Category Archives: Parenting

NYT: We Need National Teen Licensing Laws

Robert Farago:

I’m a little confused about The New York Times’ position regarding states’ rights. On one hand, it’s down with California’s desire to enact CO2 emissions regulations that trump national standards. On the other hand, when it comes to teen licensing, it asserts “What the country needs is a uniform set of rules, based on the soundest research. That is the best way to keep teenage drivers, and everyone who shares the roads with them, safer.” The Old Gray Lady argues that “Congress flexed its muscle in the mid-1980s and pressed states to adopt a minimum drinking age of 21. More recently, it did so to pass tougher drunken driving laws. The country’s highways are safer for those efforts. Congress now needs to do the same for teenage driving.” To that end, the paper supports Senator Chris Dodd’s proposal to withhold federal highway funds from states that refuse to set the minimum driving age at 16 and adopt graduated licensing for 16- and 17-year-olds (including nighttime and passenger restrictions).

Freedom Means Responsibility

George McGovern:

Nearly 16 years ago in these very pages, I wrote that “‘one-size-fits all’ rules for business ignore the reality of the market place.” Today I’m watching some broad rules evolve on individual decisions that are even worse.
Under the guise of protecting us from ourselves, the right and the left are becoming ever more aggressive in regulating behavior. Much paternalist scrutiny has recently centered on personal economics, including calls to regulate subprime mortgages.
With liberalized credit rules, many people with limited income could access a mortgage and choose, for the first time, if they wanted to own a home. And most of those who chose to do so are hanging on to their mortgages. According to the national delinquency survey released yesterday, the vast majority of subprime, adjustable-rate mortgages are in good condition,their holders neither delinquent nor in default.
There’s no question, however, that delinquency and default rates are far too high. But some of this is due to bad investment decisions by real-estate speculators. These losses are not unlike the risks taken every day in the stock market.

About George McGovern.

California Court: Credential Needed to Home School


California parents without teaching credentials cannot legally home school their children, according to a recent state appellate court ruling.
The immediate impact of the ruling was not clear. Attorneys for the state Department of Education were reviewing the ruling, and home schooling organizations were lining up against it.
“Parents do not have a constitutional right to home school their children,” Justice H. Walter Croskey wrote in a Feb. 28 opinion for the 2nd District Court of Appeal.
Noncompliance could lead to criminal complaints against the parents, Croskey said.

An earlier post on this item can be found here.
Bob Egelko & Jill Tucker:

A California appeals court ruling clamping down on homeschooling by parents without teaching credentials sent shock waves across the state this week, leaving an estimated 166,000 children as possible truants and their parents at risk of prosecution.
The homeschooling movement never saw the case coming.
“At first, there was a sense of, ‘No way,’ ” said homeschool parent Loren Mavromati, a resident of Redondo Beach (Los Angeles County) who is active with a homeschool association. “Then there was a little bit of fear. I think it has moved now into indignation.”
The ruling arose from a child welfare dispute between the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services and Philip and Mary Long of Lynwood, who have been homeschooling their eight children. Mary Long is their teacher, but holds no teaching credential.
The parents said they also enrolled their children in Sunland Christian School, a private religious academy in Sylmar (Los Angeles County), which considers the Long children part of its independent study program and visits the home about four times a year.


Parents who home-school their children need a teaching credential, according to a recent appellate court ruling in California. What does the ruling mean for those who home-school more than 1 million American children?

Making Kids Money Savvy: Try These Four Financial Tricks

Jonathan Clements:

Give them a few dollars — and some financial common sense.
Want to make sure your children grow up to be money-smart adults? Check out the four experiments below.
My advice: Try these tricks on your kids, talk to them about the lessons to be learned — and then quietly muse about whether you, too, fall prey to these financial traps.
Favoring today. If children are to save diligently once they’re adults, they need to learn to delay gratification. Yet this skill doesn’t come easily.
Want proof? Let’s say you give your kids $5 a week in pocket money. When it’s next time to fork over their allowance, offer them a choice: They can have the usual $5 right away — or they can have $7, equal to a whopping 40% more, if they’re willing to wait a week.
“It’s about immediate gratification,” says Shlomo Benartzi, an economics professor at the University of California at Los Angeles. “Getting nothing right now doesn’t sound good, so they’d probably go for the $5.”

After School Programs in the 21st Century: Their Potential and What It Takes to Achieve It

Priscilla M. D. Little, Christopher Wimer, and Heather B. Weiss, Harvard Family Research Project:

Harvard Family Research Project’s (HFRP) Issues and Opportunities in Out-of-School Time Evaluation briefs highlight current research and evaluation work in the out-of-school time field. These documents draw on HFRP’s research work in out-of-school time to provide practitioners, funders, evaluators, and policymakers with information to help them in their work. This brief looks at 10 years of research on after school programs and finds implications for the future of the after school field.
This research brief draws on seminal research and evaluation studies to address two primary questions: (a) Does participation in after school programs make a difference, and, if so (b) what conditions appear to be necessary to achieve positive results? The brief concludes with a set of questions to spur conversation about the evolving role of after school in efforts to expand time and opportunities for children and youth in the 21st century.

A Look at California’s Dropouts

Nanette Asimov:

If California hopes to stop hemorrhaging the billions of dollars it spends by producing so many high school dropouts, the state needs to give schools better incentives to hold on to troubled students, change its graduation requirements and do more to plug the problem, researchers warn.
Each year, about 120,000 students fail to get a diploma by age 20, according to the California Dropout Research Project, which on Wednesday released detailed recommendations for state lawmakers and educators.
Each annual wave of dropouts costs the state $46.4 billion over their lifetimes because people without a high school diploma are the most likely to be unemployed, turn to crime, need state-funded medical care, get welfare and pay no taxes, according to the report.
“California uses a number of strategies to reduce dropout rates … but together they are insufficient to address the problem,” say the researchers, led by education Professor Russell Rumberger of UC Santa Barbara.

Next Question: Can Students Be Paid to Excel?

Jennifer Medina:

The fourth graders squirmed in their seats, waiting for their prizes. In a few minutes, they would learn how much money they had earned for their scores on recent reading and math exams. Some would receive nearly $50 for acing the standardized tests, a small fortune for many at this school, P.S. 188 on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.
When the rewards were handed out, Jazmin Roman was eager to celebrate her $39.72. She whispered to her friend Abigail Ortega, “How much did you get?” Abigail mouthed a barely audible answer: $36.87. Edgar Berlanga pumped his fist in the air to celebrate his $34.50.
The children were unaware that their teacher, Ruth Lopez, also stood to gain financially from their achievement. If students show marked improvement on state tests during the school year, each teacher at Public School 188 could receive a bonus of as much as $3,000.
School districts nationwide have seized on the idea that a key to improving schools is to pay for performance, whether through bonuses for teachers and principals, or rewards like cash prizes for students. New York City, with the largest public school system in the country, is in the forefront of this movement, with more than 200 schools experimenting with one incentive or another. In more than a dozen schools, students, teachers and principals are all eligible for extra money, based on students’ performance on standardized tests.

The Whole Child

Here in Massachusetts these days, we are hearing more and more from the Governor and educators about “The Whole Child.” They say we should be sure, in our schools, not to get distracted from a focus, in a holistic way, on the whole child.
I have heard about this “whole child,” but I have yet to have anyone explain what that could mean. I know that it has been said, of boys, for instance, that they are made of “snakes and snails and puppy dogs’ tails,” and of girls, that they are mostly “sugar and spice and everything nice,” but I can’t believe that completes the inventory.
Each student may be considered from a neuro-psychological, socio-economic, philosophical, dental, muscular-skeletal, ethnic, spiritual, academic, motivational, personality configuration, family, allergic, drug-resistant, blood-type, intellectual, gastrointestinal and athletic point of view, among a large group of other perspectives.
This raises the question of what parts of the whole child the school might be best qualified and equipped to work with? Surely no imaginable set of teachers, nurses, hall monitors, principals, bus drivers, coaches, and so on can deal with all the various characteristics of each human being who comes as a student to their school.
It would appear that a school and its staff might have to choose which aspects of the whole child should be their focus. In recent decades, self-esteem, tolerance, social consciousness, respect for differences, and environmental awareness have taken up a good deal of time in the schools. Perhaps as a consequence, our students tend to be in-numerate and a-literate. The Boston Globe reports today that: “37 percent of public high school graduates who enter public higher education may not be ready.”

Continue reading The Whole Child

Much more on Finland’s Education System

A reader emailed these links regarding the recent article on Finland’s education system:

  • The PISA survey tells only a partial truth of Finnish children’s mathematical skills:

    The results of the PISA survey ( have brought about satisfaction and pride in Finland. Newspapers and media have advertised that Finnish compulsory school leavers are top experts in mathematics.
    However, mathematics teachers in universities and polytechnics are worried, as in fact the mathematical knowledge of new students has declined dramatically. As an example of this one could take the extensive TIMSS 1999 survey, in which Finnish students were below the average in geometry and algebra. As another example, in order not to fail an unreasonably large amount of students in the matriculation exams, recently the board has been forced to lower the cut-off point alarmingly. Some years, 6 points out of 60 have been enough for passing.
    This conflict can be explained by pointing out that the PISA survey measured only everyday mathematical knowledge, something which could be – and in the English version of the survey report explicitly is – called “mathematical literacy”; the kind of mathematics which is needed in high-school or vocational studies was not part of the survey. No doubt, everyday mathematical skills are valuable, but by no means enough.

  • Severe shortcomings in Finnish mathematics skills:

    Basic school teacher Antero Lahti expressed (HS 28.2.) the opinion that the concern of over 200 university teachers for the mathematics teaching (HS 17.2.) were merely academic criticism.
    In fact, about one half of those signing are teachers at polytechnics (universities of applied sciences) and technical universities. They do not teach “academic” mathematics but mathematics needed in technical practice and engineering sciences. Over 12 000 students start engineering studies yearly.
    The mathematics skills of new engineering students have been systematically tested during years 1999-2004 at Turku polytechnic using 20 mathematical problems. One example of poor knowledge of mathematics is the fact that only 35 percent of the 2400 tested students have been able to do an elementary problem where a fraction is subtracted from another fraction and the difference is divided by an integer.
    If one does not know how to handle fractions, one is not able to know algebra, which uses the same mathematical rules. Algebra is a very important field of mathematics in engineering studies. It was not properly tested in the PISA study. Finnish basic school pupils have not done well in many comparative tests in algebra (IEA 1981, Kassel 1994-96, TIMSS 1999).

Is Reform Math a Big Mistake?

Via a Linda Thomas email:

Flash cards are out. Math triangles are in.
Mrs. Potter grabbed a chunky stack of flashcards, stood in front of the classroom and flipped through them every day when I was in second grade: 6 + 6 = blank, 7 + 3 = blank, 5 + 6 = blank. In unison, we responded 12, 10, 11. Our robotic pace slowed a bit when she held up subtraction cards.
That’s so old school.
The triangles my second-grade son brought home from school this year have plus and minus signs in the middle, with one number on each point. Students learn number families. For example, on a triangle of 6, 8 and 14 students see that 6 + 8, 8 + 6, 14 – 6 and 14 – 8 are all related.
Math triangles are part of the reform math curricula taught in more than one quarter of the nation’s schools. (See article “Math Wars” for a history of U.S. math education.) Seattle’s public elementary and middle schools teach reform math. This month the Seattle School Board will hear a recommendation for a new high school math curriculum that will be reform based. A key feature of this type of instruction is an emphasis on concepts, as opposed to computations.
In a traditional classroom, solving 89 + 21 involves lining the numbers up, carrying the one and arriving at 110 as the answer. Students learning reform math would think about the problem and reorganize it in several ways: 80 + 20 + 10, or 80 + 30, or 90 + 20. Same answer, different method.

The Truth About Autism: Scientists Reconsider What They Think They Know

David Wolman:

The YouTube clip opens with a woman facing away from the camera, rocking back and forth, flapping her hands awkwardly, and emitting an eerie hum. She then performs strange repetitive behaviors: slapping a piece of paper against a window, running a hand lengthwise over a computer keyboard, twisting the knob of a drawer. She bats a necklace with her hand and nuzzles her face against the pages of a book. And you find yourself thinking: Who’s shooting this footage of the handicapped lady, and why do I always get sucked into watching the latest viral video?
But then the words “A Translation” appear on a black screen, and for the next five minutes, 27-year-old Amanda Baggs — who is autistic and doesn’t speak — describes in vivid and articulate terms what’s going on inside her head as she carries out these seemingly bizarre actions. In a synthesized voice generated by a software application, she explains that touching, tasting, and smelling allow her to have a “constant conversation” with her surroundings. These forms of nonverbal stimuli constitute her “native language,” Baggs explains, and are no better or worse than spoken language. Yet her failure to speak is seen as a deficit, she says, while other people’s failure to learn her language is seen as natural and acceptable.
And you find yourself thinking: She might have a point.

Many college students found to be unprepared

Rodrique Ngowi:

Massachusetts may have one of the highest rates of students going to college, but the first statewide school-to-college report shows that 37 percent of public high school graduates who enter public higher education may not be ready.
The joint report released Thursday by the Massachusetts Department of Education and the Board of Higher Education analyzed the performance of the class of 2005 and indicated that students lagging behind needed remedial courses in college.
State education officials say about 80 percent of Massachusetts high school students go to college. The report found that more students from low-income families, some racial and ethnic minorities, those who do not speak English as their first language, and those who receive special education services in high school go to community colleges, where most of them need remedial academic help.
Higher education officials were not surprised by the finding, saying they hope the report leads to new efforts to help students.

Obama cracks a ruler, and the crowd goes wild

Mark Barabak:

They came to cheer. They got a lecture. The crowd went wild.
During a Barack Obama town-hall meeting on the economy, the topic turned to education, which, the Illinois senator said, could not be remedied by spending alone. “It doesn’t matter how much money we put in if parents don’t parent,” he scolded.
The line is one the Democrat delivers often, but on Thursday in Beaumont, Texas, he struck a remarkable chord with his mostly African American audience.
“It’s not good enough for you to say to your child, ‘Do good in school,’ and then when that child comes home, you’ve got the TV set on,” Obama lectured. “You’ve got the radio on. You don’t check their homework. There’s not a book in the house. You’ve got the video game playing.”
Each line was punctuated by a roar, and Obama began to shout, falling into a preacher’s rhythm. “Am I right?”
“So turn off the TV set. Put the video game away. Buy a little desk. Or put that child at the kitchen table. Watch them do their homework. If they don’t know how to do it, give ’em help. If you don’t know how to do it, call the teacher.”
By now, the crowd of nearly 2,000 was lifted from the red velveteen seats of the Julie Rogers Theatre, hands raised to the gilded ceiling. “Make ’em go to bed at a reasonable time! Keep ’em off the streets! Give ’em some breakfast! Come on! Can I get an amen here?”

Judge orders homeschoolers into government education

Bob Unruh:

A California court has ruled that several children in one homeschool family must be enrolled in a public school or “legally qualified” private school, and must attend, sending ripples of shock into the nation’s homeschooling advocates as the family reviews its options for appeal.
The ruling came in a case brought against Phillip and Mary Long over the education being provided to two of their eight children. They are considering an appeal to the state Supreme Court, because they have homeschooled all of their children, the oldest now 29, because of various anti-Christian influences in California’s public schools.
The decision from the 2nd Appellate Court in Los Angeles granted a special petition brought by lawyers appointed to represent the two youngest children after the family’s homeschooling was brought to the attention of child advocates.

Teachers strike back at students’ online pranks

Patrik Jonsson:

Tech-savvy teenagers are increasingly paying a heavy price – including criminal arrest – for parodying their teachers on the Internet.
Tired of fat jokes and false accusations of teacher-lounge partying or worse, teachers and principals are fighting back against digital ridicule and slander by their students – often with civil lawsuits and long-term suspensions or permanent expulsions.
A National School Boards Association (NSBA) study says that as many as one-third of American teens regularly post inappropriate language or manipulated images on the Web. Most online pranks deride other students. But a NSBA November 2006 survey reported 26 percent of teachers and principals being targeted.
“Kids have been pulling pranks on teachers and principals since there have been schools in the US, but now there’s an edge to it – the tone and tenor of some of these attacks cross the line,” says Nora Carr, a spokeswoman for Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools in North Carolina.
In the growing backlash against these cybergoofs, however, real-world norms of propriety are being pitted against the uncertain jurisdictions of the Digital Age. A new test may be emerging on how far online lampooning can go, say First Amendment experts – and to what extent schools can control off-campus pranks.

Teaching Boys & Girls Separately

Elizabeth Weil:

On an unseasonably cold day last November in Foley, Ala., Colby Royster and Michael Peterson, two students in William Bender’s fourth-grade public-school class, informed me that the class corn snake could eat a rat faster than the class boa constrictor. Bender teaches 26 fourth graders, all boys. Down the hall and around the corner, Michelle Gay teaches 26 fourth-grade girls. The boys like being on their own, they say, because girls don’t appreciate their jokes and think boys are too messy, and are also scared of snakes. The walls of the boys’ classroom are painted blue, the light bulbs emit a cool white light and the thermostat is set to 69 degrees. In the girls’ room, by contrast, the walls are yellow, the light bulbs emit a warm yellow light and the temperature is kept six degrees warmer, as per the instructions of Leonard Sax, a family physician turned author and advocate who this May will quit his medical practice to devote himself full time to promoting single-sex public education.
Foley Intermediate School began offering separate classes for boys and girls a few years ago, after the school’s principal, Lee Mansell, read a book by Michael Gurian called “Boys and Girls Learn Differently!” After that, she read a magazine article by Sax and thought that his insights would help improve the test scores of Foley’s lowest-achieving cohort, minority boys. Sax went on to publish those ideas in “Why Gender Matters: What Parents and Teachers Need to Know About the Emerging Science of Sex Differences.” Both books feature conversion stories of children, particularly boys, failing and on Ritalin in coeducational settings and then pulling themselves together in single-sex schools. Sax’s book and lectures also include neurological diagrams and scores of citations of obscure scientific studies, like one by a Swedish researcher who found, in a study of 96 adults, that males and females have different emotional and cognitive responses to different kinds of light. Sax refers to a few other studies that he says show that girls and boys draw differently, including one from a group of Japanese researchers who found girls’ drawings typically depict still lifes of people, pets or flowers, using 10 or more crayons, favoring warm colors like red, green, beige and brown; boys, on the other hand, draw action, using 6 or fewer colors, mostly cool hues like gray, blue, silver and black. This apparent difference, which Sax argues is hard-wired, causes teachers to praise girls’ artwork and make boys feel that they’re drawing incorrectly. Under Sax’s leadership, teachers learn to say things like, “Damien, take your green crayon and draw some sparks and take your black crayon and draw some black lines coming out from the back of the vehicle, to make it look like it’s going faster.” “Now Damien feels encouraged,” Sax explained to me when I first met him last spring in San Francisco. “To say: ‘Why don’t you use more colors? Why don’t you put someone in the vehicle?’ is as discouraging as if you say to Emily, ‘Well, this is nice, but why don’t you have one of them kick the other one — give us some action.’ ”
During the fall of 2003, Principal Mansell asked her entire faculty to read “Boys and Girls Learn Differently!” and, in the spring of 2004, to attend a one-day seminar led by Sax at the school, explaining boys’ and girls’ innate differences and how to teach to them. She also invited all Foley Intermediate School parents to a meeting extolling the virtues of single-sex public education. Enough parents were impressed that when Foley Intermediate, a school of 322 fourth and fifth graders, reopened after summer recess, the school had four single-sex classrooms: a girls’ and a boys’ class in both the fourth and fifth grades. Four classrooms in each grade remained coed.
Separating schoolboys from schoolgirls has long been a staple of private and parochial education. But the idea is now gaining traction in American public schools, in response to both the desire of parents to have more choice in their children’s public education and the separate education crises girls and boys have been widely reported to experience. The girls’ crisis was cited in the 1990s, when the American Association of University Women published “Shortchanging Girls, Shortchanging America,” which described how girls’ self-esteem plummets during puberty and how girls are subtly discouraged from careers in math and science. More recently, in what Sara Mead, an education expert at the New America Foundation, calls a “man bites dog” sensation, public and parental concerns have shifted to boys. Boys are currently behind their sisters in high-school and college graduation rates. School, the boy-crisis argument goes, is shaped by females to match the abilities of girls (or, as Sax puts it, is taught “by soft-spoken women who bore” boys). In 2006, Doug Anglin, a 17-year-old in Milton, Mass., filed a civil rights complaint with the United States Department of Education, claiming that his high school — where there are twice as many girls on the honor roll as there are boys — discriminated against males. His case did not prevail in the courts, but his sentiment found support in the Legislature and the press. That same year, as part of No Child Left Behind, the federal law that authorizes programs aimed at improving accountability and test scores in public schools, the Department of Education passed new regulations making it easier for districts to create single-sex classrooms and schools.

Kids & Steriods

Shaun Powell:

This is about the kids, they said, over and over, trying harder than Roger Clemens to sound convincing. The members of the House committee looking into steroid use in baseball pounded that theme into our brain last week at the hearing. Kids are getting bad messages about performance-enhancing drugs. Kids are being betrayed by ballplayers. Kids are being wrongly influenced by the superstars.
Well, sure, no problem there. Let’s look out for all kids – yours, mine, everyone’s.
But don’t tell me kids are being suckered by star athletes on steroids and then condone, through silence, drug use by entertainers.
Don’t send the media moral police chasing Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens and Mark McGwire, then release the Entertainment Tonight poodles on Sylvester Stallone.
Don’t spend thousands of dollars examining steroid use in baseball, then feel it’s not worth spending two cents checking out 50 Cent.
And please, don’t suggest that kids admire pro athletes more than they do actors and singers and rappers. These entertainers impact the way our kids walk, talk, dress and behave. Yet marijuana and cocaine somehow give them credibility with a young audience bent on rebellion. And with regard to the drug of the moment, there was no outcry from Congress or the media when dozens of A-list entertainers recently were linked to getting steroids through a Long Island chiropractor.

As driving deaths mount, some teens ask for tighter restrictions


Sami Wilson has attended the funerals of seven friends in the past two years. She’s 17 years old.
Wilson is a senior at Princeton High School, which has been particularly hard hit by traffic deaths involving teenagers.
”You kind of just get used to the feeling of a funeral around here,” Wilson told the Star Tribune.
But it’s not just a problem in this one Minnesota city. No state in the country has a higher percentage of teenagers behind the wheel in deadly crashes than Minnesota.
Teens were driving in 18.4 percent of Minnesota’s fatal traffic accidents from 2004 to 2006, according to figures compiled by the U.S. Department of Transportation. The national average was 14.3 percent.
Roughly every five days, a Minnesota teen dies in a traffic crash. Already this month, a 17-year-old died without a seat belt in a head-on crash in Winona County, while another 17-year-old crossed the center line and collided head-on with a bus in southeastern Morrison county, killing a 53-year-old driver.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety recently gave Minnesota and nine other states a marginal grade because they don’t limit teenage riders and night driving.
Many states, including Wisconsin, prohibit 16-year-olds from carrying more than one passenger or driving after midnight. In the last year, legislatures in Illinois, Ohio and Idaho tightened night driving or passenger laws for teen drivers.

Survey Finds Teenagers Ignorant on Basic History and Literature Questions

Sam Dillon:

Fewer than half of American teenagers who were asked basic history and literature questions in a phone survey knew when the Civil War was fought, and one in four said Columbus sailed to the New World some time after 1750, not in 1492.
The survey results, released on Tuesday, demonstrate that a significant proportion of teenagers live in “stunning ignorance” of history and literature, said the group that commissioned it, Common Core.
The organization describes itself as a new research and advocacy organization that will press for more teaching of the liberal arts in public schools.
The group says President Bush’s education law, No Child Left Behind, has impoverished public school curriculums by holding schools accountable for student scores on annual tests in reading and mathematics, but in no other subjects.
Politically, the group’s leaders are strange bedfellows. Its founding board includes Antonia Cortese, executive vice president of the American Federation of Teachers, a union that is a powerful force in the Democratic Party, and Diane Ravitch, an education professor at New York University who was assistant education secretary under the first President George Bush.

Program at Masconomet High helps blaze college path for urban minority teens

David Cogger:

Decked out in a red Ecko Unlimited T-shirt, baggy jeans, and a pair of Jordans, Adam Farward drops one shot after another from outside the paint through the basketball hoop. As he runs off the gym floor at Masconomet Regional High School, he boasts: “You’re looking at the future of the NBA.”
Farward is one of five minority students attending high school in Topsfield as part of A Better Chance, a residential program for academically talented youth from underserved communities often plagued by drugs and violence. At many other high schools, Farward and his fellow ABC classmates would blend right in, but Masco is not exactly the United Nations.
ABC plucks some of the best and brightest from urban areas and offers them a chance to live in places such as Topsfield and enroll in college preparatory high schools and boarding schools. Masco has been involved with ABC since 1973 and has graduated 60 students, all male because of housing limitations. It is the only public school in the northern suburbs involved in the program.
Kenneth Karas is a typical, high-achieving Masco senior. He’s a standout on the school’s varsity wrestling team, an award-winning artist, and he has dreams that include becoming a doctor. Karas is in the midst of that nervous time waiting for offers of admission to college. He has his heart set on attending Northeastern.

A falloff in visits to the nation’s parks offers further evidence of “nature deficit disorder”

Adam Voiland:

In the oft-quoted “Birches,” Robert Frost muses about a boy who lives too far from town to learn baseball so instead spends time in the woods swinging in the trees. “He always kept his poise / to the top branches, climbing carefully / with the same pains you use to fill a cup / up to the brim, and even above the brim,” Frost writes. “Then he flung outward, feet first, with a swish, / kicking his way down through the air to the ground.” This sort of unstructured, imaginative play is increasingly lacking in an indoor, scheduled world—to children’s great detriment, argues Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, a book that explores research linking the absence of nature in children’s lives to rising rates of obesity, attention disorders, and depression. New evidence of the lack: a recent study that shows visits to national parks are down by as much as 25 percent since 1987. U.S. News spoke with Louv about the study and the emergence of “nature deficit disorder.” Excerpts:
The new study points to about a 1 to 1.3 percent yearly decline in national park visits in America. Why do you think this is happening?
I looked at the decline in national park usage in my book, and the most important reason for it is the growing break between the young and nature. Our constant use of television, video games, the Internet, iPods is part of what’s driving this. For example, a recent study from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that kids between the ages of 8 and 18 spend an average of 6.5 hours a day with electronic media. But time and fear are also big factors. Many parents feel that if they don’t have their kids in every organized activity, they will fall behind in the race for Harvard. And we are scared to death as parents now of “stranger danger” and letting kids roam free.

Peeking Inside the Mind of the Boy Dating Your Daughter

Tara Parker-Hope:

THE image of the testosterone-fueled teenage boy is a familiar one. It has been reinforced by movies such as “Porky’s,” “American Pie” and “Superbad,” which chronicle the escapades of high school boys determined to lose their virginity.
But are boys that age really defined primarily by their sexual urges? Or does the stereotype fall short, telling us less about teenage males and more about a culture that seems to have consistently low expectations of its boys?
A new report in The Journal of Adolescence this month suggests that when it comes to sex, girls and dating, boys are more complex than we typically give them credit for. While hormonal urges are no doubt an important part of a teenage boy’s life, they aren’t necessarily the defining trait influencing a boy’s relationships with girls.
Psychology researchers from the State University of New York at Oswego recently examined data collected from 105 10th-grade boys, average age 16, who answered questions about a number of health behaviors. In questions put to them about girls (most of the boys self-identified as heterosexual), the teenagers were asked to note their reasons for pursuing a relationship. The top answer, marked by 80 percent of the boys? “I really liked the person.”

Fewer Youths Jump Behind the Wheel at 16

Mary Chapman & Micheline Maynard:

For generations, driver’s licenses have been tickets to freedom for America’s 16-year-olds, prompting many to line up at motor vehicle offices the day they were eligible to apply.
No longer. In the last decade, the proportion of 16-year-olds nationwide who hold driver’s licenses has dropped from nearly half to less than one-third, according to statistics from the Federal Highway Administration.
Reasons vary, including tighter state laws governing when teenagers can drive, higher insurance costs and a shift from school-run driver education to expensive private driving academies.
To that mix, experts also add parents who are willing to chauffeur their children to activities, and pastimes like surfing the Web that keep them indoors and glued to computers.
Jaclyn Frederick, 17, of suburban Detroit, is a year past the age when she could get a Michigan license. She said she planned to apply for one eventually, but sees no rush.
“Oh, I guess I just haven’t done it yet, you know?” said Jaclyn, a senior at Ferndale High School, in Ferndale, Mich.
“I get rides and stuff, so I’m not worried about it. I’ll get around to it, maybe this summer sometime.”

Getting Teens To Take Deep Thoughts Offline

Hillary Rhodes:

It’s OK to hate Taylor, or to think that Seth only told you he liked Allison so that you would tell Courtney, or to wish that your mom would disappear.
Teenagers have a right to gripe. But they should do it in their personal journals, not online for the world to see, says award-winning writer Meg Cabot.
The author of “The Princess Diaries” has teamed up with the American Library Association to hold events across the country for young people who want to learn more about airing their thoughts in writing the traditional way: with a pen.

Thinking about the Next Few Decades: “Let Us Light A Candle While We Walk, Lest We Fear What Lies Ahead”

Fabius Maximus:

Many people look to the future with fear. We see this fear throughout the web. Right-wing sites describe the imminent end of America: overrun by foreigners, victim of cultural and financial collapse. Left-wing sites describe “die-off” scenarios due to Peak Oil, climate change, and ecological collapse – as the American dream dies from takeover by theocrats and fascists.
Most of this is nonsense, but not the prospect of massive changes in our world. But need we fear the future?
The past should give us confidence when we look ahead. Consider Dodge City in 1877. Bat Masterson is sheriff, maintaining some semblance of law in the Wild West. Life in Dodge is materially only slightly better from that in an English village of a century before. But social and technological evolution has accelerated to a dizzying pace, and Bat cannot imagine what lies ahead.

Well worth reading as Madison prepares for a new Superintendent and two new school board members.

Home-School Support: Parents advocate bill on leaving public school

Colin Poitras:

Anita Formichella is tired of hiding like a criminal.
“The sound of the doorbell literally strikes terror in my heart,” said Formichella, a bespectacled, middle-aged former school volunteer from Redding in her testimony to members of the legislature’s select committee on children on Tuesday.
For the past two years, Formichella said she has hidden in her house, shouting through the door when people knock because she fears the person on the other side might be a state social worker coming to take her children away.
Formichella isn’t a child abuser. She has never been cited for child neglect. She is a teacher. A home-school teacher. And therein lies the rub.
Within weeks of pulling her children from the public school system in 2006, Formichella received a letter from the local school superintendent requiring her to sign a form and submit more evidence that her children were being properly schooled. If she didn’t, Formichella said, she would risk a neglect investigation by the state Department of Children and Families. Formichella was frightened at first, then incensed.
“That’s a heinous, heinous thing to threaten a parent,” Formichella said outside the hearing room Tuesday. “And [the school superintendent] knew me!”

Say Cheese and Now Say Airbrush!

Jessica Bennett:

We’ve all looked back on grade-school photos and wondered, “What in God’s name was I thinking?” For me it started with buckteeth and hair-sprayed bangs-a true child of the ’80s. Then came the braces, stringy hair and oversize Kurt Cobain T-shirt, the tween years of Seattle grunge. High school wasn’t actually that long ago, but I’m sure whatever it was I wore will be grossly unfashionable by the time my 10-year reunion hits.
The grade-school class portrait is a time capsule of sorts-a bittersweet reminder of forgotten cowlicks, blemishes and crooked teeth. Awkward, at least in retrospect, is awfully cute. So it’s sad to think those mortifying school snapshots might soon be a thing of the past. A growing number of photo agencies and a horde of Web sites now offer retouching for kids to wipe their every imperfection clean: powdering complexions, whitening teeth, erasing braces or freckles. And parents are signing up their kids at younger and younger ages.
“It surprises me so much when a mom comes in and asks for retouching on a second-grader,” says Danielle Stephens, a production manager for Prestige Portraits, which has studios in nearly every state and starts its service at $6. “I have a 12-year-old, and I’d be afraid that if I asked for retouching she’d think she wasn’t good enough.”

Ten Tips for Picking a Good School

Jay Matthews:

This is the time of year many parents seek advice on how to find a good elementary, middle or high school, public or private, for their children. Usually I send them a Washington Post article I wrote on this subject three years ago. But this is such an important topic to so many families, I decided to update my thoughts. Here are 10 suggestions, in no particular order. As you’ll see in recommendation number 10, your own thoughts and feelings should always be the deciding factor.
1. Buy an expensive house and you can be almost sure that the local school will be good.
This is an admittedly cynical notion, but there is truth in it. Newcomers often say to themselves, “Let’s find a school or school district we like and then find the house.” Yet most school systems in this area are so good, and parental affluence is so closely tied to educational quality, that if you buy a pricey house, the nearest school is almost guaranteed to be what you are looking for.
2. Look at the data.
In my opinion, based on 22 years of visiting schools and looking at data, the two largest school districts in the Washington area, Fairfax and Montgomery counties, are so well run that even their low-income neighborhoods have schools and teachers that compare with the best in the country. I think the same is true for public schools in Arlington, Clarke, Loudoun and Prince William counties, and the cities of Falls Church and Alexandria. (I’m based in Northern Virginia, so I have closer first-hand knowledge of school systems on that side of the Potomac River.) I also think all the D.C. public schools west of Rock Creek Park are as good as those in the suburbs.
My beliefs are influenced by data on how much schools challenge all of their students, even those with average records of achievement, to take college-level courses and tests before they finish high school. I call this the Challenge Index. (For more on the index, see recommendation No. 9 below.) I want to stress that other systems in the area have some fine public schools. Case in point: All four public high schools in Calvert County appear to be pushing students solidly toward college-level work. There are also some good charter schools. But in some places, you have to look more carefully to find them.

Madison School Board to Discuss Credit for Non-MMSD Courses Today @ 5:00p.m.

The Performance & Achievement committee meets today at 5:00p.m. [Directions & Map] to discuss a policy on credit for non-MMSD courses. Janet Mertz has been following this issue for years, in an effort to support a “clearly written policy” on such courses. Read Janet’s summary after the most recent discussion of this matter (26 November 2007):

Madison School Board Performance & Achievement Committee Meeting 11/26/2007At the November 26, 2007 meeting of the MMSD BOE’s Performance and Achievement Committee [18MB mp3 audio], the District’s Attorney handed out a draft of a policy for the District’s Youth Options Program dated November 20, 2007. It is a fine working draft. However, it has been written with rules making it as difficult as possible for students to actually take advantage of this State-mandated program. Thus, I urge all families with children who may be affected by this policy now or in the future to request a copy of this document, read it over carefully, and then write within the next couple of weeks to all BOE members, the District’s Attorney, Pam Nash, and Art Rainwater with suggestions for modifications to the draft text. For example, the current draft states that students are not eligible to take a course under the YOP if a comparable course is offered ANYWHERE in the MMSD (i.e., regardless of whether the student has a reasonable method to physically access the District’s comparable course). It also restricts students to taking courses at institutions “located in this State” (i.e., precluding online courses such as ones offered for academically advanced students via Stanford’s EPGY and Northwestern’s CTD).

The Attorney’s memorandum dated November 21, 2007 to this Committee, the BOE, and the Superintendent outlined a BOE policy chapter entitled “Educational Options” that would include, as well, a policy regarding “Credit for Courses Taken Outside the MMSD”. Unfortunately, this memo stated that this latter policy as one “to be developed”. It has now been almost 6 years (!) since Art Rainwater promised us that the District would develop an official policy regarding credit for courses taken outside the MMSD. A working draft available for public comment and BOE approval has yet to appear. In the interim, the “freeze” the BOE unanimously approved, yet again, last winter has been ignored by administrators, some students are leaving the MMSD because of its absence, and chaos continues to rein because there exists no clearly written policy defining the rules by which non-MMSD courses can be taken for high school credit. Can anyone give us a timetable by which an official BOE-approved policy on this topic will finally be in place?


Meanwhile, online learning options abound, including the news that National Geographic has invested in education startup ePals. Madison, home of a 25,000 student public school system, offers a rich learning environment that includes the University of Wisconsin, MATC and Edgewood among others.

When cheers turn to depression

Stan Grossfeld:

She just wanted six-pack abs. So in the summer of 2003, Dionne Passacantando, a 17-year-old high school cheerleader, gymnast, and vice president of her Allen (Texas) High School class, made a decision she regrets. She bought anabolic steroids from a boy on the school football team.
“Nobody frowned upon it,” she says. “It was easier for me to get those than it probably was to buy beer.”
But after injecting herself with Winstrol every other day for five weeks, she became suicidal.
“I was the last person in the world you’d think would use anabolic steroids,” she says.
Her story is part of a much larger picture. The Mitchell Report, which detailed steroid use in major league baseball, noted that while steroid use among high schoolers seems to be declining, it is still estimated that 3-6 percent of students nationally have tried them. That means that, at a minimum, hundreds of thousands of high school students are using.

The Value of “No”

Terri Cullen:

When I was a kid, my mom, Carol, was an expert at saying “no” when we asked for money. With four kids and little income, she often found it hard to pay for food and rent, let alone luxuries such as the electronic games and designer clothes my brothers and sister and I constantly begged for.
But as we grew into adults, something odd happened. My mom suddenly found it difficult to refuse when her kids came to her with their financial problems, whether she had the cash to spare or not.
Over the years, I’ve chided her for constantly dipping into her own savings to help my family members out, asking: “How are they going to learn to manage money if you’re forever bailing them out?”
I spoke from hard experience. In college I piled up tens of thousands of dollars in student loans, auto loans and credit-card debt. When I left school, I found my entry-level salary barely able to keep up with my debt payments, and the temptation to turn to my parents for a handout was strong. But at the time my mom and dad were getting divorced, and dealing with their own emotional and financial issues. The last thing I wanted to do was add to their burdens, so I resolved to handle my debt on my own. In doing so, I learned how to budget and came to understand the real cost of accumulating debt.
Having learned my lesson, I’d urged my mom to consider the harm she was doing by not allowing other family members to do the same. And I’d point out that she really didn’t have the money to spare. Mom would reply that helping her children helped her, because it pained her to see her kids suffer. Then she’d assure me with a smile: “When you’re a mom, you’ll understand.”

Comparing Schools

Katherine Boehret:

Education — an issue that affects everyone in some way or another — is an ideal candidate for discussions on the Web. There, parents, students and teachers can ask questions under the cloak of Internet anonymity, which enables conversations about personal topics such as learning disabilities and teacher conflicts.
But the vastness of the Internet can leave many people wondering where to begin, especially when asking sensitive questions about education. And, even in a sea of discussions and forums on education, parents are often hungry for one piece of information above all else: data that helps them select a school for their children.
So this week I tried three education-related Web sites that dedicate some or all of their resources toward providing free school comparisons, including demographics, test results, teacher-to-student ratios, and percentages of students eating free and reduced-price lunches.

Wisconsin Governor Doyle Caps Virtual School Enrollment

Steven Walters:

It will take a new Capitol compromise to keep Wisconsin’s virtual schools open after action Tuesday by the state Senate.
t the request of Gov. Jim Doyle, the Senate voted to cap enrollment for online schools at the current level – now about 3,500 students statewide – while a study is done on virtual learning.
Under the Senate changes, that number of online students could not go up again until the 2011-’12 school year, and then only by about 875 students. Dozens of parents and virtual school students came to the Capitol on Tuesday to fight the enrollment cap.
The 18-15 vote by the Senate – controlled by Democrats – sends the measure to the Assembly, which is run by Republicans.
The Assembly will meet for only a few more days before its scheduled adjournment next month. There might not be time to negotiate a compromise to changes dictated by Doyle, who promised to veto any bill without an enrollment cap.
If the Assembly does not act, virtual schools might not continue. In a ruling that threatened all online schools, the Court of Appeals ruled in December that the 800-student Wisconsin Virtual Academy, operated by the Northern Ozaukee School District, was not eligible for state aid, now $5,845 per student per year.

More on Wisconsin Virtual Schools, along with an update from WisPolitics.

New Math Textbooks Irk Some Parents

Ian Shapira:

Greg Barlow, an Air Force officer in the defense secretary’s office at the Pentagon, was helping his 8-year-old son, Christian, one recent night with a vexing problem: What is 674 plus 249?
The Prince William County third-grader did not stack the numbers and carry digits from one column to the next, the way generations have learned. Applying lessons from his school’s new math textbook, “Investigations in Number, Data, and Space,” Christian tried breaking the problem into easier-to-digest numbers.
But after several seconds, he got stumped. He drew lines connecting digits, and his computation amounted to an upside-down pyramid with numbers at the bottom. His father, in a teacherly tone, nudged him toward the old-fashioned method. “How would you do that another way?” Barlow asked.
In Prince William and elsewhere in the country, a math textbook series has fomented upheaval among some parents and teachers who say its methods are convoluted and fail to help children master basic math skills and facts. Educators who favor the series say it helps young students learn math in a deeper way as they prepare for the rigors of algebra.
The debate over “Investigations in Number, Data, and Space,” a Pearson School series used in thousands of elementary classrooms, including some in Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun and Howard counties, is one of the newer fronts in the math wars. Such battles over textbooks and teaching methods are fueled in part by the anxieties of parents who often feel powerless over their children’s education, especially in subjects they know.
The curriculum, introduced in the 1990s and updated in a second edition issued last fall, offers one answer to the nation’s increasingly urgent quest for stronger elementary math education. The nonprofit organization TERC, based in Cambridge, Mass., developed “Investigations” with support from the National Science Foundation.

Related Links:

“The Power of Vouchers”

Alex Tabarrok:

Many studies of education vouchers have looked at the achievement of children who are given vouchers and who transfer to private schools. Generally these studies have found small but meaningful improvements (e.g. here and here). A voucher program, however, is about much more than transferring students from lousy public schools to better private schools it’s about creating incentives to improve the public schools.
Florida’s Opportunity Scholarship Program rated schools. Students at schools that received an F in multiple years became eligible for a voucher that allowed them to attend a private or higher-rated public school. In Feeling the Florida Heat? (ungated version) a paper sponsored by the Urban Institute Rouse et al. look at what happened at failing schools.

Kiddie tax bites many families in ’07 – 18-year-olds off hook for now

Ellen Putnam:

If you have a child who turned 18 in 2007, you are in luck, taxwise. But that’s the only bright spot for families burdened by what is called the kiddie tax.
The tax is, in effect, a penalty on parents who saved for their child’s college by putting money into custodial accounts at a time when today’s tax-free education savings vehicles weren’t widely available or used.
“It has ruined wonderful planning people have been doing for years, people who were thinking ahead, who gave their child income-producing assets they would use when the kid went to school,” said Harvey Aaron, senior tax manager at Braver PC in Newton, Mass., and director of tax services at Braver Wealth Management.
Here’s how the kiddie tax works: If a child is under 18, he or she is allowed to have $1,700 in unearned income – nonwage income such as dividends and interest on investments – before the kiddie tax kicks in. (There’s no tax on the child’s income of $850 or less, and the next $850 in income is taxed at the child’s ordinary income tax rate, usually 10 or 15 percent.)
For unearned income over $1,700, the child’s tax is computed at the parent’s tax rate, which can be as high as 35 percent. A child who turned 18 in 2007 isn’t subject to the kiddie tax and will pay 2007 tax at his or her lower rate.

Hygiene Hypothesis: A Look at Asthma

Erin Allday:

But pollution is not the main cause of asthma, researchers now say. In fact, asthma rates continued to rise as air pollution improved in the 1990s.
One of the more unusual theories on asthma comes from Dr. Homer Boushey, whose colleagues sometimes roll their eyes when his ideas are mentioned. Boushey, who runs the UCSF asthma lab, says that many cases of asthma can be pinned on a common cold virus that if caught during the first few months after birth upsets the immune system for life, leaving kids vulnerable to allergens that otherwise wouldn’t faze them.
Even Boushey calls himself a borderline heretic. But his research falls into the current prevailing theory of why asthma cases have increased so steadily: the hygiene hypothesis.
Essentially, researchers say, kids are too clean. When children are not exposed to the allergens that they might find on, say, a farm, their immune systems never develop the ability to distinguish safe irritants from unsafe ones. As a result, they become overly sensitive to harmless irritants.
“In most of our history we were exposed to enormous sources of microbes. We had large families, we lived with farm animals, we played in the dirt,” Boushey said. “Now maybe we don’t have enough stimulation of the immune system in our development as infants, and so we’re more vulnerable to things that cause asthma.”
Thinking along those lines, UCSF is running a five-year clinical trial on the relationship between asthma and probiotics, or bacteria that are commonly found in foods like yogurt and that could have health benefits. In the study, babies who have at least one parent with asthma are given daily doses of probiotics; they will be followed for five years to see if they develop asthma.

The Dumbing of America

Susan Jacoby:

“The mind of this country, taught to aim at low objects, eats upon itself.” Ralph Waldo Emerson offered that observation in 1837, but his words echo with painful prescience in today’s very different United States. Americans are in serious intellectual trouble — in danger of losing our hard-won cultural capital to a virulent mixture of anti-intellectualism, anti-rationalism and low expectations.
This is the last subject that any candidate would dare raise on the long and winding road to the White House. It is almost impossible to talk about the manner in which public ignorance contributes to grave national problems without being labeled an “elitist,” one of the most powerful pejoratives that can be applied to anyone aspiring to high office. Instead, our politicians repeatedly assure Americans that they are just “folks,” a patronizing term that you will search for in vain in important presidential speeches before 1980. (Just imagine: “We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain . . . and that government of the folks, by the folks, for the folks, shall not perish from the earth.”) Such exaltations of ordinariness are among the distinguishing traits of anti-intellectualism in any era.
The classic work on this subject by Columbia University historian Richard Hofstadter, “Anti-Intellectualism in American Life,” was published in early 1963, between the anti-communist crusades of the McCarthy era and the social convulsions of the late 1960s. Hofstadter saw American anti-intellectualism as a basically cyclical phenomenon that often manifested itself as the dark side of the country’s democratic impulses in religion and education. But today’s brand of anti-intellectualism is less a cycle than a flood. If Hofstadter (who died of leukemia in 1970 at age 54) had lived long enough to write a modern-day sequel, he would have found that our era of 24/7 infotainment has outstripped his most apocalyptic predictions about the future of American culture.

The Dumbing of America: Call Me a Snob, but Really, We’re a Nation of Dunces

Susan Jacoby:

Despite an aggressive marketing campaign aimed at encouraging babies as young as 6 months to watch videos, there is no evidence that focusing on a screen is anything but bad for infants and toddlers. In a study released last August, University of Washington researchers found that babies between 8 and 16 months recognized an average of six to eight fewer words for every hour spent watching videos.
I cannot prove that reading for hours in a treehouse (which is what I was doing when I was 13) creates more informed citizens than hammering away at a Microsoft Xbox or obsessing about Facebook profiles. But the inability to concentrate for long periods of time — as distinct from brief reading hits for information on the Web — seems to me intimately related to the inability of the public to remember even recent news events. It is not surprising, for example, that less has been heard from the presidential candidates about the Iraq war in the later stages of the primary campaign than in the earlier ones, simply because there have been fewer video reports of violence in Iraq. Candidates, like voters, emphasize the latest news, not necessarily the most important news.
No wonder negative political ads work. “With text, it is even easy to keep track of differing levels of authority behind different pieces of information,” the cultural critic Caleb Crain noted recently in the New Yorker. “A comparison of two video reports, on the other hand, is cumbersome. Forced to choose between conflicting stories on television, the viewer falls back on hunches, or on what he believed before he started watching.”
As video consumers become progressively more impatient with the process of acquiring information through written language, all politicians find themselves under great pressure to deliver their messages as quickly as possible — and quickness today is much quicker than it used to be. Harvard University’s Kiku Adatto found that between 1968 and 1988, the average sound bite on the news for a presidential candidate — featuring the candidate’s own voice — dropped from 42.3 seconds to 9.8 seconds. By 2000, according to another Harvard study, the daily candidate bite was down to just 7.8 seconds.

A teacher friend once mentioned that “if we’re doing such a good job, why do so few people vote?”

Speaking of Report Cards: “So, Is That Like an A?”

Maura Casey:

Time was that a fifth grader’s greatest concern about gym was whether he or she would be picked last for the kickball team. Now, in schools in Hartford, that 10-year-old would-be athlete is being graded on how he or she “establishes and maintains a healthy lifestyle by avoiding risk-taking behavior.” In music class, students are being graded on how they make “connections between music and other disciplines through evaluation and analysis of compositions and performances.” That is pretty far from just trying to sing “Yankee Doodle” on key.
These examples come from a new report card, introduced last November in all of Hartford’s elementary schools. It measures 58 academic, social and behavioral skills and, including other information, can run as long as seven pages.
Not surprisingly, the language was produced by a committee. Some of the wording is clear; anyone can understand “shows courtesy and respect toward others.” But the academic measurements, which are designed to grade areas of student performance that are also measured on state standardized tests, seem more likely to confuse than illuminate.
Christopher Leone, the spokesman for the Hartford school district, said that the goal was to give parents more detailed information about the progress of their children. He says that so far the response from parents has been overwhelmingly positive. The district hasn’t surveyed the teachers, but the report card made me appreciate, as nothing else has ever done, why teachers say they are buried in paperwork.

Much more on Madison’s proposed report card changes here.

The American Freshman: National Norms for Fall 2007

UCLA Higher Education Research Institute:

The responses of 272,036 first-time, full-time students at 356 colleges and universities in 2007 (out of 1.4 million such freshmen), reports that only 17.6% of incoming freshmen considered rankings "very important" in influencing their decision to attend a particular college or university — tenth out of fifteen factors:

  1. College has very good academic reputation   63.0%
  2. This college’s graduates get good jobs   51.9%
  3. A visit to the campus   40.4%
  4. I was offered financial assistance    39.4%
  5. Wanted to go to a college this size   38.9%
  6. College has a good reputation for social activities   37.1%
  7. The cost of attending this college   36.8%
  8. Grads get into good grad/professional schools   34.1%
  9. Wanted to live near home   19.2%
  10. Rankings in national magazines   17.6%
  11. Information from a website   17.0%
  12. Parents wanted me to go to this school   13.0%
  13. Admitted early decision and/or early action   11.4%
  14. Could not afford first choice   9.7%
  15. High school counselor advised me   9.0%

The study includes an interesting look at parent involvement.
Via Paul Caron.

The Natural History of the Only Child

Carl Zimmer:

Modern life means small families. Starting about two centuries ago, families in Western Europe began to shrink, and then — country by country, continent by continent — the rest of the world followed suit. The trend is so big that it may rein in the world population’s exponential growth, perhaps even causing it to stop growing altogether over the next century.
But exactly why families are shrinking is a mystery. Rising living standards seem to have something to do with it. It’s certainly true that as living standards rose in England — as children died less from diseases, as the country overall became richer — the size of the English family shrank. When other countries became wealthier, their families shrank, too. These days, affluent countries tend as a rule to have smaller families than poor ones.
But why should that happen? After all, the biological imperative to have kids is strong, and if people have more resources, you might expect them to have more kids. As a result, some demographers have decided that the link between more wealth and fewer children has nothing to do with biology — rather, that small families are more like fads that sweep through countries when they get richer.
Yet we shouldn’t abandon biology just yet. The idea that wealthy nations have fewer children than poorer ones is something of an illusion. If you look closer within the groups of people who make up those countries, it turns out wealthier people actually do tend to have more children. In one of the most extreme examples, scientists looked at Harvard graduates worth over a million dollars. Even among these highly successful people, the richest of them tended to have bigger families.

Why are we so Obsessed by Time?

Charles Handy:

Then I paused. Why was I so obsessed by time? If I was going to London by air, I would consider 11 hours to be normal. Why should it be different because it was San Francisco? Why, I ask myself, are we always in such a hurry? Why do eager parents want to accelerate their children’s education when life is so much longer now? In business we let the short-term pressures obscure the promise of the longer term. We forget that in nature a full ripening takes time. Push it too hard and you lose too much of the flavor.

A Child’s View of Attention Deficit

Tara Parker-Pope:

What does it feel like to have attention deficit disorder?
The answer to that question can be found in a fascinating new report from the Journal of Pediatric Nursing called “I Have Always Felt Different.’’ The article gives a glimpse into the experience of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, or A.D.H.D., from a child’s perspective.
Assistant professors Robin Bartlett and Mona M. Shattell, from the School of Nursing at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, interviewed 16 college students who had been diagnosed with A.D.H.D. as children. The investigators talked to them about how the disorder affected life at home, school and friendships.
Like most kids, the students described a life of both conflict with and support from their parents. But in their case, fighting with parents was often triggered by attention-related problems like failing to complete laundry chores or cleaning their rooms.

Parents Feel Betrayed by Millionaire Role Models

George Vecsey:

They will attend the Congressional hearings Wednesday, the husband and wife with the sad eyes. They have become part of the steroid circuit, honored with reserved seats near the front, silent witnesses to the plague of the last generation.
Frank and Brenda Marrero will be listening to what Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte have to say. They want to be in the same room as Brian McNamee and Kirk Radomski, two admitted pushers of illegal bodybuilding drugs. The hearings must now be viewed in a more skeptical vein after lawmakers allowed Clemens to work on them individually late last week, roaming the halls like some supersized K Street lobbyist, explaining that a great man like himself would never do such a thing as take steroids, and doing everything but pass out autographed facsimiles of his rookie chewing-gum card.

The Marreros can only try to understand the whole crazy system of millionaire role-model athletes and local suppliers who provided their son Efrain with steroids, before he obediently went off the stuff and killed himself at 19. It all happened so fast.
Now they gravitate to the hearings, not to disrupt but to distribute fliers about the foundation they have started, about the seminars Frank Marrero gives all over the country, warning youngsters to stay off the stuff, that it isn’t worth it.
Frank and Brenda Marrero were present on March 17, 2005, six months after their son died, when Mark McGwire stammered and turned red and said he didn’t want to talk about the past.

College: How to Pay the Tax-Favored Way

Karen Hube:

ENDLESS CHILDHOOD ISN’T GOOD for the psyche — or parents’ pocketbooks. For the second time in two years, the “kiddie tax,” which subjects a portion of children’s investment income to their parents’ rates, has been expanded; it now applies to offspring as old as 23.
The change first goes into effect for 2008 tax returns, so families should vet adaptive strategies now. The greatest impact likely will be felt by wealthy families who’ve transferred assets into their children’s names to take advantage of their kids’ lower tax brackets. But many will get hit simply because they saved diligently in their children’s names for college, says Ed Slott, a tax adviser in Rockville Centre, N.Y.
The kiddie tax doesn’t apply to 529 plans — tax-free investment accounts earmarked for college savings. But it does apply to custodial accounts, which many set up in their children’s names as college-savings vehicles before 529 plans’ creation in the mid-1990s.
Under kiddie-tax rules, a child’s unearned income of more than $1,800 (up from $1,700) is subject to the parents’ tax rates of up to 35% on interest and short-term capital gains, and 15% on long-term capital gains and most dividends. The first $900 of the child’s unearned income is tax-free; the second $900 is taxed at the child’s rates. Most children are in the 10% or 15% income tax bracket, and they would typically be subject to the lowest capital-gains tax rate, which this year has dropped to 0%, from 5%.

More on college expense tax credits here.

Catching Up To the Boys, In the Good And the Bad
Teen Girls’ Alcohol, Drug Use on the Rise

Lori Aratani:

She lost count of the vodka shots. It was New Year’s Eve 2005, and for this high school freshman, it was time to party. She figured she’d be able to sleep it off — she’d done it before. But by the time she got home the next day, her head was still pounding, her mouth was dry, and she couldn’t focus. This time, the symptoms were obvious even to her parents.
After that night, she realized the weekend buzzes had gone from being a maybe to a must.
“Before, it was a novelty,” the Silver Spring teen said. “It went from, ‘Well, maybe . . .’ to ‘Oh, I know I’m going to drink this weekend.’ ”
A generation of parents and educators have pushed to ensure that girls have the same opportunities as their male counterparts, with notable results. In 2007, for example, it was girls who dominated the national math and science competition sponsored by Siemens. But a growing number of reports show that the message of equality might have a downside.
Teenage girls now equal or outpace teenage boys in alcohol consumption, drug use and smoking, national surveys show. The number of girls entering the juvenile justice system has risen steadily over the past few years. A 2006 study that examined accident rates among young drivers noted that although boys get into more car accidents, girls are slowly beginning to close the gap.

A School Tax Case To Watch

NY Sun Editorial:

Oh, ye of little faith — and here we are speaking of those who doubt that some day a solution will be found to the problem of school choice — we say behold what is happening among the judges who ride the 9th circuit of the United States Court of Appeals. There, our Josh Gerstein reports from the Coast, three judges are hearing a case that could force the Internal Revenue Service to explain why it has secretly allowed members of the Church of Scientology to take a tax deduction for religious education.
The case was brought by a Jewish couple, Michael and Marla Sklar, who had taken deductions for part of the costs of the tuition for the education of their children for afterschool classes in Judaism. They are seeking to view an agreement the Internal Revenue Service reached with the Church of Scientology in 1993 as part of a settlement in a long-running dispute. The church, Mr. Gerstein reports, paid $12.5 million, while the IRS, as Mr. Gerstein characterizes it in his story on page one, “agreed to drop arguments that Scientology was not a bona fide religion.” And the IRS agreed to allow Scientologists to deduct at least 80% of fees paid for “religious training and services.”

Paul Caron has more.

Parents producing ‘battery-farmed’ children who never play outside, says minister

Laura Clark:

Parents who refuse to let their children out to play are producing a “battery-farmed” generation, says a minister.
Kevin Brennan warned that these youngsters would never become resilient and would be unable to cope with risk.
The Families Minister cited figures showing that more than a third of children are never let out to play.
Launching a child safety action plan, he said that primary pupils should be allowed to walk or cycle to school and the public should accept that young people have a right to gather in groups on the street.
He added: “We can all sometimes as parents get a little bit focused on wrapping our children in cotton wool and it’s not good for them to do that all the time. We have to educate people about the real risks they face.”
He gave the example of a girl he met who cycles to primary school in Battersea, South London, every day.

New Thoughts On Language Acquisition: Toddlers As Data Miners

Science Daily:

Indiana University researchers are studying a ground-breaking theory that young children are able to learn large groups of words rapidly by data-mining.
Their theory, which they have explored with 12- and 14-month-olds, takes a radically different approach to the accepted view that young children learn words one at a time — something they do remarkably well by the age of 2 but not so well before that.
Data mining, usually computer-assisted, involves analyzing and sorting through massive amounts of raw data to find relationships, correlations and ultimately useful information. It often is used and thought of in a business context or used by financial analysts, and more recently, a wide range of research fields, such as biology and chemistry. IU cognitive science experts Linda Smith and Chen Yu are investigating whether the human brain accumulates large amounts of data minute by minute, day by day, and handles this data processing automatically. They are studying whether this phenomenon contributes to a “system” approach to language learning that helps explain the ease by which 2- and 3-year-olds can learn one word at a time.
“This new discovery changes completely how we understand children’s word learning,” Smith said. “It’s very exciting.”

Md. Moves to Recruit 1,000 Foster Parents by 2010

Ovetta Wiggins:

Maryland has launched an aggressive campaign to increase the number of foster families, aiming to recruit at least 1,000 foster parents by 2010.
More than 10,000 children in Maryland are in out-of-home placements, and about 20 percent are in group homes.
“That’s too many,” said Norris West, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Human Resources, which places children in foster homes and group homes. “One thousand by 10 is a way to come up with a better balance.”
Maryland has 2,800 foster families, and the campaign seeks to increase that number by 35 percent in two years.
Department Secretary Brenda Donald said Maryland is trying to reverse an alarming trend: One thousand foster parents were lost from 2003 to 2007.

“Online Gap” Widens Divide Between Parents and Children

Science Daily:

A new Tel Aviv University research study has found that, despite what parents might believe, there is an enormous gap between what they think their children are doing online and what is really happening.
In her study, Prof. Dafna Lemish from the Department of Communication at Tel Aviv University surveyed parents and their children about the children’s activities on the Internet. “The data tell us that parents don’t know what their kids are doing,” says Prof. Lemish. Her study was unique in that parents and children from the same family were surveyed.
Strange Encounters
In one part of the study, Prof. Lemish surveyed over 500 Jewish and Arab children from a variety of ages and socio-economic backgrounds, asking them if they gave out personal information online. Seventy-three percent said that they do. The parents of the same children believed that only 4 percent of their children did so.
The same children were also asked if they had been exposed to pornography while surfing, or if they had made face-to-face contact with strangers that they had met online. Thirty-six percent from the high school group admitted to meeting with a stranger they had met online. Nearly 40% of these children admitted to speaking with strangers regularly (within the past week).

Helicopter Parents & Other Exaggerations

Kevin Carey:

In a refreshing anti-bogus trend story, Eric Hoover reports the following($) in The Chronicle of Higher Education about the alleged growth of “helicopter parents” who supposedly can’t let go of their darling children and hover over them in college, thus spoiling them into adulthood and beyond. This meme has grown so prevalent that it was the topic of a week-long series of Tank McNamara, and there is of course no more reliable filter and promoter of bland conventional wisdom than the daily comics.

School Programs Hope Babies in the Classroom Will Reduce Bullying

Nick Wingfield:

It’s just Nolan Winecka’s second time teaching a class of fifth graders at Emerald Park Elementary School in this Seattle suburb, and it shows as he stares nervously at the two dozen kids surrounding him.
He burps. And the class erupts in giggles.
Nolan is 6 months old and hasn’t had any formal pedagogical training. But to the group that put him in the classroom, he has everything he needs to help teach children an unconventional subject. A Canadian nonprofit group, Roots of Empathy, is now bringing to the U.S. a decade-old program designed to reduce bullying by exposing classrooms to “empathy babies” for a whole school year.
Nolan is one of 10 babies in a test of this latest education craze in Seattle-area schools. In all, more than 2,000 empathy babies are cooing, crawling and crying in classrooms in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the U.S. The idea is that children — typically from kindergarten to eighth grade — can learn by observing the emotional connection between the babies and their parents, who volunteer for the program and who are with them in the classroom. It’s part of a wave of programs aimed at boosting the “emotional literacy” of youngsters in schools by getting them to recognize and talk about their feelings rather than act out aggressively.

Group to Monitor the Milwaukee Public Schools

Alan Borsuk:

An impressive group of what Sister Joel Read called “good, critical friends” came together Monday to announce that it was launching an effort aimed at providing both support and pressure for Milwaukee Public Schools to meet the ambitious goals of its new strategic plan.
Representatives of the business community, labor, education institutions, community groups and the state and local political worlds took part in the session at the new downtown headquarters of Manpower International, led by Read, the retired president of Alverno College.
“You’ve got a buy-in here,” said Mayor Tom Barrett, who will be a member of the committee, known as the Accountability and Support Group. “We all know what’s at stake here – the future of the city.”
Jeff Joerres, chief executive officer of Manpower, told the group that life needs to be put into the strategic plan because the future of the economy of the city depends on education and commitment to success. There is no option about whether to make sure there is momentum in improving education, he said.
The group will meet quarterly to look at how things are going in MPS, beginning in May, Read said. She said she expected the meetings to be demanding and detailed.
“We’ll do the things that good, critical friends do,” she said.
Circuit Judge Carl Ashley, a member of the group, said this is a time of necessity and opportunity for MPS – necessity because of the importance of improving educational results, and opportunity because “there is a coordinated community response” to what is going on.

Related editorial:

A new citizens’ committee reviewing plans for improving instruction must insist that MPS reach its high goals.

“Touting an Asset: Voucher Schools”

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Editorial:

The debate on school choice in Milwaukee is often punctuated with a whole lot of fingers poking the air and decibels assaulting the eardrums. The two sides are that far apart on the merits of the program, which allows parents of the city’s low-income students to opt into private education if they believe public schools aren’t serving their children’s needs.
A promotional campaign on television, radio and in print over the next four months will not settle the issue. We hope, however, that it enlightens policy-makers, particularly those in Madison, that this is a program that enjoys broad support locally and contains an abundance of success stories.
Yes, the same can be said of students and schools in the Milwaukee Public Schools system. That’s the point. Both deserve enthusiastic support. This should not be an either/or proposition. We’re way past that.
At least we should be. The fear from those behind this campaign is that the program is still vulnerable – that it might not be some bold legislation that undoes it but a death of a thousand cuts, legislatively speaking.
The fear is not unreasonable. The reaction to a memo sent by Rep. Fred Kessler (D-Milwaukee) to the governor was overblown. The proposals to diminish choice contained therein were meant as starting points for a discussion with the governor. Still, it’s understandable that the choice community would react the way it did given that the discussion even would start at some of those points. And Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker (D-Weston) has been a foe of school choice.

Good grades pay off — literally

Greg Toppo:

Teachers have long said that success is its own reward. But these days, some students are finding that good grades can bring them cash and luxury gifts.
In at least a dozen states this school year, students who bring home top marks can expect more than just gratitude. Examples:
•Baltimore schools chief Andres Alonso last week promised to spend more than $935,000 to give high school students as much as $110 each to improve their scores on state graduation exams.
•In New York City, about 9,000 fourth- and seventh-graders in 60 schools are eligible to win as much as $500 for improving their scores on the city’s English and math tests, given throughout the school year.
•In suburban Atlanta, a pair of schools last week kicked off a program that will pay 8th- and 11th-grade students $8 an hour for a 15-week “Learn & Earn” after-school study program (the federal minimum wage is currently $5.85).

We’re Failing Our Kids

Garrison Keillor:

Reading is the key to everything. Teaching children to read is a fundamental moral obligation of the society. That 27 percent are at serious risk of crippling illiteracy is an outrageous scandal.
This is a bleak picture for an old Democrat. Face it, the schools are not run by Republican oligarchs in top hats and spats but by perfectly nice, caring, sharing people, with a smattering of yoga/raga/tofu/mojo/mantra folks like my old confreres. Nice people are failing these kids, but when they are called on it, they get very huffy. When the grand poobah Ph.D.s of education stand up and blow, they speak with great confidence about theories of teaching, and considering the test results, the bums ought to be thrown out.
There is much evidence that teaching phonics really works, especially with kids with learning disabilities, a growing constituency. But because phonics is associated with behaviorism and with conservatives, and because the Current Occupant has spoken on the subject, my fellow liberals are opposed.

Bad Parents Don’t Make Bad Schools

Jay Matthews:

A Washington Post poll this month revealed, once again, that D.C. residents put the most blame for their failing public schools on apathetic and uninvolved parents. Many Americans feel the same way about the same school troubles in their areas. They are wrong, but in such a convoluted way that it is difficult for us parents to get a good grasp on what role we play in making our schools bad or good.
Do unsupportive parents create pathetic schools or do pathetic schools create unsupportive parents? It is the most frustrating of chicken-and-egg questions. Many education experts will say it is a bit of both, but that’s a cop-out. Most of our worst schools are full of low-income children in our biggest cities. No one has yet found a way to revive those schools in any significant way by training the students’ parents to be more engaged with their children’s educations. It is too hard to do and too unlikely to have much impact on the chaotic school district leadership.
What has worked, again and again, is the opposite: Bring an energetic and focused leader into the school, let that person recruit and train good teachers and find ways to get rid of those who resist making the necessary changes. Great teaching makes great schools, and once you have a good school, parents become engaged and active.

Yale Lecturer Advises: Flush the Prozac and Hack Your Own Happiness

Josh McHugh:

Sometime in the 1990s, the concept of better living through chemistry turned a corner, thanks to drug companies’ efforts to synthesize antidotes for every possible mood swing. So writes Yale lecturer Charles Barber in his new book, Comfortably Numb: How Psychiatry Is Medicating a Nation. An OCD sufferer himself, Barber spent a decade working in places like New York City’s Bellevue Hospital. He knew something was wrong when he discovered that his colleagues’ perfectly functional, $300-an-hour Upper West Side clients were taking the same potent pills as his own schizoid, homeless, crackhead patients. “I would spend part of the day in shelters dealing with seriously ill people,” Barber says. “Then I’d go to cocktail parties and find out that the people there were on the same medications.” He proposes that we just say no to multinational drug peddlers and heal ourselves with cognitive and dialectical behavioral therapies — “talk therapy” techniques that minimize pill pushing, dispense with Freudian dream analysis, and engage patients in actively reprogramming their own brains. It’s like “a highly selective carpentry of the soul,” Barber writes — therapy as self-engineering.

Have Kid, Will Travel: Meet the parents who still like trips

Janis Cooke Newman,Bonnie Wach:

This week the Travel Section kicks off a monthly column dedicated to the idea that just because you’ve become a parent, it doesn’t mean you have to become an armchair (or playground-bench) traveler.
The column will be written alternately by two moms who’ve refused to let babylust sublimate wanderlust: Bonnie Wach, former editor of Where Magazine, travel book author and a regular contributor to the Chronicle and; and Janis Cooke Newman, a frequent contributor to these pages, as well as to the travel sections of the Los Angeles Times, Dallas Morning News and the Miami Herald. For this first column, Bonnie and Janis write about why – despite the fact that neither can afford to employ Brangelina’s nanny staff – they believe in the credo “Have Kid, Will Travel.”
Bonnie: Ten minutes into a six-hour flight across the country, with my infant son shrieking in my ear as he yanked the hair of my elderly seatmate and stomped cheerfully on my husband’s loins, the words of those sage philosophers, Johnson & Johnson, became painfully prescient: Having a baby changes everything. Especially the part of everything that involved me thinking that kids under 2 in their parents’ laps for six hours constitutes a “free” ride.
It occurred to me suddenly that I was anchored to a wailing little ball of carry-on luggage, and that my grand notions of not letting a child get in the way of my travel plans was absurd.
We managed to weather that first bout of turbulence through the good graces of Ernest & Julio Gallo and my seat neighbor’s mercifully defective hearing-aid battery, and when I got home, I considered my options: Obviously, I couldn’t give up my child, but as a journalist who has dedicated a good part of her career to writing about travel, I was also not willing to give up my traveling.

School For Autistic Children Raising $250,000 For Operational Costs


WISC-TV first told the story of Common Threads back in October when the school opened.
Common Threads is a place where children can learn to overcome some of the communications challenges of autism.
It also provides support and services for families who aren’t able to get it anywhere else.
“I don’t know what else we’d do,” said mother Krysia Braun. “Honestly I’d probably have to go to preschool with him in order to make sure that he was getting the most out of it. If you’re going to spend money to go to private school, the kids need the support, and we find it at Common Threads”
On Sunday, the school held a fundraiser hoping to raise the $250,000 needed for the school’s operational costs.
“It’s necessary to help with our operating expenses during the first year of startup,” said Common Threads executive director Jackie Moen. “We are assimilating the children in slowly so they are fully supported and then they feel comfortable and understood and then we’ll bring in perhaps one to two children a week.”

The Boy in The Window

Jane Hammons:

By the end of the 2007 school year, he had grown faint. The wide toothy smile and copper-colored skin less defined, the baseball cap diminishing into the background of the poster-sized photograph. Dead for more than a year, Juan Carlos Ramos greets everyone from the window at the corner of Portland and Masonic streets in Albany. As August rolled around and parents began buying new backpacks and school supplies, readying their children for the 2007 school year, the family of Juan Carlos Ramos looked for a new picture to replace the one from which he had begun to fade. In September mylar balloons floated from the railing in front of the window and a colorful Feliz Cumpleaños banner hung across the window celebrating the birth of a young man who will never grow older, who will always be 19.
News of the February 2006 stabbing at the unsupervised party held by an Albany High School student at her parents’ home in the Berkeley Hills arrived on Saturday, a day after the stabbing. Ron Rosenbaum, then principal of Albany High School, sent an e-mail to the AHS e-tree that described in very general terms what had happened. At the time, my older son was a junior at AHS. He was on a camping trip with the Student Conservation Association, a group he volunteers with. When he returned on Sunday, I talked with both of my sons, the youngest a ninth-grader, telling them what had happened, asking them if they knew either Juan Carlos Ramos or the Oppelt children who had held the party. The answer was no to both.
They were not interested in discussing the event in any length, and I had little information. But I reminded them that if they were ever to find themselves in a similar situation that they had an obligation to call 911, whether or not they were implicated in any wrongdoing. I imagined that students would be talking about the party, and I warned my sons against participating in gossip. What I did not anticipate was that on Monday morning, the grassy median in front of Albany High School would be covered with local news vans and reporters, no doubt because the murder had happened in the Berkeley Hills and not in Richmond or Oakland, where similar events rarely attract such attention.

Child Tax Credit #3

Gerald Prante:

Regardless of whether one supports a stimulus package, the agreed-upon package by the House leadership and the White House could almost rival AMT in terms of the amount of complexity it adds to the 2008 tax system. Not only do we have the government sending out checks to those who have no income tax liability (thereby requiring some method to reduce their tax liability), the proposal calls for yet another child tax credit. Yes. Make it three child tax credits.
We have the regular child tax credit, which gives everyone $1,000 per child with a floor at zero income tax liability (which is phased-out at $110,000). Then we have the additional child tax credit for those who are hit by that floor, thereby making the child tax credit refundable. But now we have a new child tax credit for $300 per child available to all, which is subject to different phase-out ranges than the current child tax credit. Furthermore, this is in addition to the personal exemption that a tax return gets for each child (which for someone in the 15 percent bracket is worth $525 for 2008) and other credits that are linked to children such as education credits, the credit for child and dependent care expenses, and the Earned Income Tax Credit.
nd if last night’s Republican debate is any guide to the future of child tax credit policy, it may someday be the case that if you have a child, you just won’t have to file a tax return at all. In all seriousness, though, what is the difference between these child tax credits and the government establishing a program called “Paying You to Have Kids” whereby HHS would write out checks to every family, paying each one $2,000 per child?

New York Measuring Teachers by Test Scores

Jennifer Medina:

New York City has embarked on an ambitious experiment, yet to be announced, in which some 2,500 teachers are being measured on how much their students improve on annual standardized tests.
The move is so contentious that principals in some of the 140 schools participating have not told their teachers that they are being scrutinized based on student performance and improvement.
While officials say it is too early to determine how they will use the data, which is already being collected, they say it could eventually be used to help make decisions on teacher tenure or as a significant element in performance evaluations and bonuses. And they hold out the possibility that the ratings for individual teachers could be made public.
“If the only thing we do is make this data available to every person in the city — every teacher, every parent, every principal, and say do with it what you will — that will have been a powerful step forward,” said Chris Cerf, the deputy schools chancellor who is overseeing the project. “If you know as a parent what’s the deal, I think that whole aspect will change behavior.”

Virginia Parents Resist Math “Investigations” Curriculum

Ian Shapira:

A group of Prince William County parents is mounting a campaign to repeal a new elementary school math curriculum, using an Internet discussion group and an online petition to gather support and fuel criticism.
The group, whose members include parents from such elementary schools as Westridge, Ashland and Springwoods as well as teachers from various schools, plans to present the Prince William County School Board in February with its petition, which has about 500 names. Parents in the group, whose Web site ( lists several of their complaints, say that the Investigations curriculum is putting their children behind grade level and is too convoluted.
The group’s formation comes right after the school system presented a year-long study of the curriculum that showed 80 percent of second-graders and 70 percent of first-graders are proficient on all 10 subtests of the Stanford Diagnostic Mathematics Test. The school system wants to continue studying the program and incorporate data from student performance on the state Standards of Learning exams.
School Board member Julie C. Lucas (Neabsco) said in an interview that she wants to examine the program inside a classroom to assess its effectiveness. She added that she has been hearing positive reviews from at least one principal in her district but that she wants to withhold making public comments until she visits schools.
The Investigations program has been undergoing a phased-in implementation since the School Board adopted its materials in 2006. In the 2006-07 academic year, kindergarten through second grade started the program; this year, third-graders began it; and next year, fourth-graders will use the material.
Investigations teaches children new ways of learning mathematics and solving problems. For instance, a student may not need to learn how to add 37 and 23 by stacking the figures on top of each other, and carrying the numbers. They may learn to add up the tens and then combine the seven and three to arrive at 60.


  • Math Forum Audio / Video
  • Madison School District’s Math Task Force
  • Clusty Search: Math Investigations
  • Teaching Math Right website:

    Why this website?
    …Because our children – ALL children – deserve a quality mathematics education in PWCS!!
    In 2006 PWCS directed mandatory implementation of the elementary school mathematics curriculum TERC – “Investigations in Number, Data, and Space” in all PWCS elementary schools. The traditional, proven, successful mathematics program was abandoned for a “discovery learning” program that has a record of failure across the country.
    Of all the VA Department of Education approved elementary math text/materials, “Investigations” least adequately supports the VA Standards of Learning. Yet it was somehow “the right choice” for PWCS children. Parents of 2nd and 3d graders are already realizing the negative impact of this program in only a year and a half’s worth of “Investigations.” Children subjected to this program end up two years behind where they should be in mathematics fluency and competency by the end of 5th grade. PWCS is committed to experimenting with our children’s future. We think our children and our tax dollars deserve better.

Chromosomal Abnormalities Play Substantial Role In Autism

Science Daily:

Genome-wide scans of families affected by autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have revealed new evidence that previously unknown chromosomal abnormalities have a substantial role in the prevalent developmental disorder, according to a new report. Structural variants in the chromosomes were found to influence ASD with sufficiently high frequency to suggest that genomic analyses be considered in routine clinical workup, according to the researchers.

  1. A fantastic site and resource for LD (learning differently) in general.
  2. In addition, the Davis Technique works! The nearest provider is in Waukesha, but parents can learn about and use the technique.

  3. The Davis program was adapted by a teacher for use in the general reading curriculum grades K-2 at low cost. A CA research study showed its use resulted in no references for special ed and increased references for T&G tracks compared to the control group.

Seattle school parents pressured to pay

Alison Krupnick:

It’s time to call attention to a key issue plaguing Seattle Public Schools — class size. Despite public comments from district officials challenging the relevance of class size to academic achievement, every teacher I’ve spoken with has cited large class size as one of the biggest impediments to effective pedagogy.
In 2000, voters approved Initiative 728 by nearly 72 percent. This measure provided state funding to reduce class sizes. But, our state’s piecemeal approach to education funding has proved ineffective. Seven years later, class sizes in Seattle remain high.
The district’s response to underfunded schools has been larger classes and leaner services. Frustrated by inadequate state funding and district allocation of these limited funds, parents who “believe” in public schools are put in the difficult position of having to subsidize them.
Though we’re supposed to pay for enhancements, PTAs routinely “buy down” class size by supporting volunteer and paid-tutor programs so that the adult-student ratio in the classroom can be reduced and teachers are able to work with smaller groups, thus meeting the needs of students at both ends of the spectrum and in-between. At our school, “academic support” makes up roughly 50 percent of our PTA budget.


Stacy Teicher Khadaroo:

Foundation offers $500 grants to all newborns – provided their parents open a college-savings account.
Just a few days into the new year, Laurie and Keenan Farwell welcomed their daughter Hadley into the world. The hospital staff at MaineGeneral Health in Augusta had the pleasure of delivering not just the baby, but also her first birthday gift: $500 toward her future education.
Hadley is a beneficiary of the new Harold Alfond College Challenge, a first-in-the nation philanthropic program that will give families statewide a $500 starter grant – and assistance with paperwork – to set up 529 college savings accounts for infants.
“It was very exciting to think she’s not even a couple hours old, and she’s already looking at her college fund,” Ms. Farwell said in a phone interview as Hadley patiently sucked on her tiny hand, awaiting a feeding.
Harold Alfond founded Dexter Shoe Co. in Maine in 1958 and shared millions of dollars to promote health and education in the state. After giving many scholarships to college-age students, “he wanted to help build aspirations for college at the front end of life,” says Greg Powell, chairman of the board of the Harold Alfond Foundation. Mr. Alfond laid the groundwork for this legacy before he died in November.

On Parenting: Reassuring Autism Findings

Nancy Shute:

Parents of children with autism don’t get much good news: It’s still not clear what causes the often devastating disorder, which affects as many as 1 in 150 children and for which there is no cure. As a result, theories abound on potential causes, the most notorious being the 1960s-era notion of “refrigerator mothers.”
In recent years, much energy has been expended on arguing whether vaccines could cause autism: Some parents think that the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine or thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative in other vaccines, is the culprit. Scientists, on the other hand, think autism is largely genetic, and have focused on looking for genes that could be at fault. That disconnect has been frustrating to parents and sometimes dangerous; an unproven treatment known as chelation therapy, which leaches heavy metals such as mercury from the body, resulted in the death of a 5-year-old boy in 2006 after he was administered the wrong drug.
The best evidence to date that vaccines are not responsible is published today in the Archives of General Psychiatry. Researchers with the California Department of Public Health found that the number of new cases of autism reported in California has risen consistently for children born from 1989 through 2003, which includes the period when thimerosal was phased out. Studies in other countries, including one from Canada published in 2007, have also exonerated vaccines and thimerosal.

The Translators: The Media and School Choice Research

Andrew Rotherham:

The Media play a pivotal role in determining how and why research influences public opinion with regard to policy. Political scientists Shanto Inyengar and Donald Kinder have shown through experimental research involving televised news how the presentation of news stories can have a powerful impact on what Americans think about issues.1 Prominent columns and articles, especially in the big East Coast papers, influence political behavior among the policy and political elites and offer signals about elite thought and opinion on key issues. The debates about the research on school choice illustrate the broader challenges the media face when translating research for public consumption.
At a superficial level, school choice is a relatively easy debate for the media to cover. It can be simplified into arguments for and against vouchers, charter schools, and altering the definition of “public” schooling, and these arguments are often boiled down to an easy framework of “public” versus “private.” Likewise, the question of increases in test scores fits readily into a debate about whether school choice is “working” or not. While such framing greatly oversimplifies the issues, it nonetheless drives much of the coverage precisely because it offers easy contrasts.

Why the Public Schools?

Laurent Lafforgue:

Since my forced resignation from the High Council of Education, I have received hundreds of testimonials from teachers, parents, students and plain citizens of all social groups. Among these messages I have been particularly struck by those parents who have written me, in substance, “We have been so deceived, and we are so appalled, by what has become of the schools that we have decided to remove our children from there, and to teach them ourselves.” Or, “We have joined with other parents and are pooling our talents to form our own classes for our children”. Or, again, “Despite the financial sacrifice it represents, we have placed our children into private schools.” And finally, those most numerous messages which say: “Our children go to school, yes, but every evening we put them to work using old textbooks, and do what we can to give them the kind of rigorous instruction that is no longer given in their classes. But what a labor for them, and what a responsibility for us!”
That parents should go so far as to remove their children from school, to teach them themselves, at home, or to form parallel classes for them in which they, themselves, are the teachers, to prefer a school to which they must pay the fee to the free public school, or to impose on their children and themselves the burden of a night school added to the day school they consider to be nothing but a holding pen, all this became and remains for me a theme of profound dismay. And I notice as well that these are surely the parents who enjoy a high level of education and – for those who can pay the fees of a private school – of income. And then I think of the other children, who do not have the benefits of having been born into families similarly favored.
Students, all the students, are the primary victims of the destruction of the school. This destruction has resulted from educational policies of all the governments of the last few decades. It is not the teachers who are responsible for it, for they are victims themselves: firstly in that they have been prevented from teaching correctly, by the publication of national curricula which are increasingly disorganized, incoherent and emptied of content; then because the knowledge gaps accumulated by their students over the course of years have made the conditions of teaching ever more difficult, and have exposed them to incidents of increasing incivility and violence on the part of adolescents who have never been taught either the elementary understandings, the habits of work, or the self-control which are indispensable to the progress of their studies; and finally because the younger generation of teachers has suffered from an already degraded educational program, so that their own understanding is less certain than that of their elders, and, with the exception of some well tempered characters, has been disoriented by the absurd training so prodigally distributed by the teachers colleges.

Clusty Search: Laurent Lafforgue.

School Rankings That Matter

Cameron Stracher:

The publication this year of U.S. News & World Report’s first ranking of high schools has parents in a twitter, worrying that their property taxes are too high (or too low), or that public education has failed them entirely. But leaving aside the merits and methodology of these particular rankings, we might wonder whether rankings matter at all and, more importantly, if they should.
In fact, there are some numbers that really matter. Getting them is the rub.
To understand this problem, consider another set of rankings, released about the same time as the high-school rankings, that didn’t garner as much attention: bar-exam passage rates. The school at which I teach — New York Law School — jumped to fifth on the list of New York area law schools (with an all-time high passage rate of 90%), while Benjamin N. Cardozo Law School at Yeshiva University leapfrogged to third, behind only NYU and Columbia.
Cardozo, however, is ranked 52nd by U.S. News among all law schools (fourth in New York), while New York Law School is ranked in the “third tier” of law schools (along with Albany, Hofstra, Pace and Syracuse). So which ranking matters?
On the one hand, the U.S. News ranking would seem to be more comprehensive, because bar passage rate is only one of many factors it considers. On the other hand, what good is a law degree if a graduate can’t practice because he doesn’t pass the licensing exam?
Moreover, if the bar exam measures a student’s fitness to practice law (as the bar examiners claim), a school’s bar passage rate should be a pretty good indication of how the school is doing in turning out graduates who know how to practice law.

Continue reading School Rankings That Matter

Top 10 Education Concerns

Michael Shaughnessy interviews the Washington Post’s Jay Matthews:

7) What do you see as the top ten concerns in education? What are the biggest concerns in the Washington Circle?

My concerns or Washington’s? I will go with mine:

  1. Low standards and expectations in low-income schools.
  2. Very inadequate teacher training in our education schools.
  3. Failure to challenge average students in nearly all high schools with AP and IB courses.
  4. Corrupt and change-adverse bureaucracies in big city districts.
  5. A tendency to judge schools by how many low income kids they have, the more there are the worse the school in the public mind.
  6. A widespread feeling on the part of teachers, because of their
    inherent humanity, that it is wrong to put a child in a challenging situation where they may fail, when that risk of failure is just what they need to learn and grow.

  7. The widespread belief among middle class parents that their child must get into a well known college or they won’t be as successful in life.
  8. A failure to realize that inner city and rural schools need to give students more time to learn, and should have longer school days and school years.
  9. A failure to realize that the best schools–like the KIPP charter schools in the inner cities—are small and run by well-recruited and trained principals who have the power to hire all their teachers, and quickly fire the ones that do not work out.
  10. The resistance to the expansion of charter schools in most school district offices.

Matthews list is comprehensive and on target.

For a Few, the More Kids the Merrier

Lisa Takeuchi Cullen:

There’s an odd phenomenon being reported in tony enclaves across the country: highly educated, highly compensated couples popping out four or more children–happily and by choice. In Loudoun County, a suburb of Washington, four-packs of siblings rule the playgrounds. In New York City, real estate agents tell of families buying two or three adjacent apartments to create giant spaces for their giant broods. Oradell, N.J., is home to so many sprawling clans that residents call it Fouradell. In a suburb of Chicago, the sibling boomlet is called the Wheaton Four.
Of course, big families never really disappeared. Immigrants tend to have more kids, as do Mormons, some Catholics and a growing cadre of fundamentalist Christians. But in the U.S. today, the average number of children per mom is about 2, compared with 2.5 in the 1970s. While 34.3% of married women ages 40 to 44 had four or more children in 1976, only 11.5% did in 2004, according to the Current Population Survey. Though factoring in affluence can be statistically tricky, an analysis by Steven Martin, associate professor of sociology at the University of Maryland, shows that the proportion of affluent families with four or more kids increased from 7% in 1991-96 to 11% in 1998-2004. Andrew Cherlin, a sociology professor at Johns Hopkins University, speculates, “For most people, two is enough because there are so many other competing ways to spend your time and money. People prefer to have fewer kids and invest more in them. My guess is the wealthy are having more because they enjoy children, and they have the time and resources to raise them well. They don’t have to make those trade-offs.”

OU study looks into how parenting affects teens


An ongoing study done by the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center is examining how parenting and other factors affect the long-term behavior of teenagers.
The “youth asset study” is being funded by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Researchers are looking at how 17 “assets,” including parental involvement and religion, factor into teenage behavior.
During the past five years, researchers have interviewed 2,200 Oklahoma City-area children and their parents, looking into risky behaviors and the level of parental involvement. The goal of the $4 million study is to determine which assets strongly correlate with well-adjusted teens and, conversely, those assets that don’t seem to affect teens involved in activities including drug use and sex.
“The most important analysis will be to see how these (behaviors) change over time … and how the presence or absence of assets contributes to those changes,” said principal investigator Roy Oman, an associate professor at the OU College of Public Health.

Complete Report.

Teachers draft reform plan

Howard Blume:

In this education nirvana, teachers would decide what to teach and when. Teachers and parents would hire and fire principals. No supervisors from downtown would tell anyone — neither teachers nor students — what to wear.
These are among the ideas a delegation of teachers and their union officers are urging L.A. schools Supt. David L. Brewer to include in the school reform plan he will present to the school board Tuesday.
If Brewer passes on the delegation’s proposals, the union can go directly to the seven-member Board of Education. Employee unions recently have had success in getting the board to overrule the superintendent on health benefits for some part-time workers and on school staffing.
At stake now is the Los Angeles Unified School District’s effort to turn around its 34 most troubled middle and high schools. The data suggests the urgency: As many as three-quarters of the students in these “high priority schools” scored well below grade level across multiple subjects on last year’s California Standards Tests.
Whatever remedy emerges is likely to become a blueprint for widespread reform efforts. Brewer and his team are working on their 11th draft; the drafts have evolved significantly since September because of resistance inside and outside the school system.

Young, Gifted and Skipping High School

Maria Glod:

As Jackie Robson rushed off to Japanese 101, a pink sign on the main door of her college dorm reminded her to sign out. There were more rules: an 11 p.m. curfew, mandatory study hours, round-the-clock adult supervision and no boys allowed in the rooms.
Jackie is 14. She never spent a day in high school.
Like the other super-bright girls in her dorm, the Fairfax County teen bypassed a traditional education and countless teenage rites, such as the senior prom and graduation, to attend the all-female Mary Baldwin College in the Shenandoah Valley.
The school offers students as young as 12 a jump-start on college in one of the leading programs of its kind. It also gives brainy girls a chance to be with others like them. By all accounts, they are ready for the leap socially and emotionally, and they crave it academically.
Last spring, Jackie finished eighth grade at Langston Hughes Middle School in Reston. This fall, she’s taking Psychology 101, Japanese 101, English 101, Folk Dance and U.S. History 1815-1877: Democracy and Crisis.

Putting on Weight for Football Glory

Jere Longman:

When the Desire Street Academy football team plays in a Louisiana state semifinal playoff game Friday night, the Lions will feature three starting linemen who weigh at least 300 pounds and two others who weigh 270 and 280 pounds, reflecting a trend in which high school players are increasingly reaching a size once seen almost exclusively among linemen in college and the N.F.L.
High school football rosters reveal weight issues that go beyond the nation’s overall increase in obesity rates among children. Two studies this year, one published in The Journal of the American Medical Association and another in The Journal of Pediatrics, found that weight problems among high school football players — especially linemen — far outpaced those of other male children and adolescents.
Now coaches and researchers fear that some young athletes may be endangering their health in an effort to reach massive proportions and attract the attention of college recruiters.
“The old saying was, ‘Wait till you get to college to make it a business,’” said Rusty Barrilleaux, the coach at Hammond High in southeastern Louisiana and a former offensive lineman at Louisiana State. “It’s still fun, but if you want to get to college, you have to get that size. The pressure is definitely on.”

The Secret to Raising Smart Kids

Carol Dweck:

Hint: Don’t tell your kids that they are. More than three decades of research shows that a focus on effort—not on intelligence or ability—is key to success in school and in life.
Growing Pains

  • Many people assume that superior intelligence or ability is a key to success. But more than three decades of research shows that an overemphasis on intellect or talent—and the implication that such traits are innate and fixed—leaves people vulnerable to failure, fearful of challenges and unmotivated to learn.
  • Teaching people to have a “growth mind-set,” which encourages a focus on effort rather than on intelligence or talent, produces high achievers in school and in life.
  • Parents and teachers can engender a growth mind-set in children by praising them for their effort or persistence (rather than for their intelligence), by telling success stories that emphasize hard work and love of learning, and by teaching them about the brain as a learning machine.

Circulation of West High School Calculus Exams in 2001

Lee Sensenbrenner:

As a sophomore at Madison West High School, Danny Cullenward tookCalculus 1, a yearlong advanced math class that put the only B on theotherwise straight-A student’s transcript.
The same happened with Sam Friedman, the former captain of West’s mathteam. Friedman, who is now at the University of Chicago, got two B’s incalculus at West but went on, as a high school student, to get an A inadvanced calculus at the University of Wisconsin.Chris Moore, who is a junior at West and is already ranked among the top 30high school math students in the United States, also had trouble in his highschool course. He got a B when he took calculus as a freshman.
UW Professor Janet Mertz knows of all these cases, and cited them in aletter to administrators. She argued, as other parents have for more than ayear, that something is not right with the way calculus students at West aretested.
It’s unfair, she wrote, and it’s hurting students’ chances to get intoelite colleges such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for whichMertz interviews student applicants.

Fuzzy Math at West High: A Capital Times Editorial:

For more than a year, a group of West High parents have beencomplaining about the way calculus students at West are tested. This week theywent public — voicing their concerns before the Madison School Board.The first complaint came from Joan Knoebel and Michael Cullenward, M.D., onbehalf of their son, now a senior at West. They decried the fact that KeithKnowles, West’s calculus teacher, reuses old tests or parts of old tests thatare available to some — but not all — students.
According to the formal complaint, “students have obtained copies fromolder siblings, prior students, through study groups, private tutors, or by awell-defined grapevine.” The school itself does not keep the tests on file.
School district administrators contend that Knowles did nothing wrong andthat there’s no evidence to conclude that having access to old tests washelpful to students.

Doug Erickson:

George Kelly, English chairman at East High School, said teachers share thesame interests as committee members — to ensure that students have access tothe tests they’ve taken and to make the playing field level for all students.But he said a districtwide policy would be cumbersome.
“There’s a larger issue here,” Kelly said. “How much micromanaging does theboard want to do in instruction and evaluation?”
West parent Joan Knoebel said Tuesday that the district continues to avoidthe real issue that her family raised, which is that a particular teacher atWest is not following the test return policy already in place at that school.Although she would like to see districtwide guidelines, she has neversuggested that the problem is widespread.
“(The district) is attacking this globally, when what you really have isone teacher who, in my opinion, is acting unethically,” she said. “They’reusing an elephant gun to shoot a starling.”

Joan Knoebel:

Common sense tells us that students with an advance copy of a test have asignificant advantage over their classmates. Assessment is meaningless underthese circumstances.This is the basis of our complaint. And this isn’t just about one teacherat West. The decisions in this case emanate throughout the Madison SchoolDistrict.
What’s the teacher’s job? To teach the principles of calculus and to fairlyevaluate whether his students learned the math. He undoubtedly knows the math,as some former students enthusiastically attest. However, because old examswere not available to all, the only thing his tests reliably measured is whoma student knows, not what a student knows.
And — this point is critical — he also couldn’t tell whether the tests heconstructed, or copied, were “good” tests. A good test is one a well-preparedstudent can complete successfully during class time. Think of it this way.Assume there were no old tests to study — all students were on a levelplaying field. The teacher gives a test. No one finishes or gets a high score.Did no one understand the material? Possibly, but many of these hardworkingstudents come to class prepared. The better explanation is that there was aproblem with the test itself; for example, it was too long or too complex tofinish within the time limit.
This mirrors the experience of students who didn’t study the old tests.Unfortunately, they were sitting alongside classmates who’d seen an advancecopy and could thus easily finish within the class period.
Ten years ago, West High enacted a test return policy. Why? Because thiscalculus teacher, among others, wouldn’t give the tests back. The policy was acompromise to give families a chance to review tests, but only underconditions that gave teachers control against copies being handed down.
This calculus teacher had a choice: offer in-school review, as is done atMemorial High, or let the tests go home under tight restrictions, including awritten promise not to copy or use them for cheating. After this policy washammered out, he elected to return his tests unconditionally yet continued tore-use his tests. The district says that was his prerogative.
What was the administration’s job here? To conduct a fair formal complaintprocess and to ensure that assessment is non-discriminatory. The “outsideinvestigator” the district appointed is a lawyer who together with her firmroutinely does other legal work for the district. Had we known of thisconflict, we wouldn’t have wasted our time. In reality, the administration andits investigator endeavored mostly to find support for the foregone conclusionthat a teacher can run his class as he wishes.
We greatly appreciate our children’s teachers, but with all due respect,autonomy does not trump the duty of this teacher, the administration and theboard to provide all students with a fair and reliable testing scheme.
The only remedy the district offers is to let students repeat the course,either at West or at UW-Madison at their own expense — $1,000 — andsubstitute the new grade. This isn’t a genuine remedy. It punishes studentsfor a problem they didn’t create. Furthermore, it is only truly available tothose who can afford UW-Madison tuition and the time.
What was the School Board’s job? To tackle public policy — in this case,non-discriminatory assessment. With one brave exception, the board ducked, andchose to protect the teacher, the administration and the union — everyoneexcept the students.
The solution is easy. If teachers are going to re-use tests or questions,safeguard them using the test return policy or make an exam file available toall. Otherwise, write genuinely fresh tests each time.
After 14 months of investigation and a 100-plus page record, it’s worsethan when we started. Now the district says that this teacher, any teacher,can re-use tests and give them back without restriction, and that it isperfectly acceptable for some but not all students to have copies to preparefrom.
For six months, we sought to resolve this matter privately and informally,without public fanfare. Confronting the dirty little secret of the calculusclass didn’t sully West’s remarkable national reputation, but openly paperingit over surely does. Simply put, this teacher didn’t do his job. Theadministration and six board members didn’t do theirs, either. “Putting kidsfirst” needs to be more than just a campaign slogan. –>
In the Madison West High calculus class, tests are the only way astudent is evaluated — not by quizzes, homework or classroom participation,just tests. The teacher admits he duplicates or tweaks old tests. He knew somebut not all students had copies, yet he wouldn’t provide samples or an examfile.
Common sense tells us that students with an advance copy of a test have asignificant advantage over their classmates. Assessment is meaningless underthese circumstances.This is the basis of our complaint. And this isn’t just about one teacherat West. The decisions in this case emanate throughout the Madison SchoolDistrict.
What’s the teacher’s job? To teach the principles of calculus and to fairlyevaluate whether his students learned the math. He undoubtedly knows the math,as some former students enthusiastically attest. However, because old examswere not available to all, the only thing his tests reliably measured is whoma student knows, not what a student knows.
And — this point is critical — he also couldn’t tell whether the tests heconstructed, or copied, were “good” tests. A good test is one a well-preparedstudent can complete successfully during class time. Think of it this way.Assume there were no old tests to study — all students were on a levelplaying field. The teacher gives a test. No one finishes or gets a high score.Did no one understand the material? Possibly, but many of these hardworkingstudents come to class prepared. The better explanation is that there was aproblem with the test itself; for example, it was too long or too complex tofinish within the time limit.
This mirrors the experience of students who didn’t study the old tests.Unfortunately, they were sitting alongside classmates who’d seen an advancecopy and could thus easily finish within the class period.
Ten years ago, West High enacted a test return policy. Why? Because thiscalculus teacher, among others, wouldn’t give the tests back. The policy was acompromise to give families a chance to review tests, but only underconditions that gave teachers control against copies being handed down.
This calculus teacher had a choice: offer in-school review, as is done atMemorial High, or let the tests go home under tight restrictions, including awritten promise not to copy or use them for cheating. After this policy washammered out, he elected to return his tests unconditionally yet continued tore-use his tests. The district says that was his prerogative.
What was the administration’s job here? To conduct a fair formal complaintprocess and to ensure that assessment is non-discriminatory. The “outsideinvestigator” the district appointed is a lawyer who together with her firmroutinely does other legal work for the district. Had we known of thisconflict, we wouldn’t have wasted our time. In reality, the administration andits investigator endeavored mostly to find support for the foregone conclusionthat a teacher can run his class as he wishes.
We greatly appreciate our children’s teachers, but with all due respect,autonomy does not trump the duty of this teacher, the administration and theboard to provide all students with a fair and reliable testing scheme.
The only remedy the district offers is to let students repeat the course,either at West or at UW-Madison at their own expense — $1,000 — andsubstitute the new grade. This isn’t a genuine remedy. It punishes studentsfor a problem they didn’t create. Furthermore, it is only truly available tothose who can afford UW-Madison tuition and the time.
What was the School Board’s job? To tackle public policy — in this case,non-discriminatory assessment. With one brave exception, the board ducked, andchose to protect the teacher, the administration and the union — everyoneexcept the students.
The solution is easy. If teachers are going to re-use tests or questions,safeguard them using the test return policy or make an exam file available toall. Otherwise, write genuinely fresh tests each time.
After 14 months of investigation and a 100-plus page record, it’s worsethan when we started. Now the district says that this teacher, any teacher,can re-use tests and give them back without restriction, and that it isperfectly acceptable for some but not all students to have copies to preparefrom.
For six months, we sought to resolve this matter privately and informally,without public fanfare. Confronting the dirty little secret of the calculusclass didn’t sully West’s remarkable national reputation, but openly paperingit over surely does. Simply put, this teacher didn’t do his job. Theadministration and six board members didn’t do theirs, either. “Putting kidsfirst” needs to be more than just a campaign slogan.

Lee Sensenbrenner: Former Students Defend Teacher:

After hearing West High graduates who had returned home for winterbreak defend their former calculus teacher, the Madison School Board decidedit would seek the advice of department heads before potentially changing anypolicies on math tests.
Noah Kaufman, a freshman at Dartmouth College, told the board Monday nightthat complaints against calculus teacher Keith Knowles — who parents sayrepeated exam material without providing universal access to the old tests –were “entirely unreasonable.””Had I memorized numbers and calculations from old exams, and passed themoff as my answers, I would have failed my class, without question,” Kaufmansaid.
“Mr. Knowles did not use the same questions on different tests. What he diddo was ask questions that involved similar applications of the concepts. Allof these concepts were explained thoroughly in the textbook, as well as by Mr.Knowles himself.
“A student could have access to the concepts and examples of applicationsby simply doing the homework and paying attention in class.”

Doug Erickson:

arents of a Madison West High School senior urged the School BoardMonday to make sure that teachers who recycle exams from year to year also tryto keep copies of the old tests from circulating among students.
Either that, or a sample test should be made available to all studentsequally, said Joan Knoebel.She said her son, Danny Cullenward, and other students were at adisadvantage during several semesters of advanced math, because the teacherrecycled tests even though he knew that some but not all students had accessto old copies. Danny said that when he privately asked for help, the teachertold him to find old tests but refused to supply them.
Said his mother: “Exams should be about what you know, not who you know.”
She said her son, a National Merit Scholarship semifinalist, becamesuspicious when some students breezed through the exams while he struggled tofinish on time.