All posts by Larry Winkler

The Achievement Gap as Seen Through the Eyes of a Student

Robin Mwai and Deidre Green
Simpson Street Free Press
The achievement gap is very prevalent in my school on a day-to-day basis. From the lack of minority students taking honors classes, to the over abundance of minority students occupying the hallways during valuable class time, the continuously nagging minority achievement gap prevails.
Upon entering LaFollette High School, there are visible traces of the achievement gap all throughout the halls. It seems as if there is always a presence of a minority student in the hallway no matter what the time of day. At any time during the school day there are at least 10 to 15 students, many of whom are minorities, wandering the halls aimlessly. These students residing in the halls are either a result of getting kicked out of class due to behavior issues, or for some, the case may be that they simply never cared to go to class at all. This familiar scene causes some staff to assume that all minority students that are seen in the halls during class time are not invested in their education. These assumptions are then translated back to the classroom where teachers then lower their expectations for these students and students who appear to be like them.
While there are some students of color who would rather spend their school time in the halls instead of in the classroom, others wish for the opportunity to be seen as focused students. Sadly many bright and capable minority students are being overlooked because teachers see them as simply another unmotivated student to be pushed through the system. Being a high achieving minority student in the Madison school District continues to be somewhat of a rarity–even in 2014. Three out of the four classes I am taking this semester at La Follette High School, which uses the four-block schedule, are honors or advanced courses. Of the 20 to 25 students in those honors classes, I am one of a total of two minority students enrolled.
Even though a large percentage of the student body is made up of minority students, very few of theses students are taking honors or advanced classes. These honors courses provide students with necessary skills that help prepare them for college. These skills include: critical thinking, exposure to a wider variety of concepts, and an opportunity to challenge their own mental capacities in ways that non-honors courses don’t allow. This means that the majority of the schools’ population is not benefiting from these opportunities. Instead, they are settling for lower-level courses that are not pushing them to the best of their abilities.
It is unfortunate that so many of our community’s young people are missing out on being academically challenged in ways that could ultimately change their lives. This all too familiar issue is a complex community problem with no simple solutions. However it is one that should be addressed with the appropriate sense of urgency.
Robin Mwai is a Sophomore at LaFollette High School and serves as a staff writer for Dane County’s Teen Newspaper Simpson Street Free Press. Deidre Green is a LaFollette High School Graduate and is now a UW-Madison Senior. She is also a graduate of Simpson Street Free Press and now serves as Managing Editor.

Childhood Poverty Linked to Poor Brain Development

Caroline Cassels
Exposure to poverty in early childhood negatively affects brain development, but good-quality caregiving may help offset this effect, new research suggests. A longitudinal imaging study shows that young children exposed to poverty have smaller white and cortical gray matter as well as hippocampal and amygdala volumes, as measured during school age and early adolescence.
“These findings extend the substantial body of behavioral data demonstrating the deleterious effects of poverty on child developmental outcomes into the neurodevelopmental domain and are consistent with prior results,” the investigators, with lead author Joan Luby, MD, Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri, write.
However, the investigators also found that the effects of poverty on hippocampal volume were influenced by caregiving and stressful life events.
The study was published online October 28 in JAMA Pediatrics.
Powerful Risk Factor
Poverty is one of the most powerful risk factors for poor developmental outcomes; a large body of research shows that children exposed to poverty have poorer cognitive outcomes and school performance and are at greater risk for antisocial behaviors and mental disorders. However, the researchers note, there are few neurobiological data in humans to inform the mechanism of these relationships.
“This represents a critical gap in the literature and an urgent national and global public health problem based on statistics that more than 1 in 5 children are now living below the poverty line in the United States alone,” the authors write.
To examine the effects of poverty on childhood brain development and to understand what factors might mediate its negative impact, the researchers used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to examine total white and cortical gray matter as well as hippocampal and amygdala volumes in 145 children aged 6 to 12 years who had been followed since preschool.
The researchers looked at caregiver support/hostility, measured observationally during the preschool period, and stressful life events, measured prospectively. The children underwent annual behavioral assessments for 3 to 6 years prior to MRI scanning and were annually assessed for 5 to 10 years following brain imaging. Household poverty was measured using the federal income-to-needs ratio.
“Toxic” Effect

The researchers found that poverty was associated with lower hippocampal volumes, but they also found that caregiving behaviors and stressful life events could fully mediate this negative effect.
“The finding that the effects of poverty on hippocampal development are mediated through caregiving and stressful life events further underscores the importance of high-quality early childhood caregiving, a task that can be achieved through parenting education and support, as well as through preschool programs that provide high-quality supplementary caregiving and safe haven to vulnerable young children,” the investigators write.
In an accompanying editorial, Charles A. Nelson, PhD, Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, in Massachusetts, notes that the findings show that early experience “weaves its way into the neural and biological infrastructure of the child in such a way as to impact development trajectories and outcomes.”
“Exposure to early life adversity should be considered no less toxic than exposure to lead, alcohol or cocaine, and, as such it merits similar attention from health authorities,” Dr. Nelson writes.

Is Music the Key to Success?

Joanne Lipman

CONDOLEEZZA RICE trained to be a concert pianist. Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the Federal Reserve, was a professional clarinet and saxophone player. The hedge fund billionaire Bruce Kovner is a pianist who took classes at Juilliard. Multiple studies link music study to academic achievement. But what is it about serious music training that seems to correlate with outsize success in other fields? The connection isn’t a coincidence. I know because I asked. I put the question to top-flight professionals in industries from tech to finance to media, all of whom had serious (if often little-known) past lives as musicians. Almost all made a connection between their music training and their professional achievements.
The phenomenon extends beyond the math-music association. Strikingly, many high achievers told me music opened up the pathways to creative thinking. And their experiences suggest that music training sharpens other qualities: Collaboration. The ability to listen. A way of thinking that weaves together disparate ideas. The power to focus on the present and the future simultaneously. Will your school music program turn your kid into a Paul Allen, the billionaire co-founder of Microsoft (guitar)? Or a Woody Allen (clarinet)? Probably not. These are singular achievers. But the way these and other visionaries I spoke to process music is intriguing. As is the way many of them apply music’s lessons of focus and discipline into new ways of thinking and communicating — even problem solving.
Look carefully and you’ll find musicians at the top of almost any industry. Woody Allen performs weekly with a jazz band. The television broadcaster Paula Zahn (cello) and the NBC chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd (French horn) attended college on music scholarships; NBC’s Andrea Mitchell trained to become a professional violinist. Both Microsoft’s Mr. Allen and the venture capitalist Roger McNamee have rock bands. Larry Page, a co-founder of Google, played saxophone in high school. Steven Spielberg is a clarinetist and son of a pianist. The former World Bank president James D. Wolfensohn has played cello at Carnegie Hall.
“It’s not a coincidence,” says Mr. Greenspan, who gave up jazz clarinet but still dabbles at the baby grand in his living room. “I can tell you as a statistician, the probability that that is mere chance is extremely small.” The cautious former Fed chief adds, “That’s all that you can judge about the facts. The crucial question is: why does that connection exist?” Paul Allen offers an answer. He says music “reinforces your confidence in the ability to create.” Mr. Allen began playing the violin at age 7 and switched to the guitar as a teenager. Even in the early days of Microsoft, he would pick up his guitar at the end of marathon days of programming. The music was the emotional analog to his day job, with each channeling a different type of creative impulse. In both, he says, “something is pushing you to look beyond what currently exists and express yourself in a new way.”
Mr. Todd says there is a connection between years of practice and competition and what he calls the “drive for perfection.” The veteran advertising executive Steve Hayden credits his background as a cellist for his most famous work, the Apple “1984” commercial depicting rebellion against a dictator. “I was thinking of Stravinsky when I came up with that idea,” he says. He adds that his cello performance background helps him work collaboratively: “Ensemble playing trains you, quite literally, to play well with others, to know when to solo and when to follow.”
For many of the high achievers I spoke with, music functions as a “hidden language,” as Mr. Wolfensohn calls it, one that enhances the ability to connect disparate or even contradictory ideas. When he ran the World Bank, Mr. Wolfensohn traveled to more than 100 countries, often taking in local performances (and occasionally joining in on a borrowed cello), which helped him understand “the culture of people, as distinct from their balance sheet.”

Continue reading Is Music the Key to Success?

College Board ‘Concerned’ About Low SAT Scores

Claudio Sanchez (NPR)
The College Board, sponsor of the SAT, says that roughly six out of 10 college-bound high school students who took the test were so lacking in their reading, writing and math skills, they were unprepared for college level work.
The College Board is calling for big changes to better prepare students for college and career.
Stagnant Scores
The average SAT score this year was 1498 out of a possible 2400. It’s been roughly the same for the last five years.
“And we at the College Board are concerned,” says David Coleman, the board’s president.
In a conference call with reporters, Coleman said his biggest concern is the widening gap in scores along racial and ethnic lines. This year Asian students had the highest overall average scores in reading, writing and math, followed by whites, and then Latinos. Black students had the lowest average scores. Coleman said it’s time to do something about it, not just sit back and report how poorly prepared students are for college and career.
“Simply put, the College Board will go beyond simply delivering assessments to actually transforming the daily work that students are doing,” Coleman says.
Coleman wants to work with schools to make coursework tougher and make sure students have access to more demanding honors and advanced placement courses, because right now, most students don’t. Most worrisome of all, Coleman says, “minority students, underrepresented students, have less access.” more

Poverty Can Trump a Winning Hand of Genes

Alison Gopnik
Changes in our environment can actually transform the relation between our traits and the outside world.
We all notice that some people are smarter than others. You might naturally wonder how much these differences in intelligence depend on genes or upbringing. But that question, it turns out, is impossible to answer. That’s because changes in our environment can actually transform the relationship among our traits, our upbringing and our genes.
The textbook illustration of this is a dreadful disease called PKU. Some babies have a genetic mutation that makes them unable to process an amino acid in their food, and it leads to severe mental retardation. For centuries, PKU was incurable. Genetics determined whether someone suffered from the syndrome, which gave them a low IQ. Then scientists discovered how PKU works. Now, we can immediately put babies with the mutation on a special diet. Whether a baby with PKU has a low IQ is now determined by the food they eat–by their environment.
We humans can figure out how our environment works and act to change it, as we did with PKU. So if you’re trying to measure the relative influence of human nature and nurture, you have to consider not just the current environment but also all the possible environments that we can create. This doesn’t just apply to obscure diseases. In the latest issue of Psychological Science, Timothy C. Bates of the University of Edinburgh and colleagues report a study of the relationship among genes, SES (socio-economic status, or how rich and educated you are) and IQ. They used statistics to analyze the differences between identical twins, who share all DNA, and fraternal twins, who share only some.
When psychologists first started studying twins, they found identical twins much more likely to have similar IQs than fraternal ones. They concluded that IQ was highly “heritable”–that is, due to genetic differences. But those were all high SES twins. Erik Turkheimer of the University of Virginia and his colleagues discovered that the picture was very different for poor, low-SES twins. For these children, there was very little difference between identical and fraternal twins: IQ was hardly heritable at all. Differences in the environment, like whether you lucked out with a good teacher, seemed to be much more important.
In the new study, the Bates team found this was even true when those children grew up. IQ was much less heritable for people who had grown up poor. This might seem paradoxical: After all, your DNA stays the same no matter how you are raised. The explanation is that IQ is influenced by education. Historically, absolute IQ scores have risen substantially as we’ve changed our environment so that more people go to school longer.
Richer children have similarly good educational opportunities, so genetic differences among them become more apparent. And since richer children have more educational choice, they (or their parents) can choose environments that accentuate and amplify their particular skills. A child who has genetic abilities that make her just slightly better at math may be more likely to take a math class, so she becomes even better at math.
But for poor children, haphazard differences in educational opportunity swamp genetic differences. Ending up in a terrible school or one a bit better can make a big difference. And poor children have fewer opportunities to tailor their education to their particular strengths. How your genes shape your intelligence depends on whether you live in a world with no schooling at all, a world where you need good luck to get a good education or a world with rich educational possibilities. If we could change the world for the PKU babies, we can change it for the next generation of poor children, too.

Struggle For Smarts? How Eastern And Western Cultures Tackle Learning

As we begin a new school year, this story reminds us that our struggling with learning is not any indicator of a lack of intelligence.
Alex Spiegel
In 1979, when Jim Stigler was still a graduate student at the University of Michigan, he went to Japan to research teaching methods and found himself sitting in the back row of a crowded fourth-grade math class.
“The teacher was trying to teach the class how to draw three-dimensional cubes on paper,” Stigler explains, “and one kid was just totally having trouble with it. His cube looked all cockeyed, so the teacher said to him, ‘Why don’t you go put yours on the board?’ So right there I thought, ‘That’s interesting! He took the one who can’t do it and told him to go and put it on the board.’ ”
Stigler knew that in American classrooms, it was usually the best kid in the class who was invited to the board. And so he watched with interest as the Japanese student dutifully came to the board and started drawing, but still couldn’t complete the cube. Every few minutes, the teacher would ask the rest of the class whether the kid had gotten it right, and the class would look up from their work, and shake their heads no. And as the period progressed, Stigler noticed that he — Stigler — was getting more and more anxious.
“I realized that I was sitting there starting to perspire,” he says, “because I was really empathizing with this kid. I thought, ‘This kid is going to break into tears!’ ”
But the kid didn’t break into tears. Stigler says the child continued to draw his cube with equanimity. “And at the end of the class, he did make his cube look right! And the teacher said to the class, ‘How does that look, class?’ And they all looked up and said, ‘He did it!’ And they broke into applause.” The kid smiled a huge smile and sat down, clearly proud of himself.
Stigler is now a professor of psychology at UCLA who studies teaching and learning around the world, and he says it was this small experience that first got him thinking about how differently East and West approach the experience of intellectual struggle.
“I think that from very early ages we [in America] see struggle as an indicator that you’re just not very smart,” Stigler says. “It’s a sign of low ability — people who are smart don’t struggle, they just naturally get it, that’s our folk theory. Whereas in Asian cultures they tend to see struggle more as an opportunity.”

Teacher training program uses rigorous preparation to produce great instructors

Ben Velderman
The Match Education organization has developed a reputation over the past 12 years for operating several high-quality charter schools throughout the Boston area. Now the organization is garnering national attention for its approach to training future teachers. It all began in 2008, when Match officials opened a two-year teacher training program for graduate students, known as Match Teacher Residency (MTR). The MTR program only recently graduated its fifth group of students, but it already has a reputation among school leaders for producing the best and most effective first-year teachers in the nation.
“Their teachers are the best from any graduate school of education in America,” says Scott Given, CEO of Unlocking Potential, an organization dedicated to turning around failing schools. “When we have teacher resumes from the grad schools at Harvard, Stanford and Match, we move fastest to consider the Match candidate. It’s not even a close call.”
Other education leaders apparently share Given’s enthusiasm for Match-trained teachers. According to Match officials, all MTR graduates get hired by a high-performing school (usually a charter school) immediately after they complete the program. School leaders seek out MTR graduates not only because they’re well-prepared for the classroom, but because they’re likely to stay there. Of the 110 individuals who have completed the MTR program, 90 percent of them are still in the classroom. That’s a stunning accomplishment – especially in light of new National Council on Teacher Quality analysis that concludes most teacher colleges constitute “an industry of mediocrity” that cranks out thousands of graduates unprepared for the classroom.
The traditional approach to teacher training
So how is Match succeeding in producing effective teachers when so many other programs are failing? To understand that, it’s necessary to understand how the typical teacher prep program is designed. The problems begin with the selection process. Most university-based schools of education will accept almost anyone as a student, as long as they meet modest academic requirements and have a valid student loan account.
Once enrolled, the typical teachers-to-be spend the first couple of semesters reading books and writing papers about the various theories behind classroom management, instructional techniques and discipline. They also spend an alarming amount of time learning how to bring left wing social justice causes into the classroom. After that, they serve part of a semester as a practicum in an actual classroom. This practice mostly involves observing and journaling about how a professional educator handles a classroom. If they’re lucky, the future teachers will eventually be asked to help out with various tasks, such as grading papers or helping struggling students.
It’s only during their last semester that the future teachers are allowed to actually lead a classroom on their own. During those few months, the student teachers get to practice the various theories they’ve been learning about in class. Once they pass their student teaching experience – as determined by feedback from their supervising teacher and observations from their professors – they’ll receive their teaching certificate. As a result of their limited hands-on training, most of these beginning teachers will stumble and fumble their way through their first years on the job. Nearly half of them will become so frustrated and overwhelmed that they’ll walk away from the profession within five years.
‘The only program that kicks people out’
Compare that to Match Education’s approach. Like other leaders of elite organizations, Match officials are extremely selective of whom they let into their program. Match Teacher Residency applicants are carefully screened to ensure they possess the academic skills and mental toughness necessary to become successful, “no excuses” teachers. Despite attracting interest from some of the nation’s top college graduates, Match officials invite less than 10 percent of all applicants to join the MTR program.
Immediately upon entering the program, the future teachers (called “residents”) serve as tutors at one of Match Education’s Boston-area charter schools. Four days a week, the trainees work closely with a small group of struggling students. On Fridays and Saturdays during that first year, the residents also take graduate-level classes in which they’re provided with very specific ways on how to best manage a classroom, teach math and English, and use student data to improve their teaching. These classes also help to advance Match’s vision of social justice, which is to help disadvantaged students flourish academically.
Match residents also participate in weekly teaching simulations. The Match website explains this unique practice: “Residents take turns teaching short lessons to one another, with a (professor) watching. As one resident teaches, the others act as students. They answer questions (sometimes correctly, sometimes not), try to pay attention (but sometimes fail), sometimes misbehave intentionally, and do other things that ‘real students’ tend to do.” After each six-minute practice session, the resident receives very specific feedback from the professor and their peers about areas in which they need to improve. Residents participate in 80 of these practice sessions.
Halfway through their first year, MTR students’ skills are put to the test in one final high-stakes classroom teaching simulation. If a resident demonstrates a basic level of competence in managing a classroom and instructing students, he or she is allowed to move on to the student teaching phase of the program. And if a resident doesn’t meet expectations? “This is the only program that kicks people out for not having adequate skills,” says Scott McCue, MTR’s chief operating officer, “though it’s never been more than 10 percent who are asked to leave.” Another 20 percent may leave the program, for various reasons.
The majority of Match residents move on to student teaching, which lasts from January through May of that first year, and resumes in July for a special summer school session. Each student teacher is observed on a daily basis by their MTR instructor. By the end of their student teaching and the simulations, Match trainees have received hundreds of hours of experience in the classroom – and a full-time job offer from a high-performing, high-needs urban school.
In a promotional video, one MTR graduate explains how her extensive training prepared her to handle whatever comes her way. “Because of that, I know there is nothing that can go wrong in a classroom that can throw me off my guard,” the unidentified teacher says. “I’m like, ‘Seen that, done that. What’s next? Bring it on.'”
‘Obsessively data-driven’
Landing a paid, full-time teaching position doesn’t mean residents are finished with the MTR program. Before MTR students are awarded their Master’s Degree in Effective Teaching from Match, they must first demonstrate their effectiveness over the course of a full school year. To determine this, Match Education officials rely heavily on multiple forms of data – from student growth (as measured through test scores), feedback from student surveys, and performance scores given by school principals.
“We are obsessively data-driven,” McCue says. According to McCue, the biggest source of data comes from “blind evaluations” conducted by third-party observers. The observers visit multiple classrooms in a school and rate each teacher’s performance. The evaluations are considered “blind” because the observer doesn’t know which teachers are from Match and which aren’t. Once an MTR-trainee passes all the quality checkpoints, he or she receives a degree – and their employer receives an educator who can be counted on to produce strong academic results from students.
‘Everything is replicable’
The Match Teacher Residency is undeniably intense, but the program’s rigorous demands serve a greater purpose – namely, to close the achievement gap that exists between America’s white and minority students. The Match website notes that “MTR graduates are expected to teach for two years in a school that serves a majority of high-poverty students.” Graduates can choose to work in a traditional public school setting, but Match officials purposely gear the training “for a specific type of urban charter school that tends to offer a very different experience for teachers and students than the surrounding district schools.” “Because of that, we strongly believe that our graduates will be most effective in these types of charter schools,” the website reads.
But could the Match approach be adopted by traditional teacher colleges? Kate Walsh, president of National Center on Teacher Quality, thinks so. “Everything is replicable to some degree,” Walsh tells EAGnews. She especially likes Match’s practice of having future teachers “ease into the profession” by serving as tutors. “Those teachers are learning in a responsible way how to enter a classroom,” Walsh says.
Match’s “how-to” approach to teacher training won’t appeal to those who believe teaching is an art, not a science. McCue understands that criticism, but firmly believes “there’s more science behind becoming a really effective first-year teacher” than art. “But we’re not experts on becoming a master, 10-year teacher. Maybe there’s more art to that,” McCue says. “Our baseline is that nobody is especially good at this job when they start. But with a data-driven approach, teachers can get real good, real fast.”

Study Gauges Value of Technology in Schools

Motoko Rich
With school districts rushing to buy computers, tablets, digital white boards and other technology, a new report questions whether the investment is worth it.
In a review of student survey data conducted in conjunction with the federal exams known as the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the nonprofit Center for American Progress found that middle school math students more commonly used computers for basic drills and practice than to develop sophisticated skills. The report also found that no state was collecting data to evaluate whether technology investments were actually improving student achievement.
“Schools frequently acquire digital devices without discrete learning goals and ultimately use these devices in ways that fail to adequately serve students, schools, or taxpayers,” wrote Ulrich Boser, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and the author of the report. The analysis of the N.A.E.P. data found that 34 percent of eighth graders who took the math exams in 2011 used computers to “drill on math facts” while less than a quarter worked with spreadsheets or geometric figures on the computer. Only 17 percent used statistical programs.
The federal survey data showed striking differences among racial groups and income levels. More than half of the black students who took the eighth-grade math exam in 2011 said they used computers to work on math drills, while only 30 percent of white students said they did. Similarly, 41 percent of students eligible for free and reduced lunches said they used computers for math drills, compared with 29 percent of students whose families earn too much for them to qualify for the lunches. In high school science classrooms, the use of technology evidently has not advanced much past the 1980s. According to the report, 73 percent of students who took the 12th-grade National Assessment science exam said they regularly watched a movie or video in class.
Such data, Mr. Boser said, suggested that technology “doesn’t seem to have dramatically changed the nature of schooling.” Experts who study the effectiveness of instructional technology say there is potential for some digital programs to improve teaching. John Pane, a senior scientist at the RAND Corporation, said good technology allowed students to work at their own pace and independently while teachers worked with smaller groups.
Mr. Pane conducted a study, financed by the federal Department of Education, of an algebra software program created by Carnegie Learning, a math curriculum developer. He found that high school students who used the program, which was designed to accompany a teacher-led curriculum, showed gains on their state-standardized math tests that were nearly double the gains of a typical year’s worth of growth using a more traditional high school math curriculum.
Whether those gains came from the use of technology or changes in the curriculum, he said, was hard to say. But Steve Ritter, chief scientist at Carnegie Learning, said one of the benefits of the technology was that it used the principles of cognitive science to help students gain a deeper understanding of concepts rather than simply drill math problems. “We’re not just seeing whether they got the answer right or wrong,” Mr. Ritter said, “but why they got it right or wrong.”

Poor and Rich Kids: Here’s How They Can Get the Same Education

Lauren McAlee
When parents imagine the ideal school for their kids, many probably envision a place where children can not only master basic skills and content, but also be valued as individuals, encouraged to delve into interesting topics, and safe to take healthy risks. Many schools offer this kind of rich education. Unfortunately, they disproportionately serve children who come from privileged backgrounds.
Right now, many students receive an imbalanced education. Kids need to develop defined sets of skills like reading and writing words and solving equations; they also need to know how to apply these skills and solve problems in open-ended contexts. Curriculum reform has found a relative balance, recognizing that students need to learn defined sets of skills as well as explore open-ended contexts to succeed in the 21st century. But students living in poverty disproportionately miss out on opportunities for balanced education.
Over 30 years ago, Jean Anyon wrote Social Class and the Hidden Curriculum of Work, observing that in sample working-class schools, “work is following the steps of a procedure,” usually “involving rote behavior and very little decision making or choice,” while in affluent and elite schools, “work is creative activity carried out independently” and “developing one’s analytical intellectual powers.”
Based on my experience working with educators and students around the country, this pattern persists.
Counterexamples such as Big Picture Learning schools, public Montessori and Expeditionary Learning schools, and schools using the Schoolwide Enrichment Model exist, but are the exception for students living in poverty, rather than the rule.
Having taught in both high- and low-poverty schools, I understand why open-ended thinking is easier to emphasize in privileged communities. Varying education and economic status of families creates a serious gap in vocabulary, reasoning, background knowledge, and social-emotional skills. Teachers in my pre-K through eighth-grade high-poverty school spend countless hours teaching students skills that affluent students already know. This leaves less school time for play, projects, and exploration.
In Teaching Other People’s Children, Lisa Delpit writes that, “skills are a necessary but insufficient aspect of black and minority students’ education. Students need technical skills to open doors, but they need to be able to think critically and creatively to participate in meaningful and potentially liberating work inside those doors.”
Skating over open-ended competencies is impractical for any school as the Common Core State Standards shift learners towards deeper, more nuanced thinking. With or without Common Core, we cannot accept our current state of curriculum segregation.
So how can we fix curriculum segregation? We can do a lot, but none of it will be easy. Here are a few ideas to get started:

  1. Urgently identify, study, and share learning about the existing pockets of educators who excel in balanced education for children living in poverty.
  2. Provide more intensive school services for children who come to school with less formal knowledge, including longer school days and years, and deeper and wider school staffing. Students with more to learn need more support.
  3. Share concrete tools. Open-ended education is harder to scale than defined education, and we need to share as much as we can.
  4. Ensure teacher evaluations, especially those including unannounced observations, reward rather than punish healthy risk-taking.
  5. Measure schools’ success with metrics that include students’ ability to think in robust, open-ended contexts.

Children in my school and around the country need all hands on deck to ensure their education is rigorous, rich, and respectful of their potential.

The Atlanta Teacher Aptitude Test (ATAT)

Dan Zevin
Please use a sharp No. 2 pencil and gloves to fill in each circle completely or maybe a little less.
1. Agree or Disagree? “It is my duty as a pedagogue to help each and every pupil arrive at the correct answer.”
2. When helping each and every pupil arrive at the correct answer, which pedagogical method do you find most effective?
(a) memorization
(b) deconstruction
(c) jumbo eraser
3. A troubled student has defaced the playground with graffiti that reads, “This school sucks.” Would you:
(a) defer to the school psychologist
(b) vigorously scrub the “k” with turpentine and spray paint the letters “c, e, e, d” in its place.
4. Teaching fine motor skills is a crucial component of early childhood education. Please rate your level of proficiency in this area.
(a) somewhat proficient
(b) less than proficient
(c) extremely proficient
5. If you selected “a” or “b,” please demonstrate your fine motor skill proficiency by applying the pink tip of your writing implement to the circle, and using a series of tightly controlled wrist motions to restore the page to its original state. Remove traces of rubber residue by pursing your lips and exhaling upon the page while concurrently brushing it with the side of your gloved pinkie finger. Darken circle “c.”
6. Because many children are not developmentally capable of mastering verbal articulation, they frequently say the opposite of what they truly mean. Do you believe this extends to their written work as well?
a) Yes
7. When Lily wrote that 2+2=17 on her math test, what did Lily truly mean?
(a) 2+2=15
(b) 2+2=16
(c) 2+2=4
8. Please refer to Question 5.
9. What do you like better, permanent markers or dry erase markers?
10. Jimmy has failed five quizzes, six tests and one midterm. On his final exam, Jimmy gets every answer right. How do you predict the principal will react?
(a) “Jimmy is engaged in wrongdoing.”
(b) “Jimmy’s teacher is doing an outstanding job.”
11. In basic algebra, when does X=Y?
(a) when X^2 < Y (b) when X/2=πr^2 (c) when you erase the bottom right part of the X 12. Studies show that children who do poorly in school experience decreased self-esteem. Do you consider yourself to be the type of instructor who wants to decrease a child's self-esteem? (a) Yes, I want to decrease a child's self-esteem. (b) No, I do not wish to decrease a child's self-esteem. 13. Cognitive psychologists have identified several key ways in which individuals retain and share the information they hear on a daily basis. Which of the following techniques do you find most useful? (a) note taking (b) review sessions (c) wiretap 14. If you chose C, we are sorry, but we do not have any openings at this time. Thank you for thinking of the Atlanta public school system.

Debt And The Modern Parent Of College Kids

NPR Staff
t’s college touring season, and many parents are on the road with their teenagers, driving from school to school and thinking about the college application — and financial aid — process that looms ahead.
Many baby boomers have already been through this stage with their kids, but because the generation spans about 20 years, others still have kids at home. So how should boomers plan to pay for school when, on average, students graduate from college in the U.S. with $25,000 in debt?
Ron Lieber, who writes about personal finance for The New York Times, tells Morning Edition’s David Greene about planning strategies and pitfalls to avoid. Go to npr.org to read or listen to the rest of the story

Study: More Adult Pell Grant Students, Not Enough Graduating

Claudio Sanchez
National Public Radio
The federal government each year gives needy college students billions of dollars they don’t have to pay back — $34.5 billion to be exact. More than 9 million students rely on the Pell Grant program. But a new study says much of the money is going to people who never graduate.
Sandy Baum, an expert on student financial aid, has been leading a group in a study of the 48-year-old Pell Grant program. Their report, commissioned by the nonprofit College Board, confirms what many have known for years about grant recipients.
“We have always known that the completion rates are lower than what we’d like them to be,” Baum says. “But what we really learned was that there are so many students who are not the traditional Pell Grant student, who are not young people from low-income families but rather are adults seeking to improve their labor force opportunities. So understanding how important Pell Grants are to these students, and how poorly designed they are to actually serve these students, was something of an awakening.”
aum says these are people 25 years and older who were hit hard by the recession — lost their jobs, went back for more training and education, but have struggled to complete their schooling.
Baum says they get little or no guidance about what to study or even what school to choose. “If you’re an adult, you’re more likely to see a sign on the bus or hear that your neighbor went to school someplace. You really don’t have many options,” she says. Older, nontraditional students, Baum says, now make up nearly half of all Pell Grant recipients, but only 3 percent ever earn a bachelor’s degree. High dropout rates, though, are not limited to older students. Among 18- to 25-year-olds in the program, only a fraction earn a bachelor’s degree within six years — often because they’re just not ready for college-level work.
Sophia Zaman, a recent graduate from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, says Pell Grant recipients like her don’t drop out because they can’t handle the work — higher tuition and fees push them out. “I have numerous friends who were unable to afford taking on a fourth year of college because — and my university was not unique — we faced a 16 percent tuition increase,” she says. Zaman, who now lobbies Congress on behalf of the U.S. Student Association, says the $8,600 she received in Pell Grants over four years wasn’t enough. She still had to work three part-time jobs to make ends meet.
Researchers agree that Pell Grants cover only a fraction of what they once covered. Their key finding, however, is that the Pell Grant program must now serve two equally needy but very different populations — young and old.

The Competition Drug

Roger Cohen
THIS is America’s college town par excellence. Kids from all over the world flock to Boston to learn. I have a son who is a freshman here. Last autumn, as he entered school, I listened to warnings about the dangers of binge drinking. I think they missed the point. The real epidemic involves so-called smart drugs, particularly Adderall, an amphetamine prescribed for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (A.D.H.D.) but so freely available as to be the pill to take whenever academic pressure requires pulling an all-nighter with zero procrastination to get a paper done.
“Just popped an Addie, so I’m good to go” — this sort of pretest attitude has become pervasive. Conversations with several students suggested Adderall was always available, costing from $2 to $5 a pill. Adderall has become to college what steroids are to baseball: an illicit performance enhancer for a fiercely competitive environment. What to say to doctors to get a prescription is now so widely known among students — “It’s like my thoughts are channel-surfing and I can’t stop” — as to have become a kind of joke.
“If there are no A.D.H.D. symptoms prior to college I have a very hard time writing a prescription,” Jill Kasper, a pediatrician, told me. “But if somebody wants a prescription for Adderall, they can find someone to give it to them.” The problem is that Adderall is dangerous, a Class 2 controlled substance like cocaine. While it has helped countless A.D.H.D. sufferers, it can also lead down a dark road of dependency, ever higher doses, fight-or-flight anxiety levels, sleeplessness and depression.
Here, in his own words, is the Adderall story of Steven Roderick, 24, a smart, soft-spoken, lost senior studying health science at the University of Massachusetts Boston:

I started taking it my first year in college. My performance had always fluctuated a lot. It was hard to pay attention, even in classes I was interested in. I was getting D’s. I felt something had to change. Adderall flies around campus. The first time I took it I wrote a paper for an astronomy class that was out of this world. I could not believe it — I was so inspired it made me want to be a doctor! I thought — oh my God! — this is the whole problem. You have the ability. You are intelligent. You just don’t have the link between intelligence and the capacity to be productive. The pill is the link. I felt literally unstoppable.
I went to the doctor, said I’d like to give Adderall a try. There were no diagnostic procedures. Doctors give in too easily. I did not think there could be a risk later on. I started on 20 milligrams. I went from D’s and F’s to straight A’s. But your brain adapts, you have to increase the dose, and by 2011 I was up to 45 milligrams. In the spring of that year I started to feel Adderall was my best friend and my worst enemy at the same time. Because I could not sleep I went to see my psychopharm, and she prescribed me Ativan to sleep. That worked O.K. for a while. But I really ran into trouble last year. I was up to 65 milligrams, and then during finals went to 80, even 120, milligrams, and I was just locked into this Adderall-Ativan cycle. My doctor seemed scatterbrained. She’d prescribe something but not follow up.
It’s a complicated dependency. I mean I never took Adderall to get high, never took it in a way that was not academically oriented; and I think there’s a distinction between dependency and addiction, taking something for a purpose or for a rush. But I feel awful. My baseline anxiety level would be most people’s highest anxiety level. The drop of a pin makes me spin around. I am living at home. My parents are clueless, and it is hard to discuss with them, although my Mom helps me now. I alternate between ‘on’ and ‘off’ states — I come off the Adderall, take Ativan and sleep for days. I miss appointments. I know I need to go to the appointments, but I wonder if I will be functional enough.
Adderall suddenly turned its back on me. It enabled me to focus, got me to a higher place academically. But then I could no longer rely on it. I was on my own. And although I have less than three credits to go, I may have to withdraw from school because I have not been able to make it to enough classes. “Look, I am in a culture that constantly justifies the means to an end. So how do we persuade people not to take it? All you hear is how impossible it will be to get a job when you get out, and you are going more and more into debt, and you think without this I won’t be top of the class. With other drugs you know you are ruining your life. But Adderall manipulates you into thinking you are doing what is needed to have a great life.

Internet ‘Addiction’ Linked to Druglike Withdrawal

Deborah Brauser
So-called “Internet addiction” is associated with increased depression and even druglike withdrawal symptoms, new research suggests.
A study of 60 adults in the United Kingdom showed that those who were classified as high Internet users had a significantly greater decrease in positive mood after logging off their computers than the participants classified as low Internet users.
“Internet addiction was [also] associated with long-standing depression, impulsive nonconformity, and autism traits,” report the investigators, adding that the latter is “a novel finding.”
“We were actually expecting that people who used the net a lot would display enhanced moods after use — reflecting the positive reinforcing properties of the net,” coinvestigator Phil Reed, DPhil, professor and chair in the Department of Psychology at Swansea University in the United Kingdom, told Medscape Medical News.
“So the key finding of an immediate increased negative mood, the withdrawal effect, was something of a surprise. But the more we looked into the literature, the more it seemed to fit the notion of an addictive disorder,” added Dr. Reed.
He noted that the main takeaway message for clinicians is that some people may experience disruptions to their lives from excessive Internet use — and that this can affect both their psychological and physical health.
In addition, patients “may need help exploring the reasons for this excessive use and what functions it serves in their lives.”
The study was published online February 7 in PLoS One.

Milton to receive nearly $178,000 settlement

Molly Beck
The Springfield School District will pay outgoing School Superintendent Walter Milton $177,797 under a separation agreement obtained by The State Journal-Register. Milton’s resignation takes effect March 31, according to the agreement.
The 16-page agreement, signed by Milton Jan. 31, was released to The State Journal-Register Tuesday in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. The school district also will continue to pay for Milton’s health and dental insurance until May 31, 2014 unless Milton finds a new job that provides similar benefits, according to the agreement. Milton will receive Illinois Teachers Retirement System credit for about 56 days of unused sick time.
The document says Milton sought the agreement in order to be able to pursue other positions. Milton said at Monday’s school board meeting he decided to search for a new job after being denied a contract extension several months ago, and after realizing that he and the board have “fundamental policy disagreements.” “I would have loved to have had the opportunity to fulfill the school year,” Milton said Tuesday. “I was honored to serve. I love Springfield public schools.”
Resignation, reference language
Once Milton resigns, the agreement says, a Sept. 28 letter from school board president Susan White will be removed from Milton’s personnel file, as well as his response. The nature of the letter was not disclosed. The State Journal-Register filed FOIA requests for those letters Tuesday.
White would not comment on whether Milton’s settlement — to be paid in two installments by May 1 — was taken into consideration when the school board determined budget reductions for next year. Along with a non-disparagement clause, the agreement outlines language to be used in response to inquiries, and it includes Milton’s resignation letter and a recommendation letter to be sent when the school board is asked to provide a reference for Milton.
That recommendation letter matches an emailed statement that White sent Feb. 4 to a reporter in Madison, Wis. and to The State Journal-Register. That letter indicated Milton would end his employment with the district March 31. At the time, White said the date was a typographical error. The email prompted The State Journal-Register to submit a series of Freedom of Information Act requests regarding Milton’s employment status.

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The Secret to Fixing Bad Schools

David Kirp
WHAT would it really take to give students a first-rate education? Some argue that our schools are irremediably broken and that charter schools offer the only solution. The striking achievement of Union City, N.J. — bringing poor, mostly immigrant kids into the educational mainstream — argues for reinventing the public schools we have. Union City makes an unlikely poster child for education reform. It’s a poor community with an unemployment rate 60 percent higher than the national average. Three-quarters of the students live in homes where only Spanish is spoken. A quarter are thought to be undocumented, living in fear of deportation.
Public schools in such communities have often operated as factories for failure. This used to be true in Union City, where the schools were once so wretched that state officials almost seized control of them. How things have changed. From third grade through high school, students’ achievement scores now approximate the statewide average. What’s more, in 2011, Union City boasted a high school graduation rate of 89.5 percent — roughly 10 percentage points higher than the national average. Last year, 75 percent of Union City graduates enrolled in college, with top students winning scholarships to the Ivies.
As someone who has worked on education policy for four decades, I’ve never seen the likes of this. After spending a year in Union City working on a book, I believe its transformation offers a nationwide strategy. Ask school officials to explain Union City’s success and they start with prekindergarten, which enrolls almost every 3- and 4-year-old. There’s abundant research showing the lifetime benefits of early education. Here, seeing is believing.
One December morning the lesson is making latkes, the potato pancakes that are a Hanukkah staple. Everything that transpires during these 90 minutes could be called a “teachable moment” — describing the smell of an onion (“Strong or light? Strong — duro. Will it smell differently when we cook it? We’ll have to find out.”); pronouncing the “p” in pepper and pimento; getting the hang of a food processor (“When I put all the ingredients in, what will happen?”).
Cognitive and noncognitive, thinking and feeling; here, this line vanishes. The good teacher is always on the lookout for both kinds of lessons, always aiming to reach both head and heart. “My goal is to do for these kids what I do with my own children,” the teacher, Susana Rojas, tells me. “It’s all about exposure to concepts — wide, narrow, long, short. I bring in breads from different countries. ‘Let’s do a pie chart showing which one you liked the best.’ I don’t ask them to memorize 1, 2, 3 — I could teach a monkey to count.” From pre-K to high school, the make-or-break factor is what the Harvard education professor Richard Elmore calls the “instructional core” — the skills of the teacher, the engagement of the students and the rigor of the curriculum. To succeed, students must become thinkers, not just test-takers.
When Alina Bossbaly greets her third grade students, ethics are on her mind. “Room 210 is a pie — un pie — and each of us is a slice of that pie.” The pie offers a down-to-earth way of talking about a community where everyone has a place. Building character and getting students to think is her mission. From Day 1, her kids are writing in their journals, sifting out the meaning of stories and solving math problems. Every day, Ms. Bossbaly is figuring out what’s best for each child, rather than batch-processing them. Though Ms. Bossbaly is a star, her philosophy pervades the district. Wherever I went, these schools felt less like impersonal institutions than the simulacrum of an extended family.

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Younger Students More Likely to Get A.D.H.D. Drugs

Anahad O’Connor
A new study of elementary and middle school students has found that those who are the youngest in their grades score worse on standardized tests than their older classmates and are more likely to be prescribed stimulants for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
The findings suggest that in a given grade, students born at the end of the calendar year may be at a distinct disadvantage. Those perceived as having academic or behavioral problems may in fact be lagging simply as a result of being forced to compete with classmates almost a full year older than them. For a child as young as 5, a span of one year can account for 20 percent of the child’s age, potentially making him or her appear significantly less mature than older classmates.
The new study found that the lower the grade, the greater the disparity. For children in the fourth grade, the researchers found that those in the youngest third of their class had an 80 to 90 percent increased risk of scoring in the lowest decile on standardized tests. They were also 50 percent more likely than the oldest third of their classmates to be prescribed stimulants for A.D.H.D. The differences diminished somewhat over time, the researchers found, but continued at least through the seventh grade.
The new study, published in the journal Pediatrics, used data from Iceland, where health and academic measures are tracked nationally and stimulant prescription rates are high and on par with rates in the United States. Previous studies carried out there and in other countries have shown similar patterns, even among college students.
Helga Zoega, the lead author of the study, said she had expected there would be performance differences between students in the youngest grades, but she did not know that the differences, including the disparity in stimulant prescribing rates, would continue over time.
“We were surprised to see that,” said Dr. Zoega, a postdoctoral fellow at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York and an assistant professor at the University of Iceland. “It may be that the youngest kids in class are just acting according to their age. But their behavior is thought of as symptoms of something else, rather than maturity.”
In the study, Dr. Zoega and her colleagues tracked over 10,000 students born in Iceland in the mid-1990s, following them from fourth through seventh grade, or roughly ages 9 to 12. Iceland has detailed national registries containing health and academic information, so the researchers were able to compare students’ scores on standardized tests and look at the medications prescribed to them.
The researchers then divided the subjects based on the months in which they were born. In Iceland, children start school in September of the calendar year in which they turn 6, and the nationwide birthday cutoff in schools is Jan. 1. So the oldest third in any grade are born between January and April. The middle third are born between May and August, and the youngest third are born between September and December.
The study showed that average test scores in mathematics and language arts, which covers grammar, literature and writing, were lowest among the youngest students in each class. On standardized tests at age 9, the children that made up the youngest third ranked, on average, about 11 percentile points lower in math and roughly 10 percentile points lower in language arts than their classmates who made up the oldest third. Compared to the oldest students, the younger ones were 90 percent more likely to earn low test scores in math and 80 percent more likely to receive low test scores in language arts. By the seventh grade, the risk had diminished somewhat, but the younger children were still 60 percent more likely to receive low test scores in both subjects.
A similar pattern was seen with A.D.H.D. medication, with students in the youngest third of their grade significantly more likely to receive stimulant prescriptions than their classmates in the oldest third. Dr. Zoega found that gender had some influence as well. Over all, girls scored higher than boys on tests, and had lower rates of stimulant prescriptions. But ultimately there was still an age effect among girls for both academic performance and the use of A.D.H.D. medication.
The findings dovetail with research carried out by two economists, Kelly Bedard and Elizabeth Dhuey. In looking at fourth graders around the world, the two found that the oldest children scored up to 12 percentile points higher than the youngest children. Their work, which was described in the best-selling 2008 book “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell, has shown a similar pattern among college students.
“At four-year colleges in the United States,” Mr. Gladwell wrote, “students belonging to the relatively youngest group in their class are underrepresented by about 11.6 percent. That initial difference in maturity doesn’t go away with time. It persists. And for thousands of students, that initial disadvantage is the difference between going to college — and having a real shot at the middle class — and not.”
Dr. Zoega said she did not want her study to be seen as an indictment against stimulants. Instead, parents and educators should consider a child’s age relative to his or her classmates when looking at poor grades and at any behavioral problems.
“Don’t jump to conclusions when deciding whether a child has A.D.H.D.,” she said. “It could be the maturity level. Keep in mind that he or she might not be performing as well as the older kids in the class, and that should not be a surprise.”

Betty Hart Dies at 85; Studied Disparities in Children’s Vocabulary Growth

William Yardley
Betty Hart, whose research documenting how poor, working-class and professional parents speak to their young children helped establish the critical role that communicating with babies and toddlers has in their later development, died on Sept. 28 in Tucson. She was 85. The cause was lung cancer, said Dale Walker, a colleague and longtime friend. Dr. Hart was a graduate student at the University of Kansas in the 1960s when she began trying to help poor preschool children overcome speech and vocabulary deficits. But she and her colleagues later concluded that they had started too late in the children’s lives — that the ones they were trying to help could not simply “catch up” with extra intervention.
At the time, a prevalent view was that poor children were essentially beyond help, victims of circumstances and genetics. But Dr. Hart and some of her colleagues suspected otherwise and revisited the issue in the early 1980s, beginning research that would continue for a decade. “Rather than concede to the unmalleable forces of heredity, we decided that we would undertake research that would allow us to understand the disparate developmental trajectories we saw,” she and her former graduate supervisor, Todd R. Risley, wrote in 1995 in “Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children,” a book about their findings, which were reported in 1992. “We realized that if we were to understand how and when differences in developmental trajectories began, we needed to see what was happening to children at home at the very beginning of their vocabulary growth.”
They began a two-and-a-half-year study of 42 families of various socioeconomic levels who had very young children. Starting when the children were between 7 and 9 months old, they recorded every word and utterance spoken to them and by them, as well as every parent-child interaction, over the course of one hour every month. It took many more years to transcribe and analyze the data, and the researchers were astonished by what they eventually found. “Simply in words heard, the average child on welfare was having half as much experience per hour (616 words per hour) as the average working-class child (1,251 words per hour) and less than one-third that of the average child in a professional family (2,153 words per hour),” Drs. Hart and Risley wrote.
“By age 4, the average child in a welfare family might have 13 million fewer words of cumulative experience than the average child in a working-class family,” they added. They also found disparities in tone, in positive and negative feedback, and in other areas — and that the disparities in speech and vocabulary acquisition persisted into school years and affected overall educational development.
“People kept thinking, ‘Oh, we can catch kids up later,’ and her big message was to start young and make sure the environment for young children is really rich in language,” said Dr. Walker, an associate research professor at Kansas who worked with Dr. Hart and followed many of the children into their school years.
The work has become a touchstone in debates over education policy, including what kind of investments governments should make in early intervention programs. One nonprofit program whose goals are rooted in the findings is Reach Out and Read, which uses pediatric exam rooms to promote literacy for lower-income children beginning at 6 months old.
Prompted by the success of Reach Out and Read, Dr. Alan L. Mendelsohn, a developmental-behavioral pediatrician at Bellevue Hospital and New York University Langone Medical Center, pushed intervention even further. He created a program through Bellevue in which lower-income parents visiting doctors are filmed interacting and reading with their children and then given suggestions on how they can expand their speaking and interactions. “Hart and Risley’s work really informed for me and many others the idea that maybe you could bridge the gap,” Dr. Mendelsohn said, “or in jargon terms — address the disparities.”
Bettie Mackenzie Farnsworth was born on July 15, 1927, in Kerr County, Tex. (She spelled her name Betty even though it was Bettie on her birth certificate.) Her family moved to South Dakota when she was a girl, and her mother died when she was quite young, Dr. Walker said. Dr. Hart, who lived in Kansas City, Kan., graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1949, and later taught in a preschool laboratory at the University of Washington directed by Sidney W. Bijou, a psychologist who helped establish modern behavioral therapy for childhood disorders. She accepted a research position at the University of Kansas in the mid-1960s, and received her master’s degree and Ph.D. there. She married John Hart in 1949; they divorced in 1961. Her three siblings are deceased, Dr. Walker said.
“Today, much of her research is being applied in many different ways,” said Dr. Andrew Garner, the chairman of a work group on early brain and child development for the American Academy of Pediatrics. “I think you could also argue that the current interest in brain development and epigenetics reinforces at almost a molecular level what she had identified 20 years ago.”

Arthur R. Jensen Dies at 89; Set Off Debate About I.Q.

Margalit Fox
Arthur R. Jensen, an educational psychologist who ignited an international firestorm with a 1969 article suggesting that the gap in intelligence-test scores between black and white students might be rooted in genetic differences between the races, died on Oct. 22 at his home in Kelseyville, Calif. He was 89. His death was confirmed by the University of California, Berkeley, where he was an emeritus professor in the Graduate School of Education.
Professor Jensen was deeply interested in differential psychology, a field whose central question — What makes people behave and think differently from one another? — strikes at the heart of the age-old nature-nurture debate. Because of his empirical work in the field on the quantification of general intelligence (a subject that had long invited a more diffuse, impressionistic approach), he was regarded by many colleagues as one of the most important psychologists of his day.

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Technology Changing How Students Learn, Teachers Say

Matt Richtel
There is a widespread belief among teachers that students’ constant use of digital technology is hampering their attention spans and ability to persevere in the face of challenging tasks, according to two surveys of teachers being released on Thursday. The researchers note that their findings represent the subjective views of teachers and should not be seen as definitive proof that widespread use of computers, phones and video games affects students’ capability to focus. Even so, the researchers who performed the studies, as well as scholars who study technology’s impact on behavior and the brain, say the studies are significant because of the vantage points of teachers, who spend hours a day observing students.
The timing of the studies, from two well-regarded research organizations, appears to be coincidental. One was conducted by the Pew Internet Project, a division of the Pew Research Center that focuses on technology-related research. The other comes from Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization in San Francisco that advises parents on media use by children. It was conducted by Vicky Rideout, a researcher who has previously shown that media use among children and teenagers ages 8 to 18 has grown so fast that they on average spend twice as much time with screens each year as they spend in school.
Teachers who were not involved in the surveys echoed their findings in interviews, saying they felt they had to work harder to capture and hold students’ attention.
“I’m an entertainer. I have to do a song and dance to capture their attention,” said Hope Molina-Porter, 37, an English teacher at Troy High School in Fullerton, Calif., who has taught for 14 years. She teaches accelerated students, but has noted a marked decline in the depth and analysis of their written work. She said she did not want to shrink from the challenge of engaging them, nor did other teachers interviewed, but she also worried that technology was causing a deeper shift in how students learned. She also wondered if teachers were adding to the problem by adjusting their lessons to accommodate shorter attention spans.
“Are we contributing to this?” Ms. Molina-Porter said. “What’s going to happen when they don’t have constant entertainment?”
Scholars who study the role of media in society say no long-term studies have been done that adequately show how and if student attention span has changed because of the use of digital technology. But there is mounting indirect evidence that constant use of technology can affect behavior, particularly in developing brains, because of heavy stimulation and rapid shifts in attention.
Kristen Purcell, the associate director for research at Pew, acknowledged that the findings could be viewed from another perspective: that the education system must adjust to better accommodate the way students learn, a point that some teachers brought up in focus groups themselves. “What we’re labeling as ‘distraction,’ some see as a failure of adults to see how these kids process information,” Ms. Purcell said. “They’re not saying distraction is good but that the label of ‘distraction’ is a judgment of this generation.”
The surveys also found that many teachers said technology could be a useful educational tool. In the Pew survey, which was done in conjunction with the College Board and the National Writing Project, roughly 75 percent of 2,462 teachers surveyed said that the Internet and search engines had a “mostly positive” impact on student research skills. And they said such tools had made students more self-sufficient researchers. But nearly 90 percent said that digital technologies were creating “an easily distracted generation with short attention spans.”
Similarly, of the 685 teachers surveyed in the Common Sense project, 71 percent said they thought technology was hurting attention span “somewhat” or “a lot.” About 60 percent said it hindered students’ ability to write and communicate face to face, and almost half said it hurt critical thinking and their ability to do homework. There was little difference in how younger and older teachers perceived the impact of technology.

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Before a Test, a Poverty of Words

Gina Bellafante
Not too long ago, I witnessed a child, about two months shy of 3, welcome the return of some furniture to his family’s apartment with the enthusiastic declaration “Ottoman is back!” The child understood that the stout cylindrical object from which he liked to jump had a name and that its absence had been caused by a visit to someone called “an upholsterer.” The upholsterer, he realized, was responsible for converting the ottoman from one color or texture to another. Here was a child whose mother had prepared him, at the very least, for a future of reading World of Interiors.
Though conceivably much more as well. Despite the Manhattan parody to which a scene like this so easily gives rise, it is difficult to overstate the advantages arrogated to a child whose parent proceeds in a near constant mode of annotation. Reflexively, the affluent, ambitious parent is always talking, pointing out, explaining: Mommy is looking for her laptop; let’s put on your rain boots; that’s a pigeon, a sand dune, skyscraper, a pomegranate. The child, in essence, exists in continuous receipt of dictation.
Things are very different elsewhere on the class spectrum. Earlier in the year when I met Steven F. Wilson, founder of a network of charter schools that serve poor and largely black communities in Brooklyn, I asked him what he considered the greatest challenge on the first day of kindergarten each year. He answered, without a second’s hesitation: “Word deficit.” As it happens, in the ’80s, the psychologists Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley spent years cataloging the number of words spoken to young children in dozens of families from different socioeconomic groups, and what they found was not only a disparity in the complexity of words used, but also astonishing differences in sheer number. Children of professionals were, on average, exposed to approximately 1,500 more words hourly than children growing up in poverty. This resulted in a gap of more than 32 million words by the time the children reached the age of 4.

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How much is that rowdy kid interfering with your child’s learning?

Daniel Willingham
Anyone who has spent much time in classrooms has the sense that just a couple of disorderly kids can really disrupt learning for everyone. These kids distract the other students, and the teacher must allocate a disproportionate amount of attention to them to keep them on task.
Obvious though this point seems, there have been surprisingly few studies of just how high a cost disruptive kids exact on the learning of others.
Lori Skibbe and her colleagues have just published an interesting study on the subject.
Skibbe measured self-regulation in 445 1st graders, using the standard head-toes-knees-shoulders (HTKS) task. In this task, children must first follow the instructors direction (“Touch your toes. Now touch your shoulders.”) In a second phase, they were instructed to do the opposite of what the instructor said–when told to touch their toes, they were to touch their head, for example. This is a well-known measure of self regulation in children this age (e.g., Ponitz et al., 2008).
Researchers also evaluated the growth over the first grade year in children’s literacy skills, using two subtests from the Woodcock-Johnson: Passage Comprehension and Picture Vocabulary.
We would guess that children’s growth in literacy would be related to their self-regulation skill (as measured by their HTKS score). What Skibbe et al showed is that the class average HTKS score also predicts how much an individual child will learn, even after you statistically account for that child’s HTKS score. (Researchers also accounted for the school-wide percentage of kids qualifying for free or reduced lunch, as academic growth might covary with self-regulation as due to SES differences.)

Young, Gifted and Neglected

Chester E. Finn, Jr.
BARACK OBAMA and Mitt Romney both attended elite private high schools. Both are undeniably smart and well educated and owe much of their success to the strong foundation laid by excellent schools.
Every motivated, high-potential young American deserves a similar opportunity. But the majority of very smart kids lack the wherewithal to enroll in rigorous private schools. They depend on public education to prepare them for life. Yet that system is failing to create enough opportunities for hundreds of thousands of these high-potential girls and boys.
Mostly, the system ignores them, with policies and budget priorities that concentrate on raising the floor under low-achieving students. A good and necessary thing to do, yes, but we’ve failed to raise the ceiling for those already well above the floor.
Public education’s neglect of high-ability students doesn’t just deny individuals opportunities they deserve. It also imperils the country’s future supply of scientists, inventors and entrepreneurs.
Today’s systemic failure takes three forms.
First, we’re weak at identifying “gifted and talented” children early, particularly if they’re poor or members of minority groups or don’t have savvy, pushy parents.
Second, at the primary and middle-school levels, we don’t have enough gifted-education classrooms (with suitable teachers and curriculums) to serve even the existing demand. Congress has “zero-funded” the Jacob K. Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education Program, Washington’s sole effort to encourage such education. Faced with budget crunches and federal pressure to turn around awful schools, many districts are cutting their advanced classes as well as art and music.
Third, many high schools have just a smattering of honors or Advanced Placement classes, sometimes populated by kids who are bright but not truly prepared to succeed in them.
Here and there, however, entire public schools focus exclusively on high-ability, highly motivated students. Some are nationally famous (Boston Latin, Bronx Science), others known mainly in their own communities (Cincinnati’s Walnut Hills, Austin’s Liberal Arts and Science Academy). When my colleague Jessica A. Hockett and I went searching for schools like these to study, we discovered that no one had ever fully mapped this terrain.
In a country with more than 20,000 public high schools, we found just 165 of these schools, known as exam schools. They educate about 1 percent of students. Nineteen states have none. Only three big cities have more than five such schools (Los Angeles has zero). Almost all have far more qualified applicants than they can accommodate. Hence they practice very selective admission, turning away thousands of students who could benefit from what they have to offer. Northern Virginia’s acclaimed Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, for example, gets some 3,300 applicants a year — two-thirds of them academically qualified — for 480 places.
We built a list, surveyed the principals and visited 11 schools. We learned a lot. While the schools differ in many ways, their course offerings resemble A.P. classes in content and rigor; they have stellar college placement; and the best of them expose their pupils to independent study, challenging internships and individual research projects.
Critics call them elitist, but we found the opposite. These are great schools accessible to families who can’t afford private schooling or expensive suburbs. While exam schools in some cities don’t come close to reflecting the demographics around them, across the country the low-income enrollment in these schools parallels the high school population as a whole. African-American youngsters are “overrepresented” in them and Asian-Americans staggeringly so (21 percent versus 5 percent in high schools overall). Latinos are underrepresented, but so are whites.

Continue reading Young, Gifted and Neglected

School Is ‘Too Easy,’ Say American Students

NPR
Many students in American classrooms don’t feel challenged enough. That’s according to new analysis of federal data (pdf) conducted by the Washington think tank American Progress.
The organization, which promotes “progressive ideas and action,” came to that conclusion when it analyzed surveys given to students by the Department of Education for its National Assessment of Educational Progress.
In its press release, American progress says its analysis found that the popular images of students overburdened with work and keeping “the hours of a corporate lawyer in order to finish their school projects and homework assignments” are quite simply off base.
“Many students are not being challenged in school,” the organization says. USA Today dug through the report and finds:
— “37% of fourth-graders say their math work is ‘often’ or ‘always’ too easy;
— “57% of eighth-graders say their history work is ‘often’ or ‘always’ too easy;
— “39% of 12th-graders say they rarely write about what they read in class.”
USA Today spoke Florida State University English education professor Shelbie Witte who said students are likely bored by an education system that puts too much emphasis on standardized testing and “when they’re bored, they think the classes are easy.”
Another interesting find from the report is that lower-income students reported that they comprehended their teachers less than their more affluent classmates.
American Progress points out that student surveys have been shown to be accurate predictors of a teacher’s performance. It’s the reason they decided to look at this set of data.

Paul Vallas, a School Reform Town Hall May 26 2012

Paul Vallas at LaFollette Video


School reform superintendent Paul Vallas spoke at LaFollette High School at the behest of Boys and Girls Club of Dane County CEO Michael Johnson. The two and a half hour presentation with question and answer periods as attended by about 100 people in the LaFollette Auditorium.
Paul Vallas has been the Superintendent of schools in Chicago (CPS), Philadelphia, New Orleans, and currently Bridgeport Connecticut. He is currently hired to improve the schools in both Chile and Haiti, and has been praised in two State of the Union addresses. His work as a superintendent has engendered both strong support and strong disagreement.
The two and a half hour meeting has been divided into five clips and I have tried to summarize comments made by Paul Vallas, the panel and the audience members who spoke.

A Sociobiological Approach for At-Risk High School Students

PLoS/One: A Program for At-Risk High School Students Informed by Evolutionary Science
Improving the academic performance of at-risk high school students has proven difficult, often calling for an extended day, extended school year, and other expensive measures. Here we report the results of a program for at-risk 9th and 10th graders in Binghamton, New York, called the Regents Academy that takes place during the normal school day and year. The design of the program is informed by the evolutionary dynamics of cooperation and learning, in general and for our species as a unique product of biocultural evolution. Not only did the Regents Academy students outperform their comparison group in a randomized control design, but they performed on a par with the average high school student in Binghamton on state-mandated exams. All students can benefit from the social environment provided for at-risk students at the Regents Academy, which is within the reach of most public school districts.
One body of knowledge that we drew upon to design the Regents Academy is based on the work of Elinor Ostrom [19], [20], who received the Nobel Prize for economics in 2009. Ostrom is a political scientist by training but has become part of the evolutionary science community. Working primarily with groups attempting to manage common pool resources, she identified eight design features that contributed to the success of each group, which can also be used by groups attempting to achieve other shared objectives. Briefly, the design features are: 1) a strong group identity, including understanding and agreeing with the group’s purpose; 2) benefits proportional to costs, so that the work does not fall unfairly on some individuals and unearned benefits on others; 3) consensus decision-making, since most people dislike being told what to do but will work hard to achieve their own goals; 4) low-cost monitoring, so that lapses of cooperation can be easily detected; 5) graduated sanctions to correct misbehaviors, which begin with friendly reminders and escalate only as needed; 6) conflict resolution that is fast and perceived as fair by group members; 7) sufficient autonomy for the group to make its own decisions without interference from other groups; 8) relations among groups that embody the same principles as the relations among individuals within the group. These design features are consilient with the general evolutionary dynamics of cooperation and the social environment of small-scale human societies throughout our own history as a species. Any educational program, including one for at-risk high school students, can potentially benefit from implementing these design features.

Continue reading A Sociobiological Approach for At-Risk High School Students

Are Standardized Tests Biased Against Students Who Don’t Give A …?

In the Know: Onion News Network Commentary
A new Department of Education study has shown that students who think that school is a boring waste of time score significantly lower than their peers on standardized tests. Are these standardized tests biased against students who don’t give a sh*t?
Most certainly.
Students who don’t care enough to read to the end of a word problem have been shown to score 89% lower than students who do. Should schools be doing more?

Does Professor Quality Matter? Measures of Value-Added

Does Professor Quality Matter? Evidence from Random Assignment of Students to Professors by Scott Carrel and James West present a study of value-added measures, instructor quality, and student achievement using the unique data panel from the U.S. Air Force Academy.
[At the USAFA], students are randomly assigned to professors over a wide variety of standardized core courses. The random assignment of students to professors, along with a vast amount of data on both professors and students, allows us to examine how professor quality affects student achievement free from the usual problems of self-selection…. [P]erformance in USAFA core courses is a consistent measure of student achievement because faculty members teaching the same course use an identical syllabus and give the same exams during a common testing period. Finally, USAFA students are required to take and are randomly assigned to numerous follow-on courses in mathematics, humanities, basic sciences, and engineering. Performance in these mandatory follow-on courses is arguably a more persistent measurement of student learning.
Results show that there are statistically significant and sizable differences in student achievement across introductory course professors in both contemporaneous and follow-on course achievement. However, our results indicate that professors who excel at promoting contemporaneous student achievement, on average, harm the subsequent performance of their students in more advanced classes. Academic rank, teaching experience, and terminal degree status of professors are negatively correlated with contemporaneous value-added but positively correlated with follow-on course value-added. Hence, students of less experienced instructors who do not possess a doctorate perform significantly better in the contemporaneous course but perform worse in the follow-on related curriculum.

The Case for $320,000 Kindergarten Teachers

David Leonhardt – New York Times
How much do your kindergarten teacher and classmates affect the rest of your life?
Economists have generally thought that the answer was not much. Great teachers and early childhood programs can have a big short-term effect. But the impact tends to fade.
There has always been one major caveat, however, to the research on the fade-out effect. It was based mainly on test scores, not on a broader set of measures, like a child’s health or eventual earnings. As Raj Chetty, a Harvard economist, says: “We don’t really care about test scores. We care about adult outcomes.”
Early this year, Mr. Chetty and five other researchers set out to fill this void. They examined the life paths of almost 12,000 children who had been part of a well-known education experiment in Tennessee in the 1980s. The children are now about 30, well started on their adult lives.
When Mr. Chetty and his colleagues took another look at the students in adulthood, they discovered that the legacy of kindergarten had re-emerged.
Students who had learned much more in kindergarten were more likely to go to college than students with otherwise similar backgrounds. Students who learned more were also less likely to become single parents. As adults, they were more likely to be saving for retirement. Perhaps most striking, they were earning more.

AP Juggernaut

NYT: Room for Debate
Advanced Placement classes, once open to only a very small number of top high school students around the country, have grown enormously in the past decade. The number of students taking these courses rose by nearly 50 percent to 1.6 million from 2004 to 2009. Yet in a survey of A.P. teachers released this year, more than half said that “too many students overestimate their abilities and are in over their heads.” Some 60 percent said that “parents push their children into A.P. classes when they really don’t belong there.”
Does the growth in Advanced Placement courses serve students or schools well? Are there downsides to pushing many more students into taking these rigorous courses?
Kristin Klopfenstein, economist
Trevor Packer, College Board
Patrick Welsh, high school teacher
Philip M. Sadler, Harvard-Smithsonian Center of Astrophysics
David Wakelyn, National Governors Association
Saul Geiser, Center for Studies in Higher Education
“The original point of the A.P. program was to make college-level study possible for advanced high school students…. But now, the A.P. program has been transformed to serve many more purposes…. The new uses of A.P. are not benign…”
“Advanced placement courses and exams are appropriate choices for students who have developed the knowledge and skills to study at the college level in high school. Of course, advanced placement is not a silver bullet if a district or school merely parachutes an A.P. course into a low-performing school without having fostered academic rigor in the grades prior to the A.P…. [T]eachers are right to insist on adequate student preparation for advanced placement work. But studies have indicated that teachers’ preconceived notions of student potential are often at odds with student capability….”
“The original purpose of the Advanced Placement program was a noble one…. In the last 10 years, Advanced Placement has become a game of labels and numbers, a public relations ploy used by school officials who are dumping as many students as they can into A.P. courses to create the illusion that they are raising overall standards…. [T]he College Board is shamelessly pressuring public schools by creating the impression that A.P. courses are the only ones worth taking…”

Children Full of Life

On Youtube:
In the award-winning documentary Children Full of Life, a fourth-grade class in a primary school in Kanazawa, northwest of Tokyo, learn lessons about compassion from their homeroom teacher, Toshiro Kanamori. He instructs each to write their true inner feelings in a letter, and read it aloud in front of the class. By sharing their lives, the children begin to realize the importance of caring for their classmates.
The stories: Compassion, empathy. (1 of 5), Taking responsibility: bullying. (2 of 5),
Rafting, a challenge to the teacher, learning. (3 of 5), Just hang in there (4 of 5), One last letter (5 of 5)

MMSD WKCE Report

The entry The Madison School District on WKCE Data is not accepting comments, so this entry will make a quick note.
The last pages of the MMSD document is a copy of the agenda for a workshop entitled “WKCE DATA ANALYSIS WORKSHOP” for principals and IRT Professional Development, held on May 1 at Olson Elementary School. In this half day workshop, a couple of hours is spent introducing the software package from Turnleaf which allows detailed analysis of student data — according to their site.
This is promising, I would hope. Maybe we will finally be seeing some real analysis of student data and begin to answer the “whys” of the WKCE results. See WKCE Scores Document Decline in the Percentage of Madison’s Advanced Students

How To Be A Genius

Forbes – Scott Berkun
Have you got what it takes to be seen as a genius? Do you really want to?
Geniuses don’t exist in the present. Think of the people you’ve met: Would you call any of them a genius in the Mozart, Einstein, Shakespeare sense of the word? Even the MacArthur Foundation’s “genius” grants don’t call their winners geniuses.
We throw the g-word around where it’s safe: in reference to dead people. Since there’s no one alive who witnessed Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart pee in his kindergarten pants or saw young Pablo Picasso eating crayons, we can call them geniuses in safety, as their humanity has been stripped from our memory.
Even if you believe geniuses exist, there’s little consensus on what being a genius means. Some experts say genius is the capacity for greatness. Others believe it’s that you’ve accomplished great things.
Forget this pointless debate. Chasing definitions never provides what we want: a better understanding of how to appreciate, and possibly become, interesting creative people.
Be obsessed with work
Show me a genius and I’ll show you a workaholic. Van Gogh produced 2,000 works of art between 1880 and 1890 (or 1,100 paintings and 900 sketches). That’s four works of art a week for a decade. He didn’t even get started until age 25.
Da Vinci’s journals represent one clear fact: Work was the center of his life. He had neither a spouse nor children. Picasso was a machine, churning out 12,000 works of art. He said, “Give me a museum and I’ll fill it” and made good on that boast. Shakespeare wrote more than 40 plays, plus dozens of sonnets, poems and, of course, grocery lists.
These are people who sacrificed many ordinary pleasures for their work.
The list of lazy geniuses is short. There are burnouts, suicides and unproductive years in retreat–but none could be called slackers.
Have emotional or other serious problems
For all their brilliance, most geniuses did not live well-adjusted lives. Picasso, Van Gogh, Edison, Einstein and Nietzsche (and most major modern philosophers) were often miserable. Many never married or married often, abandoned children and fought depression.
Newton and Tesla spent years in isolation by choice and had enough personality disorders to warrant cabinets full of pharmaceuticals today. Michelangelo and da Vinci quit jobs and fled cities to escape debts.
Kafka and Proust were both hypochondriacs, spending years in bed or in hospitals for medical conditions, some of which were psychological. Voltaire, Thoreau and Socrates all lived in exile or poverty, and these conditions contributed to the works they’re famous for.
Happily positive emotions can work as fuel, too. John Coltrane, C.S. Lewis and Einstein had deeply held, and mostly positive, spiritual beliefs that fueled their work.
But the real lesson is that all emotions, positive or negative, provide fuel for work and geniuses are better at converting their emotions into work than more ordinary people.
Don’t strive for fame in your own lifetime
Most people we now consider geniuses received little publicity in their lifetimes compared with the accolades heaped on them after their deaths. Kafka and Van Gogh died young, poor and with little fame.
Desiring fame in the present may spoil the talents you have. This explains why many young stars have one amazing work but never rise to the same brilliance later: They’ve lost their own opinions. Perhaps it’s best to ignore opinions except from a trusted few and concentrate on the problems you wish to solve.
To focus on learning and creating seems wise. Leave it to the world after you’re gone to decide if you were a genius or not. As long as you’re free to create in ways that satisfy your passions and a handful of fans, you’re doing better than most, including many of the people we call geniuses.

William Fitzhugh, Editor of Concord Review Presentation

William Fitzhugh, Editor of Concord Review. Varsity Academics®

QT Video
The video of this presentation is about 1 1/2 hours long. Click on the image at left to watch the video. The video will play immediately, while the file continues to download. MP3 Audio is available here.

We are pleased to have William Fitzhugh, Editor of The Concord Review, present this lecture on history research and publication of original papers by high school students.
From an interview with Education News, William Fitzhugh summarizes some items from his Madison presentation:
“A group of professors, teachers, business people, lawyers and community people invited me to speak at the University of Wisconsin in Madison about the work of The Concord Review since 1987, and about the problems of college readiness and academic writing for high school students.
The Boston Public Schools just reported that 67% of the graduating class of 2000 who had gone on to higher education had failed to earn a certificate, an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree by 2008. Also, the Strong American Schools program just reported that more than a million of our high school graduates are in remedial education in college each year.
I recommend their report: Diploma to Nowhere, which came out last summer. While many foundations, such as Gates, and others, have focused on getting our students into college, too little attention has been paid to how few are ready for college work and how many drop out without any degree.
In Madison I also had a chance to speak about the huge imbalance in our attention to scholars and athletes at the high school level. I had recently seen a nationally televised high school football game in which, at breaks in the action, an athlete would come to the sidelines, and announce, to the national audience, which college he had decided to “sign” with. This is a far cry from what happens for high school scholars. High school coaches get a lot of attention for their best athletes, but if the coach also happens to be a history teacher, he or she will hear nothing from a college in the way of interest in his or her most outstanding history student.

Continue reading William Fitzhugh, Editor of Concord Review Presentation

Obama and the War on Brains

NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
Barack Obama’s election is a milestone in more than his pigmentation. The second most remarkable thing about his election is that American voters have just picked a president who is an open, out-of-the-closet, practicing intellectual.
We can’t solve our educational challenges when, according to polls, Americans are approximately as likely to believe in flying saucers as in evolution, and when one-fifth of Americans believe that the sun orbits the Earth.
Yet times may be changing. How else do we explain the election in 2008 of an Ivy League-educated law professor who has favorite philosophers and poets?
Granted, Mr. Obama may have been protected from accusations of excessive intelligence by his race. That distracted everyone, and as a black man he didn’t fit the stereotype of a pointy-head ivory tower elitist.
An intellectual is a person interested in ideas and comfortable with complexity. Intellectuals read the classics, even when no one is looking, because they appreciate the lessons of Sophocles and Shakespeare that the world abounds in uncertainties and contradictions….

Solution for the Education Maelstrom

CNET Story on OLPC — a comment
In the comments to a CNET article discussing One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) XO computer, the commentator below perhaps hit a key point.
by tudza October 24, 2008 5:55 PM PDT
Let’s not forget that almost all the K12 classes in the U.S. get are getting a bad reputation for not teaching those students well. Switching technologies from new to old doesn’t necessarily get you any better results.
The true solution is to buy everyone Korean parents.
Korean parents for sale
You say you’re not all
That you want to be
You say you got a bad environment
Your work at school’s not going well
Korean parents for sale
You say you need a little discipline
Someone to whip you into shape
They’ll be strict but they’ll be fair
Look at the numbers
That’s all I ask
Who’s at the head of every class?
You really think
They’re smarter than you are
They just work their ***** off
Their parents make them do it

Muggles in America

Fired, Accused of Wizardry
PASCO COUNTY, Fla. — A Florida substitute teacher says his job disappeared after doing a magic trick in front of his students.
Substitute teacher Jim Piculas made a toothpick disappear, then reappear in front of a classroom at Rushe Middle School in Land O’ Lakes, Florida. The Pasco County School District says there were several other performance issues, but none compared to his “wizardry.”
“I get a call the middle of the day from head of supervisor of substitute teachers. He says, ‘Jim, we have a huge issue. You can’t take any more assignments. You need to come in right away.’ I said, ‘Well, Pat, can you explain this to me?’ ‘You’ve been accused of wizardry,'” Piculas explained.
The assistant superintendent with the district said Piculas had other issues, like not following lesson plans and allowing students to play on unapproved computers.
Piculas said he’s concerned the incident may prevent him from getting future jobs.
My take? Muggles — got to love’m! J.K. Rowlands has said the term “muggles” is derived from the English word “mug” which means a person easily fooled.

Poole council spies on family over school claim

Telegraph UK
A council has used powers intended for anti-terrorism surveillance to spy on a family who were wrongly accused of lying on a school application form.
For two weeks the middle-class family was followed by council officials who wanted to establish whether they had given a false address within the catchment area of an oversubscribed school to secure a place for their three-year-old.
The “spies” made copious notes on the movements of the mother and her three children, who they referred to as “targets” as they were trailed on school runs. The snoopers even watched the family home at night to establish where they were sleeping.
In fact, the 39-year-old mother – who described the snooping as “a grotesque invasion of privacy” – had held lengthy discussions with the council, which assured her that her school application was totally in order.
Poole borough council disclosed that it had legitimately used the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) to spy on the family.
This has led to fears that parents all over the country could be monitored by councils cracking down on those who bend the rules to get their children into a good school.
The Act was pushed through by the Government in 2000 to allow police and other security agencies to carry out surveillance on serious organised crime and terrorists. It has since been taken up by councils to catch those carrying out any “criminal activity”.
The mother, who wishes to remain anonymous, said: “I’m incensed that legislation designed to combat terrorism can be turned on a three-year-old. It was very creepy when we found out that people had been watching us and making notes.

Hunting the genes of genius

The Telegraph
Colin Blakemore,Professor of Neuroscience at the Universities of Oxford and Warwick
If we identify and eliminate the genes that cause mental disorders, do we risk destroying the rich creativity that often accompanies them?
Isaac Newton was able to work without a break for three days. Einstein took a job in a patent office because he was too disruptive to work in a university. HG Wells was so gawky and insecure at school that he had only one friend. Are these psychiatric disorders that should be treated or genius that should be cherished?
In a new book, Genius Genes, Irish psychiatrist Michael Fitzgerald argues that special forms of creativity are associated with a variety of cognitive disorders.
Fitzgerald describes how Charles de Gaulle’s Asperger’s syndrome was critical to his success as a politician. He was aloof, had a phenomenal memory, lacked empathy with other people, and was extremely controlling and dominating. He also showed signs of autistic repetitiveness and was similar in many respects to other politicians whom Fitzgerald argues also had Asperger’s, including Thomas Jefferson in the US and Enoch Powell in Britain.
The oddness of many great writers is well documented and a surprisingly high proportion of poets, in particular, had symptoms that indicate manic depression. See Touched with Fire and An Unquiet Mind
The richness of humanity and the power of our culture are, in no small way, attributable to the diversity of our minds. Do we want a world in which the creativity linked to the oddness at the fringes of normality is medicated away?

Madison United for Academic Excellence meeting on MMSD Math

The Madison United for Academic Excellence (MUAE) meeting of 21 February 2008 offered a question and answer session with Welda Simousek, TAG coordinator, Lisa Wachtel, Director of Teaching and Learning, and Brian Sniff, Math Coordinator, each of MMSD.


QT Video
The video of the meeting is about 1 hours and 30 minutes long, but does not include the last 15 minutes of a spirited discussion. Click on the image at left to watch the video. The video will play immediately, while the file continues to download.

The topics covered during remarks and the question and answer sessions are

  • Middle School Math Assessment
  • Math Task Force
  • Teacher Certifications in Math
  • Connected Math Curriculum in Middle Schools
  • High School Math Curriculum and variations among schools

The slide materials for Lisa’s and Brian’s presentation are included in Powerpoint format and PDF format. (Thanks to Brian for sending).
The handouts from this presentation (thanks to Welda): In-STEP Teacher Checklist, 2007-8 Middle School Math Assessment – Draft, Math Assessment Report.
NB: The last slides discussed during this meeting are slides numbered 15 and 16 (Math Physics, Math Chemistry, respectively). These latter slides prompted the spirited discussion mentioned above, but is not part of the video. Slides 17-19 were neither discussed nor displayed.

Pangea Day, May 10 2008


Pangea Day taps the power of film to strengthen tolerance and compassion while uniting millions of people to build a better future.
In a world where people are often divided by borders, difference, and conflict, it’s easy to lose sight of what we all have in common. Pangea Day seeks to overcome that – to help people see themselves in others – through the power of film.
On May 10, 2008 – Pangea Day – sites in Cairo, Dharamsala, Kigali, London, New York City, Ramallah, Rio de Janeiro, and Tel Aviv will be videoconferenced live to produce a 4-hour program of powerful films, visionary speakers, and uplifting music.

Mother sent stripper to school as treat

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/ (search for “stripper school”)
A schoolboy had a 16th birthday to remember after a stripper ordered by his mother turned up at his drama class.
The boy’s mother apparently booked a “gorilla” to mark her son’s big day through an agency, but a stripper turned up instead.
The woman even asked her son’s teacher at Nottingham’s Arnold Hill School and Technology College to film the event so the family could see the boy’s reaction.
The stripper, who arrived halfway through the lesson, first walked the unnamed boy around the class on all fours like a dog.
She then spanked him 16 times – once for each year – to the sound of Britney Spears, before stripping down to her bra and knickers.

Boy, do I miss the good ‘ol days.

School To Continue Electric Shock

WCVB Boston
Officials Give School One Year Extension
BOSTON — State officials are allowing a controversial special education school to use electric shock treatments on students for another year.
But the state’s Office of Health and Human Services said the extension for the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center comes with conditions.
The decision comes after an August incident in which two emotionally disturbed students were wrongly given dozens of shocks after a prank call from a person posing as a supervisor.
After the Aug. 26 call, the teens, ages 16 and 19, were awakened in the middle of the night and given the shock treatments, at times while their legs and arms were bound. One teen received 77 shocks and the other received 29. One boy was treated for two first-degree burns.

MIT Open Courseware for High Schools

From ACM Technews
MIT recently announced the completion of its OpenCourseWare project, a pioneering effort launched in 2002 to digitize classroom material for all of MIT’s 1,800 academic courses. The course material is available for free online for anyone to use.
At the completion celebration on the MIT campus in Cambridge, Mass., university President Susan Hockfield announced a new portal for OCW, one specifically designed for high school teachers and students, called “Highlights for High School.” The portal’s home page provides MIT’s introductory science, engineering, technology, and math courses, with lecturer’s notes, reading lists, exams, and other classroom information. The OCW resources, including video-taped labs, simulations, assignments, and hands-on material, have been specifically tailored to match the requirements of high school Advanced Placement studies.
Since its launch five years ago, the data on usage has been impressive. On a 50-course pilot site, an estimated 35 million users logged in, with about 15 percent being educators, 30 percent students, and the rest being what MIT calls “self learners” with no education affiliation, says OCW’s Steve Carson. The recently formed OCW Consortium has 160 member institutions creating and sharing their own course materials sites based on MIT’s model.
One of the most surprising findings is that two of MIT’s course videos, “classical mechanics” and “differential equations,” ranked in iTunes top 10 videos, at number three and number seven, respectively. “This expresses, to me, the hunger in this world for learning, and for good learning materials,” says Hockfield.
OCW Consortium
Network World Article
MIT Open Courseware For High Schools

2006 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA)

Education Week
U.S. Students Fall Short in Math and Science
Teenagers in a majority of industrialized nations taking part in a leading international exam showed greater scientific understanding than students in the United States—and they far surpassed their American peers in mathematics, in results that seem likely to add to recent consternation over U.S. students’ core academic skills.
New results from the 2006 Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, released today, show U.S. students ranking lower, on average, than their peers in 16 other countries in science, out of 30 developed nations taking part in the exam.

2006 PISA Report

Math Task Force Working Group Meeting Notice

Notice of Madison School Board Meetings
Week of November 12, 2007

Thursday, November 15
1025 West Johnson Street
Madison, WI 53706
Room 247
Math Task Force – Student Achievement and Data Working Group
9:00 a.m.
1. Introductions and Review of Agenda
2. Main Questions to be Answered by Data for the Mathematics Task Force and the Priority of the Questions
3. Data Sources and Availability
4. Necessary Resources to Produce the Needed Analyses
5. Adjournment Education Sciences Bldg.

The Math Lady

Jacquelyn Mitchard
There have been a few people, in a life cram-jammed with the opposite message, who have told my second son that he was smart.
One of them, Donna Mahr, a math tutor in our tiny town, was the first.
She died just a couple of days ago.

How many lives did she transform?
How big are the boundaries of the universe? For every child she believed in, she gave comfort to a family whose heart was broken at the core. She gave hope to a family who knew, who KNEW, that their son or daughter had gifts that didn’t fit the traditional mold….
Despite the best efforts of the rather nice public school system in our town to prevent this, our son graduated with a low B average, in part because of Donna Mahr, who was an angel before she ever got her wings.

A Different Look at NAEP 4th Grade Math

The NAEP 2007 reports leave me without real understanding of the results, and charts included in the reports do not help. Looking at the state and ethnic data in a slightly different but very simple way, information that seemed to be lacking in the official reports stand out.
For the first steps, we’ll look at only the 4th grade math scores by state.
The following is the state (jurisdiction) data by ethnic groups which I will use throughout. I’ve highlighted several of our neighboring states: Wisconsin in red, Michigan in blue, Iowa in yellow, Ohio in green, Minnesota in lavendar.
naep2007-c2-1-4.jpg
Using a simple 2-level stem and leaf plot shows a general skewed normal (bell curve) distribution for each ethnic group. Scores of the states mentioned above are in a larger font, with Wisconsin further in red. The stem portion of this chart consists of the first two digits of a state’s score (with a – or =), and the leaves are the final digit. A stem ending with – will have final digits of 0-4, a stem ending with = are for scores ending with 5-9.
The Hispanic score seems bi-modal, with the White distribution showing a slight tail on the high side, Blacks and Asian distribution showing low end tails. Asian scores show a definite tendency to score on the high end of states scores, while white scores are definitely skewed to the low end. What can be seen here also, but subtly, is there does not seem to be an overlap of the aggregated state scores for whites and blacks. For Blacks in Wisconsin generally, the chart visually represents the quality of education Wisconsin they are receiving here — very poor.
Of course, this says nothing about how well individual students did on the test — aggregation hides most information that is necessary to make data-driven decisions.
NAEP2007-c2-5.jpg
We need to spread out this chart’s distributions to detect other interesting facts.
In this 5-level stem and leaf chart, the stem values end with the symbols -, t, f, s, =, where the – bin is for scores ending with 0 or 1, t for 2 and 3, f for 4 and 5, s for 6 and 7, = for 8 and 9.
NAEP2007-c2-6.jpg
Now we can see most definitely that the distributions for blacks and whites do not overlap, that Wisconsin Black scores are way out in the tail of the distribution. Looking at the extremes of these distributions show surprising results (at least to me). Notice that DC whites score at the top and might be statistical outliers, while DC Blacks are at the opposite end and also may be statistical outliers, and the NJ Asians are at the top, but unlikely to be outliers due to the wide spread of their state average scores. (Outliers are points that are numerically distant from the main distribution).
The DC results by ethnicity for whites was surprising. Looking only at the state scores without separating by ethnicity, the distribution of points look like:
NAEP2007-c1-3.jpg
A separate calculation shows that indeed, DC is an outlier when ethnicity is ignored and is only 2 points away from being an extreme outlier. (The outlier cut-score is 224 and the extreme outlier cut-score is 212, DC score is 214).
Going back to the disaggregation by ethnicity the summary calculations are
NAEP2007-c2-7-10.jpg
The 9-Number Summaries are used to calculate outliers, and determine drift in the distributions. Each row of the summary table is a kind of percentile. Line M is the median, H represents the low and high 25%, E is the low and high 12.5%, D is the 6.25% cut point, and R represents the range lowest and highest values. (The numbers following these letter designations are the score rank at these cut points).
With a score of 212, Wisconsin Blacks score in the lower 6% of the states (D4 is 213) but this score does not make it an outlier, but that is hardly a badge of honor given how poorly all states are doing. Wisconsin Hispanics score at the median of all Hispanics with a score of 229, and Wisconsin Asians score on the cusp of the lower 25% of all Asians at 245, and Wisconsin whites score on the cusp of the upper 25% of all whites at 250.
The drift calculations (in the Median column) do not show distribution drift, but outlier calculations do show that DC whites are high-end outliers. (A little preview of the NAEP 8th grade math: NAEP numbers show that there was not enough whites in DC public schools by 8th grade to be measured — in our nation’s capital, the public schools are fully segregated?)
Surprisingly, Hawaii (HI) in the Asian category is on the cusp of being an outlier at the low end with a state score of 233.
The HI score was surprising to me since it has a very large Asian/Pacific Islander population, and I expected this ethic group to have the political power to ensure schools would function for them. However, further reading indicates that whites are the upper class and have the power, followed by people of Chinese descent. The rest, native Hawaiians, Japanese, and other Pacific Islander groups are at the bottom of the power and wealth hierarchy. Without a better ethnic categorization, the NAEP test will not show the likely educational imbalance among franchised and disenfranchised.
Continuing with the Asian/Pacific Islander category, I was surprised to see NJ as the top state. At 267, NJ is not an outlier (the cut point is 271), but it is close. An improvement of 1/3 grade level (assuming 12 points separates one grade from the next), would bring them to high-end outlier status.
Looking at the scores for Wisconsin Blacks, it’s quite clear that Wisconsin (Milwaukee schools primarily?) are doing very poorly for Blacks. It’s not just a matter of how the scores rank among states, but how Wisconsin fits within the distribution of all states. The data above shows not only low rank but Wisconsin Blacks are educated with far below the efforts of other states, represented by the main body of the distribution.

Board of Education Candidate Forum of March 27, 2007

Board of Education Candidate Forum of March 27, 2007 was held in the cafeteria of Leopold School.

QT Video
The video of the meeting is 160MB, and 1 hour and 50 minutes long. Click on the image at left to watch the video.
The video contains chapter headings which allow quick navigation to sections of the meeting. The video will play immediately, while the file continues to download.
Moderator: Laura Croft of the Middleton League of Women Voters
Panelists: (from left to right)
       Rick Thomas and Beth Moss,        vying for Seat 3
       Maya Cole and Marj Passman,      vying for Seat 5
       Johnny Winston and Tom Brew,      vying for Seat 4
The topics and questions covered are

  • Opening statements
  • Given that funding for TAG is again being cut, how would you raise money to support such programs?
  • How would you help coordinate the various PTO’s and other community groups to improve school effectiveness?
  • How would you reduce the educational gap between poorer performing kids and more the successful without holding back the more successful kids?
  • The MMSD Administration is proposing to cut SAGE, how would you vote on this proposal and why?
  • Should community service be required of students before graduation?
  • More and more families are leaving the school district because their children are not being academically challenged. How would you deal with this issue?
  • What is your plan to handle the growth in the Leopold-Thoreau area?
  • Shorewood and Fitchburg parent coalitions are being formed to discuss creating their own school districts. Why are these parents so upset?
  • Since the average employee costs the district $50 per hour, shouldn’t the budget gap remedy include employee wage and benefit sacrifices?
  • If you do not want to close schools, where else would you cut, and would that include school athletics?
  • Closing statements.

Out-of-Favor Reading Plan Rated Highly

Education Week
Reading Recovery, a popular one-to-one tutoring program that Bush administration officials sought to shut out of a high-profile federal reading program, has gotten a rare thumbs-up from the federal What Works Clearinghouse.
“I think this is good news for all the school superintendents who kept Reading Recovery alive in their schools,” said Jady Johnson, the executive director of the Reading Recovery Council of North America, a nonprofit group based in Worthington, Ohio. “I’m hoping this report will signal a change in direction for the [U.S. Education] Department.”
In the What Works review, posted online March 20, the clearinghouse said the program had “positive” effects—the highest evidence rating possible—on students’ alphabetic skills and general reading achievement. The reviewers also determined that the program had “potentially positive” effects, its next-highest rating, on reading fluency and comprehension.
That’s high praise from the clearinghouse, which the Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences created in 2002 to vet research on “what works” in education. So few education studies meet the clearinghouse’s tough research-quality criteria that some critics have dubbed it the “nothing works” clearinghouse.
On the clearinghouse’s “improvement index,” a measure used to provide a common metric on program effects, researchers found that the average 1st grader who completed Reading Recovery could be expected to score 32 percentile points higher in general reading achievement than similar students not in the program.
Yet some of the program’s early critics said in interviews last week that many of their original concerns remained.
“I never said Reading Recovery is ineffective,” said Jack M. Fletcher, one of 32 researchers who signed a widely circulated 2002 letter critiquing the program. “The real issue with Reading Recovery is the idea that it has to be done individually, when there’s a substantial research base on small-group interventions that shows there’s no drop-off in effectiveness.”

What Works Reading Recovery Report

WSJ Endorses Rick Thomas

WSJ Endorse Thomas for Seat 3
Rick Thomas has run a successful business.
He understands the importance of serving customers. He has made decisions about which employees, equipment and services he can afford and which he can’t afford.
He also understands and appreciates schools. He has been a substitute teacher and a volunteer tutor. He is a father with a son in elementary school.
His concern for Madison schools, enlightened by his business sense, would make him a valuable addition to the School Board.
He proposes more cost-benefit analyses to weed out unsuccessful programs.
He also proposes to improve discipline in the classrooms to create an environment more conducive to learning.
In addition, he wants the School Board and administration to be more open to parents’ ideas and to more partnerships with parents, businesses and community organizations, as well as more involvement by the schools in the community, particularly through student public service projects.

Teachers Reclaiming Assessment Through Rethinking Accountability

Chris Gallagher
THE EDUCATION report card for my home state of Nebraska in the spring of 1999 was mixed, according to Education Week. While children in the state ranked among the top 10 nationally in most academic categories, Nebraska nonetheless garnered only a C. Why? Largely because it does not administer statewide, standardized assessments and so is “lagging behind” in accountability. Both those reporting this verdict and most of the state and local officials receiving it seem to be resigned to it as a sure but unsurprising sign that we have more work to do to “catch up” with the rest of the country. It does not seem to strike most observers as odd that, although students’ performance is high, the state’s marks are only average. Until Nebraska develops statewide tests, it will continue to receive low grades, irrespective of what our students are doing. This kind of press may well propel the state to abandon its long-held commitment to local assessment and fall in line with the national movement toward state standardized tests.
This report and its handling demonstrate the extent to which educational tests have become “common sense.” To use a term proposed by Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci, educational testing is “hegemonic” — that is, it manufactures consent by presenting itself (or being represented as) “obvious.” Although standardized tests came under intense fire for a short time in the 1970s, we have returned to this practice with a fervor perhaps greater than at any other time since schools in the United States began making extensive use of standardized tests in the 1930s. Even many educators who have long understood the limitations and outright injustices of standardized testing and the testing industry claim that the time has passed when resistance to testing is useful.
I think it is dangerous to be too sanguine about the prospects for reforming the assessment community and disrupting the commonsense script for education reform, in which schools are cast as damsels in distress, remote experts are cast as heroic saviors, and teachers are written out of the production altogether. We need to confront the fact that, finally, the persistence of the “crisis in education” is attributable in large part to two factors: the profit margins of the testing industry that maintains the crisis and the cultural distrust of teachers that the testing industry, along with the political and education establishments, endorses.
But the testing industry has been able to secure a spot in our cultural imagination and our stock exchanges not only because of the business acumen of its leaders (though that is part of it), but also because it plays to and plays up our cultural distrust of teachers. The corporate establishment, led by the political Right, works hard to create a “public” of concerned taxpayers: those who want to be sure that their “investments” in children pay off. Neoconservative columnists play to this audience constantly, stoking the fires of educational crisis and inspiring suspicions about the competence of our public school teachers…. This distrust is carefully nurtured to keep the present educational power structure intact: remote “experts” (the capitalists) develop educational tests and prepackaged curricula and send them off to school administrators (the managers), who then ensure that teachers (the workers) faithfully execute those plans. Students (the products) are thus shaped to the specifications of experts whom they will never meet and who may never have set foot in a classroom.
In other words, whatever the gains of movements like the one for authentic assessment, the prevailing wisdom about education reform has it that reform must be top down, not inside out. Underlying our embrace of the assessment industry and our cultural distrust of teachers is a fundamental belief that what’s missing in education today is “efficiency” and that the best way to ensure efficiency is to set up a corporate structure in which teachers are held accountable to corporate CEOs. What’s good for General Motors . . .

Bill Cosby talks about what teachers need to do better.

Teacher Magazine:
Published: January 1, 2007
Tough Love
Bill Cosby talks about what teachers need to do better.
By Denise Kersten Wills
Bill Cosby made headlines in October when he urged teachers to do a better job of explaining to students the importance of the subjects they teach.
—Erinn
The comedian, best known as the beloved Dr. Huxtable from TV’s long-running hit The Cosby Show, has been outspoken in recent years about what the black community needs to do to close the racial achievement gap.
The Cos isn’t a classroom veteran, but neither is he a stranger to education—he holds master’s and doctorate degrees in the field.
We followed up with Cosby and asked him to explain his remarks.
Recent newspaper accounts said you had attacked teachers for not doing enough to help kids.
They heard me, but they didn’t print what I did. What came out was, ‘Well, he’s at it again, and now he’s after the teachers.’
Subscription Required

Teacher Excellence and the Reality of Teaching

Message from the Vice President, AERA
November 14, 2006
Christine Sleeter
California State University, Monterey Bay
christine_sleeter@csumb.edu
Being a teacher educator these days can be a strange experience. Over the past several months, I have given numerous presentations depicting teaching as intellectually challenging, complex work. Using case studies of teachers in diverse classrooms, I have argued that learning to teach well is complicated, partly because excellent teachers know how to engage their students in thinking deeply about things that matter, while embedding the teaching of skills and basic content in broader ideas and problems that have relevance to their students. Ron Berger’s descriptions of teaching and learning in An Ethic of Excellence are not only brilliant and inspiring, but helpful illustrations of what classroom teaching and learning can be.
As teacher educators, this is the kind of teaching we try to promote. Linda Darling-Hammond’s most recent book Powerful Teacher Education develops excellent portraits of the best in preservice teacher education. [Highlights Alverno College in Milwaukee – LJW]. In New Zealand, the Ministry of Education has been sponsoring an Iterative Best Evidence Syntheses program, connecting research on teaching to diverse students’ learning, and to teacher professional development. For example, professional development linked to enhanced children’s learning incorporates teachers’ knowledge and skills, provides theoretical content knowledge related to practice, involves teachers in analyzing data from their own settings, and engages them in critical reflection that stretches their thinking and challenges their assumptions most recent issue of Harvard Educational Review, Betty Achinstein and Rod Ogawa examine two cases of beginning teachers whose students were out-scoring those of their peers on state tests, but who were pushed out of their teaching positions because of their refusal to follow the script.
What is going on here? It is true that teacher education as a whole has not done nearly as well as it could in preparing teachers to teach all students well. At the same time, reducing learning to teach to learning to follow a script greatly shortchanges what teaching and learning could be. It is ironic that teaching has become exceedingly prescribed and determined at a time when the U.S. is aggressively exporting its version of democracy and personal liberty. Not only is tolerance for diverse perspectives currently the lowest it has been in my lifetime, but support for intellectual inquiry and creativity in education seems to have disappeared.
To prompt consciousness-raising, curriculum theorist Thomas Poetter wrote a novel, The Education of Sam Sanders. Set in about 2030, it tells the story of a student who rebelled against rote learning and test preparation because he wanted to read whole books of his own choosing. His rebellion awakened some teachers’ memories of a time when teaching and learning involved harnessing reading, writing, and math skills to explore interdisciplinary themes of significance to the lives of students. Books that had been banned were brought out of a locked vault. Teachers began working collaboratively to design engaging curricula. You’ll have to read the book to find out what happened.
I believe it is essential that we demand more for students. In part, this means demanding more from our own teacher education programs. Our work as teacher educators needs to be grounded in the realities of the diverse students who populate classrooms today. But rather than acquiescing to formulas and scripts, we must re-invigorate a vision of, in the words of Maria de la Luz Reyes and John Halcón, The Best for our Children.

West High School PTSO Meeting of 08-Jan-2007

The West High School PTSO met on January 8, 2007 with featured guest West teacher Heather Lott,
coordinator for the Small Learning Community grant implementation. The video below only includes Heather Lott’s presentation and questions that followed. It does not include other portions of the meeting such as Dr. Holmes report of the West Principal, nor reports from West PTSO officers.
The video QT Video of the meeting is 117MB, and 1 hour and 27 minutes long. Click on the image at left to watch the video. The video contains chapter headings which allow quick navigation to sections of the meeting. The video will play immediately, while the file continues to download.
Lott presented an overview of the three-year Federal SLC grant (Year 1, 2003-2004; Year 2, 2004-2005; Year 3, 2005-2006), what changes were begun in the year prior and the changes and goals for the 2006-2007 school year, post-SLC grant. She emphasized that the SLC plan would take 7 years to “complete” and that the remaining 4 years would need to be funded. The 3 year federal grant paid her salary and for professional development only. Budget cuts for the 2006-2007 year and continuing fiscal problems in the district will hamper making the desired progress.
When asked how much, minimally, West would need make acceptable progress in the implementation of the SLC plan, Dr. Holmes suggested $20,000.
She also presented data showing discipline improvements and academic achievement improvements over the SLC years.
Discussions also included the topics of differentiation and heterogeneity, and general discussions from parents of incoming West students on the social aspects of the small learning communities.
Slides for Heather Lott’s presentation are in PowerPoint and PDF for your convenience.

Fame Junkies

Jake Halpern
Recently profiled on ABC’s 20/20, the soon-to-be published book Fame Junkies highlights anecdotes and research on the attitudes of American kids (and adults) regarding fame.

Fame Junkies chronicles journalist Jake Halpern’s journey through the underbelly of Hollywood and into the heart of the question that bedevils us all: Why are Americans so obsessed with fame and celebrities?
We live in a country where more people watch the ultimate competition for celebrityhood – American Idol – than watch the nightly news on the three major networks combined. So what are the implications of this phenomenon? In his new book, Fame Junkies, Halpern explores the impact that celebrity-obsession is having on three separate niches of Americans: aspiring celebrities, entourage insiders, and diehard fans.
Halpern begins his journey by moving into a gated community inhabited almost entirely by aspiring child actors. During his stay, he interviews dozens of kids and teenagers, who seem to have an almost religious conviction that fame is a cure-all for life’s problems. What’s truly impressive is that these anecdotes are then supported with hard evidence. As part of the extensive research that he did for this book, Halpern teamed up with several statisticians and orchestrated a survey involving three separate school systems and over 650 teenagers. Many of his findings were deeply troubling. For example – when given the option of “pressing a magic button” and becoming stronger, smarter, famous, or more beautiful – boys in the survey chose fame almost as often as they chose intelligence, and girls chose it more often. Among today’s teenagers, says Halpern, fame appears to be the greatest good.
In second part of his book, Halpern becomes an honorary member of the Association for Celebrity Personal Assistants (ACPA) where he spends a great deal of time with Annie Brentwell who has slavishly devoted every iota of her personal and professional life to celebrities like Oliver Stone, Sharon Stone, and (most recently) Dennis Hopper. In her spare time, when she is not serving Hopper, Brentwell teaches at a school that the ACPA runs to teach aspiring assistants; and, of course, Halpern tags along. This section of Fame Junkies also investigates a fascinating vein of psychological research on what type of people are most likely to “bask in reflected glory” or BIRG. For example, college students with low self-esteem are far more likely to embrace their school’s football team when it wins and dissociating themselves from that same team when it loses. Halpern goes on to consider how BIRG research applies to Hollywood.

Video Games/Computers for Children a No-No

Baby Frankenstein — Forbes
Jane Healy, an educational psychologist and author of Failure to Connect: How Computers Affect Our Children’s Minds and What We Can Do About It doesn’t agree that video games and computers for children will give them a leg-up in the competitive world of the 21st Century. “Behind the big push to get kids onto computers is this idea that if we don’t, they won’t become functional members of the 21st century,” she says. “That’s not only false, it’s dangerous.”
In Healy’s opinion, electronic gaming at a young age can lead to shorter attention spans, a lack of internal motivation, difficulty with problem solving and a lack of creativity. She thinks kids should avoid computers entirely until the age of 7.
But while harried parents may love the videos, to suggest that it therefore means they’re good for kids is like suggesting that Coca-Cola (nyse: KO – news – people ) is a health drink because millions of customers love it.
Good learning games, on the other hand, can be simple and cheap. A game of jump rope, for example, promotes fitness, coordination and social skills, while basic board games like Hasbro’s (nyse: HAS – news – people ) Candy Land and Snakes and Ladders teach children about rules and consequences.
So, by all means, give your kids a leg up on learning when picking out their gifts this year. But consider doing so with a set of blocks, a board game or a jump rope.

Rigorous Evidence in Educational Practices

U.S. Department of Education – Research, Statistics and Publications
In reading studies, reports, and especially, journalists’ impressions and advocacy articles, the paper entitled Identifying and Implementing Educational Practices Supported By Rigorous Evidence: A User Friendly Guide should be required reading.
It is a well-written 28-page summary of good research design and the problems that can and do occur and the inappropriate conclusions drawn from poorly-designed and implemented research.
It should certainly stop all of us from merely repeating opinions and articles as though they were true, even when they support our own prejudices.
I’m reminded of a quote (paraphrased), I believe from John Tukey: “You can lie with statistics, but you can’t tell the truth without statistics.”
Quoting from the Executive Summary of this report:
Purpose and Executive Summary
This Guide seeks to provide educational practitioners with user-friendly tools to distinguish practices supported by rigorous evidence from those that are not.

The field of K-12 education contains a vast array of educational interventions – such as reading and math curricula, schoolwide reform programs, after-school programs, and new educational technologies – that claim to be able to improve educational outcomes and, in many cases, to be supported by evidence. This evidence often consists of poorly-designed and/or advocacy-driven studies. State and local education officials and educators must sort through a myriad of such claims to decide which interventions merit consideration for their schools and classrooms. Many of these practitioners have seen interventions, introduced with great fanfare as being able to produce dramatic gains, come and go over the years, yielding little in the way of positive and lasting change – a perception confirmed by the flat achievement results over the past 30 years in the National Assessment of Educational Progress long-term trend.
The federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, and many federal K-12 grant programs, call on educational practitioners to use “scientifically-based research” to guide their decisions about which interventions to implement. As discussed below, we believe this approach can produce major advances in the effectiveness of American education. Yet many practitioners have not been given the tools to distinguish interventions supported by scientifically-rigorous evidence from those which are not. This Guide is intended to serve as a user-friendly resource that the education practitioner can use to identify and implement evidence-based interventions, so as to improve educational and life outcomes for the children they serve.

    Table of Contents:

  1. Title Page
  2. Coalition Board of Advisors
  3. Purpose and Executive Summary
  4. Identifying and Implementing Educational Practices Supported By Rigorous Evidence: A User Friendly Guide
  5. I. The randomized controlled trial: What it is, and why it is a critical factor in establishing “strong” evidence of an intervention’s effectiveness.
  6. II. How to evaluate whether an intervention is backed by “strong” evidence of effectiveness.
  7. III. How to evaluate whether an intervention is backed by “possible” evidence of effectiveness.
  8. IV. Important factors to consider when implementing an evidence-based intervention in your schools or classrooms.
  9. Appendix A: Where to find evidence-based interventions
  10. Appendix B: Checklist to use in evaluating whether an intervention is backed by rigorous evidence
  11. References

Madison United for Academic Excellence, 12-December-2006 Presentation

The Madison United for Academic Excellence (MUAE) meeting of 12-December-2006 offered a Question and Answer session with Madison Director of Teaching and Learning, Lisa Wachtel, and Brian Sniff, District K-12 Math Coordinator.
A list of questions was prepared and given to the speakers in advance so they could address the specific concerns of parents.

The video

QT Video
of the meeting is 130MB, and 1 hour and 30 minutes long. Click on the image at left to watch the video.
The video contains chapter headings which allow quick navigation to sections of the meeting. The video will play immediately, while the file continues to download.

The topics covered during remarks and the question and answer sessions were accompanied by a PowerPoint presentation (here in PDF format), highlights of which are

  • Changing demographics in the school district
  • Listing of Superintendent’s Goals for comprehensive review, as set by the Board of Education
  • K-5 Math Standards, Resources, and role of Teaching and Learning
  • Professional development for K-5 teachers
  • 5th Grade Math Assessment Pilot project for advanced students
  • Middle school math, 6th to 8th grade
  • Math certification of middle school math teachers, with an extended discussion of the statistic that only 5% of middle school math teachers are math certified,
    comparing Wisconsin to bordering states
  • WKCE tests and testing in general
  • Discussion by audience of recent studies and trends in math preparation for college

Video of 29-Nov-2006 MUAE Meeting with Supt. Rainwater

The Madison United for Academic Excellence (MUAE) meeting of 29-November-2006 offered a question and answer session with Madison Superintendent Art Rainwater.
After opening remarks by Jeff Henriques, the Superintendent summarized his goals, rationale and approach to the high school redesign project, and discussed
his prior experience as a teacher and principal.

The video

QT Video
of the meeting is 183MB, and 1 hours and 30 minutes long. Click on the image at left to watch the video.
The video contains chapter headings which allow quick navigation to sections of the meeting. The video will play immediately, while the file continues to download.

The topics covered during remarks and the question and answer session are

  • Assessment, differentiation, grouping, school redesign
    • Differentiation training in elementary school
    • Investment in training, coaching, Teaching and Learning
  • What to do when teacher refuses to differentiate.
  • Evaluating Teachers
  • Student assessment and WKCE
  • Maintaining quality control and teacher skills
  • Lighthouse schools
  • Differentiation in Math
  • Limits of flexible grouping
  • View of NCLB
  • Math curriculum and its evaluation
  • Evaluating differentiation
  • Assessing high achieving students
  • NCLB and the growth model
  • West English 9 and 10
  • Using WKCE to inform instruction

Supt. Rainwater requests reinstatement of Reading First grant funds

MMSD
Feds seek Reading First probe
by Joe Quick, Legislative Liaison/Communication Specialist
Sens. Herb Kohl and Russ Feingold, along with Rep. Tammy Baldwin have requested that the U.S. Department of Education investigate Madison Schools’ loss of an estimated $3.2 million after the district refused to dismantle its successful reading program two years ago, and seek to have the grant re-instated.
A scathing internal audit this fall claimed that USDOE officials managing the $1 billion program knowingly broke the law with unethical practices surrounding the program. In a letter to the above named members of Congress, Supt. Art Rainwater said, “In light of the government audit of the federal Reading First program contending that USDOE ignored the law and violated ethical standards to steer money the way it wanted, I am asking that you request reinstatement of the lost resources to the Madison Metropolitan School District due to USDOE’s faulty conclusions that the audit makes obvious.”
In a letter to Terrell Halaska , USDOE assistant secretary for legislative and Congressional affairs, the Wisconsin Congressional members said, “The report from the Office of Inspector General questions the program’s credibility and implies the Department broke the law by interfering in the curriculum decisions made by schools, thereby failing to follow proper grant review procedures.
“We would appreciate your review and investigation of the concerns expressed by the Madison Metropolitan School District. Specifically, they are seeking reinstatement of lost federal resources to the Madison Schools from the Reading First program.”
The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (now referred to as No Child Left Behind) is before Congress for reauthorization in 2007. Discussion of Reading First is sure to be part of Congress’ examination of needed modifications to the law.

Board of Education meeting of 30-Oct-2006

The October 30, 2006 Board of Education met to discuss a series of resolutions, and approve the final 2006-07 MMSD Budget, and approve the AFSCME Local 60 contract.

QT Video
The video of the meeting is 210MB, and 2 hours and 30 minutes long. Click on the image at left to watch the video. The video contains chapter headings which allow quick navigation to sections of the meeting. The video will play immediately, while the file continues to download.
Public Appearances
There was a public appearance by Barbara Lewis who expressed concern over the apparent change in policy of MMSD in granting high school credit for courses taken at the University of Wisconsin Madison. Both Superintendent Art Rainwater and Director of Alternative Programs Steve Hartley discussed the issues with the Board and clarified that the policy statement which Ms. Lewis had received, and which apparently was being misinterpreted by some high school staff referred only to Independent Study. The Board, noting confusion of parents, school staff and themselves, requested that these issues be placed on the Board agenda as soon as possible.
Agenda Item #4
Resolution supporting expenditures for school security be placed outside the revenue caps.
Agenda Item #5
Resolution supporting language by the Superintendent and other superintendents that the State adopt the Adequacy Model for school funding.
Agenda Item #6 – Discussion and Approval of 2006-2007 Budget
This portion of the meeting begins at approximately 20 minutes into the meeting and continues until the Board votes to approve the tax levy amount at 2 hours into the meeting. Final approval of the full budget is rescheduled for a later meeting. The discussions included issues of fund equity, the fund reserve, the unexpected decrease of State support, liquidation of earnings on Chavez building funds, changes in the budget necessary to offset decrease in State support, and the minimum decisions the Board needed to make to meet budget deadline.
Agenda Item #7
Approval of the AFSCME Local 60 contract, in which the District and Union agree to a health care package containing only HMOs, saving the District significant healthcare costs, in exchange for a generous wage increase.

Mosquito RingTones

On a humorous note from Mulitmedia and Internet
Cell phones may be ringing in your classroom—and you may not be able to hear them.
A new cell phone ringtone that may only be heard by the young has been created from a high-pitched sound originally developed to keep groups of young people from congregating in public places.
The “ultrasonic youth deterrent for shops and homes” was developed in the U.K. by Compound Security Systems in an effort to “disperse gangs of youngsters hanging around the streets,” without affecting older generations. Nimble technologists decided the sound would make a perfect ringtone in situations where the young wouldn’t want older folks to know that phones were ringing—places like classrooms, for example.
Bootleg versions of the sound as ringtone were becoming so popular that Compound Security Systems developed Mosquitotone, the official Mosquito ringtone. In the U.S., Mosquitotone is available at http://www.fork.com/, currently only for mp3-compatible phones. Additional formats are expected soon.

Reading First: The Lie of Robert Sweet of Errors and Misconceptions in Washtington Post

Trying to find the truth in education, like in most areas in American society, is fraught with dilemma — most public commentors are either incompetent or bald-faced liars.

Robert W. Sweet, Jr. likely falls into both categories.

See previous posts of regarding his comments on this site, and his letter to the Washington Post here. Robert Sweet’s title is Former Professional Staff Member Committee on Education and the Workforce, U.S. House of Representatives Committee Staffer for the Reading First law.

First, let’s place all this into context. The Inspector General’s Reading First report (hereafter IGRF), published September 2006, audited the Reading First Grant Application Process and reported problems. Michael Grunwald of the Washington Post wrote an article about the IGRF Report, and Robert Sweet responded to the Grunwald article in a letter to the Washington Post editor. The crux of the Sweet letter was to allege, point-by-point, each significant error made the Grunwald in his article interpreting the IGRF findings.

I’m not going to review either Grunwald’s article nor Sweet’s response point-by-point, and I have not read or studied the IGRF fully, so I’m not prepared to do so. To prove Robert Sweet a liar will only require comparing one, his first, claim of “error” he’s alleged with the actual language of the IGRF.

Here is Sweet’s first alleged error by Grunwald.

1. Grunwald: “The Reading First panels that oversaw state applications were stacked with department officials and other phonics fans.”
Correction: Department officials were not on panels that judged state applications.

Sweet’s comment shows his art of misdirection — his “correction” does not refute Grunwald’s interpretation. It’s true that Department officials were not on the panels, but as the IGRF details, quoted below, it was the Department officials who actually judged the applications from the States’ perspective.
Let’s read the actual language of the IGRF report, at length (with minimal editting).

Continue reading Reading First: The Lie of Robert Sweet of Errors and Misconceptions in Washtington Post

School Improvement Rubrics

School Improvements, desired by all of us, need financial resources, but primarily, the need is for a quality strategic and measureable plans and goals. Ed Blume has posted a few such rubrics from Victoria Bernhardt. He has not received much input on these worthy rubrics. See.
That was certainly my experience also, as I posted a full Excel spreadsheet of Bernhardt’s rubrics on this site back in August 21, 2005.
I will continue with three more school improvement rubrics from Bernhardt: Continuous Improvement, Information and Analysis, and Student Achievement.
Bernhardt’s rubrics allows one to subjectively rate each of these measures on Approach, Implementation and Outcome on a scale of 1 to 5.
The above three rubrics add to this important list. These rubrics are based on measuring individual schools, and so those with more intimate knowledge of a particular school will be better able to evaluate these rubrics, but using these rubrics to evaluate the District would also be useful. I think finding such raters, at the school level, will be nigh impossible because what I perceive to be the very closed nature of the school administration at MMSD as a whole.
To start the exercise, look at Continuous Improvement.
Level ONE

Approach: Neither goals nor strategies exist for the evaluation and continuous improvement of the school organization or for elements of the school organization.
Implementation: With no overall plan for evaluation and continuous improvement, strategies are changed by individual teachers and administrators only when something sparks the need to improve. Reactive decisions and activities are a daily mode of operation.
Outcome: Individuals struggle with system failure. Finger pointing and blaming others for failure occurs. The effectiveness of strategies is not known. Mistakes are repeated.

Level TWO:

Approach: The approach to continuous improvement and evaluation is problems solving. If there are no problems, or if solutions can be made quickly, there is no need for improvement or analyses. Changes in part of the system are not coordinated with all other parts.
Implementation: Isolated changes are made in some areas of the school organization in response to problem incidents. Changes are not preceded by comprehensive analyses, such as an understanding of the root causes of problems. The effectiveness of the elements of the school organization, or changes made to the elements, is not known.
Outcome: Problems are solved only temporarily and few positive changes results. Additionally, unintended and undesirable consequences often appear in other parts of the system. Many aspects of the school are incongruent, keeping the school from reaching its vision.

Level THREE:

Approach: Some elements of the school organization are evaluated for effectiveness. Some elements are improved on the basis of the evaluation findings.
Implementation: Elements of the school organization are improved on the basis of comprehensive analyses of root causes of problems, client perceptions, and operational effectiveness of processes.
Outcome: Evidence of effective improvement strategies is observable. Positive changes are made and maintained due to comprehensive analyses and evaluation.

Level Four:

Approach: All elements of the school’s operations are evaluated for improvement and to ensure congruence of the elements with respect to the confirmation of students’ learning experience.
Implementation: Continuous improvement analyses of student achievement and instructional strategies are rigorously reinforced within each classroom and across learning levels to develop a comprehensive learning continuum for students and to prevent student failure.
Outcome: Teachers become astute at assessing and in predicting the impact of their instructional strategies on individual student achievement. Sustainable improvements in student achievement are evident at all grade levels, due to continuous improvement.

Level FIVE:

Approach: All aspects of the school organization are rigorously evaluated and improved on a continuous basis. Students, and the maintenance of a comprehensive learning continuum for students, become the focus of all aspects of the school improvement process.
Implementation: Comprehensive continuous improvement becomes the way of doing business at the school. Teachers continuously improve the appropriateness and effectiveness of instructional strategies based on student feedback and performance. All aspects of the school organization are improved to support teachers’ efforts.
Outcome: The school becomes a congruent and effective learning organization. Only instruction and assessment strategies that produce quality student achievement are used. A true continuum of learning results for all students.

*****
Now, on this one measure called Continuous Improvement, how would you rate the Board of Education, MMSD, and one or more individual schools that you are familiar with?

Private School Parents Control Board

Destroying Public Schools
New York Times
September 16, 2006
At Odds Over Schools
By BRUCE LAMBERT
LAWRENCE, N.Y.
[This] school district has been changing, house by house, as Orthodox Jewish families have flocked here over the last two decades, gradually at first and then in growing numbers.
While not yet a majority, the Orthodox have nonetheless emerged as the dominant force in a clash of cultures. And the front line in this battle is Lawrence’s once highly regarded public school system.
In each of the last four years, Orthodox voters mobilized to defeat the school budget — one of the longest losing streaks on Long Island. Then in July, they took charge of the school board, though few of the Orthodox send their children to public schools. Out of seven seats, the new majority consists of four Orthodox members and one ally.
[M]any of this district’s Orthodox residents object to paying school taxes that average about $6,000 per home for a system they do not use. Their leaders also complain that more public money should be channeled to the Orthodox day schools, which by law are limited to tax-financed busing, books and special education services.
“We feel invaded,” said an Atlantic Beach delicatessen customer, a self-described non-Orthodox Jew and activist parent who declined to give her name. “We don’t mind them being here, but taking over and shutting down the school system is not the right thing.” (Atlantic Beach is part of the Lawrence school district.)
Experts who track expanding Orthodox neighborhoods around the nation say the conflict in Lawrence has far-reaching implications.
“Other communities are watching Lawrence very closely, for fear they may be next,” said Prof. William B. Helmreich, the director of the Center for Jewish Studies at Queens College. Orthodox adherents “are cohesive, they marshal forces and vote as a bloc,” he said. “It could happen anywhere.”
It has already happened in Rockland County, where Orthodox residents control the East Ramapo school board. Similar strains have arisen over the schools and other services in Lakewood, N.J., home to a large Orthodox population.
“It’s ominous,” said Steven Sanders, a former New York City assemblyman who was chairman of the State Assembly’s Education Committee. “This is not going to be an isolated situation. This is a worrisome trend. The common thread is not religion. The common thread is people who don’t feel invested in educating other people’s children. What do you do when a community is significantly comprised of individuals who don’t have a stake in public schools when they’re already spending for private schools? It’s a fracturing of the social compact.”

SIS Forum on Education and Immigration

School Information System’s Forum on Immigration and Education, May 24, 2006.
The video QT Video of the meeting is 85MB and 60 minutes long. Click on the image at left to watch the video. The video contains chapter headings which allow quick navigation to each topic.
Moderator Rafael Gomez introduces Joe Nigh, Counselor at East High School; Father Mike Moon, Catholic priest, serving the parishes of Holy Redeemer and St. Joseph, and also working at the Catholic Multicultural Center; Alfonso Cepeda Capistran, educational specialist with DPI – Migrant Education, appearing as an active community member, and former President of Latinos United for Change and Advancement; and, Jose Calixto, UW student and Co-President of MECha (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan), a UW-Madison student organization.
The discussion covers the following topics:

  • Demographics of Madison Latino population
  • Changing Demographics Statewide: Impact of NAFTA, decline of family farms, rise of corporate, import of labor
  • The Legal Landscape
  • Moral and Human Costs

Common Ground In Math Wars

“Finding Common Ground in the U.S. Math Wars”, Science Magazine, May 19, 2006 describes the 18-month effort initiated by Richard Schaar, mathematician and former president of Texas Instruments, to bridge the gap between professional mathematicians, and math educators. Leaving many issues still to be addressed, the following is their initial statements:


Fundamental Premises
All students must have a solid grounding in mathematics to function effectively in today’s world. The need to improve the learning of traditionally underserved groups of students is widely recognized; efforts to do so must continue. Students in the top quartile are underserved in different ways; attention to improving the quality of their learning opportunities is equally important. Expectations for all groups of students must be raised. By the time they leave high school, a majority of students should have studied calculus.

  • Basic skills with numbers continue to be vitally important for a variety of everyday uses. They also provide crucial foundation for the higher-level mathematics essential for success in the workplace which must now also be part of a basic education. Although there may have been a time when being to able to perform extensive paper-and-pencil computations mechanically was sufficient to function in the workplace, this is no longer true. Consequently, today’s students need proficiency with computational procedures. Proficiency, as we use the term, includes both computational fluency and understanding of the underlying mathematical ideas and principles.
  • Mathematics requires careful reasoning about precisely defined objects and concepts. Mathematics is communicated by means of a powerful language whose vocabulary must be learned. The ability to reason about and justify mathematical statements is fundamental, as is the ability to use terms and notation with appropriate degrees of precision. By precision, we mean the use of terms and symbols, consistent with mathematical definitions, in ways appropriate for students at particular grade levels. We do not mean formality for formality’s sake.
  • Students must be able to formulate and solve problems. Mathematical problem solving includes being able to (a) develop a clear understanding of the problem that is being posed; (b) translate the problem from everyday language into a precise mathematical question; (c) choose and use appropriate methods to answer the question; (d) interpret and evaluate the solution in terms of the original problem, and (e) understand that not all questions admit mathematical solutions and recognize problems that cannot be solved mathematically.

For further elaboration, see Common Ground


Last month, NCTM (National Coucil of Teachers of Mathematics) endorsed a short list of skills, by grade, that every grade and middle school student must master. These “Curriculum Focal Points” are an attempt to correct the “mile-wide, inch-deep” curricula in most schools, which leave most student incapable and ill-prepared for further work in mathematics, science and engineering disciplines. The Focal Points document has not be published at this time.


But, to place these “improvements” into perspective, no one expects these initiative to make improvements by themselves. Further, UC-Berkeley Math Prof Hung-Hsi Wu says “Better mathematics education won’t take place in the next 10 years, I think it will take 30 years.”

Students’ lawsuit threats kept secret

Katherine Goodloe of Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Reports:
Federal agency decides in Cedarburg case that releasing documents violated privacy rights.
Cedarburg – The next time a student threatens to sue a public school district, taxpayers probably won’t know anything about it.
That’s because the entire process can be kept secret unless the dispute enters a courtroom, after the U.S. Department of Education found that releasing notices of claim filed by two students in the Cedarburg School District violated federal student privacy rights. The finding directly conflicts with the state’s long-standing practice that such notices – which serve as precursors to lawsuits – are considered public documents.
more….

Northside Candidate Forum of 30-Mar-2006

The Northside Coalition sponsored a Candidate Forum on March 30, 2006 at the Warner Park Community Center.
The video of the forum QT Video is 170MB and 1 hour 50 minutes long. Click on the image at left to watch the video. The video will begin to play almost immediately so you can watch the forum as it continues to download; at DSL speeds, you should not experience any disruptions. The video contains chapter headings which allow quick navigation to each section and question asked (after that portion of the video has been downloaded), so you will be able to quickly view those portions of interest to you.
The candidates are, from left to right, Maya Cole and Arlene Silveira, vying for Seat 1, and Juan Lopez and Lucy Mathiak, vying for Seat 2.
One caveat. I was unsuccessful in my attempt to have the forum preceedings paused to allow me to change video tapes. Therefore, there is a 30 second gap in the video during the public questions portion, wherein a question was asked concerning the Reading Recovery program. The question itself was not recorded, and only a portion of Arlene Silveira’s response is present. The responses by Maya Cole, Juan Lopez, and Lucy Mathiak are complete.
If anyone recalls the missing question, please include it in a comment to this entry.

Video of Performance and Achievement Meeting Available

The video of the Performance and Achievement meeting of December 19, 2005 is available in the Performance and Achievement blog site.
This meeting is the second meeting concerning the Middle School Design Team work, with a presentation by Pam Nash explaining the current status, focus groups involved, role of the Board, access by the Board to draft decisions and general approaches being considered by the Team and Administration.

Performance and Achievement Videos available.

Videos of the Performance and Achievement committee meetings of January 30 and February 6 are available in the Performance and Achievement blog.
The topics of these meetings were heterogeneous vs. homogeneous classroom instruction. Professor Adam Gamoran, Director of WCER, made a presentation at the January 30 meetng. His Powerpoint presentation and a research paper are included.
The following week continued with presentations by Mike Lipp, West HS Biology teacher; Linda McQuillen, Math Resource teacher; Jenny Ruef, Math teacher at East HS; Lisa Wachtel, Science and Environment Coordinator, and Pam Nash, Asst Superintendent for Secondary Schools.

Of McDonalds and K-12 Schools

From an email I received recently:
——————–
McDonald’s has competition everywhere… globally. It is exceptional when it comes to standardization of product and services – they even have Hamburger U. Yet I have been to McDonald’s in suburbia and McDonald’s in rural America and McDonald’s in poor urban areas. They are not equal. And it isn’t just a case of McDonalds.. the same is true for Burger King and any other fast food chain that has corporate inspections and standards.
For instance, the Burger King, KFC, and McDonald’s near my urban church each suffer from the same problems – they are dirtier and have poorer service than those same stores in the suburban area I live in… there is no McDonald’s Playland in the urban Cleveland or Akron McDonald’s I know but there are loads of them out in my suburban area. Competition doesn’t seem to be helping those who live in the poor urban area gain the same experience those in suburbia get… even with restaurants that possess strong standards and assessments.
I think this says something about the theory that competition would be good for our schools and would equalize the playing field for kids in urban, rural, and suburban schools. It doesn’t seem to be working for McDonald’s.
Sue
Sue Ramlo, PhD
Professor of General Technology
Department of Engineering & Science Technology
The University of Akron
Akron, OH 44325-6104
sramlo@uakron.edu
330-972-7057

Singapore Education Minister Compares Singapore and America Schools

Newsweek International Edition columnist Fareed Zakaria interviewed Singapore Minister of Education Tharman Shanmugaratnam to understand why he believes Singapore students score tops in math and science on international tests, but lacks leaders in business, academia, math and science in the professional world.
Shanmugaratnam’s sees driving ambition, creativity, and adventuresomeness as lacking in Singapore students — characteristics that are not measured in global testing. He says, “Most of all, America has a culture of learning that challenges conventional wisdom, even if it means challenging authority. ”
Funding and academic-private partnerships are another factor in U.S. favor, he says. Foundations are critical for funding research in the U.S. “For example, you could not imagine American advances in biomedical sciences without the Howard Hughes Foundation,” says Shanmugaratnam.
But Shanmugaratnam is not all praise for U.S. education system. “[It] as a whole has failed. Unless you are comfortably middle class or richer,” he explained, “you get an education that is truly second-rate by any standards…. In Singapore we get the poor kid who is very bright and very hungry, and that’s crucial to our success.”

Wisconsin Scores “F” on State Science Standards (Redux)

In my Dec 12, 2005 entry, I described the 2005 Fordham Institute report giving Wisconsin an “F” on its State Science Standards. As I mentioned, then, having a quality state standard is not synonomous with quality implementation. The Fordham report also included comments by the evaluators, disparaging the pedagogical approaches taken by schools.
To make the issue of Standards vs. Implementation more concrete, here is a year 2000 report by Dr. Gerald Bracey comparing Fordham’s prior report with the NAEP and other tests.
His analysis showed that the states scoring highest in the Fordham study ranked at the low end of the scale on NAEP and the international TIMSS study, while the states that the Fordham study ranked “irresponsible” occupied 7 of the top 10 on NAEP-TIMSS.
I briefly reviewed the latest published NAEP Science report (2000) for a similar comparison. The Fordham “A” states of California, New Mexico, and South Carolina scored significantly below the National average; the “A” states of Indiana and New York scored average; and only the “A” states of Massachusetts and Vermont scored as above average. (Wisconsin was not included in the report).
So, now I ask, as I asked and suggested in a previous comment, where is the data and reliable information to make informed decisions? or even to have an informed opinion?

Pretty Good

A poem by Charles Osgood of CBS News quoted in There Are No Shortcuts, by Rafe Equith
Pretty Good
There once was a pretty good student,
Who sat in a pretty good class;
Who was taught by a pretty good teacher,
Who always let pretty good pass–
He wasn’t terrific at reading,
He wasn’t a whizbang at math;
But for him education was leading
Straight down a pretty good path.
He didn’t find school too exciting,
But he wanted to do pretty well;
And he did have some trouble with writing,
And no one had taught him to spell.
When doing arithmetic problems,
Pretty good was regarded as fine–
5 plus 5 needn’t always add up to be 10
A pretty good answer was 9.
The pretty good class that he sat in
Was part of a pretty good school;
And the student was not the exception,
On the contrary, he was the rule.
The pretty good student, in fact, was
Part of a pretty good mob;
And the first time he knew that he lacked was
When he looked for a pretty good job.
It was then, when he sought a position,
He discovered that life could be tough–
And he soon had a sneaking suspicion,
And he soon might not be good enough.
The pretty good town in our story
Was part of a pretty good state,
Which had pretty good aspirations,
And prayed for a pretty good fate.
There once as a pretty good nation,
Pretty proud of the greatness it had,
Which learned much to late, if you want to be great,
Pretty good is, in fact, pretty bad.

Decrease in Literacy for College Graduates

The National Assessment of Adult Literacy, as reported by the New York Times, has declined significantly from 1992 to 2003.
In 1992, the percentage of college graduates scoring proficient in English was 40%; in 2003 the percentage had declined to 31%. Of those college graduates below proficient, 53% score intermediate, while 14% had only basic literacy. Astonishingly, 3% of college graduates had less than basic literacy in English.
Separating the data by ethnicity, Blacks increased statistically signficantly from 29% to 33%, Asian literacy increased significantly from 45% to 54%, but Hispanic literacy declined significantly from 33% to 27% in intermediate/proficient, while below basic literacy increased significantly from 35% to 44%.
The NAAL study includes sampling of 19,000 people above age 16.
Of course, non-English literacy is not the same as illiteracy, so the study should be interpreted with this distinction in mind.

Wisconsin Scores “F” on State Science Standards (continued)

The Fordham Institutes State of Science Report for 2005 reviews the state of State Standards in Science and found 15 states scoring “F”, Wisconsin among them. The states whose Science Standards were deemed worthy of an “A” are California, New Mexico, Indiana, New York, Massachusetts, Virginia, and South Carolina.
Of course, standards are one thing, implementation is another. This report does not, and is not meant to directly address delivery of the content; but, it is likely to have either a positive or negative effect depending on the quality of the Standards. To quote the report:
“Academic standards are the keystone in the arch of American K-12 education in the 21st century. They make it possible for a sturdy structure to be erected, though they don’t guarantee its strength (much less its beauty). But if a state’s standards are flabby, vague, or otherwise useless, the odds of delivering a good education to that state’s children are worse than the odds of getting rich at the roulette tables of Reno.”
“Sure, one can get a solid education in science (as in other subjects) even where the state’s standards are iffy—so long as all the other stars align and one is fortunate enough to attend the right schools and benefit from terrific, knowledgeable teachers. It’s also possible, alas, to get a shoddy education even in a state with superb standards, if there’s no real delivery-and-accountability system tied to hose standards.”
The report, written by active scientists, is highly critical of the current approach to teaching science, and argues frequently against “discovery” methods, “inquiry-based” learning, and the false dichotomy between “rote-learning” and “hands-on” learning.
Interestingly, the Fordham Report is highly critical of the AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) and the NRC (National Research Council) for producing very weak “national standards”, due to their enshrining of “discovery learning” pedagogy over “old-fashioned” instruction, remarking that this pedagogy essentially expects American students to learn science by reinventing the work of Newton, Einstein, Crick and Watson. “That’s both absurd and dysfunctional.”
Wisconsin’s Science Standards scored 29% — “F”. In the previoius Fordham Institute’s 2000 report, Wisconsin scored “C”. To quote the report on the current Wisconsin standards:
“The Wisconsin Model Academic Standards announce confidently that they “set clear and specific goals for teaching and learning.” That was not the judgment of our review. They are, in fact, generally vague and nonspecific, very heavy in process, and so light in science discipline content as to render them nearly useless….”
To make these matters concrete, compare the California Science Standards (a single PDF document) to the vague and disorganized Wisconsin Science Standards.
Then, review what your child(ren) has(have) learned or are learning in our schools. In spite of the Wisconsin Standards, are they learning, or have learned the curriculum as described in the California Science Standard document, or is their learning as vague and useless as the Wisconsin Science Standard?

Educational Reform Movements

“Left Back: A Century of Failed School Reforms” is a book by Diane Ravitch. On September 11, 2000, the Brookings Institute invited Ravitch for a discussion and public forum. Introductory remarks by Donna Shalala, then Secretary of HHS, and William Bennett, former Secretary of Education, preceded Ravitch’s presentation, and the question/answer session that followed. Here
The basic premise of the book, an in depth study of the history, is that the reforms moved away from traditional rigorous academic standards, into social reform, causing the schools to fail for all kids, and therefore society. She also illustrates the how political labeling such as “liberal” and “conservative”, “reform” and “traditional” have played an important role in school’s failures.
Shalala’s opening remarks should be familiar to those of us who followed her tenure as UW-Madison Chancellor. She emphasizes “we are not fair or honest with American kids about how hard learning is”, citing her view that teacher should learn from coaches, who understand the role that practice, repetition, and small corrections play in achievement and reaching perfection.
Bennet’s remarks are, from my view, the typically political “liberal v conservative” tripe that he is famous for, even as the issue of political labeling in the reform movement has been a contributing factor in educational quality failures.

High Quality Teaching make the difference

Young, Gifted and Black, by Perry, Steele and Hilliard is a little gem of a book. (Hereafter, YGB). The subtitle is “Promoting High Achievement Among African-American Students”. Though specifically addressing African-American kids, the descriptions and proscriptions proposed can be applied to all – important, given the continual poor showing of U.S. students generally on international tests (OECD PISA, TIMSS).
It is the section written by Asa Hilliard, Professor of Urban Education at Georgia State University, that addresses the real “gap” and real “reform”. The following attempts to summarize his positions and arguments:
The real gap for all students, not just Black, is the gap between student performance and excellence. Where does one start to close the gap? – by relying on the experiences of teachers who do not fail to achieve excellence in all their students, regardless of background – these experiences have always been around, but few educators want to acknowledge. It is in this protected environment of excellence in education that the theories of curriculum, and excuses of deprivation, of language, of failure can be unmasked.

Continue reading High Quality Teaching make the difference

Tutoring Firms Are Gaining From NCLB

In an August 4, 2005, an MS-NBC Report indicates tutoring firms (for profit, and non-profit), because schools and districts are ailing under the NCLB law, are doing well. Public schools are going to be funneling $900M to these private companies to tutor kids from schools that are not making adequate yearly progress. And, there are no standards that such firms need to maintain to get these funds, according to the article.
Among other issues:
“One sore spot is that some of the most troubled public school schools systems like Chicago’s have been forced to shut down their own after-school tutoring services because of federal rules that apply to failing districts.
Beth Swanson of Chicago Public Schools figures that means only 25,000 students will get services in the coming year, down from 80,000.”

Rubric for School Improvement Posted on Performance and Achievment Blog

The Performance and Achievement Blog contains a new posting describing a rubric for school improvement. The rubrics allow one to estimate the current status of the schools and District with regard to the following: Student Achievement, Quality Planning, Professional Development, School Leadership, Partnerships with Community and Parents, Continuous Improvement and Evaluation.

“With” is Not a Four-Letter Word

The agenda of the Finance and Operations committee meeting for Monday, June 13 contains these items:
4. Communication to the Public about the Proposed 2005-06 Budget
6. Nontraditional Communication Strategies to Speak to Community Stakeholders.
Mark Twain once remarked: “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightening and the lightening bug.”
For me, “communication to” and “speak to” is vastly different than “communication with” and “speak with” — like the difference between “lightening” and “lightening bug”.
I can hear the failed referenda supporters and the supporting press editorials: Just needed a little better PR.
“With” has this strong flavor of team work, working together, listening: dialog!. “To?” Well, that has been the legacy of the Administration and Board.
But, no, folks. “With” is not a four-letter word. It needs to be used, again and again, until it becomes part of the Administration’s and Board’s culture.

Evidence-Based Reform Report

Robert Slavin of John Hopkins reports on current educational models that are supported by scientific evidence, and makes recommendations.
Despite some recent improvements, the academic achievement of American students
remains below that of those in most industrialized nations, and the gap between African
American and Hispanic students and White students remains substantial. For many years, the
main policy response has been to emphasize accountability, and No Child Left Behind has added
further to this trend. There is much controversy about the effects of accountability systems, but
they have had little impact on the core technology of teaching: Instruction, curriculum, and
school organization.
This paper argues that genuine reform in American education depends on a movement
toward evidence-based practice, using the findings of rigorous research to guide educational
practices and policies. No Child Left Behind gives a rhetorical boost to this concept, exhorting
educators to use programs and practices “based on scientifically-based research.” In practice,
however, programs that particularly emphasize research-based practice, such as Reading First,
have instead supported programs and practices (such as traditional basal reading textbooks) that
have never been evaluated, while ignoring well-evaluated programs. The same is true of the
earlier Comprehensive School Reform program, which was intended for “proven,
comprehensive” programs but has instead primarily supported unresearched programs.
This paper reviews research on programs that already have strong evidence of
effectiveness. Programs with strong evidence of effectiveness fell into the following categories.
1. Comprehensive school reform models, which provide professional development and
materials to improve entire schools. Research particularly supports Success for All and
Direct Instruction, but smaller numbers of studies support several additional models
including the School Development Program, America’s Choice and Modern Red
Schoolhouse.
2. Instructional technology. Research supports integrated learning systems in mathematics.
Word processing has been found to improve writing achievement.
3. Cooperative learning programs engage students in small groups to help each other learn.
Many studies support this strategy in elementary and secondary math, reading, and other
subjects.
4. Innovative mathematics programs. The first What Works Clearinghouse report supported
research on two technology-based programs, Cognitive Tutor and I Can Learn, in middle
schools. Elementary programs such as Cognitively Guided Instruction and Project SEED
also have strong evidence of effectiveness.
5. Innovative elementary reading programs having strong evidence of effectiveness include
Success for All and Direct Instruction, as well as Reciprocal Teaching and Cooperative
Integrated Reading and Composition.
6. Tutoring programs in reading, especially Reading Recovery, have rigorous evaluations
showing their effectiveness.
7. Dropout prevention programs, such as the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program and Alas,
have good evidence of effectiveness.
See Full Report

Is Persuasion Dead?

New York Times editorial by Matt Miller:
Speaking just between us – between one who writes columns and those who read them – I’ve had this nagging question about the whole enterprise we’re engaged in.
Is persuasion dead? And if so, does it matter?
The significance of this query goes beyond the feelings of futility I’ll suffer if it turns out I’ve wasted my life on work that is useless. This is bigger than one writer’s insecurities. Is it possible in America today to convince anyone of anything he doesn’t already believe? If so, are there enough places where this mingling of minds occurs to sustain a democracy?
The signs are not good. Ninety percent of political conversation amounts to dueling “talking points.” Best-selling books reinforce what folks thought when they bought them. Talk radio and opinion journals preach to the converted. Let’s face it: the purpose of most political speech is not to persuade but to win, be it power, ratings, celebrity or even cash.
By contrast, marshaling a case to persuade those who start from a different position is a lost art. Honoring what’s right in the other side’s argument seems a superfluous thing that can only cause trouble, like an appendix. Politicos huddle with like-minded souls in opinion cocoons that seem impervious to facts.
See full editorial

Goals for Achieving an Improved School District

I ran for the School Board, and voted No, No, No on the referenda because of my profound disagreement with how the School Board conducts itself and their lack of leadership and direction, and my strong sense of a deteriorating school system, not all to be blamed on draconian measures by Federal and State politicians.
Marshalling the ideas of other contributors to this site, ideas from the National School Board Association, other sources and my own ideas and goals, I have drafted a rough set of goals that I think the School Board and Madison citizens in general should address. It is meant as a possible starting point for discussions.
The document’s basic purpose is to ensure a high level of student achievement through public accountability, honest and open assessment, transparent setting of priorities, and alignment of the budget with the priorities. It makes an initial attempt to distribute the goals across the BOE’s committees, so they are working toward the same goals.
It is my strong sense that the Board views these committees as somehow dealing with issues that are orthogonal to each other; for example, there were arguments that the Long Range Planning committee must not concern themselves with the decisions of the Finance and Operations committee (which actually wasn’t doing anything, anyway).
I certainly do not believe the current majority on the School Board is willing to make or is capable of making the necessary changes to how it conducts its business to set appropriate priorities and ensure their execution. Certainly comments made by supporters of the referenda after they were voted down indicated that they don’t get it.
In any case, I would like comments and suggestions, agreement, disagreement on this document. Better ideas are welcome.

Precipitous Drop in Computer Science Interest

Students once saw computer-science classes as their ticket to wealth. Now, as more technology jobs are outsourced to other countries, such classes are seen as a path to unemployment.
New data show students’ interest in the discipline is in a free fall. The number of newly declared computer-science majors declined 32 percent from the fall of 2000 to the fall of 2004, according to a report released this month by the Computing Research Association, which represents computer scientists in industry and academe. Another survey, from the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California at Los Angeles, shows that the number of incoming freshmen who expressed an interest in majoring in computer science has plummeted by 59 percent in the last four years.
Professors say the creation in the last five years of new degrees in information technology or information systems may also be offering more-attractive alternatives to computer science. Computer science focuses on how networks are engineered — the theoretical aspects of computing — and on writing software, while information technology focuses on applied work, such as building Web sites, adapting systems to a business’s needs, and maintaining networks.
George Mason University started an information-technology program in the fall of 2002, and this year has 726 students in the program. The number keeps growing each year, with students particularly interested in computer-security courses, says Anne Marchant, an information-technology instructor at the university. Only 550 George Mason students are computer-science majors. A few years ago the department had about 800 students who majored in the field.
Ms. Marchant blames the shift partly on what she sees as students’ deteriorating mathematics aptitude.
“Information technology is the right home for an awful lot of students who do not have the math skills and do not really have the interest in becoming programmers,” she says.
Jesse J. Rangel, a senior at California State University at Bakersfield who is a computer-science major, says some of his classmates avoid computer science because it involves advanced mathematics and physics. “The sad fact is that many students are not up for the challenge,” he says.
See the full article in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

The Leopold Referendum: No Due Diligence

I oppose the Leopold School referendum.
I oppose it not because I’m a Republican (I’m not), not because I’m a Democrat (I’m not, though the Mayor would have you believe that that would constitute an oxymoron — a sad commentary on what it means to be a Democrat, seems to me), but because opposing the Leopold referendum is the responsible decision.
(My political leaning, if you must know: A left wing conservative! “Always do the right thing, leaving as much money as you can to do more right things.”).
The Leopold referendum wastes $10M over 15 years.
The only real motivation for this blindness was “we promised the Leopold parents back in 2002”, and great lobbying by the Leopold crowd — to the potential detriment of other schools and kids in the district. Placing this promise in perspective, in 2002, when the promise was first made, the estimate for a new school at Leopold was $7M. In 2004, the initial estimate became $11M; the referendum now calls for $14.5M — a 200% increase from 2002. Quite a jump!
The most responsible decision the Board could have made was to construct another addition to the Leopold school, borrowing up to $10M from the State Trust Fund (no referendum is required), as we did for the 2003 addition to Leopold. And we wouldn’t have to pay for a new principal at this new school, at $100,000+ per year, because their wouldn’t be a new school! Another savings. (Or maybe build the $7M school, originally promised?).
Our savings of $10M over the referendum is the difference between the 15-year cost of the referendum and the anticipated principle and interest payments back to the State on the $10M loan. Our 15-year cost is $23M, not the $14.5M, which is the money we get to keep. The $23M is this $14.5M plus the 60% increase Madison taxpayers are required to pay under the State’s Equalization Forumla — we’re paying welfare to other school districts!
What could we do with the $10M not spent on the Leopold site? Make additions to southwest schools to accommodate expected growth (also limits growth at Leopold), and additions to schools on the east side: both will be needed anyway.
And this would have been the prudent thing to do, given the flux in the Ridgewood apartments area, which calls into question the growth estimates for Leopold.
The School Board failed to follow their own policy and consider an addition to Leopold as an alternative, instead jumping full speed ahead, without deliberation, to building a new school. In fact, the Long Range Planning citizen committee, that was charged with the initial deliberations, spent the majority of their time at meetings, practising their Leopold referendum campaign speeches, instead of deliberating over the substance. Their lack of even reasonable due diligence in the execution of their responsibilties leaves the voters to make emotional instead of logical and factual decisions.
Send the referendum back to them. Demand that do their job. When they’ve done their due diligence, then we can talk.

Ed Blume’s Ideas and a Citizens’ BOE

The National School Boards Association has written a Key Work of School Boards guidebook, detailing 8 key areas describing what School Boards should be doing, how they should be doing it, with action items, etc.
This is a wonderful site! Their ideas and the details well frames the issues and points in directions which many have been espousing for some time.
From the Forward to Key Works of School Boards:
“In an effort to help local school boards best fulfill their role, the National School Boards Association has created the Key Work of School Boards, a framework for raising student achievement through community engagement…. The framework is based on the premise that excellence in the classroom begins with excellence in the boardroom…. The guidebook provides a framework of eight “key” action areas that successful boards have focused their attention on: vision, standards, assessment, accountability, resource alignment, climate, collaboration, and continuous improvement.”
Their presentation gives an overview.

Analyzing MMSD Spreadsheets

The report entitled What We Know About Spreadsheets by Professor Panko of the University of Hawaii analyzing the literature on accuracy of financial spreadsheets shows a truly appalling result — significant errors, and furthermore, reliance on the accuracy, and denial of problems.
As I look at the spreadsheets for the budget and list of maintenance projects justifying the referenda, I’m overwhelmed by their complexity and my inability to feel comfortable with their calculations.
I’m no expert at using spreadsheets, relying instead on real databases and batch processing to handle such complex tasks. I have no doubt that MMSD Business Services folks are quite good at spreadsheet use, but spreadsheets are incapable of being maintained even if accurately created in the first place.
And spreadsheets are simply incapable to allowing the timely generation of multiple budget scenarios. The delay in pulling together the budget for this year (from multiple sources), a typically manually intensive process when using spreadsheets for financial and budgeting analysis, shows their inadequacy.
To make the budgeting and financial aspects of MMSD transparent, and analyzable by the public, and capable of generating multiple budget scenarios requires a drastically improved system. And my demands that contracts and decisions affecting the budget (such as cuts proposals) be handled only within the confines of a published set of budget scenarios, make the need to move away from spreadsheet use imperative.

Five Year Old Handcuffed for Tantrum

Florida is making news again: This time, having handcuffed a five-year old black girl, of course, but after her tantrum was over.
What impressed me was the incompetence of Nicole Dibenedetto, the new assistant principal of Fairmont Park Elementary school. This principal had just been through Crisis Prevention training and, I suppose, was following the rules and procedures she had learned there. It doesn’t say much about the competence of the training either.
Any parent who has had to handle the typical and not that unusual tantrum from a 5-year-old will recognize both the child’s behavior and the thorough lack of knowledge this principal has in handling children.
Here is the recent link to the news report that has links to the video. Total video time is about 30 minutes. Report and Video

First-To-Worst, PBS Special On California Schools

The California of the 50’s and 60’s was the embodiment of the “American Dream”. Their schools were the best. Today, the California school system ranks at the bottom in the nation, with Mississippi and Guam. Proposition 13 in 1978, and revenue caps require referenda to exceed the caps to be passed by 2/3! majority. Some now admit the California schools have achieved Third World status.
Today, most schools are like the Santa Monica-Malibu School District, serving one of the richest districts in California. The schools here do not have PE, Arts, Music, counselors, and minimal or no electives. A educational fads have taken hold: whole language, new math, multiple choice testing. And, of course, loss of local control to the State legislature.
For a sobering look at a failed school system, click on the transcript.

NCLB Causing Decline in Achievement

The New York Times on April 13 reported on a study by the Northwest Evaluation Association that shows there is a decline in the improvement of students in schools since the enactment of NCLB. To quote the article in part:
“Since No Child Left Behind, … individual growth has slowed, possibly because teachers feel compelled to spend the bulk of their time making sure students who are near proficiency make it over the hurdle.
The practice may leave teachers with less time to focus on students who are either far below or far above the proficiency mark, the researchers said, making it less likely for the whole class to move forward as rapidly as before No Child Left Behind set the agenda.”
The following link is to the actual report from the NWEA site, for your reading pleasure.
Download file

A Quid Pro Quo for Passing the Referenda

The District must have a budget process that allows the Board of Education and the public to review the budget, and balance the interests of the public, students and staff to accomplish the effective and efficient operation of the School District, and to ensure that its priorities are addressed.
The current timeline for budget approval does not allow the Board or the public to have reasonable and informed access to the information necessary to balance those interests, or to ensure those priorities.
Instead, current and past budget practices allow staff contracts to be accepted, budget cuts to be proposed, and additional programs to be considered, all without the ability to place these items within the budget as a whole, and therefore balance all interests.
Modifying the budget process to allow this balancing, to me, is non-negotiable.
I, for one, will not be supporting any of the referenda on the May 24 ballot, unless the budget process is fixed.
I will be voting in favor of all the referenda on May 24, if and only if the Board takes actions prior to the referenda to ensure all proposed staff contracts and other agreements are incorporated into the previously published budget and not acted separately upon by the Board; and, if and only if, all cuts to programs are proposed and presented in the context of the previously published budget, and not acted separately upon by the Board.
In order to get my vote, the 2005-2006 budget process and timelines need to be modified, even at this late date, to conform. We cannot reneg on any contracts already voted on by the Board, and we cannot review the failure to consider adminstrative renewals by the Board, and we cannot pull back the publicly proposed cuts to await the timely arrival of the budget.
But, we must be delivered an estimated 2005-2006 budget sooner than the proposed May 2nd to give the public time to review it, place the proposed cuts into its budget context, and plan for alternative budget adjustments. At the latest, the budget can be delivered to the Board and public on April 22nd, even under the current timeline, by posting the budget on the website prior to or instead of printing (we might even be able to save printing costs!).
Accepting the referenda for a changed budget process is a quid pro quo contract between the Board and the public. It is a prototypical win-win agreement. All sides to the coming debate over the referenda get everything they want. Those in favor of the referenda get the referenda passed; those who want a significantly better budget process get their interests heard.
Accepting such a challenge might even avoid the coming, and, what I perceive to be, very devisive battle among the many sides to debates.
For those who find such an agreement more of a compromise than a win-win agreement, consider it progress towards opening up the budget process � progress that could have been accomplished years ago.
The real debate has not started, but I�ve already heard some loose lips. I�ve heard it said (paraphrasing), �If you can�t afford the tax increases, take a mortgage out on your home.� And I�ve read comments that said (paraphrasing again), �If the Leopold expansion was in a white area, there would be no problem. The opposition are racists.�
Unless some agreement is accepted, I don�t see a reasoned and tempered debate occurring in the next month and a half.
Instead, we�ll be spitting at each other.

District’s Virchow-Krause Report Less Than It Seems

The District’s functional analysis report from Virchow-Krause (hereafter VK) has been touted as showing how well the District is being run. But, the report’s results are less than they seem. On page three of the report, VK gives the assumptions for the report. Quoting from the report:
——-
As Superintendent Rainwater has noted, there are several key assumptions behind the functional
analysis. These assumptions are:
� Every single thing the District does is good for kids. Long ago the District eliminated all those
things that were peripheral.
� All District staff members – teachers, administrators, custodians and food service workers �
are good at what they do.
� The District has very talented people that work very hard and that work very smart.
� Site-based teachers and administrators currently have full time jobs � and they can’t absorb
more work. Functions cannot move from the central office to people at the site because sitebased
staff members are working as hard and as efficiently as possible.
With these assumptions in mind, the results of the functional analysis are presented in this
report.
——-
Clearly, given the assumptions of the report, VK could not have found anything but that the District is doing everything just perfectly.
Had these assumptions not been in place, VK might have been able to inform the District, Board and public of solutions not currently in front of us.
What is disturbing, however, is that the Board doesn’t truly read or understand the critical material before them, that the District can make those assumptions, probably with Board acquiesence, and then have the temerity to claim they are providing leadership, and doing all that they can do.