can always move to neighboring suburbs with good schools, or they can opt for several fine private and parochial alternatives. Average students don’t gain from being in the same classes as exceptional ones if the exceptional ones are not there.
We as a society have not been very successful at turning average students into high achievers. Maybe we’ll have better luck doing the opposite.

Reaching out to gifted students

Kelly Smith, Star Tribune
More Minnesota schools are turning to specialized programs to better address the needs of a small but struggling set of students — the highly gifted — and to bring new kids in their doors.
Eleven-year-old Benjamin Ogilvie reads a biology textbook for fun. But it wasn’t long ago that he found school boring. “It just wasn’t challenging,” said the fast-talking fifth-grader. “If you can imagine a third-grader in a first-grade classroom, that’s what it was like.” That’s why his Minnetonka school and others across Minnesota are focusing more on a unique group of struggling students: the highly gifted.
Despite shrinking budgets, a dozen Minnesota schools in the past eight years have started specialized programs for highly gifted elementary students who are often in the top 1 or 2 percentile for achievement. The state designated funding for gifted education for the first time in 2005. And just this year, the state launched an informal network to support these programs.
“It’s really about the realization that one size doesn’t fit all and for a highly gifted student, a specialized environment is the best,” said Wendy Behrens, the state’s gifted and talented education specialist. “We have made some amazing progress in our state.” Increasingly tight school budgets may have actually spurred an increase in programs as districts fight harder than ever to attract and retain students — and the state aid that comes with them.

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Gifted education might benefit from some new terminology

Ron Legge
Gifted and Talented Education is a broad term for special practices used in the education of children who have been identified as intellectually gifted. There is no common definition for exactly what that means. GATE supporters argue that the regular curriculum fails to meet their special needs. Therefore, these students must have modifications that will enable them to develop their full potential.
In Virginia, each school division establishes procedures for the identification of gifted students and for the delivery of services to those students. GATE funding comes from the state with a local match. Consequently, there is some variation between school divisions in the strength of their GATE programs.
Each Virginia school division must develop a GATE plan. The larger school systems often have separate GATE teachers and classrooms. Others use the regular classroom teacher (often specially trained) to practice what is called differentiation within the classroom.
Differentiation is not providing the GATE student with an extra worksheet. It might be more like, for example, having the GATE students write a novella while the other students are writing a short report. The GATE students may also work together in small groups to solve teacher-generated problems related to the curriculum the whole class is working on…..
But GATE has long struggled with an educational system that has been much more focused on the children struggling to reach a certain level of proficiency. This became more pronounced with the advent of SOL tests and No Child Left Behind. GATE also suffers from charges that it is elitist and focuses on economically advantaged and non-minority children. Any time children and academic labels come together, it can make for a highly-charged environment.
There is no doubt that some children’s academic skills put them in a very different category from the majority of students. And who could argue with the concept that public education should try to provide specialized programs to meet each student’s specific needs. I think advocates of gifted education would get more public support if they used different terminology. Special education is defined by the type of curriculum not the intellectual capabilities of the students. The identification process can be arbitrary in defining who is “gifted” and who is not. And everyone has the capability to be talented at something….

The Pitfalls in Identifying a Gifted Child

New York Times
Thirty-seven states have some sort of mandate to address the needs of gifted and talented students in public schools. While many parents and teachers have mixed views about the tests used to identify talent and “giftedness,” the programs are strongly supported by many parents who cannot afford to send their children to private schools. They are hard to overhaul, for various reasons.
In New York City, officials are seeking a new exam for admissions of gifted students that may involve testing children as young as 3. The city says it is responding to complaints that minorities are underrepresented in the current selection process and that many parents have learned to game the system. Is New York’s approach a step forward or backward? What does the latest research show in identifying gifted and talented students?

New evidence that SAT hurts blacks

A new paper has rekindled one of the most controversial questions in the long history of the nation’s most famous test: Is the SAT racially biased? In 2003, Roy O. Freedle, a retired senior research psychologist at the Educational Testing Service, took up the question in an article published in the Harvard Educational Review. His conclusion was that black students often do better than white students of similar ability on difficult SAT questions, but that they do worse than their white counterparts on easy items. He suggested that easy questions use a common vocabulary, making them more open to interpretation based on a test taker’s cultural background.
Jay Mathews
Roy Freedle is 76 now, with a research psychologist’s innate patience. He knows that decades often pass before valid ideas take root. When the notion is as radical as his, that the SAT is racially biased, an even longer wait might be expected. But after 23 years the research he has done on the surprising reaction of black students to hard words versus easy words seems to be gaining new respectability.
Seven years ago, after being discouraged from investigating findings while working for the Educational Testing Service, Freedle published a paper in the Harvard Educational Review that won significant attention.
He was retired from ETS by then. As he expected, his former supervisors dismissed his conclusions. Researchers working for the College Board, which owns the SAT, said the test was not biased. But the then president of the University of California system, a cognitive psychologist named Richard C. Atkinson, was intrigued. He asked the director of research in his office to replicate Freedle’s study.
Now, in the latest issue of the Harvard Educational Review, the two scholars who took on that project have published a paper saying Freedle was right about a flaw in the SAT, even in its current form. They say “the SAT, a high-stakes test with significant consequences for the educational opportunities available to young people in the United States, favors one ethnic group over another.”

Autism’s effect on the ‘normal siblings’

When Gabby Abramowitz was younger, she was cautious about inviting new friends to the house. She wasn’t sure how they would react to her younger brother, Ben, who is autistic. And she didn’t want a repeat of the Simpsons incident. That was the time she had a friend over for dinner, and Ben sat at the table reciting the entire “Treehouse of Horror” Simpsons Halloween special.
Gabby pleaded with him to stop, but he persisted.
“My friend was like, ‘What’s going on?’ and then started laughing,” she said.
At that time, she was in elementary school and lacked the words and understanding to explain her brother’s condition. But with the help of her parents and through her own study, Gabby, now 16 and a sophomore at Tenafly High School, has grown to understand the nuances of autism and often speaks out to teach her peers while growing closer to Ben, 14.
Through her research, she found that her experiences, and those of others like her, often are overlooked. “I think the effect on siblings is underestimated. We get pushed into the background.”

Gifted education important for students

Bellevue Reporter
The Bellevue School District has many hard choices to make in the next few weeks. There is only one item on the district survey that has to do with basic education–the enrichment program. As mentioned in last week’s front-page article in the Bellevue Reporter, swimming and other athletics groups could be removed from the budget. Cutting any athletic program would be tragic. Music and art are also being considered. Neither of these should be taken out of our curriculum, either. Music is well known to help students with mathematics, and art cultivates the creative side of students, which helps them in their writing ability. However, to cut a program that is part of a child’s basic education, harms that child.
Bellevue has been a leader in the area of special education as well as “highly capable” learning programs. One of two stated BSD goals is to “Extend learning for those that currently meet or exceed standard,” of which enrichment falls into. Students in enrichment are designated as special needs children. They learn differently and think differently from other children, just like children at the other end of the spectrum learn and think differently. As a special needs group, enrichment becomes part of these children’s basic education curriculum. The enrichment program is vital to these children’s basic education. Without it, they will suffer.
According to the Morland Report on gifted children in 1972, “because the majority of gifted children’s school adjustment problems occur between kindergarten and fourth grade, about half of gifted children became ‘mental dropouts’ at around 10 years of age.”
The result of this report was the creation of the Office of the Gifted and Talented in the US Office of Education. In this sense, gifted and talented refers directly to academics. All children are gifted in different ways. We don’t hold back a star football player and take away his programs because he is gifted athletically and is exceeding athletic norms. Instead we try to develop his football talent and hire top notch football coaches. It should be the same for academically gifted children. We do not want any of our children to mentally drop out of school and we need to meet all children’s needs.
Because the needs of highly capable children are different from the needs of other children, we need the enrichment program in our schools. Thomas Jefferson said, “Nothing is more unequal than equal treatment of unequal people.

Why We Must Fire Bad Teachers

The relative decline of American education at the elementary- and high-school levels has long been a national embarrassment as well as a threat to the nation’s future. Once upon a time, American students tested better than any other students in the world. Now, ranked against European schoolchildren, America does about as well as Lithuania, behind at least 10 other nations. Within the United States, the achievement gap between white students and poor and minority students stubbornly persists–and as the population of disadvantaged students grows, overall scores continue to sag.
For much of this time–roughly the last half century–professional educators believed that if they could only find the right pedagogy, the right method of instruction, all would be well. They tried New Math, open classrooms, Whole Language–but nothing seemed to achieve significant or lasting improvements.
Yet in recent years researchers have discovered something that may seem obvious, but for many reasons was overlooked or denied. What really makes a difference, what matters more than the class size or the textbook, the teaching method or the technology, or even the curriculum, is the quality of the teacher. Much of the ability to teach is innate–an ability to inspire young minds as well as control unruly classrooms that some people instinctively possess (and some people definitely do not). Teaching can be taught, to some degree, but not the way many graduate schools of education do it, with a lot of insipid or marginally relevant theorizing and pedagogy. In any case the research shows that within about five years, you can generally tell who is a good teacher and who is not

Play, Then Eat: Shift May Bring Gains at School

Tara Parker-Pope
Can something as simple as the timing of recess make a difference in a child’s health and behavior?
Some experts think it can, and now some schools are rescheduling recess — sending students out to play before they sit down for lunch. The switch appears to have led to some surprising changes in both cafeteria and classroom.
Schools that have tried it report that when children play before lunch, there is less food waste and higher consumption of milk, fruit and vegetables. And some teachers say there are fewer behavior problems.
“Kids are calmer after they’ve had recess first,” said Janet Sinkewicz, principal of Sharon Elementary School in Robbinsville, N.J., which made the change last fall. “They feel like they have more time to eat and they don’t have to rush.”

The new myths of gifted education

Los Angeles, London, New Delhi, Singapore and Washington DC (November 2, 2009) – More than 25 years after myths about gifted education were first explored, they are all still with us and new ones have been added, according to research published in the current Gifted Child Quarterly (GCQ), the official journal of National Association for Gifted Children.
Providing specialized and organized gifted education courses was a relatively new concept in 1982 when an article entitled “Demythologizing Gifted Education” was first published in GCQ. Research at that time found that certain myths were widely believed, such as the idea that the gifted constituted a single, homogeneous group of learners, or that just one curriculum would serve all equally.
In “The Myths of Gifted Education: A Contemporary View,” the journal takes a new look at the current state of gifted education. Researchers found that all 15 of the 1982 myths are still with us, though some have been modified over time, and several new ones have emerged. A few of the now 19 myths in this special issue of GCQ include:

  • Creativity is too difficult to measure
  • Gifted education means having a program
  • High ability students don’t face problems and challenges
  • It’s “fair” to teach all children the same way
  • Advanced Placement (AP) is an adequate secondary program

“Our hope is that this issue will stimulate lively discussion, critical thinking, and creative research in the field,” writes guest editor Donald J. Treffinger. “We hope to help ‘shake loose the grip’ of some common myths and suggest promising directions for more productive foundations for inquiry and practice.”


“The Myths of Gifted Education: A Contemporary View” a special issue of Gifted Child Quarterly (published by SAGE) is available free for a limited time at A Podcast interview with the editor about the differences (or not) in the myths since 1982 is available at

End tenure, improve teaching

John D. Marshall
Over the past 70 years, public education has been a catalyst for America’s rise to global leadership. Public schools are a gateway to opportunity for everyone and offer the best hope for lifting a child out of poverty, giving him an opportunity for a better life.
As conscientious citizens, we must invest significantly more time and resources in our public schools, and specifically in our best teachers. On most standardized and norm-referenced tests, American students score in the middle of the pack or worse, and far below the developed countries in Europe and Asia.
We read about increasing class sizes, reduction of teachers’ aides and extracurricular activities, elimination of special ed programs, and “virtual” education replacing the traditional classroom teacher — all as a result of the current economic downturn.
However, this recession may provide the leverage to make fundamental changes to our education system and specifically, to enhance the teaching profession, whose reputation has suffered for the past 30 years.
The most important factor in student learning is the quality of the teacher. Recent research indicates overwhelmingly that, with the exception of the family’s role, the capabilities of the classroom teacher are more important than any other school factor in a student’s learning. It is more important than class size, facilities, curriculum, the number of computers in a school, and per-pupil funding.
The difference in what students learn from a good teacher compared to a poor teacher is vast. We are better off having our child in a class of 25 with a great teacher than in a class of five with a mediocre teacher.
But how do we identify promising teacher candidates? It turns out that identifying the good teachers before they enter the field is surprisingly difficult. Research indicates that a college graduate’s grades, test scores, graduate degrees and teaching certifications have little predictive value in determining effectiveness. The many intangibles make it almost impossible to predict someone’s ability to connect with kids. In fact, many experts believe that teachers’ character, integrity and personality may be more important than their content knowledge.
However, what everyone in the field can agree on is that becoming a really good teacher takes time. And by the time the school system is able to determine who is a good teacher — and who is not — everyone in the profession has achieved tenure. This is a problem.

Holding one child back to make another child feel better

Andrea Hermitt
Personal story: When my son was in the first grade we had just returned to New York from New Orleans. About a month into the school year I realized that the work he was being given was identical to what he had done the year before. I decided a conference with the teacher was in order. I sat down with her and explained the situation thinking a teacher would know what to do. Instead she said to me “Do you want me to frustrate the other children?’ My response was less than cordial. Any wonder why we homeschool now?
Stephanie Tolan, noted author well known advocate for extremely bright children , once said “You don’t have the moral right to hold one child back to make another child feel better.” To understand her reasoning behind the quote, you must understand that her youngest child was an extremely gifted child and that she has also spent a great deal of time working with the parents of gifted children and advocating for gifted children. An interview of Ms. Tolan tells of her child being humiliating in school as a result of his advanced intelligence.
Back to my story: I did not know, nor do I currently have documentation that my child is gifted, but I do know that the the first grade experience continued through his time in school, and even beyond that. The first grade teacher and administration acknowledged that not only did the child already know the material he was being given, but he also easily absorbed any new information they attempted to give. They held me off by promising to have him tested for the gifted program when the time was right. However, we moved south again, and the schools in GA refused to test him. No one would admit he was possibly gifted until the day I went to de-enroll him so he could be homeschooled. The teacher asked why I would take an obviously gifted child out of school. The look on her face after she realized what she said, made it clear that I didn’t have to answer the question.
Realizing that schools are not created to cater to the individual child, is the key to parents creating the best education for their kids. This is not to say that homeschooling is the only solution to giving a child a customized education. This is to say that if parents don’t supplement outside of the classroom, your child WILL BE disserviced. This is especially true if that child is bright, talented, or gifted.
Let’s face it, schools are only given so much in resources. Because special education needs are much more apparent than gifted needs, it is the gifted students that lose out. For the most part, schools have not purposely committed a moral sin against the gifted child, but ignorance that you have committed a hit-and-run does not make the victim any less injured. Some one has to pick them up, and nurture them back to health. If the schools can’t do it, then the parents must. Still we must continue to advocate for proper education of the gifted an advanced child.

All children deserve only the best teachers

Arlene C. Ackerman

Teachers are the bedrock of our schools and the single most important key to student success. To achieve great results, every student needs a great teacher, and every teacher deserves a fair and accurate evaluation that enhances their capacity to grow and improve without fear that the process will threaten their position or their professional standing.
To put the best interests of our children front and center, the School District of Philadelphia is determined to do everything in its power to recruit the best, brightest, and most dedicated teachers; to encourage, reward, and retain our highest performers; to provide meaningful assistance and support for teachers who are struggling to be successful and effective; and to create a comprehensive system that provides all instructional staff with ongoing opportunities for career and talent development.
We stand with President Obama and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan in placing an aggressive and unrelenting focus on teacher effectiveness as a critical factor in creating better public schools. If we are committed to student success, then it is up to all of us – teachers, administrators, parents, policymakers, and legislators – to make a commitment that all of our teachers will have the skills they need to be successful educators and that all will be equitably placed where their talents are most needed.
We are morally obligated and collectively responsible to ensure that anyone entrusted with the education of our children is capable of doing a great job, is recognized for the excellence of their performance, and is justly rewarded for results. If we care about the success of our students, we must also care about the success of their teachers and treat them as the professionals they are.
Recently, the New Teacher Project released a report on “the nation’s failure to assess teacher effectiveness, treating teachers as interchangeable parts.” The two-year study describes a “widget effect” that has prevented schools and school districts from “recognizing excellence, providing support, or removing ineffective teachers.”
The study, available at, describes a “national failure to acknowledge and act on differences in teacher effectiveness” and faults teacher-evaluation systems that codify the “widget effect” by allowing excellence to go unrecognized and the need for improvement to go unaddressed. The authors noted that less than 1 percent of 40,000 teachers in the study were ever rated unsatisfactory.

Continue reading All children deserve only the best teachers

Wisconsin Math Standards

From a recent post on the Madison United for Academic Excellence (MUAE) listserve:

There is an effort under way to rewrite the Wisconsin math state standards. Comments from the public are invited until this coming Monday (June 15).
Some math professors at UW-Madison believe the draft could use some improvement and encourage folks to review the standards and submit comments via a survey all of which can found at:

Another website with standards that can be used for comparison is: Achieve is one of the organizations that are involved in drafting the
national standards-to-be. The governor has agreed to enroll in the group of States that will align the standards of the state with the national standards the Obama administration is pushing for.

Learn from three success stories

Rising above IQ
Nicholas Kristoff
In the mosaic of America, three groups that have been unusually successful are Asian-Americans, Jews and West Indian blacks — and in that there may be some lessons for the rest of us. Asian-Americans are renowned — or notorious — for ruining grade curves in schools across the land, and as a result they constitute about 20 percent of students at Harvard College. As for Jews, they have received about one-third of all Nobel Prizes in science received by Americans. One survey found that a quarter of Jewish adults in the United States have earned a graduate degree, compared with 6 percent of the population as a whole. West Indian blacks, those like Colin Powell whose roots are in the Caribbean, are one-third more likely to graduate from college than African-Americans as a whole, and their median household income is almost one-third higher.
These three groups may help debunk the myth of success as a simple product of intrinsic intellect, for they represent three different races and histories. In the debate over nature and nurture, they suggest the importance of improved nurture — which, from a public policy perspective, means a focus on education. Their success may also offer some lessons for you, me, our children — and for the broader effort to chip away at poverty in this country.

Students surging out of Madison School District

Gayle Worland
Wisconsin State Journal

More than 600 students living in the Madison School District have applied to leave their hometown schools through open enrollment next fall — more than any previous year.
While district officials say it’s likely only about half will actually leave, the district wants to know why so many want to go.
The net number of students who left the Madison district through open enrollment jumped from 156 in 2007-08 to 288 this school year.
One explanation for the jump, district officials say, is that since 2008, the district no longer considers the effect of open enrollment on its racial balance. The district suspended that practice in February 2008, eight months after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling cast doubt on the enforceability of a state law the district cited in denying transfer requests.
Still, Madison superintendent Dan Nerad said the increasing numbers are a concern.
“There’s all kinds of reasons that people make this choice,” he said, “but it’s not a dissimilar pattern than you’ll find in other quality urban districts surrounded by quality suburban districts.”

Kindergarten Cram

Peggy Orenstein
About a year ago, I made the circuit of kindergartens in my town. At each stop, after the pitch by the principal and the obligatory exhibit of art projects only a mother (the student’s own) could love, I asked the same question: “What is your policy on homework?”
And always, whether from the apple-cheeked teacher in the public school or the earnest administrator of the “child centered” private one, I was met with an eager nod. Oh, yes, each would explain: kindergartners are assigned homework every day.
Bzzzzzzt. Wrong answer.
When I was a child, in the increasingly olden days, kindergarten was a place to play. We danced the hokey­pokey, swooned in suspense over Duck, Duck, Gray Duck (that’s what Minnesotans stubbornly call Duck, Duck, Goose) and napped on our mats until the Wake-Up Fairy set us free.
No more. Instead of digging in sandboxes, today’s kindergartners prepare for a life of multiple-choice boxes by plowing through standardized tests with cuddly names like Dibels (pronounced “dibbles”), a series of early-literacy measures administered to millions of kids; or toiling over reading curricula like Open Court — which features assessments every six weeks.
According to “Crisis in the Kindergarten,” a report recently released by the Alliance for Childhood, a nonprofit research and advocacy group, all that testing is wasted: it neither predicts nor improves young children’s educational outcomes. More disturbing, along with other academic demands, like assigning homework to 5-year-olds, it is crowding out the one thing that truly is vital to their future success: play.

WKCE Scores Document Decline in the Percentage of Madison’s Advanced Students

For many years now, parents and community members, including members of Madison United for Academic Excellence, have expressed concerns about the decline in rigor and the lack of adequate challenge in our district’s curriculum. The release this week of WKCE scores for the November 2008 testing led me to wonder about the performance of our district’s strongest students. While most analyses of WKCE scores focus on the percentages of students scoring at the Advanced and Proficient levels, these numbers do not tell us about changes in the percent of students at each particular level of performance. We can have large increases in the percent of students scoring at the Proficient and Advanced levels because we have improved the performance of students who were previously at the Basic level on the WKCE, but yet fail to have any effect on the performance of our district’s strongest students. This is the argument that we are improving the performance of our low ability students, but failing to increase the performance of our already successful students. An examination of the numbers of students who are performing at just the Advanced level on the WKCE provides us with some insight into the academic progress of our more successful students.
I decided to examine WKCE math scores for students across the district. While it is not possible to track the performance of individual students, it is possible to follow the performance of a cohort as they advance through the system. Thus students who are now in 10th grade, took the 8th grade WKCE in 2006 and the 4th grade test in 2002. Because there have been significant changes in the demographics of the district’s students, I split the data by socio-economic status to remove the possibility of declines in WKCE performance simply being the result of increased numbers of low income students. Although the WKCE has been criticized for not being a rigorous enough assessment tool, the data on our students’ math performance are not encouraging. The figures below indicate that the percent of students scoring at the Advanced level on the WKCE decreases as students progress through the system, and this decline is seen in both our low income students and in our Not Economically Disadvantaged students. The figures suggest that while there is some growth in the percent of Advanced performing students in elementary school, there is a significant decline in performance once students begin taking math in our middle schools and this decline continues through high school. I confess that I take no pleasure in sharing this data; in fact, it makes me sick.

Because it might be more useful to examine actual numbers, I have provided tables showing the data used in the figures above. Reading across a row shows the percent of students in a class cohort scoring at the Advanced level as they have taken the WKCE test as they progressed from grades 3 – 10.

Percent of Economically Disadvantaged Students Scoring at the Advanced Level on the WKCE Math Test Between 2002 and 2008

Graduation Year 3rd Grade 4th Grade 5th Grade 6th Grade 7th Grade 8th Grade 10th Grade

Continue reading WKCE Scores Document Decline in the Percentage of Madison’s Advanced Students

Expert panel says gifted students must be challenged

Wendy Owen, The Oregonian
For gifted children to succeed, they must be challenged, according to a panel of experts. Nearly 200 parents and educators filled the auditorium at Westview High School Thursday night to learn about the unique characteristics, best practices and identification methods for Talented and Gifted (TAG) students.
Gifted children lose their motivation when the work is too easy. Having never been challenged, they will lack the tools to deal with difficult work in the future, said Jean Gubbins, associate director of The National Research on the Gifted and Talented at the University of Connecticut. Beaverton, Hillsboro and Forest Grove school districts sponsored the panel as part of an ongoing review of their own TAG programs.
The panelists also stressed the importance of grouping gifted students in middle school, at least during some lessons. “They need time with like-ability peers,” said Hilda Rosselli, dean of the College of Education, Western Oregon State University. Educators should also seek out TAG students among English language learners, students from poverty and other under-served children, who are often overlooked as gifted, the panel said.

Examining District Data on the Effects of PBIS

As noted in an earlier post, the school district presented data at Monday night’s meeting on the effects of implementing a strategy of Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support (PBIS). As the report notes, “Documenting behavior referrals is inconsistent across middle schools both in terms of what is recorded and where it is recorded.” While this makes it unwise to make comparisons across middle schools, as one school may refer students who are late to class while another only makes referrals as a consequence of fighting, it is valid to make comparisons across time within the same school in order to see what effect the implementation of PBIS has made on student behavior. Unfortunately, as readers of the report will observe, not even that data is consistently presented across the 11 middle schools where PBIS has been implemented. Some schools only have data for the current academic year, others only have data from February 2008 through February 2009, and others provide more.
While the behavioral scientist in me wants to comment on the parts of the report that are incomprehensible (the self-assessment survey schoolwide system analysis from each school) or redundant (providing charts that show time saved in both minutes, in hours, and in days), I will restrict my comments to the data that documents the effects of the implementation of PBIS. While there have been some impressive successes with PBIS, e.g., Sherman, there have also been failures, e.g., Toki. One interpretation would be that some schools have been successful implementing these strategies and we need to see what they are doing that has led to their success, another interpretation would be that PBIS has by and large failed and resulted in an increase in behavioral referrals across our middle schools. At this point, I’ll take the middle ground and say that this new approach to dealing with student behavior hasn’t made any difference. You can look at the table below and draw your own conclusions, Keep in mind though, as noted above, there is not consistency across schools in what sorts of behavioral problems get documented. It is also true that there is considerable variability in the absolute number of referrals across the 11 middle schools and across months, such that a 30% change in the number of behavioral referrals may reflect 45 referrals at Blackhawk, 10 referrals at Wright, and 170 referrals at Toki.

MMSD Behavioral Referral Data
(presented 4/13/09)

Comparison Data Provided Schools Results: Change from 07/08 to 08/09*




One month only (February)


30% decline (decrease of 40 referrals)

O’Keefe 10% decline (decrease of 10 referrals)
Spring Harbor 35% increase (increase of 8 referrals)
Wright 20% increase (increase of 7 referrals)
Six months (Sept. – Feb.)


Declines in Sept. (20%), Nov. (20%) and Dec. (10%); Increases October (40%) and Jan. (20%); No change in February


Increases every month ranging from 5% (Dec.) to 75% (Feb.), median increase in referrals – 20%


Increases every month ranging from 7% (Nov.) to 200% (Sept), median increase in referrals – 68%

Multiple years Sherman Decreases every month ranging from 30% (Feb.) to 70% (Oct., a drop of more than 250 referrals), median decrease in behavioral referrals – 42%

* Note that these percentages are approximate based on visual inspection of the charts provided by MMSD

Wider testing to ID kids

Rhonda Bodfield
Arizona Daily Star

Even as schools across the state brace for sky-is-falling budget cuts, the Tucson Unified School District program for gifted and talented students is prepping for dramatic growth in the next school year.
The district plans to double the number of students it tests — up to 10,000 — and will send postcards to every family about testing opportunities.
As a result of state and federal requirements, it also will begin offering gifted classes for kindergartners and for juniors and seniors in high school.
Currently, parents request testing to see if their children qualify. That’s a system that can be full of pitfalls in lower-income areas where parents miss the newsletter because they may be working two jobs, for example, or where language barriers might lead to missed deadlines, let alone confusion over how to access the program.

Reading Test Dummies

E.D. Hirsch
In his recent education speech, President Obama asked the states to raise their standards and develop “assessments that don’t simply measure whether students can fill in a bubble on a test.” With the No Child Left Behind law up for reauthorization this year, the onus is now on lawmakers and educators to find a way to maintain accountability while mitigating the current tendency to reduce schooling to a joyless grind of practice exams and empty instruction in “reading strategies.”
Before we throw away bubble tests, though, we should institute a relatively simple change that would lessen the worst effects of the test-prep culture and improve education in the bargain.
These much maligned, fill-in-the-bubble reading tests are technically among the most reliable and valid tests available. The problem is that the reading passages used in these tests are random. They are not aligned with explicit grade-by-grade content standards. Children are asked to read and then answer multiple-choice questions about such topics as taking a hike in the Appalachians even though they’ve never left the sidewalks of New York, nor studied the Appalachians in school.
Teachers can’t prepare for the content of the tests and so they substitute practice exams and countless hours of instruction in comprehension strategies like “finding the main idea.” Yet despite this intensive test preparation, reading scores have paradoxically stagnated or declined in the later grades.
This is because the schools have imagined that reading is merely a “skill” that can be transferred from one passage to another, and that reading scores can be raised by having young students endlessly practice strategies on trivial stories. Tragic amounts of time have been wasted that could have been devoted to enhancing knowledge and vocabulary, which would actually raise reading comprehension scores.

Our Greatest National Shame

Nicholas Kristof

So maybe I was wrong. I used to consider health care our greatest national shame, considering that we spend twice as much on medical care as many European nations, yet American children are twice as likely to die before the age of 5 as Czech children — and American women are 11 times as likely to die in childbirth as Irish women.
Yet I’m coming to think that our No. 1 priority actually must be education. That makes the new fiscal stimulus package a landmark, for it takes a few wobbly steps toward reform and allocates more than $100 billion toward education.
That’s a hefty sum — by comparison, the Education Department’s entire discretionary budget for the year was $59 billion — and it will save America’s schools from the catastrophe that they were facing. A University of Washington study had calculated that the recession would lead to cuts of 574,000 school jobs without a stimulus.
“We dodged a bullet the size of a freight train,” notes Amy Wilkins of the Education Trust, an advocacy group in Washington.
So for those who oppose education spending in the stimulus, a question: Do you really believe that slashing half a million teaching jobs would be fine for the economy, for our children and for our future?

Studies Examine Major Influences on Freshmen’s Academic Success

Three new studies of college freshmen suggest that even the most promising among them can run into academic difficulties as a long-term consequence of experiences like attending a violence-plagued high school or being raised by parents who never went to college.
And two of the studies call into question a large body of research on the educational benefits of racial and ethnic diversity on campuses, concluding that most first-year students do not reap any gains that can be measured objectively.
Taken together, the reports not only challenge many of the assumptions colleges make in admitting and educating freshmen, but could also influence discussions of how to improve the nation’s high schools to promote college preparation.
In one of the studies, Mark E. Engberg, an assistant professor of higher education at Loyola University Chicago, and Gregory C. Wolniak, a research scientist at the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, looked at how high-school experiences influenced the academic success of students at several highly selective colleges.
Using data on 2,500 students from the National Longitudinal Survey of Freshmen, the two researchers found that freshmen who entered college with comparable academic records and family backgrounds had levels of success that depended on their high-school environments. Those from schools with high levels of violence tended to have lower grades. Having attended a well-maintained and well-equipped school seemed to offer many freshmen advantages over their peers.
A study published in the University of Arkansas’s Education Working Paper Archive also considered high-school quality in analyzing the records of 2,800 students at an unnamed midsize, moderately selective public university.
Serge Herzog, the study’s author and director of institutional analysis at the University of Nevada at Reno, found that, even after controlling for differences in background and academic preparation, low-income freshmen tended to post lower grades if their high schools had high levels of violence or disorder. The same was true if the schools had enrollments that were heavily black or Hispanic, or had a high percentage of students with limited proficiency in English.
Mr. Herzog found little evidence of a link between the number of courses students took from part-time instructors and the likelihood of their dropping out. That finding runs counter to other recent research on adjuncts.
And, in a finding that contradicts much available research on racial and ethnic diversity in higher education, Mr. Herzog found no evidence that being exposed to diversity in their classrooms, or taking classes intended to promote appreciation of diversity, fostered students’ cognitive growth. He did, however, find that black, Hispanic, and American Indian students appeared to benefit, in terms of college completion, from frequent exposure to members of their own racial or ethnic group.
In the third study, two doctoral students in higher education at the University of Iowa, Ryan D. Padgett and Megan P. Johnson, examined data on about 3,100 students from 19 colleges, collected in the Wabash National Study of Liberal Arts Education. The Iowa researchers found that the educational benefits of taking part in various programs promoting diversity were “minimal and inconsistent.”
The researchers also concluded that students who were the first in their families to attend college did not necessarily benefit from educational practices shown to help students whose parents did attend college. For example, while students on the whole appeared to benefit from interactions with faculty members, first-generation students who experienced the most contact with faculty members generally had the worst educational outcomes. The findings, the researchers concluded, suggest that those students “have not been conditioned to the positive benefits of interacting with instructors.”
Section: Students
Volume 55, Issue 14, Page A21
Copyright © 2008 by The Chronicle of Higher Education

Are we testing kids too much?

Julie Mack
Ten-year-old Cole Curtiss is no stranger to assessment tests.
As a third-grader last year at Portage’s Amberly Elementary School, here’s what Cole took:
• The Michigan Educational Assessment Program tests, which involves more than eight hours of testing during two weeks in October.
• The Standardized Test for Assessment of Reading, a computer exam given four times annually to determine his grade-equivalent reading level.
• The Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills test, administered three times during the school year to check reading progress.
• The Otis-Lennon School Ability Test, which is essentially an IQ-type exam.
This year, Cole won’t take the Otis-Lennon test, but otherwise he is taking the fourth-grade versions of all the other exams.
“It’s a lot,” said Cole’s mother, Shari Curtiss, who has mixed feelings about assessment testing.
While “it’s reassuring” to see hard data on her children’s academic abilities, Curtiss said, “It seems that schools live or die by the MEAP.”
Portage Public Schools is not unique in its increased reliance on assessment tests, a trend that some find unsettling but others see as one of the most positive recent developments in education through high school.
Advocates say assessment tests help school districts measure the quality of their curricula and instruction. They also help pinpoint children’s strengths and weaknesses and have encouraged schools to develop broader supports and strategies to deal with educational issues.

Children Who Live in Public Housing Suffer in School, Study Says

Manny Fernandez
New York City children who live in public housing perform worse in school than students who live in other types of housing, according to a study by New York University researchers.
The study, which is being released on Monday, found that students living in public housing are more likely to drop out of high school and less likely to graduate in four years than those who do not live in public housing.
It also showed that fifth graders living in public housing did worse on standardized math and reading tests than fifth graders who lived elsewhere. Researchers found this disparity in fifth-grade test scores even when comparing students at the same school who shared similar demographics, like race, gender and poverty status.
The report is the first large-scale study of the academic performance of children growing up in the city’s 343 public housing complexes, researchers said. They suggest that those children face social and economic hurdles at home that affect their success in the classroom and illustrate the often-overlooked role that housing can play in education. The report was done by the university’s Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy and its Institute for Education and Social Policy.

Those who have led now choose to teach

Kerry Hill
Neither man set out to be an educational leader. One did research and taught electrical engineering. The other coached high school football.
Circumstances, opportunities, new interests and inspiration led both from their roots in Evansville, Ind., and Charleston, Ark., to two of the most visible education posts in Madison — chancellor of the state’s flagship university and superintendent of the state’s second- largest public school district.
As leaders, neither shied away from controversy. And, as they stepped down from those posts in mid-2008, accolades far outnumbered criticisms.
Now, John Wiley and Art Rainwater — the former UW-Madison chancellor and Madison Metropolitan School District superintendent, respectively — are sharing their experience and knowledge with current and future leaders through the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis (ELPA).

Continue reading Those who have led now choose to teach

Gifted and challenged: When enlightening has to strike twice

Sarah Lemagie
Tyler Lehmann could read “Harry Potter” books before he started first grade, yet an anxiety disorder left him unable to speak to his teacher and all but one of his classmates in Woodbury. Simon Fink attends a school for gifted students in St. Paul, but Asperger’s syndrome can make it hard for him to interact with peers and focus on lessons.
School can be tough for kids with challenges ranging from emotional disorders to ADHD or dyslexia. For gifted students, too, it’s not always a cakewalk, between boredom and the sense of isolation that can result from being a “brainiac.”
Then there are students such as Tyler and Simon, who fall into both categories.
Raising children with learning barriers is a task in itself, “but when they’re bright and gifted and have a high IQ, it’s even more frustrating, because the teachers just don’t understand how to work with these kids,” said Bloomington parent Chelle Woolley, whose 17-year-old son, Matt, was in fifth grade when he tested out for both giftedness and attention deficit disorder.
A growing awareness of so-called “twice-exceptional” or “2X” students, many of whom qualify for both gifted and special education services, is prompting some researchers to take a closer look at their needs. This fall, educators at the University of St. Thomas and four metro-area school districts are using a $490,000 federal grant to launch a five-year project aimed at developing better ways to teach 2X children, helping schools identify them and training teachers to work with them.

Top national honor goes to Simpson Street Free Press

The Capital Times
Madison’s Simpson Street Free Press, the newspaper written and produced by young people for other young people, was recognized Thursday in a White House ceremony as one of the country’s best youth programs.
The paper, which was founded in 1992 to help struggling students on the south side of Madison improve their writing and academic skills, received the 2008 “Coming Up Taller” award, an initiative of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities that is designed to recognize the nation’s best and most innovative youth programs.
The national honor is one of several awards the paper has earned in recent years for its effective methods of engaging and building the skills of young people.
The Free Press’ first headquarters was a makeshift community center in the old Simpson Street apartments on the city’s southeast side and involved just a handful of students. It now has its office and newsroom in nearby South Towne Mall and has a staff of nearly 40 student reporters who come from diverse backgrounds and neighborhoods. Young people apply for jobs at the paper and, once hired, meet assignment deadlines and attendance and school performance guidelines while they produce regular issues of the newspaper.
The staff, which ranges in age from 11 to 18, writes and produces the content of the Free Press. They research and produce articles on history, geography, science, literary criticism and the arts. Some write sports stories, and others write regular columns. The young reporters all work in an authentic newsroom environment. They write and rewrite articles several times before they are accepted for publication.
The paper is circulated at numerous outlets in the Madison area, including in all city schools. The Free Press provides lesson plans to teachers who want to use the paper in their classroom. Currently about 23,000 copies of each issue are printed. Subscription information is available online.

Are Schools Really to Blame for Poor Eating?

Tara Parker-Pope
Schools have been vilified for giving kids access to soda in vending machines. But new data suggests that school soft drink sales may not be an important factor in how much soda kids drink.
In the current issue of The Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, researchers compared soda consumption among nearly 500 students in Maine who attended seven schools over two school years. Four of the schools cut back on soft drink availability at the schools, while three of the schools made no changes.
Notably, all the students were drinking less soda by the end of the study period, but there were no meaningful differences in overall soft drink consumption among the different schools. The data suggest that curbing soft drink availability at school doesn’t result in meaningful changes in beverage consumption patterns. While there were no changes in overall soda consumption, there was a notable shift in diet soda drinking among girls. If the school cut back on soda availability, girls were less likely to drink diet soda, compared to girls in schools that made no changes.
The data are the latest to suggest that schools may not play as big of a role in kids’ poor eating habits as widely believed. Last year, The American Journal of Public Health published a provocative study showing that childhood weight problems often get worse in the summer, when kids are out of school.
Data from kindergarteners and first graders found that body mass index increased two to three times as fast in summer as during the regular school year. Minority children were especially vulnerable, as were children who were already overweight.

Bake Sales Fall Victim to Push for Healthier Foods

It’s not just Madison…
Patricia Leigh Brown
Tommy Cornelius and the other members of the Piedmont High School boys water polo team never expected to find themselves running through school in their Speedos to promote a bake sale across the street. But times have been tough since the school banned homemade brownies and cupcakes.
The old-fashioned school bake sale, once as American as apple pie, is fast becoming obsolete in California, a result of strict new state nutrition standards for public schools that regulate the types of food that can be sold to students. The guidelines were passed by lawmakers in 2005 and took effect in July 2007. They require that snacks sold during the school day contain no more than 35 percent sugar by weight and derive no more than 35 percent of their calories from fat and no more than 10 percent of their calories from saturated fat.
The Piedmont High water polo team falls woefully short of these standards, selling cupcakes, caramel apples and lemon bars off campus in a flagrant act of nutritional disobedience.

Start-Up Teaches Math to Americans, Indian-Style

Claire Cain Miller
The New York Times recently reported on a study that found, once again, that the United States is failing to develop the math skills of its students, particularly girls, especially compared to other countries where math education is more highly valued.
Indian Math Online is a start-up that aims to take on that disparity by teaching math to American kids using techniques from Indian schools.
Bob Compton, an Indianapolis-based venture capitalist and entrepreneur who co-founded Indian Math Online, hatched the idea when he was producing Two Million Minutes, a documentary comparing high school education in India, China and the United States. He realized that Indian teenagers who were the same age as his daughters were three years ahead of them in math.
“If you don’t get mathematics to the highest level you possibly can in high school, your career options shrink dramatically in the 21st century,” Mr. Compton said. “Our society basically tells girls they’re not good at math. I was determined that was not going to happen to my daughters.”

At Pinnacle, Stepping Away From Basketball

NEWARK, Del. — Students kept filing into the tiny hideaway gym at the University of Delaware, but most seemed interested in swimming and the fitness center, not volleyball. Only 150 or so fans attended Wednesday’s match, 200 tops, family and friends tucked into a small set of bleachers.
Elena Delle Donne, a 6-foot-5 middle hitter, took her position near the net and played the way a novice does, dominating at some moments, uncertain at others. She spiked the ball ferociously to end the suspense in a three-set victory over Villanova, but it remained jarring even for her father to see her in the tights and kneepads of volleyball instead of the flowing shorts of basketball.
“If Tom Brady was your son, you would really enjoy that he was a darn good Ping-Pong player, but you’d feel like, Why’s he playing Ping-Pong?” Ernie Delle Donne, a real estate developer, said, referring to the New England quarterback.
Only months ago, Elena Delle Donne was the nation’s top female high school basketball recruit, a signee with the University of Connecticut, an expected central figure in what many predict will be the Huskies’ sixth national title season in 2008-9. After two days of classes last June, though, Delle Donne acknowledged what few athletes of her visibility have ever acknowledged publicly — she was burned out on basketball at 18

Nick Saban’s Fine Print

Buzz Bissinger
It’s a couple of weeks ago and I am watching the Alabama-Clemson football game. It’s a pretty good contest, actually. The Crimson Tide is in the groove against a Top 10 team. But that’s not what truly interests me.
I am watching the fans in various states of rabidity, wondering how long it takes to wash all that school-color gunk off your body once you lacquer it on, not to mention what precisely motivates someone to apply such gunk in the first place. I am watching the cheerleaders in their somersaults and squats of perfect synchronism with those slapped-on smiles. I am just watching the crazy spectacle of it all — frenzy and bloodlust and the low rumble of moans and the high-pitch of screams. I wonder why we need any more studies showing our nation’s education system to be in the tank when all you have to do is attend a college football game.

Answer not ‘No Child Left Ahead’

Cincinnati Enquirer
Advocates for gifted education say states need three things in order to serve high-ability students well: a mandate to identify them, a mandate to serve them and the money to carry out those mandates.
Very few states have all three.
Ohio is one of a handful to only have one, a mandate to identify gifted children. Indiana is one of very few to do all three, after mandating identification and service last January and putting state funds into executing those mandates. Kentucky mandates service, but under funds.
Now Ohio is stepping up its gifted education program with new standards that set minimums for minutes-per-week and students-per-classroom in gifted instruction. But some parents and gifted educators fear that, with little state money attached, schools may shrink away from serving gifted students.
It’s part of a long and contentious debate on if, when and how to serve brilliant students. And it’s only gotten more divisive since No Child Left Behind forced school districts to focus harder on low-achieving students or face sanctions.
Gifted advocates say the move to make everyone proficient shortchanges students who can achieve much more academically. They say there’s little incentive for students to push the upper levels of achievement, and that boiling the focus down to reading and math – on which most standardized tests focus – means gifted kids often lose time in subjects they love, like science and the arts.

Colleges spend billions to prep freshmen

Justin Pope
It’s a tough lesson for millions of students just now arriving on campus: even if you have a high school diploma, you may not be ready for college.
In fact, a new study calculates, one-third of American college students have to enroll in remedial classes. The bill to colleges and taxpayers for trying to bring them up to speed on material they were supposed to learn in high school comes to between $2.3 billion and $2.9 billion annually.
“That is a very large cost, but there is an additional cost and that’s the cost to the students,” said former Colorado governor Roy Romer, chair of the group Strong American Schools, which is issuing the report “Diploma to Nowhere” on Monday. “These students come out of high school really misled. They think they’re prepared. They got a 3.0 and got through the curriculum they needed to get admitted, but they find what they learned wasn’t adequate.”
Christina Jeronimo was an “A” student in high school English, but was placed in a remedial course when she arrived at Long Beach Community College in California. The course was valuable in some ways but frustrating and time-consuming. Now in her third year of community college, she’d hoped to transfer to UCLA by now.
Like many college students, she wishes she’d been worked a little harder in high school.
“There’s a gap,” said Jeronimo, who hopes to study psychology. “The demands of the high school teachers aren’t as great as the demands for college. Sometimes they just baby us.”

Value-added evaluation being tried in Ohio schools

Scott Stephens
Tests measure what students know. Like a Polaroid, they give a snapshot of knowledge frozen at one moment in time. But what if you could measure how much a child learns over the course of a school year? What if you could gauge what a school actually adds to a child’s learning experience?
In Ohio, you can. This year’s district and school report cards, which will be released Tuesday by the Ohio Department of Education, for the first time will include a measurement known as value-added. The revolutionary formula, designed more than two decades ago by a homespun statistical guru from the rolling hills of eastern Tennessee, has rocked the education world. Put simply, value-added tracks whether a year’s worth of learning is actually happening in the course of a school year — regardless of whether a child passes a test at the end of that year.

Externalities in the Classroom: How Children Exposed to Domestic Violence Affect Everyone’s Kids

Justin Wolfers
Many teachers believe that a “few bad apples” can spoil a whole classroom, reducing the learning of everyone in the room. While this is part of the folk wisdom of teaching, it has been surprisingly difficult to find these effects in the data.
But a very convincing new paper, by Scott Carrell of U.C. Davis and Mark Hoekstra of U.Pitt, “Externalities in the Classroom: How Children Exposed to Domestic Violence Affect Everyone’s Kids” (available here), suggests that these effects can be pretty big.
The real difficulty in this style of research is to find a useful proxy for whether or not a classroom is affected by a disruptive student. Previously researchers have used indicators like whether a student has low standardized test scores, but as any teacher knows, the under-performing kids may not be the disruptive ones. And if you analyze only a weak statistical proxy for classroom disruption, you get weak estimates, even when the true effects are large.
The truly innovative part of the Carrell and Hoekstra study begins with their search for potentially disruptive kids: they looked for those coming from particularly difficult family situations. In particular, they combed through court records and linked every domestic violence charge in Alachua County, Florida to the county schooling records of kids living in those households.
It’s a sad story: nearly 5 percent of the kids in their sample could be linked to a household with a reported domestic violence incident. (And given under-reporting, the true number may be much larger.)
The costs of this dysfunction are even more profound. Kids exposed to domestic violence definitely do have lower reading and math scores and greater disciplinary problems. But the effects of this dysfunction are not limited to the direct victims of this violence: kids exposed to kids exposed to domestic violence also have lower test scores and more disciplinary infractions.

Continue reading Externalities in the Classroom: How Children Exposed to Domestic Violence Affect Everyone’s Kids

Meeting special needs through art

Pamela McLoughlin
Early in her career teaching special education, Beverly Levett Gerber once had an unusual mix of students; some had behavior problems, others developmental disabilities and some were gifted.
It was quite the challenge, but she knew how to achieve harmony.
“There were few things we could do together, but we could do the art work together at their rate and level,” Gerber said. “When you reach them at their level, they succeed.”
Gerber, a professor emeritus at Southern Connecticut State University who still teaches a course each semester, is a nationally recognized star in the fields of both art education and special education, most noted for combining the two seemingly divergent fields. Gerber taught at her alma mater, Southern, for 33 years before retiring from full-time work in 2003.
“Because of the uniqueness of the two fields coming together, I call myself a matchmaker,” Gerber, of Milford said with a twinkle in her eye.
Gerber’s commitment to the notion that art is a vehicle for special needs students to learn other subjects, to express themselves emotionally and show their level, has led to such groundbreaking progress in the field that colleagues from the National Art Education Association established The Beverly Levett Gerber Lifetime Achievement award to go each year to an outstanding art educator who works with special needs children.

Madison teacher’s impact fondly recalled

Tamira Madsen
In his job as an educator, Ted Widerski left an indelible imprint on the lives of many Madison Metropolitan School District students. Friends and family are remembering Widerski as an exemplary teacher and person as they come to terms with his unexpected death at age 56 on June 29. Widerski suffered a massive heart attack at his Cambridge home.
Widerski was so influential to Bailey Wundrow during her prep years at La Follette High School that she followed in his footsteps and became a math teacher. Besides being Wundrow’s homeroom teacher for four years, Widerski laid a strong foundation for Wundrow with math as she prepared to pursue an education degree at his alma mater, the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Wundrow, a 2002 La Follette graduate, recently completed her second year teaching math at Verona High School. She said Widerski set an example she wanted to follow. “He enjoyed what he did every day,” Wundrow said. “He sold me on that end of teaching. He wrote me a letter of recommendation for (UW) Madison and I told him I wanted to teach. He always joked, ‘I’ll wait and when I retire and you graduate, you can have my job.’ ”
Widerski got a bachelor’s degree in 1973 from UW-Madison and received a master’s degree in math education from UW-Milwaukee in 1976. He taught in Green Bay and Waterloo and eventually became a school principal in Waterloo before starting in Madison 12 years ago. Widerski taught at La Follette for seven years and joined the school district’s Talented and Gifted (TAG) program three years ago as a resource teacher. Widerski oversaw programming for talented students at the middle and high school levels.
He also was instrumental in creating the district’s first MathFests, events that gave students the opportunity to compete individually and in groups to decipher math problems. Welda Simousek, who will retire in August as coordinator of the Talented and Gifted program, said her staff will create a fund in Widerski’s name so the MathFest competition can be held on an annual basis.

Education: Where’s the Pride; Where’s the Shame?

William Falzett III
I live in a small town, the kind of town many parents seek out in an effort to raise their children away from the precocious material culture of the suburbs, and the tough third world neighborhoods in and around the cities. We have successfully escaped most of that stuff in our small town, but we have not been able to escape the creeping clutches of political correctness.
My daughter is in the third grade, and recently came home with an assignment to prepare a presentation about a famous historical figure. One of her favorite films “A Night at the Museum” includes a part about Sacajawea, the famous native American, working mother, and guide of the Lewis and Clark expedition. We suggested Sacajawea would be a good choice for her project. She worked on it over a two week period, researching on the Internet, reading a book we bought, and preparing visual aids. She was very excited about the project, and practiced the presentation over and over again at home. After her open house event, I asked what kind of grade she got on it, to which she flatly replied she had gotten 102, an A+. I was surprised by her lack of enthusiasm, so I asked how her grade compared to the other kids. She told me she did not know, because kids are not allowed to share their grades with other students.
A little probing exposed this as a politically correct “don’t ask; don’t tell” rule I have encountered many other times in speaking to the kids about school. Very simply it has no purpose but to ensure no one gets hurt feelings or diminished self-esteem over poor performance. The children are taught that expressions of pride for performance are bad, and there is no shame in performing poorly. Poor performance, mediocrity, and outright failure are all treated the same. Little or no effort is equivalent to diligence, and there is therefore little incentive in the system to perform. Kids learn they can get by doing the bare minimum. Curiously there seems to be no similar treatment of performance when it comes to school sports. The poorest performers are often cut from the team, while the gifted advance, often accompanied by extreme celebration, aggressive coaching, poor sportsmanship and in-your-face trash-talking. The message seems to be that to be good in sports is serious and worth bragging about, but being excellent in academics is not.

Gifted Programs in the City Are Less Diverse

Elissa Gootman and Robert Gebeloff
When New York City set a uniform threshold for admission to public school gifted programs last fall, it was a crucial step in a prolonged effort to equalize access to programs that critics complained were dominated by white middle-class children whose parents knew how to navigate the system.
The move was controversial, with experts warning that standardized tests given to young children were heavily influenced by their upbringing and preschool education, and therefore biased toward the affluent.
Now, an analysis by The New York Times shows that under the new policy, children from the city’s poorest districts were offered a smaller percentage than last year of the entry-grade gifted slots in elementary schools. Children in the city’s wealthiest districts captured a greater share of the slots.
The disparity is so stark that some gifted programs opened by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg in an effort to increase opportunities in poor and predominantly minority districts will not fill new classes next year. In three districts, there were too few qualifiers to fill a single class.

No Child Left Behind may be a drag on the gifted

By Anya Sostek, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

The school accountability movement is leaving the nation’s most gifted students behind, according to a report released yesterday by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.
The report, “High-Achieving Students in the Era of NCLB,” uses scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress to compare changes in the top 10 percent and the bottom 10 percent of students since the introduction of No Child Left Behind.
The good news is that NCLB seems to be making progress toward its goal of closing the “achievement gap,” states the report: In fourth-grade reading, for example, NAEP scores for the bottom tenth increased 16 points from 2000 to 2007, compared to 3 points for the top tenth.
But what does the narrowing of that gap mean for students scoring at the top of the spectrum?
“The progress of our top students has been modest at best,” said the report, noting that the focus of NCLB on bringing students to the “proficient” level might result in the neglect of gifted students who are already proficient.
“People can look at this data and say, ‘This is great news,’ and maybe that’s what our national education policy should be,” said Michael J. Petrilli, a vice president at the Fordham Institute. “But you see that the performance of the high-achieving students is languid, and the question is whether languid is going to cut it in a global economy.”

Schools can’t take gifted students for granted

Niki Paul
With the recent news about Salem-Keizer’s talented and gifted program under scrutiny again, I would like to commend the parents for their continual push and voice. Too often, important issues in education are dropped because the matters are not repeatedly brought to light.
Gifted students deserve appropriate learning opportunities and academic challenges so that they may become talented. We certainly reward competent athletes. It would be unthinkable to eliminate varsity or college football; we value the process of preparing professionals. Should we not then strive to add to our society highly talented artists, exceptional engineers, literary geniuses and the like?
School districts do not worry about their gifted students because from them, districts get better attendance, great test scores and graduates. School leaders view the parents as an annoyance and tune out their voices whenever possible. Yet the message has been sent and stands clear: Gifted and talented students are a special population needing special services.
What happens to bright, active learners when they aren’t challenged is they challenge the system. The underperforming gifted and talented become intellectually depressed in an academic environment that fails to challenge them. They are the “too smart for their own good” students who can pass every test without doing any of the time-filling work created to fill mandatory seat time.
When a gifted learner senses that learning opportunities are absent, he or she responds with challenging behavior. Wouldn’t it be wiser for teachers to be in the place of challenging learners rather than creating and managing challenging behaviors?
Again, district and schools respond to the needs of gifted and talented learners with blank stares, especially at the high school level. Students who attend, pass state tests and graduate do not arouse the attention of bureaucrats. Teachers cannot implement what is not programmatically available. They need tools, resources and time to challenge learners.

Are gifted students getting left out?

Carla Rivera
Highly intelligent, talented students need special programs to keep them engaged and challenged. But experts say too often they aren’t even identified — especially in low-income and minority schools.
If you reviewed Dalton Sargent’s report cards, you’d know only half his story. The 15-year-old Altadena junior has lousy grades in many subjects. He has blown off assignments and been dissatisfied with many of his teachers. It would be accurate to call him a problematic student. But he is also gifted.
Dalton is among the sizable number of highly intelligent or talented children in the nation’s classrooms who find little in the standard curriculum to rouse their interest and who often fall by the wayside.
With schools under intense pressure from state and federal mandates such as No Child Left Behind to raise test scores of low-achieving pupils, the educational needs of gifted students — who usually perform well on standardized tests — too often are ignored, advocates say.
Nationally, about 3 million kindergarten through 12th-grade students are identified as gifted, but 80% of them do not receive specialized instruction, experts say. Studies have found that 5% to 20% of students who drop out are gifted.
There is no federal law mandating special programs for gifted children, though many educators argue that these students — whose curiosity and creativity often coexist with emotional and social problems — deserve the same status as those with special needs. Services for gifted students vary from state to state. In California, about 512,000 students are enrolled in the Gifted and Talented Education program, which aims to provide specialized and accelerated instruction.
But many gifted students who might benefit from the program are never identified, particularly those in economically disadvantaged communities, advocates say. Legislation sponsored by state Sen. Louis Correa (D-Santa Ana) aimed at training teachers to identify gifted students from low-income, minority and non-English speaking families stalled last year after estimates found that it could cost up to $1.1 million.

Gifted or not, challenge students to reach higher

Des Moines Register
Nicholas Colangelo is director of the Belin-Blank Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development, Iowa City, established in 1988 at the University of Iowa. His hands-on experience includes teaching middle-school social studies in New York and serving as an elementary-school counselor in Vermont in the 1970s. Four years ago, he co-authored with colleagues the report “A Nation Deceived: How Schools Hold Back America’s Brightest Students.”
Q. The alarm has been sounded that U.S. students are not prepared for the growing global competition they face. But is that true of this country’s brightest students? Are our most gifted students being challenged with sufficient rigor?
A. When it comes to matching top students to top students, we are probably pretty close. But what concerns me is that the top students in the United States do not necessarily get the challenge they need across the board. It really is about ZIP code. We have taken for granted that our top students are getting what they need. If we gave our top students more opportunities to take Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate and other [accelerated opportunities], they would reveal they are capable of doing much more than we think.
Q. Has the federal No Child Left Behind law affected the ability of schools to challenge all students to excel?
A. As far as I’m concerned, the No Child Left Behind law has done nothing on behalf of high-ability students. Essentially, No Child Left Behind has focused on kids below a standard, ignoring kids above that standard. You should have no law that makes a portion of the students invisible. They are all our kids, and they all deserve our attention and energy.

Sadly, kids’ struggle with writing goes on

In light of West High School Principal Ed Holmes’s budgetary decision to shut down the Writing Lab after almost 40 years in existence, I share this recent column from Barbara Wallraff, who writes the column Word Court.
America’s eighth-graders and high school seniors got their writing “report cards” the other day — the results for the writing part of the 2007 National Assessment of Educational Progress were announced. Just a third of eighth-grade students and a quarter of high school seniors are “proficient” in writing. Oh, dear! And yet federal authorities consider this encouraging news — that’s how bad the situation is.
Granted, the average scores are a few points higher than they were when the test was given in 2002. And the improvement is almost across the board, at least among the eighth-graders. Students in every ethnic group except American Indians are doing better, and the gap white and black eighth-graders is narrowing. Also granted, better is better — and mountains of behavior modification research demonstrate that praising successes is a more effective way to bring about change than criticizing failures.
But still, isn’t cheering because a third of the kids are doing well like congratulating ourselves that we made it a third of the way to the finish line in a race? Or that we managed to pay a third of our bills? Speaking of thirds, a 2003 survey by the College Board concluded that a third of employees at America’s blue-chip corporations are pretty bad at writing and need remedial training. And speaking of writing, can everybody see the handwriting on the wall? The message is terribly disheartening. Writing isn’t just a skill that people tend to need to earn a good living — it’s one of our basic means of communication.
The question is what to do about the two-thirds or three-quarters of our young people who are less than proficient. Keeping on doing whatever we’ve been doing isn’t suddenly going to start yielding different results. Admittedly, the sorry state of America’s writing skills is a vast, long-term problem to which experts have devoted whole careers. So who am I to propose a solution?
Writing is different from other skills. In math, you either get the concept or you don’t. In history, you either know who did what when or you don’t. But writing isn’t right or wrong, just better or worse. Learning to write is something each of us does individually, in our own way — which makes me suspect that sweeping initiatives, no matter how brilliant and well-funded (hah!), aren’t what’s needed.
May I suggest, instead, that anybody who has the time , energy and interest in young people encourage them, one at a time, to write — and read? (Reading skills and writing skills go hand in hand.) Ask kids to write you emails. Lend them a favorite book , and tell them what the book has meant to you. Ask them about what they’ve been reading.
If you’re a parent, you’re probably doing this for your own kids, and you probably know the statistics about what a huge advantage it gives kids if their parents take an interest in their education. If you’re only, or also, a concerned citizen — well, there are plenty of kids who aren’t lucky enough to be growing up in your family. Wouldn’t it make you proud to help a few of them?
For more:

New Microphones Are Bringing Crystal-Clear Changes

Jay Mathews
The little black devices, the shape and size of small cellphones, have begun to appear in hundreds of Washington area classrooms. Hanging from the necks of elementary school teachers in Alexandria and kindergarten and first-grade teachers in Prince George’s County, they might herald the most significant change in classroom technology since the computer, some predict.
They are infrared microphones, designed to raise the volume and clarity of teachers’ voices above the distracting buzz of competing noises — the hum of fluorescent lights, the rattle of air conditioning, the whispers of children and the reverberations of those sounds bouncing off concrete walls and uncarpeted floors.
“It makes it so much easier for the children but also for the teachers,” said Lucretia Jackson, principal of Alexandria’s Maury Elementary School, one of the first in the area to use the audio enhancement systems for all classrooms. All Alexandria elementary school teachers now have them. “They are no longer suffering from laryngitis,” Jackson said. “They don’t have to project their voices as much as they needed to do in the past.”

Expectations Lose to Reality of Sports Scholarships

Bill Pennington
At youth sporting events, the sidelines have become the ritual community meeting place, where families sit in rows of folding chairs aligned like church pews. These congregations are diverse in spirit but unified by one gospel: heaven is your child receiving a college athletic scholarship.
Parents sacrifice weekends and vacations to tournaments and specialty camps, spending thousands each year in this quest for the holy grail.
But the expectations of parents and athletes can differ sharply from the financial and cultural realities of college athletics, according to an analysis by The New York Times of previously undisclosed data from the National Collegiate Athletic Association and interviews with dozens of college officials.
Excluding the glamour sports of football and basketball, the average N.C.A.A. athletic scholarship is nowhere near a full ride, amounting to $8,707. In sports like baseball or track and field, the number is routinely as low as $2,000. Even when football and basketball are included, the average is $10,409. Tuition and room and board for N.C.A.A. institutions often cost between $20,000 and $50,000 a year.

‘Acting Black’ Hinders Gifted Black Student Achievement

NASHVILLE, Tenn., March 6 (AScribe Newswire) — Gifted black students often underachieve in school because of efforts to “act black,” new research has found, offering insights into the achievement gap between black and white students in the United States and why black students are under-represented in gifted programs.
“Part of the achievement gap, particularly for gifted black students, is due to the poor image these students have of themselves as learners,” study author Donna Ford, professor of special education and Betts Chair of Education and Human Development at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College, said. “Our research shows that prevention and intervention programs that focus on improving students’ achievement ethic and self-image are essential to closing the achievement gap.”
The research, one of the first to examine the concept of “acting black,” was published in the March issue of Urban Education. Ford and co-authors Gilman Whiting and Tarek Grantham set out to determine how gifted black students achieve compared to their white counterparts, what can be learned about the achievement gap by studying these students, and how gifted students view “acting black” and “acting white.” They surveyed 166 black 5th- through 12th-graders identified as gifted in two Ohio school districts.
“Many studies have been conducted about students, with little information collected from them,” the authors wrote. “It is with students themselves that many of the answers and solutions to underachievement, low achievement, and the achievement gap may be found.”
Most of the students were familiar with the terms “acting white” and “acting black.” They described “acting white” as speaking properly, being smart or too smart, doing well in school, taking advanced courses, being stuck up, and not acting your race. Terms they used to describe “acting black” were having a “don’t care” attitude, being laid back, being dumb or uneducated and pretending not to be smart.

Continue reading ‘Acting Black’ Hinders Gifted Black Student Achievement

It isn’t smart to cheat our brightest pupils

Len LaCara
You don’t need to be an Einstein to know Ohio is cheating its most promising students.
Last week, The Plain Dealer wrote a story about the sorry state of gifted education in Ohio. Consider these facts:

  • 31 states require school districts to provide special services for children identified as gifted. Ohio does not, even though a sixth of its pupils have that classification.
  • Three-fourths of the state’s gifted students receive no special services, according to the Ohio Department of Education. Many of the rest only get partial services.
  • Ohio spends more than $8 billion a year on educating students. But less than 1 percent of that amount – roughly $47 million – goes toward gifted education.

Does this strike you as, well, smart?

Report Gives Good Grades to Precollege Courses

Peter Schmidt in The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that “(t)he Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a nonprofit research organization, favorably reviews several Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate programs in a report scheduled to be released this week.
The study evaluated course materials, teacher’s guides, and examinations used in connection with Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate programs in biology, English, history, and mathematics. Based on reviews of the materials conducted by experts in the fields covered, the report concludes that the courses generally merit praise. The biology offerings in particular deserve high marks, it says.
The researchers did not examine how well the courses are actually being taught, and its report warns that “successful implementation of these programs depends on the availability of talented, motivated, and well-educated teachers.”
The institute plans to make the report available online as of Tuesday, although it is not scheduled for release to the public until the following day.”

Academic Achievement

By Michael Strand
Critics with a bent for sarcasm, for years, have derided the No Child Left Behind law by giving it what they think is a more descriptive title.
No Child Allowed Ahead, they call it.
And it’s not hard to see why. Newspapers and news magazines across the country have documented state after state and district after district gutting or eliminating millions of dollars in funding for programs for their highest-achieving students, diverting that money into programs for low-achieving students in order to meet the mandates of the law.
“I don’t think we’ve seen a tremendous change in our district, for which I’m grateful,” said Salina School Board president Carol Brandert, who later described the situation as “fortunate.”
If Brandert — a former English teacher well-known for being a stickler for using the right word — is using words that sound oddly passive, there’s a reason.
The question of cutting programs for top students has never come up, she said.
When Kay Scheibler first started heading the gifted program at Salina Central High School, 13 states mandated programs for top students. Today, Kansas is the only state with such a mandate.
“It’s mandated, so we’re not going to see any major changes without some legislative action,” she said.
“We’re unique, one out of 50,” confirmed Kansas Commissioner of Education Alexa Posny.
State law regarding those formally identified by their school as gifted closely parallels that for special education students, even using the same terminology — gifted students have an “Individual Education Plan.”

No Child Left Behind Act faces overhaul, political donnybrook

Zachary Coile
In 2002, two of Congress’ liberal Democratic lions – Rep. George Miller of Martinez and Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy – stood behind President Bush as he signed the No Child Left Behind Act, a law they promised would shine a bright light on the failures in America’s public schools and kick-start reforms.
Five years later, Miller, now chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, is still a believer. But after traveling the country – listening to complaints from parents, teachers, school administrators and governors about the law’s testing regime and stiff sanctions – he now admits it needs fixing.
“We’ve learned a lot, and we shouldn’t ignore that evidence,” said Miller, who is leading the overhaul of the law in the House, which starts this week. “What we’re trying to do in this reauthorization bill is to look for those changes to make this a smarter, fairer, better law.”
Reform is coming to No Child Left Behind, but the question is what kind. Teachers unions, which bitterly oppose the law, are pushing to relax its rigid testing rules and penalties. Business groups, eager for better-educated workers, want to see the tough accountability measures preserved or expanded. Many states and local school districts are clamoring for more flexibility in implementing the law, which expires this year.
Miller is seeking a middle ground: He wants to keep the law’s requirement of annual tests in reading and math for third- to eighth-graders and 10th-graders, but add other measurements – such as percentage of kids in college-prep classes – to help schools show they are meeting the law’s demands to make yearly progress in student achievement.

Where does MMSD get its numbers from?

One of the reasons that I have devoted more time than I should to analyzing the outcomes from the District’s SLC grants (way too much time, given that I don’t get paid for this and given that the District is going to continue on its merry way with restructuring our high schools into Small Learning Communities no matter what the data indicates) has to do with the frustration I experience when I try and find consistency in the District’s data. Frankly, there isn’t any. MMSD is consistently inconsistent with their numbers, see for example my earlier post trying to identify what the District spent in 2004/05.
The District’s latest press release trumpeting the success of our high school students on the ACT is just the latest example of this problem. According to MMSD, the percentage of Madison students who took the ACT is significantly higher than the percentages that are reported by DPI.
The District reports that “Sixty-nine percent of all MMSD 12th grade students participated in the ACT during 2006-07, compared to 70% last year. Over the last 13 years, MMSD participation has ranged from 67-74% (see pg. 2 table).”

ACT Score Comparison by Year
Average Composite:

                                    %MMSD 12th
 Year     Madison   WI     US     Graders Tested 
2006-07    24.6     22.3    21.2        69%
2005-06    24.2     22.2    21.1        70%
2004-05    24.3     22.2    20.9        74%
2003-04    24.2     22.2    20.9        70%
2002-03    23.9     22.2    20.8        68%
2001-02    24.4     22.2    20.8        67%
2000-01    24.1     22.2    21.0        70%
1999-00    24.2     22.2    21.0        72%
1998-99    24.4     22.3    21.0        67%
1997-98    24.5     22.3    21.0        67%
1996-97    24.5     22.3    21.0        70%
1995-96    23.8     22.1    20.9        71%
1994-95    23.5     22.0    20.8        70%

According to DPI, a much smaller percentage of the District’s 12th graders have taken the ACT in their junior or senior years. (The table below is taken from DPI)

ACT Results – Composite – All Students

Madison Metropolitan
Grade 12
Number Tested % Tested Average Score – Composite
1996-97 1,552 982 63.3 24.5
1997-98 1,650 1,016 61.6 24.5
1998-99 1,639 1,014 61.9 24.4
1999-00 1,697 1,127 66.4 24.2
2000-01 1,728 1,091 63.1 24.1
2001-02 1,785 1,113 62.4 24.4
2002-03 1,873 1,126 60.1 23.9
2003-04 1,920 1,198 62.4 24.2
2004-05 2,055 1,247 60.7 24.3
2005-06 2,035 1,244 61.1 24.2
2006-07 1,983 1,151 58.0 24.6

An examination of minority student participation in the ACT reveals that the percentage of African American and Hispanic students taking the test has declined over the last three years. Only 20.1% of African American students in the District took the ACT as compared to 34.6% of African American students across the state.
I am more than willing to believe that DPI’s numbers are inaccurate, but don’t they get this data from the District? Several months ago I was attempting to clarify discrepancies between MMSD and DPI in the cost per student data, and that experience is perhaps informative here. I wrote to clarify this issue:

I am writing to ask about the data that the district lists on its web site regarding cost per pupil. The excel spreadsheet t1.xls on the page ( lists numbers that do not match those listed on DPI’s web site ( Specifically, the numbers that MMSD lists as the state average cost per student are greater than the numbers that DPI lists on its site, while at the same time the MMSD cost per student listed is less than what DPI states that our District spends per student.
I am attaching the spreadsheet I downloaded from the District web site, along with the numbers that I got from DPI. If you could help me understand the discrepancy in these numbers it would be most appreciated.

The response that I got back from Roger Price was:

Both data sources are from the DPI. They calculate both tables. I am not sure what the differences are between the two. We utilize the “Basic Facts” data as published by the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance.

Why the District with its extensive Data Warehouse has to rely on the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance to tell it what they spend per student is beyond me, but it doesn’t fill me with any confidence about the accuracy of their data.

District SLC Grant – Examining the Data From Earlier Grants, pt. 3

Because the recent MMSD Small Learning Communities (SLC) grant submission failed to include any discussion of the success or failure of the SLC initiatives already undertaken at Memorial and West High Schools, I have been examining the data that was (or in some cases should have been) provided to the Department of Education in the final reports of those previous grants. Earlier postings have examined the data from Memorial and the academic achievement data at West. It is now time to turn our attention to the data on Community and Connection, the other major goal of the West SLC grant.
West’s SLC grant, which ran from 2003/04 to 2005/06 (and highlighted in the tables below), targeted 6 goals in the area of increasing community and connection amongst their students.

  • 2.a. Suspension and Expulsion data
  • 2.b. Safe and Supportive Climate
  • 2.c. Stakeholder Perceptions
  • 2.d. Extracurricular Participation
  • 2.e. Student Leadership
  • 2.f. Parent Participation

The available data suggest that West’s restructuring has not had the anticipated effect on these measures. While I have been more than skeptical about the impact of the SLC restructuring on academic performance, I did expect that there would be positive changes in school climate, so I am surprised and disappointed at the data.
2.a. Suspension and Expulsion data -The final report claims that “Progress has been made overall for both suspensions and expulsions at West High.” We reach a very different conclusion when we examine the data available from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI). I don’t know what to make of the large discrepancies in the numbers reported by West in their final report and those on the DPI website (West reports a much higher number of suspensions), but I am inclined to believe that the data DPI collected from the District is the data we should rely on. That data shows that number of students suspended and more importantly the percentage of students suspended has actually increased over the time course of the SLC grant. Note that percentages are the more appropriate statistic to examine because they take into account the number of students enrolled which has declined over this period of time.


Total Suspensions

West Final Report

Total Suspensions


Suspensions (% of Students)


African Am. Suspensions

West Final Report

African Am. Suspensions


African Am. Suspensions

(% of Students)


2000/01 280 189 9.0% 100 71 23.1%
2001/02 265 154 7.3% 145 82 26.0%
2002/03 230 142 6.6% 115 71 24.0%
2003/04 255 142 6.7% 147 79 27.6%
2004/05 160 159 7.5% 90 89 28.1%
2005/06 not reported 181 8.9% not reported 98 34.6%

Examining the suspension data on the DPI website revealed that the increases in the suspension rates amongst West High students were particularly pronounced for 9th and 10th grade students – the students specifically targeted by the SLC restructuring and implementation of a core curriculum.

Suspension Data for 9th & 10th Graders
  9th Grade Suspensions 10th Grade Suspensions
2000/01 13.1% 8.5%
2001/02 9.9% 9.3%
2002/03 10.2% 6.4%
2003/04 11.0% 9.3%
2004/05 11.3% 9.9%
2005/06 14.8% 10.1%

2.b. Safe and Supportive Climate – This goal was supposed to be assessed by examining changes in ratings of physical and emotional safety and school connected-ness on the District climate survey. Although climate data is supposedly collected from students each year, this data is not presented in West’s Final Report. However, information presented in the recent MMSD proposal suggests that there haven’t been any changes at West. In that proposal, it is noted that 53% of West students agreed with the statement “I am an important part of my school community.” This percentage is essentially unchanged from the 52% of students in 2001/02 whom West said reported feeling attached to their school, when the school applied for their initial SLC grant.

Continue reading District SLC Grant – Examining the Data From Earlier Grants, pt. 3

Bringing Diversity to New York Elite High Schools

by Christine Kiernan
Luis Rosario just completed fifth grade but he already thinks about attending an Ivy League college. And he would seem to be on his way. He won first prize in his district’s fifth grade science fair, scored high on the state math test, gets straight A’s and is fascinated by robotic sciences.
His mother, Judith Pena, wanted to get him into a program to prepare him for one of the city’s specialized high schools. Then she learned about the Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science and Engineering. ”This is even better,” she said. And so, next month Luis Rosario will join the first sixth grade class of Columbia Secondary, a new select school in upper Manhattan.
Columbia Secondary is aimed at top students like Luis, students who one would expect to attend an elite public high school. But over the years the so-called specialized schools have not attracted a large number of gifted black and Hispanic students. In fact, over the past decade, the percentage of students from the city’s large black and Hispanic population who attend these select schools has decreased significantly.
Under the banner “strength in diversity,” Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science and Engineering will try to change that. The school, a partnership of the Department of Education and Columbia University, is aggressively recruiting black and Hispanic students and plans to try out new methods to achieve a more equitable racial balance.

Proposals won’t close book on gifted kids

Some see little change in picking top students
Amy Hetzner
Frustrated in her efforts over the years to have her son’s academic abilities recognized, Gina Villa-Grimsby finally asked the Oconto Falls School District to provide her with its criteria for identifying gifted students.
What she got was its policy on how to appeal decisions in such cases.
Soon after, she began home-schooling her 12-year-old son, Rodrigo. And, through networking with parents of other gifted children throughout the state, she learned that her situation was not unique.
“There are amazing gifted programs in some school districts and none in others,” Villa-Grimsby said. “There are amazing identification procedures and tests and programming in some school districts and not in others.”
Some proponents of gifted education in the state were hoping a change in state rules regarding how gifted students are identified would help address such complaints.
The change was ordered by a Dane County judge earlier this year, and public hearings on the state Department of Public Instruction’s proposed rule for the identification of gifted children are set for the week of Aug. 20.
But some parents and educators who have studied the DPI’s proposal wonder if the new rule, which instructs public schools to use “multiple measures” validated for identifying students in five areas of giftedness, is that different from the one found inadequate by the court.

District SLC Grant – Examining the Data From Earlier Grants, pt. 2

An earlier posting examined the results of the small school initiative at Memorial high school. This post aims to examine West’s SLC grant. Similar to the Memorial grant, the goal of West’s SLC grant was to reduce the achievement gap and to increase students’ sense of community.
The final report is a major source of frustration for anyone who values data analysis and statistics. Essentially, there are no statistics reported. The data is presented in figures that are cluttered and too small, which makes them difficult to interpret. Changes over time are discussed as trends without any sort of statistical tests being reported. Most of the data presented are no more detailed than what anyone can pull off the DPI web site.
Before examining the impact of West’s restructuring on student achievement and on students’ connection to the school, it is necessary to identify just a few of the components of the West proposal that were never enacted:

  • “C.2.c Advocate Mentor. Each student will have an adult advocate from their learning community (LC) who stays with them through their years at West. Students will meet weekly with their advocate to review academic progress and attendance, preview the upcoming week, discuss school or personal issues, etc.” A rather ambitious aspect of the proposal, and considering District finances a totally unrealistic proposal. It was not implemented.
  • “C.2.d. Academic/Career Pathways. Beginning early in freshman year, each student will work with their LC guidance counselor and parent(s) to develop an Individualized Graduation Plan (IGP) that includes (1) personal, academic, and career/avocation exploration goals, and (2) academic coursework and learning experiences beyond the classroom that help students achieve these goals. Updated periodically, the IGP will be based on the student’s academic record and a current assessment of their skills and competencies, intellectual interests, and personality.” As far as I know, this never happened, at the very least parents were never involved.
  • “C.5.e. Strategies for securing/maintaining staff, community, and parent buy-in. … We will provide frequent formal (e.g., surveys, focus groups) and informal chances for staff and other stakeholders to raise concerns with the project leadership (Principal and hired project staff).” Parents were never surveyed and the only focus groups that I am aware of were two meetings conducted following parents’ uproar over English 10
    “The SLC Coordinator will also provide frequent progress reports through a variety of school and community-based media (e.g., special staff newsletter and memos from the principal; school newsletter sent home; media coverage of positive developments, etc.). Also our community partners will serve as ambassadors for the project via communications to their respective constituencies.” There were two presentations to the PTSO summarizing the results of the grant. I am not aware of anything in the school newsletter or in the “media” that reported on the results of the restructuring.
  • “E.1 Overall Evaluation Strategy
    Third-Party Evaluator. … He will develop survey instruments and analyze the formative and summative data described below, and prepare annual reports of his findings for all stakeholder groups. Parents (one of the stakeholders) never received annual reports from the evaluator, and I have no idea about what surveys were or were not developed
    Also the outcome data for West will be compared to the same data elements for a school with similar demographic characteristics that is not restructuring into learning communities.” Rather than comparing West’s outcome data to a comparable school, the final report compares West’s data to the District’s data.
  • Finally, one of the goals of the grant (2.f. Parent Participation) was to increase the % of parents of color who attend school functions. This data was to come from attendance logs collected by the LC Assistant Principals. This objective is not even listed as one of the goals on the Final Report, and if attendance at PTSO meetings is any indicator, the SLC grant had no impact on the participation of parents of color. It is interesting to note that the recently submitted high school redesign grant does not include any efforts at increasing parental participation. Given the extensive literature on the importance of parental involvement, especially for low income students (see the recent meta analysis by Jeynes (2007) in Urban Education, Vol. 42, pp. 82-110), it is disappointing to see that the District has given up on this goal.

On to the data…

Continue reading District SLC Grant – Examining the Data From Earlier Grants, pt. 2

District SLC Grant – Examining the Data From Earlier Grants, pt. 1

The Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) recently submitted a five year, $5 million grant proposal to the US Department of Education (DOE) to support the creation of Small Learning Communities (SLCs) in all four high schools (See here for post re. grant application). While the grant proposal makes mention of the two smaller SLC grants the district received earlier, there is no examination of the data from those two projects. One would think that DOE would be curious to know if MMSD’s earlier efforts at creating SLCs had produced the desired results before agreeing to provide further funding. Furthermore, one would think it important to examine if the schools implemented the changes that they proposed in their applications. It is my intention to provide some of that analysis over the course of several posts, and I want to encourage other community members to examine the Memorial grant proposal and final report and the West grant and final report themselves.
We begin by examining Memorial High School’s SLC grant which was funded from 2000-2003. Memorial’s SLC grant is a good place to start, not only because it was the first MMSD SLC grant, but because they lay out clearly the outcome measures that they intend to evaluate and their final report provides hard numbers (as opposed to graphics) over a number of years before and after the implementation of the SLC grant. Memorial had two goals for their SLC grant: 1) to reduce the achievement gap and 2) to increase students’ connectedness to the school.
Examining student achievement suggests mixed results for Memorial’s restructuring. Student GPA’s indicate a slight narrowing of the achievement gap for African American students and essentially no change for Hispanic students when compared to their fellow white students over the period of the grant.

Difference Between
White & African American
White & Hispanic

Student WKCE performance can be considered an external indicator of student success, and these data indicate no change in the proportion of students scoring at the Proficient and/or Advanced levels, an especially noteworthy result given that the criteria for the WKCEs were lowered in 2002/03 which was the last year of the grant. I’ve included data up through this past school year since that is available on the DPI website, and I’ve only presented data from math and reading in the interests of not overloading SIS readers.

WKCE 99/2000 2000/01 2001/02 2002/03 2003/04 2004/05 2005/06 2006/07
African American
Low Income
Not Low Income      
African American
Low Income
Not Low Income      

* note. data for Hispanic students includes 4 Native American students in 03/04 and 2 in the following two years
** note. DPI actually reports higher percentages of students scoring proficient/advanced: 34% and 37% respectively for these two cells
The data from DPI looking at ACT test performance and percentage of students tested does not suggest any change has occurred in the last 10 years, so the data presented here would suggest that Memorial’s SLC restructuring hasn’t had any effect on the achievement gap, but what about the other goal, student connectedness?

Continue reading District SLC Grant – Examining the Data From Earlier Grants, pt. 1

Bubble Kids Benefit

David J. Hoff
A new study out of Chicago suggests that low-achieving and high-achieving students haven’t benefited from No Child Left Behind.
When comparing changes in Chicago students’ test scores pre- and post-NCLB, researchers Derek Neal and Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach found a “strikingly consistent pattern” in the test scores of students with lowest-achievement test scores. They scored “the same or lower” under NCLB’s accountability system than they did in the 1990s under the Chicago’s accountability measures.
When looking at gifted students, the researchers found “mixed evidence of gains” in the NCLB era.
Kids in the middle–the ones closest to proficiency–performed better under NCLB than they did before.
This study lends credence to common critiques of that law encourages teachers to focus on the so-called bubble kids–the ones that are close to reaching proficiency.

More on WKCE scores – Missing Students

Chan Stroman posted a valuable and in-depth examination of the District’s WKCE scores, and is it in the spirit of that posting that I would like to share my own little examination of our most recent test results. Rather than focusing on the scores of our students, this is an investigation of the numbers of MMSD students who took the WKCE exams. My intention is to simply present the data and let the reader draw their own conclusions.
This journey began with a question: How did students at West High School do on the WKCE exams now that the school has completed their three year Small Learning Communities grant. A relatively straightforward question that can be addressed by a visit to the DPI web site. However, in the process of looking at West High School’s test data from the Fall of 2006, it was surprising to see that only 39 African American students had been tested. Certainly there had to be more than 39 African American 10th graders at West this year, and if we want WKCE scores to provide an accurate assessment of the
“success” of a school, it is important that there isn’t any bias in which groups of students provide the assessment data.
The District makes available a number of breakdowns of student enrollment data by grade, by school, by ethnicity, by income status, and combinations thereof. However, there is not a breakdown that provides enrollment numbers by school by grade by ethnicity. Thus, if we want to know the number of African American 10th graders at a particular school we have to make an educated guess. We can do that by taking the percentage of African American students enrolled in the school and multiplying that by the number of students in the 10th grade. This gives us a rough estimate of the number of students enrolled. We can then compare that to the number of students who took the WKCE test to estimate the percentage of missing students.
West High School had 517 10th graders enrolled this past year, and 14% of the student body was African American. This suggests that there should be approximately 73 African American 10th graders at West which means that 34 students or 46.6% were not tested. This is very different from the overall proportion of West 10th graders not tested: 14.5% (DPI data show that 442 of the 517 students in the 10th grade were tested this past year). However, this is only one year’s data at one of our high schools. We need to put this data in context if we are to draw any conclusions. So here is the data for the four high schools for the past five years.

High School Year MMSD Enrollment Proportion African American Enrolled Predicted AA 10th Graders African American Tested Total 10th Grade Tested % AA Missing % Total Missing Discrepancy (AA% – Total %)
West 2002/03
East 2002/03
La Follette 2002/03
Memorial 2002/03

What about other ways to look at the number of high school students who took the WKCE’s?

Continue reading More on WKCE scores – Missing Students

No Child Left Behind setting below-average goals

Mary Wolf-Francis
When Margaret Spellings visited the Southeast Valley this spring, she was asked to respond to the question about the effects of No Child Left Behind on the average and above-average students.
Her response was frightening.
Spellings declared that No Child Left Behind is about the “vast, vast number of young Americans who lack the ability to be successful in our country. That is our prime directive, our highest priority.”
The highest public education official in our country essentially stated that public schools should be dedicated to below-average students. This may be seen as a call for all parents of average to above-average students to run, don’t walk, to their nearest private school.
Spellings takes it a step further by defining the problem as related to race, saying, “We’re only graduating half of our Hispanic and half our African-American students on time.”
Did I hear you say public education is dedicated to underachieving students of color? Political correctness aside, these are not the only students who lack the ability to be successful. Would you be surprised if we told you that many of our best and brightest students fit this category?
As many as 40 percent of all gifted students are underachievers, according to the Davidson Institute for Talent Development, and between 10 and 20 percent of all high school dropouts test in the gifted range.
Consider, then, that many other populations of students are being left behind, especially as funds are diverted into meeting the mandates of this narrow legislation.

Open Letter to BOE Re. High School Redesign

Dear BOE,
Hi, everyone. We are writing to share a few thoughts about Monday night’s Special Meeting on the High School Redesign and SLC grant. We are writing to you and copying the Superintendent and Assistant Superintendent — rather than writing to them and copying you — in order to underscore our belief that you, the School Board, are in charge of this process.
It seems clear to us that the SLC grant requirements and application process will be driving the District’s high school re-evaluation and redesign. (So much for the “blank slate” we were promised by the Superintendent last fall. With the SLC grant determining many of the important features of the redesign, obviously some redesign possibilities are already off the table — whether or not we are awarded the grant, we might add.)
Given that cold, hard fact, it seems to us essential — ESSENTIAL — that we understand how our local SLC initiatives have fared before we move forward. That is why Laurie asked on Monday night how the community can access the before-and-after SLC data for Memorial and West.
Memorial and West are, in effect, our “pilot projects.” It seems to us that we need to be thoroughly familiar with the results of our pilot projects in order to write the strongest follow-up grant proposal possible. It further seems to us that we need to know if the SLC restructuring programs we have implemented in two of our high schools are achieving their objectives (or not) before we expand the approach to our other high schools (and before we commit to continuing the approach, unchanged, at the first two schools). Let’s not forget that our highest priority is to educate and support our students (not to get grant money). In order to do that as well as we possibly can, we need to know what’s working for us and what’s not working for us. (We imagine the Department of Education will also want to know how our pilot programs have fared before deciding whether or not to give us additional funding.)
The Superintendent said on Monday night that the High School Redesign Committee had “gathered all of the relevant data from each of the four high schools” as part of their early work. And yet, it did not sound like before-and-after SLC restructuring data was part of that effort. We found that very confusing because what data from Memorial and West could possibly be more relevant to the present moment than whether and how their SLC restructuring programs have worked?
With all that as background, we’d like to ask you, the BOE, to:

  1. compile the before-and-after SLC data for both Memorial and West, as well as all progress and final reports that Memorial and West have been required to submit to their granting agency (presumably the DOE);
  2. make those data and reports widely available to the community;
  3. convene two study sessions — a private one for yourselves and a public one for the community — where the background and empirical results for the Memorial and West SLC initiatives are thoroughly reviewed and discussed.
    Based on our reading of the SLC literature, as well as our direct knowledge of the West grant proposal and daily life at West, we think there are a couple of other things we need to know.

  4. We need to know and understand the extent to which the Memorial and West initiatives are consistent with the recommended “best practices” in the SLC literature. Example: the literature recommends a maximum SLC size of 400 students and that students select into their (ideally, content or theme-based) SLC. In contrast to those recommendations, West students are assigned to their (generic, unthemed) SLC based on the first letter of their last name … and there are 500 or more students in each SLC.
  5. We need to know and understand the extent to which Memorial and West are actually doing what they told the DOE they would do in their grants. In general, there is a lot that is promised in the West grant that has never happened. (We are in the process of compiling a detailed list.) Example: a huge and important piece of any successful SLC initiative is communication with and outreach to parents, with the clear goal of increasing parental involvement with the school. At West, responsive communication from the school is so far from the norm, the PTSO leadership had to talk with the principal about the complaints they were receiving. In addition, there has been very little targeted outreach to parents aimed at enhancing involvement. What little there has been (PTSO meetings and other events held off-site, in West attendance area neighborhoods) have had dismal attendance, with no follow-up from the school. Interestingly, we don’t even have PTSO officers for next year!

A final word about Monday night’s meeting —
We found the meeting to be way too structured, to the extent that it prevented open and free-flowing dialogue. Most of what community members were allowed to say had to be in response to things the administration asked, which means the administration controlled the evening’s conversation. There was neither time nor support for audience members to ask what they wanted to ask, or to share their full reactions, concerns and recommendations. Ultimately, it felt like a somewhat shallow gesture of interest in community input, not a genuine desire for real, substantive, collaborative dialogue.
We hope you will make sure that we all have the opportunity to educate ourselves about the details of the Memorial and West SLC initiatives, as well as a chance to have real conversation about the future of our high schools.
As always, thank you.
In partnership,
Laurie Frost and Jeff Henriques
West High School Parents

West HS English 10: Time to Show Us the Data

According to the November, 2005, report by SLC Evaluator Bruce King, the overriding motivation for the implementation of West’s English 10 core curriculum (indeed, the overriding motivation for the implementation of the entire 9th and 10th grade core curriculum) was to reduce the achievement gap. As described in the report, some groups of West students were performing more poorly in English than were other groups of West students. Poor performance was defined as:

  1. not electing to take the more rigorous English electives offered at West during 11th and 12th grade and
  2. failing one or more English classes.

The current West 10th graders — the first class to take English 10 — has almost finished two semesters of the new course. As well, they registered for their 11th grade courses several weeks ago. Seems to me it’s about time to take a look at the early data.
I would like to know what English courses the current 500 or so West sophomores signed up for for next year and if the distribution of their course selections — broken down by student groups — looks significantly different from that of previous 10th grade classes? When final grades come out later this month, I would also like to know what the impact of the first two semesters of English 10 has been on the achievement gap as defined by the “grade earned” criterion.
Thinking about the need to evaluate the impact of English 10 brings to mind the absence of data on English 9 that became so glaringly apparent last year. [English 9 — like English 10, a core curriculum delivered in completely heterogeneous classes — has been in place at West for several years. And yet, according to Mr. King’s report, it is not clear if English 9 has done anything to reduce the achievement gap in English among West students. (More precisely, according to email with Mr. King and others after the SLC report was made public, it is not clear that the impact of English 9 on the achievement gap at West has even been empirically evaluated. Readers may recall that some of us tried valiantly to get the English 10 initiative put off, so that the effect of English 9 could be thoroughly evaluated. Unfortunately, we failed.)] I would like to know what has been done this year to evaluate the impact of English 9 on the gap in achievement between different groups of West HS students.
Bruce (King), Heather (Lott), Ed (Holmes) and Art (Rainwater), I do hope you will soon “show us the data,” as they say, for West’s English 9 and English 10. And BOE, I do hope you will insist on seeing these data asap.
While we’re at it, what do the before-and-after data look like for Memorial’s 9th grade core curriculum? (In contrast to West, Memorial implemented only a 9th grade core curriculum. TAG and Honors classes still begin in 10th grade, as does access to Memorial’s 17 AP classes.)
With the District in the process of applying for a federal grant that may well result in the spread of the West model to the other three comprehensive high schools, we should all be interested in these data.
So should officials in the Department of Education.

Local high school students graduate from Information Technology Academy

On Saturday, June 2, 14 area high school students will receive Certificates of Graduation for completing an intensive information technology training program through the University of Wisconsin-Madison called the Information Technology Academy (ITA).
ITA is a four-year precollege program that provides hands-on training and access to technology for talented students of color and economically disadvantaged students attending Madison public schools. During their four-year ITA experience, the students meet biweekly during the academic year to learn Web design, animation, graphic design and other technology skills. They also participate in two-week technology training camps in the summer, hone their technical skills in short-term internships and strengthen their leadership skills through community service projects. Their learning and development is further enhanced through matches with mentors, who help guide and support students during their involvement with the program.

Continue reading Local high school students graduate from Information Technology Academy

What was the MMSD Budget in 2004/05?

Help! I’m getting a major headache. I’ve been trying to track some changes in the MMSD budget over the last 5-10 years, and I have noticed that the numbers aren’t always the same in the different places that I have been looking. At first, I figured it just me and that definitions for budget categories change from year to year. However, I decided to look at something simple and straightforward: What was the total MMSD budget for 2004/2005? I have included the sources of this information for anyone who wants to check my work, but I tell you it’s driving me nuts.

  • $370,226,157 – This number comes from an April 2006 Executive Summary
  • $363,366,630 – This is from a 10/24/05 Budget Amendments and Tax Levy document and this budget number includes interfund transfers.
  • $320,039,617 – If we remove interfund transfers from the budget, the above document lists this number as our total budget.
  • $316,822,781 – I found this budget amount listed twice: in a five year budget forecast from 2/14/05 and a preliminary budget forecast dated 3/7/05
  • $317,695,011 – On 5/3/05, the 2005-06 Budget and Financial Summaries document listed this amount for the 2004/05 budget.
  • $317,163,034 – this amount is similar but not identical; it comes from page 233 of the 2005-06 Budget Book released on 5/17/05
  • $318,789,509 – this is the MMSD 2004/05 budget according to DPI’s website
  • $334,626,013.5 – this is a final guess at a budget number and it comes from the Five Year Financial Forecast document that the District had prepared by PMA Financial Network. This number is based on FY2004 and FY2005 data for Fund 10 ($265,678,423; $272,015,465) and Fund 27 ($66,148,621; $65,409,518). I just added the amounts for each fund for each FY (2004: $331827044; 2005: $337424983) and then averaged them as I wasn’t sure what the relation was of a FY (fiscal year) to a school budget year. I should also state the obvious that I know the MMSD budget includes expenses beyond these two funds, but that was all that was in the document.

I realize that some variability can be the result of numbers computed before the end of the school year, but shouldn’t all of the numbers computed after the end of the 2004/05 school year be the same? I have to be honest, this doesn’t make me feel very confident about the District’s money management abilities.

Music Lessons Affect Brain Development

As the district considers the total elimination of strings education in our elementary schools, a recently published study provides yet more evidence of the benefits of musical training.
Music Training ‘Tunes’ Human Auditory System
Science Daily — A newly published study by Northwestern University researchers suggests that Mom was right when she insisted that you continue music lessons — even after it was clear that a professional music career was not in your future.
The study, which will appear in the April issue of Nature Neuroscience, is the first to provide concrete evidence that playing a musical instrument significantly enhances the brainstem’s sensitivity to speech sounds. This finding has broad implications because it applies to sound encoding skills involved not only in music but also in language.
The findings indicate that experience with music at a young age in effect can “fine-tune” the brain’s auditory system. “Increasing music experience appears to benefit all children — whether musically exceptional or not — in a wide range of learning activities,” says Nina Kraus, director of Northwestern’s Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory and senior author of the study.
“Our findings underscore the pervasive impact of musical training on neurological development. Yet music classes are often among the first to be cut when school budgets get tight. That’s a mistake,” says Kraus, Hugh Knowles Professor of Neurobiology and Physiology and professor of communication sciences and disorders.
For further information about how music instruction impacts intellectual development, readers are encouraged to explore the work of psychologist Glenn Schellenberg:
Schellenberg, E.G. (2005). Music and cognitive ability, Current Directions in Psychological Science, 14, 322-325.
Schellenberg, E.G. (2004). Music lessons enhance IQ. Psychological Science, 15, 511-514.

Science, math deficit holds back state

Shirley Dang
Amid the whir of an overhead projector, Concord High School biology teacher Ellen Fasman sketched out the long, chubby legs of an X-shaped chromosome with her erasable marker.
“What do you remember from seventh grade about mitosis?” she asked the class.
Her question on cell division met with blank stares. From underneath his baseball cap in the back of the room, sophomore Vincent Thomas muttered in confusion.
“Wait, I don’t get this,” Thomas said. “We learned this in seventh grade?”
Even in her college prep biology class, students come less and less prepared each year, Fasman said.
“They’re every bit as bright as they’ve ever been,” said Fasman, who has taught for 16 years. However, they increasingly come hampered by smaller vocabularies, lacking knowledge of basic cell biology and unable to deal with fractions, she said.
“Their math skills are rather poor,” Fasman said. “When we do the metric system at the beginning of the year, it’s a killer for them. When we get into genetics, sometimes it’s hard for them, understanding ratios.”
American students — particularly those in California — come up short in math and science.

Superintendent’s March Message

Smart and successful
March, 2007
By Superintendent Art Rainwater
For children growing up today, becoming a successful adult requires much more than mastering reading, writing and arithmetic. The requirements for success are very different in an era when work on a single project may involve several countries, languages and cultures. Success requires much more than “book learning.” Success means having the “basic skills” to interact productively and have positive relationships with people who come from many different backgrounds.
The ability of today’s students to play a vital role in this changing world requires us to think differently about what constitutes a “basic” education. For many years we lived by the credo that students must primarily have the basic skills of reading, writing and arithmetic. No one disputes the essential nature of these skills. There are people who still believe that these are the only essential skills needed for success. In a world that brings together a truly diverse group of people every day in the workplace and society, being successful means much more than the advanced application of reading, writing and arithmetic.

Continue reading Superintendent’s March Message

‘Virtual’ courses rile teachers union

Non-union teachers could be used online
By Susan Troller
The prospect of a virtual school program in Madison is causing a confrontation in the real world between the Madison school district and John Matthews, executive director of Madison Teachers Inc., the teachers’ union.
At issue is whether the Madison district will be violating its collective bargaining contract with local teachers if it develops a virtual school learning program that includes courses taught online by instructors who are not members of MTI.
A virtual learning proposal, under development by the district for over a year, will be presented to the school board for consideration within the next month or so.
“Our position is that only MTI teachers can instruct kids,” Matthews said in an interview. “If someone providing the online instruction is not a licensed teacher in our district, I can’t tell you what the quality of the education will be.”
Matthews wrote a letter this week chastising Board President Johnny Winston Jr. for his advocacy of the online school proposal.

Continue reading ‘Virtual’ courses rile teachers union

Talented Students On Hold

Kristen Stephens and Jan Riggsbee
DURHAM – In his State of the Union address last week, President Bush called on Congress to reauthorize the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), saying “We must increase funds for students who struggle…and make sure these children get the special help they need.” But NCLB, as it is currently implemented, largely ignores another important group that is struggling — gifted and talented students.
Our society typically views struggling students as those who are disadvantaged by ability or demonstrated achievement level — those students not meeting proficiency levels for their respective grade.
However, gifted and talented students struggle because they sit in our classrooms and wait. They wait for rigorous curriculum. They wait for opportunities to be challenged. They wait for engaging, relevant instruction that nurtures their potential.
And, as they wait, these students lose interest in their passions, become frustrated and unmotivated from the lack of challenge their schools’ curricula provide them. As a result, they become our lost talent.

Creating a positive place for students

By Superintendent Art Rainwater
The three tragic school shootings that occurred this fall made us aware of the unique place that school occupies in our minds. Each of us felt the trauma that accompanied the violation of that place that we hold special.
School is the one common experience we all have. School is a place for friendships to grow and to learn the skills needed for adulthood. It is a place where we should feel safe, both physically and emotionally.
As tragic and traumatic as school shootings are, they are rare. It is important that we prepare to prevent violence in any form, and react immediately and strongly when it does occur. However, the real safety issue in schools is much more common and insidious. The often unspoken and hidden safety issue that must be addressed is emotional safety.
Children are much more likely to be emotionally damaged than they are to be physically harmed. Bullying and harassment in all of its forms carry lasting affects.
It is easy to reminisce about the good old days and say “there has always been a bully on the playground”. Because there has always been harassment doesn’t make it right, then or now. We know more today about children and the effects that everyday interactions with peers and adults have on their adult persona, both positive and negative.
It is clear that we need to teach students how to respect differences and accept people for the value that each of them contributes. It is less obvious, but more important, that schools ensure that our adult interactions and institutional systems promote these same ideals.
Historically, school has been a place where rules and punishments were the norm for dealing with misbehavior. Most of us hold that as the expectation and the standard. It shouldn’t be. We have an obligation to our future adults to assure that we teach, using every skill that we have, what good behavior looks and feels like. Instruction in behavior should be an on-going part of our educational mission.
The one thing that is a given is that most children will test the limits of the boundaries we set. That is a necessary part of growing up. The key to creating a positive place for students to learn is how we react to those tests.
Rather than a punitive response only, we must help the student accomplish three things:

  • Gain an understanding of what he/she did and who was affected and how he/she might have handled the situation differently,
  • Provide restitution to those harmed by his/her actions,
  • Return to good standing in his/her community with a new set of behavior skills.

If we, along with children’s families, can accomplish these three things, students will grow into adulthood
with the interpersonal and social skills to function effectively as productive and contributing citizens.
After all, that is one of the most important goals of public education, and where we fail in that mission we fail not just the student but all of us.