All posts by Laurie Frost

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: US housing wealth is growing for the oldest and wealthiest Americans, at the expense of everybody else

Dan Kopf

Since the 1970s, coastal US cities have implemented laws that make it impossible for housing supply to equal demand. Proponents of these laws argue they are important for historic preservation, environment protection, and the livability of cities. Conveniently, such laws also happen to inflate the housing prices of many of their supporters—mainly the old and wealthy, who are the clear winners of these kinds of market-constraining regulations.
A new working paper (pdf) from the economists Edward Glaeser of Harvard University and Joseph Gyourko of the University of Pennsylvania shows exactly how much the winners have gained. The researchers analyzed household survey data from 1983 to 2013 (the last year data was collected), and found that housing wealth increased “almost exclusively among the wealthiest, older Americans.”

Florida Teen Charged with Felony for trying Science

The Urban Scientist, Scientific American
News of Kiera Wilmot’s arrest has seriously unnerved me. She is the Florida high school student who was experimenting with common household chemicals in science class that resulted in a minor explosion. There were no injuries and no damage to school property; however, she was taken away in handcuffs, formally arrested and expulled from school.
I acknowledge that too little information has been provided on the case. We have NO idea what was happening in the class. Where was the teacher? Were students involved in a laboratory activity at the time? I have spent time in the high school classroom. I know the shenanigans (and havoc) these pre-adults can cause. It is no laughing matter. Even if this were a prank, say something akin to my generation’s idea of setting off smoke bombs in the hall during the passing of classes, my gut reaction stands.
I don’t like what our public education (and justice) systems do to urban youth (e.g. the discipline gap with Black kids). I worry about urban kids who don’t (tend) to have access to social capital that advocates for them and gives them a chance after stupid mistakes. I worry what this will mean to her family financially. What will it mean for her future? Will graduating from an alternative school prevent her from attending college? Will she be marked as a trouble maker? Will she have a criminal record that prevents her from gainful employment and a meaningful life? More immediately, will she get locked away for 20 years? Shit like that happens to kids who look like her.


STEM to Steam
The Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) is encouraging Art/Design to be included with the K-20 STEM curriculum.
What is STEAM
In this climate of economic uncertainty, America is once again turning to innovation as the way to ensure a prosperous future. Yet innovation remains tightly coupled with Science, Technology, Engineering and Math – the STEM subjects. Art + Design are poised to transform our economy in the 21st century just as science and technology did in the last century.
We need to add Art + Design to the equation — to transform STEM into STEAM.
STEAM is a movement championed by Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) and widely adopted by institutions, corporations and individuals.
The objectives of the STEAM movement are to:

  • transform research policy to place Art + Design at the center of STEM
  • encourage integration of Art + Design in K-20 education
  • influence employers to hire artists and designers to drive innovation

School Board Candidate Forum, 18 February 2013

Questions and Answers from Board Of Education Candidates

Because the School Board candidates Sarah Manski, TJ Mertz, and Ananda Mirilli are on the primary ballots for Seat 5 on February 19, 2013, the above link is a version of the candidate forum held on February 18, 2013 edited to include only the above candidates for Seat 5. The video is about one(1) hour in length.

A Dream Deferred: How access to STEM is denied to many students

Scientific American – DNLee

My interest in teaching and science outreach crystallized with NSF GK-12 Fellowship experiences in St. Louis. I was graduate student assigned as a Resource Scientist to a nearby public high school. I was responsible for co-designing lesson plans and delivering lessons for biology and environmental science classes. Science Fair project came around and there was big push to get all students involved. There was a very low participation rate, but since I was the classroom scientist, I was responsible to helping students develop science fair projects and getting them ready for the competition.

Some of the students came up with some really amazing ideas. Not only because they developed some great questions and hypotheses, but because the questions were personally relevant to them. Do cheaper brakes stop as quickly as more expensive breaks? Will cheaper brakes wear faster than more expensive ones? Are One-touch Diabetes testers as effective as traditional blood sugar testing devices that require more blood? The first two questions were posed by one of my boys – who declared his hatred of science daily, but he loved cars. The third question was posed by one of my girls who had diabetes and had to test her ‘sugar’ many times a day. Her grandmother had diabetes, too. She wanted to enlist her granny in her project.

However, like most of the other projects proposed by my students, these projects never happened. And what was more heart-breaking was that these kids interests in science (and the science fair) was dashed and never to be rekindled again. For kids like my students – inner-city kids from poor families (whether working-class or on welfare), average or below-average academic performance, some with behavior problems – interests in STEM dies by 10th grade and one of three things kill the promise of opportunity.

  1. Lack of resources
  2. Benign discouragement by well-meaning adults
  3. Active exclusion by powerful gatekeepers

I witnessed all three during my time at Normandy Senior High School and the University of Missouri-St. Louis MO-STEP.

Nature: Confronting the Universe

Nature Video presents five debates from the 2012 Nobel Laureate Meeting in Lindau

At the 2012 meeting, physics was on the agenda again. The hottest topic was particle physics because mid-way through the meeting, scientists at CERN announced the discovery of the Higgs particle. The following morning, we filmed George Smoot and Martinus Veltman as they digested the news with three young researchers. Veltman, who helped to shape the standard model of particle physics, was surprising cynical about the discovery. See his reaction in film 3: Is dark matter real? The other films deal with the relationship between theory and experiment, the state of science education, the looming energy crisis and in film 1 we ask: is this the golden age of astronomy? As you’ll see, the Nobel laureates and young physicists in our films have quite different views on these matters.

Upcoming events at the Simpson Street Free Press

The public is warmly invited to the following events at the Simpson Street Free Press:

Science, Math, Women and Career Choices: Community Forum
Date: Thursday November 4th Time: 6 pm
Education, careers and the choice we will make: A community forum. The forum will be hosted by former Free Press editor and columnist Andrea Gilmore. Andrea is now pursuing her PhD in nursing at UW-Madison.

Open House: Meet the Writers

Date: Thursday November 11th Time: 5 -8pm
Meet the writers, reporters, editors and columnists of the Simpson Street Free Press. Our newsroom will be open to the
public and staff will answer questions and provide guided tours.
Simpson Street Free Press
Located at South Towne mall (next to Subway)
2411 W. Broadway
Call (608) 223-0489 for more information.

More on honors classes and racism

Posted on 10/18 to the East High Community list serv, in response to a description of the MMSD high school reform proposal. Posted here with the author’s permission.
Dear East Community:
I contribute to this discussion group only once in a blue moon, but this issue is near and dear to my heart and I am compelled to comment. I cannot think of a more important issue than that of race and racism in our educational institutions.
I speak as a lifelong political progressive who has been active in community issues relating to racism and economic and social disparities for thirty years, from Cleveland to Chicago’s south side to Madison. More important, I speak as an adult basic instructor in mathematics at MATC who teaches many of the students that have been failed by their experience in the Madison schools, most of them students of color or students mired in the low margins of the socioeconomic system.
With that said, it frustrates and saddens me see how many well-meaning people have this issue exactly backward. It is not racist school policy to offer multiple tracks, specifically honors or AP TAG classes. Rather, racist school policy – of the most insidious nature imaginable – is failing to offer those classes because students of color aren’t in them. That argument implicitly says that students of color cannot achieve, and that message speaks volumes about the difference between looking fair in some lowest-common-denominator way versus fighting for the hard and true and noble path in student achievement.
Simply put, we should have TAG classes and they should be filled with students of every class, race and color. That they have historically not been filled with students of every class, race and color is the real issue. It tells us that our methods for evaluating students are abysmal, even abusive (how many of you have enjoyed watching your 4th grader take class time to learn to use a squeeze ball to reduce stress on standardized tests?). It tells us that we are not successfully seeking out students of tremendous potential because we don’t understand them or don’t know how to relate to them or reach them. It also says that we fail to properly appreciate what a culture of demanding expectations of achievement can do for every student in a classroom, especially when we demand of ourselves to understand and embrace each of our students as strikingly unique individuals and not achievers based upon highly overrated and dubious “educational standards,” standardized test scores or other unhelpful common denominators.
The progress of my classes at MATC this semester is typical and no surprise to me. I have two algebra classes. One, downtown, is mostly white and/or middle class. The other, in South Madison, is almost entirely students of color, most with difficult personal circumstances, most of whom have always failed at math. One class is achieving well enough. The other class is over-achieving, pushed hard, pushing me back, engaged, holding an average grade of AB. Any guesses which is which?
As educators and supporters of our schools we can do so much better than we do. But we cannot do better by pretending that differentiation in a classroom can accomplish the same thing as a motivated rainbow of a class with a class-wide ethic to achieve deep understanding and a drive to overcome commonplace expectations.
I say that we need both TAG classes and the recruiting methods and policies to make sure that they reflect every kind of brilliance in our community.
Pete Nelson

As they say, “Friend speaks my mind.”

AP component of MMSD high school plan is about access and equity, not “TAG”

One of the many pieces of the MMSD administration’s just-introduced high school proposal that has not been made clear is where the prominent AP component comes from. The answer is that it comes largely from a three-year federal grant, a $2.2 Advanced Placement Incentive Program grant that was awarded to the DPI in 2009.
As some of you surely know, there is currently a national trend (supported by significant grant dollars) to increase access to AP courses. The DPI’s “Blended Learning Innovations: Building a Pipeline for Equity and Access” is part of that trend.
The purpose of the grant is to close the race and SES based achievement gaps by increasing the number of AP courses in schools with high levels of poverty and by increasing the participation and success of poor and minority students in AP courses and testing. The MMSD is a partner in the grant.
Please note that both nationally (NAGC) and locally, AP has never been a focus of the “TAG” community. (On the contrary, those of us who worked on the MMSD TAG Plan advocated for consideration of an IB curriculum … which is what’s been proposed for the Madison Preparatory Academy.)
I imagine I am not the only one who would appreciate it if the District (and the press) would be clearer with the community about these points:
1) This high school proposal has been in the works for a long time. (Importantly, it has been in the works since well before the West DPI petition and complaint. The complaint may have sped up the rolling out of the plan, for better and worse, but it did not impact the content of the plan. As evidence, consider the second paragraph of the October 14 letter sent out to the West community: there is no mention whatsoever of 9th and 10th grade honors classes, which is the sole focus and request of the DPI complaint.)
2) The extent to which the DPI’s “equity and access” AP grant is driving the content of the MMSD’s high school proposal.

Are Honors Classes Racist?

High Expectations For All Students is the Way to Beat the Achievement Gaps

Simpson Street Free Press
Chantal Van Ginkel, age 18
Historically, Madison West High School has not had a spotless regard regarding race relations. Before and during the 1990’s, the school was accused by some of segregation. Most white students had their lockers on the second floor, while most minority students used lockers on the ground floor.
To the school’s credit, changes in policies have greatly improved a once hostile environment. Some of these changes include getting rid of remedial classes, and implementing SLC’s or Small Learning Communities.
A more recent change, however, has sparked controversy and heated debate. Madison West High School plans to largely eliminate honors classes. This is part of an attempt to provide equal opportunity for all students by homogenizing their classroom experience.
At one time, this might have been a good step toward desegregation of West’s student body. It is not a good idea now.
To some extent, enrollment in honors courses of all Madison high schools is racially segregated. Affluent students and white students take advanced courses much more frequently than other students.
But in my opinion, the lack of more rigorous courses is a problem. It is a problem for all students at West. Many parents, students and some faculty share this sentiment.
Recently, a petition signed by over a hundred West attendance area parents requested that 9th and 10th grade honors classes be reinstated. When Superintendent Nerad took steps to make this, some members of the West High teaching staff spoke up. They asserted that honors classes are racist. The project to reinstate advanced course offerings for West’s freshmen and sophomores was then abandoned.
Honors classes, in and of themselves, are not inherently racist. Rather, the expectation that only certain students will take these classes is the problem. The fact that too many minority students end up in remedial courses is racist, but eliminating rigorous courses is not the answer.
As writers for this newspaper have said many times, the real racism is the cancer of low expectations. High expectations for all of our students is how we will beat the achievement gaps in local schools. Low expectations will only make our problem worse.

Note: Madison West High School has not had honors classes in 9th and 10th grade for several years. (The only exception to that is the historically lone section of Accelerated Biology, which some West teachers have repeatedly tried to get rid of.) Not only that, but Madison West High School is the only Madison high school that does not have any honors/advanced/accelerated classes in English and Social Studies in 9th and 10th grade. All West 9th and 10th grade students are expected to take regular English 9 and 10 and regular Social Studies 9 and 10, in completely heterogeneous (by ability) classes.
Note: The petition mentioned by the author — the one requesting honors classes in English and Social Studies in 9th and 10th grade — has now been signed by almost 200 current, past and future West community members.

Have you thanked your teacher this year?

Every year at this time, I like to remind people to take a moment — even have their children take a moment — to write a note of thanks to their teachers.
“Teachers are expected to reach unattainable goals with inadequate tools. The miracle is that at times they accomplish this impossible task.” — Haim Ginott
“Public education rests precariously on the skill and virtue of the people at the bottom of the institutional pyramid.” — Tracy Kidder
“Teaching is not a lost art, but the regard for it is a lost tradition.” — Jacques Barzun
“Teachers appreciate being appreciated, for teacher appreciation is their highest award.” — William Prince

Speak Up and Celebrate “Eliza Doolittle Day”

Marc Acito
In Act 1 of “My Fair Lady”, Eliza Doolittle, the Cockney flower girl learning to speak like a lady, fantasizes about meeting the king. Of course, because it’s a musical, she sings:
One evening the king will say, ‘Oh, Liza, old thing — I want all of England your praises to sing. Next week on the twentieth of May, I proclaim Liza Doolittle Day.

Since I’m not Julie Andrews or Audrey Hepburn — or Marni Nixon, who sang for Audrey Hepburn in the movie, I’ll spare you the rest. But suffice it to say, Eliza envisions all of England celebrating her glory. The only ones who recognize Eliza Doolittle Day, however, are music theater geeks like me. And while an evening of cocktails and show tunes sounds like fun, it’s insufficient to mark the occasion because Eliza’s message is all too relevant today.
You see, “My Fair Lady” is based on George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion”, and both pieces explore the ramifications of learning how to speak properly at a time when elocution was valued as a symbol of education and upward mobility.
Emphasis on the was.
Listen to Franklin Delano Roosevelt say, “The only thing we have to feah is feah itself,” and it’s almost inconceivable that ordinary Americans trusted someone who sounded like Thurston Howell III. We are now in an age when Sarah Palin speaks to a quarter of the electorate, even though she talks like she’s translating into Korean and back again. Even the rhetorically gifted President Obama has felt compelled to drop his g’s while tryin’ to sell health care reform.
Nowadays, soundin’ folksy has become more important than sounding educated. As Eliza’s teacher Henry Higgins says, “Use proper English, you’re regarded as a freak.” But our country’s biggest competitors are learning proper English and, judging from all the Indian call centers, learning it quite well. Our country was built by people striving to move up, not dumbing down. So on this Eliza Doolittle Day, perhaps we should all take a moment to think before we speak.
Marc Acito is the author of How I Paid for College and Attack of the Theater People.

Congratulations to MMSD Presidential Scholars Program Semi-Finalists

Four MMSD students have been named U.S. Presidential Scholars Program semi-finalists:
Timothy Choi – West HS
Laurel Hamers – Memorial HS
Ansel Norris – East HS (arts)
Valerie Shen – Memorial HS

In April, the Commission on Presidential Scholars reviews the applications of all semifinalists based on the same criteria used by the review committee. The Commission selects up to 121 academic scholars and up to 20 arts scholars. All scholars are honored for their accomplishments during National Recognition Week, held in June in Washington, D.C.
Presidential Scholars are guests of the Commission during National Recognition Week and enjoy an expense paid trip to Washington, D.C., to meet with government officials, educators, authors, musicians, scientists and other accomplished people. During the week, scholars have the opportunity to visit museums and monuments, and to attend recitals, receptions and ceremonies. To commemorate their achievement, the Scholars are awarded the Presidential Scholars medallion at a ceremony sponsored by the White House.
All Presidential Scholars are asked to identify those educators who have most influenced them. The selected educators are also invited to attend National Recognition Week. There, they are honored at a special reception to recognize and thank them for their efforts, and they are presented with the Teacher Recognition Award.
For over 45 years, this unique federal program has honored over 6,000 Presidential Scholars, who have demonstrated leadership, scholarship, and contribution to school and community. The work of the Commission on Presidential Scholars reaffirms, on behalf of the President, the Nation’s commitment to education.

West High School Regent Drama Club Presents “Guys and Dolls”

March 5, 6, 12, 13
7:30 p.m.
West High School Auditorium
L. Joe Dahl, Director; Kelle Adams, Choreographer; Rebecca Jallings, Producer; Holly Walker, Assistant Producer; Serina Jolivette, Music Director; Steve Morgan, Orchestra Director; Brynna Godar, Stage Manager.
Tickets ($10 for adults, $8 for students) may be purchased in advance (highly recommended) at . Some tickets may also be available at the door.
Synopsis: All the hot gamblers are in town, and they’re all depending on Nathan Detroit to set up this week’s incarnation of “The Oldest Established Permanent Floating Crap Game in New York.” The only problem is that he needs $1,000 to get the place. Throw in Sarah Brown, who’s short on sinners at the mission she runs; Sky Masterson, who accepts Nathan’s $1,000 bet that he can’t get Sarah Brown to go with him to Havana, Cuba; Miss Adelaide, who wants Nathan to marry her; Police Lieutenant Brannigan, who always seems to appear at the wrong time; and the masterful music and lyrics of Frank Loesser, and you’ve got quite a musical. Includes the songs “Fugue for Tinhorns,” “Luck Be a Lady,” and “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat.”
Don’t miss it!

“A Girl Like Me”

All of the hoopla over Disney’s “The Princess and the Frog” made me remember this honest, hard-hitting short documentary by Kiri Davis.
A Girl Like Me
Kiri Davis

For my high-school literature class I was constructing an anthology with a wide range of different stories that I believed reflected the black girl’s experience. For the different chapters, I conducted interviews with a variety of black girls in my high school, and a number of issues surfaced concerning the standards of beauty imposed on today’s black girls and how this affects their self-image. I thought this topic would make an interesting film and so when I was accepted into the Reel Works Teen Filmmaking program, I set out to explore these issues. I also decided to would re-conduct the “doll test” initially conducted by Dr. Kenneth Clark, which was used in the historic desegregation case, Brown vs. Board of Education. I thought that by including this experiment in my film, I would shed new light on how society affects black children today and how little has actually changed.

The Growing Backlash Against Overparenting

Nancy Gibbs

The insanity crept up on us slowly; we just wanted what was best for our kids. We bought macrobiotic cupcakes and hypoallergenic socks, hired tutors to correct a 5-year-old’s “pencil-holding deficiency,” hooked up broadband connections in the treehouse but took down the swing set after the second skinned knee. We hovered over every school, playground and practice field — “helicopter parents,” teachers christened us, a phenomenon that spread to parents of all ages, races and regions. Stores began marketing stove-knob covers and “Kinderkords” (also known as leashes; they allow “three full feet of freedom for both you and your child”) and Baby Kneepads (as if babies don’t come prepadded). The mayor of a Connecticut town agreed to chop down three hickory trees on one block after a woman worried that a stray nut might drop into her new swimming pool, where her nut-allergic grandson occasionally swam. A Texas school required parents wanting to help with the second-grade holiday party to have a background check first. Schools auctioned off the right to cut the carpool line and drop a child directly in front of the building — a spot that in other settings is known as handicapped parking.
We were so obsessed with our kids’ success that parenting turned into a form of product development. Parents demanded that nursery schools offer Mandarin, since it’s never too soon to prepare for the competition of a global economy. High school teachers received irate text messages from parents protesting an exam grade before class was even over; college deans described freshmen as “crispies,” who arrived at college already burned out, and “teacups,” who seemed ready to break at the tiniest stress.
This is what parenting had come to look like at the dawn of the 21st century — just one more extravagance, the Bubble Wrap waiting to burst.
All great rebellions are born of private acts of civil disobedience that inspire rebel bands to plot together. And so there is now a new revolution under way, one aimed at rolling back the almost comical overprotectiveness and overinvestment of moms and dads. The insurgency goes by many names — slow parenting, simplicity parenting, free-range parenting — but the message is the same: Less is more; hovering is dangerous; failure is fruitful. You really want your children to succeed? Learn when to leave them alone. When you lighten up, they’ll fly higher. We’re often the ones who hold them down.

Read more about “The Growing Backlash Against Overparenting.”

Community Forum to Introduce the New MMSD “Talented and Gifted” Education Plan

The MMSD is hosting a community forum to introduce the District’s new “Talented and Gifted” (TAG) Education Plan.
Tuesday, November 17
6:00 – 7:30 p.m.
Hamilton Middle School LMC (4801 Waukesha Street)
Superintendent Nerad, Teaching and Learning Director Lisa Wachtel, Interim TAG Coordinator Barbie Klawikowski, and MMSD TAG staff will be there. The focus of the forum will be to provide an overview of the new Plan and its implementation, as well as an opportunity for discussion.
All are welcome! Parents and guardians of K-12 students who are concerned that their children are not being adequately challenged are especially encouraged to attend.
Link to MMSD Talented and Gifted Division homepage (includes a link to the new TAG Plan):
Link to parent-written and other supporting documents (see especially “Background and Rationale for the TAG Plan” and “Letter from Parents to the BOE in Support of the Plan”):

Schools of Hope Tutor Training

There will be a “Schools of Hope” tutor training workshop on Tuesday, September 29th, at 4:00 p.m. at Memorial H.S. (218 Gammon Rd).
This training is free and open to the public. Returning and new tutors are invited to attend!
Workshops for all grade levels will include:
Tutoring Literacy
Tutoring Math
Engaging Reluctant Learners
Working with English Language Learners
4:00-4:30 — Registration
4:30-6:15 — Workshops
6:15-6:30 — Break/Light Dinner
6:30-7:25 — Workshops

Low expectations result in cancerous achievement gap

Okoli, 15, and Green, 18, write for The Simpson Street Free Press, a local newspaper for Dane County teenagers.
Who first decided that being intelligent had a direct relation to being white?
That may seem like a harsh question. But it’s one many high-achieving minority students face every day. When a young minority student chooses to study after school, rather than play basketball, he or she is often ridiculed for “acting white.” This is just plain wrong. And it is an idea born of low expectations.
It’s time we admit the truth. Low expectations damage the chances for success for many kids — especially minority kids. And it’s something we need to guard against here in Dane County.
Many government-funded after-school programs lack substance. They focus on recreation rather than academic achievement. At their core, these programs try to keep students busy and off the streets. That’s OK. But it’s not helping them build a promising future.
Academic success, on the other hand, does. Academic support should be the top priority for after-school programs and in local neighborhood centers.
The same principle should apply in our schools. We don’t have the dollars anymore to spend on fluff. Schools should focus as much time as possible on core subjects. Those who are behind should spend the bulk of their time studying math, science, history, books, music and arts.
To proceed otherwise is to reinforce low expectations, which are a cancer. The achievement gap is just a symptom.
By the time many minority students reach high school, they are behind and unlikely to catch up. Students sense the low expectations. Some teachers stop talking to the kids they believe don’t have potential. The whole nasty reality just keeps repeating itself and discourages these students.
Not all will go to college. But all will benefit from regular exposure to books, science and writing. This means continued high expectations for all students in the critical high school years. It’s never, ever too late to benefit from education.
Brigadier General Marcia Anderson recently told The Simpson Street Press about a trip she took to Ethiopia. She and her colleagues handed out candy to school children until it was gone. Then Anderson gave them pens.
She said the kids were extremely grateful for their pens — much more so than they had been for the candy.
There’s an important and obvious message in this story. Anderson noticed quickly how important school was to these kids. They carried their textbooks so preciously.
These Ethiopian kids share the same dreams as our forefathers. It’s a dream shared by millions of immigrants from all over the world who came to the United States to find a better life.
This dream they believed so fiercely is often called the American dream. It’s a dream that promised equal opportunity and a chance to succeed.
Many kids today have lost sight of that dream. And that’s a shame, given how much our ancestors sacrificed so that we could have a shot at that dream.
Being a hard worker and attaining high goals is in the fabric of our American heritage. All the people who came to America came here with a dream of success. Those who were brought here in chains worked even harder to pursue the American dream.
Success does not come without hard work. And no one should ever be ridiculed for trying to attain an education.
Related posts:
And of course, the new MMSD TAG Plan has — as one of its highest priorities — the early identification and ongoing support of high potential/high ability students of color and poverty —

So Sexy So Soon

Commentary by Jean Kilbourne
Wellesley Centers for Women
Spring/Summer 2009 Research and Action Report

Thong panties and padded bras for seven-year-old girls are sold these days at major department stores. Tiny pink high-heeled shoes are advertised for babies. Risqué Halloween costumes for children (such as “Pimp Daddy” and “Child Ho”) fly off the shelves. T-shirts for toddler boys proclaim “Chick Magnet” and “Pimp Squad.” Little girls go to makeover parties and spas, and teenagers are encouraged to dress and behave like strippers and porn stars. F.C.U.K. is the name of an international clothing chain popular with young people.
Some of the cover stories for recent issues of magazines popular with young teenage girls include “15 Ways Sex Makes You Prettier” and “A Shocking Thing 68% of Chicks Do in Bed.” “Grand Theft Auto,” a video game especially popular with teenage boys, allows the gamer to have sex with a prostitute in a stolen car and then murder her. The latest version sold six million copies in its first week and grossed five hundred million dollars.1
I started talking about the sexualization of children way back in the late 1960s, when I began my work on the image of women in advertising. The first version of my film “Killing Us Softly,” made in 1979, included an ad featuring a sexy little girl and the slogan “You’re a Halston woman from the very beginning.” I knew something was happening, but I had no idea how bad it was going to get.

Jean Kilbourne, Ed.D., senior scholar at the Wellesley Centers for Women, is internationally recognized for her pioneering work on alcohol and tobacco advertising and the image of women in advertising. Her newest book, So Sexy So Soon: The New Sexualized Childhood and What Parents Can Do to Protect Their Kids, co-authored with Diane E. Levin, was published in 2008. Her book, Can’t Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Think and Feel, won the Distinguished Publication Award from the Association for Women in Psychology in 2000. She is also known for her award-winning documentaries Killing Us Softly, Slim Hopes, and Calling the Shots.

More at

Our family is reading Laura Sessions Stepp’s “Unhooked: How Young Women Pursue Sex, Delay Love and Lose at Both,” a book about the “hook-up” culture that currently prevails on our college campuses, so this commentary in a recent professional mailing caught my eye. Of course, I have long been a fan of Jean Kilbourne’s work.

Gifted education audit in Waukesha

Amy Hetzner
Journal Sentinel
June 4, 2009

In the year that the Waukesha School District laid off all but one staff member devoted to gifted and talented education, identification of students for the gifted program dropped 29%, according to an audit by the state Department of Public Instruction.
Nominations of students for the gifted program dropped even more — by 65% — in the 2007-’08 school year. This followed a school year in which nominations and identifications already were down from the year before.
At the time they made the GT staff cuts, Waukesha school board members said they hoped that regular classroom teachers would take on the task of providing special programming for gifted students, as required by state law.
But district officials acknowledge difficulty without specialty staff.
“Any time you have budget reductions it is going to have an effect,” Ben Hunsanger, Waukesha’s new GT coordinator, said in an e-mail. “There was a drop in GT identifications because we lost GT resource teachers. The GT student population also lost direct resources as a result of the staffing reductions.”
In an April letter to Waukesha’s superintendent, the DPI recommended the district refine its methods for identifying students as gifted and talented and provide professional development for staff on providing special services for such students.
The state audit was performed after a group of district parents filed a complaint last year alleging numerous deficiencies in Waukesha’s program for gifted students.
One of those parents, Amy Gilgenbach, said she wishes the audit had focused less on policy corrections and more with what was going on in the program itself. She said the state agency should have looked into what happened to instruction due to the loss in staffing.
“At the elementary level, when you have already overburdened teachers with 28 or more kids in their classes and then expect them to take on added responsibilities without additional training or instruction, obviously you’re not creating a good situation for GT students in those classes,” she wrote in an e-mail.
“At the middle and high school levels, not having appropriate guidance and course selections and potential college and career paths is a huge pitfall for GT students.”

West High School presents Stephen Sondheim’s “Into the Woods”

An ambivalent Cinderella? A blood-thirsty Little Red Riding Hood? Prince Charming with a roving eye? A Witch… who raps? They’re all among the cockeyed characters in James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim’s fractured fairy tale “Into the Woods.” When the Baker and his Wife learn they’re cursed with childlessness, they embark on a quest for the special objects required to break the spell ­ swindling, lying and stealing from Cinderella, Little Red, Rapunzel, and Jack (of beanstalk fame). One of Sondheim’s most popular works, this timeless yet relevant piece is a rare modern classic.
Performance and ticket information:
March 6, 7, 13 and 14 • 7:30 pm • West High Auditorium
Tickets are $8 for students and $10 for adults
Buy your tickets online now at
Please join the West HS community in a celebration of the arts in our schools. This year’s cast is exceptionally talented and a Sondheim musical is always a treat. “Into the Woods” is a production not to be missed!
Note: “Into the Woods” is not appropriate theater fare for elementary school and younger, less mature middle school children; however, do not worry if you’re child’s class is going to the school performance on March 10. They are only doing the first act for that performance and the first act is delightfully appropriate for young audiences.

Update on the Harlem Children’s Zone

Bear Market for Charities
Mike Spector
Wall Street Journal

NEW YORK — Geoffrey Canada has spent decades building a strategy for saving poor children from crime-ridden streets and crumbling public schools.
His “Harlem Children’s Zone” now serves thousands of kids, some of whom are showing impressive test scores. He has attracted the attention of the new White House because of his charity’s model: Instead of tackling problems here and there, the program envelops an entire neighborhood, with services ranging from parenting classes to health clinics to charter schools.
But Wall Street’s meltdown and money manager Bernard Madoff’s alleged financial fraud threaten the donor base that bankrolls Mr. Canada’s work. Facing declining revenues, he’s had to lay off staff and cancel plans to expand. He says he doesn’t yet “have a Plan B” for replacing his Wall Street support, which had reached upwards of $15 million annually.
Mr. Canada’s difficulties show how dependent nonprofits can become on certain steady donors, and how their plans can be derailed when those revenues dry up. It underscores the challenges facing nonprofits, which grew and proliferated amid the bull-market earlier this decade.
Today, the U.S. boasts more than one million nonprofits, up from about 774,000 ten years ago. Their biggest donations come from corporations, foundations and the ultra-wealthy. Many have been hit hard by the deepening recession. A drop in charitable contributions could shutter as many as 100,000 nonprofits over the next year, says Paul Light, a professor at New York University’s Wagner School of Public Service.
Mr. Canada, a 57-year-old social worker, calls his strategy the “conveyor belt,” because it aims to give children an intensive experience in a succession of programs until they graduate from college. Children in pre-kindergarten are taught foreign languages, for instance. From there, children enter Mr. Canada’s charter schools with longer school days and a calendar lasting until the first week of August.
The approach is starting to deliver results. Last year, nearly all the third-graders in Mr. Canada’s charter schools scored at or above grade-level in math, better than recent citywide averages. Eighth-graders outperformed the average New York student in math, according to New York state data.
“The math thing is just so far above anything I’ve ever seen,” says Roland Fryer, a Harvard economist who heads a new education lab. “The real hard work is to figure out why it’s working and whether that kind of thing can be exported so we can help more kids.”
President Barack Obama’s advisers met with Mr. Canada recently to learn more about his approach. Mr. Obama said during the campaign that he wants to create “promise neighborhoods” modeled on Mr. Canada’s charity in 20 cities across the U.S. Today, that initiative remains part of the White House’s publicized agenda.

Read more …

Breaks my heart to post this.

Give Education a Sporting Chance

Frederic J. Fransen
Center for Excellence in Higher Education
Perhaps it’s time for college fundraisers to come clean about the differences between giving to colleges and universities and giving to their athletic programs.
When donors give to athletics their gifts may produce visible results (a winning season, perhaps, or an NCAA tournament spot), but such gifts do not help colleges achieve their primary mission: the education of tomorrow’s leaders.
Not that there is anything wrong with giving to athletic programs, but a spade needs to be called a spade.
We’ve all heard the rationalizations. College athletic programs — especially big-time football and basketball — boost school spirit and spur alumni giving.
College athletic programs give some students a shot at a college education they wouldn’t get otherwise. And sports competition helps us become well-rounded individuals. None of these points is inherently untrue. They’re just irrelevant.
Americans, through tax dollars, tuition, and philanthropy, support some 2,500 public and private four-year colleges and universities for a reason: to educate those who will lead and sustain us in the future.
As much as I might enjoy the Indiana Pacers and Indianapolis Colts, their services are fundamentally unnecessary for the survival, prosperity, well-being and enlightenment of the country.
Yet, 26 percent of all dollars donated to Division I-A colleges and universities now go to athletics, according to an analysis published in the April 2007 issue of the Journal of Sport Management. In 1998, the comparable figure was 14.7 percent.
The Chronicle of Higher Education reported late last year that overall spending on sports has been growing “at a rate three times faster than that for spending on the rest of the campus.” And for most schools, according to recently released NCAA research, sports program costs exceed revenues. Only the top athletic powerhouses make money — and, frequently, only when they win.
Where’s the money going? Mostly, the money goes to build new stadiums, arenas and practice facilities to showcase the schools’ gladiators.
Schools in the six top college athletic conferences received more than $3.9 billion in donations for athletic facilities from 2002 to 2007 alone, the Chronicle of Higher Education says.
The question that needs to be asked is why are schools spending big bucks on athletic facilities for a relative handful of semi-pro athletes when academics should be their focus?
One reason many philanthropists choose to give to college athletics is because they know what they are getting. Who can blame them?
When you donate a large sum of money to support University of Wisconsin athletic programs, you do so because the Badgers have a winning tradition and you hope your gift will help produce additional championships.
When you write the same check to the English or history department, you may never know where the money went.
If education is to be the primary focus of our colleges and universities, officials involved in the “rainmaking” process need to do a better job of demonstrating to donors what their educational gifts accomplish in an equally transparent and powerful way.
They do higher education a disservice when they spend money excessively on the game, while shortchanging the end game: a highly educated workforce to face the competitive challenges of the 21st century — and a tolerant and enlightened public capable of making intelligent personal and political choices.
That’s what we need. And that’s what a new field house doesn’t buy.

Camp Codependence

A response to last week’s NYT story on summer camps by Judy Warner.

I’m sure we all read, with equal parts disgust and delectation, The Times’ story last week on affluent parents who just can’t let go when their children abandon them for sleep-away camp.
In case you missed it, the article presented fathers and mothers so used to instant service that they call camp directors at all hours of the day and night to sound the alarm if they suspect Junior isn’t using sunscreen. It showcased “high-end” sleep-away camps that employ full-time “parent liaisons” just to handle such phone calls and e-mail traffic, “almost like a hotel concierge listening to a client’s needs,” as a camp consultant put it.

Continue reading Camp Codependence

Will West High School’s Tierney Chamberlain “Get In the Picture”?

West High School senior Tierney Chamberlain is one of six East Coast finalists in the reality-t.v. show “High School Musical: Get In the Picture.” Watch the performance that moved her from semi-finalist to finalist.
As many of you surely know, Tierney has a huge and amazing voice. Check out this 2006 video of her singing the national anthem. Tierney was last seen in the role of Cassie in West’s spring, 2008, production of “A Chorus Line.”
Tierney, our hats are off to you back here in Madison, not just at West, but all over town. You are an AMAZING talent. We’re rooting for you all the way!

We Know What Works. Let’s Do It

by Leonard Pitts Miami Herald
This will be the last What Works column.
I reserve the right to report occasionally on any program I run across that shows results in saving the lives and futures of African American kids. But this is the last in the series I started 19 months ago to spotlight such programs.
Let me begin by thanking you for your overwhelming response to my request for nominations, and to thank everyone from every program who allowed me to peek behind the scenes. From the Harlem Children’s Zone in New York City to SEI (Self-Enhancement Inc.) in Portland, Ore., I have been privileged and uplifted to see dedicated people doing amazing work.
I am often asked whether I’ve found common denominators in all these successful programs, anything we can use in helping kids at risk. The short answer is, yes. You want to know what works? Longer school days and longer school years work. Giving principals the power to hire good teachers and fire bad ones works. High expectations work. Giving a teacher freedom to hug a child who needs hugging works. Parental involvement works. Counseling for troubled students and families works. Consistency of effort works. Incentives work. Field trips that expose kids to possibilities you can’t see from their broken neighborhoods, work.
Indeed, the most important thing I’ve learned is that none of this is rocket science. We already know what works. What we lack is the will to do it. Instead, we have a hit-and-miss patchwork of programs achieving stellar results out on the fringes of the larger, failing, system. Why are they the exception and not the rule? If we know what works, why don’t we simply do it? Nineteen months ago when I started, I asked Geoffrey Canada of the Harlem Children’s Zone why anyone should pay to help him help poor kids in crumbling neighborhoods. He told me, “Someone’s yelling at me because I’m spending $3,500 a year on ‘Alfred.’ Alfred is 8. OK, Alfred turns 18. No one thinks anything about locking him up for 10 years at $60,000 a year.” Amen. Forget the notion of a moral obligation to uplift failing children. Consider the math instead. If that investment of $3,500 per annum creates a functioning adult who pays taxes and otherwise contributes to the system, why would we pass that up in favor of creating, 10 years later, an adult who drains the system to the tune of $60,000 a year for his incarceration alone, to say nothing of the other costs he foists upon society? How does that make sense? Nineteen months later, I have yet to find a good answer.
Instead, I find passivity. “Save the Children,” Marvin Gaye exhorted 27 years ago. But we are losing the children in obscene numbers. Losing them to jails, losing them to graves, losing them to illiteracy, teen parenthood, and other dead-ends and cul-de-sacs of life. But I have yet to hear America – or even African America – scream about it. Does no one else see a crisis here? “I don’t think that in America, especially in black America, we can arrest this problem unless we understand the urgency of it,” says Tony Hopson Sr., founder of SEI. “When I say urgency, I’m talking 9/11 urgency, I’m talking Hurricane Katrina urgency, things that stop a nation. I don’t think in black America this is urgent enough. Kids are dying every single day. I don’t see where the NAACP, the Urban League, the Black Caucus, have decided that the fact that black boys are being locked up at alarming rates means we need to stop the nation and have a discussion about how we’re going to eradicate that as a problem. It has not become urgent enough. If black America don’t see it as urgent enough, how dare us think white America is going to think it’s urgent enough?”
In other words, stand up. Get angry. Stop accepting what is clearly unacceptable. I’ll bet you that works, too.

On Being More Like Ted Widerski

I’ve been convinced that a comment I made on another thread about Ted Widerski deserves to be shared as a post. –LAF
“I’ll miss him” only begins to capture it for me. Ted was HUGELY important to the student advocacy work I do in the District. I think I/we won’t know — fully — what we’ve lost until the school year begins to unfold.
People have said that Ted was a tireless and “courageous” advocate for TAG students, and that he was. I couldn’t agree more. At the same time, I can’t help but think “why should it require boundless courage and limitless persistence simply to get smart kids’ educational needs met?” Sigh.
On a more positive note, it has occurred to me that there are two things each of us could do to honor Ted’s memory. The first is to donate to the “Ted Widerski Mathfest Fund.” There is no better way to honor Ted than to insure that the mathfests he worked so hard to create, implement and protect KEEP HAPPENING. Send your check — appropriately marked “Ted Widerski Mathfests” — to the Foundation for Madison’s Public Schools, 455 Science Drive, Madison, WI, 53711.
The second thing each of us could do to honor Ted’s memory is to approach the coming school year with the happy intention of becoming more like him. So much of what we are up against in our advocacy work is a matter of misunderstanding, misinformation and misguided attitude. With a change in all of that – and few, if any, more dollars – the situation for our students could be profoundly different.
Practically speaking, what might it mean to “become more like Ted?” Well, here are a few beginning thoughts about that. I’m sure some of you will have many more.

Continue reading On Being More Like Ted Widerski

MMSD Retirees — A Season of Thanks

In case you haven’t seen it yet, here is a link to the list of MMSD teachers, administrators and staff who will be retiring at the end of the year. Take a look and see if maybe your child’s favorite elementary school teacher — or perhaps your own favorite secretary — might be there. If so, consider taking a moment to send them a note of thanks.

As the 2007-2008 school year winds down, it is the season for saying “thank you.” “Thank you” to all of the teachers and other District staff to whom we feel genuinely and deeply grateful. Does your school host a “teacher appreciation” event? If so, make sure your family participates. Or consider making a contribution to your school’s PTO — especially if there is a special fund for classroom teacher support — or one to your own teacher’s classroom supply fund. (We all know teachers purchase classroom supplies with their own money.) Or just take the time to write a note of thanks, perhaps encouraging your child to do the same. We have found that it feels good to end the year on a note of gratitude.
Whatever else I may say about the Madison school district and particular MMSD administrators, I also think we are blessed to have some absolutely incredible teachers in our schools. Our hats are off to each and every one of them.

2008 MMSD Joe Thomas Community Service Awards

On April 14, the Madison Metropolitan School District’s Board of Education honored eight students with the Joe Thomas Community Service Award. The award was initiated in 1995 to honor the memory of a highly respected minority services coordinator at West High School.
The award recognizes high school seniors who have made a measurable impact through community service, demonstrate commitment to high academic standards and go above and beyond expectations.
The 2008 Joe Thomas Community Service Award winners are: Marcus Thomas Chavous, Tony Freiberg, Allison Freid, Amadou Fofana, Tiffany Jones, Dorothea McDonald, Namratta Sehgal and Darnell Small.
Read more at at The Capital City Hues.
Congratulations to each of these outstanding young people!

Meet Ruth Simmons, President of Brown University

I had the great pleasure of spending a couple of days on the Brown University campus last week. Among other things, I learned about the enormous respect and affection Brown students have for their President, Ruth Simmons. Then yesterday, someone sent me this link with the memo “Another Reason to Go to Brown.” (Current high school seniors have until May 1 to decide where they will go next year.) Another reason to go to Brown? Perhaps. But I’d rather call this inspiring video snippet “another reason to dream big and believe in yourself.”

Ruth Simmons — America’s Best Leaders 2007

“Acting Black” — A Factor in Achievement Gap?

From The Madison Times
by Nisa Islam Muhammad – Special to the NNPA from The Final Call
(NNPA) — For too many Black students going to high school means fitting a stereotype of what it means to be “Black” developed by images in music, movies and media. It means “acting Black” to fit in a peer group or in response to social pressures.
According to researchers, “acting Black” is contributing to the education and achievement gap between Black and White students. They also believe it is one reason why Black students are underrepresented in gifted programs.
“If you are a Black student and are doing well in school you are accused of “acting White.” Black students performance then begins to suffer,” study author Donna Ford, professor of special education and Betts chair of education and human development at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College, told The Final Call.
“Part of the achievement gap, particularly for gifted Black students, is due to the poor images these students have of themselves as learners. Our research shows that prevention and intervention programs that focus on improving students’ achievement ethic and self-image are essential to closing the achievement gap.”
The research, one of the first to examine the concept of “acting Black,” was published in the March 2008 issue of Urban Education.

Continue reading “Acting Black” — A Factor in Achievement Gap?

MUAE “Conversation With the Candidates”

Madison United for Academic Excellence (MUAE) will be hosting a “Conversation With the Madison School Board Candidates” on Tuesday, March 11, at 7:00 p.m. in the Wright Middle School LMC, 1313 Fish Hatchery Road. Marjorie Passman and Ed Hughes are running for Seats 6 and 7, respectively. Both are running unopposed. Please join us for a relaxed and productive dialogue, sans political sparring. Bring your questions, comments, concerns and ideas. The candidates are as eager to listen as they are to speak.
As an introduction to the candidates —
Isthmus Take-Home Test, Week One:

Isthmus Take-Home Test, Week Two:
Marjorie Passman’s website:

Ed Hughes’s website:
All are welcome!

Matching Top Colleges, Low Income Students

Jim Carlton
Wall Street Journal
Last year, when Amherst College welcomed 473 new students to its idyllic campus, 10% of them came from QuestBridge.
But QuestBridge is no elite private school. It’s a nonprofit start-up in Palo Alto, Calif., that matches gifted, low-income students with 20 of the nation’s top colleges. In return, the schools — including Princeton, Yale, Stanford and Columbia — give scholarships to the students and pay QuestBridge for helping to diversify their student bodies.
The program is gaining in popularity because it addresses a growing interest of private and public colleges: increasing the diversity of their student bodies without relying solely on race. Since some states banned racial preferences in college admissions, many public colleges have begun focusing on income as a means to broaden the backgrounds of their students. Private schools, while not bound by the states’ restrictions, are also eager to admit more students from low-income families.
QuestBridge isn’t the only program that helps schools achieve diversity by focusing on the economically disadvantaged. The Posse Program, launched in 1993 by a New York nonprofit, specializes in sending groups of students who already know each other to top colleges. It got its start after the founder, Deborah Biel, discovered that several of the inner-city youth she had worked with in New York had dropped out of college. When she asked why, one responded that he didn’t have his posse with him.
Another program called Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement, or MESA, helps recruit low-income students for the University of California, California State University and other California colleges. Upward Bound, a long-running federal program, feeds low-income high-school students into colleges all over the country. And some colleges, including schools that are partnering with QuestBridge, have begun their own recruiting programs for low-income students.
The efforts come as diversity remains elusive, particularly at elite colleges. According to a 2004 study by the Century Foundation, a New York-based research group, at the 146 most selective colleges in the U.S., just 3% of the students came from families that ranked in the bottom 25% in income, while 74% came from the top 25%.

Continue reading Matching Top Colleges, Low Income Students

Comparing Sports, Arts is Dangerous Business

“I’m afraid the game is over. In our American academia, the arts must be satisfied with the leftovers.”
Frank Deford
Morning Edition, NPR
A few weeks ago, I offered up the thoughts of Gary Walters, the distinguished athletic director at Princeton, that sport should be held in the same high regard as art.
I thought it was a rather interesting and cogent opinion for someone to posit, but in the fabled words of the longtime football announcer, Keith Jackson: “Whoa, Nellie!” Never have I suffered such a battering. I think the nicest thing I was called in the responses that poured in, dripping with blood, was “apologist dingbat.”
But then, after I withdrew the slings and arrows from my person and assessed the reaction, I realized how almost all the responses didn’t really bother to address the question posed: Whether, in fact, sport might be an art. No, they were just mad, full of rage and fury. But it did serve to inform me all the more how much antipathy there does exist toward the American system of school sports.
Here are just a few of the more restrained comments:

Continue reading Comparing Sports, Arts is Dangerous Business

A Taste of College Work Provides Just the Spark

Anita Weier
A class started by a UW-Madison professor four years ago to give disadvantaged people a university experience has blossomed, resulting in about 40 of 100 “graduates” going on to college at the University of Wisconsin and elsewhere.
It’s also inspiring the current Odyssey class of 31, who gather every Wednesday night in a classroom at the Harambee Center in south Madison to stimulate their minds and learn literature and writing techniques, as well as history and philosophy.
“These are people who don’t have money but have extraordinary potential. We give them a chance and it’s amazing what can happen,” literature professor Emily Auerbach said before a recent class began. “This gives them a sense of the riches they can find.”

Read more about The Odyssey Project … and consider making an end-of-year contribution.

Board of Education Progress Report — October, 2007

I hope your school year is going well. Below is the October BOE update.
If you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact myself at or the entire board at
Arlene Silveira

Superintendent Search: Our consultants presented a summary of the
community input sessions on the desired characteristics for a new
superintendent. Read the entire report at
The desired superintendent characteristics approved by the BOE are
also available at this site. The consultant firm is recruiting and
screening candidates and will bring a slate of candidates back to the
BOE in January.
Fine Arts Task Force (FATF): The FATF is seeking community input on
their goals for Fine Arts education. The survey is available at
Referendum: The District will receive an approximate $5.5M windfall
from the city as a result of closing 2 tax incremental districts (TID).
The BOE voted to use this money to close our projected budget gap for
the ’08/09 school year. Because we will use the money to close the
projected gap, we also made the decision that we will not go to
referendum in the Spring ’08. In the summer of ’08, the BOE will begin
discussions of a possible operating referendum to cover the gap for the
’09/10 school year and beyond.
Performance and Achievement Committee: (Lawrie Kobza, Johnny Winston
Jr., Maya Cole). The committee started discussions on different school
models (charter, magnet, neighborhood, etc.). Discussions will continue
in committee. The committee reviewed a plan/proposal to expand our Play
and Learn program by making the program “mobile”. Further discussion
will continue at full BOE. The committee began the discussion of
updating district performance goals to make them more measurable and
relevant. The first goal being evaluated is focused on improving
student achievement.
Human Resources Committee: (Johnny Winston Jr., Lawrie Kobza, Beth
Moss). The committee reviewed the results of a study that had been
requested by the BOE to determine how the MMSD Administrator pay and
benefits structure and related policies compare to other selected school
districts in Wisconsin. Discussion will continue in committee.
Communications Committee: (Beth Moss, Lawrie Kobza, Carol Carstensen).
WAES (Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools) made a presentation on
state funding. A legislative update on the state budget was also
Finance and Operations Committee: (Lucy Mathiak, Carol Carstensen, Maya
Cole). The committee took the lead at analyzing the TID and referendum
options and making recommendations to the full BOE for vote (above).
Long Range Planning: (Carol Carstensen, Lucy Mathiak, Beth Moss).
There was a presentation on all of the initiatives in the District’s
Energy Management Program. There are many exciting programs in place
across the District. Since our program was put into effect, we have
decreased consumption rates and expenditures. Had we continued to
consume at 1997 consumption rates, our utility expenditures would have
been $4,400,000 more.
Community Partnerships: (Maya Cole, Johnny Winston Jr., Lucy Mathiak).
The committee is in the process of defining “Partnerships”. They are
also reviewing the policy on parent involvement in the schools.

Madison United for Academic Excellence Meeting on Charter Schools

Please join us at the next Madison United for Academic Excellence meeting on Monday, October 29, at 7:00 p.m. in the Wright Middle School LMC, 1717 Fish Hatchery Road. Our guests will be Paula Sween and Dory Witzeling from the Odyssey-Magellan charter school for gifted students in grades 3-8 in Appleton and Senn Brown of the Wisconsin Charter Schools Association. Ms. Sween was one of the founders of the Odyssey-Magellan program. She is currently the TAG Curriculum Coordinator for the Appleton school district. Ms. Witzeling is a teacher and parent at the school.
All are welcome!

“Reach Out and Read” Founder to Visit Madison

Reach Out and Read” (ROR) is a national non-profit organization that promotes early literacy by giving new books to children and advice to parents about the importance of reading aloud in pediatric exam rooms across the nation. ROR founder Dr. Perri Klass will be in Madison this week to celebrate the arrival of the program here in Madison. Dr. Klass will be giving a public talk on Thursday, October 25, at 7:00 p.m. at the Harambee Center, 2202 South Park Street. All are welcome!

Board Talks Will Focus on a New Blueprint

Susan Troller
The Capital Times
September 25, 2007

Football coach Barry Switzer’s famous quote, “Some people are born on third base and go through life thinking they hit a triple,” could easily apply to schools and school districts that take credit for students who enter school with every advantage and continue as high achievers all along.
But how do you fairly judge the job that teachers, schools and districts with many children who have significant obstacles — obstacles like poverty, low parental expectations, illness and disability or lack of English proficiency — are doing? Likewise, how do you make certain that your top students are adding growth every year as they go through school, rather than just coasting toward some average or proficient standard?

Continue reading Board Talks Will Focus on a New Blueprint

A Beloved Professor Delivers the Lecture of a Lifetime

Moving On
Jeff Zaslow
Wall Street Journal
September 20, 2007

Randy Pausch, a Carnegie Mellon University computer-science professor, was about to give a lecture Tuesday afternoon, but before he said a word, he received a standing ovation from 400 students and colleagues.
He motioned to them to sit down. “Make me earn it,” he said.
What wisdom would we impart to the world if we knew it was our last chance? For Carnegie Mellon professor Randy Pausch, the question isn’t rhetorical — he’s dying of cancer. Jeff Zaslow narrates a video on Prof. Pausch’s final lecture.
They had come to see him give what was billed as his “last lecture.” This is a common title for talks on college campuses today. Schools such as Stanford and the University of Alabama have mounted “Last Lecture Series,” in which top professors are asked to think deeply about what matters to them and to give hypothetical final talks. For the audience, the question to be mulled is this: What wisdom would we impart to the world if we knew it was our last chance?
It can be an intriguing hour, watching healthy professors consider their demise and ruminate over subjects dear to them. At the University of Northern Iowa, instructor Penny O’Connor recently titled her lecture “Get Over Yourself.” At Cornell, Ellis Hanson, who teaches a course titled “Desire,” spoke about sex and technology.
At Carnegie Mellon, however, Dr. Pausch’s speech was more than just an academic exercise. The 46-year-old father of three has pancreatic cancer and expects to live for just a few months. His lecture, using images on a giant screen, turned out to be a rollicking and riveting journey through the lessons of his life.
He began by showing his CT scans, revealing 10 tumors on his liver. But after that, he talked about living. If anyone expected him to be morose, he said, “I’m sorry to disappoint you.” He then dropped to the floor and did one-handed pushups.
Randy Pausch and his three children, ages 5, 2 and 1.
Clicking through photos of himself as a boy, he talked about his childhood dreams: to win giant stuffed animals at carnivals, to walk in zero gravity, to design Disney rides, to write a World Book entry. By adulthood, he had achieved each goal. As proof, he had students carry out all the huge stuffed animals he’d won in his life, which he gave to audience members. After all, he doesn’t need them anymore.
He paid tribute to his techie background. “I’ve experienced a deathbed conversion,” he said, smiling. “I just bought a Macintosh.” Flashing his rejection letters on the screen, he talked about setbacks in his career, repeating: “Brick walls are there for a reason. They let us prove how badly we want things.” He encouraged us to be patient with others. “Wait long enough, and people will surprise and impress you.” After showing photos of his childhood bedroom, decorated with mathematical notations he’d drawn on the walls, he said: “If your kids want to paint their bedrooms, as a favor to me, let ’em do it.”
While displaying photos of his bosses and students over the years, he said that helping others fulfill their dreams is even more fun than achieving your own. He talked of requiring his students to create videogames without sex and violence. “You’d be surprised how many 19-year-old boys run out of ideas when you take those possibilities away,” he said, but they all rose to the challenge.
He also saluted his parents, who let him make his childhood bedroom his domain, even if his wall etchings hurt the home’s resale value. He knew his mom was proud of him when he got his Ph.D, he said, despite how she’d introduce him: “This is my son. He’s a doctor, but not the kind who helps people.”
He then spoke about his legacy. Considered one of the nation’s foremost teachers of videogame and virtual-reality technology, he helped develop “Alice,” a Carnegie Mellon software project that allows people to easily create 3-D animations. It had one million downloads in the past year, and usage is expected to soar.
“Like Moses, I get to see the Promised Land, but I don’t get to step foot in it,” Dr. Pausch said. “That’s OK. I will live on in Alice.”
Many people have given last speeches without realizing it. The day before he was killed, Martin Luther King Jr. spoke prophetically: “Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place.” He talked of how he had seen the Promised Land, even though “I may not get there with you.”
Dr. Pausch’s lecture, in the same way, became a call to his colleagues and students to go on without him and do great things. But he was also addressing those closer to his heart.
Near the end of his talk, he had a cake brought out for his wife, whose birthday was the day before. As she cried and they embraced on stage, the audience sang “Happy Birthday,” many wiping away their own tears.
Dr. Pausch’s speech was taped so his children, ages 5, 2 and 1, can watch it when they’re older. His last words in his last lecture were simple: “This was for my kids.” Then those of us in the audience rose for one last standing ovation.
Write to Jeffrey Zaslow at

The Achievement Trap: How American is Failing Millions of High-Achieving Students from Lower-Income Families

Groundbreaking report just released by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation. Here is the September 10, 2007, press release:
Current education policy focused on “proficiency” misses opportunity to raise achievement levels among the brightest, lower-income students
WASHINGTON, DC – A disturbing talent drain in our nation’s schools, squandering the potential of millions of lower-income, high-achieving students each year was exposed today before the U.S. House of Representative’s Education Committee. New research cited at the hearing shows that students who demonstrate strong academic potential despite obstacles that come with low incomes, are currently ignored under No Child Left Behind (NCLB).
Alternative NCLB legislation being debated in the Education Committee hearing today includes provisions that could, for the first time, hold schools accountable for the academic growth of students performing at advanced levels. The report cited in the testimony -Achievement Trap: How America is Failing 3.4 Million High-Achieving Students from Lower-Income Families – is a first-of-its-kind look at a population below the median income level that starts school performing at high levels, but loses ground at virtually every level of schooling and suffers a steep plummet in college.

Continue reading The Achievement Trap: How American is Failing Millions of High-Achieving Students from Lower-Income Families

West HS English 10: More from Pam Nash

As many of you know, I have been in touch with the District and West HS administration — as well as with our BOE — with a request for “before-and-after” data on the English elective choices of West’s juniors and seniors. The reason for my request is that one of the primary reasons why English 10 was implemented was the concern that some groups of West students were not choosing to take challenging electives in their upper class years. Here are links to my earlier posts:
On August 29, I received the following email from Pam Nash:
Our Research and Evaluation staff reported today that the district does not keep course requests and course assignments beyond one year. Therefore, we cannot retrieve information that shows, historically, what English courses were chosen by whom over time.
We will be able to give you this year’s information by the end of next week.

Continue reading West HS English 10: More from Pam Nash

West HS English 10: Request for Data — Reply from Pam Nash

I received the following reply to my request for English 10 data from Assistant Superintendent for Secondary Schools Pam Nash:
Date: Fri, 24 Aug 2007 14:27:48 -0500
Mr. Holmes and his staff will do this. Pam
Pamela J. Nash
Assistant Superintendent
for Secondary Schools
Madison Metropolitan School District
(608) 663-1635
(608) 442-2149 (fax)

And here’s what I wrote back:
Date: Fri, 24 Aug 2007 15:21:06 -0500
From: “Laurie A. Frost”
Subject: Re: English 10 early results request
Thank you, Pam. I will look forward to receiving the data.
I know you all probably see me as a thorn in your side. Please try to understand, I am simply trying to keep you honest with the public … and empirically based.
If the results are positive — if English 10 is associated with a significant change in the target variable of concern (rigor of elective choices in 11th and 12th grade) — wouldn’t you want to know?
And if the results are not positive, wouldn’t you want to know?

West HS English 10: Request for Data

Here is an email I sent to the BOE, asking them to request important outcome data for West HS’s English 10 initiative. Embedded in the email is my own request for such data. As both a content and a process issue, I should think this would be of interest to all SIS readers. By all means, feel free to write to these people with your own request. –LAF
August 22, 2007
Dear BOE (especially Performance and Achievement Committee members Kobza, Winston and Cole):
Please see my email below to various people involved with the West HS English 10 initiative. Thank you for taking the appropriate and expected responsibility to obtain these data and make them public. We need to know if the things we are doing to our high school students are actually having the desired impact, in part, to guard against our doing things for our own misguided adult reasons (things like politics and stubborn pride).
I should think that the gap-closing effectiveness (or lack thereof) of a core course in 10th grade English at one of our four high schools would be of significant interest to community members throughout the District, including parents, teachers and students at the other three high schools … and especially members of our School Board.
Many thanks,
Date: Wed, 22 Aug 2007 08:42:39 -0500
From: “Laurie A. Frost”
Subject: English 10 early results request
Dear All:
One of the primary reasons for the implementation of English 10 at West High School was concern about the failure of some groups of West students to take rigorous English electives in their upper class years.
Can you please send me the data regarding the English electives chosen by this year’s 11th graders when they registered for classes six months ago? (Needless to say, I would also like to see the English elective data for the past few years, so that a meaningful comparison can be made between the choices of English 10-era versus pre-English 10-era students.)
This is the first group of West students to take English 10, so a look at the early results of the curricular initiative seems appropriate, as does sharing that information with the West community. I assume that the data are appropriately disaggregated by race and SES, given your concerns and your hypotheses about the impact of the new core course.
Many thanks.
Laurie Frost
West HS parent

Cartoonist among role models for high school boys.

Oh, that every one of our high schools had a “AAA” (“African American Achievement”) Team. —LAF
Susan Troller
The Capital Times
The only guy who can truly hold you back is the guy in the mirror,” cartoonist Robb Armstrong told a group of mostly male, mostly African-American students at La Follette High School on Tuesday.
He is the creator of the nationally syndicated comic strip JumpStart, which focuses on an African-American family and until recently ran in the Wisconsin State Journal. He was in Madison, speaking to members of the African-American Achievement Team, based at La Follette.
Armstrong grew up in a tough West Philadelphia neighborhood with his fiercely ambitious mother and four siblings.
An advocate for education who talks to over 5,000 students a year, Armstrong held his audience spellbound for about an hour as he talked about his family, his friends and the hard choices he had to make to pursue his passion as a cartoonist.

Continue reading Cartoonist among role models for high school boys.

How Schools Get It Right

Experienced teachers, supplemental programs are two key elements to helping students thrive
Liz Bowie
Baltimore Sun
July 22, 2007
Tucked amid a block of rowhouses around the corner from Camden Yards is an elementary school with a statistical profile that often spells academic trouble: 76 percent of the students are poor, and 95 percent are minorities.
But George Washington Elementary has more academic whizzes than most of the schools in Howard, Anne Arundel, Carroll and Baltimore counties.
These students don’t just pass the Maryland School Assessment – they ace it. About 46.2 percent of George Washington students are scoring at the advanced level, representing nearly half of the school’s 94 percent pass rate.
An analysis by The Sun of 2007 MSA scores shows that most schools with a large percentage of high achievers on the test are in the suburban counties, often neighborhoods of middle- and upper-middle-class families. But a few schools in poorer neighborhoods, such as George Washington, have beaten the odds.
Statewide, Howard County had the highest percentage of students with advanced scores, and Montgomery and Worcester counties weren’t far behind.
Of the top five elementary schools, two are in Montgomery County, two in Anne Arundel and one in Baltimore County.
Whether they are in wealthy or poor neighborhoods, schools with lots of high-scoring students share certain characteristics. They have experienced teachers who stay for years, and they offer extracurricular activities after school. Sometimes, they have many students in gifted-and-talented classes working with advanced material.

Students Swim In Knowledge of Aqua Biology Class

Susan Troller
The Capital Times
You can’t blame them for screaming, even if it does scare the fish.
The high school students in Paul du Vair’s aqua biology summer school course have learned to be extraordinarily game as they explore and record scientific data about Lake Mendota and its Six Mile Creek tributary. But there are a few things that make even these field-tested young ecologists shriek or howl out loud.
Like when they emerge from Lake Mendota or Six Mile Creek with blood-sucking leeches firmly attached to their legs. Or when they are hauling nets through waist-deep, murky water and big dark shapes bump against them. Or when they are wading along and suddenly step deep into a hidden, muck-filled hole.
The 20-odd students who are part of du Vair’s three-week summer enrichment biology class are not faint of heart, and they don’t complain much. Like generations before them, they are taking part in a Madison institution, the only summer school enrichment course that has survived mostly unchanged from the 1960s.

Paul du Vair is the legendary TAG Biology teacher at Madison East High School.

Parent Training Opportunity with Corwin Kronenberg

The District will be holding a parent training session with Corwin Kronenberg on Wednesday, August 22, from 7:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Hilton Garden Inn on Deming Way. Mr. Kronenberg’s focus will be “A Parent’s Approach to Above-the-Line-Behavior for Students.” Teachers will be doing an all-day training with Mr. Kronenberg on August 20 that will focus on creating a common understanding of behavioral expectations in the classroom.
Each MMSD principal was asked to work with their parent organization to send a representative team of five parents to the event. It is not clear if this happened at each school or if the program has reached capacity.
If you did not hear about this event before the school year ended and are interested in going, contact either your principal or the appropriate Assistant Superintendent — for elementary parents, that would be Sue Abplanalp (, 663-1639); for middle and high school parents, Pam Nash (, 663-1635).
Read more about the MMSD’s adoption of Kronenberg’s system —

Accelerated Biology Update: “Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics”?

When last I wrote about the status of Accelerated Biology at West HS, I was waiting to hear back from Assistant Superintendent Pam Nash. I had written to Pam on June 8 about how the promised second section of the course never had a chance, given the statistical procedure they used to admit students for next year.
On June 11, I wrote to Pam again, this time including Superintendent Rainwater. I said to them “I do hope one of you intends to respond to [my previous email]. I hope you appreciate what it looks like out in the community. Either the selection system was deliberately designed to preclude the need for two sections (in which case the promise of two sections was completely disingenuous) or someone’s lack of facility with statistical procedures is showing.” I heard back from Art right away. He said that one of them would respond by the end of the week.
On 6/13, he did, indeed, write:

I finally have time to reply to your concerns. In our meeting I agreed that selecting an arbitrary number of 20 students for accelerated biology was not fair. I agreed to examine this and develop a process that would allow all students who meet a set criteria to be provided the accelerated biology class. I used two sections as an example. Obviously it would be just as wrong to set an arbitrary 2 sections as it would be to set 20 as an arbitrary number. Our intent was to set a cut score on the placement test and allow everyone who met the cut score to be enrolled in the class. After reviewing the previous years test data we selected the mean score of the last student admitted over the past several years. I understand that you believe that is not the way to select. However, I am very comfortable with this approach and approved it as the means of selecting who can be enrolled. Thank you for your continued concern about these issues. Please feel free to bring to my attention any other inequities that you see in our curriculum.

I quickly replied, twice. Here is my first reply (6/13):

Quickly, I have one question, Art (and will likely write more later). Each year, four slots are reserved for additional students to get into the Accel Bio class in the fall. These might be students who are new to the District, who didn’t know about the screening test in the spring, or who want to try again.
Were the screening test scores of students admitted into the class in the fall included in the selection system used on this year’s 8th graders?

(SIS readers, the reason why it is important to know if the fall scores were included is that it is highly likely that the scores of the students who enter the class in the fall are lower than the cut score used for selection purposes in the spring. It is simply too hard to believe that four students scoring higher than the cut score would magically appear each fall.)
Art wrote back simply (6/13):

There are two slots remaining.

I wrote back again (6/13):

My question is about the set of scores that were used to determine the cut score for this year. Were the scores of students admitted into the class in the fall over the past several years included in the set of scores used to determine this year’s cut score?

Art, parents would like to see all of the test scores from recent years — that is, we would like to see the frequency distribution of all scores for each year, with the cut score indicated and the scores of the fall entires into the class included.

Meanwhile, my second initial email (6/13) consisted of a forward to Art of the email he wrote to me on February 12, with a cover line:

Art, see below. FWIW, there is no ambiguity or equivocation in your email here. –L
Date: Mon, 12 Feb 2007 08:04:40 -0600
From: “Art Rainwater”
To: “Laurie A. Frost”
Subject: Re: West HS follow-up: Accelerated Biology
We have followed up with Ed and there will be an additional Advanced Biology class.

After seeing a copy of his own email, Art replied (6/13):

Creating two accelerated biology classes solely for the sake of having 40 students taking the class is no different than having a class for 20 students arbitrarily selected. If you feel that I broke some promise to you based on this email I am sorry. The responsibility for these decisions is mine and I am going to make the one that I feel is in the best interest of the district. I believe this decision is fair and removed the arbitrary nature of the previous class selection.
My decision is final.

I have not yet written back, but here is what I will say: “Art, I do feel you broke your promise to me. I also feel you broke your promise to future West HS students. Selection based on high scores is not “arbitrary.” And 40 is no more or less “arbitrary” a number than 20. “Arbitrary” means “for no particular reason.” But you had a reason. For whatever reason, you (or someone) wanted to make sure there was only one section of the class after all. If you (or that same someone) had wanted there to be two sections of the class, then you (or they) would have come up with selection criteria designed to insure that outcome.”
Meanwhile, I forwarded Art’s emails to the three other West parents who attended the meeting with him in January. To a one, we recall the same thing very clearly, that Art agreed there should be a second section of Accelerated Biology at West due to consistently high interest and demand at the school and in order to create greater access to a particular learning opportunity, the same expanded access there is at the other high schools. My best guess is that Art ran into unanticipated and powerful opposition to a second section in some key places at West and so is now changing his story.
In my mind, I keep going back to how poorly the Accelerated Biology screening test was publicized at Hamilton; how the Hamilton staff were told by the West counselors to “downplay” the opportunity to the students; and how that West staff person responded so carefully, “IF there is need for a second section, then the current teacher has been asked to teacher it.” All that, combined with a selection procedure that so clearly guaranteed only one section’s worth of eligible students (a point that no teacher or administrator seems to understand).
Now I’m hearing that at least some parents of students who did not get into the class are reluctant to say anything because they fear repercussions from the West staff.
Mission accomplished? I guess so, though it depends on what your mission is.
Interestingly, today’s SLC grant focus group at West included a long discussion of the fact that we have no PTSO officers for next year and what sort of parental frustration and dissatisfaction with the school might account for that.

The Capital City HUES Second Annual Row of Excellence

The Capital City HUES is proud to present the second annual Row of Excellence. This honor is bestowed on seniors of color graduating with a cumulative grade point average of 3.0 or above. Most of our Row members far exceed that minimum threshold. The vast majority of the members of the Row share a measure of their free time working with and helping other students, non-profits, or people who are not able to provide for themselves. The current of community service runs deep in this class. The current of scholarly excellence also runs deep with them. A fair number are members of the National Honor Society. Some are graduating with a 4.0 GPA or are hovering close to that mark. Many excel in athletics and/or the performing arts. All of these students use their time wisely as they prepare for the next stage in their lives.
The Capital City HUES congratulates the members of this Row of Excellence. We wish them the best as they make their way to their future careers. They make us — and this community — proud.

I’d like to offer my personal congratulations to each and every one of these impressive young people. They are an inspiration to us all!

Season of Gratitude

As we begin the last week of the school year, I’d like to encourage everyone to make a point of saying “thank you” to at least one teacher, administrator or other school staff person in the coming few days. Teaching is one of the hardest jobs on the planet. We have some really fine ones in our schools. Take a moment to write a note or an email, make a phone call, or stop by a classroom.

Accelerated Biology at West HS Stands Still

I have a friend who is fond of saying “never ascribe to maliciousness that which can be accounted for by incompetence.” These words have become a touchstone for me in my dealings with the Madison schools. I work harder than some people might ever believe to remember that every teacher, administrator and staff person I interact with is a human being, with real feelings, probably very stressed out and over-worked. I also do my best to remember to express gratitude and give kudos where they are due and encourage my sons to do the same. But recent events regarding Accelerated Biology at West HS — and how that compares to things I have heard are happening at one of the other high schools in town — have stretched my patience and good will to the limit.

Continue reading Accelerated Biology at West HS Stands Still

Economic Snapshot: The $363,000 High School Diploma

June is when many Wisconsin families celebrate high school graduations. As usual, Wisconsin ranks near the top nationally, with nearly a 90 percent high school graduation rate. Data from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction indicates that in the 2005-2006 school year, many schools in the Capital Region graduated over 95 percent of their students. However, 260 students (14.4%) in the Madison School District dropped out of high school in that school year.
What is the cost of high school dropouts? The U.S. Census estimates that in 2005, high school graduates in Dane County earned $9,083 more than high school dropouts. The 263 Madison students who did not complete high school in 2006 will earn $94.5 million less ($363,320 less each) over a 40-year career. At the state level, estimated lost earnings over a lifetime are nearly $1.4 billion.
According to the U.S. Census, 31.6 percent of families in Wisconsin headed by a person without a high school diploma live in poverty. According to reports filed with the Department of Health and Human Services for the 2004-2005 fiscal year, 48 percent of the adults requiring Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) in Wisconsin did not have a high school degree.
In addition to the $94.5 million in lost earnings, studies show that adults who lack high school degrees are at an elevated risk of incarceration and needing publicly financed medical care.
2005-2006 high school dropouts total lifetime earnings loss:
Madison Metropolitan School District — $95,553,160
Milwaukee School District — $590,775,360
Wisconsin total — $1,390,584,360
Source: WINSS, Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, 2005 American Community Survey, U.S. Census Table: B2004, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, TANF, TAble 25, FY 04-05.
For more information, contact Professor Andy Lewis, Center for Community and Economic Development, U.W. Extension, at

Community invited to give input on grant opportunity

(It seems that the public information session on the work of the High School Redesign Committee — including how it relates to the SLC grant described below — has been turned into something else quite entirely.)

On Thursday, June 7, 2007, Superintendent Art Rainwater will be leading a discussion to solicit the Board of Education’s and community’s input on a $5.5 million dollar grant application to the U.S. Department of Education.
The grant recipients would be the four comprehensive MMSD high schools. The focus of the grant will be the expansion or creation of personalized learning environments so that all students in these high schools will be able to access programs and classes that will make the most of each student’s intellectual potential and provide a clear pathway to post secondary education or careers.
The grant is titled “Smaller Learning Communities” and focuses on the well-researched idea that schools with populations approaching two thousand need a variety of ways for students to meaningfully connect with adults, to form strong, productive peer relationships, and to be successfully challenged by a rigorous academic program.
This discussion will take place at a Special Board of Education meeting that will be held at Wright Middle School, 1717 Fish Hatchery Road [map], starting at 6:30 PM.
Madison Metropolitan School District
Public Information Office
545 W. Dayton St.
Madison, WI 53703

Law Enforcement and Crime Control in Madison — The Business Forum

Thursday, June 7, 2007
The Madison Club
11:30 a.m. – Networking
12:00 noon – Lunch & Program
Sponsor: Jennifer Krueger, Murphy Desmond, S.C.
The Madison area, we like to believe, offers many of the advantages of a larger city without the worst trials of big-city life – crime and violence among them. Recently, however, the Madison Police Department has dealt with a series of muggings downtown, melees outside local nightclubs, and increased gang activity. Is the crime rate in Madison keeping pace with the city’s development?
Noble Wray, Chief of the Madison Police Department, will join us in June to give us his assessment of the “climate of crime” in Madison.

Continue reading Law Enforcement and Crime Control in Madison — The Business Forum

Morehouse President to Retire

Morning Edition:

Morehouse College President Walter Massey is set to speak to graduates for the final time this weekend. He’s due to retire this summer after 12 years. The all-male, historically black college has such notable alumni as the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Spike Lee. Massey himself attended Morehouse, arriving when he was just 16. Massey tells Steve Inskeep that when he arrived at Morehouse as a student he wasn’t certain that he would succeed.

MMSD High School Redesign Committee Selected

According to a report from a recent East High United meeting, where MMSD Assistant Superintendent for Secondary Schools Pam Nash did a presentation on the District’s high school redesign plans, the following eleven people have been named to the redesign committee:
Pam Nash — Assistant Superintendent for Secondary Schools, former principal of Memorial HS. While at Memorial, Ms. Nash oversaw the development and implementation of the “neighborhoods” school restructuring and implementation of the 9th grade core curriculum.
Alan Harris — Principal of East HS, former principal at Black Hawk MS.

Loren Rathert
— Interim principal at LaFollette HS, former interim principal at East HS, former MMSD Social Studies Coordinator, and former principal at West HS. While at West, Mr. Rathert oversaw the development and initial implementation of the SLC grant, including the initial implementation of the school restructuring and the 9th and 10th grade core curriculum.
Ed Holmes — Principal at West HS (since fall, 2004), former principal at Wright MS and former assistant principal at West HS. Mr. Holmes has been principal at West during the continued implementation of the SLC grant, school restructuring, and 9th and 10th grade core curriculum.

Bruce Dahmen
— Principal at Memorial HS.
Sally Schultz — Principal at Shabazz HS.
Steve Hartley — MMSD Director of Alternative Programs. These include the Transitional Education Program (TEP), the School-Age Parent Program (SAPAR), Operation Fresh Start, the Omega program and many others. Mr. Hartley also oversees the District’s implementation of the state-mandated Youth Options Program (YOP), which requires the District to pay for appropriate educational opportunities for eligible high school juniors and seniors whose needs cannot be met at their own schools. A wide range of students may take advantage of YOP. The District’s YOP implementation and — importantly — policy regarding the giving of high school credit for non-MMSD courses is currently under review and has been discussed on this blog —

Lisa Wachtel
— Director of MMSD Teaching and Learning Department, former MMSD Science Coordinator. Dr. Wachtel oversees a staff of 30-40 educational professionals across a variety of content areas. Possibly important, when asked by the Superintendent to cut two people from her staff for next year, she chose to eliminate two TAG staff (leaving a TAG staff of only five people for the entire district, if the BOE approves the cut).
L. Alan Phelps — Professor in the U.W. Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis (School of Education) and Director of the U.W. Center on Education and Work. He seems to have special interests in special education and intercultural learning. Here are links to two of his recent papers, one entitled “Using Post-School Outcomes Data to Improve Practices and Policies in Restructured Inclusive High Schools” and another entitled “High Schools with Authentic and Inclusive Learning Practices: Selected Features and Findings” —

M. Bruce King — Faculty Associate in the U.W. Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis (School of Education). Dr. King is a longtime West area parent and was hired by the District to serve as the West HS SLC Evaluator. He is the author of the November, 2005, report on West’s English 10 initiative that has been heavily discussed on this blog —

Diana Hess — Associate Professor in the U.W. Department of Curriculum and Instruction (School of Education). Dr. Hess’s special area is social studies education, with a particular interest in training teachers to do discussion-based instruction, especially around controversial issues. Here is a link to an article by Dr. Hess entitled “Teaching Students to Discuss Controversial Public Issues” —

“No, My Son Doesn’t ‘Act Black.’ There’s No Such Thing.”

This powerful first-person account by Aleta Payne first appeared in the Washington Post earlier this month. It brought tears to my eyes as I read it in our own Cap Times last night. The piece drives home the multifaceted nature of the achievement gap, underscoring the fact that the search for a single solution is seriously misguided and that we must each do our part.

Sam came home from the overnighter visibly crushed. He curled around his hurt as though he’d been punched in the gut, and he refused to say what had happened. My husband and I fought panic as all the horrible things that might happen to a 14-year-old away from home pounded through our brains. We cajoled and interrogated as he tried to disappear into the living room sofa, until finally, enough of the story emerged to reassure us that our oldest son hadn’t been physically injured. But his suffering was still real.
His friends had asked him why he didn’t act black.

Continue reading “No, My Son Doesn’t ‘Act Black.’ There’s No Such Thing.”

MPIE and MUAE Update

As some of you may recall, back in December, I posted a few questions to the members of Madison Partners for Inclusive Education. As a result of that posting, several members of each group have met a couple of times in order to try and make personal connections and identify areas of shared concern and potential joint advocacy. It is too early to say how that effort is going. I, personally, am ever hopeful that we can find the patience and persistence needed to build a foundation of mutual understanding and trust, a foundation upon which we can ultimately work together for all children.
I would like to share a recent exchange from the MUAE list serve (where MPIE members have been welcome since the get-go — in fact, more than one are longtime MUAE list serve members). In response to a post about one of the BOE candidates, an MPIE member wrote the following:
I would like to clarify something that was misstated in a recent post. Madison Partners for Inclusive Education (MPIE) does NOT promote or endorse COMPLETELY heterogeneous classrooms ALL the time. The group does not think completely heterogeneous classrooms all of the time is in the best interest of children with disabilities. Their website goes on to explain their philosophy: Thank you for understanding this and clarifying in future posts.

I then replied:
Thanks for the clarification, though I really think we are in agreement on this point. Certainly the inclusion decision for students with disabilities should be a flexible one, based on the specific nature of the disabilities, the specific educational needs, and the family’s preference for their child. Most of us know, for example, about IDEA and the K-12 IEP process. We know, too, that our high schools offer alternative classes and other learning options for those students with disabilities for whom the “regular” classes are not appropriate.
I am sure we get sloppy with our language, at times; but our language errors are surely inadvertent, mostly because — like all parents — we are simply thinking about our own children, whether or not they are thriving, and whether or not their needs are being well met by our schools. We are guilty of being good parents. Nevertheless, we apologize.
The fact is, we do not want much of anything to change for students with disabilities. (We would like to see the state and federal governments pay a larger portion of the tab for special education — can we encourage your group to take the lead on that issue at the local level?). We support all of the flexibility, all of the options, and all of the tailoring of educational programming that goes on for them during their years in the MMSD. MUAE stands absolutely with MPIE on that, as I see it (though obviously I really can’t speak for everyone). We are your partners there.
We ask the same of you.
I wonder, will you be our partners in getting our children’s educational needs met in the same way that the needs of students with disabilities are met? Just as you do not think placement in completely heterogeneous classrooms all of the time is in the best interest of children with disabilities, so do we think such placement is inappropriate for our children. Full days spent in “regular” classrooms does not necessarily meet our children’s educational needs any better than it does your children’s needs. We are told the District is committed to giving each student the appropriate “next level of challenge.” And yet too many of us know (or have) “formerly bright” students who have become turned off to school as a result of too many years of insufficient challenge and chronic boredom. They are miserable. They are in pain. They are not growing well at all. Meanwhile, our advocacy efforts on our children’s behalf are too often met with disdain, deception and complete stonewalling. We do not yet have the same legal foundation on which to stand as you do.
We at MUAE are simply asking for the same flexibility — in thinking, in approach, in educational opportunity and in classroom placement — for the District’s highest potential, highest performing students that students with disabilities experience. Nothing more; nothing less.
Can you and the other MPIE members support us in that position as wholeheartedly as MUAE members support you in yours? (That’s really the question I was asking of you in my SIS post a while back.)
I hope so.

Help Increase Support for Wisconsin Students of Poverty to Take AP Exams

Below you will find a forward from the Wisconsin Gifted Education listserv. A brief communication from each of us to our state legislators could release money to cover AP exam registration fees for Wisconsin students who qualify for free and reduced lunch. A small change is needed in the wording of a specific state statute in order to release federal dollars for that purpose. Thanks for your help. –LAF

As you know, students are beginning to pay registration fees for the Advanced Placement Exams they are planning to take in May.
In Chapter 120 of “School District Government,” Wisconsin statute 120.12 — “School Board Duties”, item (22) — reads as follows:
ADVANCED PLACEMENT EXAMINATIONS. Pay the costs of advanced placement examinations taken by pupils enrolled in the school district who are eligible for free or reduced – price lunches in the federal school lunch program under 42 USC 1758.
While no one objects to these students having the exam fee paid, the district common funds that are used for this purpose are constantly being reduced. As there are no state aids connected to this legislative requirement, districts are following the statute as an “unfunded mandate”.
The Department of Public Instruction has written a federal grant which would allow a variety of other funds (not just local common funds) to be used for the payment of AP exam fees. The federal grant is on hold pending some immediate action by our legislature to change the wording of the above quoted statute that would allow federal grant money to be awarded to the Department of Public Instruction for the express purpose of reimbursing districts for the AP exam fees of students qualifying for free or reduced lunches. With the current language in the statute, the federal government will not release grant funds for this purpose because thy see it as “supplanting” other resources.
Action is needed immediately since students are NOW registering for those exams and district are required to cover these fees NOW.
Let your legislators know that their immediate action to change the wording of the statute would result in the release of federal grant money to the State of Wisconsin. If no action is taken, the grant money will be lost. The decision is currently on hold, pending legislative action.
Go to “Who are my Legislators?” to find out who represents you. You will see their email and snail mail addresses. You are advised to send both and always remember to include your home street address so that the legislator realizes that you do live and vote in their district.
Ruth Robinson
Coordinator of Talented & Gifted Education & District Assessment
527 South Franklin Street
Janesville, WI 53548
608-743-5130 fax

Better Serving Gifted Students of Poverty

The National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) has just published the proceedings of their recent conference on high potential learners of poverty. The book is called “Overlooked Gems: A National Perspective on Low-Income Promising Learners” and includes chapters by Donna Ford, Alexinia Baldwin and Paula Olszewski-Kibilius.
To download or order a free copy of “Overlooked Gems,” go to and click on “New at NAGC: Conference Proceedings.”
Also on the NAGC website, a brief article by Paul Slocumb and Ruby Payne entitled “Identifying and Nurturing the Gifted Poor”. Slocumb and Payne are the authors of “Removing the Mask: Giftedness in Poverty.”
Previous post on academically talented MMSD students of color and poverty:
Article on the negative effects of detracking, especially for high achieving students of color and poverty (cited by U.W. Professor of Sociology and Educational Policy Studies Adam Gamoran, Ph.D., in his chapter “Classroom Organization and Instructional Quality“): “If Tracking is Bad, Is Detracking Better?” by J. E. Rosenbaum (American Educator, 1999).

Mentors needed

Would you be willing to serve as an academic mentor for a highly able student who needs the expertise of a trained adult? Mentorships may provide a student with an opportunity to independently research a topic in depth, or to explore and experiment within an academic area of passionate interest. Mentors are needed in math, the visual and performing arts, science, social studies, technology, and writing. We would work with the student’s classroom teachers to find a time each week for you and the student to meet.
If you are interested in serving as a mentor, please email Kerry Berns, MMSD TAG resource teacher, at

Gifted student feels Left Behind

Dave Toplikar
January 30, 2007
Lawrence ninth grader to speak up for high achievers during Capitol visit.
As No Child Left Behind policy is reviewed this year, there is one group of students some think may have been left behind — those who are high achievers.
“Most of the time I’m stuck in regular classes,” said Dravid Joseph, a ninth-grader at West Junior High. “Sometimes I’m bored with what I’m doing there.”
Partially for that reason, Dravid will join a contingent of some of Kansas’ most gifted students who will travel Wednesday to Topeka to advocate for specialized classes for more than 15,000 of their peers across the state.
Similar stories from Wisconsin and beyond:

Madison United for Academic Excellence Meeting on Our High Schools

Madison United for Academic Excellence (MUAE — will hold its next monthly meeting on Tuesday, January 23, at 7:00 p.m. in Room 209 of the Doyle Administration Building. The topic for the evening will be our high schools. An informal panel of students and parents from each of our four high schools will be joining us for the evening. They will provide us with an insider’s view of their school communities and update us on recent events at their schools. We also hope to have a representative from the MMSD Student Senate at the meeting.
Here is the complete list of topics that we will be discussing that evening:
1) A comparison of the four high schools, in terms of course offerings — especially in terms of high-end course offerings, especially at the 9th and 10th grade levels.
2) An update on Superintendent Rainwater’s December 4 “High Schools of the Future” presentation, including his plans for a two-year high school “study” and the freeze he has put on any further changes in our high schools while the study is going on.
3) The difference between TAG, honors, accelerated, advanced, AP (Advanced Placement) and IB (International Baccalaureate) classes; the evidence regarding AP courses and tests and later success in college; and the AP audit that is going to be conducted this year.
4) An update on the current situation at each high school.
5) A report on the MMSD Student Senate’s recent discussion of embedded honors and complete heterogeneity in the high school classroom.
6) An update on the Youth Options Program and the general issue of receiving MMSD credit for non-MMSD courses.

View from the MMSD Student Senate

At its November 21, 2006, meeting, the MMSD Student Senate discussed many issues of interest to this blog community (e.g., completely heterogeneous high school classes, embedded honors options, etc.). Here is the relevant section from the minutes for that meeting:
Comments and Concerns:

  • regular classes don’t have a high enough level of discussion
  • students who would normally be in higher level courses would dominate heterogeneous class discussions
  • bring students up rather than down
  • honors classes help students who want to excel to do so
  • array of advanced and regular classes in every subject
  • honors and AP classes are dominated by a certain type of students (concerning ethnicity, socio-economic status, neighborhood, family, etc.)
  • honors within regular classes — response to whether or not regular students are an integral part of the class:
      not isolating
      discussion level is still high
      homework is the same (higher expectation for essays; two textbooks)
      teachers don’t cater to one type of student in discussions
  • there’s a risk of losing highly-motivated students to private schools
  • being in a classroom with students of similar skill levels is beneficial
  • teachers teach very differently to honors/advanced/AP students than they do to regular students
  • least experienced teachers are given to students who need the most experienced teachers (new teachers get lowest level classes)
  • sometimes split classes will be divided so that the honors students will be doing work in the front of the classroom while the regular students are doing lab work in the back
  • the problem is with the average classes
  • won’t help anything to cut TAG classes
  • mental divide among students in classes where honors and regular students are in the same classroom
  • more behavioral problems in regular classes (possibly more behavioral problems) à cycle teachers through so that one teacher isn’t stuck with the same type of student for an extended time
  • college is a factor to consider
  • Main problems to bring to BOE:

    • higher standards for all students *
    • division within classes creates too many boundaries *
    • not bad to keep advanced classes in some disciplines *
    • voluntary peer education *
    • colleges consider accelerated course loads (factor to consider) *

    *Group majority

    Continue reading View from the MMSD Student Senate

    A few questions for MPIE members …

    I have a few questions for Barb and the other members of MPIE. I hope one or more of them will take the time to answer.
    As I look over the course catalogs for the four high schools, I see that each school has both a Special Education Department and an English as a Second Language Department (although they may not be called exactly that at each school). Each of these departments in each of the four high schools offers an extensive range of courses for students who qualify and need the specialized educational experiences offered within these departments. Many of the courses offered by these departments fulfill graduation requirements and so can be used as curriculum replacement for the “regular” courses.
    Here are my questions:

    1. Does MPIE advocate having the District dismantle the Special Education and English as a Second Language Departments in our high schools? (I assume the answer is “no.”)
    2. Does MPIE advocate having the District deny high school graduation credit for any and all courses offered within these departments, so that truly ALL students will be required to take 9th (and — at West — 10th) grade core courses at our high schools? (Again, I assume the answer is “no.”)
    3. If MPIE advocates full inclusion, why aren’t the answers to the above two questions “yes — absolutely, yes”?
    4. Does MPIE advocate getting rid of all advanced, honors, accelerated, TAG and Advanced Placement classes at our four high schools? In 9th grade? In 10th grade? In all four grades? What is your vision with regard to advanced and accelerated classes?
    5. Please help me understand the logic that says it’s O.K. to have entire departments within each high school devoted to the specialized educational needs of some groups of students (not to mention adjustments to high school graduation requirements designed to meet those students’ needs), but it is not O.K. to have even a few sections of classes aimed at meeting the specialized educational needs of other students? (IMHO, this way of thinking is really best described as a belief in “selective inclusion.”)
    6. Can you see the inherent illogic, inequity and unfairness of that position?
    7. How do you decide which groups of students with specialized educational needs get to have their educational needs met and which groups of students do not?
    8. It seems to me that a big part of the answer to that question should come from the research done from the perspective of the group of students under consideration. Do you agree or disagree with that premise?
    9. Are you aware of the consistency (of findings, of conclusions, of recommendations) within the literature on how best to meet the needs of high performing students (a.k.a. “best practices”)?
    10. Why does MPIE prefer the policy of getting rid of advanced high school classes over the policy of working with all K-8 students (and their families) in such a way as to increase the diversity of the students in those classes?
    11. What do some middle and upper middle class parents of children with special education needs find so threatening about the thought of having their schools meet the educational needs of high ability, high performing, even academically talented students with the same thoughtfulness and commitment that they meet the needs of students with other special educational needs?
    12. Are you aware that MMSD and national data indicate that approximately 20-25% of high school dropouts are academically gifted and have a demonstrated history of high academic performance? (In our District, that number is significantly higher at West HS than at the other three high schools and a disproportionate number of the “high performing” dropouts throughout the District are poor and minority students.) How do you understand those data and what do you think should be done about the situation?
    13. Have you read this American Psychologist article on “the two tails of the normal curve,” co-authored by nationally recognized experts on the educational needs of students in each of the two “tails”? If so, what do you think of it?

    Would any of you would be willing to meet over coffee to talk about how we can work together on these issues and to see if we can find common ground?

    One Small Step in the Right Direction at West HS …

    In light of recent events regarding curriculum and other issues in our high schools, there has been a small step in the right direction at West HS. Superintendent Rainwater announced at our 11/29 MUAE meeting that he has been in discussion with West HS Principal Ed Holmes about providing West 9th and 10th graders who are advanced in language arts the opportunity to skip over English 9 and/or English 10. Advanced placement decisions will be based on grades, teacher recommendation, writing samples, WKCE scores, and ACT/SAT scores. Details will be worked out by Mr. Holmes, the West English Department and District TAG staff.
    This small — but important — change brings West more in line with Memorial, the only other high school that has a core English 9 curriculum delivered in completely heterogeneous classes. Every year, four or five academically advanced Memorial freshmen are allowed to go into English 10 — specifically, English 10 Honors. (FYI: Unlike West, Memorial has honors classes in 10th grade; as well, 10th graders can take some of Memorial’s 17 AP classes.) East and LaFollette, of course, have two or three levels of ability/interest-grouped classes for freshman (and sophomore) English — called regular, advanced and TAG at East and regular and advanced at LaFollette — and will continue to have them for at least the next two years.
    If you are the parent of a West area 8th or 9th grader who is advanced and highly motivated in English, you might want to consider having your student take either the ACT or SAT through the Midwest Academic Talent Search (MATS) in order to support a request for single subject acceleration. There is still time to register for the MATS online:
    IMPORTANT NOTE: As I see it, this development does not in any way mean we should slow down our lobbying efforts vis a vis the BOE and Administration to get them to make West more like the other high schools — in terms of course offerings and other oportunities for academically advanced students — during the two years of the high school redesign study introduced by Superintendent Rainwater at the 11/27 BOE meeting.

    More Than English 10: Let’s REALLY Talk About Our High Schools

    First, I want to say BRAVO, RUTH, for putting it all together and bringing it on home to us. Thanks, too, to the BOE members who overrode BOE President Johnny Winston Jr’s decision to table this important discussion. Finally, deepest thanks to all of the East parents, students and teachers who are speaking out … and to the many West parents, students and teachers who have also spoken out over the past few years.
    As we begin what will hopefully be a thoughtful and thoroughgoing community-wide conversation about what’s going on in our high schools, I’d like to clear up some muddiness about what’s happened at West in the past few years. I think it’s important to have our facts straight and complete. In doing so — and in comparing what’s happened at West to what’s now going on at East — I’d like to draw on the image of an animal experiment (that apparently never happened). In one condition, a frog is put into a bath of cool water, the temperature is gradually raised to boiling, and the frog dies without a struggle. In another condition, a frog is put into a bath of boiling water, immediately jumps out, and lives to tell the tale. As I see it, West was put in the first condition. The administration implemented small changes over the course of several years, with the ultimate goal of turning 9th and 10th grades into two more years of middle school. Students and parents were lulled into thinking that everything was O.K. because, hey, what’s one small change? East, in contrast, has been put in the second condition. There, the administration seems to have the same goal of turning 9th and 10th grade into two more years of middle school, but has introduced all of the changes at once. Like the frog placed in the boiling water, East has been shocked into strong reaction.

    Continue reading More Than English 10: Let’s REALLY Talk About Our High Schools

    New Glarus Parent Files Request for Summary Judgement On Behalf of Gifted Education in Wisconsin

    State gifted education advocate and Madison attorney Todd Palmer recently filed a request for a judicial “summary judgement” in the matter of “Todd Palmer v. The State of Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction and Elizabeth Burmaster.” As he explained it to me in layperson’s terms, a summary judgment “is a procedure wherein a party (me) asks the judge to render a decision based on the record. I am essentially arguing that the factual issues here are undisputed, therefore the judge can render a decision without a trial. I have every expectation that this motion will decide all relevant issues (one way or the other) and therefore we will avoid a trial. The state (DPI) must respond to my motion on or before 12/1/06.” Todd expects a decision from Judge Nowakowski sometime in January, 2007.
    The complete document has been posted on the Madison United for Academic Excellence (MUAE) website —
    Here is the Introduction:

    This case is about a state agency purposely ignoring statutory mandates that require educational opportunities to be provided to an entire class of underserved and at-risk children — specifically those labeled as “gifted and talented.”
    At their core, the issues before this Court are straightforward: Can a state agency ignore a legislative directive to promulgate rules governing this underserved class of children? Alternatively, can a state agency unilaterally transfer this rulemaking responsibility to local units of government in contradiction of a clear legislative directive? The clear answer to both issues is no.

    Continue reading New Glarus Parent Files Request for Summary Judgement On Behalf of Gifted Education in Wisconsin

    Two at Memorial get national kudos …

    From The Capital Times (Weekend of September 30 – October 1, 2006):
    Two Madison Memorial students are among 1600 African American high school seniors being honored for their academic excellence by the National Achievement Scholarship Program.
    Michael McKenzie and Jarrell Skinner-Roy are designated semifinalists in the 43rd annual awards competition, which makes them eligible to compete for about 800 scholarship awards worth a total of about $2.5 million.
    The National Achievement program is conducted by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation and was initiated in 1964 to honor academically promising black youths.
    Congratulations, Michael and Jarell!

    Benefit Performance for GSA for Safe Schools

    Mark your calendars!
    Stage Q is having a benefit performance of Carolyn Gage’s play “Ugly Ducklings” for GSA for Safe Schools. Under the direction of Jan Levine Thal, the benefit performance will be held on Friday, September 29th, at 8:00 p.m. at the Bartell Theater (113 E Mifflin Street). Call 608-661-9696, ext. 3, for tickets. Cost is $15.
    “Ugly Ducklings” picks up where “Tea and Sympathy” and “The Children’s Hour” left off. Set in a girls’ summer camp, the play explores the dynamics of homophobia in a same-sex environment. A gothic thriller, “Ugly Ducklings” examines the unhealthy turns that relationships between girls can take when they are not allowed their natural expression. The so-called “Ophelia Syndrome” comes alive as the cabin of younger girls, their self-esteem still reinforced by the primacy of their relationships, comes into contact with the older girls who have begun to turn against themselves and each other in their attempts to conform to the pressures of compulsory heterosexuality. Angie, a middle-class college student, is falling in love with another counselor at the camp, Rene, who is a working-class “out” lesbian. Against this backdrop of intense homophobia, the young women struggle with their feelings for each other and the problems of defining themselves in a society that insists they be invisible. The camp legend about a monster in the lake parallels the adult phobias about lesbianism, and, confronted with an attempted child suicide, campers and counselors are compelled to face their worst fears in the microcosmic world of the summer camp.
    Pre-theater event: Cafe Montmartre (127 E. Mifflin) between 6:30 and 7:45. Light snacks will be offered. You may also purchase dinner.

    The Midwest Academic Talent Search

    Madison United for Academic Excellence (MUAE) is hosting an informational session about the Midwest Academic Talent Search (MATS) program run by the Center for Talent Development (CTD) at Northwestern University.
    The MATS provides an opportunity for academically advanced students in grades three through nine to take an out-of-grade-level standardized test. Students in grades three through six may take the Explore test (essentially an ACT designed for eighth graders); students in grades six through eight may take the SAT test; and students in grades six through nine may take the ACT test. For students who routinely hit the ceiling of their district and state level tests, an out-of-grade-level test may be the only way to truly know what they know. Test results may be used for advocacy purposes, as well as to access a wide array of advanced educational experiences across the country.
    Our guest speaker for the evening will be Carole Nobiensky, longtime staff member and Director of Programs at the Wisconsin Center for Academically Talented Youth (WCATY).
    Please join us on Wednesday, September 27, from 7:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. in Room 209 of the Doyle Administration Building, 545 West Dayton Street.

    Still On the Slippery Slope of West HS’s English 10?

    Last week, families of rising juniors at West High School received a copy of the Junior School Counseling Newsletter. On page 2, there is a section entitled “English Course Selections for 2006/07.” The paragraph reads as follows:
    Students are required to earn four credits of English for graduation, and this must include one semester of composition beyond tenth grade. Students in grades 11 and 12 are given a choice of non-sequential semester electives, each providing one-half credit towards graduation. College preparatory students, however, should check the colleges of their choice to be sure about what courses are acceptable for college admisison, i.e., some colleges might not accept courses in such areas as theater or media for admission.
    The second half of the first sentence (assuming it is not a typo) reflects an important change in the English requirement for graduation at West — one that has never been discussed with students and parents and one that is surprising and confusing, given the stated goals and content of English 10.
    It is also not consistent with what’s stated in the 2006-07 course catalogue. (Thanks for bearing with me for including the complete entry here.)

    Continue reading Still On the Slippery Slope of West HS’s English 10?

    Acting White

    Donna Ford, Ph.D., and Gilman Whiting, Ph.D., both of Vanderbilt University, are two leading African American education scholars who have dedicated their professional lives to the issue of minority achievement. Professor Ford is a nationally recognized expert in gifted education, multicultural education, and the recruitment and retention of diverse students in gifted education. Professor Whiting is a nationally recognized expert in African American male achievement and under-achievement. Professors Ford and Whiting made a two-part visit to the MMSD earlier this year, the result of an invitation from Diane Crear, recently retired MMSD Special Assistant to the Superintendent for Parent-Community Relations. As part of their program for minority parents, Professors Ford and Whiting talked about the research that attests so clearly to the importance of books in the home, reading to our children, talking with our children in intellectually stimulating ways, and taking an active interest in our children’s educational experience. They also showed the following segment from a June, 1999, episode of ABC’s “20/20.” The segment is entitled “Acting White” and was filmed at our own Madison East High School. It is thought-provoking, to say the least, and generated a lot of discussion amongst those in the audience last March when it was shown. We offer it to SIS readers for their thoughtful consideration.

    20/20 Acting White (1999).



    For more on the work of Drs. Ford and Whiting, here are two recent papers:
    Ford, D. Y. & Whiting, G. W. (2006). Under-Representation of Diverse Students in Gifted Education: Recommendations for Nondiscriminatory Assessment (Part 1). Gifted Education Press Quarterly, 20(2), 2-6.
    Moore, J. L., Ford, D. Y., & Milner, R. (2005). Recruitment Is Not Enough: Retaining African American Students in Gifted Education. Gifted Child Quarterly, 49, 51-67.

    The Complex Relationship Between Nature, Nurture, and Intelligence

    After the Bell Curve
    David L. Kirp
    The New York Times
    When it comes to explaining the roots of intelligence, the fight between partisans of the gene and partisans of the environment is ancient and fierce. Each side challenges the other’s intellectual bona fides and political agendas. What is at stake is not just the definition of good science but also the meaning of the just society. The nurture crowd is predisposed to revive the War on Poverty, while the hereditarians typically embrace a Social Darwinist perspective.
    A century’s worth of quantitative-genetics literature concludes that a person’s I.Q. is remarkably stable and that about three-quarters of I.Q. differences between individuals are attributable to heredity. This is how I.Q. is widely understood — as being mainly “in the genes” — and that understanding has been used as a rationale for doing nothing about seemingly intractable social problems like the black-white school-achievement gap and the widening income disparity. If nature disposes, the argument goes, there is little to be gained by intervening. In their 1994 best seller, “The Bell Curve,” Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray relied on this research to argue that the United States is a genetic meritocracy and to urge an end to affirmative action. Since there is no way to significantly boost I.Q., prominent geneticists like Arthur Jensen of Berkeley have contended, compensatory education is a bad bet.
    But what if the supposed opposition between heredity and environment is altogether misleading? A new generation of studies shows that genes and environment don’t occupy separate spheres — that much of what is labeled “hereditary” becomes meaningful only in the context of experience. “It doesn’t really matter whether the heritability of I.Q. is this particular figure or that one,” says Sir Michael Rutter of the University of London. “Changing the environment can still make an enormous difference.” If heredity defines the limits of intelligence, the research shows, experience largely determines whether those limits will be reached. And if this is so, the prospects for remedying social inequalities may be better than we thought.

    English 11 Planned for 2009?

    Reprinted from the newest West High School publication, The Scallion.
    In response to the popularity of the recently proposed English 10 curriculum, school administrators have begun to plan English 11, a standardized syllabus they believe will promote “equality in the school and confidence in the student.” The course is to be implemented in the 2009-2010 school year so that West High School can end the decade “with a bang!”
    However, many teachers and officials disagree on which books to feature. One faction desires a challenging curriculum that would include Othello, The Picture of Dorian Grey, and the short stories of William Faulkner. Noting that this list may expose intellectual differences between students and will thus lessen the net confidence gain of the school, an opposing faction has titled their proposal “The Life Works of Dr. Seuss: from The Cat in the Hat to Green Eggs and Ham.”
    The growing rift between the two factions has increasingly been manifested through harsh words. One teacher, who wished to remain anonymous, referred to the more classical curriculum as “pandering to the bourgeois interests of the University Heights junta.” In response, the classical teachers noted that while “Dr. Seuss is a widely respected author and his rhymes are humorous and entertaining, his works are inappropriate for the High School setting.”
    Augmenting the current debate, the feminist movement has made clear their opposition to the Dr. Seuss curriculum. Says junior Anna James, “we don’t need to place another dead white man up on a pedestal. The Dr. Seuss proposal is representative of the sexist academia placing the unqualified man over the more qualified woman.” James has proposed her own curriculum of Virginia Wolff and Maya Angelou in a gesture the MENS club referred to as “reverse sexism.”
    In the end, it seems likely that Dr. Seuss will feature prominently in the English 11 curriculum. As Art Rainwater says, “why have intellectual standards when you can have artificially contrived equality that engenders undeserved confidence and intellectual apathy in the students?”
    Many thanks to the Scallion staff responsible for this humorous and insightful piece.

    MMSD Cross-High School Comparison — continued

    I recently posted a comparative list of the English courses offered to 9th and 10th graders at Madison’s four high schools. The list showed clearly that West High School does not offer its high achieving and highly motivated 9th and 10th grade students the same appropriately challenging English classes that are offered at East, LaFollette and Memorial.
    Here is the yield from a similar comparison for 9th and 10th grade Social Studies and Science.

    Continue reading MMSD Cross-High School Comparison — continued

    West HS English 9 and 10 Again — No Child Moves Ahead

    Several of us received the following email today from Ted Widerski, MMSD TAG (“Talented and Gifted”) Resource Teacher for Middle and High Schools. Ted has been working with other District and West HS staff to find a way to allow West 9th and 10th graders who are advanced in English to grade accelerate in English, whether through the INSTEP process or some other method.
    Here is what he wrote:

    Parents –
    On Wednesday, April 12th, Welda Simousek and I met with Pamela Nash, Mary Ramberg, Mary Watson-Peterson, Ed Holmes, and Keesia Hyzer to discuss In-STEP procedures for students in English 9 and/or 10. Through this discussion, it became clear that there was no reasonable method available at this time to assess which students might not need to take English 9 or 10 because part of what is learned in English classes comes through the processes of analysis, discussion, and critical critiquing that are shared by the entire class. An alternative assessment approach was discussed: having students present a portfolio to be juried. This approach would require a great deal of groundwork, however, and would not be available yet this spring. It will be looked at as a possibility for the future.
    Please keep in mind that it is the intention of West High School to offer meaningful and challenging English courses for all levels of students. It is also the usual TAG Classroom Action Summary and In-STEP approach to have students be present in a classroom for a period of time before it is possible to assess whether they are extremely beyond their classroom peers and need a different option. Welda will follow up with teachers and students in the fall to ascertain progress for students during the first semester. The use of the Classroom Action Summary and In-STEP approach (with a brainstorming of possible options) will be reviewed again at the end of semester one.
    Please feel free to contact me with further questions.

    Ted Widerski
    Talented and Gifted Resource Teacher
    Madison Metropolitan School District

    I replied to Ted (copying many others, including parents, Teaching and Learning staff, Art Rainwater, Pam Nash, the BOE, and West HS staff), saying that this is a case of unequal access to appropriate educational opportunities because of how poorly West HS provides for its 9th and 10th graders who are academically advanced in English, as compared to the other three high schools.
    Here is my reply:

    Continue reading West HS English 9 and 10 Again — No Child Moves Ahead

    Why I’m Voting for Mathiak and Cole on April 4

    I think the State Journal received so many pro-Mathiak/Cole letters, they had to leave a lot of them out! Here’s my 200-word submission that didn’t make the cut:
    Dear WSJ,
    I am voting for Lucy Mathiak and Maya Cole on April 4. As a long time advocate for academic excellence for all students, I believe these courageous and independent-thinking women understand the complexity of the issues and will not settle for simplistic solutions. They understand, for example, that we cannot honor, much less celebrate, much less meet the educational needs of our diverse student population by treating all students the same. Cookie-cutter curricula and one-size-fits-all classrooms in our middle and high schools may make some adults feel good; but research shows clearly that those simple-minded approaches meet no student’s needs well. As Jefferson said, “Nothing is so unequal as the equal treatment of unequals.”
    I am also deeply concerned about the longstanding culture of bullying on the BOE. I believe it has rendered the Board completely ineffective. I am convinced that a change of membership is the only way to bring back respectable and respectful behavior — not to mention increased transparency of operations and a thoroughgoing accountability to the public.
    I am voting for Lucy Mathiak and Maya Cole because I believe that, as our elected officials, they will insist on data-based decision-making and refuse to collude with the current culture of secrecy.

    Laurie Frost

    New Glarus Parent Files Gifted Ed Lawsuit Against DPI, DPI Superintendent Burmaster

    New Glarus parent and Madison attorney Todd Palmer has filed a lawsuit against the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction and DPI Superintendent Elizabeth Burmaster for their failure to promulgate rules for the identification and appropriate education of Wisconsin’s 51,000 academically gifted students, as is required by Wisconsin state law. Here is the press release; a link to the lawsuit itself may be found at the end.
    Todd will be joining us for the beginning portion of our Madison United for Academic Excellence meeting on Thursday, March 23, at 7:00 p.m. in Room 209 of the Doyle Administration Building. We will also be discussing the INSTEP process and the District’s new TAG education plan, currently under development. Come share your experiences and offer your input. All who care about rigorous curriculum and high educational standards are welcome.

    Continue reading New Glarus Parent Files Gifted Ed Lawsuit Against DPI, DPI Superintendent Burmaster

    It’s INSTEP Season

    Are you concerned that your MMSD K-12 student is not being adequately challenged in one or more academic content areas? Perhaps s/he needs an INSTEP.
    An INSTEP is an “Individualized Student Education Plan.” It’s like an IEP (“Individual Education Plan”), except that it’s for high performing students. (IEP’s are for students with special education needs.) For any given student, an INSTEP can be done in a single curricular area or in multiple curricular areas. Now is a good time to request an INSTEP because it will insure that no time will be lost in meeting your child’s educational needs next year.
    It’s been said that the INSTEP is one of the District’s best kept secrets. Find out all there is to know at
    To request an INSTEP — or to simply explore the possibility that your child may need one — all you have to do is contact the appropriate District TAG (“Talented and Gifted”) staff:
    Rosy Bayuk — — 663-5230
    (Emerson, Franklin, Leopold, Lincoln, Mendota, Midvale)
    Kerry Berns — — 663-5230
    (Elvehjem, Gompers, Hawthorne, Kennedy, Lakeview, Lindbergh)
    Leah Creswell — — 663-5221
    (Allis, Lowell, Nuestro Mundo, Orchard Ridge, Randall, Thoreau)
    Rebecca Finnerud — — 442-2152
    (Glendale, Lapham, Marquette, Sandberg, Schenk)
    Bettine Lipman — — 442-2153
    (Chavez, Crestwood, Falk, Huegel, Muir, Stephens, Van Hise)
    Ted Widerski — — 663-5221
    (all middle schools and all high schools)
    Welda Simousek — — 663-5245
    (District TAG Coordinator)
    The TAG staff are an invaluable resource for the entire District. They are the only educational professionals in the District who are trained and experienced in both the appropriate assessment of advanced learners and in curriculum differentiation (theory and practice). They also know a lot about the social and emotional needs of academically talented children.
    Uncomfortable with the word “gifted”? No need to be. No need to even use it. Just think of a performance distribution (one for each academic content area) and ask yourself if your child is in the top 15-20% of the distribution (the top 16% is one or more standard deviations above the mean). Ask yourself if they are advanced by two or more grade levels? Finally, ask yourself if you think your child is truly being challenged at school. Don’t forget to ask your child a few questions — Are they learning new material? Does the pace of learning feel about right for them? Are they regularly bored in class because they already know the material, it goes too slowly or there’s too much repetition? Etc.

    Advanced Classes Open Doors for Minorities

    School district works to boost participation
    By Kelly McBride
    The path toward post-secondary education formed naturally for 18-year-old Wekeana Lassiter.
    Her mom always emphasized the importance of learning. An older sister attends college at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. And Lassiter is a studious Green Bay Preble High School senior with aspirations of becoming an architect.
    If college was a given, the Advanced Placement courses that are preparing her for it — as well as allowing her to earn college credit — made just as much sense for Lassiter, who will attend UWM in the fall.
    “Originally, why I took AP classes was to get credit,” said Lassiter, who is enrolled in AP physics and AP calculus. “Now that I’m in them, they’re really difficult, (but) it’s awesome. You get kind of a feel about how college classes are going to be.”
    But the doors that have opened for Lassiter, who is black, have in many cases stayed closed for some of her peers, say officials in the Green Bay School District.
    Minority participation in AP courses continues to lag behind that of their white counterparts, with a lower percentage of minority students, by about 15 percentage points, taking AP courses than that of whites during 2004-05, data show.
    But the figures are improving, and district officials say new initiatives can help alter the disparity.

    “Why We May Have to Move …”

    I received a copy of this personal essay — a letter to the Administration and BOE — last night. The author said it was fine for me to post it, if I thought it was worth it. I most definitely think it’s worth it because it so poignantly describes a family’s real life experience and frustration in our schools … not to mention their agony over whether or not to move elsewhere.

    Our kids are in 5th, 4th and 1st grades. I am really very concerned about our son going into sixth grade next year. He has some special education needs related to Asperger Syndrome, such as sensory defensiveness and skills to do with what some have called “theory of mind” (self-control, recognizing and assessing others’ points-of-view and feelings, anger management). I love the idea that Spring Harbor is smaller because of his sensitivities to light, personal space issues, noise levels and the like. I do not like that they are relatively inflexible in meeting special needs otherwise because they are small and missing some services – or severely limited – due to space and spending constraints. I also do not like that we would have NO options as to who his special ed case manager/teacher would be, because there is essentially one person to cover it all for each grade, whether or not they display and apply the kind of flexibility that being a “cross-categorical” special ed teacher demands.

    Continue reading “Why We May Have to Move …”

    “Beat the Achievement Gap” Student Conference

    The Simpson Street Free Press will be holding a city-wide “Beat the Achievement Gap” conference on Saturday, February 25, at 2:00 p.m. at LaFollette High School, 702 Pflaum Road. At the conference, students will take the following pledge: “I will be an active role model for younger students. I will work to spread a positive message of engagement at my school and in my community. I will encourage academic success among my peers.”
    For more information, see “The Gap According to Black: A Feature Column by Cydny Black” and the inspiring two-page spread entitled “Education: Bridging the Achievement Gap” in the January, 2006, issue of The Simpson Street Free Press.
    Additional information at

    Clarification of plans for 9th and 10th grade science at West HS

    If you were at the West HS PTSO meeting last night (report to be posted soon for anyone who was unable to attend — the topic was an update on the SLC initiative by SLC Coordiator Heather Lott), then you know that the question of what 9th and 10th grade science will look like next year and thereafter was left somewhat unanswered. I had the following clarifying email exchange with West HS Principal Ed Holmes today:

    Continue reading Clarification of plans for 9th and 10th grade science at West HS

    More than a Comment: Gifted Education and Equity

    (What follows started out as a comment in response to the 12/27 entry and 1/3 comment on gifted education and equity, but has grown to entry status.)
    Here is another relevant link — It’s to a page on the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) website. The page is entitled “Why We Should Advocate for Gifted and Talented Students.”
    I think it’s important, when speaking about these issues, to know where the education money is going. It’s really quite sobering to learn the truth and should put anyone who feels guilty about advocating for the needs of really bright, academically advanced kids at ease. Remember, the bright kids who suffer the most as a result of the lack of dollars and appropriate curriculum — the ones whose potential remains untapped and undeveloped — are the ones whose parents cannot provide for them when the schools fail to. In addition, as learning continues to be watered down, more and more students will need additional challenge beyond what they receive in the regular classroom — if they are to thrive, that is, rather than just get by. Of course, much of what we are dealing with these days is less a matter of money than it is a matter of attitude.
    By the way, in case you didn’t know, gifted programming is mandated in the state of Wisconsin — It’s just not funded (until this year, when fewer than $200,000 were included in the budget for a new gifted and talented consultant at DPI and some AP and middle school programming). Not only that, but for well over a decade there hasn’t been a g/t consultant on the staff of DPI (see last sentence — that will be changing in February). That means no one to oversee the delivery of services to the 51,000 gifted students in Wisconsin and no one to monitor districts’ compliance with the state statutes.
    What about the MMSD? Well, the MMSD has been out of compliance with Wisconsin state statutes for gifted education since 1990. (Yes, 1990. That’s not a typo.) It’s “Talented and Gifted Program Plan” was written in 1991. I’m trying to get it posted on the District website.
    Anyway, here is the excerpt from the NAGC website:

    Continue reading More than a Comment: Gifted Education and Equity

    West HS students speek/speak out on English 10

    Here are two stories from the December 23, 2005, issue of the West HS student newspaper, The Regent Review. I reprint them here just as they appear in print (that is, with all misspellings, grammatical errors, etc.). (Note: the faculty advisor for The Regent Review is West HS English teacher Mark Nepper. Mr. Nepper has been involved in the development of English 10. Some of you may recall that Mr. Nepper joined English Department chair Keesia Hyzer in presenting the plans for English 10 at the November 7 West PTSO meeting.)
    From the front page: “A new English 10 expected for next year,” by CI, a senior at West HS and co-editor of the student newspaper:

    In an attempt to bridge the minority gap and continue with the smaller learning communities, Madison West High will tentativly be changing to a core English for all sophomores.
    Ed Holmes, current West High principal, says he is doing his best to continue our tradition as a “School of Excellence.” To achieve this ideal excellence, Holmes recognizes that he not only has to raise the standards of the struggling students but also continue to push accelerated students to be better each day.
    The goal is to have this new English ciriculum continue to push West’s excellence. The cirriculum will incorporate the current classes of FWW, IWW, With Justice for All, Writers in their Time, and Modern Literture. Now students will read and learn writing habits at the same time so that they can incorporate the new techniques that they are learning into the papers that they write.

    Continue reading West HS students speek/speak out on English 10

    “Beat the Achievement Gap” Student Conference

    Students, mark your calendars!
    The Simpson Street Free Press will be holding a city-wide “Beat the Achievement Gap” conference on February 25 at 2:00 p.m. At this conference, students will take the following pledge: “I will be an active role model for younger students. I will work to spread a positive message of engagement at my school and in my community. I will encourage academic success among my peers.”
    For more information, see “The Gap According to Black: A Feature Column by Cydny Black” and the inspiring two-page spread entitled “Education: Bridging the Achievement Gap” in the January, 2006, issue of The Simpson Street Free Press. Additional information will soon be posted at

    And the (West HS English 10) beat goes on …”

    Here is the email I wrote earlier today to Ed Holmes, Art Rainwater, Pam Nash, Mary Gulbrandsen, and the seven members of the BOE, followed by the reply I just received from Ed Holmes:
    I wrote:
    Hello, everyone. I wonder if one of you would please send us a status report on the plans for 10th grade English at West for next year? Many of us have written to you multiple times about this matter, but without any reply. We are trying to be patient, polite, collaborative and upbeat (despite the fact that we are feeling frustrated, ignored and stonewalled).
    Specifically, would one of you please tell us:

    Continue reading And the (West HS English 10) beat goes on …”

    Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due: A Look at the Educational Histories of the 29 West HS National Merit Semi-Finalists

    Earlier this semester, 60 MMSD students — including 29 from West HS — were named 2006 National Merit Semifinalists. In a 10/12/05 press release, MMSD Superintendent Art Rainwater said, “I am proud of the many staff members who taught and guided these students all the way from elementary school, and of this district’s overall guidance and focus that has led to these successes.”
    A closer examination of the facts, however, reveals that only 12 (41%) of West High School’s 29 National Merit Semifinalists attended the Madison public schools continuously from first grade on (meaning that 59% received some portion of their K-8 schooling in either private schools or non-MMSD public schools). Here’s the raw data:

    Continue reading Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due: A Look at the Educational Histories of the 29 West HS National Merit Semi-Finalists

    12/9/05 Reply to West Principal Ed Holmes re: English 10

    Hi, Ed. Thanks for writing. I look forward to seeing the material you’re putting up on the website.
    A couple of other questions —
    I’m curious to know what Shwaw Vang has asked you for? In particular, did his request include outcome data for English 9? As you know, many of us think a thorough evaluation of English 9 is the wisest (and most responsible) first step to take in developing English 10. Wouldn’t it be a shame not to avail ourselves of the several years’ worth of data there for the picking?
    Also, given that one of the concerns driving the English 10 initiative is concern that some students don’t take the higher level electives and some get through West without any bona fide literature and writing courses, did anyone think about requiring a certain number of upper level electives, literature courses, and writing courses for graduation? That seems to me the most straightforward approach to the stated problem.
    I am glad to know that you are starting to see us as your partners in this process — not your adversaries — and that you are grappling with the Very Challenging Truth that West’s diverse student body does not have exactly the same learning needs throughout, thus the needs cannot be met effectively with standardized, cookie-cutter solutions.
    Speaking of partnership and the diversity of solutions needed, later today I will be dropping off the 20-minute DVD on the Odyssey Project that Emily Auerbach sent me. I would appreciate getting it back by winter break. Feel free to share it with Keesia, Pam, Art and any others. It’s really powerful. When I think of some of the students who appear in the film being available to dialogue with students and teachers at West, well, I get really hopeful.
    Finally, please know that no one is questioning the excellence or commitment of anyone involved in this conversation and struggle. Never have been. I truly believe that we all have the kids as our highest priority.
    Have a good weekend.