All posts by Joan Knoebel

Different Notions of Honesty?

Friends from Hanover came into town this weekend and mentioned this story: “A small town in New Hampshire is coming to grips with a scandal at the public high school where nine students face criminal charges for allegedly breaking into a classroom and stealing advance copies of final exams.
The incident at Hanover High School in Hanover, N.H., is sparking debate between those who believe the students are being treated fairly and those who think the charges go too far.”
But what I found most interesting about this story was this:”Teachers also may be sending kids the wrong message about cheating.
Students say they know they won’t get in trouble for things like sharing homework or finding out what’s on a test from kids who’ve already taken it. “That is cheating, and some teachers don’t classify it as cheating,” said Junior Cory Burns. “Or some don’t see it as such a serious issue, ” added Dillon Gregory.
The millennial generation (born between 1980 and 2000) seems to have a different notion about honesty than previous generations.
Aine Donovan, executive director of the Dartmouth College Ethics Institute, said kids today are more apt to rationalize their behavior as a means to an end; and they seem to have invented their own particular code of right and wrong.
“When I ask my students: ‘Is there anything unethical about downloading music?'” Donovan said. “(They answer) ‘Absolutely not.’ They don’t have a problem with it. And yet, those same kids would never in a million years, walk into a K-mart and steal a CD. They just have a different kind of orientation of morality.”

Continue reading Different Notions of Honesty?

Ruth Robarts Deserves a Medal

Ruth Robarts’ roller coaster
DOUG ERICKSON 608-252-6149
Ruth Robarts steps down April 23 after 10 years on the Madison School Board, and, no, she’s not expecting a cake from her colleagues.
Although Robarts first ran as a facilitator – “That didn’t work out so well,” she says now with a guffaw – she became known more as a budget hawk and contrarian.
Along the way, she’s been praised as a straight-shooting maverick and criticized as an obstructionist who just likes to carp.
She chose not to seek re- election. Her replacement – Maya Cole or Marjorie Passman – will be elected Tuesday.
Robarts’ legacy differs markedly, depending on who’s talking, but most agree she traveled an interesting route from a team player to an outsider to a can’t-be-ignored-because-the- voters-like-her force.
She finishes her board service less lonely due to the elections in recent years of like- minded colleagues Lawrie Kobza and Lucy Mathiak. But Robarts cautions that in the last decade, it has become more difficult for candidates not endorsed by the teachers union or tied to the board majority to get elected.

Continue reading Ruth Robarts Deserves a Medal

Board needs Cole and Thomas

Our schools need a new School Board majority, one committed to open government, including transparent budgeting and decision-making, and accountability to the community.
The next board will also hire the new superintendent and handle his or her performance evaluation, something Superintendent Art Rainwater has had little of from the current majority.
We stand at a crossroads with this election. Will it be more of the same top-down, teachers union-directed governance, or independent, open-minded, responsive representation?
There are many good issues-based reasons to vote for Maya Cole and Rick Thomas, but concerns for fair process and superintendent selection stand out for me.
It will take electing them both to gain that new majority.
– Joan Knoebel, Madison

How can we help poor students achieve more?

Jason Shephard:

As a teacher-centered lesson ended the other morning at Midvale Elementary School, about 15 first-graders jumped up from their places on the carpeted rug and dashed to their personal bins of books.
Most students quickly settled into two assigned groups. One read a story about a fox in a henhouse with the classroom teacher, and another group, headed by a UW-Madison student teacher, read a more challenging nonfiction book about a grandmother who, as one child excitedly noted, lived to be 101.
In addition to this guided reading lesson, one boy sat at a computer wearing headphones, clicking on the screen that displayed the words as a story was read aloud to him, to build word recognition and reading stamina. Two other boys read silently from more advanced books. Another boy received one-on-one help from a literacy coach conducting a Reading Recovery lesson with him.
“I think what’s so important is that this program truly meets the needs of a variety of students, from those who are struggling to those who are accelerated,” says Principal John Burkholder.

Continue reading How can we help poor students achieve more?

East Side school plan opposed

East Side school plan opposed
March 19, 2007
Waving bright signs and chanting, dozens of parents, kids, and teachers converged at a School Board meeting Monday night to protest proposed budget cuts that could consolidate elementary and middle schools on the East Side.
Earlier this month, Madison school officials proposed addressing a projected $10.5 million shortfall in next year’s budget by moving Marquette Elementary students to Lapham Elementary and splitting Sherman Middle School students between O’Keeffe and Black Hawk middle school. The move would save about $800,000.
School Board members are still wrangling with at least five options to deal with the budget deficit and were presented with an alternative consolidation plan at Monday’s meeting.
But many affected students, parents and teachers came to the meeting angry about the administration’s recommendation to take students out of Marquette and Sherman, arguing it would eliminate neighborhood schools, force kids who currently walk to school to take buses, and increase class sizes.
“I really don’t want to go to Lapham,” said Kalley Rittman, a Marquette fourth-grader who was at the rally with her parents. “All the kids are going to be squished in one place.”
Currently, Kalley and her sister in third grade, Hannah, walk to Marquette, said their mother, Kit. They would have to be bused to Lapham.
Kalley was also clutching an envelope with letters from other students and teachers at Marquette, and later spoke in front of the board, telling them she created a video on the school for them to watch.
Faye Kubly said her 11-year-old son had trouble in elementary schools before he transferred to Marquette, where teachers developed a system for him to learn successfully. She and other parents called the middle school proposal a “mega middle school” and called on the state to change its funding guidelines.

Continue reading East Side school plan opposed

Budget Impacts at Franklin-Randall–Don’t Get Mad, Get Active!!

(This letter is being distributed to parents of Franklin-Randall students, but should concern everyone in the MMSD and Regent Neighborhood)
Don’t get mad, get active!!
March 16, 2007
The School Board recently announced sweeping budget cuts for the coming school year that will have a severe impact on Franklin-Randall, as well as other schools in the district. Following Tuesday’s PTO meeting, parents in attendance agreed that we must act QUICKLY to address this crisis. Below, we have summarized the funding crisis, and how cuts to our and other schools will affect our children’s education and safety. Most importantly, we conclude with specific ideas that we can all implement, to positively address this crisis.
Brief overview of the FUNDING CRISIS: Wisconsin has placed an indefinite “Budget Cap” on all additional funding towards schools. Every year there are increased costs to our schools to cover teacher salaries, increased student numbers, and increased maintenance costs. Without intervention and change, Madison’s reputation for excellence in education is going to change significantly, and with that, so will the diversity, appeal, and attraction of our city.
How will current district recommendations directly affect the education and safety of your children in the Franklin-Randall community?
*As a result of the “SAGE” program being cut from our schools, Franklin-Randall class sizes will rise from 15 to 22 for Kindergarten and First grade, and from 15 to 24 for Second and Third grades this Fall.
*Franklin will lose 5.1 teacher allocations; this most likely means that 3 classroom teachers will be laid-off, and there will be reductions throughout Art, Music, PE, and Reach.
*Randall will lose 1.6 teacher allocations.
*Randall will lose the 5th grade strings program (last year 4th grade strings was cut).
How will cuts at OTHER schools affect the education and safety of your children?
All of our city’s elementary school children come together in middle and high schools; sub-standard education in any one of these schools will therefore affect all students eventually: a loss for one school will become a loss for all.
What can I do NOW?
1. Talk to people at your bus stop, in your neighborhood, and in the hallways at school when you’re there– work together to come up with at least one idea to present at the Rescue Our Schools brainstorm session. This meeting will follow the monthly PTO meeting (Tuesday, April 10th at 6:30) in the Randall Library.
2. Talk to grandparents, aunts, uncles, and neighbors who DON’T have children about how these changes to our schools will affect them. One key point to address is that our city is only as appealing as its future, and our children are the future. Everyone, with or without kids, will be affected. Wisconsin has a history of valuing education and performance; if this changes, we are giving up a source of identity and pride!
3. Attend the Information and Advocacy Session at the Doyle Administration Building, Thursday, March 29th at 6:30pm
4. Form shared child-care groups with friends and neighbors to allow for more parental presence in the schools. Make it a goal to do this in some capacity weekly. These cooperatives will allow you to watch or volunteer at more school functions, participate in school trips, or attend school board meetings. Education research definitively shows, that the more YOU are involved, the more success your child will have in school!
5. As you are able, contribute with time or money to the PTO! $100 can buy a violin that will last 10 years! Commit to a half-hour stint helping on the playground weekly — this equates to invaluable community-building, camaraderie, injury prevention, as well as much-needed breaks for our teachers.
6. Attend the MMSD School Board Meetings, held on Mondays at the Doyle Administration Bldg at 545 W. Dayton St, next door to the Kohl Center. Beginning at 7:15, any person or group can make a “Public Appearance” (up to three minutes each) to deliver opinions / make arguments about any school-related topic. To find out more, go to : under “District Information” click on “Board of Education”, then under “Meetings”, click on “Board of Education Calendar”.
7. Become active in the you school PTO!!! Sign up to be on the Franklin-Randall List-Serve — This is a fast, easy and inexpensive way for people to notify each other about F-R events and news. Simply send an email to:, with “subscribe” in the subject line. To find out about all the up-coming meetings and events, go to the F-R PTO website. Site address is
8. Don’t forget to VOTE on Tues, April 3rd, during Spring break–And if you’re not in town, vote ABSENTEE! To vote absentee, go anytime within one week before the election, to the City-County Building at 210 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd, Rm. 103. 8-4:30pm. Alternatively, by calling 266-4601, you may ask the city to mail you a ballot (English, Spanish or Hmong), or simply go online: (also downloadable in English, Spanish or Hmong)
What can I do long-term?
Ultimately, we have to address long-term changes to school funding at the State and National level. Through grassroots organizing directed at raising awareness of the issues, we can make a change. We must reach out to like-minded groups (other PTO’s, PTA etc.), and legislators around the state. To this end, following April’s PTO meeting, we will meet to collect ideas, and organize our strategies —
*PLEASE come to the PTO Meeting, April 10th at 6:30pm (Randall Library)!! *
Thank you for taking the time to read this, and for taking action in whatever way you can!
Concerned Franklin-Randall Parents
For further information, please contact any of us:
Sari Judge 233-1754, Megan Brown 250-0552, Kate Zirbel 661-9090,
Mollie Kane 232-1809, Erika Kluetmeier, 238-6209

MPS starts talk of curbing cell phone use

Milwaukee schools Superintendent William Andrekopoulos says the school system must come up with a way to deal with the heavy use of cell phones when trouble breaks out at a school, an innovation that has increased the severity of incidents such as a fight Monday morning at Bradley Tech High School.
Five people were arrested and two others were given citations by police as a result of the fight, which included attacks on several Milwaukee Public Schools safety aides.
The fight, coincidentally, occurred on the same day that officials announced that Bradley Tech, at S. 4th St. and W. National Ave., would be the first MPS school to have a pair of police officers on duty full time. A second pilot project for stationing police in schools – an innovation in MPS, though it is common in suburban schools – will involve a cluster of schools on the north side, focusing on Custer High School, 5075 N. Sherman Blvd.
Andrekopoulos made his remarks about cell phones at a meeting with Bradley Tech teachers Monday afternoon.
The cell phone phenomenon has shown up in other schools in MPS, in the suburbs and nationwide: When trouble breaks out, students reach for the phones, and within moments, other youths are on their way to the scene, sometimes literally from miles around.
Bradley Tech Principal Ed Kovochich said he has had teachers change tests every hour because students take cell phone photographs of the documents and sell copies to peers who haven’t taken the exam.
Although use of cell phones is generally banned in schools, both in Milwaukee and the suburbs, it is obvious to anyone around a high school or middle school – and sometimes even elementaries – that a vast majority of students carry them and use them frequently. Sometimes when schools have tried to crack down on the phones, parents have been the ones to object the most, saying they want their children to be able to reach them during school hours.
Cell phones are banned during MPS basketball games, largely because they have been used during incidents in prior years to summon “help” when trouble breaks out among kids.
Kovochich said he doesn’t know how to stop students from using cell phones in school, a problem he said has gotten out of control.
“We keep having problems with extended members of someone’s family coming up to intervene,” he said. “I’m telling you, this whole thing with the use of cell phones is coming to a head. If we have a simple fight, everyone text-messages or calls their friends, half the school knows about it and shows up.”
On Monday, Kovochich said a staff member came to him during a routine weapons check at the door as students arrived for school and said two girls were arguing over a boy. The staff member thought trouble was about to start.
Within moments, Kovochich said, “all I could see was a ton of cell phones coming out of pockets.” A crowd gathered quickly, and the fight began. Police officers arrested one 17-year-old girl on allegations of substantial battery and issued disorderly conduct citations to another two.
Kovochich said one student must have called her extended family because a short time later, four adult males arrived at the scene, pushed aside the metal detectors, jumped the tables and attacked safety aides and others. Police eventually arrested all four men. Kovochich said he saw the butt of a gun sticking out of the pocket of one of the four.
Andrekopoulos told the Tech teachers, “We’re going to have to come up with a strategy” to minimize the negative effects of having cell phones in the hands of the vast majority of students.
He said MPS security chief Peter Pochowski began calling other districts Monday to find out what they do to hold down cell phone use during crises.
Kovochich told a reporter it’s also possible the schools could petition the Federal Communications Commission to allow for special antennas that, with a flip of a button, could block a citywide swath from cell phone service.
The pilot projects to place two pairs of police officers full time in MPS schools comes after a series of violent episodes this fall, including attacks on a principal and several teachers. Mayor Tom Barrett, Police Chief Nannette Hegerty, Andrekopoulos and leaders of MPS labor organizations have been meeting to come up with a plan.
“We’ve heard you loud and clear,” Sid Hatch, assistant executive director of the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association, told the Bradley Tech teachers. “It is painfully clear that the schools’ safety and security is the foremost issue in the minds of teachers.”
The effort is to be funded by up to $250,000 from the police budget and $250,000 from MPS. The “school resource officers” will begin work with the start of the second semester in late January, Andrekopoulos said.
Andrekopoulos told the high school staff that Bradley Tech was not picked for the program because it was the worst school in the city. On the contrary, he said, grade-point averages, attendance and graduation rates have risen over the last several years. But he said factors including the launch of a schoolwide academic and behavior program this fall made it a good candidate.
He said a good climate for education could be created in Milwaukee schools, but it will take “a herculean effort of all of us working together.”

Revamping the high schools

Isthmus’ Jason Shepard covers the story:
Curriculum changes halted as district eyes study group
JStanding in front of a giant projection screen with his wireless remote control and clip-on microphone, Madison School Superintendent Art Rainwater on Monday unveiled his grand vision for Madison’s four major high schools. But the real backdrop for his presentation before the Madison school board was the criticism of changes implemented last year at West High and proposed this year at East. Both involved reducing course offerings in favor of a core curriculum for all students, from gifted to struggling.
Rainwater stressed his intention to start from scratch in overhauling all aspects of the education provided at West, East, Memorial and La Follette, whose combined enrollment tops 7,600 students. The move follows consolidation of practices in the city’s elementary and middle schools. But it may prove more challenging, since the high schools have a longstanding tradition of independence.
Over the next two years, Rainwater would like a steering committee of experts to study best practices in high school education. Everything, Rainwater stresses, is on the table: “It’s important we don’t have preconceived notions of what it should be.”
Heterogeneous classes, which until last week were the district’s preferred direction for high school changes, are, said Rainwater, “only one piece” of the redesign. But curriculum changes are clearly going to happen.
“It’s not acceptable anymore to lecture four days a week and give a test on Friday,” Rainwater declared. Teachers must learn how to teach students, rather than teach content.
The 50 parents and teachers in the audience reacted coolly, judging from the comments muttered among themselves during the presentation and the nearly two-hour discussion that followed.
Tellingly, the biggest applause came when board member Ruth Robarts said it was “high time we as a board start talking about high school curriculum.” Robarts chastised Rainwater for not including teachers and parents on the steering committee, which will “reinforce a perception that is not in our favor.” She said the district was giving critics only two options: accept the changes or “come down and protest.”
On Nov. 16, East Principal Alan Harris unveiled plans to eliminate several courses in favor of core classes in ninth and 10th grades. Attendees said the plan was presented as a “done deal.” In e-mails to the board, parents called the plan “short-sighted and misguided,” and one teacher warned: “Don’t do it.”
Rainwater, apparently recognizing the damage to parent and teacher relations, sent a memo to principals last week.
“I am asking you to cease any significant programmatic changes at each of your schools as this community dialogue progresses,” he wrote. “We need a tabula rasa mentality that will allow for a free flow of ideas, an opportunity to solidify trust in our expertise, and a chance at a solid, exciting product at the end.”
The four high schools will remain under their current programs until the steering committee gets to work. Chaired by Pam Nash, deputy superintendent of secondary schools, it will include several district administrators as well as experts from the UW-Madison, Edgewood College and MATC.
Rainwater sought to assure board and audience members that teachers and parents will have ample opportunity for input. His plan calls for three separate periods of public comment, after which subcommittees will make revisions. The school board will then vote on the recommendations after additional hearings and debate.
“You get better input if people have something to react to,” Rainwater said, adding that involving teachers in all stages would be impractical, because it would be difficult to cover their teaching assignments. That comment drew a collective groan from teachers in the audience.
Rainwater’s call for a revamping of the city’s high schools suggests the current approach isn’t working. And that poses a dilemma for school officials. The district likes to tout its record number of National Merit semifinalists and state-leading ACT scores as proof that its high schools are successful. Many parents worry that those high-end benchmarks are under attack.
But Madison’s schools continue to fail countless kids — mostly low-income and minority students. This is a profound challenge hardly unique to Madison, but one that deserves more attention from policymakers.
Research in education, the starting point for Rainwater’s steering committee, offers promising solutions. But the district risks much in excluding teachers from the start, since inevitably they will be on the front lines of any change. And excluding parents could heighten the alienation that has already prompted some middle- and upper-class families to abandon the public schools.
While struggling over details, most board members conceptually support the study. During their discussion Monday, Lawrie Kobza cut to the chase.
“What is the problem we’re trying to solve?” she asked. “And is this how we solve this problem?” Kobza professed not to know the answer. But these are the right questions to ask.

Comments on Redesign of MMSD High Schools

Kudos to the district for stopping the rush to the middle Rainwater and his assistants have been promoting for East. However, the changes that were pushed onto West should also be backed off while the district has a long overdue, community-wide conversation about what it desires its high schools to provide all students. And this time, let’s have that discussion backed with empirical studies. Even if the community agrees with Rainwater (and some if not all of the BOE) that closing the minority achievement gap takes priority over other educational goals, let’s have a frank discussion as to how that is best achieved.

What It Takes to Make a Student

A lengthy discussion of what it might take to close the minority achievement gap in the New York Times Magazine entitled, ” What It Takes to Make a Student”. The study Larry Winkler has so cogently referenced time and again here is highlighted.
The author concludes that low-income minority students need better educational opportunities than their middle class white counterparts. If there is a limited budget for education, does this mean then that those middle class students must accept less? Is it this thinking that is driving the elimination of diversity in our high school curricula? As I read this article, the greatest chance of overcoming disparities resides in early childhood and elementary experiences, not in dismantling the high school curriculum.

Does Closing the Minority Achievement Gap Require a Downward Rush to the Middle

The prime motivator for taking MMSD’s high schools from an academically rich curriculum to the one-room schoolhouse model has been to close the minority achievement gap. Thus, I read with interest the following NYTimes letters:
A Racial Gap, or an Income Gap? (7 Letters)
Published: November 24, 2006
To the Editor:
In emphasizing race-based achievement gaps, “Schools Slow in Closing Gaps Between Races” (front page, Nov. 20) pays insufficient attention to the significant role of socioeconomic inequalities in explaining these gaps.
For social scientists studying the No Child Left Behind law, the slow progress comes as no surprise. The education researcher David Berliner has noted that “poverty is the 600-pound guerilla in the classroom.”
As long as proponents of No Child Left Behind continue to dismiss the examination of the economic backgrounds of students as an example of what President Bush has called the “soft bigotry of low expectations” or as an excuse for low achievement by low-income students, standards-based reforms like No Child Left Behind will have limited effects.
It is time for policy makers to place as much emphasis on reducing poverty as they do on improving the schools attended by poor children. Both are necessary, but are alone insufficient to reduce the achievement gap.
Alan R. Sadovnik
New York, Nov. 20, 2006
The writer is a professor of education, sociology and public affairs at Rutgers University in Newark.

To the Editor:
Yes, the achievement gaps remain persistent. But perplexing? Come on.
Having 10 years’ experience teaching in low-income, largely black districts, and also having raised three middle-class white children, I consider it a no-brainer why my children achieve well in school while many of my students do not: I am one mother to three kids, but a teacher to 25.
Aside from the socioeconomic differences between my kids and my students (a separate, undoubtedly more important perspective on achievement disparities), my children get more of my attention, period.
I want to give all of my students the same advantages I’ve given my own kids, but how can I possibly meet 25 individual needs with as much sensitivity and precision?
Why does this discussion always ignore class size as a contributing factor?
Why not lower the teacher-student ratio to 1 to 10 for a few years and then study the outcomes? The obvious answer is cost. But perhaps over the years this would be offset by the savings built from a better-educated and more productive group of graduates.
Mary Scheffler
Ocean, N.J., Nov. 20, 2006

To the Editor:
No Child Left Behind, signed into law by President Bush in January 2002, has not closed the achievement gap between minority and white students, but it has had a major effect on education in America.
The law has had a major impact on the privatization of education. With financing now available from school vouchers, increasing numbers of both minority and white families are placing their children in private and religious schools.
In addition, American schools are increasingly becoming racially segregated as white parents remove their children from public education.
Martin Gittelman
New York, Nov. 20, 2006

To the Editor:
All the tests in the world will not close the achievement gap. When politicians and business leaders stop blaming the schools and start focusing on the real reasons for the achievement gap — the economic gap, the health care gap and the racial gap — poor and minority students may have a fighting chance.
Until then, the more than $2 billion testing industry will continue to reap a bonanza as our nation falls further and further into the educational abyss.
Judy Rabinowitz
Ocean, N.J., Nov. 20, 2006

To the Editor:
How can you discuss the test-score gaps between minority and white students without attributing some of the problem to the child poverty rate of almost 18 percent, the child hunger rate of 17 percent and the 19 percent uninsured rate for poor children, when African-Americans and Hispanics bear the brunt of those disadvantages?
Yet the education experts quoted in your article speak as if poverty and hunger, and the illnesses associated with them, had no effect on children’s school attendance and capacity to learn.
That’s not the way the principal of a school that narrowed the gap between black and white students saw it. You write that he “credited a prekindergarten program and a school health clinic that helped keep poor students from missing class.”
No Child Left Behind is big on testing and promises. But it does far too little to address the social and economic needs of black, Hispanic and poor white children — needs that are inextricably linked to school achievement.
Milton Schwebel
New Brunswick, N.J., Nov. 20, 2006
The writer is the emeritus dean of the Graduate School of Education, Rutgers University.

To the Editor:
Standardized tests may be relatively efficient to administer, but they do not provide the information educators need to understand and work to close the achievement gap. Teachers need detailed information about their students’ strengths and areas of need. All they get from a standardized test is a number.
If we want to make greater progress toward the goal of leaving no child behind, let’s shelve those standardized tests and work together to truly understand the nature of the achievement gap and the academic, social and economic factors that contribute to it.
Howard Miller
Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., Nov. 20, 2006
The writer is an associate professor of literacy education at Mercy College.

To the Editor:
A new approach to closing the education gaps between races is needed.
Instead of looking at the performance of unsuccessful schools, unsuccessful teachers and poorly performing minority students, why not look for the factors that underlie success?
A study of the successful Asian students who outperform whites and other minority students might yield some interesting insights that could be effectively applied to solving the problem of those “left behind.”
Lynn Garon
New York, Nov. 20, 2006

And Now For Something Completely Different…

Thought we could all use a yuck…
NEW YORK — A public school teacher was arrested today at John F. Kennedy
International Airport as he attempted to board a flight while in
possession of a ruler, a protractor, a set square, a slide rule and a
calculator. At a morning press conference, Attorney General Alberto
Gonzales said he believes the man is a member of the notorious Al-gebra
Mr. Gonzales did not identify the man, who has been charged by the FBI
with carrying weapons of math instruction.
“Al-gebra is a problem for us,” Gonzales said. “They desire solutions by
means and extremes, and ! sometimes go off on tangents in search of absolute
“They use secret code names like ‘x’ and ‘y’ and refer to themselves as
‘unknowns’, but we have determined they belong to a common denominator of
the axis of medieval with coordinates in every country.”
As the Greek philanderer Isosceles used to say, ‘There are 3 sides to
every triangle’.”
When asked to comment on the arrest, President Bush said, “If God had
wanted us to have better weapons of math instruction, He would have given
us more fingers and toes.”

UK ‘Brains register’ for bright children

‘Brains register’ for bright children
By Nick Hodgson, PA
Published: 11 July 2006
A register of talented pupils in England is being launched by the Government.
Head teachers at every secondary school will get letters this week asking them to register their brightest and most talented pupils with the National Academy for Gifted and Talented Youth (Nagty), according to the BBC.
The aim is to help children from poorer backgrounds fulfil their potential.
Schools Minister Andrew Adonis said: “We must stop the terrible waste of talent when children don’t reach their full potential.
“This register will ensure they are spotted early and don’t lose out because they come from a deprived background.
“Our brightest children should be helped to reach the top and use their gifts. The pursuit of excellence which benefits the whole country should be open to children of all backgrounds, not just a privileged minority.”
The scheme will involve having specially-trained teachers in every secondary school and in groups of primary schools.
But the plans have been criticised.
Former chief inspector of schools Chris Woodhead said the problem was not identifying the bright pupils, but offering them appropriate support.
Mr Woodhead, professor of education at the University of Buckingham, said: “The problem is doing something for them and if secondary schools are not doing enough for the brightest children now why are they going to do anything for them if they are on a register?”
He said if there were more grammar schools gifted children would prosper anyway because “there, bright children are educated in schools for bright children”.
The register follows research from education charity the Sutton Trust which suggested just one-in-five children from poorer homes go on to higher education compared with half of those from the top three social classes.
The Government wants schools to identify the top 5% of 11 to 19-year-olds who are eligible for Nagty membership.

The Power of Blogs

Marisue, Your comments are closed so I have to open a new post. Curiously, you as one of the regular posters here complain about the influence of blogs and talk radio. I saw lots of your candidates’ supporters at the 92.1 radio forum and many of your associates, especially from the special ed bloc, post here regularly.
So what’s the beef exactly–that folks can speak their minds freely and reference materials and sources not otherwise available in the echo chamber that has until recently been our political scene here in Madison?
I am happy to have this place to debate ideas. I welcome the disagreement so long as it isn’t personal. I think that’s something alot of folks have gotten sick of with the way the current board majority functions–if you don’t fall in step, you’re attacked personally.
So let’s keep talking, posting new data, pushing for answers together–here, and hopefully before a school board dedicated to those same principles.


Arguably every school board election is important, but this one is critical—this is a race for control of the majority. Maya Cole and Lucy Mathiak, two admirable, excellent candidates on their own, if elected today will shift the majority, in combination with Ruth Robarts and Lawrie Kobza. The result will be a new day in district politics. This new era will be marked by civility, public accessibility, accountability and cooperation, a far cry from the way the current board majority has run things. But BOTH Lucy and Maya must be elected for this to happen.
Arlene Silveira, Maya Cole’s worthy opponent, is firmly in the Carstensen, Keys, Lopez, Vang and Winston camp. Arlene has their support along with the endorsement of MTI. I have been impressed with her easy, professional manner. However, I disagree strongly not only with her blanket commitment to heterogeneity but also as to what her election would represent–business as usual,
If nothing else, this race has shaken up Madison politics. So-called progressives smear a graduate of Camp Wellstone/social justice activist as conservative. The liberal newspaper endorses what would in any other year have been described as the “pro-business” candidate while the conservative paper endorses her opponent, the stay-at-home mom. Local “progressives” spread rumors about PAC money from conservatives despite the strenous protests of an incredibly independent candidate who has always disavowed PAC money.
The only way I can really make sense out of it is that it’s outcome-based –do you want the board to continue on the current path, or is it time for a change? Thus, the CapTimes can endorse Mathiak and Silveira because this will keep the status quo in charge. The WSJ wants to see a change so endorses Cole and Mathiak.
Today is a perfect early spring day in our fair city. My neighborhood will echo with the happy shouts and laughter from the Randall playground when I leave the house this morning. Please take the time to stop by your ward and vote. This is for them.
One last thought: thank you to the candidates and all the members of the school board. While I may disagree profoundly with some of you, I have the greatest respect for your commitment to our schools and dedication to public service.

For The Record

Sunday 10 a.m., Channel 3’s For the Record will feature a debate among the four candidates for school board.
Here is my email to Neil Heinen regarding the station’s coverage including a discussion of some of the issues at stake in the race: To: Neil Heinen Subject: Sunday show
Dear Neil,
A new post up on SIS ( discusses a debate at East yesterday covered by your station. Thank you for this and for dedicating Sunday’s show to the race.
One point that I’m not sure was reported correctly however, is the assertion in your coverage that the current board has not said who they support. The five-member majority has clearly stated their support for Silveira and Lopez (who is of course part of that majority and a candidate) while Robarts and Kobza have stated their support for Mathiak and Cole.
This race truly is for control of the majority and will dictate how we go forward on matters of heterogeneous classrooms (the dismantling of honors and possibly AP at West is part of that), school boundary changes, the construction of new and closure of existing schools, budget concerns, how to responsibly provide teachers health insurance, etc.
The Silveira/Lopez line is that Mathiak and Cole are focused merely on “process”. This significantly minimizes what’s at stake. The board is currently divided and removed from community input. For instance, when a school board member can’t get an item on the agenda because she’s in the minority, or she can’t get information she has requested from the superintendent, we’ve got closed, dysfunctional governance. Mathiak and Cole may not always vote the same with each other or Kobza or Robarts, but the four of them are dedicated to transparency and public participation. With that, I believe the community will be better informed and more likely to support the hard decisions facing our district as we go forward into a land of $40 million more in budget cuts over the next five years.
But there’s an even bigger topic that might be coming up soon. I’d appreciate if you could ask the candidates what they’d look for in a new superintendent. Rainwater has made no secret of his plan to retire in the not too distant future and it’s no stretch to believe that the next board majority will determine whether we hire someone like Art or someone who is less, shall we say, autocratic/didactic, someone who takes his direction FROM the board on policy matters rather than dictating it TO them?
Let me close by focusing on hetergeneous classes. The trend everywhere else is to have more not less AP and honors classes. I met a woman recently who is an education professor at Marquette. She was shocked to learn of MMSD’s policy changes, pointing out that in Milwaukee even the most impoverished schools have AP, with the focus being how to increase participation by more students, especially minority students. Extending the K-8 model into high school is irresponsible. The data clearly indicate that this model is failing our students. Indeed, even at West, the internal data show that the one-size-fits-all English 9 and now English 10 doesn’t work as advertised. Our children attend Stanford and Macalester. Almost all their classmates have had the full range of AP courses in their high schools, even those coming from small towns. Especially in science and math, this is critical. Success after MMSD is a measure that doesn’t get much play, but it really should be the ultimate measure of our students’ success, not just those who go on to college and post-graduate careers, but all our students. Are they prepared to participate meaningfully in society. Do they have the skills they need to be good critical thinkers, to make informed decisions.
As our district grows increasingly more diverse ethnically, and as the disparity socieconomically widens, we have to ask whether we can meet all students’ needs with the little red school house approach, if that model ever worked in a town our size. More important, perhaps, will be how the community will perceive this—a posting a few months back on SIS looked at the district’s demographic data and demonstrated that brain flight has already happened out of the West HS district. Folks will be voting with their feet if they feel those setting policy don’t care about all the children.
How we see ourselves and whether Madison continues to draw new folks to our community depends heavily on the strength of our schools. Obviously I believe we need a fresh start, but however you come down on it, the stakes are high.


This was a letter to the editor published in the Wisconsin State Journal, March 30, 2006
Dear Editor,
The best reason to vote for Maya Cole and Lucy Mathiak: Electing both will change the majority on the school board. Together, Maya and Lucy will restore decorum to a board now typified by bullying and rigidity. Open government, accessible to all, and transparent decision-making will be the new order. Instead of simply rubberstamping administration and union positions, Lucy and Maya will work hard to build consensus, to develop creative answers to knotty issues like budget constraints, curriculum standards, equity; and they will support their decisions with real data gleaned from outside the current echo chamber. A vast improvement over the status quo, they will also exercise genuine oversight, making the board, not the superintendent or the union president, the final arbiter of district policy.
These are women of high standards, integrity and a refreshing honesty, both deeply committed to educating our children. Please join me in voting for Cole and Mathiak on April 4th. Together, they will transform board governance by resurrecting civility, accountability and public accessibility so that our schools can best prepare all children for their and our future.
Joan Knoebel