All posts by Jim Zellmer

Our Education System isn’t Ready for a World of Competition

Norman R. Augustine:

But the U.S. educational system is failing in precisely those areas that underpin our competitiveness: science, engineering and mathematics. In a recent international test involving mathematical understanding, U.S. students finished 27th among the participating nations. In China and Japan, 59 percent and 66 percent, respectively, of undergraduates receive their degrees in science and engineering, compared with 32 percent in the United States.
I’ve recently had an opportunity to review these trends as chairman of a 20-member committee created by the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering and the Institute of Medicine. Congress asked the committee to examine the threats to America’s future prosperity. The panel was a diverse group that included university presidents, Nobel laureates, heads of companies and former government officials. We agreed unanimously that the United States faces a serious and intensifying economic challenge from abroad — and that we appear to be on a losing path.

FINDINGS CHALLENGE CONVENTIONAL WISDOM ABOUT U.S. MATH SUCCESS IN EARLY GRADES

American Institutes for Research:

U.S. students consistently performed below average, ranking 8th or 9th out of twelve at all three grade levels. These findings suggest that U.S. reform proposals to strengthen mathematics instruction in the upper grades should be expanded to include improving U.S. mathematics instruction beginning in the primary grades.
“The conventional wisdom is that U.S. students perform above average in grades 4 and 8, and then decline sharply in high school,” says Steven Leinwand, principal research analyst at AIR and one of the report’s authors. “But this study proves the conventional wisdom is dead wrong.”
Previous studies compared U.S. performance with substantially more countries, whose characteristics vary widely. A total of 24 countries participated in TIMSS-grade 4, 45 countries in TIMSS-grade 8, and 40 countries in PISA.

Education for ALL Children

Art Rainwater:

The Madison Metropolitan School District has been a leader in creating inclusive educational opportunities for children. Since the District’s closing of Badger School in 1977, there has been steady progress toward fully including our children with disabilities in the general educational experience in our schools. Most children with disabilities now attend their neighborhood school where special education and classroom teachers work collaboratively to ensure that the learning experience is appropriate for every child in the classroom.
The sense of community and relationships between students with and without disabilities that develop in the school setting set the stage for many of our disabled citizens to join a pluralistic society as adults. Our community at large is enriched by providing valuable opportunities for children with disabilities to move into the world of work and be productive citizens.

Steve Rosenblum on West’s Planned English 10: Same Curriculum for All

Steve Rosenblum, writing to Carol Carstensen:

Date: Fri, 2 Dec 2005 15:07:45 -0600
To: Carol Carstensen ,”Laurie A. Frost” From: Steven Rosenblum Subject: Re: West English
Cc: raihala@charter.net, jedwards2@wisc.edu, bier@engr.wisc.edu, jlopez@madison.k12.wi.us, wkeys@madison.k12.wi.us, svang7@madison.k12.wi.us, rrobarts@madison.k12.wi.us, jwinstonjr@madison.k12.wi.us, lkobza@madison.k12.wi.us
Carol,
Thank you for the response. I am somewhat confused however regarding your statement concerning the Board’s role. Maybe you could define what is included under ‘set policy’ and what is excluded. I am aware of the situations you reference regarding the BOE and what some may consider poor decisions on subject matter and censorship. I also believe the public was able to vote boards out when the decisions made do not reflect community opinion. I thought our BOE was responsible to control the Administration’s decisions regarding just these type of issues.
With a child entering West next year, I am personally very concerned with what I perceive is a reduction in education quality at West. We see this in English, in the elimination of Advanced Placement Courses, through the homogenization of class make-up which ignores student achievement and motivation. In addition, I really do not feel we can allow much time to resolve these issues, especially when decisions can be made in closed door sessions and without supporting data.

Continue reading Steve Rosenblum on West’s Planned English 10: Same Curriculum for All

Monday Morning Links

The Community Speaks:
West Side Task Force Meetings: Hamilton and Cherokee

11.30.2005 Hamilton Questions [Video] 11.30.2005 Hamilton Statements [Video] 12.1.2005 Cherokee Statements [Video]

Fascinating. Statements and questions from parents, including those who send their children to private schools. Well worth watching. Cherokee questions pending. Thanks to MMSD-TV for recording and broadcasting the Hamilton event.

Letters to the Editor: The Prodigy Puzzle

Letters to the NY Times Magazine regarding “The Prodigy Puzzle“:

It is easier to be a genius when you don’t have to pay the rent. We live in a world that values dependability over brilliance and where jobs that reward curiosity may not support a family. The time to explore and take bold risks is a luxury few of us, genius or not, can afford once we leave school. Measuring programs for gifted children by the success of their adult graduates overlooks the significant hurdles that lie just after graduation.
Kate Wing
San Francisco
I have found that there is often an inverse relationship between what I perceive to be a genuinely innovative thinker in my third-grade classroom and the attitude of the parents. The most intellectually curious and imaginative problem solvers have parents who are supportive of rather than ambitious for their child. And each year I am struck by how some of the most perceptive children come from families whose parents have no time to advocate for them and no “gifted” agenda to pursue.
Barbara Yost Williams
Madison, Wis.

Much more.

06 – 07 Budget Positioning: HR and Business Services Presentation to the Madison School Board

The Madison School Board heard presentations this past Monday from The District’s HR Director, Bob Nadler and Assistant Superintendent for Business Services Roger Price. Both described the functions that their organizations provide to the District.

Bob Nadler’s Presentation: Video
Roger Price’s Presentation: Video

The District’s Budget increases annually ($329M this year for 24,490 students). The arguments begin over how that increase is spent. Ideally, the District’s curriculum strategy should drive the budget. Second, perhaps it would be useful to apply the same % increase to all budgets, leading to a balanced budget, within the revenue caps. Savings can be directed so that the Board can apply their strategy to the budget by elminating, reducing or growing programs. In all cases, the children should come first. It is possible to operate this way, as Loehrke notes below.
Learn more about the budget, including extensive historical data.
Steve Loehrke, President of the Weywauga-Fremont School District speaks to budget, governance and leadership issues in these two articles:

The New White Flight?

Lita Johnson quotes Leonard Pitts:

Consider the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a federal study released last month. It found that, despite some improvement, American kids remain academically underwhelming. Only 31 percent of fourth-graders, for instance, were rated ”proficient” or better in reading. Just 30 percent of eighth-graders managed to hit that mark in math.
In recent years, I’ve taught writing at an elite public high school and three universities. I’ve been appalled at how often I’ve encountered students who could not put a sentence together and had no conception of grammar and punctuation. They tell me I’m a tough grader, and the funny thing is, I think of myself as a soft touch. ”I’ve always gotten A’s before,” sniffed one girl to whom I thought I was being generous in awarding a C-plus.
It occurs to me that this is the fruit of our dumbing down education in the name of ”self-esteem.” This is what we get for making the work easier instead of demanding the students work harder — and the parents be more involved.
So this new white flight is less a surprise than a fresh disappointment. And I’ve got news for those white parents:
They should be running in the opposite direction.

Charlotte’s Top’s NAEP Urban School Tests

Robert Tomsho:

A reform effort launched by Charlotte-Mecklenburg in the late 1990s focused on shifting more district funds to low-performing schools from schools that were doing better — a move that has lately created some backlash. The district also reduced class sizes in those schools and offered to pay graduate-school tuition for teachers who agreed to work in those schools for at least two years. The district also required all of its elementary schools to adhere to a strict, phonics-based reading program.
And it brought more learning-disabled students back into mainstream classrooms and paired up teachers who had been teaching them separately. Now, “you have a great combination of teachers who are very, very versed in reading and teachers who are very, very versed in additional learning strategies,” says Frances Haithcock, the district’s interim superintendent.

Debating the Future of Education Reform

Reason Magazine:

Fifty years after Milton Friedman first proposed the idea of education vouchers, school choice proposals come in all shapes and sizes. We asked a dozen experts what reforms they think are most necessary and promising to improve American education. We also asked them to identify the biggest obstacles to positive change. Here are their answers. Comments should be sent to letters@reason.com.

Via Joanne Jacobs who has more on Math Curriculum in China.

Wright Middle School Charter Renewal – Leopold?

I’ve attended a couple of the East / West Task Force Meetings (props to the many volunteers, administrators and board members who’ve spent countless hours on this) and believe that Wright Middle School’s facilities should be part of the discussion, given its proximity to Leopold Elementary (2.2 miles [map], while Thoreau is 2.8 miles away [map])
Carol Carstensen’s weekly message (posted below) mentions that Wright’s Charter is on the Board’s Agenda Monday Night. Perhaps this might be a useful time to consider this question? Carol’s message appears below:

Continue reading Wright Middle School Charter Renewal – Leopold?

From Private School to a Differentiated Public School

Reader Helen Hartman emailed this article: Michael Winerip:

SARAH JACOBS’ son Jed, 9, has a learning disability. He’s easily distracted and, if asked to do too many things at once, panics. At his former school, a private academy that cost $20,000 a year, his mother says Jed got into trouble daily (“kicking and even some biting”) and stopped learning. “He was reading ‘Captain Underpants’ in kindergarten and he was in third grade and still reading ‘Captain Underpants,'” she says.
So in September she switched him to a nearby public school, P.S. 75 on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Jed was a new boy. His fourth grade had two full-time teachers and the class was so well-organized, Jed moved smoothly from one task to the next. When Ms. Jacobs asked how he liked it, Jed said he thought his teachers must have a disability too, because they made it so easy to understand the work.

Primary Reading Set for Overhaul

BBC:

The government has accepted a review which backs the greater use of a method called synthetic phonics.
Children are taught the sounds of letters and combinations of letters before they move onto books rather than reading simple books from the start.
Critics say the approach could stop pupils from getting a love of reading.
The review was carried out by Jim Rose, a former director of inspections at England’s schools’ inspectorate, Ofsted.

Parents Get a Bigger Say in Education – Maryland

Nick Anderson:

“The time is ripe in Maryland, and nationally, for parent involvement to be seen as the critical element that it is, not as an add-on,” Grasmick said in a recent letter to education reporters.
Grasmick said the state also would begin to consider family involvement when it gives awards to principals, teachers and schools. And she said the department would redesign its Web site, http://www.marylandpublicschools.org , to make it more friendly to parents.
How parents affect the educational equation is a subject of debate. Some experts say rigorous academic programs and a quality teaching force are more important.

Soft Drink Sales Down in US Schools?

AP:

the American Beverage Association sounds almost proud when it declares in a report being released Thursday that the amount of non-diet soft drinks sold in the nation’s schools dropped more than 24 percent between 2002 and 2004.
The trade group’s report is an effort to deflate threats of a lawsuit against soft drink companies, which face mounting pressure as childhood obesity concerns have led schools to remove sodas.
During the same two-year period, the amount of sports drinks sold grew nearly 70 percent, bottled water 23 percent, diet soda 22 percent and fruit juice 15 percent, according to the report, which is based on data from beverage bottling companies.
Regular soda is still the leader within schools, accounting for 45 percent of beverages sold there this year. But that’s down from 57 percent three years earlier, the industry said, citing additional numbers based on 2002-2005 data.

Paying Children for Performance

NY Post:

Under the pilot, a national testing firm will devise a series of reading and math exams to be given to students at intervals throughout the school year.
Students will earn the cash equivalent to a quarter of their total score — $20 for scoring 80 percent, for instance — and an additional monetary reward for improving their grades on subsequent tests….
Levin said details about the number of exams, what grades would be tested, funding for the initiative — which would be paid for with private donations — and how the cash will be distributed are still being hammered out….
“There are people who are worried about giving kids extra incentives for something that they should intrinsically be able to do,” Fryer said. “I understand that, but there is a huge achievement gap in this country, and we have to be proactive.”

Joy Cardin and Marcy Braun: Nutrition and Schools

Wisconsin Public Radio:

Wednesday, November 30, 2005 at 6:00 AM
What our kids are eat at school can send the wrong message about health and nutrition. So says Joy Cardin’s guest, today after six. Guest: Marcy Braun (“brown”), nutritionist with the UW Health – Pediatric Fitness Clinic. She is a panelist at tonight’s Nutrition and Schools Forum in Madison. www.schoolinfosystem.org/archives/2005/11/11302005_nutrit.php

UPDATE: MP3 Audio of this broadcast

WSJ: Texas School Finance Lesson

Wall Street Journal Review and Outlook:

The Texas Supreme Court did the expected last week and struck down the statewide property tax for funding public schools. But what was surprising and welcome was the Court’s unanimous ruling that the Texas school system, which spends nearly $10,000 per student, satisfies the funding “adequacy” requirements of the state constitution. Most remarkable of all was the court’s declaration that “more money does not guarantee better schools or more educated students.”
In one of the most notorious cases, in Kansas City, Missouri in the 1980s, a judge issued an edict requiring a $1 billion tax hike to help the failing inner-city schools. This raised expenditures to about $14,000 per student, or double the national average, but test scores continued to decline. Even the judge later admitted that he had blundered.

LA education writer Paul Ciotti wrote in 1998 about the Kansas City Experiment:

In fact, the supposedly straightforward correspondence between student achievement and money spent, which educators had been insisting on for decades, didn’t seem to exist in the KCMSD. At the peak of spending in 1991-92, Kansas City was shelling out over $11,700 per student per year.(123) For the 1996-97 school year, the district’s cost per student was $9,407, an amount larger, on a cost-of-living-adjusted basis, than any of the country’s 280 largest school districts spent.(124) Missouri’s average cost per pupil, in contrast, was about $5,132 (excluding transportation and construction), and the per pupil cost in the Kansas City parochial system was a mere $2,884.(125)
The lack of correspondence between achievement and money was hardly unique to Kansas City. Eric Hanushek, a University of Rochester economist who testified as a witness regarding the relationship between funding and achievement before Judge Clark in January 1997, looked at 400 separate studies of the effects of resources on student achievement. What he found was that a few studies showed that increased spending helped achievement; a few studies showed that increased spending hurt achievement; but most showed that funding increases had no effect one way or the other.(126)
Between 1965 and 1990, said Hanushek, real spending in this country per student in grades K-12 more than doubled (from $2,402 to $5,582 in 1992 dollars), but student achievement either didn’t change or actually fell. And that was true, Hanushek found, in spite of the fact that during the same period class size dropped from 24.1 students per teacher to 17.3, the number of teachers with master’s degrees doubled, and so did the average teacher’s number of years of experience.(127)

More on Ciotti
Madison Schools Superintendent Art Rainwater “implemented the largest court-ordered desegregation settlement in the nation’s history in Kansas City, MoGoogle search | Clusty Search

The Colossal Campus Challenge

Jay Matthews:

As states, school systems and private groups, backed by donations from software magnate Bill Gates, put new emphasis on making high schools smaller, monster campuses such as Robinson increasingly look out of place. Yet many of the educators who run them say big is not always bad and point to an array of unusual opportunities that large schools provide students.
“The fact that our school is so large allows us to offer a wide variety of electives that we may not be able to offer otherwise,” said Shawn Ashley, principal of Long Beach Polytechnic High School in California, which has 4,779 students in ninth through 12th grades. Long Beach Poly’s electives include print shop, auto shop, drafting, electronics, six kinds of art, nine science courses and many music choices.

NYT Editorial: A Victory For Education

New York Times Editorial:

A federal judge in Michigan took exactly the right action last week when he dismissed a transparent attempt by the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers’ union, to sabotage the No Child Left Behind education act. The ruling validates Congress’s right to require the states to administer tests and improve students’ performance in exchange for federal education aid. Unfortunately, it will not put an end to the ongoing campaign to undermine the law, which seeks to hold teachers and administrators more closely accountable for how their schools perform.

Thoreau Boundary Change Grassroots Work

Erin Weiss and Gina Hodgson (Thoreau PTO) engage in some impressive grassroots work:

November 28, 2005
Dear Thoreau Families, Staff, Teachers and Friends,
Now is the time for you to get involved in the MMSD redistricting process! This Thursday, December 1 at 6:30pm, a Public Forum will be held at Cherokee Middle School. This forum is being sponsored by the Board of Education in conjunction with the District’s Long Range Planning Committee and Redistricting Task Force. Please come to this forum to hear about the progress of the Redistricting Task Force, but more importantly, to share your opinions and ideas.
On the following pages is a brief description of the current Task Force ideas (as of November 28). Please bear with us if all the information presented below is not completely accurate. These ideas are changing rapidly and we are doing our best to summarize them for you with the information that is currently available. Please know that Al Parker, our Thoreau Task Force Representative, has been working hard for Thoreau school at Task Force meetings. He is a strong supporter of our school as it exists today.

Continue reading Thoreau Boundary Change Grassroots Work

Milwaukee Schools Superintendent Review

http://www.jsonline.com/news/metro/nov05/373715.aspAlan Borsuk:

But issues facing MPS, including budget constraints, school closings and a recent decision by an arbitrator on a teacher contract that was widely unpopular among teachers, have subjected Andrekopoulos to increased heat.
The issues have underscored the way the board is frequently divided into two factions, with five members consistently supporting Andrekopoulos and the other four ranging from mild support to general opposition.
On the recent high-profile votes to close Juneau High School, the board repeatedly split 5-4, including six votes of 5-4 in one meeting.

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel argues that Andrekopoul should have more time:

The reasons for supporting Andrekopoulos are as clear now as they were in 2004. The superintendent may have the toughest job in Milwaukee. No one in the country, as far as we know, has been completely successful at turning around a big-city school district. But Andrekopoulos has a vision for reform and a plan to make that vision a reality. He was hired to carry out that vision – which includes a move toward smaller high schools and cutting the district’s central bureaucracy – and has had some success in moving it forward. But much more needs to be done.

School Programs Promote Wellness for Life

Karen Matthews:

In a mirror-lined dance studio, teenagers sashay through a number from the musical “Hairspray.” Next door in the weight room, teacher Shawn Scattergood demonstrates proper form on the leg press. At Northport High School on Long Island, physical education also includes yoga, step aerobics and fitness walking, as well as team sports like volleyball and basketball. There are archery targets, soccer fields and a rock-climbing wall where students inscribe their names to show how high they get.
For anyone who grew up when P.E. meant being picked last for softball, it’s a dizzying array of choices.
“What we try and do is give them a real broad offering so that they can choose things they want to do,” said Robert Christenson, the director of physical education. He said the current curriculum has been developed over the last five years.

The Golden Carrot

CBS News:

At Seven Hills Elementary School in Cincinnati, Ohio, Hartman finds a cafeteria renowned for its great-tasting, healthy school lunches.
The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine awarded the cafeteria for overhauling the way they prepare food. Translation: they tossed out the deep fryer.
One worker was asked how the foods are fried and replied, “We don’t fry. We bake.”
And you know what that means: the food has less fat, of course, and there’s less salt and sugar, and everything’s cooked from scratch using organic meats, vegetables and whole grains.
“Some of the things we have here, I can’t even pronounce,” says one kitchen worker.

Rafael Gomez and volunteers from www.schoolinfosystem.org are hosting a Nutrition and Schools Forum Wednesday night, from 7 to 8 in the McDaniels Auditorium. Participants, topics and directions are available here.

Cars for Coursework

Toni Randolph:

Newgate is a nonprofit organization that is completely self-supporting. It costs about $900,000 a year to run the program. Newgate gets all of its revenue from the sale of cars on which the students train. They buy some of the vehicles, and the rest are donated.
Instead of a traditional classroom, the students learn in the shop doing actual repair work. The students here don’t take English and math classes, but they start with the basics of engine repair, then cleaning a car. Eventually, they start knocking out dents and dings, working their way up to more complex auto body work.
Newgate’s been around for more than 25 years. More than 400 students have been through the 15-month program. About 20 students are enrolled at any given time.

Educators, Students, Parents and Blogs

Vauhini Vara:

As parents wring their hands about Internet predators, many teens are worried about a different kind of online intruder: the school principal.
Students are blogging about schoolyard crushes and feuds, posting gossip about classmates on social-networking sites like MySpace.com and Facebook.com, and sharing their party snapshots on public Web pages. Increasingly, their readers include school administrators, who are doling out punishments for online writings that they say cross the line.

Kevin Delaney finds that parents are also watching what their children write online:

The spying started two years ago. Karen Lippe’s daughter told her she was going to a school football game with friends. The next day, Ms. Lippe found out the truth: Her daughter, then 14 years old, had skipped out on the game with a friend, got in the car of a boy Ms. Lippe didn’t know and headed to an ice-cream shop without permission. Ms. Lippe sat her daughter down after dinner to warn her not to let it happen again.
Ms. Lippe, a marketing consultant in Irvine, Calif., didn’t divulge how she had found out. But her daughter figured it out anyway. The daughter’s friend had recounted the transgression on her Web log, or blog, which Ms. Lippe had read online.

Jay Matthews on AP Classes

Jay Matthews:

So after more than two decades of underwhelming scholarly interest in this topic, I am delighted to report a surge of serious AP research, with four new studies in the past year and a fine piece by Andrew Mollison in the latest issue of the quarterly Education Next summing them up [see http://www.educationnext.org ]. One study in particular merits attention: “The Relationship Between Advanced Placement and College Graduation,” by Chrys Dougherty, Lynn Mellor and Shuling Jian of the National Center for Educational Accountability.
Almost all the new studies show that students who get a good score on an AP test in high school do better in college than those who get a bad score or don’t take AP. But I am also interested in how those students with bad scores did in college compared with students who did not take AP. Many AP teachers have shown me examples of students who did poorly on the exam but did well in college — in part, they think, because struggling with AP gave them a useful dose of thick-reading-list-and-long-final-exam trauma.

Studying the Achievement Gap: Voices from the Classroom

Audie Cornish:

From the MCAS test to the SAT, test scores have become the de-facto definition for achievement. There is evidence of girls scoring better than boys, or vice versa, or richer students outscoring poorer ones.
One longtime puzzle of the so-called achievement gap has taken center stage — that gap between different races of students. In the past, the issue has rested in the laps of parents, but recent education reforms have pushed it firmly into the arms of teachers.
In the first of a WBUR four-part series examining the achievement gap, Audie Cornish visits one school that is trying to understand the problem and make changes.

audio

Anti-NCLB Lawsuit Fails

Joanne Jacobs:

A judge has thrown out a lawsuit seeking to block No Child Left Behind.

The NEA and school districts in three states had argued that schools should not have to comply with requirements that were not paid for by the federal government.

Chief U.S. District Judge Bernard A. Friedman, based in eastern Michigan, said, “Congress has appropriated significant funding” and has the power to require states to set educational standards in exchange for federal money.

The ruling came as no surprise. However, the teachers’ union says it plans to appeal.

The union got a lot of publicity for the lawsuit, Eduwonk notes. The dismissal won’t get as much ink.

Carol Carstensen’s Message to PTO Presidents

Madison Board of Education President Carol Carstensen:

Subject: Nov. 21 Update
Parent Group Presidents:
BUDGET FACTOID:
The school district has been under revenue caps since 1993 when all school district budgets were frozen and then permitted to increase only by an amount per pupil each year (this year it is $250). That amount approximates a budget increase of 2.5% (the city and county are both struggling with cuts to keep their budgets close to a 4% increase).
Board meetings on Monday, November 21:
The Board looked at a comparison of the school district policy on arresting a child at school and the Police Department’s guidelines there are some significant differences, mostly in the area of informing the parent/guardian before the child is questioned and in making sure the child fully understands his/her rights at the time of questioning. The Board took no action but did ask the administration to continue working with the Police Department to try to bring their procedures more in line with school district policy.

Continue reading Carol Carstensen’s Message to PTO Presidents

Cullen: East / West Taskforce Summary

Sandy Cullen:

task force representing schools on Madison’s East Side has voted not to recommend closing any schools as a means of addressing declining enrollments in some elementary schools.
Instead, task force members are considering several possible recommendations for using available space in underenrolled schools, including moving Madison School & Community Recreation offices and programs from the Hoyt Building at 3802 Regent St., which the district could then sell. Other options include relocating the district’s alternative programs from rented facilities on Brearly Street and reassigning some students from the West or La Follette attendance areas to the East attendance area.
Task force member David Wallner said savings of $300,000 to $500,000 gained by closing a school would be offset by costs to bus students who now walk to school and by the negative impact closings would have on students, families and neighborhoods.
A similar task force addressing crowding in elementary schools in the West and Memorial attendance area has taken building a second school at Leopold Elementary off the table in favor of considering a new school on the far West Side, where large growth from new housing developments is anticipated.

Parents Effect on Achievement

Jay Matthews:

The group surveyed 5,500 teachers and 257 principals at California public elementary schools with large numbers of low-income students. They compared the methods used at each school with the average score on the 200-to-1,000-point API scale, which is based on state test results. The four practices most closely associated with high student performance were putting greater emphasis on student achievement, tightening the curriculum to fit the state academic standards, using student assessments to identify and remove weaknesses in instruction, and assembling certified and experienced teachers and principals with the best educational equipment.
Like the California study’s authors, researchers say that regular parental contact correlates with achievement, even if it is unclear how much. “I’ve published four research reviews on this topic since 1981 . . . and I’m convinced that parent involvement is a key factor in the achievement gap and in improving low achievement,” said Anne T. Henderson, a senior consultant with the Institute for Education and Social Policy at New York University.

School Nixes Fundraisers and Raises More

Channel3000:

Instead of asking students and parents at Middleton’s Sunset Ridge school to sell candy, magazines or wrapping paper, the school simply asked for a check.
To their surprise, they raised twice as much.
Sunset Ridge 4th graders headed to the capitol Tuesday morning for a tour then it was on to Overture Center for a symphony concert.
The PTA paid for the field trip.
But this year, instead of another product to sell, the PTA simply asked for a donation.
“A lot of time families are consumed with three or four fundraisers per year,” said PTA president Donna Brambough. “A lot of times you’re calling the same people over and over again.”
The donations worked.

11/30/2005 Nutrition and Schools Forum

Rafael Gomez and volunteers from this site are hosting a Forum on Nutrition Wednesday evening, November 30, 2005 from 7 to 8p.m. at the McDaniels Auditorium [Map]. The event will discuss the following questions:

  1. Should schools serve lunch?
  2. What kind of food would be best to serve?
  3. How do students feel about their lunch at school?
  4. If the public feels strongly about improving what is being served in their school, how could they raise the profile of this issue?

Participants include:

Local Gang Prevention Task Force

Bill Novak:

“Larger numbers of young people are joining gangs, including more girls,” Falk said, highlighting information in a new report by the Dane County Youth Prevention Task Force. “We are renewing our efforts to help keep young people from joining gangs.”
Stephen Blue, delinquency services manager and co-chair of the task force, said about 4 percent of the area’s young people, or about 1,400 kids in all, identify themselves as being members of gangs.
“The kids are disenfranchised, not getting support,” Blue said.

Rafael Gomez and volunteers from this site hosted a Gangs and School Violence Forum on September 23, 2005. Audio and Video archives are online here, along with notes from that event.

Bay View High School Leaders Take to the Streets to Stop Students Playing Hooky

Vikki Ortiz:

A few steps down the sidewalk, the students meet the gaze of assistant principal Jerome Hardt, who looms at the corner with a school security guard. Using sweeping arm motions, Hardt points the teens toward the high school building, ignoring the ones who roll their eyes.

Hardt is there to send students a stern message: Don’t even think about heading into McDonald’s or convenience stores instead of school.

Johnny Winston, Jr. Isthmus Profile

Madison School Board Vice President Johnny Winston, Jr. is profiled in the current Isthmus. I’ll link to the article if and when it is available online.

It might be useful to visit my April, 2004 elections page to take a look at a pre-election video interview with Johnny. Our public schools have no shortage of challenges. I hope that Johnny plays a major role in these transformations.
Article scans: Cover | Page 1 | Page 2 | Page 3

Look to Japan for Better Schools?

Brent Staples:

The United States will become a second-rate economic power unless it can match the educational performance of its rivals abroad and get more of its students to achieve at the highest levels in math, science and literacy. Virtually every politician, business leader and educator understands this, yet the country has no national plan for reaching the goal. To make matters worse, Americans have remained openly hostile to the idea of importing strategies from the countries that are beating the pants off us in the educational arena.
The No Child Left Behind Act, passed four years ago, was supposed to put this problem on the national agenda. Instead, the country has gotten bogged down in a squabble about a part of the law that requires annual testing in the early grades to ensure that the states are closing the achievement gap. The testing debate heated up last month when national math and reading scores showed dismal performance across the board.
Lurking behind these test scores, however, are two profoundly important and closely intertwined topics that the United States has yet to even approach: how teachers are trained and how they teach what they teach. These issues get a great deal of attention in high-performing systems abroad – especially in Japan, which stands light years ahead of us in international comparisons.

Continue reading Look to Japan for Better Schools?

The Prodigy Puzzle

Ann Hulbert:

It is the Davidsons’ other, related aim that calls forth a different kind of fervor. Authors (with Laura Vanderkam) of a book called “Genius Denied: How to Stop Wasting Our Brightest Minds” (2004), they are on a mission to remedy what they are convinced is a widespread neglect of exceptionally talented children. That means challenging the American myth that they are weirdos or Wunderkinder best left to their own devices or made to march with the crowd. “By denying our most intelligent students an education appropriate to their abilities,” Jan Davidson warns a nation in the midst of a No Child Left Behind crusade, “we may also be denying civilization a giant leap forward.” Precocious children are not only avid learners eager for more than ordinary schools often provide, the Davidsons emphasize; they are also a precious – and imperiled – resource for the future. The Davidsons, joined by many other advocates of the gifted, maintain that it is these precocious children who, if handled right, will be the creative adults propelling the nation ahead in an ever more competitive world. As things stand, the argument goes, the highly gifted child is an endangered species in need of outspoken champions like the Davidsons, who are role models for the “supportive, advocating parent” they endorse.

Jan Davidson recently visited Madison. View her presentation: How to stop wasting our brightest young minds.

Too Much Rigor? “The New White Flight”

Suein Hwang:

By most measures, Monta Vista High here and Lynbrook High, in nearby San Jose, are among the nation’s top public high schools. Both boast stellar test scores, an array of advanced-placement classes and a track record of sending graduates from the affluent suburbs of Silicon Valley to prestigious colleges.
But locally, they’re also known for something else: white flight. Over the past 10 years, the proportion of white students at Lynbrook has fallen by nearly half, to 25% of the student body. At Monta Vista, white students make up less than one-third of the population, down from 45% — this in a town that’s half white. Some white Cupertino parents are instead sending their children to private schools or moving them to other, whiter public schools. More commonly, young white families in Silicon Valley say they are avoiding Cupertino altogether.
Whites aren’t quitting the schools because the schools are failing academically. Quite the contrary: Many white parents say they’re leaving because the schools are too academically driven and too narrowly invested in subjects such as math and science at the expense of liberal arts and extracurriculars like sports and other personal interests.
The two schools, put another way that parents rarely articulate so bluntly, are too Asian.

Governance in the LA Schools & Seniority

LA Times Editorial:

A RECENT STUDY SHOWS HOW union contracts can hamper school improvement — and provides another compelling reason why having L.A.’s mayor run the schools could help.
The study by the nonprofit New Teacher Project found that teacher contracts place seniority over what’s best for students, especially by favoring longtime teachers for desired teaching slots over newer teachers who might be better for the job. That’s true even if the more senior teacher is needed in another school.

To see The New Teacher Project’s latest report, Unintended Consequences: The Case for Reforming The Staffing Rules in Urban Teachers Union Contracts, click here.

The report shows how contractual staffing rules undermine urban schools and the educational needs of their students. To view the press release, click here.
Leading educators, researchers and policy makers have galvanized around the importance of sharing the report’s data and recommendations. To view their statements of support, click here.

Boosters & The Madison School District Budget

Sandy Cullen:

In the last five years, the La Follette High School Booster Club has paid for everything from bats to books.
They’ve raised more than $260,000 to pick up the tab for balls and jerseys, renovations of weight rooms and training rooms and even taxi fare for students who needed transportation to get eyeglasses, said Deb Slotten, president of the La Follette club.
But Slotten draws the line at paying overtime for a custodian to be at the high school so teams can practice on five days the Madison School District is closed for Thanksgiving and winter break.

And then there are costs the boosters simply don’t want to pay, such as the custodians who, administrators say, are required to be at the schools for practices during holiday breaks for contractual and safety reasons. The district’s contract with AFSCME Local 60 requires custodians – who are paid $16.54 to $25.81 an hour – to be paid double-time in addition to their holiday pay if they have to work on a district holiday, said Human Resources Director Bob Nadler.

District spending goes up annually, while enrollment has remained flat over the years. The debate is largely where the money goes. A great deal of information can be found via these links:

The Teacher in the Grey Flannel Suite

The Economist:

The second argument had to do with the rise of knowledge workers. Mr Drucker argued that the world is moving from an “economy of goods” to an economy of “knowledge”—and from a society dominated by an industrial proletariat to one dominated by brain workers. He insisted that this had profound implications for both managers and politicians. Managers had to stop treating workers like cogs in a huge inhuman machine—the idea at the heart of Frederick Taylor’s stopwatch management—and start treating them as brain workers. In turn, politicians had to realise that knowledge, and hence education, was the single most important resource for any advanced society.
Yet Mr Drucker also thought that this economy had implications for knowledge workers themselves. They had to come to terms with the fact that they were neither “bosses” nor “workers”, but something in between: entrepreneurs who had responsibility for developing their most important resource, brainpower, and who also needed to take more control of their own careers, including their pension plans.

WiFi Ruining College Classes?

Slashdot:

theodp writes “Over at Slate, Avi Zenilman has seen the real classroom of the future firsthand: Students use class time to read the Drudge Report, send e-mail, play Legend of Zelda, or update profiles on Facebook.com. But not to worry – replace laptops with crumpled notes, and the classroom of the future looks a lot like the classroom of the past.” From the article: “… when Cornell University researchers outfitted classrooms with wireless Internet and monitored students’ browsing habits, they concluded, ‘Longer browsing sessions during class tend to lead to lower grades, but there’s a hint that a greater number of browsing sessions during class may actually lead to higher grades.’ It seems a bit of a stretch to impute a causal relationship, but it’s certainly possible that the kind of brain that can handle multiple channels of information is also the kind of brain that earns A’s.”

My Open Records Complaint to DA Brian Blanchard

Following up on my 10/12/2005 Open Records request regarding closed discussions (particularly the terms) of the Madison School District’s purchase of land for a new elementary school on the far west side, I recently filed the following open records complaint with District Attorney Brian Blanchard: Background:

Continue reading My Open Records Complaint to DA Brian Blanchard

Four Milwaukee Schools to Close

Doug Hissom:

The Milwaukee School Board voted to close Frederick Douglass and Philipp elementary schools, Webster Middle School and Juneau High School, with under-enrollment the contributing cause. The vote by the board was split along its usual 5-4 ideological leanings.
Closing Juneau High School raised the most questions, since, according to criteria set out by the MPS administration, it shouldn’t have been closed. Juneau, located at 6415 W. Mount Vernon Ave., was not under its enrollment. In fact, Juneau was over the capacity listed in its charter with MPS. The school is a citywide business school and also specializes in dealing with visually impaired students.

Carol Carstensen’s Email Message to Parent Groups

Carol Carstensen:

Parent Group Presidents:
N.B. The Board’s discussion regarding animals in the classroom has been postponed until January.
BUDGET FACTOID:
Why does the Madison district spend more than the state average per pupil? One part of the answer is that our student enrollment differs significantly from the state average in areas which require more services (and therefore greater costs):

  • Poverty Madison’s rate is 30% greater than the state’s average
  • English Language Learners (ELL): our percentage is more than 300% greater than the state’s
    Special Education the district has a higher percentage (16.8% vs. 12.6%) of students with special education needs – and a significantly higher percentage of high needs students. Of 389 students in the state identified with costs over $30,000 Madison has 109 (nearly 30%).

Continue reading Carol Carstensen’s Email Message to Parent Groups

WKCE Test Problems

Amy Hetzner:

Missing and duplicate pages in test books, answers that were already filled in and other errors with the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examinations have been reported by school districts from Cudahy to Wausau as the state’s testing period nears its end.
In all, 21 school districts have reported errors in 27 tests handed out to students since Oct. 24, the start of Wisconsin’s five-week testing period for every third- through eighth-grader and high school sophomore enrolled in public school.
A spokeswoman for CTB/McGraw-Hill, which was paid $6.6 million in 2004 to oversee Wisconsin’s testing program, blamed “printer-related problems” that affected test books given to a small number of students in fourth, eighth and 10th grades.
“The main thing to know is that the integrity of the student scores will be ensured,” said Kelley Carpenter, director of public relations for CTB/McGraw-Hill.

Romney Calls for More Tech Innovation

Stan Gibson:

Underlining the challenge, Romney said leaders of one technology firm in Massachusetts anticipated that 90 percent of its skilled labor would be in Asia in 10 years. He also pointed to statistics that show the United States graduating only 4,400 mathematics and science PhDs each year compared with 24,900 math and science PhDs for greater Asia.
“China and India have a population a multiple of ours. They have natural resources. There is no reason they can’t emerge as the superpower. The only way we can preserve that role for ourselves is through innovation. It’s erroneous that we do high-level work here and send low-level work abroad. When our market is no longer the largest market in the world, the idea that we’re going to be innovating and they’re going to be copying is erroneous,” Romney said.In response to the looming crisis, Romney pointed to some specific problems and proposed some remedies.
He said we must close the educational achievement gap between racial groups in the United States. “The education gap is the civil rights issue of our age.” He also said all U.S. students must raise their standing compared with students in other industrialized countries. According to one study, U. S. students rank 25th out of 41 industrial nations. “Fewer and fewer are performing at the top level,” he said.
He suggested paying teachers a $5,000 bonus for teaching Advanced Placement courses, as well as giving the top third of teachers a $5,000 bonus. He also suggested a bonus for teachers that teach in troubled school districts. Romney also favored giving secondary school students laptop computers.

Gates Foundation Looks at Results

Joanne Jacobs:

After investing $1 billion in small high schools, the Gates Foundation has learned results are “mixed,” according to a study commissioned by the foundation. The study found progress in reading and language arts, but not in math.

Among the most disheartening findings of that analysis — and one the researchers said also applied to comparison schools in their study that do not receive Gates support — was the lack of rigor in teacher assignments and student work, especially in math.

“[W]e concluded that the quality of student work in all of the schools we studied is alarmingly low,” the evaluation says. “This is not surprising, however, because students cannot demonstrate high-quality work if they have not been given assignments that require deep understanding” and higher-order thinking skills.

Education director Tom Vander Ark said the Gates Foundation already is working on the problems cited in the study, emphasizing “districtwide measures intended to improve the quality of curriculum and instruction, as well as an emphasis on using proven school models.”

New schools had better results than existing schools that had been redesigned.

Bus Battle Brewing at LaFollette

Angela Bettis:

Students and teachers at LaFollette High School are fighting for equal bus service.
They’ll take their argument to the city council Tuesday.
Limited bus service from Lafollette on the east side to students’ homes on the south side of the city is creating problems academically.
Students say they are not able to go to the same after school activities as kids at other schools because of the ongoing transportation problem.
Andres Garcia runs an after school Latino Club, but has been having problems getting students in the door.
“Because of the bus problems, no one was actually able to stay,” he said.
Teachers have said students who need more help learning English are missing out.
“We have academics that meet after school and clubs,” said science teacher Lisa Endicott. “Some of those things we can’t get the kids home for academics is the thing that hurts the most.”

West / Memorial Forum Audio/Video Archive (11/15/2005 @ Leopold)

Watch this event (about 90 minutes) or Listen (mp3 audio)

A public forum was held to update the community on plans to address overcrowding in the West-Memorial attendance area at Leopold Elementary School Tuesday evening. Troy reports 150 people attended (in the comments, take a look at the video clip for details), rather decent, given some other events I’ve participated in – much more than my quick estimate of 40, which was wrong. [Editor: gotta love the quick feedback loop. Anyone else have a count? :)] In any event, substantive questions were discussed and raised.

A number of ideas were shared along with quite a few public comments. I’ve summarized a few below (from my notes) (there were many more – have a look at the video):

  • Why does Van Hise Elementary have such a small low income population relative to other schools?
  • What data supports the creation of “paired schools” from a student achievement perspective?
  • Why are we considering busing children all the way to Marquette / Lapham [map]?
  • (this comment was made after the official event closed) Why won’t the MMSD build a school (farther south) in Fitchburg?
  • I asked: “Why were no scenarios / ideas presented vis a vis the nearby [map] Wright Middle School Facility?”

This 3 page pdf Forum / idea summary was sent to all Thoreau parents Tuesday. UPDATE: Arlene Silveira mentions, via email, that she thought about 120 attended.

Beaverton School Board Rejects Regional Income Tax

OPB News:

A proposed regional tax to fund metro-area schools next year is dead.
The responsible party is the Beaverton school board, whose members voted unanimously last night to reject the plan. Rob Manning reports.
The vote was seven to zero. Eight to zero, if you count retired board member, Mike Leopold.
Mike Leopold: We don’t want to let our local control away, let slip away, by joining with the other school districts to initiate a regional income tax.

Grant to Increase AP Classes

Matt Pommer:

Madison will build on Project Excel, a program started last year to identify promising eighth-graders and provide assistance as they begin their high school years. Assistant Superintendent Pam Nash said the grant focuses on helping those students in the ninth grade.
Memorial High School now has a large number of advanced placement courses, and the district will focus on increasing the advanced placement courses at the other three high schools. Advanced placement courses often provide college credits, and that’s important in an era of high tuitions, Nash said.
“Advanced placement courses are wonderful opportunities for students to be challenged,” she said.
The eight rural districts, all in southwestern Wisconsin, will expand their opportunities through distance learning, aided by the University of Wisconsin and the Cooperative Educational Service Agency in Tomahawk.

Student Shoots Classmate with BB Gun

Angela Bettis:

A 13-year-old boy is in police custody after allegedly shooting three fellow middle school students with a BB gun.
The incident happened on a Madison Metro bus Tuesday morning. Now that student could face expulsion. Officers say a Black Hawk Middle School 7th-grader hid a BB gun pistol in his sleeve, brought it on the school bus and shot one student in the chest and two others in the leg. Police say it all happened in the 500 block of Northport Drive.

Middleton Schools Seek Answers to Failed Referenda

Ann Marie Ames:

The School Board wants to know why three of four referendum questions failed last month.
Board members on Monday night reviewed draft copies of a survey they intend to send to 400 residents in the Middleton-Cross Plains district.
The survey is one way the board hopes to improve communication between the school district and the community. The district also plans to increase the amount of positive information about district events sent to residents via e-mail.

2M Student System Approved

Matt Pommer:

The $2 million for the student information system will be spread out over six budget years. Assistant Superintendent for Business Roger Price and planning and research director Kurt Kiefer said the system will pay for itself through efficiency and reduced staffing needs.
Parents would begin to see the impact of the new online system in the 2006-2007 school year, Kiefer said. He warned that training and implementation of the new computer software would take time and be “painful” for a period. The system is similar to one already being used in the Middleton-Cross Plains school district.
When it is fully operational, parents will be able to use a computer to see their child’s grades, progress reports, attendance and behavior reports. Students will be able to examine course schedules and register over the new system. Class attendance reporting will be fully computerized with the system.
Board member Ruth Robarts questioned how much parents would be able to use the system to communicate with teachers or to see course assignments. Rainwater said there are labor union contract issues related to what teachers could be required to do in those areas.

Ruth identified a critical issue in the successfull implementation of such a system.

“Poor Kids Aren’t Dolts — Push Them Harder”

Wendy Kopp (President and Founder of Teach for America):

According to the annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup survey, the most recent of which was released in September, most Americans cite a lack of parental involvement, as well as problems in students’ home life and upbringing and their lack of interest and motivation as the most important reasons for the huge gap between the achievement levels of students in upper- and middle-class neighborhoods and those in poor neighborhoods. More than 75% of those polled said they believe that white students and students of color have the same academic opportunities.
In contrast, Teach for America corps members, who are in those poor neighborhoods every school day, say the key to closing that gap is to train and employ better teachers and improve the quality of the leaders who make decisions in schools and school districts — while simultaneously ensuring that teachers, principals and parents expect the kids to meet challenging academic standards.

Much more, including this, here:

Funding, in itself, is not the answer. Teacher quality and expectations of students outranked funding as both causes of and solutions to the gap. And as corps members spend more time in the classroom, the priority they place on funding gives way to other factors, such as school leadership. While some of their proposed solutions may require further investment, corps members express skepticism about increasing funding without addressing current allocation of resources.

Via Joanne.

Sanderfoot on Ed Lite

Parent Alan Sanderfoot wrote a letter to the Isthmus Editor on Katherine Esposito’s recent article: Ed Lite: Madison Middle Schools Serve Up an Uninspiring Academic Menu:

Dear editor,
Thank you for publishing Katherine Esposito’s article about Madison’s middle schools (“Ed Lite,” Nov. 11, page 12). Please allow me, however, to correct some mischaracterizations in her piece.
On the contrary, my daughter Olivia did not “bail” from Sherman when she transferred to O’Keeffe. Her mother and I worked diligently during her entire 6th grade year at Sherman trying to get the school and teachers to address her unique academic and social needs. Throughout the year, we met with Olivia’s team of three teachers, the learning coordinator, the guidance counselor and administrators. Much was discussed, but little action followed.

Continue reading Sanderfoot on Ed Lite

2006 Distinguished Service Award Nominations

The Madison Metropolitan School District:

The Distinguished Service Award (DSA) honors individuals for service beyond the call of duty. It is considered to be the most prestigious of the recognition awards offered by the Madison Metropolitan School District. Distinguished Service Awards may be to employees who have served at least ten years with the MMSD in each of the following categories: elementary, middle and high school teachers, administrators, support personnel clerical/technical employees, custodial/building services/trades personnel, educational assistants and food service staff. Special awards are also given to employee teams, citizen volunteers and high schools seniors involved in community service.
To nominate someone you must answer five questions about the nominee and submit three letters of support. Anyone may submit a nomination. Self-nominations are not accepted. Please print the nomination form available below and carefully read the guidelines on page two of the nomination form.

I have several people in mind.

West High School Presentation on 10th Grade English: Same Curriculum for All Students

Click to view the Video

MP3 audio only

Barb Schrank, Videographer

Principal Ed Holmes, English department chair Keesia Hyzer, and teacher Mark Nepper presented information on the planned single English curriculum for all 10th graders at West this past Monday evening. Watch the video or listen to the audio by clicking on the links just to the left of this text. Background on this matter:

SchoolFacts 2005: Madison School District Comparison

Active Citizens for Education recently commissioned a custom report from WISTAX. This report compares demographics, income / wealth, spending, staffing ratios and test scores between the Madison School District and Appleton, Green Bay, Janesville, Kenosha, Middleton-Cross Plains, Milwaukee, Racine, Sun Prairie and Verona.

Details below:

  1. Demographics
  2. Income and Wealth
  3. Spending
  4. Staffing Ratios
  5. Test Scores
  6. Test Scores (more)

Thursday’s Middle School Curriculum Parent Forum

I believe a relevant and challenging curriculum is the #1 priority for any educational organization. There have been a number of questions raised over the years regarding the Madison School District’s curriculum, including Math, English and Fine Arts and the recent controversial changes at Sherman Middle School (more details in Kathy Esposito’s recent Isthmus article).

The District is currently conducting a Middle School Curriculum Review, lead by Assistant Superintendent Pam Nash (Formerly Principal of Memorial High School). Pam lead a Parent Forum Thursday evening, which I attended (one of about 28 participants). (7MB video clip of Pam kicking off the Forum). The goal of this event was to collect feedback from parents regarding these five questions (pdf version):

  1. The school district is continually working to build more rigor into the learning experiences that students have. Rigor is defined as commitment to a core subject matter knowledge, a high demand for thinking, and an active use of knowledge. When you think of a rigorous academic curriculum in the middle school, what would it look like?
  2. What experiences do you want your child to have in middle school to enhance his or her social and emotional growth?
  3. What are your hopes and dreams for your child in middle school?
  4. What are your greatest concerns for your child in middle school?
  5. If you could design Madison middle schools in any way you wanted, what would they be like?

Pam mentioned that the parent comments would be posted on the district’s website, hopefully next week. She also said that the district would post these questions online, in an interactive way so that parents who were unable to attend Thursday’s event might add their comments.

My notes follow:

  • Superintendent Art Rainwater wants the middle school curriculum task force to report back to him by mid December (2005).
  • The task force “design teams” recently broke up into “work teams”.
  • Recommendations will affect middle school allocations.
  • I asked Pam when this process began. She said it started one month ago.
  • Pam mentioned that they hope to pull the parent group together one more time, in December.

I was initially displeased that the group of 28 participants was broken up (I was interested in hearing all of the conversations). However, I thought that the format was rather effective in obtaining comments from all participants (at least those in my group). Kudos to Pam for collecting a good deal of information.

I spoke briefly with Pam when the event concluded. I mentioned that it appears to me, a layman, that it would be challenging to implement major changes via a two month task force. However, incremental changes occuring via the allocations are certainly possible (for better or worse).

I heard many useful suggestions on these questions and will point to them when available on the District’s website.

Learn more about the “Middle Grades Design Team” via this Board presentation (800K PDF file) Email your comments on this initiative to the Madison School Board: comments@madison.k12.wi.us

9th Grade Madison School District Algebra Data

Matt Pommer:

African-American rates increased from 27.5 percent to 49.7 percent in the four years and from 29.8 percent to 50 percent for Hispanic students. Among white students algebra completion rates had improved from 68.9 percent to 82.6 percent, the report said.

Related: this week’s Isthmus article on Middle School Curriculum.

These report items were interesting as well:

  • In 10 years the number of African-American students has increased from 4,126 to 5,216, while the number of Hispanic students has increased from 957 to 2,845. White enrollment has gone from 17,937 to 13,712 in the decade. Asian enrollment has grown from 1,885 to 2,569.
  • The 94 percent enrollment goal was met at the elementary (95.1 percent) and (94.4 percent) middle school levels. But high school attendance dipped last year to 92.5 percent overall, including an 86.8 percent rate for pupils from low-income families, the report said. The best overall attendance for high schools was 93.6 percent in 2002-2003.

Irving Independent School District Symposium

David Weinberger on the Irving School District’s 1 to 1 Laptop Implementation:

Darrell Lynn of Apple, a sponsor of the event, introduces Angus King, former two-term, independent governor of Maine. King appears via his $129 iSite. He talks about the insights that guided him to the laptop policy.
First, he has no idea what the economy of the US and of Maine will be in ten years. But, he says he does know that whatever happens will require more education and a higher level of comfort with technology.
Second, every governor chases quality jobs for their state. “You don’t get ahead by keeping up.”
Third, everything governments do is incremental. Baby steps, not real change. In 1999, Maine had a surplus. So, King thought about how it could be used to bring change.
In 1996, he had lunch with Seymour Papert who told him that reducing the ratio of students to computers wouldn’t matter until the ratio is 1:1.
So, Maine started by giving laptops to every kid in grades 7-8. King thought this would be well received, but it wasn’t. He blurted out, in response to a question, that the computers would belong to the students, not the school. He says, “I got the living xxxx kicked out of me.” [xxxx Barrier transgressed at 9:15am…and by a former governor!] The emails to his officce were 10:1 against. He persevered. (PS: The schools own the laptops.)

At some point, textbooks will be gone. I do generally like this sort of thing and perhaps it’s fundamental to addressing some of the challenges Kathy Esposito noted in her excellent article on Madison’s middle school curriculum. There’s no doubt that for someone who knows how to use a computer effectively, the amount of information one can learn and use is simply extraordinary. My youngest found a very well done learning spanish podcast on itunes just the other day – free and simply delightful!!!

Ed Lite: Middle schools stress social adjustment at the expense of academic achievement


Katherine Esposito:

Helen Fitzgerald, Sherman parent and president of the school’s parent-teacher group, wants high expectations set for Sherman.
“My kids want to compete!” she says, clearly frustrated. “They want to go to Brown. They want to go to Yale, to UC-Berkeley. My daughter wanted to go to Harvard when she was in the fourth grade! That’s their eye on the ball. That’s their expectation. And Sherman ain’t teachin’ those kids!”
In the modern middle school, however, competition is barely a footnote. Cooperation is king.
In the 1960s and 1970s, as an antidote to a hierarchical and often violent world, American educators proposed a middle-grades school for preteens that would place a premium on their social needs. Such practices as cooperative learning, peer tutoring and heterogeneous grouping would be kinder, gentler substitutes for the traditional top-down form of classroom organization in these “middle schools.”

Innovative Math: But Can You Count?

Samuel Freedman:

LAST spring, when he was only a sophomore, Jim Munch received a plaque honoring him as top scorer on the high school math team here. He went on to earn the highest mark possible, a 5, on an Advanced Placement exam in calculus. His ambition is to become a theoretical mathematician.
So Jim might have seemed the veritable symbol for the new math curriculum installed over the last seven years in this ambitious, educated suburb of Rochester. Since seventh grade, he had been taking the “constructivist” or “inquiry” program, so named because it emphasizes pupils’ constructing their own knowledge through a process of reasoning.
Jim, however, placed the credit elsewhere. His parents, an engineer and an educator, covertly tutored him in traditional math. Several teachers, in the privacy of their own classrooms, contravened the official curriculum to teach the problem-solving formulas that constructivist math denigrates as mindless memorization.
“My whole experience in math the last few years has been a struggle against the program,” Jim said recently. “Whatever I’ve achieved, I’ve achieved in spite of it. Kids do not do better learning math themselves. There’s a reason we go to school, which is that there’s someone smarter than us with something to teach us.”

This sort of thing is happening in Madison as well. Much more here.

More on Taser Report

Angela Bettis:

The Madison school district may have violated some of its’ policies, according to the report.
The incident involved Dalarence Goodwin, then 14, who was arrested at school and later shot by police with a Taser gun.
The independent report by lawyer Eileen Brownlee was posted on the Isthmus Website.
Brownlee was hired by the school district to sift through exactly what happened on Jan. 21 when Goodwin was tasered by Officer Tim Harder.
News 3’s Dawn Stevens talked exclusively with Dalarence and his mother when charges of resisting arrest were dropped last month.

Far West Land Purchase – Approved

WKOW-TV:

The board voted four to two to spend 525-thousand dollars for the land.
The purchase was almost tabled by two school board members, which included Lawrie Kobza.
Lawrie Kobza said, ‘I believed the negotiations were finished we should of been talking about these things in the public really for the last month in a half.”
“It’s the process the board goes through and developing public trust on decisions that were made, I was really trying to focus on that and it’s disappointing the majority of the board didn’t go with me,” said Kobza.
“This isn’t a secret, our community knows it’s growing and we’re going to have to build new schools in the future and we’re going to have to purchase the land first,” said Madison School Board Member Johnny Winston.

Every State Left Behind

Diane Ravitch:

WHILE in office, Presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton both called for national academic standards and national tests in the public schools. In both cases, the proposals were rejected by a Congress dominated by the opposing party. The current President Bush, with a friendly Congress in hand, did not pursue that goal because it is contrary to the Republican Party philosophy of localism. Instead he adopted a strategy of “50 states, 50 standards, 50 tests” – and the evidence is growing that this approach has not improved student achievement. Americans must recognize that we need national standards, national tests and a national curriculum.
The release last month of test results by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which is part of the Department of Education, vividly demonstrated why varying state standards and tests are inadequate. Almost all states report that, based on their own tests, incredibly large proportions of their students meet high standards. Yet the scores on the federal test (which was given to a representative sample of fourth and eighth graders) were far lower. Basically, the states have embraced low standards and grade inflation.
Idaho claims that 90 percent of its fourth-grade students are proficient in mathematics, but on the federal test only 41 percent reached the Education Department’s standard of proficiency. Similarly, New York reports that nearly 85 percent of its fourth graders meet state standards in mathematics, yet only 36 percent tested as proficient on the national assessment. North Carolina boasts an impressive 92 percent pass rate on the state test, but only 40 percent meet the federal standard.

The Shocking Truth

Jason Shepherd:

A series of institutional failures – by court employees, police officers and school officials – led to a Madison student being shot with a Taser stun gun in a school parking lot early this year, according to an independent investigator whose report the school district has tried to keep secret.
No one comes off unscathed in the report, issued last month by attorney Eileen Brownlee, whom the district hired to investigate the incident.
Some background: On Jan. 21, Madison Police Officer Tim Harder shot Dalarence Goodwin, a 14-year-old freshman, in the back with a Taser in the parking lot of Memorial High School. Goodwin had broken free from Harder’s grip while Harder was attempting to handcuff him after arresting him inside the school. The arrest itself was based on a warrant apparently issued in error by a juvenile court.
Brownlee’s eight-page report concludes in no uncertain terms that in the hours before and after the shooting, Harder and school officials violated district procedures.
“It is clear,” Brownlee notes after recounting various versions of the events, “that the policy was violated.”

Brownlee’s Report on the Taser incident [PDF]. Ed Blume’s notes.

Survey: Ohio Residents Attitutude Toward Public Schools

Fordham Institute:

This is a problem. Serious education reform demands strong, competent leadership for two reasons. First, kids don’t have lobbyists to look after their interests. The inertia and resistance to change manifested by the education system and its myriad adult interest groups are so powerful that, absent first-rate leadership, one must expect nothing much to change. This is particularly dangerous for a state with weak job growth, anemic economic growth, and signs of a brain drain.
Second, while Ohioans substantially agree about many of the problems facing public education and the reforms needed to address those problems, they are split down the middle on others. Effective leadership is mandatory, else nothing will change.
This would be okay if nothing needed to change, but Ohioans surely don’t think so—and plenty of objective evidence says they are correct. Only a third of survey respondents—and fewer than one in five African Americans—believe their local public schools are “doing pretty well and need little change.” Virtually all others want “major change” or “a whole new system.” This is no surprise in a state where close to half of respondents also see the economy as a serious issue. Ohioans know that education and economic opportunity are connected, and they’re worried about both
But there’s good news in the survey, too. On many important education issues and reform ideas, Ohioans manifest broad agreement as to what’s wrong, what’s important, and what ought to happen.
Here are five key education topics where we see something akin to consensus:

  1. Money alone won’t accomplish much. Respondents believe it would “get lost along the way” to classroom improvement (69 percent).
  2. Stop social promotion and automatic graduation. Teachers should pass kids to the next grade “only if they learn what they are supposed to know” (87 percent) and high school students should pass tests “in each of the major subjects before they can graduate” (83 percent).
  3. Free-up the front-line educators. Local schools ought to have considerably greater freedom and control over curriculum, budgets, and, especially, firing “teachers that aren’t performing” (89 percent).
  4. Reward good teachers. Good teachers should be rewarded with higher pay (84 percent) and paid more if they “work in tough neighborhoods with hard-to-reach students” (77 percent).
  5. Enforce discipline. Schools should enforce strict discipline with regard to student behavior, dress, and speech (91 percent).

Joanne’s site has links to Ohio’s NAEP numbers.

Madison Leaders Discuss Gang Issue Saturday

Channel3000:

“In the 80s, we had African-American gangs really hit the scene here in Madison,” said Madison Police Chief Noble Wray. “But what we’re looking at today is that we have more young ladies involved in gangs, we have Asian gangs, and a real increase in Latino gangs.”
Dane County Executive Assistant Ken Haynes said gang members are coming from diverse backgrounds, not just low-income neighborhoods.
“Problems … challenges don’t stop at geographic boundaries,” Haynes said.
Community leaders said that to reduce gang activity, everyone needs to work together.
“Our strategies need to be connected to all the strategies with other service providers, strategies in the schools and the strategies with parents,” Wray said

Video clips and archives from the recent Gangs and School Violence Forum.

Local School News Roundup

Local media posted a number of K-12 articles this morning:

One English Program for West’s Sophomores

Matt Pommer:

Under the new program targeted for fall 2006, all sophomores will take the same English program in the first semester focusing on the American Dream. In the second semester, students will be able to select from the themes of justice or identity, according to Keesia Hyzer, chair of the school’s English department.
In the past, 10th-grade students have had more than 20 options, but 85 percent have selected among five or six choices, she indicated. Current plans call for the curriculum to be taught next year in 18 sections.
Principal Ed Holmes said the core curriculum “will meet the needs of the struggling learner as well as those of our gifted and talented students.” He indicated that there is concern among some parents, but he urged them to see what the core curriculum will mean to their students. The core curriculum is still “a work in progress,” he said, but it will be explained at Monday’s PTO meeting.
“The parents’ concern is that we are going to give up the rigor and challenge for our most talented students. By no means!” he said in a Capital Times interview.

Background:

Gates Foundation & LA’s Small Learning Communities

Naush Boghossian:

But the grant, the foundation’s first sizable sum to the Los Angeles Unified School District, falls far short of investments the foundation has made across the country to smaller districts – a disparity some officials blame on the LAUSD’s lack of a comprehensive plan.
And critics said Wednesday that, despite years of discussions with the Gates Foundation, the district superintendent, Roy Romer, has been unwilling to relinquish any control and create a partnership with the foundation to build the smaller learning environments that require autonomy to succeed – a charge Romer strongly denies.

School Districts Sharing Services

Reason Foundation:

in many parts of the country 40 to 50 percent of education funding never makes it to the classroom. A new report by Reason and Deloitte finds that saving just a quarter of the tax dollars spent by school districts on non-instructional operations could save $9 billion. To put this number in perspective, it is equivalent to 900 new schools or more than 150,000 additional teachers. “School funding and per pupil spending are always hot-button issues,” said Lisa Snell, co-author of the report. “Sharing services gives schools and districts a great opportunity to send a lot more money straight to classrooms, where it belongs. With much of the education world facing tough budget decisions, sharing services is a dramatically under-used option that can yield significant results.”

Full Report [PDF] Obviously a good idea, however like many such initiatives (city / county consolidation is another example), execution is generally non-trivial. Reason has a number of education oriented publications posted here.

Baltimore Schools Offer Algebra to Parents

Allison Keyes:

In Maryland, the current class of 9th graders will be the first to have to pass an algebra test to graduate from high school. That’s putting pressure on some parents to brush up on their math skills so that they can help their children. Baltimore County’s school system has recognized this potential problem and is now offering classes to bring parents up to speed on algebra.
The school system is offering its algebra awareness class for parents in a three-session format. Each session is two hours long.
The idea came from discussions of the new algebra requirement at Parent-Teacher Association meetings last year.

Catholic Schoolgirls Unravel DNA

Michael D. O’Neill:

There were many big-league DNA scientists at the annual genome sequencing conference held here last month, but no one stood out more than a slight high school teacher in religious habit towing five of her students through the imposing crowd of genetics pioneers with a quiet grace.
The unlikely delegate was Sister Mary Jane Paolella, of Sacred Heart Academy, an all-girls Roman Catholic high school in Hamden, Connecticut. She wasn’t here on a sightseeing trip. Paolella showed up with her students to make an official presentation of DNA sequencing data that her honors biotechnology class generated from genes associated with osteoporosis.
Paolella’s been bringing her students here for eight years. The point, she says, is to give her class the opportunity to rub elbows with top scientists working at the cutting edge of research — luminaries like Craig Venter, who led the private effort to sequence the human genome, and Dr. Hamilton Smith, who won the 1978 Nobel Prize for his work on DNA-cutting enzymes. She credits the experience for inspiring more and more of her students to pursue careers in traditionally male-dominated scientific fields.

Teacher Talk: Plainview, NY Teacher’s Union President

Morty Rosenfeld:

If the United States is to preserve our system of free public schools, teacher unions are going to have to stop accepting the status quo and making excuses for the poor performance of our students. Most of us know that contrary to all of the talk about how we are raising our standards, in most of our schools they continue to decline. The low scores on the so-called high stakes tests are testimony to the fact that large numbers of students leave school knowing next to nothing and ill equipped for any but the most menial of jobs. While many of our most talented young people spend their days in so-called accelerated courses with curricula once thought more appropriate to the college level, too many of them have whizzed right by basic skills and cannot string together three coherent sentences or know to any degree of certainty if they have received the correct change in a store. We must face the fact that some of the right-wing critique of public education, particularly their criticism of the ever inflating costs of public education, resonates with the American public because it is true, or at least truer than some of the blather put out by the people who run the schools and the unions who represent the people who work in them. If it is true that our freedom is ultimately tied to our being an enlightened and educated citizenry, we are in terrible trouble.
Excuse number one – We don’t have enough money to meet the educational needs of our students. While too many of our school districts do need more financial resources, resources that many find impossible to raise trough the regressive property tax, the fact of the matter is too many of them also waste a substantial portion of what they have, a good piece of the waste mandated by state and federal law. I’ve written elsewhere about the administrative bloat in school districts where level upon level of bureaucracy insures that teachers and educational support staff are over scrutinized and under supervised to the point where teaching innovation and imagination are increasingly giving way to the routines of educational programs, particularly in math and English, that are intended to make teaching thinking-free.

Via Joanne and EIA Communique.

West Task Force Survey (Cherokee)

A task force created by the Board of Education is evaluating options to address overcrowding in the West and Memorial attendance areas. The task force is expected to recommend three options to the Board in early January; the option chosen will be implemented in fall, 2006. Please help the Cherokee task force members accurately represent your views by answering the questions below.

Survey: English | Spanish

Referenda: Elmbrook’s Poll on $100M High Schools

Lisa Sink:

But he said that Elmbrook’s results likely wouldn’t stop other districts from moving forward with referendum plans because the cost of Elmbrook’s plans was more than double what others typically seek.
“The size of the amounts are just so out of line with what everybody else has done that I’d be leery to generalize (Elmbrook’s results) to someone who’s going to ask for $25 million to build a school,” Knapp said.
Spread across the district’s tax base, the five building improvement plans presented in Elmbrook’s survey would have a tax impact on an average $300,000 home of $288 to $363 per year for 20 years.