All posts by Jim Zellmer

U.S. Education Eroding World Technology Leadership

e-prairie discusses a number of recent comments from the technology community on our education problems:

The New York Times Editorial Page agrees with Bill Gates and takes the States to task for “embracing the lowest common denominator”.

Bill Gates: US High Schools Obsolete

Bill Gates:

he most blunt assessment came from Microsoft chief Bill Gates, who has put more than $700 million into reducing the size of high school classes through the foundation formed by him and his wife, Melinda. He said high schools must be redesigned to prepare every student for college, with classes that are rigorous and relevant to kids and with supportive relationships for children.
“America’s high schools are obsolete,” Gates said. “By obsolete, I don’t just mean that they’re broken, flawed or underfunded, though a case could be made for every one of those points. By obsolete, I mean our high schools _ even when they’re working as designed _ cannot teach all our students what they need to know today.”

I am no fan of Bill Gates. [Slashdot discussion] He does, however raise some useful points, including the biggest obstacle: political will.

School Spending

The National Center for Education Statistics has released national K-12 student expenditure data per state. The national average is $7,734, of which $4,755 goes for instruction.
The Madison School District spends north of $12.9K (24,430 students in 2004/2005 per Roger Price’s recent budget presentation) per student per year. We’ll hear a great deal about the district’s 2005/2006 budget over the next few months. Regardless of referendums or new federal/state aids, the district budget will go up, from 316.8M in 2004/2005 to perhaps 327.7M in 2005/2006 (again, according to Price’s presentation). Via Joanne Jacobs.

More Leopold Expansion Discussion

The proposed Leopold Expansion discussion continues:

  • Visiting with some Leopold Parents at a recent event, a number of points were discussed:
    • Parking is currently a problem and will be worse as the school expands.
    • “We keep taking away their playground space. Where are all of the children going to play? They need space to run around.”
    • “Why can’t Madison build a school in Fitchburg (ie, closer to where all the homes are going in)? Verona has – Stoner Prairie, in Fitchburg [Map illustrating Leopold & Stoner Prairie]. Many homes are as far from Verona shools (in Fitchburg) as they are from Leopold.”
    • “Where are all of these children going to go after Leopold?” “Will they be bused over to a Memorial/Middle School combination?”
    • “I’m concerned about the (proposed) shared library and cafeteria. Will they be adequately staffed for a school this size? The previous addition did not address the lunch room and library needs.
    • “I don’t want to pay any more taxes, it seems like every year we have a budget crisis but my taxes continue to go up. Couldn’t they plan better?”
  • Arlene Silviera is puzzled about Ruth Robarts recent questions regarding the size of the proposed Leopold school.

MMSD’s Kurt Keifer on the Administration’s Boundary Plans

Kurt Kiefer via email:

I’m writing in response to your questions from last week re: boundary change options. Tim Potter, research analyst on my staff who is handling all of the GIS work on the project, provided the details.
a) Leopold at 1040 students. I seem to recall the original plan was 800? (it’s now much less than that) Is this correct?
We are not sure how the 1040 figure is derived. Leopold with current boundaries is projected to have 750 students by 2010. Since the new developments are all within the Leopold attendance boundary they are incorporated in that projection. The McGaw Park development, for which there is no plat yet created, would not be included in the projection. Capacity at the Leopold site WITH a new school would be 1120. Students in Leopold in the various modules ranges from 582 to 875.
b) What are the implications of that growth on cherokee and west?
Depending on which plan you are referring to, yes, there could be an impact on Cherokee and West. Cherokee is currently projected to reach 100% capacity in 2010. The two new, platted developments (i.e., Swan Creek and Oak Meadow) are already in the Leopold attendance area so they are already in the projections. Thoreau already feeds into Cherokee and West so the return of those areas to Leopold would not have an impact at middle/high. The return of the area from Chavez could have an impact. On 3rd Friday, there were 31 and 33 middle high students in this area. On 3rd Friday, 21 of the middle school students were enrolled at Toki and 5 at Cherokee. Of the 33 high school students in this area, 11 attend West and 18 attend Memorial. Capacities at Cherokee and West are 648 and 2173 students, respectively.
c) What about Wright Middle School?
Wright is listed with a capacity of 324 and currently they have 207 students. Wright could alleviate any problems at Cherokee that might be caused by new developments.
d) Some wondered why Velma Hamilton was not affected by any of the
scenarios.

Any changes being made to the elementary schools which feed Hamilton would affect the latter. None of the plans affect Franklin, Randall, Shorewood Hills or Van Hise Elementary Schools. These schools are not experiencing significant changes in enrollments due to changing housing patterns or developments.
Let us know if you have any further questions.
Kurt Kiefer
Madison Metropolitan School District
Planning/Research & Evaluation
608-663-4946
kkiefer at madison.k12.wi.us

Big props to the very active Kiefer’s – Kurt’s better half Jone’ is an excellent elementary school teacher while son Oliver is the student representative on the Board of Education.

Roger Price Budget Presentation

Roger Price, the Madison School District’s Assistant Superintendent for Business Services presented a look at the upcoming year’s district budget last Monday night (2.14.2005). Roger forwarded his powerpoint slides (260K pdf) and an excel spreadsheet on tax levies from 1993 to 2005 that he used in his presentation. You can view the presentation (or listen to an audio mp3 file) here.
Barb Schrank took a look at the video clip and has some comments below.

Cap Times: Don’t Close Emerson

From the editorial page:

The Madison Metropolitan School District administration, which seems to be determined to offend every supporter of public education in the city and surrounding communities, was recently forced to back off from a foolish proposal to close two east side elementary schools and a middle school. But the administration is still recommending that Emerson Elementary School be closed.

Isthmus: Talking out of School: Don Severson’s Letter to the Editor

Don Severson has written a letter to the Isthmus editor regarding Jason Shephard’s 2/10/2005 article: Talking out of School (Shephard looks at the upcoming school board races in this article). Here’s Severson’s letter to the editor:

Madison School Board member Carol Carstensen complains that critics of the Board aren’t really interested in seeking solutions to complex questions. She states that “I get a little concerned when people say, ‘You should be doing this,’ but then are unable to give me a better plan for how to achieve what they want.” The significant issue here is that Ms. Carstensen is unwilling and unable to consider, discuss and evaluate other processes, approaches, criteria and recommendations for alternatives and solutions.

[PDF Version]

Continue reading Isthmus: Talking out of School: Don Severson’s Letter to the Editor

Madison School District’s Boundary Change Scenarios

The Madison School District has posted quite a bit of information, including an executive summary (in html!) on their web site. The details include a number of scenarios along with a school by school analysis. (very nicely done – fewer pdf’s would be wonderful, but it’s a great start).
There are a couple of related meetings Monday, February 14, 2005 that we’ll record and post shortly thereafter:

  • Special Board of Education Meeting @ 5:00p.m. where they will discuss the Board’s Equity Policy and the District’s projected budget gap from 2005 to 2009.
  • The Board’s Long Range Planning Committee meets at 6:00p.m. to discuss the boundary change options.

These meetings are held in the Doyle Administration Building [Map] in room 103 (enter from the back of the building).
Sandy Cullen writes about some parent’s reactions. Lee Sensenbrenner on the District’s 8.6M in pending reductions (or reductions in the increase).

Wisconsin DPI Candidate Lunch 2.17.2005

Jeff Mayers forwarded this event information (calendar) [Candidate information]:
Top two DPI candidates from the 2/15/2005 primary election.
February 17, 11:45 a.m., the Madison Club, Wilson Street, Madison
Join us to hear Jeff Mayers and the candidates discuss the state of
education and the race.
Cost is $15 for Madison Club members and $19 for non-members. Call Loretta to RSVP at the Madison Club, 608-255-4861.
The event is co-sponsored by WHD Government Affairs and Sonic Foundry.

Wisconsin DPI Candidate Fund Raising

dpi013105cash.jpg
The money being tossed around in this race reflects the growing partisan nature of a purportedly non-partisan position (Burmaster was on stage at the recent Kerry/Springsteen rally). Dave Zweifel also weighs in on the changing nature of this elected position.

The DPI Candidate primary is Tuesday, 2/15/2005. Vote – perhaps for Yvarra or Stelzel, two who are running without a serious cash machine….

Given the partisan nature of the job, Zweifel is correct in advocating for a fall election.
Background on the candidates 1/31/2005 campaign finance disclosures: [AP] [Wisconsin Elections Board]

California: Mandatory Student ID Cards with RFID’s

The EFF (well worth your support):

Several civil liberties groups, including the ACLU of Northern California (ACLU-NC), Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), and the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) sent a letter today expressing alarm at the Brittan School District’s use of mandatory ID badges that include a RFID device that tracks the students’ movements. The device transmits private information to a computer on campus whenever a student passes under one of the scanners. The ID badges also include the student’s name, photo, grade, school name, class year and the four-digit school ID number. Students are required to prominently display the badges by wearing them around the neck at all times.

Madison Schools Proposed Athletic Field Fees

A reader forwarded me comments that were sent to the Madison School Board regarding the proposed athletic field fees:

As you would guess, many of us who have watched a soccer game, t-ball game or football game and enjoyed the unencumbered spirit and play of our children and have personally mowed the grass, or lined a field, you may oppose the school board proposal of a user fee for the athletic fields during non-school hours.
I sent a letter to the comments section of MMSD school board. Send yours to: comments@ at madison.k12.wi.us
My letter to the school board stated:

Continue reading Madison Schools Proposed Athletic Field Fees

Lucy Mathiak on Bill Clingan & Leopold Expansion

Lucy Mathiak:

Dear Editor: I am writing in response to Bill Clingan’s Jan. 27 letter regarding the second Leopold School. A second school is long overdue. It is the right thing to do.
While there is no doubt that Mr. Clingan will be a vocal advocate for the Leopold referendum, one wonders where his passion for this initiative was in 2003-04 when he chaired the Long Range Planning Committee. As chair, he had the power to move the school forward, and he squandered that opportunity.
According to the school district Web site, the Long Range Planning Committee met a total of three times under Mr. Clingan’s leadership. Planning for a Leopold building referendum was not an agenda item at any of those meetings. The committee did not meet again while Mr. Clingan was the chair.

Wisconsin DPI Candidate Forum


Three of the four candidates for Wisconsin DPI Superintendent participated in a Madison Forum Saturday morning. The League of Women Voters Melanie Ramey kindly moderated. Watch the forum here (video and audio clips). You can also read individual questions and watch/listen to the candidate responses.
Incumbent Libby Burmaster was unable to attend, though the three candidates mentioned that she has not participated in any primary events to date. I find this disappointing. These challenging education times require more debate, a more engaged citizenry and leadership.
I was impressed with the three participating candidates. They addressed the issues and were willing to put their names on a position.
In days long gone, it was likely sufficient to rely on special interests and avoid direct public interaction. Our current President certainly avoids any sort of critical engagements. Russ Feingold, to my knowledge, has always mingled easily with the public. [Melanie mentioned that incumbent non-participation is a growing problem around the state.]
The internet era is dramatically changing the way in which we all communicate, are informed and express our points of view. Any candidate seeking office would do well to participate in the conversation.
I also want to thank the local media for their extensive coverage:

  • 3, 15 and 27. Their coverage enabled these three candidates to have a few broadcast words with Madison voters.
  • Isthmus posted the event in their weekly calendar.
  • Sheryl Gasser emailed and mentioned that Wisconsin Public Radio will be interviewing the four DPI candidates individually starting this Monday morning from 7 to 8a.m. through Thursday morning. I’ll post audio links to these conversations.

Take a look at the forum page and email the candidates with questions. The primary is Tuesday, February 15, 2005. Vote!

Wisconsin DPI Candidate Madison Forum – Saturday Morning 1/29/2005

www.schoolinfosystem.org is hosting a Wisconsin DPI Candidate Forum tomorrow morning at 10:00a.m. at the Madison Senior Center. Three of the four candidates: Todd Stelzel, Gregg Underheim and Paul Yvarra have confirmed.
This is the ONLY Madison opportunity you’ll apparently have to meet the candidates before the February primary.
When: January 29, 2005 10:00a.m. (9:30 if you want to chat with the media folks)
Madison Senior Center, 2nd Floor
330 W Mifflin St
Madison, WI 53703
(608) 266 6581
[Map/Directions]. There’s quite a bit of parking around this facility, just behind the new Overture Center.
Please note that the Winter Farmer’s market is on the first floor of the Madison Senior Center, so bring your shopping bag.
Notes, photos audio and video files will be posted here after the event. I’ll post additional media links as they are available.

San Diego Superintendent Alan Bersin & No Child Left Behind

Eduwonk:

Haven’t yet had your fill of political shenanigans in California? Then keep an eye on San Diego where one of the nation’s longest serving urban superintendents is facing political trouble. National implications as this episode shows what can happen when push comes to shove on NCLB.
Superintendent Alan Bersin is poised to reorganize several of the city’s chronically underperforming schools. At two of the three schools a majority of teachers have voted to make the schools charter schools to help facilitate this and at all three 60-80 percent of parents voted to do the same. Remember, these are not schools that didn’t do well “on a single test” but schools that have not done right by students for years.

Continue reading San Diego Superintendent Alan Bersin & No Child Left Behind

Winkler Letter to Keys & School Board on Administrator Contracts

Madison School Board Candidate, Parent and activist Lawrence Winkler forwarded a letter to Board President Bill Keys regarding Madison School’s budget process if cuts must be made for the 2005-2006 School Year.
Winkler provides some useful background information and offers a suggestion to move forward with an improved decision making process. Click below to read his letter or here for a 37K pdf print version.

Continue reading Winkler Letter to Keys & School Board on Administrator Contracts

Dane County School Funding Forum Followup

Margaret Stumpf sent a followup message to the recent Dane County School Funding Forum.

Please check with Channel 10 on the televised version of the State Budget Information Seminar held on WED, Jan 12 at Monona Grove HIgh School if you did not attend. It was very informational. I also have hard copies (as daoe Amy through me) of the infor passed out at the meeting.
All are encouraged to contact Governor Doyle IMMEDIATELY (as the budget is in the works) to encourage him to accept Superintendent Burmeister’s and the Governor’s Task Force on Educational Excellence’s proposals for school fuding.
Letters can be sent to:
Governor Jim Doyle (web email link)
Officer of the Governor
115 East
State Capitol
Madison, WI 53702
608-266-1212
608-267-6790 (TTY
608-267-8983 (FAX)
They can be sent individually or en mass. As we all know, a lot of what individual districts are able to do is based on state aid, and the lack of in areas that the state had committed to (such as 2/3 special ed funding) that was later revoked.

Coaching in Wisconsin – Worth it?

Coaching in Wisconsin – Worth it?

Pearly Kiley – wishoops.net [PDF Version 103K]

“With all this talent, why aren�t we winning more games?”
“My kid averaged 20 points in summer league, why isn�t he playing more?”
“Why are we walking the ball up the floor all the time?”
“I wish we had the old coach back.”
These unfounded sentiments were also a major reason why over 80 coaches
chose to resign, were relieved of duty or retired since last season.
There are coaches who point to AAU basketball and all its dramatically improving impact. Some blame school administrators for showing more allegiance to parents than them in disputes over individual roles and playing time. Still others say it takes too much time � and impossible patience � to deal with the increasingly overzealous parent.
�At the high school level, the rewards aren�t tangible,� said former Waupaca coach Tim Locum, who resigned after last season and is currently an assistant coach at UW-Oshkosh.

Continue reading Coaching in Wisconsin – Worth it?

Maintenance Referendum: Long Range Planning Meeting Tonight

The Madison School Board’s Long Range Planning Committee is holding a public hearing on the proposed maintenance referendum (one of potentially 3 referendums this spring) Wednesday night, January 19, 2005 @ 6:00p.m. at the Doyle Administration Building, McDaniels Auditorium.
I’ve emailed the MMSD TV folks to see if they are broadcasting this event, but have not heard back from them. I will post broadcast information here upon receipt.
Madison Metropolitan School District
545 West Dayton Street
Madison WI 53703-1995 [Map]

Kobza letter to Keys: Don’t cut teachers

Madison School Board Candidate, Parent and PTO activist Lawrie Kobza forwarded a letter to Board President Bill Keys regarding Madison Schools financial priorities if cuts must be made for the 2005-2006 School Year.
In past years, the district limited its budget options when it passed on non-renewal of administrator contracts by February 1 (the MMSD is required to provide six months non-renewal notice prior to the July 1 administrative contract start date).
This date, February 1, passes long before detailed public discussions begin on the next budget. Inevitably as cuts, or reductions in the increase must be made, school staff such as teachers and custodians (or wrestling, or strings in 2004) are the target (because the administrative contracts have not been given the required six month non-renewal notice).
Kobza’s letter (28K PDF) & Linda Hall’s Administrative contract background 2 pager. (77K PDF)

California Bilingual Litmus Test

Susan Estrich – former Dukakis campaign manager and USC Professor takes California Democrats to task for pushing out one of their own over bilingual education:

But unlike much of Silicon Valley, he is a passionate Democrat, and his issue is public education. He has twice served as president of the State Board of Education. The idea that Democrats could reject him had me checking the local headlines this morning twice, to make sure that this wasn’t some joke edition. Have these people lost their minds? This is the most talented guy on the team, not to mention that he’s responsible for about $15 million to Democratic campaigns in the last couple of cycles.
Then I got it. Cut to the chase.
This isn’t about qualifications or performance. So what if he killed himself for the last five years working on the Board of Education, running all over the state encouraging charter schools, using his own money when necessary to help provide start-up funds, while running a multimillion dollar business as his day job?
He failed the bilingual education litmus test.

Mickey Kaus has more.

Wisconsin DPI Superintendent Candidate: Todd Stelzel


I had an opportunity to visit recently with Black Earth resident, Wisconsin Heights teacher and Wisconsin DPI Superintendent Candidate Todd Stelzel. I’ve posted a 13 minute video clip and mp3 audio file where Stelzel discuss his background, candidacy and asks for our vote. Following are a number of fat links to information about Stelzel, who recently completed his Masters Degree at Edgewood College in Madison. Fat Links (click on the icons):

Look for an interview with another candidate, Dr. Paul Yvarra soon. I’ve not heard from incumbent Madison resident Elizabeth Burmaster or Gregg Underheim. If I do, I will post their interviews as well.

Cherokee Middle School PTO Priorities

The Cherokee PTO recently forwarded their top 5 Madison School District Priorities:

  • Long range planning, especially to include a plan for the increased numbers of students who will be attending Cherokee and West.
  • Maintaining a challenging level of curriculum while providing services to an increased number of students with diverse needs (TAG, music, reading specialists, ESL, special needs and children living in poverty were especially mentioned as being areas in need of services).
  • Insuring a safe and nurturing environment (to include physical safety, cultural understanding and a positive climate).
  • Purchasing and maintaining needed equipment and materials (there was a discussion about teacher’s requests to include basic classroom materials and the difficulty in funding new equipment such as the FOSS science kits required by the district).
  • Preserving facility maintenance/repair while maintaining the small class sizes as we deal with issues of growth.

Speakers Needed for Schools Make a Difference

Johnny Winston, Jr. forwarded this announcement from Ken Syke:

School Makes A Difference is a career exploration and planning activity for Madison 8th grade students. It is an opportunity for students to hear adults tell about their career journey and to ask questions and have a brief dialogue with the presenters.

Sign up with this excel file and email it to Ken Syke (ksyke at madison.k12.wi.us)

Continue reading Speakers Needed for Schools Make a Difference

Hewlett Foundation/RAND Study on California’s K-12 System

The William & Flora Hewlett Foundation sponsored a RAND Education study of the California K-12 System, released today. Press Release | Full Document [900K PDF].

California’s public school system lags behind most of the nation on almost every objective measurement of student achievement, funding, teacher qualifications and school facilities, according to a new RAND Corporation analysis that is the first comprehensive examination of measurable dimensions of the state’s education system.

TABOR – Why did Colorado Approve it?

I posted a series of links to Colorado’s TABOR experience (Taxpayers Bill of Rights) here. One of the articles I linked to demonstrates the root cause of TABOR type laws: “The problem: From 1983 to ’92, spending by Colorado state government rose by 97%, while inflation rose 29.7% and the state’s population increased by 10.4%”.
I think it’s critical for the Madison School District to publish detailed revenue and spending data over the past decade as part the upcoming referendum process. As far as I can tell, Madison School spending was $194M in 1994 and grew to $307M+ in 2004 with roughly a similar number of students. I’ll post the actual year to year numbers, as I asked for here, once we obtain them….

Milwaukee Area School Chiefs Pay Outpaces Teachers

Amy Hetzner:

More than three of every four school districts paid their superintendents more in 2003-’04, when measured against what the average teacher was paid, than they did in the 1995-’96 school year, according to a Journal Sentinel analysis of data reported to the state.
In addition, with perks such as payments to tax-sheltered annuities added in, fringe benefits for superintendents in about half the five-county Milwaukee area districts have increased at a higher rate than their teachers’ benefits. But while rising costs for teachers’ health insurance and pensions have strained contract negotiations, escalating superintendent benefits have gotten little attention.
All of this has happened despite a provision in state law that requires school boards to restrict compensation raises for school administrators to 3.8% or the same percentage increase given to teachers the prior year.
Since the law was enacted in 1993, the Legislature has approved enough loopholes that the law can be largely ignored. There also is apparently no oversight other than local school boards and their voters.
“I mean, so what? So you break the rule,” said Roger Danielsen, a member of the Waukesha School Board, which approved a 15.9% salary increase for its superintendent this year. “I don’t think there’s any enforcement, although we’re trying to stay true to the (teachers’) package.”

I wonder what the data looks like around Madison?

School Privacy Notices

Treena Shapiro discusses concerns raised over school privacy notices:

Sybil Arum’s eighth-grade granddaughter came home this week worried that she was on the verge of being drafted by the military and sent off to war.
The reason for her fear was the Department of Education’s annual privacy notice, which says contact information for secondary students as young as sixth-graders may be released to military recruiters unless the student, parent or legal guardian requests otherwise.
Arum, who is the child’s guardian, quickly determined that her granddaughter was not being shipped off to Iraq, but became alarmed anyway.
“I’m very upset with the age level that this policy encompasses,” she said.
DOE and U.S. Department of Defense officials, however, stress that the military is only interested in students who are 17 and older and will not be following up with students as young as sixth-graders.
“We don’t just automatically release (the information to recruiters); it would have to be on request,” said DOE spokesman Greg Knudsen. “Recruiters have told us that their interest is in juniors and seniors.”

There’s more to this than just information for recruiters. DPI has information on this issue here (parents can opt out. This page describes that process). MMSD’s policy 4157 apparently describes the district’s data privacy processes. Send me comments/questions on this: zellmer at mailbag dot com.

Ruth Robarts Letter to the Isthmus editor on MMSD Reading Progress

Ruth Robarts wrote:

Thanks to Jason Shepard for highlighting comments of UW Psychology Professor Mark Seidenberg at the Dec. 13 Madison School Board meeting in his article, Not all good news on reading. Dr. Seidenberg asked important questions following the administrations presentation on the reading program. One question was whether the district should measure the effectiveness of its reading program by the percentages of third-graders scoring at proficient or advanced on the Wisconsin Reading Comprehension Test (WRCT). He suggested that the scores may be improving because the tests arent that rigorous.
I have reflected on his comment and decided that he is correct.
Using success on the WRCT as our measurement of student achievement likely overstates the reading skills of our students. The WRCT—like the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination (WKCE) given in major subject areas in fourth, eighth and tenth grades— measures student performance against standards developed in Wisconsin. The more teaching in Wisconsin schools aims at success on the WRCT or WKCE, the more likely it is that student scores will improve. If the tests provide an accurate, objective assessment of reading skills, then rising percentages of students who score at the proficient and advanced levels would mean that more children are reaching desirable reading competence.
However, there are reasons to doubt that high percentages of students scoring at these levels on the WRCT mean that high percentages of students are very proficient readers. High scores on Wisconsin tests do not correlate with high scores on the more rigorous National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests.
In 2003, 80% of Wisconsin fourth graders scored proficient or advanced on the WCKE in reading. However, in the same year only 33% of Wisconsin fourth graders reached the proficient or advanced level in reading on the NAEP. Because the performance of Madison students on the WCKE reading tests mirrors the performance of students statewide, it is reasonable to conclude that many of Madisons proficient and advanced readers would also score much lower on the NAEP. For more information about the gap between scores on the WKCE and the NAEP in reading and math, see EdWatch Online 2004 State Summary Reports at www.edtrust.org.
Next year the federal No Child Left Behind Act replaces the Wisconsin subject area tests with national tests. In view of this change and questions about the value of WRCT scores, its time for the Board of Education to review its benchmarks for progress on its goal of all third-graders reading at grade level by the end of third grade.
Ruth Robarts
Member, Madison Board of Education

Continue reading Ruth Robarts Letter to the Isthmus editor on MMSD Reading Progress

Barb Williams: Letter to the Isthmus Editor on 3rd Grade Reading Scores

Barb Williams wrote:

I’m glad Jason Shepard questions MMSD’s public display of self-congratulation over third grade reading test scores. It isn’t that MMSD ought not be proud of progress made as measured by fewer African American students testing at the basic and minimal levels. But there is still a sigificant gap between white students and students of color–a fact easily lost in the headlines. Balanced Literacy, the district’s preferred approach to reading instruction, works well for most kids. Yet there are kids who would do a lot better in a program that emphasizes explicit phonics instruction, like the one offered at Lapham and in some special education classrooms. Kids (arguably too many) are referred to special education because they have not learned to read with balanced literacy and are not lucky enough to land in the extraordinarily expensive Reading Recovery program that serves a very small number of students in one-on-on instruction. (I have witnessed Reading Recovery teachers reject children from their program because they would not receive the necessary support from home.)

Continue reading Barb Williams: Letter to the Isthmus Editor on 3rd Grade Reading Scores

Taxpayer Information I’d like to see from the Madison School District

Given this and the probability of three spending referendums this spring, I would like to see the Madison School District’s finance folks publish the following information (in html, on their web site):

The District’s sources and uses of funds over the past 10 years, including:

  • total spending (education, special ed, services, staff/admin, other)
  • Employment numbers (teachers, staff, part time, mscr)
  • revenues (by source: grants, local taxes, state & federal funds), fees
  • Student counts, including low income changes, special ed and population changes across the district (from school to school)
  • Supporting numbers, notes and comments to the data.

This type of detailed, background information would be rather useful to all Madison citizens as we contemplate further increases in education spending. There’s been some discussion of eliminating the deduction for state & local taxes for federal tax purposes. IF that happens, there will be quite a blowback from places like Wisconsin that have relatively high taxes.

Wisconsin Property Taxes

Several recent articles highlight the ongoing problem of state & local taxes growing faster than Wisconsin personal income:

  • Wisconsin Taxpayer’s Alliance released a study that forecasts 2005 property taxes will go up more than 6 percent. They also forecast that the local school portion of property taxes will go up 7.3%. They also found that property taxes will account for 4.1% of Wisconsin taxpayer’s personal income. (via JR Ross)
  • Unsurprisingly, The Taxpayer Bill of Rights continues to be discussed in Madison. This will continue to be a hot button issue as long as state and local spending continues to rise faster than personal incomes (there will be a reckoning unless the economy grows faster…., here’s an example: Judy Wagner, 65, a Milwaukee substitute teacher, said her property taxes were forcing her to postpone her retirement. Her property tax bill had risen from about $3,000 in 2000 to just under $4,700 now, she said.
    “My options are to work until I’m 75 or 80 or sell my home and move south like three of my friends have,” she said.) Via Patrick Marley & Steven Walters.

  • This will help, to some degree, though we must create a more robust environment for tax paying entrepreneurs. True statewide, 2 way broadband (not the current slow DSL and cable modem services) and a much simplified tax/paperwork process would be a great start.

Art Rainwater’s Email regarding Reading First

Madison Schools Superintendent Art Rainwater sent me an email today regarding this paper. Here’s his email:

Dear Jim
I received a copy of your email to Diane Mayerfeld regarding reading in the Madison Schools. I would like to set straight the misinformation that is contained in the document that you included with your email. First the Milwaukee Public Schools have not performed better on the fourth grade WKCE test that Madison. The report cites “School Facts 03” as the source. The numbers in that publication show that in Madison 80% of our fourth graders scored proficient and advanced on the test and that only 63% of Milwaukee”s fourth graders scored proficient and advanced. I am not sure how such an error could have occurred in the document that you produced since the numbers in the report are very clear. An examination of the DPI WINNS website shows the same numbers.
I find this type of inaccuracy extremely disturbing since inaccurate numbers were also used in the Wisconsin State Journal editorial regarding the Reading First grant. The editorial states that Lincoln’s third grade reading scores have declined since 2001, when in fact, they have steadily increased. The editorial writer had the chart showing the increase in performance before her when she wrote the editorial.
There are always legitimate disagreements that can be made over many of the decisions that the District makes. However, using inaccurate and clearly wrong data to make those arguments should never be acceptable.
The Performance Series Report also indicates that there was a choice between Reading Recovery and the programs approved under the Reading First grant for funding. That assertion is not accurate. Reading Recovery was not part of the issue at all. The choice was between our Balanced Literacy Core Program (CLIP) and the Reading first programs. Reading Recovery is a first grade intervention not a core program. The following explanation written by the team that actually worked on the Reading First grant and have extraordinary expertise in reading says it much better than I can.

Continue reading Art Rainwater’s Email regarding Reading First

Superintendent Art Rainwater’s recent comments on the Budget and the Reading First rejection

I recently received a copy of the minutes of the November 3, 2004 Superintendent’s Faculty Committee meeting. During this meeting Superintendent Art Rainwater discusses a variety of topics, including the recent rejection of $2M in Reading First funds and the district’s budget. The minutes are available in this 350K pdf document. Highlights:

On Declining Federal Funds: “This situation (declining federal funds) presents a dilemma for a Superintendent – not so much for me because I’ve done what I want to do and am looking at the end of my career. But for a young, career-building Superintendent in a struggling district it would be very hard to decide whether you accept desperately needed money and compromise program, or turn it down because you know you have something better.”
What was the reaction to the district saying no to federal money? I read a little about it in the newspaper. That was it – there was no other reaction.”
on Reading First:
“The Reading 1st grants are designed to support schools where reading is an issue. Like everthing in NCLB, they are based on a relatively sound principle but farther down the line you find something insidious about that. . .”
On No Child Left Behind:
“By the year 2013, if we have one single student in the whole district who is not proficient or advanced in reading, math and science, then our district would be designated a failure. Much research has been done by a variety of educational associations. They show that, after six years, 80% of districts will be failing. When that is the goal, people don’t take it seriously. An important part about making change is having attainable goals.”
In response to a question on the budget,”Are we headed for another $10 million in budget cuts?” Art answered, “The best case, which I believe we are heading for, is between $6-7 million. The worst case would be if the Legislature passes a property tax freeze and the Governor can’t veto it, which would result in somewhere between $15-17 million.”

Math Curriculum Board Meeting Video Clips

The Madison School Board Performance & Achievement Committee met monday night, to discuss “Research-Base Underlying MMSD Mathematics Curriculum & Instruction” Here are some video clips from the meeting:

RFK on School Performance: 1965

Jenny D posts a transcript of RFK’s (Robert F. Kennedy) 1965 Senate testimony on school performance:

Some may wonder, why on earth is Jenny D. wasting her time copying down 40-year-old Senate testimony? Because it so closely mirrors the conversations today about No Child Left Behind. NCLB didn’t fall out of the sky as some evil Republican plan. It was first hatched, albeit crudely, in 1965 by U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy. I think it’s important to know where we came from

RFK on standardized tests | RFK on Title 1

WSJ Opinion: Reading between the lines of rigidity

The WSJ Editorial page published a very useful editorial this morning on the Madison School District’s rejection of $2M in federal Reading First funds for reading improvement programs:

Taxpayers have the right to ask why the Madison School District would turn its back on a $2 million grant.

Read a number of other articles on the district’s rejection of the $2M reading first funds here.

Continue reading WSJ Opinion: Reading between the lines of rigidity

John Muir Elementary School PTO Feedback

We’ve started to ask local PTO/A organizations for a list of their view of the Madison School District Priorities. Here’s two from John Muir Elementary:

  • Good morning PTO members. I am in touch with ______’s teacher about having a parents/teachers night where the a teacher or two would do a presentation on the new Math teaching theory, and how to inform parents so that we may be able to help their children at home. I hear from many parents who wish to receive this
    information.

  • as a teacher, and especially as a teacher of the Arts, I am particularly concerned about the cuts that have been made in our schools. The public doesn’t realize the impact, but it is keenly felt by all staff throughout the district and Wisconsin. There will be more cuts next year.
    I would encourage the PTO to invite school board members to attend a meeting, and to have them explain what has been cut or changed, and what is yet to come. Because we have a budget crisis in Wisconsin, we are losing staff, programs are being cut, teachers are being overloaded by more responsibilities. This is not going to end. We still have millions of dollars more to cut next year, and the next and the next.
    The point of the meeting, besides voicing concerns about these cuts, is to have the school board talk about what the public can and should do. I believe this should be our chief priority.

Send yours to zellmer at mailbag dot com.

Celebrating Mediocrity?

John Tierney writes:

At one level, the debate is over current controversies in public education: Many parents believe that their children, mostly in elite schools, are being pushed too hard in a hypercompetitive atmosphere. But other parents are complaining about a decline in programs for gifted children, leaving students to languish in “untracked” and unstimulating classrooms. Some critics of education believe that boys especially are languishing in schools that emphasize cooperation instead of competition. No Child Left Behind, indeed.
But the basic issue is the same one raised four decades ago by Kurt Vonnegut in “Harrison Bergeron,” a short story set in the America of 2081, about a 14-year-old genius and star athlete. To keep others from feeling inferior, the Handicapper General weighs him down with 300-pound weights and makes him wear earphones that blast noise, so he cannot take “unfair advantage” of his brain.
That’s hardly the America of 2004, but today’s children do grow up with soccer leagues and spelling bees where everyone gets a prize. On some playgrounds dodge ball is deemed too traumatic to the dodging-impaired. Some parents consider musical chairs dangerously exclusionary.

Fascinating look at the tyranny of low expectations….

DVD’s Replacing Live Spanish Teacher?

Jamall Abdul-Alim on the Maple Dale-Indian Hill School District‘s attempt to use DVD’s for first through third graders.

“Buenos dias,” says Senor Morris, the instructor featured in the DVD set “Elementary Spanish” – a program the Maple Dale-Indian Hill School District is using for the first time this year to teach Spanish to first- through third-graders.
In Spanish, the phrase means “good morning.”
But the days of Spanish instruction for students at Indian Hill may not be as good as they once were, educators say.
Last year, a teacher stood in the place now occupied by the TV set and DVD player. Budget cuts brought on by declining enrollment led district officials to say adios to Spanish teacher Mara Malloy – called Senora Malloy by her students.
She has been replaced by the DVD Spanish instruction package produced by Northern Arizona University.
The district saved thousands of dollars in Malloy’s part-time teacher salary and benefits. The DVD package cost $3,000.
But educators and students say there is a deeper cost associated with the switch from live teacher to technology that transcends dollars. They lament the lack of interaction between student and teacher, and worry that will lead to less academic success.

What do we want from our elected officials?

Reading Jason Shephard’s excellent “Robarts Gets The Treatment” made me think about what we should expect from our elected officials.
Here are my initial thoughts:

  • Act Professionally
    Debate is essential to our form of government. Our elected leaders should engage in and value substantive debate. Nothing engages the public more than this type of dialogue.
  • Use Data to Make Decisions
    There’s a reason that the CBO (Congressional Budget Office), and LAB (Legislative Audit Bureau) exist
  • Communicate: Tell the Whole Story
    Use the internet to converse with constituents.
  • Ask Tough Questions

Ruth Robarts and Kathleen Falk seem to be two local elected officials who are willing to challenge the status quo. Shephard is correct when he refers to Robarts as “Public Ally Number 1”
I consider Russ Feingold to be nearly a perfect politician. He’s idealist, yet has classic political abilities. He’s also very smart. Idealist in terms of compaign finance and local communications, political in terms of timely, political votes (NRA and Tax Giveaway) and smart (debates: where he shows that he knows the game very well). To his credit, he’s always willing to chat and ask questions. I’m interested in hearing your views. Click comments and write.

Tough Love: A DC Mother’s Commitment to Education comes at a steep price

Susan Levine:

She sees the school for the first time on her daughter’s last day, and on a late June afternoon, with a crowd around, Sheila Hutton does not see much. The halls are locked and the classrooms disassembled. The teachers are indistinguishable from the parents, all in familiar conversation with neighbors and friends. Hutton, the stranger from Washington, takes in what she can as she finds a seat in the gymnasium. Purple banners herald the athletic championships the high school has won. Shimmery silver balloons bob on their tethers. The place already is packed.
In this faraway dot on a New Hampshire map — a rural curve in the road, nearly to Canada — her daughter is graduating. Hutton scans the program listing the 37 members of the Groveton High Class of ’04. About halfway down the names, after Holmes, before Karl: Michelle Teresa Hutton, a girl with bubbly charm and a Pepsodent smile.

Via Joanne Jacobs Maria Glod’s High Achiever’s Leaving Schools Behind is also well worth reading.

No Child Left Behind – Canadian Style

David Bernhardt sent along information on Clyde Hertzman: Professor of Health Care and Epidemiology Director, Human Early Learning Partnership Co-Editor, Developmental Health and the Wealth of Nations University of British Columbia presentation November 18, 2004 @ The Waisman Conference Center (North Tower, 2nd Floor): 3:30 to 4:30p.m. Directions
Questions: contact Jane Lambert 608 265 4592 or jflamber at wisc dot edu
PDF announcement document (8.5 x 11)

Norm and Dolores Mishelow Presentation on Milwaukee’s Successful Reading Program

Norm and Dolores Mishelow gave an informative presentation Sunday on their successful Milwaukee Barton School and 27th Street school reading programs. Background
3.7MB MP3 – ideal for your MP3 Player/iPod | Quicktime Video
Transcripts to Follow. DVD copy is also available – email me if you’d like one: zellmer at mailbag dot com
In a related matter, Madison School Board Member Carol Carstensen writes in the Wisconsin State Journal in support of the District’s recent rejection of $2m in Federal Reading First money (click below).

Continue reading Norm and Dolores Mishelow Presentation on Milwaukee’s Successful Reading Program

Washington State Charter School Battle

Sam Dillon:

In Seattle, at a recent debate on charter schools at the University of Washington, sparring was intense.
“How long do I have to allow my kids to go to the public schools?” asked Henterson S. Carlisle, a teacher whose two children attend his school in the Seattle public system. “At what point can African-American kids who are suffering in the public system have some different options?”
A few minutes later in the same debate, Catherine Ahl, president of a school board on the Kitsap Peninsula west of Seattle and an officer of the Washington League of Women Voters, argued that charter schools, which are run by private boards rather than publicly elected ones, “take away citizens’ rights to oversee the spending of tax dollars.”
“We shouldn’t divert funds to create a separate, private school system,” Ms. Ahl said.

In a somewhat related article, Milwaukee School District residents are near their annual voucher cap (15% of district students). Sarah Carr takes a look at the politics, both locally and from the Governor.

The Yin & Yang of Curriculum

Interesting timing, given Jeff’s post below about West’s intention to drop advanced biology.
Doug Erickson on Madison Country Day School’s expansion announcement:

Madison Country Day School broke ground Thursday on a $4.8 million expansion that will add a gymnasium, a performing arts stage and 13 classrooms.
The addition, which will house the private school’s middle and high school, is expected to be done in August.
Opened in 1997 with 22 students in five lower grades, the school has grown to 252 students in grades pre- kindergarten through 10th. It reached capacity two years ago and is now using two portable buildings, said Adam de Pencier, head of school. “We’re absolutely jammed.”
The school at 5606 River Road is in the town of Westport near Waunakee. It is a non- religious, independent school that was designed to incorporate the best curriculum from around the world. The school wants to be seen as a research facility whose teaching practices can be used as a model for other public and private schools, de Pencier said.
The school was founded by Christopher Frautschi, nephew of philanthropist Jerry Frautschi, whose $205 million donation is paying for construction of the Overture Center for the Arts in Madison.

As always, there are options for people willing to spend the money. A challenging and proven curriculum is vital to our community.
I recently emailed a bit with Bill Keys, Madison School Board President, thanking him for the BOE’s support of Lapham’s English program and two school’s exploration of Singapore Math. Here’s the email message.

Continue reading The Yin & Yang of Curriculum

Bill Cosby Visits Milwaukee North Division High School


Meg Kissinger & Mark Johnson:

He pilloried the media.
Cosby, who was criticized for comments last spring by some who thought he was too harsh on young African-Americans, saved much of his venom for the media. Looking at the scores of reporters in the crowd, he said:
“They won’t show up again until you kill somebody. They don’t show up and write about you until your test scores are so damn low and they can prove that you’re not smart. They don’t care about you.
“We are letting TV sets raise our children,” he said. “A transformation has to take place.

Eugene Kane summarizes the visit here. Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Editorial
MP3 Audio File

Parental Involvement Critical in the Drug War

Amelia Buragas:

Don’t be afraid to be involved – even intrusive – if you want to keep your kids off drugs, a Middleton High School student advised parents at a forum Tuesday night.
More than 250 people packed the school’s cafeteria to ask questions and get information from a panel that included school officials, social workers, students and police officers. Catherine Zdeblick also sat on the panel. Her daughter Julie, a junior at Middleton High School, died from an Oxycontin overdose in March. That death has had a big impact on the community.
Beth Wild, 18, who was a friend of Julie’s, talked about her own recovery from addiction to marijuana and Oxycontin. She told the crowd that her parents were instrumental in getting her sober because they were always there for her.
Wild, a senior at the Middleton Alternative High School, said she has been sober for 99 days, although she has been in treatment for two years.
She said that after several unhealthy relationships she finally decided to take her treatment seriously. Wearing a T-shirt that said “high on life,” Wild told the crowd, “I love life and I’m very proud of myself.”

I sent an email to Tom Vandervest, Middleton High’s principal urging him to post an html/pdf, audio and video transcript on their web site. He responded with “Our school personnel will be recording it for our use. Thanks, Tom”.
I hope that includes posting it online.

Class Multiplies but the Math Divides

Samuel G. Freedman:

Ms. Dempsey circled all those numbers on her own chart, which was being projected onto the blackboard. Now, she said, everyone in the class should color in all the multiples of two on his or her page. The students uncapped their yellow markers and set about filling in the appropriate boxes, noting the patterns they formed.
“Wonderful,” Ms. Dempsey said, looking over one child’s completed worksheet. “Just awesome.”
At one particular desk, though, Jimmy was solving a different problem. He had just transferred to Claremont from a nearby Catholic school, and during the lesson he had whispered to an educator who happened to be visiting the room, “I know all my facts,” by which he meant his multiplication tables.
So that educator, Ferzeen Bhana, the math coordinator for Ossining’s elementary schools, gave him a problem to try: 23 times 16. Within a minute, Jimmy delivered 368, the correct answer. Ms. Bhana asked him how he had gotten it. Jimmy offered her a shy, yearning face and said nothing.
That brief moment, one moment in one school in one middle-income town, described the divide of the math wars in America. It was evident to Ms. Bhana that Jimmy had learned multiplication the old-fashioned way, with drills, algorithms and concepts like place-value. The rest of the students were using a curriculum called Investigations, one of the new constructivist models, which teaches reasoning out a solution.

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