All posts by Jim Zellmer

MTI’s John Matthews on 4 Year Old Kindergarden

John Matthews, writing in the Wisconsin State Journal:

For many years, recognizing the value to both children and the community, Madison Teachers Inc. has endorsed 4-year-old kindergarten being universally accessible to all.
This forward-thinking educational opportunity will provide all children with an opportunity to develop the skills they need to be better prepared to proceed with their education, with the benefit of 4- year-old kindergarten. They will be more successful, not only in school, but in life.
Four-year-old kindergarten is just one more way in which Madison schools will be on the cutting edge, offering the best educational opportunities to children. In a city that values education as we do, there is no question that people understand the value it provides.

Continue reading MTI’s John Matthews on 4 Year Old Kindergarden

Edutopia

The George Lucas Educational Foundation just launched a new education magazine: edutopia. George Lucas, who founded the organization was recently interviewed by the magazine:

Lucas, 60, is the father of three, but his interest in education dates back to his own school experience, as a boy in Modesto.
In an interview in the premiere issue of Edutopia, Lucas said, “I had a very hard time with education, and I was never described as a bright student. I was considered somebody who could be doing a lot better than I was doing, not working up to my potential. I wish I had known some of these (new methods) back then.”
“The way we are educating is based on 19th century ideas and methods. … Our system of education is locked in a time capsule. You want to say to the people in charge, ‘You’re not using today’s tools! Wake up!”

Superintendant Rainwater turns down $2m in Federal Reading Funds

Lee Sensenbrenner on Art Rainwater’s recent decision to turn down up to $2M in federal reading funds.
I have several comments:
1. I have no doubt that some state and federal regulations are non-sensical.
2. I have to agree with Ruth Robarts that this issue should have come before the board.
3. I find it unusual that the board has dealt recently with one or two person staffing issues, but not this up to $2M matter….
Send your thoughts to the Madison Board of Education’s email address: comments@madison.k12.wi.us

Two Nations

The Economist, in a pre-election series, takes a look at our education system:

Some schools are thriving; others have been left behind
AMERICA’S system of education ranges from the superb to the awful. Its universities, especially at the graduate level, are the best in the world, gaining some 60% of all Nobel prizes awarded since the second world war. Its public-school system, however, is often marked by poor teaching, dilapidated buildings and violence (although the rate of violent incidents is falling, more than 5% of schoolchildren played truant last year to avoid violence at school). Official figures say that 85% of students finish high school, but the Urban Institute and other groups estimate that nearly a third of them drop out.
The result is a popular assumption that American education from kindergarten to 12th-grade high-school graduation (K-12) is in crisis. President Bush’s main remedy, passed in 2001 with bipartisan support, is the No Child Left Behind Act, a programme promising lots of federal money ($13 billion next year) to school systems that test their students and improve their performance�and sanctions for those that do not. All in all, claims the Bush team, federal spending on K-12 education will have risen by the 2005 budget by 65%, the biggest increase since the Johnson presidency in the late 1960s.
The Democrats retort that �Every Child Left Behind� would be a better name. Echoing criticisms by the teachers’ unions and many states, John Kerry calculates that the programme has been underfunded by more than $26 billion over the past four years. He would establish a National Education Trust Fund �to ensure that schools always get the funding they need�; put a �great� (and better paid) teacher in every classroom; expand after-school activities for some 3.5m children; and offer college students a fully refundable tax credit for up to $4,000 a year of college tuition (Mr Kerry says that Mr Bush reneged on a promise to increase Pell grants, which help the poor to pay for college).

Continue reading Two Nations

WSJ on 4 Year Old Kindergarden

The Wisconsin State Journal Editorial Page addresses 4 year old kindergarden:

Early childhood education works: Children in a Madison kindergarten program for 4-year- olds made substantial literacy gains during the pilot project’s first year, UW- Madison researchers say.
But if financial realities don’t prevent more kids from reaping the clear and obvious benefits of 4-year- old kindergarten, it seems that union rules will.
The pilot project, which continues this school year, served just 33 students last year at Glendale Elementary School and another 17 students at a Head Start site on Lake Point Drive. UW- Madison researchers Arthur Reynolds and Beth Graue said children in the pilot program learned letters and words faster than would be expected by maturation alone. The findings provide a strong basis for expansion of the program.

Courage to Teach Fall Dinner/Fund Raiser

Barbara Hummel [bhummel at chorus.net]:

Courage to Teach, an important local effort to renew and support educators in Madison and Dane County, is holding a fall dinner fund-raiser Wednesday, October 27 at CUNA Mutual.
Courage to Teach (CTT) is an innovative program that has brought remarkable renewal to public educators in nearly 50 communities across the United States and Canada. Over the past two years, Bonnie Trudell and I have had the privilege of facilitating a local CTT group for 20 educators, thanks to the generous support of CUNA Mutual Group Foundation, the Foundation for Madison Public Schools, and many other businesses and individuals. The teachers who participate make a commitment of $500 themselves, in addition to giving 5 week-ends of their time over the year and a half program.
The impact of CTT on local educators was significant, as documented in the attached excerpt from the final report to CUNA Mutual Group Foundation. Participants reported steady and impressive improvements in all of the following areas:

  • Amount of time spent in focused reflection of their teaching practice;
  • Quality of connections with students and classroom practices;
  • Strength of collegial relationships at their school sites; and
  • Commitment to their educational practice.

Needless to say, we’re excited about the promise this holds for sustaining teachers in the essential task of preparing our children to become vibrant, informed future citizens and leaders of our community.

Via Bill Steinberg. Additional information: CTT 99K PDF Brochure Teacher Retention 83K PDF 02/04 Results Report to CUNA 110K PDF

The Limits of Money

Frederick M. Hess:


The truth is that, between 1960 and 2000, after-inflation education spending more than tripled. Harvard’s Caroline Hoxby has found that real, inflation-adjusted spending grew from $5,900 per pupil in 1982 to more than $9,200 in 2000. In its most recent figures, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) estimates that current U.S. education spending is over $10,800 per child.
In fact, some may be surprised to learn that the U.S. ranks at the top of the international charts when it comes to education spending. In 2000, the most recent year for which international comparisons are available, the OECD found that the United States spent significantly more per child than any other industrial democracy, including those famous for their generous social programs. In primary education, on a per-pupil basis, the United States spent 66 percent more than Germany, 56 percent more than France, 27 percent more than Japan, 80 percent more than the United Kingdom, 62 percent more than Finland, 62 percent more than Belgium, and 122 percent more than South Korea. At the secondary-school level, the figures are similar, with the U.S. outpacing Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom, Sweden, and South Korea, among others, by more than 40 percent per pupil.
Despite all this spending, the U.S. ranked 15th among the 31 countries that participated in the OECD’s 2000 Program for International Student Assessment reading exam. Ireland, Iceland, and New Zealand were among the nations that outperformed the U.S. while spending far less per pupil. The results in math are equally disquieting: In the international 1999 TIMSS study, which assessed mathematics and science achievement at the eighth-grade level, the U.S. ranked 19th out of 38 countries.

Joanne Jacobs has more.

Incomplete

Paul Burka takes an interesting look at the way the Texas Education Agency manages and calculates the dropout rate:

WHEN MY DAUGHTER FINISHED HER FRESHMAN year at Johnston High School, in Austin, where she was a student in a liberal-arts magnet program, I paid a visit to the college adviser to find out her class ranking. “She’s thirty-seventh in a class of 750,” he told me. “That’s good,” I said. “Top five percent. Good enough to get into the University of Texas.”
“Not really,” the adviser said. “We know from experience that only 250 freshmen, at most, will graduate. So think of her as thirty-seventh out of 250. That’s not in the top ten percent.”
That was bad news�both for my daughter and for the state of education in Texas. I did some quick calculations. There were around 100 freshmen in the magnet program. Presumably, almost all of them would graduate. This meant that of the remaining 650 or so students in her class�those who lived within Johnston’s regular boundaries, almost all of them Hispanic or black�fewer than 150 would graduate with their peers. If his prediction was accurate, the dropout rate at Johnston would be 67 percent. In fact, the rate was even worse: Only 223 of the original 750 graduated.

Nancy and I lived in Dallas some years ago and very much enjoyed reading the excellent Texas Monthly Magazine, where Paul Burka is the senior executive editor.

Continue reading Incomplete

New York’s “Pseudo Charters”

Caroline Hendrie:

How much slack should a big-city district cut its schools to maximize student performance? That�s the question that New York City school leaders want to explore with an experimental governance model they are calling the “autonomy zone.”
Started this month with 30 secondary schools, the pilot project sets specific performance targets for schools to meet in exchange for removing them from the bureaucratic hierarchy governing most of the city�s 1,300 public schools.
…..
For his part, Louis Delgado hopes that the autonomy zone might help his 400- student Manhattan high school gain greater independence in hiring decisions. The 11-year-old Vanguard High School uses the district�s “school based” option for hiring teachers, which allows a committee of teachers and administrators at the school to screen candidates and offer them jobs. But those candidates can be bumped by more senior teachers who are laid off elsewhere in the system, the principal said, a situation he hopes the zone can help change.

Rigor-Free Research?

Joanne Jacobs writing in Tech Central Station:
Forget the anecdotes and assumptions. Under the No Child Left Behind Act, federal education dollars are supposed to fund only programs proven effective by “scientifically based research.” That’s spotlighting a problem: A lot of what passes for education research isn’t reliable or rigorous, and many education professors aren’t keen on the scientific method.
Education has a “dirty little secret,” writes Jeffrey Mervis in the June 11, 2004 Science Magazine:

“No program has yet met that rigorous standard, because none has been scientifically evaluated and shown to be effective. (A related secret is that there’s no consensus on the type of evaluation studies that are needed.)”

Bush’s Education Department wants controlled studies, like the tests that determine whether a new drug is safe and effective. Is Panacea Z more likely to cure ignorance than Brand X? It would be nice to know before investing millions of dollars. And yet the research often provides no guidance.

Cosby to visit Milwaukee North

Georgia Pabst on Bill Cosby’s visit to Milwaukee North on October 20, 2004 (6 to 9p.m.); 1101 W. Center St.

The gathering was announced Friday by Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, who worked with the Metropolitan Milwaukee Alliance of Black School Educators and the Wisconsin Black Media Association to bring about the Cosby appearance.
Barrett said he hoped the discussion would deal with the importance of education and how the community can tackle and develop solutions to educational disparities and other challenges.
Cosby first raised a national storm in May during a ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education, the U.S. Supreme Court decision declaring an end to school segregation. He decried the lack of emphasis on education in the black community and challenged parents to greater accountability. Though he earned rebukes from some commentators, others praised him for speaking out.

Debra Dickerson covers Cosby…

India Launches First Education Satellite

New Scientist:

Millions of illiterate people in remote, rural India could soon have access to an education, as a satellite devoted exclusively to long distance learning was launched on Monday. It is the world’s first dedicated educational satellite, according to the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).
India launched the $20 million, 2-tonne EDUSAT from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre at Sriharikota, a tiny island in the Bay of Bengal. The satellite is the heaviest ever launched by an Indian-made rocket – the new Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV), which cost $33 million.
About 35% of the country�s billion-plus population are illiterate, a 2001 government census showed. �India will require 10,000 new schools each year and meeting the teaching needs on such a scale [by conventional methods] will be impossible,� Madhavan Nair, chairman of ISRO, told New Scientist.
To date, India has used both of its multi-purpose INSAT satellites to provide long-distance education information alongside their telecommunications, broadcasting and weather-forecasting functions.

Interesting way to leverage technology. It it works, it will turn out to be cheap….. (and creative!) We need more of this kind of thinking.

Faster is Smarter

Accelerating the best students helps them intellectually and socially, says A Nation Deceived, a new report from the University of Iowa. The Des Moines Register reports:

A new University of Iowa report seeks to debunk myths that accelerated learning for gifted students is unfair, expensive for schools and causes students to be social outcasts, gifted-education experts said Monday.

Time recites the fears about children pushed too fast, but concedes there’s evidence many very smart students are very bored.

For the smartest of these kids, those who quickly overpower schoolwork that flummoxes peers, skipping a grade isn’t about showing off. Rather, according to a new report from the University of Iowa, it can mean the difference between staying in school and dropping out from sheer tedium. “If the work is not challenging for these high-ability kids, they will become invisible,” says the lead author of the report, Iowa education professor Nicholas Colangelo. “We will lose them. We already are.”

. . . In a 2000 study for Gifted Child Quarterly, Joseph Renzulli and Sunghee Park found that 5% of the 3,520 gifted students they followed dropped out after eighth grade. Astonishingly, that’s almost as high as the 5.2% of nongifted kids who dropped out. Untold numbers of other highly intelligent kids stay in school but tune out. “When we ask exceptional children about their main obstacle, they almost always say it’s their school,” says Jan Davidson, a co-author of the new book Genius Denied: How to Stop Wasting Our Brightest Young Minds. “Their school makes them put in seat time, and they can’t learn at their own ability level.”

Via Education News.

Via Joanne Jacobs

September 20, 2004 MMSD Board of Education Meeting Audio/Video Clips

Barb Schrank collected video & audio clips from last nights Madison School District Board of Education Meeting:

  • Don Hunt: Retired West High School Art Teacher Fine Arts Statement [MP3 1.4MB] [Quicktime Video] [Transcripts: html | PDF]
  • Barb Schrank Fine Arts Presentation [MP3 1.6MB] [Quicktime Video] [Transcripts: html | PDF]
  • Mariel Wozniak Fine Arts Presentation [MP3 1.9MB] [Quicktime Video] [Transcripts: html | PDF]
  • Juan Lopez lecture to Ruth Robarts [MP3 2.7MB] [Quicktime Video] [Transcripts: html | PDF]
  • Athletic Fees Presentation [MP3] [Quicktime Video] [Transcripts: html | PDF]

Lee Sensenbrenner summarized the meeting as well.

123 State Schools Fall Short of No Child Left Behind Standards

Jamall Abdul-Alim:

The number of Wisconsin schools and districts that failed to make enough progress to satisfy federal law rose, according to statistics released Friday, prompting renewed concern over whether schools can meet the increasingly tough standards of the “No Child Left Behind” era.
According to state Department of Public Instruction figures, 123 schools were on the list of schools that failed to make “adequate yearly progress” – a 12.7% increase over last year.

Wisconsin DPI Report DPI Press Release (151K PDF)
Doug Erickson also covered this DPI news release.

Dr. Paul Yvarra’s Dinner Presentation: 9.23.2004 @ La Hacienda

Rafael Gomez sent me an email regarding Dr. Paul Yvarra’s dinner presentation at La Hacienda [map] next Thursday evening [9.23.2004 @ 6:00p.m.]. Yvarra is evidently planning to run for State Superintendant of DPI:

He is currently a professor in the deparment of school administration at Whitewater Univ. He is an ex-school board member at Whitewater school dist. And, he has been active on teacher training. He is running for school choice.
With this said, a dinner presentation is scheduled at La Hacienda from 6p.m to 7:30p.m. Sept. 23. There is a $10.00 donation. Please contact me at 277 83 42 if you have an interest to attend. Thank you for your attention to my note. Rafael Gomez

Academic Ranking of World Universities – 2004

Fascinating look at the top 500 World Universities, from the Shanghai Jiao Tong University’s perspective (the UW, my alma matter is #18). Criteria and weights are based on:

We rank universities by several indicators of academic or research performance, including alumni and staff winning Nobel Prizes and Fields Medals, highly cited researchers, articles published in Nature and Science, articles in Science Citation Index-expanded and Social Science Citation Index, and academic performance with respect to the size of an institution.

Literacy & Economic Growth

Statistics Canada & The Economist:


TO WHAT extent is economic growth driven by the acquisition of �human capital�? Many economists have pursued the answer over the past 20 years, but without great success. Despite building and rebuilding elaborate growth models, they have failed to prove that better education and training significantly raises a country’s long-term growth. Recently, though, a Canadian team made a breakthrough. It found that, if you measure actual skills rather than educational qualifications, human capital becomes a strong predictor of economic growth.
The team identified a clear and significant association between investments in human capital in each period and a country’s subsequent growth and labour productivity. Specifically, a rise of 1% in literacy scores relative to the international average is associated with an eventual 2.5% relative rise in labour productivity and a 1.5% rise in GDP per head.
These are much clearer effects than those found in previous studies. In the three countries in the study where human capital improved the fastest between the older and the younger generations (Belgium, Finland and Italy), growth in output per worker rose much faster than average between 1960 and 1995, while in those with least improvement in skills (New Zealand, Sweden and the United States), growth was slower.

Statistics Canada: International Adult Literacy Survey: 656K PDF

Good Homes, Good Students

William Raspberry:

My hope is that by the time the children of our Baby Steps parents emerge from the preschool pipeline into regular classes, the difference will be plain to see.
I don’t exempt either the school system or the larger community from its responsibility to help the town’s children grow up smart and successful — and, indeed, both the system and the community have come together in support of Baby Steps in its first year.
But I am convinced that all the other things we do will have limited impact unless we also undertake to enhance the competence of our children’s first and most effective teachers: their parents.

MMSD Administrative Costs & Staffing Levels – ACE White Paper

Don Severson: Active Citizen’s for Education White Paper [212K PDF]:

MMSD has one of the highest per pupil costs of any school district in the state. MMSD administration proposed a FY 2004-05 budget with a $10 million shortfall in revenues to deliver the same services as that which was delivered in the 2003-04 budget year. This white paper compares MMSD administration costs, staffing levels and per pupil costs with peer school districts at Appleton, Green Bay, Kenosha andRacine.

Retention Rates & Comparative Performance – ACE White Paper

Don Severson: Active Citizens for Education’s Retention Rate White Paper: [64K PDF]

The Madison Metropolitan School District has one of the highest costs per pupil of any school district in the state ($12,500, 2004-05). Madison District officials state that the high cost per student is needed in order to achieve success in many of the important academic areas. This paper compares retention rates of the Madison School District, (the number of pupils who were not passed to the next grade level) with fourother districts: Appleton, Green Bay, Kenosha and Racine. Retention occurs when a student has not made progress in a prescribed course of study. A pupil is consideredretained if:

  • a pupil needs an additional year to complete a prescribed program
  • a pupil in grades kindergarten through eight must repeat a grade
  • a pupil in high school (freshman, sophomore, junior, or senior years) does nothave enough credits equal to or more than one-seventh of the district�s high school requirement

This 40K PDF compares the Madison School District with Appleton, Green Bay, Kenosha, Racine and Milwaukee.

ACE Fund 80 White Paper

Don Severson forwarded the most recent Active Citizens for Education White Paper on the MMSD’s Community Service Fund (Fund 80) [64K PDF]:

The Community Service Fund is used as an administrative and accountingmechanism for activities such as adult education; community recreation programs, such as evening swimming pool operation and softball leagues; elderly food service programs,non-special education preschool; day care services; and other programs which are not elementary or secondary educational programs but have the primary function of servingthe community. Expenditures for these activities, including cost allocations for salaries, benefits, travel, purchased services, etc. are to be paid from this Fund to the extentfeasible. The district may adopt a separate tax levy for the Fund. Building use fees charged for utilities and other operational costs must be charged in the General Fund if nocost allocation was made for these to the Community Service Fund.

ACE White Paper: Fund 80 & After School

Don Severson forwarded this Active Citizens for Education white paper on Fund 80 [272K PDF] and related after school changes.
This site has a number of posts on the after school changes (essentially: replacing community after school partnerships with taxpayer funded MSCR programs via Fund 80. Fund 80, unlike other school expenditures is not limited by state spending caps).
The school board meets tonight (8.30.2004; 7:15p.m. in room 103) to discuss the controversy.
Send your views to: comments@madison.k12.wi.us

Taxpayer advocates seek School Fund 80 Audit

Don Severson forwarded this message recently

Taxpayer advocates will hold a news conference Friday, August 27th at 1:00 p.m. at the Sequoia Library, 513 South Midvale Boulevard (Midvale Plaza) to call for an audit of �Community Services Fund 80� of the Madison School District. Don Severson, president of the Active Citizens for Education (ACE), will ask for an independent audit of �Fund 80� which is used by school district officials to fund �community service programs�. The fund has come under recent scrutiny because of its growth � over 200% in four years � and its use in pushingYMCA after-school programs out of certain Madison schools. Parents of children in the after school program held a news conference this past Monday to highlight the issue. Severson will also preview a radio ad, which begins airing Friday, August 27 and is sponsored byACE, appealing to taxpayers to contact Madison school board members and district officials. The Madison School Board is holding a special meeting Monday night at 7:00 p.m. at the DoyleAdministration Building to hear concerns of parents of children in the after-school program.

Discovery Learning Thread

Interesting thread on discovery learning, with notes from Alan Siegel’s study of videotaped Japanese Math lessons:

Discovery learning is fashionable in math reform circles, writes Seebach. The Japanese are supposed to be the models. But the Japanese teach traditionally — with “beautifully designed and superbly executed” lessons.
The videotape shows, Siegel says, that “a master teacher can present every step of a solution without divulging the answer, and can, by so doing, help students learn to think deeply. In such circumstances, the notion that students might have discovered the ideas on their own becomes an enticing mix of illusion intertwined with threads of truth.”

Early Kindergarden Admission

Amy Hetzner on Waukesha’s decision to halt early kinderdarten admissions:

The Waukesha School Board decided earlier this year to eliminate early admission for children who have not celebrated their fifth birthday by Sept. 1, arguing that the expense of testing the children outweighed the benefit for the few who got in to kindergarten.
The move puts the district at the center of a national trend that observers say is resulting in an older crop of kindergartners

Transfer rejected, then approved – San Jose High School

Jon Fortt:

The incident reveals one of the challenges inherent in the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001: How do you rescue a struggling school when so many students, often the more ambitious, want out?
“That’s the youngster that’s going to raise my test scores,” said Esparza, part of a turnaround team that arrived six months ago hoping to lift James Lick from the lowest levels of test performance. James Lick is one of 18 schools in Santa Clara County where test scores have remained so low that students are allowed to transfer. “It’s hard to take, that there’s a law that says your child has a right to move on.”

via Joanne Jacobs.

Profits & Poverty


Ruth’s informative diary on the Long Range Planning Committee’s inclusiveness goals provides context for C.K. Prahalad’s interesting new book: The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid. Eradicating Poverty Through Profits

He is a fierce critic of traditional top-down thinking on aid, by governments and non-governmental organisations alike. They tend to see the poor as victims to be helped, he says, not as people who can be part of the solution�and so their help often creates dependency. Nor does he pin much hope on the �corporate social responsibility� (CSR) programmes of many large companies. If you want serious commitment from a firm, he says, its involvement with the poor �can’t be based on philanthropy or CSR�. The involvement of big business is crucial to eradicating poverty, he believes, but BOP markets must �become integral to the success of the firm in order to command senior management attention and sustained resource allocation.�

Learn more about the book here.

Immersion better for kids than bilingual classes, study says

Louie Villalobos summarizes a recent study by the Arizona Department of Education:

The Arizona results showed students in immersion classes outperformed bilingual education students in every grade level between second and eighth grade in reading, language and math, based on Stanford 9 scores.
There starts to be a significant difference at the sixth-grade level, at which immersion students were more than one year ahead of the bilingual students in math.
By the eighth grade, there was at least a one-year difference in all three subjects.
“There is not a single exception,” Horne said. “It tells us that the students in English immersion do substantially better.”

California State Test Scores Released

Nanette Asimov, Tanya Schevitz and Carrie Sturrock summarize the Golden State’s latest 4th and 10th grade results:

Last spring, nearly 4.8 million students in grades 2 through 11 took the exam, which is considered tough because it measures the students’ knowledge of what the state says they need to know about English, math, science and history.
Statewide, 36 percent of students scored “proficient” or “advanced” on the English portion, up from 35 percent last year. The remaining students scored below par, at “basic,” “below basic” or “far below basic.”
In math, proficiency inched up from 40.5 to 41.6 percent of students in grades 2 through 7 since last year. Older students, tested in a variety of math subjects, slipped in algebra and geometry.
Only 20 percent of low-income students were proficient in English, while among wealthier students, 50 percent were proficient. The rates were identical last year.

Charter Schools Test Scores/Commentary

Barb Williams forwarded this article by Diana Jean Schemo:

The data shows fourth graders attending charter schools performing about half a year behind students in other public schools in both reading and math. Put another way, only 25 percent of the fourth graders attending charters were proficient in reading and math, against 30 percent who were proficient in reading, and 32 percent in math, at traditional public schools.
Because charter schools are concentrated in cities, often in poor neighborhoods, the researchers also compared urban charters to traditional schools in cities. They looked at low-income children in both settings, and broke down the results by race and ethnicity as well. In virtually all instances, the charter students did worse than their counterparts in regular public schools.

Additional Coverage:

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.