All posts by Jim Zellmer

“Lessons From Privately Managed Schools”

Can professional business management practices improve the performance of troubled public schools? Several high-visibility projects have been undertaken to bring best management practices to the classroom, including Harvard’s Public Education Leadership Project. But in the 1990s, a different approach was begun: Riding a wave of charter school legislation, for-profit and nonprofit startups called private education management organizations, or EMOs, were created, essentially private companies brought in to manage public schools
The result? Mixed, but promising, says Steven F. Wilson, a senior fellow at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. Wilson was founder and former CEO of one of those EMOs, Advantage Schools, which at its height had 10,000 students in its programs. He writes of his experiences in a new book, Learning on the Job: When Business Takes on Public Schools, published by Harvard University Press.

The “Intelligence of 11 Year Olds has Fallen by 3 Years Worth in the Past Two Decades

The Sunday Times:

For a decade we’ve been told that our kids, just as they seem to be getting taller with each generation, are also getting brighter. Every year new waves of children get better GCSE, A-level and degree results than their predecessors. Meanwhile, in primary schools, the standards in national maths and English tests at 11 head in one direction — relentlessly upwards.
Last week came the bombshell that blew a gaping hole in this one-way escalator of achievement.
Far from getting cleverer, our 11-year-olds are, in fact, less “intelligent” than their counterparts of 30 years ago. Or so say a team who are among Britain’s most respected education researchers.
In the easiest question, children are asked to watch as water is poured up to the brim of a tall, thin container. From there the water is tipped into a small fat glass. The tall vessel is refilled. Do both beakers now hold the same amount of water? “It’s frightening how many children now get this simple question wrong,” says scientist Denise Ginsburg, Shayer’s wife and another of the research team.
Another question involves two blocks of a similar size — one of brass, the other of plasticine. Which would displace the most water when dropped into a beaker? children are asked. Two years ago fewer than a fifth came up with the right answer.

Scientific Brain Linked to Autism

BBC:

He believes the genes which make some analytical may also impair their social and communication skills.
A weakness in these areas is the key characteristic of autism.
It is thought that around one child in every 100 has a form of autism – the vast majority of those affected are boys.
The number of diagnoses seems to be on the increase, but some argue this is simply because of a greater awareness of the condition.
In a paper published in the journal Archives of Disease of Childhood ($), Professor Baron-Cohen labels people such as scientists, mathematicians and engineers as ‘systemizers’.

NCES: “Status & Trends in the Education of Blacks”

National Center for Education Statistics:

Status and Trends in the Education of Blacks draws on the many statistics published by NCES in a variety of reports and synthesizes these data in one compact volume. In addition to indicators drawn from existing government reports, some indicators were developed specifically for this report. The objective of this report is to make statistical information about the educational status of Blacks easily accessible to a variety of audiences.

Bloomberg’s Partnership for Teacher Education

NYC Department of Education:

Supported by a $15 million four-year grant from the Carroll and Milton Petrie Foundation, the Partnership will address New York City’s need for highly qualified, well-trained teachers who will immediately be able to excel in the City’s public schools.
Through an unprecedented collaboration among K-12 educators and higher education faculty in education and the arts and sciences, the Partnership plans innovations in how pre-service teachers–students who are receiving formal education but have not yet become full-time teachers–are taught and by whom; how they first learn the craft of teaching, and how they continue to develop teaching skill throughout their careers. The Partnership will demonstrate how teacher education can be responsive to the City’s most pressing needs, how learning what to teach and learning how to teach can better come together, and how beginning teachers can be ready from the start to work effectively in urban classrooms.

Five Rules for Florida School Reform

Florida Governor Jeb Bush:

This year, Florida will introduce the largest reform package since the sweeping changes we made in 1999.
These reforms include differentiated pay and performance-based pay for teachers to attract and retain talented educators in critical subject areas, encourage them to teach in economically challenged schools and reward them for improving student performance.
Our proposed reforms will bring rigor and relevance to middle schools by requiring students in grades six through eight to earn 12 credits in math, science, language, arts and social studies for promotion to high school, and requiring those who cannot read at grade level to get reading instruction.
We’re also looking to revamp high schools to better prepare students for the future and for postsecondary education by creating career academies, where students can major or minor in math and science, or fine arts, or on career and vocational skills, depending on their goals and interests. The goal is for students to graduate knowing what they want to do with their lives, so they leave school armed with college credits toward their goal or, if they choose a vocational route, with certified skills for a specific industry.

Schools of Hope Needs More Math Tutors

Sandy Cullen:

Expanding on its efforts to increase the reading skills of elementary school students, the Schools of Hope project led by the United Way of Dane County also is focusing on helping middle school students develop the math skills needed to be successful in high school, college, employment and daily life.
Since the Madison School Board adopted the goal that all students would complete algebra by the end of ninth grade and geometry by the end of 10th grade, the option of taking less rigorous classes, such as general or consumer math, has disappeared.
All high school students are now required to take algebra and geometry – or two credits of integrated mathematics, combining algebra, statistics and probability, geometry and trigonometry – in order to graduate.
“These are really gate-keeping courses and skills,” said Mary Ramberg, the district’s director of teaching and learning. She added that without them, students “will have a lot of options closed.”

Rafael Gomez is organizing a Forum on Math Curriculum Wednesday evening, February 22, 2006 at McDaniels Auditorium. Look for more information soon.

School Transfer Limit Ends

Amy Hetzner:

As state politicians and interest groups argue over whether to lift the enrollment cap in Milwaukee’s voucher school program, the cap in another school choice initiative is quietly slated to expire.
Under state law, the 2006-’07 school year will be the first time in Wisconsin’s open enrollment public school choice program in which school districts will be unable to control the number of students leaving their boundaries if they exceed a certain portion of their enrollment.
The provision, which had been in effect since open enrollment began in 1998, was used by at least 10 school districts to limit potential monetary losses in the current school year, according to figures from the state Department of Public Instruction. They include districts such as Florence, which faced possible dissolution this year before voters bailed out the financially ailing school system, and Palmyra-Eagle on the outskirts of the metropolitan Milwaukee area.

New Accounting Rule Shifts Retirement Costs

Avrum Lank:

For unions representing teachers and other government employees, the fine print is making it harder to negotiate improvements in benefits such as retiree health insurance.
“It certainly made my life more complex,” said Michael McNett, director of collective bargaining for the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the state’s largest teachers union.
For the Port Edwards School District, which has an annual budget of $6.1 million and 90 employees, the rule will mean an additional expense of about $120,000 a year – about the cost of employing two teachers , said Superintendent Michael W. Alexander.

Interesting Madison School District Budget Notes

A reader emailed this interesting MMSD budget item. The land and buildings around East Towne Mall are not in the MMSD, according to the district’s map.

Fitchburg contributed $10,030,120 or 5% [Fitchburg City Budget PDF] to the MMSD’s $200,363,255 total Tax Levy (total MMSD 2005/2006 budget is $321+M [includes funds redistributed via other means such as income, gas and other taxes/fees from state and federal organizations]); see the 2005-2006 Budget Amendments and Tax Levy Adoption [PDF].

The Vanishing Class: Why Does High School Fail So Many?

Mitchell Landsberg:

On a September day 4 1/2 years ago, nearly 1,100 ninth-graders — a little giddy, a little scared — arrived at Birmingham High School in Van Nuys. They were fifth-generation Americans and new arrivals, straight arrows and gangbangers, scholars and class clowns.
On a radiant evening last June, 521 billowing figures in royal blue robes and yellow-tasseled mortarboards walked proudly across Birmingham’s football field, practically floating on a carpet of whoops and shouts and blaring air horns, to accept their diplomas.
It doesn’t take a valedictorian to do the math: Somewhere along the way, Birmingham High lost more than half of the students who should have graduated.
It is a crucial question, not just for Birmingham but for all American schools.
High school dropouts lead much harder lives, earn far less money and demand vastly more public assistance than their peers who graduate.

Lucy Mathiak posted MMSD dropout data, including those who showed high achievement during their elementary years.

Wanting Better Schools, Parents Seek Secession

Randal Archibold:

Ladera Heights, an unincorporated community of about 8,000 people, has for decades belonged to the school district in adjacent Inglewood, a decidedly poorer, predominantly black and Latino city whose schools have struggled academically and financially.
A group of Ladera Heights residents, many of whom have pulled their children out of Inglewood schools in favor of private ones, want their neighborhood assigned to the school district in Culver City, a more racially mixed, more affluent community than Inglewood.

Carol Carstensen’s Weekly Update

Parent Group Presidents:
BUDGET FACTOID:
The district’s contract settlement with MTI for this year and next are 3.98% and 3.97% package increases. This is below the state average (about 4.5%), below the average for large districts and below the average for Dane County districts.
Jan 23rd Meetings:
5 p.m. Special Board Meeting:
The Board discussed the status of contracts for administrators but took no action. The administration has already proposed reducing 4 administrative positions next year.
6 p.m. Long Range Planning Committee Meeting (Bill Keys, chair):
The Committee received the reports and final recommendations from the East Area and the Memorial/West Areas Task Forces. The recommendations are as follows: East Area recommendations:
Do not close schools
2. Move Affiliated Alternatives to Marquette/O’Keeffe
3. Move MSCR to Emerson
4. Change the middle school feeder pattern to move either Emerson or Hawthorne students to O’Keeffe.
5. Move the undeveloped land near the intersection of Milwaukee St. and Fair Oaks to the East Area.
6. Possible boundary changes affecting the 4 schools on the north side (Gompers, Lakeview, Lindbergh and Mendota).
Memorial/West recommendations:
1. Build an addition onto Leopold and build a new school on the far west side.

Continue reading Carol Carstensen’s Weekly Update

Sweden Pays Teachers for Performance

Eduwonk:

Sweden did: ($$):

In Sweden the fixed pay scheme for teachers was abolished in the mid-1990s as part of an agreement designed to enhance local autonomy and flexibility in the school system. The government committed itself to substantially raise teacher salaries over a five-year period, but on the condition that not all teachers received the same increase. There is accordingly no fixed upper limit and only a minimum basic salary is centrally negotiated, along with the aggregate rise in the teacher salary bill. Salaries are negotiated when a teacher is hired and teacher and employer agree on the salary to be paid upon commencement of the term of employment. Teachers’ work roles and performance are considered in the negotiation and linked to the pay. There is now much greater variety in teachers’ pay, with those in areas of shortage and with higher demonstrated performance able to negotiate more.

It may seem strange that a social democracy so willing to limit economic freedom would embrace market-oriented reform of teacher pay. But according to this, Swedish policymakers concluded that “an expansion and improved quality of social services could not be accomplished without improving the efficiency in the public sector.” And the unions agreed, “in order to improve salaries and working conditions.”

Too often in America, we are forced to choose between destroying the public sector and preserving its every bad feature. But this guy was on to something. There is, well, a third way. And it’s a little sad when Sweden is working harder to find it than we are.

Proposal Would Send All Swan Creek Students to Lincoln

Kurt Gutknecht:

The plan advanced by Jerry Eykholt, a member of the task force studying ways to deal with overcrowding at schools on in west side of the Madison school district, would move students to Lincoln Elementary School.
Eykholt drafted the proposal in response to a letter signed by 185 households in Swan Creek who opposed moving students from Leopold.
One of the proposals had recommended moving Swan Creek students to Midvale and Lincoln elementary schools. Eykholt?s proposal would move them only to Lincoln, thereby reducing the length of the bus ride, which he said would address one of the major concerns of the residents.
Previous proposals would move elementary students to Lincoln (grades 3 through 5) and Midvale (grades K through 2). His proposal would require Lincoln to offer all elementary grades.
Eykholt called Lincoln “a very nurturing environment” that provided an exceptional level of assistance to students, a consequence of the district?s efforts to serve students from low-income families.

Internet Wake-up Call for Parents

Amy Hetzner:

In the crowded media center at West High School on Thursday night, Special Agent Erik Szatkowski led parents to what he considers manna for sexual predators: an online site where adolescents post their pictures, interests and other tidbits about themselves.

On the Web site, which describes itself as “a community of online diaries and journals,” Szatkowski introduced his audience to 14-year-old Katie, who likes “The O.C.,” and 14-year-old Brooke, who posted a photo of herself on her page. He also found a 12-year-old Milwaukee boy who boasted: “I’m a b-ball player. I’m a sexy beast. I’m a ladies man.”

Seeking A’s in a Few More Zzzz’s

Maria Glod:

At 6:20, the bus pulled up, and Carly was on her way to Robinson Secondary School.
Carly, an eighth-grader who complains she’s frequently groggy during early-morning classes, said she would prefer it if school “started at 8:30 and ended at 3.”
“I wake up because of all the people” in class, she said. “But I’m still tired.”

30 Years of Clout: MTI’s John Matthews & the ’76 Teacher’s Strike

Susan Troller:

The key architect behind that transformation was the tough young executive director of Madison Teachers Inc., John Matthews, who had come to Madison eight years earlier from Montana.
Thirty years later, Matthews is still tough and, more than ever, still casts a powerful shadow across the public education landscape of Madison as a tireless and relentless advocate for teachers. With Matthews at the helm, MTI has remained a dominant force in education and labor.

Former Madison Mayor (currently with Epic Systems – Verona) Paul Soglin weighs in as well.

In Public Schools, The Name game as a Donor Lure

Tamar Lewin:

Next fall, a stunning $55 million high school will open on the edge of Fairmount Park here. For now, it is called the School of the Future, a state-of-the-art building with features like a Web design laboratory and a green roof that incorporates a storm-water management system. But it may turn out to be the school of the future in another sense, too: It is a public school being used to raise a lot of private money.

TABOR: Missing the Mark

Craig Maher:

Key to the discussion about state and local fiscal policy is the shared revenues program. While few would disagree with the premise that the shared revenues program was conceived in the early 1970s to compensate local governments for the State’s exemption of the manufacturing property and equipment, one cannot ignore the effect the program has been having on spending behavior.
Much of my research over the past six years has been on the impact of WI’s Shared Revenues program on local spending. It is important to understand that both in terms of the amount (nearly $1 billion annually) and the lack of strings attached to this aid (local governments can spend the money on whatever they see fit), WI is unique when compared to other states. While other states such as Florida, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota and New Jersey have sizable intergovernmental aid programs, most are either tied to a specific revenue source such as sales or personal income taxes or require the funds to spent on specific programs/services.

Isthmus: Take Home Test for Week 1; Madison School Board Candidates

Isthmus has posted week 1 of their Take-Home Test:

weekly question-and-answer quiz of the five candidates vying for two seats on the Madison Board of Education.
Every week, we’ll ask them a set of questions, one dealing with school board dynamics or the issues facing the 24,000-student-district, and the other more personal, aimed at revealing their experiences and attitudes.

Fabulous.

Wisconsin Biotech: Could be a $10B Industry

Jim Leonhart:

“We have the critical mass to get serious about this sector of our economy,” Jim Leonhart, a biotech executive said Tuesday at a Wisconsin Innovation Network luncheon.
“We don’t have any option but to promote life science technologies, including stem cell research here in this state,” added Leonhart, who heads the Wisconsin Biotechnology and Medical Device Association.

Obiviously, our young people will need to tools (curriculum) to play in this era.

MTI Endorsements

Madison Teachers Inc’s PAC, MTI Voters endorsed [pdf] Juan Jose Lopez (Seat 2 vs. Lucy Mathiak) and Arlene Silveira (Seat 1 vs Maya Cole or Michael Kelly) for Madison School Board. Learn more about the candidates here. Cole and Mathiak have posted their responses to MTI’s candidate questions.
These endorsements have historically included a significant amount of PAC campaign support. Prior election campaign finance reports are available on the City Clerk’s website (scroll to the bottom).

Candidate Forum: Dane County Public Affairs Council

Wednesday, 1.25.2006; 7:30 – 9:00a.m. @ US Bank Plaza [map / directions] Lower Level Conference Room:

A discussion of issues facing our school district and community such as: high costs and low achievement; the budget; revenue caps; referenda; reading and math curricula; health care costs; dministrative costs; contract negotiations; boundary changes and school closings/new buildings; violence in schools; Fund 80; and more. Primary election for seat one is Feb. 21. Final elections in April. Who will earn your support?

Vonnegut on Modern Society

Morning Edition:

The author Kurt Vonnegut has been looking to the future through his writing ever since the publication of his first novel, Player Piano. The story tells of a time when men are displaced by machines in the workplace. Society is reduced to a managing class and a consuming class. His books have often included an element of science fiction, including his most famous work, Slaughterhouse-Five.

audio

Vonnegut’s short story, Harisson Bergeron is a must read:

THE YEAR WAS 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren’t only equal before God and the law. They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else. All this equality was due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General.

MAUE School Board Candidate Forum

Madison United for Academic Excellence [www site] held a Madison School Board candidate forum Tuesday evening, January 17, 2006. Maya Cole, Michael Kelly, Lucy Mathiak and Arlene Silveira participated (election website). Candidate statements and questions appear below:

Continue reading MAUE School Board Candidate Forum

College Aid Plan Rates US High School Academic Rigor

Sam Dillon:

The measure, backed by the Bush administration and expected to pass the House when it returns next month, would provide $750 to $1,300 grants to low-income college freshmen and sophomores who have completed “a rigorous secondary school program of study” and larger amounts to juniors and seniors majoring in math, science and other critical fields.
It leaves it to the secretary of education to define rigorous, giving her a new foothold in matters of high school curriculums.
Mindful of the delicate politics at play when Washington expands its educational role into matters zealously guarded as local prerogatives, senior Department of Education officials said they would consult with governors and other groups in determining which high school programs would allow students to qualify for grants.

Literacy of College Students Finds Some are Graduating with Only Basic Skills

Pew Charitable Trusts:

Twenty percent of U.S. college students completing 4-year degrees – and 30 percent of students earning 2-year degrees – have only basic quantitative literacy skills, meaning they are unable to estimate if their car has enough gasoline to get to the next gas station or calculate the total cost of ordering office supplies, according to a new national survey by the American Institutes for Research (AIR). The study was funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

1.9MB PDF

Budget Obfuscation

There’s been no shortage of budget discussions on this site, particularly attempts to make the process and results transparent (this year, the MMSD is offering a $100 Budget process which focuses on reductions in a budget that grows annually). These questions are not unique to Madison. Reform advocate Winslow Wheeler publishes a useful attempt to help us all understand the actual size of the Defense Department budget. I like their objectives:

The project considers both the fiscal and strategic implications of defense programs and promotes informed oversight of Pentagon activities. The Straus Military Reform Project provides analysis and fosters debate on the uses, strategy, doctrine and forces of the U.S. military and its role in the wider national security structure. It provides a forum for discussion and encourages the free expression of all views.

Locally, an open, easily understood budget process is essential to taxpayer support for public education. Dictionary.com: obfuscation.

Medicaid Spending Overtakes Education

Kevin Freking:

States now spend more on health care for the poor than they do on elementary and secondary education, a policy group said Thursday in its annual review of efforts to deal with the growing problem of the uninsured.
The states spent 21.9 percent of their revenue on Medicaid in fiscal year 2004. Elementary and second education consumed about 21.5 percent of states’ budgets. Higher education came in at a distant third, 10.5 percent.

Learn more at www.statecoverage.net. The report (pdf) is available here.
The previously discussed “Geezer Wars” are clearly underway. This is one of many reasons why I don’t believe we’ll see significant changes to school funding – beyond the current annual moderate increases. In Madison’s case, school spending has increased from $200M in 1994/1995 to $329M in 05/06.

Work Study School Set for 2007

Jay Matthews:

The first private high school in the area to support itself largely through wages earned by students working one day a week for local employers will open in Takoma Park in fall 2007, the Archdiocese of Washington announced yesterday.
Archdiocese officials said the new Cristo Rey school, based on a work-study model first tried in inner-city Chicago 10 years ago, will be its first new archdiocese high school in more than 55 years. It will open on the site of Our Lady of Sorrows School, a parish elementary school closing this year because of declining enrollment.

Nearly 38% of Arkansas Children Overweight

Andrew DeMillo:

Thirty-eight percent of Arkansas’ public school children are overweight or at risk of being overweight, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences said in a report issued Thursday.
The finding was the same as last year’s when UAMS also studied the effects of a 2003 state law that called for mandatory and voluntary changes in the schools to address health issues among Arkansas’ children.
Health officials said Thursday they hope to see obesity numbers decline as more schools offer healthier food choices.

Learn more about this issue here and by watching the recent Nutrition and Schools Forum.

Rebuilding the American Dream Machine

The Economist:

One of the more unlikely offices to have been flooded with mail is that of the City University of New York (CUNY), a public college that lacks, among other things, a famous sports team, bucolic campuses and raucous parties (it doesn’t even have dorms), and, until recently, academic credibility.
A primary draw at CUNY is a programme for particularly clever students, launched in 2001. Some 1,100 of the 60,000 students at CUNY’s five top schools receive a rare thing in the costly world of American colleges: free education. Those accepted by CUNY’s honours programme pay no tuition fees; instead they receive a stipend of $7,500 (to help with general expenses) and a laptop computer. Applications for early admissions into next year’s programme are up 70%.
Admission has nothing to do with being an athlete, or a child of an alumnus, or having an influential sponsor, or being a member of a particularly aggrieved ethnic group—criteria that are increasingly important at America’s elite colleges. Most of the students who apply to the honours programme come from relatively poor families, many of them immigrant ones. All that CUNY demands is that these students be diligent and clever.

Where are the Parents?

Madison District 15 Alder (and MMSD Affiliated Alternatives Employee) Larry Palm:

Tonight I attended the Public Forum at O’Keefe Middle School to discuss a potential move of the Affiliated Alternatives into the building shared with Marquette Elementary School.

I appreciated the high level of questions asked of Steve Hartley, the District’s Director of Alternative Programs. A large majority of questions revolved around the anticipated interactions between students at what would essentially be a K-12 campus (minus the students that attend certain grades at Lapham Elementary School– which is also another option on the East Side Task Force for either the Affiliated Alternatives or the administrative offices of MSCR).

Palm also notes that it is budget time again and suggests that the District “take this year off from a referendum”.

Some Students Use Net To Hire Experts to Do Their School Work

Lee Gomes:

But what the computer-programming student who goes by the handle “Lover Of Nightlife” did last month, as the fall semester raced to a close, could only have happened in the age of the Internet: He went online to outsource his predicament.
“This is homework I did not have time to study for,” he said in a message on a Web site devoted to outsourcing computer projects. “I need you guys to help me.”
Attached was a take-home final exam for a computer class that Mr. Nightlife Lover wanted to pay someone else — presumably, someone from a place where people can’t afford a lot of night life to begin with — to take for him.

Math Will Rock Your World

Business Week:

Neal Goldman is a math entrepreneur. He works on Wall Street, where numbers rule. But he’s focusing his analytic tools on a different realm altogether: the world of words.
Goldman’s startup, Inform Technologies LLC, is a robotic librarian. Every day it combs through thousands of press articles and blog posts in English. It reads them and groups them with related pieces. Inform doesn’t do this work alphabetically or by keywords. It uses algorithms to analyze each article by its language and context. It then sends customized news feeds to its users, who also exist in Inform’s system as — you guessed it — math.

“State Support for Higher Education Has No Correlation with College Quality”

Anne K. Walters writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

Public colleges in states that spend a lot of money on higher education aren’t necessarily better than colleges in states that provide them with meager support, according to a report that ranks states based on an analysis of their higher-education budgets and the performance of their colleges. The report, which was prepared by the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, attempts to answer the age-old question in debates over state financing of higher education: Does more money equal better quality? The report, A New Look at the Institutional Component of Higher Education Finance: A Guide for Evaluating Performance Relative to Financial Resources [by Patrick J. Kelly & Dennis P. Jones] compares state funds for higher education in each state with colleges’ performance in a variety of areas, including graduation and participation rates. The report concludes that education can succeed even when state support falls.

Wisconsin ranks #4 in “Performance relative to funding” for public research institutions.

Lifelong Learning: Electronic Rights

A number of local organizations use Yahoo Groups for their inter-group communications. James McMurry notes that Yahoo is now tracking your usage per MACHINE via web beacons:

The following message was sent to me by the moderator of another group that I’m in. Everyone needs to be aware of it as Yahoo is tracking people now, even when they are not on the Yahoo site.
If you belong to ANY Yahoo Groups – be aware that Yahoo is now using “Web Beacons” to track every Yahoo Group user. It’s similar to cookies, but allows Yahoo to record every website and every group you visit, even when you’re not connected to Yahoo.
Look at their updated privacy statement at: http://privacy.yahoo.com/privacy. About half-way down the page, in the section on cookies, you will see a link that says WEB BEACONS.

Ray Everett-Church posts a counterpoint to this matter.
In my view a blog is a far more effective, and safe tool to use for group activities. We’re happy to help set one up for you. Just email zellmer at mailbag_dot_com Safe computing – think, be aware and practice it 🙂 The EFF has more on privacy and other electronic rights topics.
UPDATE: Another approach via Apple’s iTunes: ask permission.

Foreign Languages: iPod Phrase Book

Rambler:

Doing some traveling and want to speak the local language? Then you need Rambler – language phrase books designed for the iPod and made for the real world. Rambler is here to help make travel everything you want it to be. With over 900 words and phrases per language at your fingertips, mixing with the locals will be something you can look forward to.

Looks interesting, though I’ve not given it a try just yet.

Soglin on Quality in Government

Paul Soglin:

There must be public sector leaders who are more concerned about their legacy than the next election. There must be an environment of trust so that as review is done of past failures, it is free from recrimination and blame. The purpose of the checking and reviewing must be to learn for future not to assign blame.
To find a mayor or a governor with the inclination, the time, and the values to focus on serious management issues is no easy task. In today’s environment, with Katrinas, failing bridges, poor school systems, and the prospect of terrorism at every corner, the matter is even more pressing.

Reader Jonathan Gramling Regarding Juan Jose Lopez’s First Fundraising Letter

Reader Jonathan Gramling emails in response to this article:

In reference to Ed Blume’s and Barb Schrank’s comments about the Juan José López fundraising letter, if the shoe fits, wear it. The difference between being critical and being negative is just partisan semanntics like the difference between insurgent and freedom fighter. It’s not the high road. It just reflects your partisan leanings and who you support in an election. So don’t be so condescending!
Jonathan Gramling
gramljon at_aol.com

More on Milwaukee Vouchers & TABOR

John Fund:

The irony is that public educators in Milwaukee believe choice has helped improve all the city’s schools. “No longer is MPS a monopoly,” says Milwaukee Public Schools superintendent William Andrekopoulos. “That competitive nature has raised the bar for educators in Milwaukee to provide a good product or they know that parents will walk.” The city’s public schools have made dramatic changes that educators elsewhere can only dream of. Public schools now share many buildings with their private counterparts, which helps alleviate the shortage of classrooms. Teachers, once assigned strictly by seniority, are now often hired by school selection committees. And 95% of district operating funds now go directly to schools, instead of being parceled out by a central office. That puts power in the hands of teachers who work directly with students.

Milwaukee schools are still struggling, but progress is obvious. Students have improved their performance on 13 out of 15 standardized tests. The annual dropout rate has fallen to 10% from 16% since the choice program started. Far from draining resources from public schools, spending has gone up in real terms by 27% since choice began as taxpayers and legislators encouraged by better results pony up more money.

Rich Eggleston says that TABOR would subvert Democracy:

In Wisconsin, the ‘Taxpayers Bill of Rights’ is being billed as a tool of democracy, but it’s actually a tool to subvert the representative democracy that to reasonable people has worked pretty well. When Milwaukee-area resident Orville Seymeyer e-mailed me and suggested I “get on the TABOR bandwagon,” this is what I told him:

via wisopinion

Lagging Freshman Reassigned Before Test

Nick Anderson:

At least 2,500 ninth-graders in Prince George’s County will abruptly move this week from a standard one-year algebra course into a two-year program, shielding the struggling students from a state graduation test this spring that officials said they were likely to fail.
The highly unusual shift comes midway through the school year in one of Washington’s largest suburban school systems and in some respects runs counter to a regional trend of pushing students to take higher-level mathematics as early as possible.

“War Against Vouchers”

Andrew J. Coulson:

Unlike previous school-choice cases, Bush v. Holmes did not hinge on the use of public funds at religious schools. Instead, five of the seven presiding justices ruled that school vouchers violate the “uniformity” clause of Florida’s Constitution. Far from being an arcane and forgotten technicality, this clause was amended and reapproved by voters just eight years ago: It mandates, among other things, “a uniform, efficient, safe, secure and high quality system of free public schools that allows students to obtain a high quality education.” If only wishing could make it so.
What the new wording fails to consider is that a homogenized government bureaucracy is not necessarily compatible with efficiency and quality. By this point in American history, we should know better. After more than a century of honing its public school system, Florida has managed an on-time graduation rate of just 57%, placing it third from last nationally. Its composite SAT score is the fourth lowest among the states.

Writing Wrongs – Outsourcing Admission Essays

Bess Kargman:

College admissions officers around the country will be reading my application essays this month, essays in which I describe personal aspirations, academic goals — even, in one case, a budding passion for the sitar. What they won’t know is that I actually graduated from college more than a year ago, and that the names attached to these essays are those of my duplicitous clients.

Some Students Prefer Taking Classes Online

Justin Pope:

At some schools, online courses – originally intended for nontraditional students living far from campus – have proved surprisingly popular with on-campus students. A recent study by South Dakota’s Board of Regents found 42 percent of the students enrolled in its distance-education courses weren’t so distant: they were located on campus at the university that was hosting the online course.

Numbers vary depending on the policies of particular colleges, but other schools also have students mixing and matching online and “face-to-face” credits. Motives range from lifestyle to accommodating a job schedule to getting into high-demand courses.

Stossel: How the Lack of School Choice Cheats Our Kids Out of A Good Education

John Stossel:

And while many people say, “We need to spend more money on our schools,” there actually isn’t a link between spending and student achievement.
Jay Greene, author of “Education Myths,” points out that “If money were the solution, the problem would already be solved … We’ve doubled per pupil spending, adjusting for inflation, over the last 30 years, and yet schools aren’t better.”
He’s absolutely right. National graduation rates and achievement scores are flat, while spending on education has increased more than 100 percent since 1971. More money hasn’t helped American kids.
Ben Chavis is a former public school principal who now runs an alternative charter school in Oakland, Calif., that spends thousands of dollars less per student than the surrounding public schools. He laughs at the public schools’ complaints about money.

I’m impressed ABC devoted so much effort to education. The article includes full text and video.
Stossel also touches on Kansas City’s effort to turn around (1980’s and 1990’s) by spending more per student than any other district in the country. Madison School District Superintendent Art Rainwater implemented the largest court-ordered desegregation settlement in the nation’s history in Kansas City, Mo

Swan Creek Residents Organize to Stay at Leopold

Kurt Gutknecht, writing in the Fitchburg Star:

Residents of Swan Creek have launched a spirited campaign against plans to bus students from the area to Midvale/Lincoln elementary schools.
A few days after Christmas, 185 households signed a letter [500K PDF] opposing the plan, which a task force had proposed to address overcrowding at several schools in the western part of the Madison Metropolitan School District.
Students from Swan Creek now attend Leopold Elementary School.
The letter was presented at the Jan. 5 meeting of the task force. Another task force is preparing plans for the east side of the district where under enrollment is a greater concern.
According to the letter, said the plan being considered meant the “subdivision is used selfishly by the Madison school district” to “plug holes in a plan that has very little merit” and contradicts an agreement the district made when it exchanged land with the Oregon School District. During the negotiations prior to the land swap, the Madison district said children from Swan Creek would attend Leopold.
The letter cited behavioral and safety issues associated with long bus rides, the negative effects on parent involvement and neighborhood cohesion, and criticized the attempt to use children from the subdivision to achieve balanced income at the schools.
Prasanna Raman, a member of the task force who presented the letter, said busing students from Swan Creek could be a case of reverse discrimination.

UPDATE: Midvale parent Jerry Eykholt sent this letter [pdf] to the Task Force and Swan Creek residents.

Continue reading Swan Creek Residents Organize to Stay at Leopold

Thursday Morning Links: School Performance

  • Milwaukee’s new School Performance Ratings:

    Andrekopoulos said those studies are showing that students in high value-added programs are decidedly more engaged in actual classroom activity than those in low value-added schools.
    In a recent presentation to the School Board, he said MPS now understands why low-performing schools are that way. “We didn’t know that two years ago,” he said.
    Milwaukee Public Schools has begun listing how individual schools are doing not only on the widely used measure of what percentage of students are proficient or btter in standardizd tests, (attainment), but also with a measure in which the average increase in student scores from year to year in each school is compared with the average for all of MPS (value added).

  • Houston to pay teacher bonuses based on student test scores.

Via Email: What’s at Stake – Investing in Our Children and Our Future

Join West Madison and Middleton Neighbors: Make a Difference in Our Community
Sunday, January 22, 2006, 1:30–3:30 p.m.
Middleton Public Library, 7426 Hubbard Avenue [map]
Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Are you concerned about:

  • Reductions in public support for education, health care, housing and food assistance?
  • The growing disparity between the rich and the poor?
  • The long term impact of these trends on children and the future of our society?
  • The need for positive new approaches to address our community’s needs?
  • Do you feel that you don’t have the power to change things?

Continue reading Via Email: What’s at Stake – Investing in Our Children and Our Future

West Attendance Area Task Force Discussion at a PTO Meeting

Summary of a West Attendance Area Task Force Discussion at the Thoreau PTO:
MMSD Chief of Staff Mary Gulbrandsen participated in a well attended Thoreau PTO meeting recently to discuss the options that the West Attendance Area Task force is currently evaluating. I thought the conversation was quite interesting and have summarized several of the points discussed below:

  • The May, 2005 referenda failed due to poor communication. What will the District due to improve that? There was some additional discussion on this topic regarding whether a referendum could pass.
  • Why don’t the developers (and therefore the homeowners in these new subdivisions) pay for the costs of a new school? Discussion followed that included much larger building permit fees, a referenda question that asked whether the homeowners in these emerging subdivisions should pay for a facility and changes in the way that we fund public education. Some also suggested that people purchased homes in these areas knowing that there was not a school nearby and therefore should not be surprised that a bus ride is required. Mary mentioned her experiences growing up an a farm where a 45 minute bus ride was no big deal. Obviously, there are different perspectives on this – I rode the bus daily for several years.
  • Can’t the District sell some of their buildings (excess schools, Hoyt, Doyle – next to the Kohl Center) to pay for this? That would be a strong statement that might support the passage of a referendum.

Continue reading West Attendance Area Task Force Discussion at a PTO Meeting

Challenging Classes Inspire Students

Edward L. Kenney:

Some students think it’s OK to be average. They know they could do better, but figure why bother?
Besides, it’s not cool to do well in school. Their friends tell them so through classroom put-downs.
Gary Gilmer, 15, a freshman at Mount Pleasant High School, found that out when he signed up for a program the school started this year called Advancement Via Individual Determination, or AVID. Through AVID, school officials select average students who are making C’s and D’s, but have the potential to do better, and put them in honors and college-prep classes.

“School Choice: A Moral Issue?”

Shay Riley:

I am a staunch advocate for school vouchers, and a recent controversy help reaffirm my support. Residents of Ladera Heights – an affluent, mostly black community in Los Angeles metro – have organized for a territory transfer proposal to leave Inglewood’s school district of not-as-affluent blacks and Hispanics and join Culver City’s mostly white, middle-class school district with higher student achievement (registration required). However, both suburbs oppose the plan, which the Los Angeles County Committee on School District Organization takes up this month. Ladera Heights should have foreseen opposition by Culver City. That was a not-so-subtle hint by white folks to upscale coloreds (median household income in Ladera Heights: $90,000+); create your own good schools. Whatis even more problematic to me was the response by Inglewood officials, one of whose school board members calls the proposal racist and argues that Ladera Heights residents merely want to raise their property values (which are already higher than that of Culver City). Ahem, Ladera Heights is 70%+ black. Yet Inglewood officials want children to remain in crap schools in order to do social engineering and undermine freedom of association. However, if there was a school voucher option then the parents of Ladera Heights (which is not large enough to form its own district) could tailor a school for its community’s children.

“My Vocation Ed Problem”

Jay Matthews:

What’s the point of high school for the majority of our kids? Even at a school as successful on paper as Cajon, most of the kids I see every day are literally having their time wasted by a curriculum that is at least 80 percent college preparatory. I know that in the last decade the concept of “school-to-work” connections, “career academies” and “smaller learning communities” has been all the rage. But the reality that I’ve seen is that most of these have been pretty ineffectual due to the counter-trend of steadily beefing up college prep curriculum requirements – to the point that virtually all high school students are required to follow a course of study that will qualify them for a four-year college, even though less than half have any mathematical hope of doing so.

The Gap According to Black

Cydny Black:

In high school now, at Madison Memorial, I see this achievement gap more clearly than ever. Where are all the minority students in my advanced placement classes? Or more specifically, where are all the black students? In my advanced classes I can count them on one hand. And of these students, most are from middle to upper class families. Their parents have degrees of some sort, and their parents have pushed education—just as my parents encouraged me.
This leads me to ask, “What happens to all the kids whose parents don’t have degrees and who aren’t pushed to learn?” It seems to me that in a lot of these cases, they get trapped in the system, just like the two boys who fought at my school. And do teachers and administrations really know how to help them? It surprises me that we are taught history, math, science, and English but we are never given answers to some of the more difficult questions. The questions that deal with our society and our lives as young people growing up.
What does all of this mean for the African American youth who are struggling? How will they advance in school, and what’s more, in society?

Tuesday Morning Links

  • Urban Colleges Learn to be Good Neighbors:

    As a case study, Penn’s urban renewal effort is probably the most comprehensive — targeting every service and institution that makes a community vibrant. The university restored shuttered houses and offered faculty incentives to move into the neighborhood; invested $7 million to build a public school; brought in a much-needed 35,000-square-foot grocery store and movie theater; and offered the community resources such as hundreds of used Penn computers.
    “We said we teach our students about civic engagement. You can’t do that and not be role models for civic engagement,” said former Penn president Judith Rodin, who was a catalyst in the renewal efforts.

  • Referendum Tactic Calls on Old Friends
  • Earlier is Better, Leaders Say
  • No Child Left Behind: President Bush Visits School that Closed the Gap:

    The president invoked North Glen’s success on the fourth anniversary of the law, at a time when support for his signature education initiative has eroded.
    Despite large increases in federal aid to schools, many congressional Democrats say that overall, the law is underfunded. Some conservatives say the law undermines local authority and gives the federal government too much control over schools. Those concerns have stalled a Bush administration proposal to expand the law’s testing requirement to the nation’s high schools.
    Educational researchers say it is too soon to say whether the law has prompted lasting improvement in student achievement. “Bush is claiming greater success for the act than he can justify,” said Jack Jennings, president of the Center on Education Policy, a Washington research organization that has closely studied the law’s impact. “It is still unclear that the law will be successful in solving the problems in public education.”
    At North Glen, the percentage of black third-graders rated as proficient on the statewide test rose from 32 percent in 2003 to 94 percent in 2005, placing the campus among the top schools in Maryland for black student performance. Black students perform at least as well as whites on several academic measures at the school, whose student population is 42 percent black, 40 percent white, 11 percent Hispanic and 7 percent other ethnic groups.

  • Teens hangout at myspace
  • DC Seeks to Redirect Sales Tax to Schools:

    The chairman of the D.C. Council’s finance committee said yesterday that a proposal to modernize schools should be paid for by dedicating $100 million of city sales tax revenue every year for the next 15 years.

Memorial Students Studying Mandarin

Sandy Cullen:

Memorial High School sophomore Christopher Tate didn’t want to study the “regular” foreign languages such as Spanish or French.
“I wanted to take something new and different,” said Christopher, 15. So, like a growing number of people nationwide, he is learning Mandarin Chinese instead.
“China is poised to become the world’s other superpower,” said Natasha Pierce, who is teaching Mandarin to about 70 students at Memorial, the only Madison school where the language is offered. “We need to be culturally and linguistically competent in Chinese.”
Beginning in 2007, an Advanced Placement exam in Mandarin will be offered, providing students the added incentive of receiving college credit if they pass the test, she said.

This “choice” or elective approach is an interesting contrast to the English elective reductions underway at West.

What Are They Teaching the Teachers?

Joanne Jacobs:

Close the education schools writes George Will in Newsweek:

The surest, quickest way to add quality to primary and secondary education would be addition by subtraction: Close all the schools of education.

Will doesn’t think much of requiring would-be teachers to have the politically correct “disposition” for teaching. “The permeation of ed schools by politics is a consequence of the vacuity of their curricula, he argues, quoting Heather McDonald’s 1998 City Journal article, “Why Johnny’s Teacher Can’t Teach.”

Today’s teacher-education focus on “professional disposition” is just the latest permutation of what MacDonald calls the education schools’ “immutable dogma,” which she calls “Anything But Knowledge.”

The dogma has been that primary and secondary education is about “self-actualization” or “finding one’s joy” or “social adjustment” or “multicultural sensitivity” or “minority empowerment.” But is never about anything as banal as mere knowledge. It is about “constructing one’s own knowledge” and “contextualizing knowledge,” but never about knowledge of things like biology or history.

Will wants to return to teacher-centered classrooms led by math teachers who know math.

Florida Vouchers: Separate but Uniform

Joanne Jacobs:

Black Students Lose Again is the headline on John Tierney’s Jan. 7 New York Times column on the Florida Supreme Court’s decision to throw out vouchers for students attending low-performing schools.

Democrats once went to court to desegregate schools. But in Florida they’ve been fighting to kick black students out of integrated schools, and they’ve succeeded, thanks to the Democratic majority on the State Supreme Court.

Most voucher recipients are black students who’ve used the tuition aid to transfer from nearly all-minority schools to integrated private schools that offer a college prep education. Tierney cites Adrian Bushell, who chose a Catholic school that is 24 percent black instead of Miami Edison, a large local high school that’s 94 percent black and 6 percent Hispanic.

His experience is typical. In other places that have tried vouchers, like Milwaukee and Cleveland, studies have shown that voucher recipients tend to move to less segregated schools.

Besides helping Adrian (who’s got a 3.1 average and plans on college), the Florida program has also benefited students in public schools like Miami Edison. Because each voucher is worth less than what the public system spends per student, more money is left for each student in the public system. And studies have repeatedly shown that failing Florida schools facing voucher competition have raised their test scores more than schools not facing the voucher threat.

The court majority ruled the vouchers are unconstitutional because Florida is required to provide a “uniform” system of education.

Fail Exam? You Don’t Graduate

Nanette Asimov:

State Superintendent Jack O’Connell delivered a tough-love message Friday to nearly 50,000 high school seniors still hoping to escape a new requirement that they pass the state’s exit exam to get a diploma in June:
The answer is “no,” he said. There will be no way for this year’s students who fail the test to graduate with their classmates.
His message was a response to demands from critics of the exit exam that he find some alternative to this high-stakes test.
“I have concluded that there is no practical alternative available that would ensure that all students awarded a high school diploma have mastered the subject areas tested by the exam and needed to compete in today’s global economy,” O’Connell said.

Teachers Turning Tech Devices into Learning Tools

Ann Ryman:

High-tech gadgets have become some of the biggest nuisances at schools in recent years, especially right after winter break. But slowly, surely, instead of shunning such devices, some teachers are finding ways to use them in the classroom.
They’re part of a small but growing movement where educators strive to use the language and media of today’s tech- and Web-savvy kids to teach.
Here are three of the most popular new technologies teachers are testing in their classrooms.

Some useful ideas in this story, including teacher training. Stanford is podcasting, among othes.

Art Rainwater’s Monthly Column: Current School Finance System Needs to Change: “Advanced Courses May

Madison Schools Superintendent Art Rainwater:

School districts across Wisconsin are preparing to begin the yearly ritual of reducing services to their students. Under the current revenue caps there really is no choice for most of us. For most districts the easy choices were made long ago. After twelve years of revenue caps there are only choices left that harm our children.
At the same time that educational research is showing us more effective ways to ensure that all children learn, inadequate school finance systems are ensuring that we do not have the resources to implement what we know.
Or, the choice this year for some may be the reduction of the advanced courses (emphasis added) that allow our state’s students to be competitive with students globally, thus limiting the availability of the highly educated work force that our state needs to be competitive.

There are many budget posts on this site, including those that discuss health care costs, reading recovery, business services, state funding, local property taxes and a different point of view on school funding. Personally, for many reasons, I don’t see the current situation, modest annual budget growth, changing much. The more we yearn for additional state and federal dollars, the more we become dependent upon the political spaghetti associated with that type of funding. Having said all that, I do agree that the current model is a mess. I just don’t see it getting any better. We simply need to spend our annual $329M in the most effective, productive way possible.
I’m glad that Art is putting his words on the web! I look forward to more such publications.

The Year in Madison Blogs, Circa 2005

Kristian Knutsen:

In Madison, locally-oriented blogging is being led by a number of group efforts focused upon education, taverns, and the overall experience of living in town, complemented by a growing host of political writers. Here’s my thoughts about the growth of blogging in Madison over 2005.
The incontestable leader among Madison blogs over 2005 was School Information System (SIS), the group blog devoted to promoting community discussion about the Madison Metropolitan School District.

Regardless of the election’s outcome, look for School Information System to increase its visibility and activity over the next year.

The Safe Room

These words were written by a middle school special education assistant (SEA) who prefers to remain anonymous:

As adults, we head off to work everyday expecting each day to be similar to the others. Nothing out of the ordinary, just, pretty much, the same old, same old. But one day a difference occurs. A pounding against a wall starts somewhere down the hallway. It gets louder and more frequent. Then, the yelling begins. At first, one considers the possibilities for such commotion and none of them are pleasant. A fight amongst workers? A disgruntled customer or client? The yelling turns to screaming and it unnerves everyone around. The explanation is that there is a problem and to keep on working, to simply ignore the disruption. It eventually stops. The next day and after that, several days a week the same incident happens. The length of the disturbance can last from 10 to 45 minutes. It is obvious that whoever is in this situation is in severe emotional distress. Still, all those working on that same floor are told to ignore it, even if it is making one physically uncomfortable to listen to these episodes.

Continue reading The Safe Room

“the Geezer Wars… have begun?”

Eduwonk:

In the December 25th Wash. Post Outlook section Stan Hinden discussed the impending retirement of the baby boomers. It’s an enormous issue in terms of the shifting demographic burden.

It also matters for schools. Yet rather than preparing, the spending trajectory of the past thirty years has created an assumption that we can just spend our way to better schools and in any event is unlikely to continue. And, for a couple of reasons especially tax structures and entitlement spending schools are particularly vulnerable if indeed there is a Geezer War.

In today’s Baltimore Sun, Eduwonk writes about some implications for schools as the burden shifts and what to start doing about it — namely addressing the dreaded P-word: Productivity.

Changing City Puts Choice in New Light

Patrick McIlheran:

But what government can do, he says, is expand opportunities, most classically by education. The Milwaukee Public Schools are trying but are frequently unsuccessful. Of the children who enter its ninth grade, fewer than half make it to 12th grade. The district is trying to change, but a city that makes it onto national TV because of a mob beating needs anyone with bright ideas. And it would be particularly perverse to see those bright ideas, or the willingness of parents to take charge of children’s lives, stymied because of some separate argument about other programs the governor is demanding.

Parting Liberal Waters over No Child Left Behind

Samuel G. Freedman:

He wrote the legal brief that persuaded the Supreme Court in 1958 to order the integration of Little Rock’s public schools, and four decades later, his wavy black hair having long turned into an unruly gray cumulus, he was in court fighting to preserve a desegregation program for the St. Louis region.
In the past several years, though, Mr. Taylor has added a more controversial line to his résumé, as a public advocate for the No Child Left Behind law. From conferences of state legislators to conclaves at education schools, he has defended a statute closely associated with President Bush, parting ways with many of his lifelong allies on the left and bewildering the audiences that would otherwise venerate him.

“Are Teachers Unions Good for Urban Education?”

Shavar Jeffries:

Largely because of these rules, our urban schools better resemble bloated, civil-service bureaucracies than efficient, professional academies of learning.
The problem of union-precipitated bureaucracy is especially acute in urban schools given that union fundraising and organization greatly outstrip the political resources available to urban parents. Given this disparity in political influence, urban-district teachers unions negotiate, disproportionately, with themselves: unions on one side of the table; union-backed school board members, often elected specifically because of union support, on the other.

This is obviously a heated issue all around.

Private Education in India

Alex Tabarrok:

More than four out of five Indian engineering students attend private colleges, whose potential growth seems limitless. …
Something similar is happening to the Indian school system…Since the early 1990s the percentage of 6-to-14-year-olds attending private school has jumped from less than a tenth to roughly a quarter of the total in that cohort, according to India’s National Council of Applied Economic Research. And this number may be on the low side. James Tooley of the University of Newcastle in Britain has found that in some Indian slums about two-thirds of the children attend private schools, many of which are not officially recognized and so may escape the attention of nationwide surveys.

“Charter School Confidential”

Jay Matthews:

I don’t think there is a more important story in this new year of 2006 than what happens to the country’s growing charter schools.
But no matter what happens to the federal law, we are going to continue to try to improve schools in this country, one way or another. I would prefer to spend my time looking at the most interesting and encouraging efforts to do so, and that means checking on the charter schools — independently run public schools — since they have the most freedom to innovate.

“What You’ll Wish You’d Known”

Reader Carla Shedivy suggests that this Paul Graham essay “What You’ll Wish You’d Known” is a must read for high school freshman:

But there are other jobs you can’t learn about, because no one is doing them yet. Most of the work I’ve done in the last ten years didn’t exist when I was in high school. The world changes fast, and the rate at which it changes is itself speeding up. In such a world it’s not a good idea to have fixed plans.
And yet every May, speakers all over the country fire up the Standard Graduation Speech, the theme of which is: don’t give up on your dreams. I know what they mean, but this is a bad way to put it, because it implies you’re supposed to be bound by some plan you made early on. The computer world has a name for this: premature optimization. And it is synonymous with disaster. These speakers would do better to say simply, don’t give up.

Tax Base, City Growth and the School District’s Budget

Paying my annual property tax bill recently, I wondered what the effect of Madison’s development growth (some might call it sprawl) has had on overall spending growth and on an individual’s tax burden (note, Madison Schools include Fitchburg, Maple Bluff and Shorewood parcels). I contacted the city assessor’s office and asked how the number of parcels has changed since 1990. Here are the numbers (thanks to Hayley Hart and JoAnn Terasa):

2005: 64976 2004: 62249 2003: 60667 2002: 59090
2001: 58140 2000: 57028 1999: 56006 1998: 54264
1997: 53680 1996: 53152 1995: 52524 1994: 51271
1993: 50938 1992: 49804 1991: 49462 1990: 49069

Some believe that more money will solve the School District’s challenges.

Continue reading Tax Base, City Growth and the School District’s Budget

“Why Slave-Era Barriers to Literacy Still Matter”

Brent Staples:

Literate black people were not immune to the mob violence and intensifying racism that greeted all African-Americans after the Civil War. Nevertheless, the ability to read and write gave them a vantage point on their circumstances and protected them from swindlers who regularly stripped illiterate people of land and other assets. For these families, literacy was a form of social capital that could be passed from one generation to the next. By contrast, nonliterate families were disproportionately vulnerable to the Jim Crow policies and social exploitation that often locked them out of the American mainstream for generations on end.

More Money is Not Always the Answer: The New Space Race

Ed Bradley:

Interesting interview with Burt Rutan on his approach to space travel (low cost, efficient) vs. the traditional NASA approach (very expensive).

I found it interesting to listen to Rutan’s young engineer’s discuss the challenges and opportunities in their work. Two related articles worth reading:

The Education process is clearly at a tipping point in terms of conventional vs. new approaches. A teacher friend recently strongly suggested that we need to start from scratch (would that be a 0 based budget?).

2006-2007 MMSD Budget Comments

Jason Shepherd writing in the December 29, 2005 Isthmus:

  • Superintendent Art Rainwater: says the “most frustrating” part of his job is knowing there are ways to boost achievement with more resources, but not being able to allocate them. Instead, the district must each year try to find ways to minimize the hurt.
  • Board member Lawrie Kobza wants the board to review its strategic plan to ensure all students are being challenged with a rigorous curriculum.
  • Carol Carstensen, the current Board President says the “heterogenous” groupings, central to the West controversy (English 10, 1 curriculum for all), will be among the most important curriculum issues for 2006.
  • Ruth Robarts is closely watching an upcoming review of the district’s health insurance plans and pushing to ensure that performance goals for Rainwater include targeted gains for student achievement.
  • Johnny Winston says he’ll continue to seek additional revenue streams, including selling district land.

Read the full article here.

With respect to funding and new programs, the district spends a great deal on the controversial Reading Recovery program. The district also turned down millions in federal funds last year for the Reading First Program. Perhaps there are some opportunities to think differently with respect to curriculum and dollars in the district’s $329M+ budget, which increases annually.

Teacher Barb Williams offers her perspective on the expensive Reading Recovery program and the district’s language curriculum.

Board Candidate Maya Cole offers her thoughts on Transparency and the Budget

Top 10 Links for 2005

www.schoolinfosystem.org’s top 10 links for 2005:

  1. School Climate
  2. Governance/Board Decision Making
  3. Society and Sports
  4. Look Before you Leap: A Good Rule for Public Budget Making?
  5. Budget Financing
  6. Five Year Old Handcuffed in Tantrum
  7. Top 1000 US High Schools
  8. Update on MMSD Hiring a Fine Arts Coordinator
  9. Curriculum-Fine Arts
  10. Student Support
  11. Eugene Parks

Like the Big Ten, I cannot count. I included 11 in this top 10 list 🙂

Happy New Year!

“School Candidates Face Tough Issues”

WSJ Editorial:

Now they need to offer specific ideas for helping the district meet its many difficult challenges, such as:
The projected $6 million to $8 million gap in the 2006-2007 budget. How will the candidates keep educa tion levels high and costs low? What will be their priorities?
Shifting demographics. Many schools on the West and South sides, and some on the East Side, are crowded. Do the candidates agree with a task force’s preliminary options, including expanding Leopold and Chavez elementary schools and constructing a school on the far West Side?

More on the candidates here.

I wonder where these priorities came from?
The WSJ’s editorial is rather light on what I see as the most important issue for the Board: curriculum. The District’s curriculum strategy should drive all decisions, including budget, staffing, schedule, training and technology. It appears that I am not alone in this view as this site’s curriculum links are among the 10 most popular articles for 2005.

Bill Lueder’s 2005 “Cheap Shots” Awards

Bill Lueders:

Most Secretive Public Entity:
Madison Schools
This summer, the school board announced plans to meet in closed session to discuss teacher bennies, until this was deemed improper. In fall, the district suppressed a report that criticized school officials over the stun-gunning of a 14-year-old student on grounds that there was “pending litigation” — which of course means the litigants had certain access. It also cut a secret deal to buy land for a new school on the city’s southwest side, with board members refusing to delay final approval for even one week to allow for public input. What might voters do the next time the schools come seeking more money? Shhh! It’s a secret!