All posts by Jim Zellmer

9-13 Year Old Test Score Gains Are Largely in The South

Gail Russell Chaddock:

Much of the national progress reported for 9- and 13-year-olds was driven by gains in the South. For example, while 9-year-olds in the Northeast gained 10 points in reading achievement (the equivalent of a grade level) over the past 30 years, the South gained 24, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). While reading scores for 13-year-olds barely budged in most of the United States, the South gained 12 points, more than a grade level.
It’s vindication for a generation of Southern governors, business groups, and educators who launched the standards movement in education a decade before it was picked up by the rest of the nation.

Organizational Learning from Open Source

I cringe when I hear people in any organization discussing “our experts know the best”, or generally advocating a top down, command and control approach. Paul Graham recently wrote a wonderful article on the lessons we can learn from “Open Source”. He refers to open source software and blogging among other avocations. Graham includes three lessons from the open source and blogging worlds:

  • People work harder on stuff they like
  • The standard office environment is very unproductive
  • Bottome up often works better than top-down.

Graham is a technologist and investor.

WKOW TV on Madison Schools Overcrowding

WKOW-TV:

In May, voters rejected referendums for more operating money and a new “Leopold” school. That failed budget meant significant staffing cuts. But in the case of the new school, the district admits, they had no back-up plan. Now, the board is working to address student issues, as Madison continues to grow.
“Both parents and staff are going to find things a lot more difficult… We cut custodians, we cut teaching positions, we cut services, we cut people downtown,” says school board president Carol Carstensen.
A long range planning committee has been asked to seriously evaluate boundary changes in the district.

Free the Curriculum!

Jimbo Wales:

The second thing that will be free is a complete curriculum (in all languages) from Kindergarten through the University level. There are several projects underway to make this a reality, including our own Wikibooks project, but of course this is a much bigger job than the encyclopedia, and it will take much longer.
In the long run, it will be very difficult for proprietary textbook publishers to compete with freely licensed alternatives. An open project with dozens of professors adapting and refining a textbook on a particular subject will be a very difficult thing for a proprietary publisher to compete with. The point is: there are a huge number of people who are qualified to write these books, and the tools are being created to leave them to do that.
I just wanted to add one little note to today’s post, based on an excellent philosophical question Diana Hsieh asked yesterday about my views on free knowledge. While I do, in fact, think that it is wonderful that each of the ten things I will list will be free, the point of naming the list “will be free” rather than “should be free” or “must be free” is that I am making concrete predictions rather than listing a pie in the sky list of things I wish to see.

Jimmy Wales is the founder of wikipedia

WEAC Paying for Doyle TV Ads

In a rather quick followup to Governor Doyle’s recent budget line item changes (details), WEAC is running TV ads supporting his budget changes. Colin Benedict has more:

The first thing you notice about a new ad touting Gov. Jim Doyle’s work in the budget is that it feels like a Doyle campaign ad.
But it isn’t. Its paid for by the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the state teachers’ union. When it paid to run the ad at WISC-TV, WEAC dropped off a 52-page document justifying every claim made in this ad.
The ad says, “After inheriting a budget mess, Gov. Jim Doyle has saved millions by cutting waste and balancing the budget.” That is true, News 3 reported. When Doyle took office, the deficit was the largest in state history — $3.2 billion. However, “cutting waste” is a very subjective term — one person’s waste is another’s lifeline.
WEAC’s definition of waste is $60 million for Milwaukee’s Marquette interchange, $35 million to study work to the zoo interchange, and $94 million in proposed rate increases for nursing homes and other health care providers. Doyle vetoed it all to find more money for schools.
The ad also credits Doyle for balancing the budget. News 3 points out he is required by law to do that. He is not allowed to run deficits like the federal government.
The ad goes on to explain the governor understands working families are being squeezed by taxes.
The ad says, “That’s why he froze property taxes, cut the gas tax, and eliminated state taxes on Social Security. All while keeping the state’s promise to fund our great schools.”
This needs clarification. The ad is giving Doyle credit for three ideas originally introduced by Republicans.

Blogs, Podcasts and Virtual Classrooms

Ethan Todras-Whitehill:

He was introduced to blogging as an educational tool by Patrick Delaney, Galileo’s librarian. Mr. Delaney also helped Mindy Chiang, a Mandarin-language teacher at Galileo, set up a blog for her Chinese-American and Chinese immigrant students to write about and post their experiences for the benefit of fifth and sixth graders from schools in Elk Grove and Santa Barbara, Calif., who were studying Chinatowns.
Ms. Chiang and Mr. Delaney were delighted to discover that the quality of the writing for the blog surpassed her students’ previous work. Moreover, when Ms. Chiang had them record audio versions of their essays in English and Mandarin using school iPod’s, the students’ accents were vastly improved.
“It’s pretty clear that they were worried about being embarrassed,” said Mr. Delaney, noting that the essays were available to the students’ families and Web surfers in China. “Having an audience compelled these kids to step it up a notch.”
Still, some educators are not completely sold on the value of interactivity. “If interactivity becomes the fundamental basis of the educational process, how do we judge merit?” asked Robbie McClintock, a learning technologies expert at Teachers College of Columbia University.

Wisconsin DPI Receives a $17M Charter School Grant

Wisconsin DPI (PDF):

The grant will support the planning, design, and implementation of charter schools in areas of the state with a large proportion of schools that have been identified for improvement under the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act. Additionally, it will support increased collaboration among educational partners to enhance the charter climate and support educational options through charter schools; assure quality educators and strong leadership in every charter school; increase capacity for opening charter schools that boost student achievement and comply with NCLB and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004; evaluate the effectiveness of charter schools and share those results; strengthen management and fiscal sustainability of the state’s charter schools; and increase parent, teacher, and community involvement in the development of charter schools through the dissemination of best practices that improve student achievement.

Minneapolis Public Schools Offer Virtual Classes

Sam Dillon:

Physical education is one of 27 online courses now offered by the Minneapolis Public Schools, which had none four years ago. Thousands of other districts nationwide are adding online courses, said Susan Patrick, director of educational technology at the federal Department of Education.
“We’re seeing just tremendous growth,” Ms. Patrick said, “in enrollments and in the kinds of courses offered.”
In a survey, the department estimated that there were 328,000 student enrollments in online courses offered by public schools during the 2002-3 year. Ms. Patrick said enrollments had probably doubled since then.

This is a great example of the “out of the box – non same service thinking” that is required today. Johnny’s post illustrate’s the District’s same service financial challenges:

  • Revenue caps limit spending growth (though Madison spends $13K+ per student, among the highest in Wisconsin)
  • A “same service” budget approach has reached its’ limit.
  • Choices need to be made, one of which could be growth in virtual tools.

Virtual programs may, in some cases and for some students, be far more effective. We all use virtual learning tools daily. I believe our children will increasingly do so as well.

Aptitude Aplenty

Kathy Lally:

Ohmygosh. She screamed and turned to her father, Martin Fraeman, who had picked her up at Blair in the family Toyota. I’m a finalist! A finalist in the Intel Science Talent Search, the competition that might as well be a junior Nobel Prize. Abby called her mother and screamed again. The hundreds of hours she’d spent researching her astronomy project at Washington’s Carnegie Institution had given her a shot at winning one of the nation’s most coveted science awards.

Jallon Brown: Annapolis Charter School Principal

Tyler Currie:

Still, when Jallon showed up in Annapolis last August with her proposal to create KIPP Harbor Academy, she was not received with open arms. For months, the Anne Arundel County school board appeared poised to reject Annapolis’s first charter school, which would be publicly funded but independently operated. School board members worried that the charter school would drain students and resources from Annapolis’s two existing middle schools. Jallon, who lives in Hanover near Arundel Mills Mall, found herself in constant — and ultimately successful — negotiation with school board members and leaders from the county teachers union.

Commercialism & High School Sports

Robert Andrew Powell takes a rather amazing look at the EA Sports Elite 11, a “camp” for the top 12 (following the Big Ten’s math example, there are 12 high school quarterbacks in this California camp):

Cody Hawkins arrived from Boise, Idaho, wearing Converse sneakers and a rainbow-colored polo shirt he bought for $3 at Goodwill. As soon as he set foot on campus here Monday, Hawkins, along with 11 other top high school quarterbacks, was handed new gear. In an oversized black Nike duffel bag, he found pairs of Nike Shox running shoes and cleats, and a Nike football, the only brand he would be allowed to use for the next four days.
Nike is an official sponsor of the EA Sports Elite 11, which its organizers call a “campetition” for quarterbacks. Orange-flavored Cytomax is the camp’s official sports drink. Muscle Milk Carb Conscious Lean Muscle Formula is the official protein drink, available in vanilla creme, chocolate creme and banana creme flavors. For dinner, campers ate barbecued ribs, chicken breasts and dollops of garlic mashed potatoes provided by Outback Steakhouse, a camp sponsor.

Milwaukee: Middle Schoolers Perform Better in a K-8 Setting

Sarah Carr:

Suspensions are down. Test scores and attendance are up. And many people are happier.
So concludes a first-of-its-kind report in Milwaukee on how sixth- through eighth graders are faring in the school district’s rapidly growing number of kindergarten through eighth-grade (or K-8) schools.
In a relatively short period of time, K-8s have expanded to dominate the school landscape in Milwaukee and other cities such as Cleveland, Cincinnati, Baltimore and Philadelphia, so the report will be heavily scrutinized here and elsewhere.
In 2000, there were only about 10 K-8 schools in the Milwaukee Public Schools district; this fall there will be 61 K-8 schools, including those that are transitioning to become K-8s. Meanwhile enrollment in traditional middle schools is expected to plummet by 16% in one year alone, from about 13,200 students last fall to about 11,050 this fall.

Teacher Merit Pay

Joanne Jacobs has an interesting set of links and comments on teacher merit pay:

Teacher Quality Bulletin’s merit pay round-up includes a story on a privately funded plan at an elementary school in Little Rock, Arkansas. Each teacher got a bonus based on the percentage increase in her students’ test scores.

For each pupil who made up to a 4 percent gain on the May test when compared with the pre-test last August, the teacher was entitled to $100. For each pupil who made a gain of between 5 percent and 9 percent, the bonus was $200. If the pupil’s gain was between 10 percent and 14 percent, the bonus was $300 and if the gain exceeded 15 percent, the bonus was $400.

Bonuses ranged from $1,800 to $8,600, and cost $65,000. The entire cost was $145,000 including testing costs and bonuses — based on the overall 17 percent gain of students schoolwide — to 25 other employees, including math and literacy coaches, the media specialist and maintenance and cafeteria workers.

In Florida, some districts give merit pay to many teachers; others have plans that make it impossible to qualify. The union wants it that way.

The Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association was bitterly opposed to performance pay and helped set the eligibility bar so high that union chief Jade Moore said it would “make it nearly impossible” for any teachers to earn them.

Hillsborough is more flexible and leaves much of the bonus-granting power in the hands of principals.

Meanwhile Florida is having trouble with teacher certification scams (pdf). One 24-year-old claimed to have earned a bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate within three months.

State Debt Rises Along with School Funds

Karen Lincoln Michel:

Wisconsin schools got the budget increases they wanted, but the money comes at a cost of $195 million in debt interest over the next 20 years, according to figures by the governor’s budget office.
In the state budget signed Monday, Gov. Jim Doyle through his partial veto power transferred $159 million from the transportation budget to the general fund to help pay for the $861 million increase in K-12 funding.
To recapture some of the costs while maintaining all current road projects slated for the 2005-07 budget, Doyle created $213.1 million in bonding to fund the Marquette Interchange project in Milwaukee — resulting in $158 million in debt interest over the next 20 years. In addition, Doyle authorized $52 million in bonding for major road projects, resulting in $37 million in debt interest over the same period.

Teaching Children CyberSecurity and Ethics

Cyber Security Industry Alliance [PDF]:

Just as we teach our children “right from wrong” in the physical world, we must ensure that the same lessons are taught in the cyber world as well.

What is missing here is a focused and organized national effort to teach children cyber security, cyber ethics, and cyber safety with national security in mind. These elements of cyber awareness are vital because pervasive use of the Internet also poses risks that may harm the emotional and personal safety of children. The technology, unfortunately, enables devious and unethical behavior toward people, organizations or information technology underpinning critical infrastructure. The cyber education our children receive does not go far beyond how to turn on the computer and use a mouse. It is incomprehensible that we are not teaching cyber security, ethics, and safety at an early age. Poor awareness by children about cyber security may cause inadvertent damage to their own PC, other electronic devices or personal information, and could ultimately threaten the fabric of our nation’s critical cyber infrastructure.

Governor Doyle’s Budget Message

Governor Doyle signed the State of Wisconsin’s next two year budget document today. He also posted an extensive pdf document that outlines the changes he made to the Legislature’s version, via his line-item veto power. Included in these changes:

Taken together, the budget I am signing today will increase state funding for schools and property tax relief by over $400 million compared with the Legislature’s budget. Schools will receive a modest 3 percent cost-of-living increase, just as they have received annually for many years under Democratic and Republican administrations alike. The additional funding I am providing through my vetoes will enable the state – rather than local taxpayers – to shoulder the burden of paying for the increased costs of education over the next two years so that property taxes can be frozen.

Follow the discussion via the Budget Blog Brief budget Message (pdf).

3.8MB Full veto message pdf

K-12 Schools & Technology

“The greatest asset of the American, so often ridiculed by Europeans, is his belief in progress,” Victor Vinde, in 1945
Mary Kay Battaglia recently wrote about the virtual non-existence of electronic communication with parents in the Madison School District. I agree with Mary Kay’s comments.
Having said that, I believe that any District technology investment should be made in the context of these three priorities:

  • Curriculum: we should strive to teach our children to be creators rather than consumers (writing and thinking rather than powerpoint).
  • High Expectations: Our children must have the skills (arts, languages, math, science, history) to compete in tomorrow’s world. Retiring Milwaukee High School Principal Will Jude refers to the Tyranny of Low Expectations:

    Graduation comes, “but it’s at the expense of content.” The student goes to college and finds other kids are way ahead. Jude’s response: “You were doing the A section of the book while they were doing the B and C sections. You covered a lot of material but it was very shallow. They covered a lot of material but it was in depth.” . Kurt Vonnegut’s Harrison Bergeron (1961) provides further useful reading.

  • Inquisitiveness: Our students interest in and ability to ask questions, in other words, their willingness to question things that they read, observe and hear (Jay Rosen shows how important this is to our democracy).

Today’s communication tools provide our students and community with an unprecedented ability to converse, debate and learn. Our K-12 students, like their parents and those who teach them should be comfortable conversing in written form, email, cellphones, voicemail, weblogs and html.

The Madison School District, as Troy Dasler pointed out, will soon start to implement a new internet based Student Information System.

Continue reading K-12 Schools & Technology

Wisconsin K-12 State Budget Update

Governor Doyle continues to dribble out his line item state budget changes (a classic way to keep a politician’s name in the news each day). Details here on the “property tax freeze” which is not really a freeze. Rather Doyle’s line item vetoes cap the rate of increase in property taxes to 2% or the net change in new construction, whichever is greater (I’m not sure this is the best approach from a land use perspective):

Retiring Milwaukee Principal Pushes Parents and District to do Better

Alan Borsuk:

You can do a good paint job that makes a poorly performing car look good, but it’s still a poorly performing car. That’s true too often of MPS diplomas. For kids to get to graduation, they sometimes take courses that aren’t as demanding as what should be expected. Graduation comes, “but it’s at the expense of content.” The student goes to college and finds other kids are way ahead. Jude’s response: “You were doing the A section of the book while they were doing the B and C sections. You covered a lot of material but it was very shallow. They covered a lot of material but it was in depth.”

WPRI: Milwaukee Public Schools Find Success with Phonics-Based Teaching Technique

Sammis White, Ph.D (full report here: 250K PDF):

study of 23,000 third-, fourth-, and fifth-grade students in the Milwaukee Public Schools showed that “among low-income students tracked between third and fourth grades 2002-03 to 2003-04, those with five years of Direct Instruction (DI) increased their math scores by 6.6% whereas non-low-income students increased their scores by 4.7%. This difference is statistically significant and is evidence of substantial progress.” These results are reported in Education That Works In The Milwaukee Public Schools: The Benefits from Phonics and Direct Instruction, by Sammis White, Ph.D. The report was released today by the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute.

Now for the Good News

The Economist:

The National Assessment of Educational Progress as been periodically testing a representative sample of 9-, 13- and 17-year-olds since the early 1970s. This year’s report contained two striking results. The first is that America’s nine-year-olds posted their best scores in reading and maths since the tests were introduced (in 1971 in reading and 1973 in maths). The second is that the gap between white students and minorities is narrowing. The nine-year-olds who made the biggest gains of all were blacks, traditionally the most educationally deprived group in American society. …..
They need to have. The poor quality of America’s schools is arguably the biggest threat to America’s global competitiveness, a threat that will only grow as the best brains from India and China compete in an ever-wider array of jobs. And the growing gap between the educational performance of the rich and the poor, and between the majority and minorities, is arguably the biggest threat to America’s traditional conception of itself as a meritocracy. The test results are thus doubly good news. They suggest that America may be able to improve its traditionally dismal educational performance. And they suggest that sharpening up schools can especially help minority children.

San Clemente School Boundary Changes & CA 209

Jonathan D. Glater:

“The use of race in California, whether or not it’s for segregation purposes or integration purposes, is illegal,” said Sharon Browne, a lawyer at the firm, the Pacific Legal Foundation. “Any type of discrimination is wrong, and the people of California, in adopting 209, said it was wrong.”
Last month the firm filed suit on behalf of Mr. Winsten and other parents, some of whose children would have to travel 13 miles to the high school they might be reassigned to. Lawyers for the foundation have asked a state court judge to bar the school district from implementing the new boundaries until the suit is resolved; the judge denied that request.
The suit against the Capistrano Unified School District is not the first instance in which the foundation has sought to use Proposition 209 to block a voluntary integration plan. It successfully attacked a race-conscious student transfer plan in Huntington Beach, Calif., in 2002. A suit in 2003 to halt a voluntary desegregation plan in Berkeley, however, did not succeed.

Madison School Board Workshop: Evaluate Business Services?

The Madison School Board had several interesting discussions Monday night. The first was a proposed 3rd party evaluation of the District’s Business Services Department. This discussion is somewhat in response to the complaint that, given budget choices, the Madison School District lays off teachers rather than accountants.


Watch This Discussion – Quicktime

MP3 Audio

The 50 minute video provides a very interesting look at the different perspectives that the Madison School Board Members have on evaluating district operations and general decision making. I thought Carol did a nice job making the discussion happen.

Carol Carstensen, Lawrie Kobza and Ruth Robarts provided written comments on the Business Services evaluation – click the link below (well worth reading).

I also understand that the Board will start looking at next year’s budget this fall, rather than waiting until the spring.

Continue reading Madison School Board Workshop: Evaluate Business Services?

Getting More Girls to Study Math

Dan Fost:

“There’s still a big disparity between the percentage of women in science, engineering and technology versus the percentage of men,” Milgram said. “I think there has been a tendency to define certain things as masculine and feminine. Science and technology are defined as masculine.”
Milgram will be joined on the panel by Ellen Spertus, a computer science professor at Mills College and part-time software engineer at Google; Margaret Torn, a geological scientist at Lawrence Berkeley Lab; Neveia Chappell, product marketing engineer for Agilent Technologies; and Violet Votin, a recent graduate of Stanford University in cell biology.

Energy Saving Daylight Savings Change?

Reader Erika Frederick emailed this article by John Fialka:

As a step to save energy, Congress appears poised to extend U.S. daylight-saving time for two months, starting it earlier, on the first Sunday in March, and ending it later, on the last Sunday of November.

The move was first approved in May as part of the energy bill by the House. The idea has now been agreed upon by House and Senate committee staffs, with the approval of both Republican chairmen and ranking Democrats. That means it is likely to be approved by the full House-Senate conference committee, which begins squaring the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill this week.

The change is not without controversy:

The Air Transport Association has asserted that its members, long-distance American airlines, could lose millions of dollars because of schedule disruptions that the proposal would cause by throwing U.S. arrivals at foreign airports out of synchronization with European schedules and Europe’s system of awarding “slots,” or landing rights at airports.

Some large church groups also oppose extending daylight-saving time into the early spring and late fall, because it would require children to wait for school buses in the dark. “Without the light of day, they are more susceptible to accidents with school buses, or other motorists, and the darkness also provides cover for individuals who prey on children,” said the Rev. William F. Davis, deputy secretary of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, in a letter written to the House sponsors of the measure

The proposed change is part of the Energy Bill.

A New Deal for Schools

The Economist:

So the challenge is different. But the solution once again is to be found in the education system—particularly America’s rotten public schools. Republicans are, generally speaking, reluctant to spend more money—partly because they represent people in richer school districts and partly because so much cash has already been wasted (America spends much more than other countries). Meanwhile Democrats, enslaved to the teachers’ unions, are generally unwilling to countenance reforms such as school vouchers and testing; and they are also keener on affirmative action, the system of race-based preferences which makes universities less competitive and keeps the poison of race in a debate which is best focused on income.
This is depressing. But a political solution of sorts is going begging. Republicans should be willing to spend more cash on schools in poor areas (including on teachers’ salaries) in exchange for the Democrats accepting structural reform. The No Child Left Behind Act, which introduced some forms of testing and the daring possibility of shutting down some bad schools, was an important step forward. But more is needed. Otherwise two Americas really will start to jump out off the map.

Where Teachers Rule: Schools with no Principal

Sarah Carr:

That’s largely because Community High lacks a traditional hierarchy. The school is one of a rapidly growing number of so-called “teacher-led” schools that operate without administrators – including principals and assistant principals. The teachers make decisions about the curriculum, the budget and student discipline. They perform peer evaluations of each other. Often, they come to decisions through discussion and debate, taking a vote if a consensus is not reached. The buck stops with them, not in the principal’s office.
In Milwaukee, which is a national leader in the movement toward teacher-led schools, there will be at least 14 such programs next year, and that figure does not count private schools.

Study Great Ideas, But Teach to the Test

Four letters to the editor in response to Michael Winerip’s recent article on teaching to the test:

Ms. Karnes learned all sorts of exercises to get children excited about writing, get them writing daily about what they care about and then show them how they can take one of those short, personal pieces and use it as the nucleus for a sophisticated, researched essay.
“We learned how to develop good writing from the inside, starting with calling the child’s voice out,” said Ms. Karnes, who got an A in the university course. “One of the major points was, good writing is good thinking. That’s why writing formulas don’t work. Formulas don’t let kids think; they kill a lot of creativity in writing.”
And so, when Ms. Karnes returns to Allendale High School to teach English this fall, she will use the new writing techniques she learned and abandon the standard five-paragraph essay formula. Right?
“Oh, no,” said Ms. Karnes. “There’s no time to do creative writing and develop authentic voice. That would take weeks and weeks. There are three essays on the state test and we start prepping right at the start of the year. We have to teach to the state test” (the Michigan Educational Assessment Program, known as MEAP).

Read the full article here. Read the letters to the editor by clicking on the link:

Continue reading Study Great Ideas, But Teach to the Test

Public Hearing on Wisconsin Virtual Schools

WisPolitics:

After months of encouragement from the Wisconsin Coalition of Virtual School Families to engage in such a dialogue, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction Elizabeth Burmaster has recently convened a group of expert advisors to examine virtual schools and online learning in the public PK-12 schools of Wisconsin. Their findings may include suggested changes in DPI practice, administrative rule, and Wisconsin States.
The Wisconsin Coalition of Virtual School Families will testify before this committee.
Monday, July 18th
9:30 AM to 2:30 PM
Room G09 of the GEF2 Building
101 South Webster Street, [Map]
Madison
The Coalition consists of hundreds of parents, students, teachers and others concerned about the educational opportunities available to Wisconsin families. It was formed in the wake of legal threats to virtual education in Wisconsin. On January 7, 2004, the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC) filed a complaint in Ozaukee County Circuit Court against a virtual public school (the Wisconsin Virtual Academy), the Northern Ozaukee School District, and the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) in an effort to shut down the school. They argued that parental participation was too significant. DPI, although it originally had approved the charter school, took the union’s side in the dispute in December.
Public and the media are invited to attend.
For further information, contact:
George 414-763-3661

National High School Survey Results

The National Governor’s Association, as part of their “Redesiging American High School initiative” recently conducted a survey of over 10,000 American students, ages 16 to 18. Major findings include:

  • Less than 1 in 10 say high school has been “very hard.”
  • More than one-third say high school has been “easy.”
  • 32% “strongly agree” they would work harder if high school offered more demanding and interesting courses.
  • 71% think taking courses related to the kinds of jobs they want is the best way to make their senior year more meaningful. (they also mention taking courses that count as college credit)

The survey also collects information from those who dropped out or are considering dropping out of high school.

Survey Conclusions:

  • It is critical to communicate to students that they need to seek out and take rigorous courses to be prepared for the future
  • Educators and parents must do a better job of encouraging students to find meaning in senior
    year by emphasizing its importance to their futures.

  • The message “you too can benefit from a high school education,” if continually reinforced, can work because a majority of teens who dropped out
    or who plan to drop out want to finish high school.

Read the entire summary here (250K PDF)

Joe Gotjard, Toki’s New Middle School Principle

Cristina Daglas:

He was known as “Big Joe” when he transitioned from student to staff member in the Madison school district more than 10 years ago. But times have changed and titles altered, and “Big Joe” is now Principal Gothard.
For the first time in 13 years, Joe Gothard will not be coaching football this season, and he says he’s open to hobbies. However, the new top job at Toki Middle School and chasing after his three young children at home may just take up this 32-year-old’s “extra” time.
Just recently hired, Gothard is settling into his new office and working diligently to get accustomed to the environment before the year’s beginning rolls around. He’s hoping to make the transition as smooth as possible keeping consistency for the Toki community. But the scenery isn’t all too new for the Madison native, a true product of the district’s “grow your own” administrator initiative, which one board member campaigns for rather frequently.

UW’s Lawson Software Implementation Problems

Channel3000:

The “Lawson Project” aim to replace old mainframe technology with new comprehensive payroll software.
A News 3 investigation finds after years of work, and tens of millions of dollars, system officials still can’t say when it will be powered up or how much it will cost.
“We have spent more money at this point than the people who initially envisioned the project thought we would have spent five years out, and we’re not as far along as they thought we would be,” said Don Mash, chairman of the steering committee for the APBS/Lawson project, which is an unprecedented endeavor that will impact every UW System campus and its 42,000 workers statewide.

The Madison School Distrct has also been working to implement a new Lawson HR/Finance (ERP) System.

The Evils of Excellence

Susan Black on the “Trouble with Classroom Competition”:

How much competition is too much?
I asked myself that question some years ago when I was appointed director of curriculum and instruction for a Midwestern city school district. Making the rounds of the district’s 12 schools I found competition everywhere.
In a 10th-grade English class, I found kids writing essays on citizenship for a local bar association’s contest. Moving on to a middle school, I saw seventh-grade science students drawing posters for a county humane society contest in hopes of winning stuffed animals. That afternoon, I watched third-graders hop around a gym as part of a national charity’s pledge drive. The kids who hopped the longest won crayons and coloring books.
When I counted up the number of competitive activities in classrooms — more than 200 in one school year — I knew it was time to put on the brakes. It wasn’t easy, but with the school board’s support and principals’ cooperation, we reclaimed the instructional program. Competitive activities were still allowed, but they were held after school for students who wanted to sign up.

Via Joanne Jacobs and Gadfly. I wonder if students in India, China, Japan, Finland and elsewhere have curriculum planners with this point of view? This thinking seems rather Soviet, where everyone is the same except for those who are not.

Education Gains are Lost on High School Students

Alan Borsuk:

The message put forth by, among others, U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings on Thursday, is that the data point to the urgency of the hot new issue in education: What can we do about high school?
The priority of the issue increased with the release of data on long-term, nationwide trends in performance by students in math and reading. The information is from the National Assessment of Education Progress, a Department of Education effort that calls itself “The Nation’s Report Card.” NAEP has been testing samples of students from across the United States since the 1970s.
The results show that among 9-year-olds, reading performance in 2004 was up a significant amount, compared with both 1999 and the oldest data available, from 1971. In fact, the overall score was the highest on record.
But among 17-year-olds, the average score in 2004 was exactly the same as in 1971, and the trend has been downward slightly since the early 1990s.

Edward Tufte in Madison 8/8

Presenting Data and Information: A One-Day Course Taught by Edward Tufte is in Madison August 8, 2005 ($320/person):

I attended his course in Chicago last year. Highly recommended. More on Edward Tufte.

Arizona School Drops Textbooks

MSNBC:

A high school in Vail will become the state’s first all-wireless, all-laptop public school this fall. The 350 students at the school will not have traditional textbooks. Instead, they will use electronic and online articles as part of more traditional teacher lesson plans.
Vail Unified School District’s decision to go with an all-electronic school is rare, experts say. Often, cost, insecurity, ignorance and institutional constraints prevent schools from making the leap away from paper.

K-12 Math Curriculum: A Visit With UW Math Professor Dick Askey

UW Math Professor Dick Askey kindly took the time to visit with a group of schoolinfosystem.org writers and friends recently. Dick discussed a variety of test results, books, articles and links with respect to K-12 math curriculum. Here are a few of them:

  • Test Results:

    Wisconsin is slipping relative to other states in every two year NAP (sp?) Math test (4th and 8th grade). In 1992, Wisconsin 4th graders were 10 points above the national average while in 2003 they were 4 points above. Wisconsin students are slipping between 4th and eighth grades. In fact, white and hispanic children are now performing equivalent to Texas students while Wisconsin black students are performing above Washington, DC and Arkansas (the two lowest performers). He mentioned that there is no serious concern about the slippage.

    30 years ago, the United States had the highest % of people graduating from High School of any OECD country. Today, we’re among the lowest. We also have a higher drop out rate than most OECD countries.

    Said that he has asked Madison Schools Superintendent Art Rainwater twice in the past five years if our District asked for and received corrections for the current connected Math textbooks.

    Mentioned that CorePlus is evidently being used at West High but not Memorial

    Asked why these math performance declines are happening, he mentioned several reasons; “tame mathemeticians”, declining teacher content knowledge (he mentioned the rigor of an 1870’s California Teacher exam) and those who are true believers in the rhetoric.

  • Books:

    Knowing and Teaching Elementary Mathematics: Teachers’ Understanding of Fundamental Mathematics in China and the United States

    The Schools by Martin Mayer

Continue reading K-12 Math Curriculum: A Visit With UW Math Professor Dick Askey

Something New: Sun Prairie’s Website is Now a Blog

The Sun Prairie School District has launched a new website, essentially a blog with links. The key for Sun Prairie or any organization is to embrace all that that internet offers (audio, video, links, background information) and provide timely and useful information. They must frequently update the site. I wish them well. PBS’s Frontline provides a great example. Their stories include video/audio clips, transcripts, documents and extensive background data.

More on the Florence School District

Phil Brinkman takes a look at the Florence School District, which may disband:

“I want them to teach our children within their means,” said Tibbs, probably the chief antagonist in what has become a battle between cash-strapped residents and an equally cash- strapped school district over the future of education here.
Members of the Florence County School Board are finally conceding that battle after voters last month turned down the third spending referendum in the past two years. The measure would have let the district exceed state- imposed revenue caps by $750,000 a year for three years.
“There are other school districts of the same size, wealth and makeup that aren’t dissolving,” said Tony Evers, deputy state superintendent of public instruction. “Clearly, things happened in this school district that didn’t happen in other school districts.”
But Evers said Florence County’s death spiral provides sobering evidence that the state’s school funding formula is overdue for a change. Under that formula, state aid is provided in roughly inverse proportion to a community’s property wealth, and the total revenue a district can raise is capped. If costs exceed that – and officials in districts from Florence to Madison to Milwaukee say they are – districts must ask property taxpayers for more.
“We will need to, absolutely, continue to find better ways to measure wealth than property value,” Evers said.

note: this link will suffer “linkrot” as Capital Newspapers takes their links down after a period of time.

Continue reading More on the Florence School District

“No” on Intellectual Pluralism

George Archibald:

“There are no secret agendas here. Divergency [of views] in the classroom is being stifled. More and more, what we can say in the classroom is being restricted,” said Mr. Jackson, a high school English teacher from Kennewick, Wash.
Teachers have a responsibility “to instruct students how to think, not to indoctrinate,” he said. “All this is trying to do is to open this up and to prevent restriction” of the academic freedom of students as well as teachers.
But Tom Oxter, president of a Florida higher-education group that led the fight before the Florida Legislature against a similar campaign for a student academic bill of rights there, denounced the proposal as “really just the beginning of a witch hunt” by conservatives.

Via Joanne Jacobs. Joanne also summarizes the NEA’s comments on the Achievement Gap.

Superintendent Rainwater’s Letter to Governor Doyle

Madison School Superintendent Art Rainwater via WisPolitics :

Thank you for making public education in Wisconsin a priority in the budget you presented to the Legislature – a proposal that protected Wisconsin’s overburdened property tax payers and the children of the state. Unfortunately, the budget before you resembles little of what you offered for our taxpayers and K-12 students.
Since the inception of state-imposed revenue limits in 1993, Madison has cut over $43 million in its “same-service” budget and eliminated almost 540 positions – including 121 positions for the 05-06 school year. It is disingenuous for Republican leaders to claim their $458 million school aid increase as “historic,” when over 90 percent of the resources are targeted for school property tax relief, not for school programs and services. We have long surpassed cutting fat from our local budget, but have cut into bone as we increase class size in secondary instruction, eliminate classroom opportunities for students and cut support staff who assist our most needy students and families.
I urge you to use your veto authority to the fullest extent in order to restore revenue limit increases that keep pace with inflation, versus the GOP plan that cuts the allowable increase to 1.4 percent – less than half of the current inflation rate. Aside from increases in categorical aids, the revenue limit increase represents a school district’s only opportunity to fund critical programs for students.

I’m glad the Superintendent sent his comments to the Governor. It will be interesting to see where the Governor, facing a 2006 election campaign, lands on the amount of increased spending for Wisconsin schools (the battle is over the amount of increased money: the Republican budget includes a 458M increase to the 5.3B base, while Governor Doyle originally proposed a $900M increase via borrowing and other shifts).

Madison is also somewhat unique in this discussion in that about 25% of its budget comes from the State (State school spending will go up faster than inflation, in either case. The puzzle for me is the 1.4% that Superintendent Rainwater refers to. Is this due to Madison’s flat enrollment and/or based on the formulaic penalty we face for our higher than average per student spending? The enrollment situation is sort of strange, given the housing explosion we’ve seen over the past 10 years), whereas other districts receive a much higher percentage of their budget from state taxpayers. Further, Madison taxpayers have supported a significant increase in local school support over the past decade. The District’s Operating Budget has grown from $200M in 1994-1995 to $317M in 2005-2005. Art’s letter mentions “cut $43 million in its “same-service” budget and eliminated almost 540 positions – including 121 positions for the 05-06 school year”. There’s also been some discussion here about District staffing changes.

I also believe the District needs to immediately stop operating on a “same service approach”. Given the rapid pace of knowledge and information change today (biotech, science, engineering among others) AND the global challenges our children face (Finland, India, China and other growing economies – see Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat) things that worked over the past decade may no longer be practical or affordable for that matter.

Having said all that, it is difficult to manage anything when the curveballs are coming rather quickly. It would be great for the state to be consistent in the way it provides funds for 25% of our District’s budget. Similarily, in the private sector, many would love to see less risk and change, but I don’t see it happening.

California English Teacher on Teacher Evaluations

Tod Seal discusses teacher evaluations in three parts:

  • Student Voices

    Students choosing the easy route make up a large percentage of any public school. I’d say that easily 80% of the students in any high school will choose the teacher who shows movies and simply requires basic recall of class lecture over the teacher who reads novels and requires challenging essays. Yes, students in public school choose Advanced Placement (AP) classes.

  • Teacher Voices

    It’s been suggested that there is a struggle to create “objective, articulable standards” [sic] for teacher evaluation. It’s further been suggested that teachers be evaluated based on subjective standards, in the absence of those “articulable standards.” I, for one, certainly don’t want to be judged on subjective standards and I don’t want other teachers evaluated thusly. I wouldn’t judge my students subjectively and I wouldn’t expect any boss to evaluate employees subjectively.

  • Administrator View

    Teachers in my school district are currently evaluated by a bi-annual visit from an administrator (principals and the like). Every 2 years, an administrator spends 53 minutes in my classroom, taking notes on what happens during that time. That 53-minute period, that solitary visit to my classroom on a day and time that I know about well in advance is supposed to be some type of record of how effective I am as an educator. That visit is the single requirement our district has for teacher evaluation.
    Clearly, this is a flawed system

Health Talks Won’t Be Secret

Jason Shepherd wrote about the nature of the Madison School District’s joint committee with MTI (Madison Teachers Inc.)regarding health care costs. Initially, according to Shepherd, Madison School Board President Carol Carstensen said that “the open meeting law does not apply to the committee”.

KJ Jakobsen, a parent studying the District’s health insurance costs, wants to attend the meetings to see if the district is conducting an appropriate review. “Questions have been raised for 20 years,” she says. “Change won’t happen if these meetings are secret”.

But Carstensen, in an e-mail to Jakobsen, barred her from the meetings, claiming the committee is “part of the bargaining process” and thus excluded from the open meetings law. That raised the ire of [Ruth] Robarts, who said, “The public has a right to know what the distrct has been doing about its health insurance costs”.

Read the article here. Isthmus’ web site

Are Students More Equal than Others?

Susan Lampert Smith: “West High kids may have more opportunities because their parents are able to pay so they can play”. Evidently, the issue is $6,000 in the Madison School District’s $320M+ budget.
Meanwhile, Sandy Cullen discusses an attempt to move extramural sports to MSCR (part of Fund 80) as a response to the elimination earlier this year of freshman no cut sports. Madison Superintendent Art Rainwater mentioned:

“Our problem is facilities,” Rainwater said, adding that after-school activities, practices and games, as well as community programs, are already using the space needed for an extramural program. “If we don’t have facilities, we can’t do it.”

I hope and assume that programs for our school age children always come first in these discussions.

Gibson: Who Owns the Words?

William Gibson:

We seldom legislate new technologies into being. They emerge, and we plunge with them into whatever vortices of change they generate. We legislate after the fact, in a perpetual game of catch-up, as best we can, while our new technologies redefine us – as surely and perhaps as terribly as we’ve been redefined by broadcast television.

“Who owns the words?” asked a disembodied but very persistent voice throughout much of Burroughs’ work. Who does own them now? Who owns the music and the rest of our culture? We do. All of us.

Though not all of us know it – yet.

Gibson’s most recent book is Pattern Recognition, which is a must read. Gibson’s website.

California’s Proposed School Funding Changes

Nanette Asimov:

Since California’s property tax revolt more than 25 years ago, teachers, parents and school supporters have honed their battle skills arguing with politicians in Sacramento for more education money every year.
They haven’t always gotten their way, but since 1988 they have been able to count on a minimum funding level established by Proposition 98, the voter- approved ballot measure enshrined in the state constitution that says schools would be given first priority in the budget.

Property Taxes Biggest Share of Income in Milwaukee and Madison Areas

Wistax:

The other part of the state where the property tax burden was high was Dane county, according to WISTAX. The city and town of Madison led the area with property taxes at 8.8% and 8.2% of income, respectively. Five suburbs surrounding Madison also made the top-50 list: McFarland and Mt. Horeb (both 7.4%); Sun Prairie (7.3%); and DeForest and Stoughton (both 7.1%).
..
In a separate part of the report, WISTAX notes that the property tax-to-income ratio is much like a political “heart monitor.” When property taxes relative to income climb above 4%, discontent begins to grow. The study cited several periods in the postwar era when property taxes were unusually high and led to a major change, either in politics or in policy-making. Most recently, this occurred in 1993-94, when property taxes completed a 14-year rise, hitting 4.8% of income. Then, a bipartisan majority in state government imposed school revenue limits and first committed the state to providing two-thirds of local schools’ revenues.

Wisconsin Senate Passes Budget

The Wisconsin State Senate passed their version of the next two year budget early this morning. Read more here:

The bill goes back to the Assembly next week, where it must be approved before it is sent to Governor Doyle. The Senate version increases state support for K-12 public schools by 458M to 5.3billion (the Governor wanted to increase state support by 938M via borrowing and transfers).

I think Doyle, looking toward an election year in 2006, will take a Solomon approach and split the difference via his line item veto powers.

Denver’s New Superintendent

Rocky Mountain News:

Moreover, he will lead the campaign for a mill levy to fund ProComp, the pay-for-performance model that has been approved by teachers and that also has Hickenlooper’s support. Indeed, Bennet is so committed to that model that he hopes to negotiate such a provision as part of his own employment contract, a sure sign of confidence that the job is doable and the challenges are not intractable.
On Monday, Bennet said naming a chief academic officer would be among his highest priorities, and that he expects to start a national search for that person soon. That decision, perhaps more than any other he makes early in his new post, could determine whether he achieves the ambitious goal he has set for Denver: to be the best urban school district in the country.

Joanne Jacobs has some useful links behind this story, one of which is Siegfried Englemann’s piece on students “who are victims of the unshifted paradigm”.

Keep School Spending in Check

A reader forwarded this Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:

You have to wonder if the members of the Madison School Board couldn’t benefit from a remedial math course.
Last week, with the School District facing the prospect of having to cut $3.1 million from its budget, the School Board voted to add $651,400 in spending.
No wonder frustrated School Board member Bill Keys felt compelled to warn: “We have a serious financial problem on our hands. I do think the community and the board is in a kind of denial.”
Keys’ words deserve the attention of taxpayers not only in Madison but also throughout a majority of school districts in Wisconsin. Any district that denies the looming threats to its budget risks paying a stiff price.
School boards face uncertain budget circumstances. Schools will benefit from an increase in state spending on education in the next state budget. But how big the increase will be remains undecided.

Wisconsin Property Tax Hikes Outpacing Wages

Wistax:

Aids to local governments increased dramatically since 1955, according to the study. Local school aids rose 10.8% per year, while shared revenues to local governments increased 4.9% annually. However, WISTAX researchers point out that there are questions about the long-term effectiveness of local aids for reducing property taxes. Economic research in Wisconsin and elsewhere finds that state and federal aids to local governments only partially offset local property taxes, as a portion of that aid funds new spending.
The study finds that some limits on local governments have been effective at relieving property taxes and some have not. During the 1970’s, the state imposed cost controls on schools and levy limits on counties and municipalities. Due to an increasing number of “loopholes,” they were deemed ineffective and eliminated in 1983. Recent revenue limits on schools have been more effective, because they do not have similar loopholes. Counties and technical colleges have limits on the tax rates they can impose. However, large increases in property values have limited their effectiveness.

Bringing Better Nutrition to School Cafeterias

Talk of the Nation:

The school cafeteria line is hardly the place to develop healthy eating habits. Forget fruits and veggies — the typical lunch usually contains fast food staples like pizza and french fries. What can — or can’t — school districts do to make lunches healthier?

audio. Chez Panisse’s Alice Water’s participated in this program (Waters has been active in Berkeley nutrition programs).

Great Decision Making

The current issue of Fortune (2nd of a 2 part 75th anniversary edition) includes some fascinating examples of leadership and decision making. Jerry Useem summarizes the article.

If surmounting your anxieties is step one, step two is letting go of your inner perfectionist because there is no such thing as a perfect decision-maker. Even if you had all the information in the world and a hangar full of supercomputers, you�d still get some wrong.
But there�s a big difference between a wrong decision and a bad decision. A wrong decision is picking Door No. 1 when the prize is actually behind Door No. 2. It�s a lousy result, but the fault lies with the method. A bad decision is launching the space shuttle Challenger when Morton Thiokol�s engineers predict a nearly 100% chance of catastrophe. The method, in this case, is no method at all.
The distinction is important, because it separates outcomes, which you can�t control, from process, which you can. Wrong decisions are an inevitable part of life. But bad decisions are unforced errors. They�re eminently avoidable—and there are proven techniques to avoid the most predictable pitfalls (see Great Escapes).

20 Decisions that made history is also quite worthwhile.

Leopold Referendum Not in Near Term

Cristina Daglas:

The Madison School Board flirted Monday night with the idea of holding another referendum to seek funding for a second school on the Leopold Elementary grounds, but then backed away from it for now.
The board’s Long Range Planning Committee met with parents from Leopold at the school and heard their pleas for another referendum. Two of the three committee members – Juan Jose Lopez and Bill Keys – favored holding another referendum but ultimately moved to table the idea when it was clear that a majority of board members were not ready to go back to the voters so soon after the defeat of a similar referendum on May 24.

Virginia Drops Non-Math Teacher Math Tests

Joanne Jacobs:

Virginia will drop a basic skills test for would-be teachers which measures high-school-level reading, writing and math performance. Instead, the state will develop its own test of college-level reading and writing skills. Only math teachers will be tested on math knowledge.

Here are “advanced math” test prep questions for Praxis I, which is being abandoned. Thirty-five years out of high school, I can do these problems in my head. It’s hard to believe there are people smart enough to teach who can’t pass a basic math test. How are they going to average students’ grades?

Grigsby on WI Sex Education

Rep Tamara Grigsby, via Wispolitics:

  • Wisconsin has the highest incidence of African-American teen births in the nation.
  • Milwaukee has the highest high school drop-out rates for African-Americans in the country, which is directly connected to the high teen birth rate in our state.
  • In 2001, Milwaukee had the second highest teen birth rate of the nation’s 50 biggest cities.
  • Wisconsin has the 14th highest chlamydia rate (17,942 cases reported) and the 21st highest rate of syphilis in the nation (5,663 cases reported).
  • Almost ½ of all new sexually transmitted infections are contracted by 15-24 year olds, despite the fact that this population only makes up 25% of the sexually active population.

Ethnomathematics

Diane Ravitch:

In a comparison of a 1973 algebra textbook and a 1998 “contemporary mathematics” textbook, Williamson Evers and Paul Clopton found a dramatic change in topics. In the 1973 book, for example, the index for the letter “F” included factors, factoring, fallacies, finite decimal, finite set, formulas, fractions and functions. In the 1998 book, the index listed families (in poverty data), fast food nutrition data, fat in fast food, feasibility study, feeding tours, ferris wheel, fish, fishing, flags, flight, floor plan, flower beds, food, football, Ford Mustang, franchises and fund-raising carnival.
……
It seems terribly old-fashioned to point out that the countries that regularly beat our students in international tests of mathematics do not use the subject to steer students into political action. They teach them instead that mathematics is a universal language that is as relevant and meaningful in Tokyo as it is in Paris, Nairobi and Chicago. The students who learn this universal language well will be the builders and shapers of technology in the 21st century. The students in American classes who fall prey to the political designs of their teachers and professors will not.

Teen Screen

Reader David Lehane emailed this article by Evelyn J. Pringle:

he scheme concocted by the pharmaceutical industry and pushed forward by the Bush administration to screen the entire nation’s public school population for mental illness and treat them with controversial drugs was already setting off alarms among parents all across the country. But in the state of Indiana, the alarm just got louder.
Tax payers had better get out their check books because school taxes are about to go up as the law suits against school boards start mounting over the TeenScreen depression survey being administered to children in the school.
The first notice of intent to sue was filed this month in Indiana by Michael and Teresa Rhoades who were outraged when they learned their daughter had been given a psychological test at school without their consent.
In December 2004, their daughter came home from school and said she had been diagnosed with an obsessive compulsive and social anxiety disorder after taking the TeenScreen survey.

Education Gets the Schank

Roger Schank spoke at iLaw today:

i had to retire before i could talk about this stuff!
Charles Eliot was the president of harvard 1869-1909 is the most evil man in the history of harvard — he set up the high school curriculum that is still in place TODAY.
If you ever wondered why you took algebra in high school, is because the guy in princeton was selling a textbook on algebra, so he put algebra on high school curriculum!
i’m a math major and a computer science prof, and algebra has never come up in my life, maybe it has in yours.

Roger C. Schank Backbround

Talking To Strangers

Bruce Schneier:

“Many children are taught never to talk to strangers, an extreme precaution with minimal security benefit.”
In talks, I’m even more direct. I think “don’t talk to strangers” is just about the worst possible advice you can give a child. Most people are friendly and helpful, and if a child is in distress, asking the help of a stranger is probably the best possible thing he can do.
This advice would have helped Brennan Hawkins, the 11-year-old boy who was lost in the Utah wilderness for four days.
The parents said Brennan had seen people searching for him on horse and ATV, but avoided them because of what he had been taught.
“He stayed on the trail, he avoided strangers,” Jody Hawkins said. “His biggest fear, he told me, was that someone would steal him.”
They said they hadn’t talked to Brennan and his four siblings about what they should do about strangers if they were lost. “This may have come to a faster conclusion had we discussed that,” Toby Hawkins said.
In a world where good guys are common and bad guys are rare, assuming a random person is a good guy is a smart security strategy. We need to help children develop their natural intuition about risk, and not give them overbroad rules.

Cap Times Editorial Supports Kobza on Use of $240K

The Capital Times:

Newly elected Madison School Board member Lawrie Kobza was wise to move to use $240,000 in money made available by insurance savings to revive Lincoln Elementary School’s Open Classroom Program and to restore “specials” – music, art and gym classes at the elementary schools – to their regular sizes. And the board majority was right to back her move to maintain broadly accepted standards of quality in the city’s public schools.

Newsweek Updates Top 1000 US High Schools List

Jay Matthew has updated his list of the top 1000 US High Schools. The list, known as The Challenge Index, uses a ratio: the number of Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate tests taken by all students at public high schools in 2004, divided by the number of graduating seniors at the schools in 2004. Newsweek says that although the list “doesn’t tell the whole story about a school, it’s one of the best measures available to compare a wide range of students’ readiness for higher-level work, which is more crucial than ever in the postindustrial age.”
Here’s a list of Wisconsin High Schools included on the Challenge Index. Verona (710) and Madison Memorial (598) were the only Dane County schools included. Milwaukee Rufus King was the top ranked Wisconsin school on the list at 215.
Tom Kertscher takes a look at a recent addition to the list, Grafton High School.

We are Our History – Don’t Forget It

David Gelernter:

I thought she was merely endorsing the anti-war position. But my son set me straight. This student actually believed that if she had lived at the time, she might have been drafted. She didn’t understand that conscription in the United States has always applied to males only. How could she have known? Our schools teach history ideologically. They teach the message, not the truth. They teach history as if males and females have always played equal roles. They are propaganda machines.
Ignorance of history destroys our judgment. Consider Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill), who just compared the Guantanamo Bay detention center to Stalin’s gulag and to the death camps of Hitler and Pol Pot — an astonishing, obscene piece of ignorance. Between 15 million and 30 million people died from 1918 through 1956 in the prisons and labor camps of the Soviet gulag. Historian Robert Conquest gives some facts. A prisoner at the Kholodnaya Gora prison had to stuff his ears with bread before sleeping on account of the shrieks of women being interrogated. At the Kolyma in Siberia, inmates labored through 12-hour days in cheap canvas shoes, on almost no food, in temperatures that could go to minus-58. At one camp, 1,300 of 3,000 inmate

More on David Gelernter.

Unprepared: Back to the Basics in College

Melissa Milios:

n high school, I was a 3.8 (grade-point average) student. It was simple for me to get by with the bare minimum. I just got lazy,” says Andrea Edwards, 19, a graduate of Inglewood High. “Now that I’m here, it’s embarrassing — there’s so much I just don’t know.”
“You kind of feel left behind — like, why is my report card lying?” adds 19-year-old Kiwanna Hines, who was in the top 10 percent of her class at Junipero Serra High in Gardena. “I have my grandma, my auntie, my mom, my cousins — all of them are depending on me to graduate college. It’s a lot of pressure.”

The story notes that 8 out of 10 first-time freshman enrolled at Dominguez Hills last fall needed remediation in English and 7 in 10 needed remediation in math. Throughout the 23-campus CSU system, only 43% of the entering freshmen were proficient in both classes. Dominguez Hills president James Lyons summed it up: “There’s a disconnect between what they’re doing in high school to earn that GPA, and what is required and expected at the university level.” Via Eduwonk and Joanne Jacobs

WI State Budget Update

The Wisconsin Assembly approved a new two year state budget early this morning by a 56-40 vote. Spending increases 6.4%, while the percentage of funds generated by sales taxes goes up 9.9%. Governor Doyle proposed a 16% (!) increase in road projects to 4.4billion. Republicans added $93M to that, creating a 18% increase in road spending. State support for local school spending grows 8.6% (458M) to 5.3billion (Doyle proposed a $938M increase, “paid” for by additional state borrowing and transfers from other programs).

  • Phil Brinkman does a great job summarizing the budget. I appreciate the fact that he included total spending dollars along with the increases.
  • Stacy Forster and Patrick Marley also summarize the Assembly’s budget.
  • WisPolitics’ Budget Blog tracks the Assembly’s activities.

Referenda News: Germantown & Racine

Two interesting looks at Referenda activity:

  • Tom Kertscher finds that Germantown residents are attempting to raise funds for a High School expansion privately first:

    But supporters of the music programs realize that in Germantown – and throughout the Milwaukee area – most borrowing referendums for school building projects have failed in the past year and a half. So they are trying a new approach: Before asking for public money, they plan to raise private money to help fund additions to the high school.
    Germantown parent John Dawson, who is leading plans for a music referendum, said the message to taxpayers will be “we need your help, but we’re not looking for a handout.”

  • Alice Chang reports that Racine voters approved a $6.45M one year operating referendum (a $17.8M two year question failed this past April):

    The reprieve from financial pressure will be relatively short-lived. The district still faces a $13.4 million shortfall next year and likely will be asking voters again for a boost in funding.
    Rather than resting on the success of the spending referendum, School Board members already were looking ahead to future challenges.
    “We have an obligation to make sure we keep an eye on being fiscally responsible,” said board member Randy Bangs, who added that the passage of the referendum proposal was just one battle. “The bigger prize is a better district, which needs the support of the entire community.”
    Bangs said the board will continue to search for ways to make the district more efficient so that next year, if finances necessitate it, the district will attempt to pass a spending referendum for a minimal amount.

  • Brent Killackey has more on the Racine Referendum

Insights into Promoting Critical Thinking in Online Classes

Daithí Ó Murchú and Brent Muirhead:

At the beginning of the 21st. Century, all educators and all educational institutions, at all levels of education provision, are faced with the greatest time of possibility for change and evolution or stagnation and regression. Barker, 1978 in New York, stated that “action with vision can change the world” and the authors, based on their many years of experience working in both traditional and managed or virtual, E-Learning, lifelong-learning environments contend that the promotion of critical thinking is a key element in meaningful, responsible and soulful learning. Our ‘raison d’être’ as educators is to prepare our students for the society which does not yet exist and in doing so, provide them with opportunities to critically assess and transform their experiences into authentic learning experiences (Ó Murchú, 2005). This article explores the thought processes, realities and perceptions of the authors’ on-going experiences in on-line classes and gives their insights into promoting critical thinking in these Managed Learning Environments (MLEs).

6.20.2005 School Board Meeting Summary

Sandy Cullen summarized last evening’s Madison School Board meeting where:

  • Board members approved an administrative staff hiring freeze (5-2 with Bill Keys and Juan Jose Lopez voting against it)
  • Voted to use 200K in excess district insurance funds for elementary art, music and gym class sizes at 15 students in SAGE schools. (4-3 with Bill Keys, Juan Jose Lopez and Johnny Winston, Jr. voting against it)
  • Adopted the 2005-2006 budget 5-2 with Ruth Robarts and Shwaw Vang opposed

Trends in Grade Inflation, Nationwide

Economist Mark Thoma offers some thoughts on grade inflation:

There are two episodes that account for most grade inflation. The first is from the 1960s through the early 1970s. This is usually explained by the draft rules for the Vietnam War. The second episode begins around 1990 and is harder to explain….

My study finds an interesting correlation in the data. During the time grades were increasing, budgets were also tightening inducing a substitution towards younger and less permanent faculty. I broke down grade inflation by instructor rank and found it is much higher among assistant professors, adjuncts, TAs, instructors, etc. than for associate or full professors. These are instructors who are usually hired year-to-year or need to demonstrate teaching effectiveness for the job market, so they have an incentive to inflate evaluations as much as possible, and high grades are one means of manipulating student course evaluations.

Alex Tabarrock offers some additional thoughts & background links.

TABOR in the News

Paul Caron points to two articles on TABOR:

  • America’s Next Tax Revolt – Wall Street Journal:

    A Taxpayer Bill of Rights is a long overdue addition to the architecture of state constitutions. Proposition 13 halted the aggressive encroachment of state government more than 25 years ago, but only temporarily: Even after adjusting for inflation, most state tax collections are two to three times fatter than they were then. The painful experience since is that only hard and fast constitutional limits can rein in the powerful spending interests that live off the government.

  • Tax Foundation, TABOR, The Cure for Ratchet Up:

    Another important tool in alleviating tax and spend “ratchet-up” is the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR). This budget tool requires that excess revenue growth (in excess of population plus inflation) be rebated to the taxpayers. TABOR also requires voter approval for tax increases.

WI State K-12 Budget Summary

Alan J. Borsuk and Amy Hetzner:

Republican leaders are saying the increase in education funding for the next two years, approved by the Joint Finance Committee and heading toward approval by the Legislature itself, calls for $458 million more for kindergarten through 12th-grade education for the next two years, a large increase that taxpayers can afford.
Democrats and a huge chorus of superintendents, teachers and school board members around the state are protesting, saying that the increase will mean large cuts in the number of teachers and the levels of service for children because it doesn’t contain enough fuel to drive the educational system the same distance as before.
At the root of the issue is an education funding system approved by the Legislature a decade ago, when Republican Tommy G. Thompson was the governor. It created a cap on how much school districts could spend each year for general operations. In general, two-thirds of that amount was to come from the state with the rest from local property taxes.

Continue reading WI State K-12 Budget Summary

Turn On, Tune In, Veg Out

Neal Stephenson:

Anakin wins that race by repairing his crippled racer in an ecstasy of switch-flipping that looks about as intuitive as starting up a nuclear submarine. Clearly the boy is destined to be adopted into the Jedi order, where he will develop his geek talents – not by studying calculus but by meditating a lot and learning to trust his feelings. I lap this stuff up along with millions, maybe billions, of others. Why? Because every single one of us is as dependent on science and technology – and, by extension, on the geeks who make it work – as a patient in intensive care. Yet we much prefer to think otherwise.
Scientists and technologists have the same uneasy status in our society as the Jedi in the Galactic Republic. They are scorned by the cultural left and the cultural right, and young people avoid science and math classes in hordes. The tedious particulars of keeping ourselves alive, comfortable and free are being taken offline to countries where people are happy to sweat the details, as long as we have some foreign exchange left to send their way. Nothing is more seductive than to think that we, like the Jedi, could be masters of the most advanced technologies while living simple lives: to have a geek standard of living and spend our copious leisure time vegging out.
If the “Star Wars” movies are remembered a century from now, it’ll be because they are such exact parables for this state of affairs. Young people in other countries will watch them in classrooms as an answer to the question: Whatever became of that big rich country that used to buy the stuff we make? The answer: It went the way of the old Republic.

Milwaukee Schools Discuss School Closings

Via Wispolitics:

Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) today announced the second phase of its community engagement initiative regarding the future use of its facilities. School officials will again host a series of meetings to seek and gather information from teachers, principals, community organizations and parents.
MPS must eliminate vacant space that exists because of a downward trend in enrollment, and make solid decisions regarding dwindling resources. MPS currently has 95,600 students, but it operates buildings that, combined, feature room for 122,000 students.
“We are encouraging the community to come out for the second round of meetings,” said Tyrone Dumas, Milwaukee Public Schools’ Community Engagement project leader. “We’ve heard from some teachers, administrators and parents in the first phase of this process, however, we need to touch many more in order to develop fair and accurate guidelines by which we could close some school sites.”

Gilmore: Add Elementary Strings to the Curriculum

Andrea Gilmore (This opinion piece was published in the Wisconsin State Journal):

I am lucky. I have been playing the violin since I was in the fourth grade. I was exposed to music at an early age and music has helped me gain skills that have enhanced my school career. Through music, I learned self-confidence, self-discipline, time management, cooperation and study skills.
Unfortunately, many young people may not have the opportunity I had. The elementary strings program costs only $500,000 in a budget of about $300 million. School board members recently decided to keep the elementary strings program next year in some form, while cutting approximately $500,000 overall out of the music-education programs.

Continue reading Gilmore: Add Elementary Strings to the Curriculum

Social Mobility & The Educated Class

The Economist [6.9.2005]:

The obvious way to deal with this is to use the education system to guarantee a level playing field. Improve educational opportunities for the poorest Americans, make sure that nobody is turned away from university on grounds of financial need, and you will progressively weaken the link between background and educational success. Alas, there are at least three big problems with this.
The first is that the schools the poorest Americans attend have been getting worse rather than better. This is partly a problem of resources, to be sure. But it is even more a problem of bad ideas. The American educational establishment’s weakness for airy-fairy notions about the evils of standards and competition is particularly damaging to poor children who have few educational resources of their own to fall back on. One poll of 900 professors of education, for example, found that 64% of them thought that schools should avoid competition.

Continue reading Social Mobility & The Educated Class

State Gives Schools Extra Leeway

Jamaal Abdul-Alim:

Despite increasingly tough standards, the number of Wisconsin schools that will be flagged this year for failing to meet federally mandated reading and math goals will be less than half what it was last year – 51 as opposed to 108 – but not because things are getting better.
Rather, it is the state’s controversial calculation method that allows schools to miss the goals by substantial percentages without having it count against them.
For the same reason, only one school district in the state will be flagged for failing to meet the federally mandated standards, whereas last year 30 school districts were listed as failing to make enough progress.
The dramatic shift is due to the use of a statistical tool known as confidence intervals.

Allied Drive Open House Tonight

Via Wispolitics

Allied Drive Open House tonight
6/14/2005
5:30 p.m.
Allied Drive Head Start Building,
2096 Red Arrow Trail. Map
Madison, WI.
FYI: the mayor will attend the 2nd annual Allied Drive open house tonight. The event starts at 5:30pm, with a short speaking program at about 6:15pm. In addition to the mayor, Art Rainwater and Kathleen Falk are also expected to attend.
The open house is an opportunity for Allied Drive residents and service providers to meet with each other and their elected officials to discuss issues important to the neighborhood and learn about available services from city, county and non-profit agencies. Food, childcare and Spanish and Hmong translation services are all offered at the event.
George Twigg
Communications Director
Office of Mayor Dave Cieslewicz
(608) 266-4611