All posts by Jim Zellmer

Milwaukee: few transfer out of low scoring schools

Sarah Carr:

Fewer than 2% of students eligible to transfer out of low-performing Milwaukee schools under the federal No Child Left Behind Act will do so this fall.
Of about 19,000 students eligible for transfers, 410 submitted valid requests. Milwaukee Public Schools officials said they will give 280 of those students their first or second choices, but will probably not be able to accommodate the rest primarily because of space limitations at some schools.
“For the 280 students, this is an advantage,” said MPS Superintendent William Andrekopoulos. “But overall is this something that is going to improve the quality of teaching and learning in the city? No, I don’t think so.”

California Plans to Restructure Education System

Nanette Asimov:

The California Performance Review team that drafted the efficiency plan is recommending a constitutional amendment to abolish all 58 county Boards of Education, the 53 elected county superintendents and the five who are appointed. School districts, with their school boards and superintendents, would remain intact.
In place of the county offices of education would be 11 super centers doing the same work — running programs for severely disabled students and kids in trouble with the law, helping teachers improve their skills, acting as fiscal watchdogs over school districts and more.

Starting over in Chicago’s Poor Schools

Sam Dillon writes in the NY Times:

But there was an alternative – the city could shut them down on its own and create small, new, privately managed schools to replace them. And that, Mr. Martin wrote, would bring a crucial advantage: the new schools could operate outside the Chicago Teachers Union contract.
It seemed a fire-breathing proposal, since in its entire history Chicago had closed just three schools for academic failure, and the union is a powerful force in the school system here, the nation’s third largest. But Mr. Duncan was already convinced of the need for direct intervention in many failing schools, and the business group’s proposal helped shape a sweeping new plan, which Mayor Richard M. Daley announced in June. By 2010, the city will replace 60 failing schools with 100 new ones, and in the process turn one in 10 of its schools over to private managers, mostly operating without unions. It is one of the nation’s most radical school restructuring plans.
“It’s time to start over with the schools that are nonperforming,” Mr. Daley said in an interview July 19. “We need to shake up the system.”
The schools slated for closing include 40 elementary schools and 20 high schools. In all of them, most students perform far below grade level.

Barb Williams on The Harlem Project

Barb Williams forwarded a recent letter to the NY Times Magazine regarding the June 20, 2004 article: “It Takes a Hood” on The Harlem Project:

Of the many efforts aimed at interrupting the effects of poverty on kids’ lives, none has left me more hopeful than Paul Tough’s piece on The Harlem Project. Geoffrey Canada, to my mind, has got it right. His focus on poor black kids’ success in school, his goal to reach those least likely to succeed, and his preference for programs that emphasize accountablility are not new. But combine that with his plans for a charter school with longer days, a longer school year and a demanding curriculum (despite rifling the feathers of the teachers’ union) while having in place a network of support had me, a sometimes sad cynic, rooting him on. Maybe one day kids like Janiqua Utley will be guaranteed the kind education Canada envisions, rather than land on a waiting list. And perhaps Canada has identified what needs to be in place in order for children to imagine their own possibilities–unconstrained by their circumstances–and the means to realize them. We ought to pay very close attention. I salute Canada.

School Tax Relief Plan “all but dead”?


Amy Hetzner notes the interesting paradox to the current situation:

Residents in more than half of Wisconsin school districts could have ended up paying more under an all-but-dead idea to raise sales taxes to provide $1.44 billion in property tax relief, a new study says.
Milwaukee residents, in particular, could have paid $1 more in sales taxes for every 77 cents their property taxes were reduced if the plan had been in effect in 2003, claims a Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance report released Friday. In all, the study found 223 school districts containing 56% of the state’s public school enrollment would pay more in sales taxes than they would save in property taxes.
The study found that taxpayers in the Madison Metropolitan School District could get $1.20 in property tax relief for every new sales tax dollar.
“What this tells me is that when I see districts like Madison and Middleton in our area and Menomonee Falls or Wauwatosa in the Milwaukee area with positive returns of $1.20 per $1 sales tax or $1.30 or $1.40, that suggest a pattern going on,” Berry said.

School Technology Monoculture?

The Madison School District has more or less standardized many computers on Microsoft’s Windows operating system software. This approach, pitched as “sensible” because “that’s what most people use” ignores the explosive growth of other technology platforms such as:

The MMSD technology approach also ignores the fact that much will change by the time today’s K-12 students enter the workforce. At the end of the day, the network (the internet, essentially built on unix) is truly the computer.
Finally, one of the arguments for a windows monoculture is price. Advocates argue that windows pc’s are cheaper (generally ignorning the cost of virus, worm and other TCO (total cost of ownership) issues such as ongoing security patches, software compatibility issues and network support). Some of the cheapest pc’s around are linux based “LindowsOS PC’s, starting at $278.00.

School Finance Strangeness

Amy Hetzner summarizes the absurd aspects of the current state school finance schemes:

For example: If a school district with a maximum levy of $1 million one year decides to levy only $900,000, that district annually would collect $25,000 less from then on. Districts that voluntarily restrict their levies one year will not be able to catch up unless they ask voters to approve a tax increase in a referendum.
Hartford High School plans to levy taxes as high as it can for the coming school year but will be able to carry over only $118,000 of the unused levy from the previous year, Tortomasi estimated.

Latino Parents Decry Bilingual Programs

Samuel Freedman writes:

ON a sultry night in late June, when the school term was nearly over, two dozen parents gathered in a church basement in Brooklyn to talk about what a waste the year had been. Immigrants from Mexico and the Dominican Republic, raising their children in the battered neighborhood of Bushwick, they were the people bilingual education supposedly serves. Instead, one after the other, they condemned a system that consigned their children to a linguistic ghetto, cut off from the United States of integration and upward mobility.
These parents were not gadflies and chronic complainers. Patient and quiet, the women clad in faded shifts, the men shod in oil-stained work boots, they exuded the aura of people reluctant to challenge authority, perhaps because they ascribed wisdom to people with titles, or perhaps because they feared retribution.

Social Promotion & Summer School

The WSJ Editorial page, in a wide ranging piece, discussed social promotion and the utility of summer school:

That’s because the get-tough approach – flunking students – isn’t realistic: Repeating a grade does more harm than good. Such students are much more likely to cause behavior problems, skip school and eventually drop out.
And simply advancing students to the next level – called “social promotion” – with no extra help only ensures the children will fall behind even faster the next year. Wisconsin law now prohibits social promotion out of fourth and eighth grades.
With both social promotion and grade retention discredited as phony strategies that harm, not help, student achievement, summer school starts to look like a good investme

3rd Grade Reading Scores Released

Wisconsin DPI just released statewide third grade reading test results:

  • DPI Superintendant Elizabeth Burmaster’s comments: (6 page pdf)
  • Sarah Carr: Still, at the state level, educators need to work on closing a persistent achievement gap between students of different races and socioeconomic classes, said Joe Donovan, state Department of Public Instruction spokesman. This year, 64% of African-American and 65% of Hispanic students scored in the top two categories, compared with 90% of white students.
    Lindsey added that too many MPS schools – 18 to be exact – have fewer than half of the students reading at proficient or advanced levels.

  • Lee Sensenbrenner: Marquette, a school for third- through fifth-grade students, partners with Lapham Elementary, which teaches phonics-based reading to its kindergarten through second-grade students.
  • Lee Sensenbrenner writes:
    Notable within the district were the two elementary schools that led the county for the percentage of students reading at the advanced level:
    Shorewood Hills, drawing from affluent homes and graduate student housing on the near west side, topped the list with 70.1 percent of its students at the top level.
    Second was Marquette Elementary, a near east side school where more than 28 percent of the students come from low-income homes. There, 65.7 tested at the advanced level, while another 28.6 read at the proficient level.
    This approach, coupled with an individual remedial reading program called Direct Instruction, is somewhat different from the curriculum in other Madison elementary schools.

Property-Tax Rise Triggers

Ray Smith’s article on the growing property tax backlash is one of many excellent examples of why Ruth Robart’s ongoing efforts to create a more strategic & transparent Madison Schools budget process is vital. The district’s plans for 2005 referendums simply increases the urgency for a well thought out process – rather than throwing hot button fee issues against the wall and determing what sticks. Read the entire article:

Continue reading Property-Tax Rise Triggers

For the Children: Biometric ID’s

Via Kuro5hin:
Thanks to the kind generosity of the civic-minded folks at Ingersoll-Rand, teachers at Boca Raton’s Don Estridge High Tech Middle School will no longer have to take attendance. Side benefit: malleable, young students will become conditioned and eager to submit their body parts for biometric identification in the future.
Obligatory stomach-churning quote:

“It’s for the teachers’ protection as well as the kids … my kids are telling everyone about it. They think it’s so high-tech, so FBI, so cool.”

In case you experience any cognitive dissonance with the sentiment above, just keep repeating the following handy mantra to yourself: “it’s for our protection, it’s for our protection, it’s for our protection…”
BTW – Don Estridge headed up the skunk works in Boca Raton that led to the 1981 IBM PC. (Estridge died in the 1985 Delta L-1011 crash at DFW airport).

School Finance/Reform Articles

Amy Hetzner writes that school finance reform is necessary, but no one agrees on the formula. Hetzner points out the strange nature of this issue: spending, in many cases has gone up significantly despite “spending controls”. Excellent article. Steven Walters writes a followup today on the proposed sales tax boost.
The State Journal has posted four more editorial pieces on schools:

Wisconsin School Finance Opinion Articles

The Wisconsin State Journal has published three related editorials on school finance issues:

I would be surprised if this round of school finance changes substantially increases the amount of money available for schools. There’s also a growing risk of problems as local districts rely completely on state/federal funding sources (filled with political schemes and deal making).

Balancing Mission & Money in Higher Education

Lewis Collens reviews Shakespeare, Einstein and the Bottom Line: The Marketing of Higher Education by David L. Kirp.

David Kirp’s excellent book “Shakespeare, Einstein, and the Bottom Line” provides a remarkable window into the financial challenges of higher education and the crosscurrents that drive institutional decision-making. He reminds us that the coin of the realm in higher education is the quality of education and research, and he cautions that the pursuit of dollars can debase the coin of the realm.
Kirp explores the continuing battle for the soul of the university: the role of the marketplace in shaping higher education, the tension between revenue generation and the historic mission of the university to advance the public good.

2005 Referendums?

Lee Sensenbrenner writes about Madison Schools Superintendent Art Rainwater’s recent comments regarding three possible 2005 referendums:

“Facing growing subdivisions on the city’s edges, the expiration of a maintenance fund, and state laws that annually force cuts, the Madison School Board may be looking at three referendums next year.”

State laws do not directly “force cuts”. Rather, Wisconsin has controversial state laws that control the annual rate of increase in local school spending (“revenue caps”) and teacher contract compensation growth (QEO). Indeed, there are state caps on most, but not all school spending growth.
Interestingly, according to this Active Citizens for Education document (270K PDF), Madison school spending has increased from $180M in 1993 to $308M in 2003/2004 – with revenue caps in place ($12,419/student). The document also mentions that enrollment “has stayed virtually the same during the past ten years: 24,800”.
Given the spending growth, there must be more to this than is mentioned in Lee’s article.

School Finance Reform

Sunday’s Wisconsin State Journal features an editorial on the recently proposed Public School Finance Reforms:
School reformers fail math test:

Put together, this equation fails any basic math test. Even under the current limits, payroll eats around 80 percent of the money available to schools. If schools no longer limit employee cost increases but cannot get new money to cover those rising costs, where is the money coming from? Cuts to other areas? Most of the frills are already gone. More fees? Parents already fork over hundreds of dollars on top of the taxes they – and everyone else – already pay for schools. Tax swap aids pols, not schools Fatal flaw aside, any plan that uses sales taxes to help pay for schools invites a new set of problems. The task force nevertheless expects to recommend increasing the sales tax from 5 percent to 6 percent to generate $800 million a year.

Links and additional comments are available here.

Arts & School Crime in the Local Newspapers

Brendia Ingersoll on “Some say schools have gotten more violent.”
Lee Sensenbrenner on Arts in Schools supporters pressing the Board of Education to save K-12 curriculum.
Manny Fernandez provides another perspective on school crime, from Washington, DC.

He avoided trouble by sticking to the basketball court, focused on sharpening his game while walking past clusters of young men who hang out near his apartment building after school.

States’ End Run Dilutes Special Ed Burden

Diana Jean Schemo writes about States’ efforts to get around the No Child Left Behind improvement requirements:

Under the federal No Child Left Behind law, every category of student at Broad Acres � including special education � must show improvement or the entire school can face penalties. But like a dozen other states, Maryland is hoping to circumvent those rules, asking to count students like Ms. Grant’s only as children of poverty, a big group that would hide any lack of academic growth.
Maryland officials say their proposals would avoid large numbers of schools being labeled “in need of improvement” when only small numbers of students are doing poorly. If changes are not made, said Nancy Grasmick, Maryland’s superintendent of schools, “there’ll be a lot of anger on the part of the community,” some of it possibly directed at the special education students.

National Spelling Bee, School Finance

Two fascinating posts at former SJ Mercury writer Joanne Jacobs blog:

  • National Spelling Bee results, commentary from the American Literacy Union, who picketed the event (debt vs dette among other useful comments). Jackobs also writes about single mother Ashley White, a former spelling bee contestant featured in the film Spellbound.
  • School Finance Post, with some interesting comments and links (California Finance and a recent Economist article).

Smarter than the CEO

Wired’s James Surowiecki has an interesting look at authoritarian vs democratic governance cultures (he argues that collective intelligence is far more effective, than a top down structure)

Instead of looking to a single person for the right answers, companies need to recognize a simple truth: Under the right conditions, groups are smarter than the smartest person within them. We often think of groups and crowds as stupid, feckless, and dominated by the lowest common denominator. But take a look around. The crowd at a racing track does an uncannily good job of forecasting the outcome, better in fact than just about any single bettor can do.

NPR: Key to a Good Math Teacher?

NPR’s All Things Considered: Experts Say Best Instructors Spot Where Students Go Wrong:

Research shows that teachers with degrees in the subjects they teach are more successful. That’s the reason behind teacher-certification requirements in the federal No Child Left Behind education law.
But as Robert Frederick reports, not all mathematicians are successful math teachers. Most could use some help in becoming calculating sleuths. Education experts note that most advanced math programs are geared toward theoretical as opposed to practical instruction.
It’s not enough to know math, says Judith Ramaley of the National Science Foundation. Teachers “also need to understand how the minds of young people work, and how to diagnose� the kinds of tangles kids get into,” she says.

Would Shakespeare Get Into Swarthmore?

John Katzman, Andy Lutz, and Erik Olson write: How several well-known writers (and the Unabomber) would fare on the new SAT.

In the summer of 2002 the College Board announced its plans to change the SAT. The new test will (surprise, surprise) contain several higher-level algebra questions, will no longer contain analogies questions, and will�as part of a whole new section on “writing”�includ an essay question. It is scheduled to be administered for the first time in March of next year.
To illustrate how the essays on the “new” SAT will be scored, The Princeton Review has composed some typical essay questions, provided answers from several well-known authors, and applied the College Board’s grading criteria to their writing.

Good Teachers + Small Class Sizes = Quality Education

Barb Williams forwarded this article by Michael Winerip, and asked me to post it (“It is, I believe, the sum of all we need in education–period, the end”):

The secret to quality public education has never been a big mystery. You need good teachers and you need small enough classes so those teachers can do their work. Period. After that, everything seems to pale, including the testing accountability programs, technology, building conditions. Even curriculum seems secondary, as our best public colleges demonstrate. We have West Point and we have Berkeley, and the question isn’t which has the correct curriculum; the question is which curriculum is the best fit for the student and teacher.
Parents get this. Joe Gipson, a black parent from Sacramento who feels that black students are too often shortchanged, told me the best thing that happened to his children’s school was the California law capping class size at 20 through third grade. You can still have incompeten

Budget Email

I sent this email to comments@madison.k12.wi.us this evening

I am writing, first to thank you for the time and effort you devote to the MMSD.
Second, I’m writing to find out why some of you voted recently to increase administrative compensation ($589K), while at the same time eliminating gym instructors AND increasing student fees?
Perhaps there is an opportunity to re-think this? I would suggest telling the administrators to find 589K from their budget to fund the comp increase. In return, the student fee increases can be rolled back and perhaps a few more gym instructors retained.
Let’s fund student curriculum & programs first, then deal with administrative costs.
Best wishes –

Links: Gym Instructor Reductions | Admin Compensation Increases

Ideas to Close the Education Gap

Alan J. Borsuk writes about efforts to close the education gap between black & white students:

In Wisconsin the gap is so wide that black eighth-graders and white fourth-graders had almost identical scores in math on a national standardized test given in 2003. The gap between white and black eighth-graders was larger in Wisconsin than in any other state in both reading and math on that set of tests.

There’s been quite a bit of discussion on Bill Cosby’s recent speech at Howard University. The Washington Post’s Colbert I. King says simply: “Fix it, Brother“. Debra Dickerson also comments on her blog.

Technology & Cheating…

Nicole Sweeney updates us on several technology related cheating events in the Milwaukee area:

At Waterford Union High School, a handful of students stole the answers to their physics exam and programmed the answers into their graphing calculators.
At Racine Park High School, a student used her camera phone to send a photo of her test to a friend.
And at Walden III Middle and High School in Racine, some students tape-recorded their notes to play back on hidden ear phones during exams.

Email to Board of Education

I sent this mail to the Madison Board of Education regarding the current budget discussions (comments@madison.k12.wi.us):
First, thank you for all that you do. You truly have a thankless role on the MMSD BOE.
I am writing to pass along a few comments on the current board budget deliberations:
a) I urge you to apply reduced spending increases or in some cases reductions, across the budget, rather than attempt to load fees onto a few programs (Keep in mind that Madison’s 308+m budget is much richer than many other like sized communities). This strikes me as the ONLY fair approach.

Continue reading Email to Board of Education

Board Watch

Don Severson sent this email over the weekend regarding Monday’s BOE meeting (5.17.2004) :

Please join me (Don Severson) in a MMSD Board of Education watch Monday evening, May 17 at about 6:00 p.m. The agenda is copied below. The Board will start discussing amendments to the 04-05 budget proposed by Supt. Rainwater sometime by 6:00. The Board will ostensibly make decisions on $9.9 million worth cuts and changes to the budget. The rules of the Board discussion on the budget preclude public input at this meeting.
It is critical, however, that we have a strong show of community interest in
their deliberations.

Continue reading Board Watch

ACE Presentation to School Board

Don Severson forwarded his presentation to the Madison School Board Thursday evening:

Inasmuch as the BOE and district administration are engaged in the leadership of an educational enterprise this is a good time to reflect on our experiences in the operation of the system and its processes. Let me suggest a �lesson plan�. This lesson plan has been prepared for the BOE and administrative leadership of the district and intended for their collaborative planning and implementation with teachers, parents, students and the community.

Continue reading ACE Presentation to School Board

International Biotech Summit on Curriculum

M.R.C. Greenwood, provost and SVP of academic affairs for the University of California System kicked off the Summit with some comments on US Elementary School Curriculum:

The biggest problem in moving ideas from the lab to the marketplace, said Greenwood, is a massive drought of brainpower looming in the United States’ near future. As the National Science Foundation’s recently released Science & Engineering (S&E) Indicators 2004 report revealed, the number of U.S. jobs requiring science and engineering skills is growing at nearly 5 percent annually, compared with a 1 percent growth rate for the rest of the U.S. labor market. Yet there are not nearly enough qualified U.S. scientists and engineers to meet the demand. In the past the nation has relied on skilled foreign-born workers, but many are choosing to work in other countries in response to increasingly strict U.S. visa requirements and burgeoning global demand for their skills.
With Asian countries now conferring more science and engineering bachelor’s degrees and Europe more such Ph.D.’s than the United States, “our biggest national security problem is the number of students interested in science and math,” said Greenwood.

Copenhagen Consensus Project on The Learning Deficit

Harvard’s Lant Pritchett writes in a new paper for the Copenhagen Consensus Project:

There are many ways to press forward this kind of systemic reform, Mr Pritchett argues. Vouchers and a �market� for education might work well in some circumstances, but other approaches could achieve good results too in some cases: school autonomy (as granted to �charter schools� in the United States, for instance), decentralisation of control, community management, and the use of non-government providers, could all, Mr Pritchett argues, serve the goal of structural reform that he regards as necessary if the application of extra resources is to succeed.
One striking indication of how easy it is to spend money fruitlessly in education comes from the rich countries. According to one study cited by Mr Pritchett, Britain increased its real spending per pupil by 77% between 1970 and 1994; over the same period, the assessment score for learning in maths and science fell by 8%. Australia increased its real spending per pupil by 270%; its pupils� scores fell by 2%. Extra spending by itself is likely to be no more successful in the poor countries than it has been in the rich.

MMSD Elementary School Multi-age Classrooms

Roger Allen forwarded a note to me from the Mad_School_Imp Yahoo Group

On 5/11/04 the Elvejhem Elementary School held an informational meeting about its decsion to proceed with all multiage classrooms
(combined grade classrooms) for grades 2-5. There will not be any single grade classrooms for these grades.
The MMSD Lead Elementary Principal Jennifer Allen announced that multiage classrooms are the model the school district is moving to. She complemented Elvejhem for holding this meeting as many of the schools that are moving to this model will be doing so next fall without any such informational meetings.
Many parents were upset by their lack of options and the lack of consultation on the part of the district. Eleven teachers attended this meeting in addition to the shcool prinicpal and the district lead principal. The teachers presented a united front in favor of the multiage classrooms. However, there are other teachers who privately oppose this move. Twenty five parents attended the meeting.

Guru Parulkar on US Education Curriculum

From Dave Farber’s [IP] List (Farber is Distinguished Career Professor of Computer Science and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon): Guru Parulkar writes:

I read this posting with a lot of interest because I also grew up in India and have been following changes in US and in India (as an ordinary interested citizen) for the past 20 years since I came to this country. I was a bit surprised with the generalizations about both India and US suggested in the email from Slashdot.
India is a big country with a lot of diversity. The type of value system as well as exposure to science/engineering implied in the Slashdot posting (children writing essays about getting Nobel prize, children growing up aspiring to be pioneers in science and technology) apply to a small cross-section of the society. I don’t think it applies to India in general or even to the majority in India. It is definitely true that the large middle class in India puts tremendous emphasis on education. However, the reason for this emphasis has been that careers in engineering and medicine have been the only way to make descent living. Right or wrong (like it or not) at a very early age kids recognize (because parents and society drill it down) that unless they do well in academics, they wouldn’t be able to get into engineering or medicine and thus not have a descent life. And so kids get serious about education and they start to respect other kids who do well in the school. It is not the “love of science or innovation” that has been making people serious about education. It is simply the financial rewards down the road. A lot of us Indians here in US wonder if this academic pressure on kids in India is appropriate because this means kids study and study and don’t have time to learn, enjoy, and experience other stuff that matter too in life.

Continue reading Guru Parulkar on US Education Curriculum

Teachers’ Bottom Line


Denver is the first major city to approve a salary structure that rewards teachers for the progress of their students, according to this article by Diana Jean Schemo.

As a teacher of emotionally disturbed children, Jeremy Abshire sets goals for each of his students. Geronimo, 14, an American Indian who knew only the letters for “Jerry,” will read and write, and sign his true name. Shaneesa, a meek 12-year-old reading at a first-grade level, will catch up to her middle-school peers and attend regular classes in the fall.
Under a proposal approved by teachers here and to be considered by voters next year, if Mr. Abshire’s students reach the goals he sets, his salary will grow. But if his classroom becomes a mere holding tank, his salary, too, will stagnate.
“The bottom line is, do you reward teachers for just sitting here and sticking it out, or for doing something?” said Mr. Abshire, who has been teaching for four years. “The free market doesn’t handle things that way, so why should it be any different here?”
In March, Denver’s teachers became the first in a major city to approve, by a 59 percent majority, a full-scale overhaul of the salary structure to allow “pay for performance,” a controversial approach that rewards teachers for the progress of their students.
At a time when more and more superintendents are supporting moves away from the traditional salary structure for teachers, and finding their efforts stymied in an atmosphere of suspicion and financial austerity, Denver teachers’ vote is a major breakthrough.

ACE Roundtable May 11 7 to 9p.m.

7:00p.m. Commodore Room @ the Radisson Hotel (Odana & Grand Canyon)
Active Citizens for Education (ACE) is seeking grass roots input from interested parents, teachers and others regarding the current effectiveness and future direction of MMSD curriculum, instruction, programs, services, leadership and operations. ACE believes theinformation, experiences and suggestions from those people who are living and working on a day-to-day basis with the school system are in the best position to assist indeveloping direction and strategies for future change and development. Ace is sensitive to the concerns people have for exposure of their concerns and ideas to others andpledges to honor the confidentiality of those sensitivities. ACE needs help in formulating processes that can have an impact on the school system for improved effectiveness and performance.
More Information 82K PDF

Circulation of West High School Calculus Exams in 2001

Lee Sensenbrenner:

As a sophomore at Madison West High School, Danny Cullenward tookCalculus 1, a yearlong advanced math class that put the only B on theotherwise straight-A student’s transcript.
The same happened with Sam Friedman, the former captain of West’s mathteam. Friedman, who is now at the University of Chicago, got two B’s incalculus at West but went on, as a high school student, to get an A inadvanced calculus at the University of Wisconsin.Chris Moore, who is a junior at West and is already ranked among the top 30high school math students in the United States, also had trouble in his highschool course. He got a B when he took calculus as a freshman.
UW Professor Janet Mertz knows of all these cases, and cited them in aletter to administrators. She argued, as other parents have for more than ayear, that something is not right with the way calculus students at West aretested.
It’s unfair, she wrote, and it’s hurting students’ chances to get intoelite colleges such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for whichMertz interviews student applicants.

Fuzzy Math at West High: A Capital Times Editorial:

For more than a year, a group of West High parents have beencomplaining about the way calculus students at West are tested. This week theywent public — voicing their concerns before the Madison School Board.The first complaint came from Joan Knoebel and Michael Cullenward, M.D., onbehalf of their son, now a senior at West. They decried the fact that KeithKnowles, West’s calculus teacher, reuses old tests or parts of old tests thatare available to some — but not all — students.
According to the formal complaint, “students have obtained copies fromolder siblings, prior students, through study groups, private tutors, or by awell-defined grapevine.” The school itself does not keep the tests on file.
School district administrators contend that Knowles did nothing wrong andthat there’s no evidence to conclude that having access to old tests washelpful to students.

Doug Erickson:

George Kelly, English chairman at East High School, said teachers share thesame interests as committee members — to ensure that students have access tothe tests they’ve taken and to make the playing field level for all students.But he said a districtwide policy would be cumbersome.
“There’s a larger issue here,” Kelly said. “How much micromanaging does theboard want to do in instruction and evaluation?”
West parent Joan Knoebel said Tuesday that the district continues to avoidthe real issue that her family raised, which is that a particular teacher atWest is not following the test return policy already in place at that school.Although she would like to see districtwide guidelines, she has neversuggested that the problem is widespread.
“(The district) is attacking this globally, when what you really have isone teacher who, in my opinion, is acting unethically,” she said. “They’reusing an elephant gun to shoot a starling.”

Joan Knoebel:

Common sense tells us that students with an advance copy of a test have asignificant advantage over their classmates. Assessment is meaningless underthese circumstances.This is the basis of our complaint. And this isn’t just about one teacherat West. The decisions in this case emanate throughout the Madison SchoolDistrict.
What’s the teacher’s job? To teach the principles of calculus and to fairlyevaluate whether his students learned the math. He undoubtedly knows the math,as some former students enthusiastically attest. However, because old examswere not available to all, the only thing his tests reliably measured is whoma student knows, not what a student knows.
And — this point is critical — he also couldn’t tell whether the tests heconstructed, or copied, were “good” tests. A good test is one a well-preparedstudent can complete successfully during class time. Think of it this way.Assume there were no old tests to study — all students were on a levelplaying field. The teacher gives a test. No one finishes or gets a high score.Did no one understand the material? Possibly, but many of these hardworkingstudents come to class prepared. The better explanation is that there was aproblem with the test itself; for example, it was too long or too complex tofinish within the time limit.
This mirrors the experience of students who didn’t study the old tests.Unfortunately, they were sitting alongside classmates who’d seen an advancecopy and could thus easily finish within the class period.
Ten years ago, West High enacted a test return policy. Why? Because thiscalculus teacher, among others, wouldn’t give the tests back. The policy was acompromise to give families a chance to review tests, but only underconditions that gave teachers control against copies being handed down.
This calculus teacher had a choice: offer in-school review, as is done atMemorial High, or let the tests go home under tight restrictions, including awritten promise not to copy or use them for cheating. After this policy washammered out, he elected to return his tests unconditionally yet continued tore-use his tests. The district says that was his prerogative.
What was the administration’s job here? To conduct a fair formal complaintprocess and to ensure that assessment is non-discriminatory. The “outsideinvestigator” the district appointed is a lawyer who together with her firmroutinely does other legal work for the district. Had we known of thisconflict, we wouldn’t have wasted our time. In reality, the administration andits investigator endeavored mostly to find support for the foregone conclusionthat a teacher can run his class as he wishes.
We greatly appreciate our children’s teachers, but with all due respect,autonomy does not trump the duty of this teacher, the administration and theboard to provide all students with a fair and reliable testing scheme.
The only remedy the district offers is to let students repeat the course,either at West or at UW-Madison at their own expense — $1,000 — andsubstitute the new grade. This isn’t a genuine remedy. It punishes studentsfor a problem they didn’t create. Furthermore, it is only truly available tothose who can afford UW-Madison tuition and the time.
What was the School Board’s job? To tackle public policy — in this case,non-discriminatory assessment. With one brave exception, the board ducked, andchose to protect the teacher, the administration and the union — everyoneexcept the students.
The solution is easy. If teachers are going to re-use tests or questions,safeguard them using the test return policy or make an exam file available toall. Otherwise, write genuinely fresh tests each time.
After 14 months of investigation and a 100-plus page record, it’s worsethan when we started. Now the district says that this teacher, any teacher,can re-use tests and give them back without restriction, and that it isperfectly acceptable for some but not all students to have copies to preparefrom.
For six months, we sought to resolve this matter privately and informally,without public fanfare. Confronting the dirty little secret of the calculusclass didn’t sully West’s remarkable national reputation, but openly paperingit over surely does. Simply put, this teacher didn’t do his job. Theadministration and six board members didn’t do theirs, either. “Putting kidsfirst” needs to be more than just a campaign slogan. –>
In the Madison West High calculus class, tests are the only way astudent is evaluated — not by quizzes, homework or classroom participation,just tests. The teacher admits he duplicates or tweaks old tests. He knew somebut not all students had copies, yet he wouldn’t provide samples or an examfile.
Common sense tells us that students with an advance copy of a test have asignificant advantage over their classmates. Assessment is meaningless underthese circumstances.This is the basis of our complaint. And this isn’t just about one teacherat West. The decisions in this case emanate throughout the Madison SchoolDistrict.
What’s the teacher’s job? To teach the principles of calculus and to fairlyevaluate whether his students learned the math. He undoubtedly knows the math,as some former students enthusiastically attest. However, because old examswere not available to all, the only thing his tests reliably measured is whoma student knows, not what a student knows.
And — this point is critical — he also couldn’t tell whether the tests heconstructed, or copied, were “good” tests. A good test is one a well-preparedstudent can complete successfully during class time. Think of it this way.Assume there were no old tests to study — all students were on a levelplaying field. The teacher gives a test. No one finishes or gets a high score.Did no one understand the material? Possibly, but many of these hardworkingstudents come to class prepared. The better explanation is that there was aproblem with the test itself; for example, it was too long or too complex tofinish within the time limit.
This mirrors the experience of students who didn’t study the old tests.Unfortunately, they were sitting alongside classmates who’d seen an advancecopy and could thus easily finish within the class period.
Ten years ago, West High enacted a test return policy. Why? Because thiscalculus teacher, among others, wouldn’t give the tests back. The policy was acompromise to give families a chance to review tests, but only underconditions that gave teachers control against copies being handed down.
This calculus teacher had a choice: offer in-school review, as is done atMemorial High, or let the tests go home under tight restrictions, including awritten promise not to copy or use them for cheating. After this policy washammered out, he elected to return his tests unconditionally yet continued tore-use his tests. The district says that was his prerogative.
What was the administration’s job here? To conduct a fair formal complaintprocess and to ensure that assessment is non-discriminatory. The “outsideinvestigator” the district appointed is a lawyer who together with her firmroutinely does other legal work for the district. Had we known of thisconflict, we wouldn’t have wasted our time. In reality, the administration andits investigator endeavored mostly to find support for the foregone conclusionthat a teacher can run his class as he wishes.
We greatly appreciate our children’s teachers, but with all due respect,autonomy does not trump the duty of this teacher, the administration and theboard to provide all students with a fair and reliable testing scheme.
The only remedy the district offers is to let students repeat the course,either at West or at UW-Madison at their own expense — $1,000 — andsubstitute the new grade. This isn’t a genuine remedy. It punishes studentsfor a problem they didn’t create. Furthermore, it is only truly available tothose who can afford UW-Madison tuition and the time.
What was the School Board’s job? To tackle public policy — in this case,non-discriminatory assessment. With one brave exception, the board ducked, andchose to protect the teacher, the administration and the union — everyoneexcept the students.
The solution is easy. If teachers are going to re-use tests or questions,safeguard them using the test return policy or make an exam file available toall. Otherwise, write genuinely fresh tests each time.
After 14 months of investigation and a 100-plus page record, it’s worsethan when we started. Now the district says that this teacher, any teacher,can re-use tests and give them back without restriction, and that it isperfectly acceptable for some but not all students to have copies to preparefrom.
For six months, we sought to resolve this matter privately and informally,without public fanfare. Confronting the dirty little secret of the calculusclass didn’t sully West’s remarkable national reputation, but openly paperingit over surely does. Simply put, this teacher didn’t do his job. Theadministration and six board members didn’t do theirs, either. “Putting kidsfirst” needs to be more than just a campaign slogan.

Lee Sensenbrenner: Former Students Defend Teacher:

After hearing West High graduates who had returned home for winterbreak defend their former calculus teacher, the Madison School Board decidedit would seek the advice of department heads before potentially changing anypolicies on math tests.
Noah Kaufman, a freshman at Dartmouth College, told the board Monday nightthat complaints against calculus teacher Keith Knowles — who parents sayrepeated exam material without providing universal access to the old tests –were “entirely unreasonable.””Had I memorized numbers and calculations from old exams, and passed themoff as my answers, I would have failed my class, without question,” Kaufmansaid.
“Mr. Knowles did not use the same questions on different tests. What he diddo was ask questions that involved similar applications of the concepts. Allof these concepts were explained thoroughly in the textbook, as well as by Mr.Knowles himself.
“A student could have access to the concepts and examples of applicationsby simply doing the homework and paying attention in class.”

Doug Erickson:

arents of a Madison West High School senior urged the School BoardMonday to make sure that teachers who recycle exams from year to year also tryto keep copies of the old tests from circulating among students.
Either that, or a sample test should be made available to all studentsequally, said Joan Knoebel.She said her son, Danny Cullenward, and other students were at adisadvantage during several semesters of advanced math, because the teacherrecycled tests even though he knew that some but not all students had accessto old copies. Danny said that when he privately asked for help, the teachertold him to find old tests but refused to supply them.
Said his mother: “Exams should be about what you know, not who you know.”
She said her son, a National Merit Scholarship semifinalist, becamesuspicious when some students breezed through the exams while he struggled tofinish on time.

Intel CEO Craig Barrett on US K-12 Math & Science Education

In a USA Today interview, Intel CEO Craig Barrett discusses outsourcing, competition and US K-12 Education: “We do not send our basketball teams to compete against the rest of the world, saying the other teams have to play slower because our folks aren’t fit enough to run as fast.”:

Q: In K-12 education, what would you like to see that you are not seeing?
A: If we could capture 1% of the hot air that has gone out on this topic and turn it into results, it would be wonderful. The results are how our kids compare to their international counterparts, particularly in math and science. The longer kids stay in the system, the worse they do compared to their international counterparts. In fourth grade, our kids are roughly comparable. By eighth grade, they are behind. By the 12th grade, they are substantially behind other industrialized nations.
Q: What are the hurdles?
A: One is very simply the teachers. I’m not criticizing teachers, per se, but 25% to 30% who teach math or science in K-12 are not educated in the math and science they teach. If you are going to be an engineering major, you are going to need 12 years of solid math. What are the odds of getting 12 consecutive good teachers in a row if 30% of them are not qualified?

Eduwonk on No Child Left Behind NYT Article

Education blog Eduwonk writes about a recent NY Times article profiling a Florida school

So, rather than the storyline of an unfairly maligned school caught up the unfair rules of an ill-conceived law, instead we have a school where about only half the kids are proficient in reading and math overall, few can write at grade level, and special education and black students are doing very poorly. Though the school does appear to slowly be making progress, a lot of children are being shortchanged right now. NCLB was designed precisely to ferret out these inequities which are easily obscured by overall averages.