Category Archives: Uncategorized

A Future Full of Badges

Kevin Carey:

In the grand University of California system, the Berkeley and UCLA campuses have long claimed an outsized share of the public imagination. It’s easy to forget that the state system has more than two great institutions of higher education. In the heart of the Central Valley, UC-Davis has grown in a hundred years from being the “university farm” to becoming one of the world’s most important research universities. Now it’s part of a process that may fundamentally redefine the credentials that validate higher learning.
Throughout the 20th century, scientists at UC-Davis, a land-grant institution, helped significantly increase crop yields while leading research on plant genetics, water conservation, and pest control. When the present century began, Davis leaders knew the times called for not just production but conservation and renewal. So they created a new, interdisciplinary major in sustainable agriculture and food systems. Many different departments were involved in crafting curricula that range across life sciences, economics, and humanities, along with experiential learning in the field.
The university also conducted a detailed survey of practitioners, scholars, and students to identify the knowledge, skills, and experiences that undergraduates most needed to learn. The survey produced answers like “systems thinking,” “strategic management,” and “interpersonal communication.” They sound like buzzwords–and they can be­–but if taken seriously are nothing of the kind. Simultaneously understanding the intricacies of hydrology and plant DNA, the economics of federal agricultural subsidization, and the politics of community development is a high order of systems thinking. The first students enrolled in the program this past fall.

Liberal Arts Colleges Economic Future

Kevin Kiley:

A year ago, the notion that Smith College — with a $1 billion endowment, high student demand, and frequently cited educational quality — was raising existential questions, particularly about its economic model, seemed a fairly radical notion.
But an idea that seemed striking in the past — that elite liberal arts colleges might have to make significant changes in the next few years if they are to remain relevant (or present) in the current educational market — is now the hottest topic in the sector.
A conference this week here at Lafayette College entitled “The Future of the Liberal Arts College in America and Its Leadership Role in Education Around the World,” drew more than 200 college administrators, including about 50 college presidents, out of an invite list of U.S. News and World Report’s list of top national liberal arts colleges. Judging by the turnout, the discussion, and the fact that several other conferences addressing these questions are scheduled over the next few months, it’s clear that the questions are on everybody’s mind.

To Fix America’s Education Bureaucracy, We Need to Destroy It

Philip Howard:

Successful schools don’t have a formula, other than that teachers and principals are free to follow their instincts.
America’s schools are being crushed under decades of legislative and union mandates. They can never succeed until we cast off the bureaucracy and unleash individual inspiration and willpower.
Schools are human institutions. Their effectiveness depends upon engaging the interest and focus of each student. A good teacher, studies show, can dramatically improve the learning of students. What do great teachers have in common? Nothing, according to studies — nothing, that is, except a commitment to teaching and a knack for keeping the students engaged (see especially The Moral Life of Schools). Good teachers don’t emerge spontaneously, and training and mentoring are indispensable. But ultimately, effective teaching seems to hinge on, more than any other factor, the personality of the teacher. Skilled teachers have a power to engage their students — with spontaneity, authority, and wit.

Related: Ripon Superintendent Richard Zimman’s 2009 speech to the Madison Rotary Club.

The Six-Lesson Schoolteacher

Nathan Myers:

I found this essay in the Fall ’91 issue of Whole Earth Review. It finally clarified for me why American school is such a spirit-crushing experience, and suggested what to do about it.
Before reading, please set your irony detector to the on position. If you find yourself inclined to dismiss the below as paranoid, you should know that the design behind the current American school system is very well-documented historically, in published writings of dizzying cynicism by such well-known figures as Horace Mann and Andrew Carnegie.

Call me Mr. Gatto, please. Twenty-six years ago, having nothing better to do, I tried my hand at schoolteaching. My license certifies me as an instructor of English language and literature, but that isn’t what I do at all. What I teach is school, and I win awards doing it.
Teaching means many different things, but six lessons are common to schoolteaching from Harlem to Hollywood. You pay for these lessons in more ways than you can imagine, so you might as well know what they are:
The first lesson I teach is: “Stay in the class where you belong.” I don’t know who decides that my kids belong there but that’s not my business. The children are numbered so that if any get away they can be returned to the right class. Over the years the variety of ways children are numbered has increased dramatically, until it is hard to see the human being under the burden of the numbers each carries. Numbering children is a big and very profitable business, though what the business is designed to accomplish is elusive.

It’s tough raising an autistic child. But for expatriate families in Hong Kong, the options for special needs education are even more limited

Oliver Chou:

Global public health crisis and a fast-growing epidemic: these were the stark terms used by experts at an international summit held here last weekend to describe the cost of autism. The descriptions are backed up by grim figures. In South Korea, as many as one in 38 children are diagnosed as having autism spectrum disorders.
The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention reports prevalence at about one in 88 youngsters in the country. Hong Kong doesn’t have an official estimate, but groups say the number ranges from 70,000 to 200,000, depending on the screening criteria.

Iowa Senate passed education reform; hurdles ahead

Jason Clayworth:

The Iowa Senate passed its version of education reform Monday, a significant step in what is becoming a legislative melee to find agreement between the governor and both parties in the final weeks before lawmakers go home.
Unlike Republican versions, the Senate’s doesn’t address such issues as high school student testing that would mandate end-of-course exams be factored into graduation requirements.
There are also key differences on how teachers would be evaluated, how online schools would be limited in scope and if third graders who fail to accomplish key literacy goals would be able to advance.

Hong Kong Arts college lacks students

Linda Yeung:

A US-based arts college, which sparked controversy when it won the right to use a heritage site ahead of local groups, remains short of its recruitment target, 18 months after it opened.
The Hong Kong campus of the Savannah College of Art and Design, housed in the former North Kowloon Magistracy building in Sham Shui Po, cited an initial target of 300 students and an eventual enrolment of 1,500 in bidding for the site.

California Department of Education Funds Four-Year Research Evaluation of Mathematics Online Tutoring System

SRI International:

SRI International, Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), and the University of Maine have received a $3.5 million award from the Institute of Education Sciences at the U.S. Department of Education to evaluate the effectiveness of an online tutoring system for mathematics homework. The research team will study seventh-grade mathematics students and teachers in more than 50 schools throughout Maine using WPI’s ASSISTments system.
ASSISTments aims to transform homework by giving students instant feedback and tutoring adapted to their individual needs. It also provides teachers with customized reports each morning on their students’ nightly progress. Teachers in the study will receive training in how to use these reports to adapt their lesson plans to better suit students’ needs.

Phonics test: NUT says it will make failures of five-year-olds

Angela Harrison:

A teachers’ union is calling for a boycott of a new phonics reading test, saying it risks making failures of five-year-olds.
The government in England wants all children to be taught to read using phonics, where they learn the sounds of letters and groups of letters.
And it says the new “phonics check” for five and six-year-olds will help identify children who need extra help.
But the National Union of Teachers says it will not tell teachers anything new.
And the union fears the results could be used in league tables.

Using TED Conversations in the classroom

TED Blog:

All semester, TED Fellow Nina Tandon has been using TED Conversations as part of her class in bioelectricity at Cooper Union. Yesterday in the TED offices, she hosted a Live TED Conversation to answer questions about using TED Conversations in her class. Here are some highlights:
Sarah Meyer: So your students asked questions of the TED community as they studied? Did any of their conversations get particularly good responses? Did you or your students learn anything from any of the comments?
Nina Tandon: We’ve been just blown away from the response — our TEDinClass Conversations, for example, have been trending in the top five for 9 weeks straight, and each conversation is being viewed in up to 60 countries. And in total, the conversations are reaching about half a million Facebook users via shares. The students are also learning a ton content-wise through responding to comments. And then there’s the more-difficult-to-measure but equally important lessons in poise and maturity that comes from leading. It’s been amazing.
Emily McManus: What did you worry about most when starting this experiment, and how did you control for it?

College Merger Plan Stirs Cost Worries

Associated Press:

Critics, including a U.S. senator, are convinced that a main motivation behind a plan to merge Rutgers University’s Camden campus into Rowan University is an effort to improve the Glassboro school’s financial position.
But Rowan officials say they don’t yet know how the money would work out. And it’s the same with the bond-rating agency that’s often cited in the debate.
“So many things could change, it’s hard to play the what-if game,” said a vice president and senior credit officer at Moody’s Investors Service, Edie Behr, who has studied the merger plans. “Who’s going to be responsible for the payment of which bonds? Whether bonds will be refinanced are restructured, whether the state will help to offset the costs in some way.”
Gov. Chris Christie is pushing for an agreement for the merger to be in place by July 1 as part of a bigger reconfiguration of the state’s higher-education system.
In addition to combining the two southern New Jersey campuses into an institution that would be treated as the state’s second comprehensive public research university, the University of Medicine and Dentistry would be broken up, with some of its schools being taken over by Rutgers and the remainder being renamed the New Jersey Health Sciences University.

Gray Area: A transracial adoption teaches our writer that issues of race in the U.S. are anything but black and white.

Debra Monroe:

In the mid-1990s I set out to adopt a baby. I made phone calls to adoption agencies, and staff members asked warily if I’d consider a transracial adoption. I said yes. At one agency, the receptionist snapped: “Do you understand what transracial means?” Her tone startled me. “I think so,” I said, parsing syllables, “adoption across races.” Impatient, she said, “You’ll get a black baby!”
I lived in a small town without internet access and had done my research–on adoption laws, policy, advice–at a library twenty miles away. I’d found references to a 1972 position paper issued by the National Association of Black Social Workers that objected to transracial adoption as “cultural genocide,” an understandable position, given the state of race relations in 1972. The few agencies that had been doing black-white adoptions stopped because of the position paper. I didn’t find references to a time when agencies started doing transracial adoptions again because the Metzenbaum Act–passed in 1994 to address the fact that children of color were overrepresented in the child welfare system–had been amended, making “race-matching” as the sole determinant for the placement of a child unambiguously illegal.
Some staff members welcomed the change but weren’t sure if adoptive parents would. Other staff members objected to the change–take the receptionist who’d thought I must not know what transracial meant based on my answer. In the end, I used an agency whose staff members were able to discuss race without anger or recoil.

How They Really Get In

Scott Jaschik, via a kind reader’s email:

Most elite colleges and universities describe their admissions policies as “holistic,” suggesting that they look at the totality of an applicant — grades, test scores, essays, recommendations, activities and so forth.
But a new survey of admissions officials at the 75 most competitive colleges and universities (defined as those with the lowest admit rates) finds that there are distinct patterns, typically not known by applicants, that differentiate some holistic colleges from others. Most colleges focus entirely on academic qualifications first, and then consider other factors. But a minority of institutions focuses first on issues of “fit” between a college’s needs and an applicant’s needs.
This approach — most common among liberal arts colleges and some of the most competitive private universities — results in a focus on non-academic qualities of applicants, and tends to favor those who are members of minority groups underrepresented on campus and those who can afford to pay all costs of attending.

Further discussion, here.

History Books

I majored in English literature at Harvard, and had such wonderful professors as B.J. Whiting for Chaucer, Alfred Harbage for Shakespeare, Douglas Bush for Milton, Walter Jackson Bate for Samuel Johnson, and Herschel Baker for Tudor/Stuart Drama. In my one year at Cambridge after graduation, I had the benefit of lectures by Clive Staples Lewis, F.R. Leavis, Joan Bennett, and R.T.H. Redpath.
But in high school and in college I didn’t read any history books and I didn’t think twice about it. Many years later, when I was asked to teach United States History at the high school in Concord, Massachusetts, I panicked. I read Samuel Eliot Morison’s Oxford History of the American People to get started and I have been reading history books ever since (thirty years), but I never knew enough history to be as good a history teacher as my students deserved.
Since 1987, (I left teaching in 1988) I have been the editor of The Concord Review, the only journal in the world for the academic papers of secondary students, and we have now published 1,022 history research papers by high school students from 46 states and 38 other countries. This has only increased my understanding that high school students should be not only encouraged to read complete history books (as I never was in school) but assigned them as well. It is now my view that unless students in our high schools get used to reading at least one complete history book each year, they will not be as well prepared for the books on college nonfiction reading lists as they should be.
In addition, as adherents to the ideas of E.D. Hirsch know well, understanding what one reads depends on the prior knowledge of the reader, and by reading history books our high schools students will learn more history and be more competent to read difficult nonfiction material, including more history books, in college.
When I discuss these thoughts, even with my good friends in the education world, I find a strange sort of automatic reversion to the default. When I want to talk about reading nonfiction books, suddenly the conversation is about novels. Any discussion of reading nonfiction in the high schools always, in my experience, defaults to talk of literature. It seems virtually impossible to anyone discussing reading to relax the clutches of the English Departments long enough even to consider that a history book might make good reading material for our students, too. Try it sometime and see what I mean.
I realize that most Social Studies and History Departments have simply given up on having students read a history book, even in those few cases where they may have tried in the past. They are almost universally content, it seems, to leave the assignment of books (and too much of the writing as well) entirely in the hands of their English Department colleagues.
One outcome of this, in my view, is that even when the Common Core people talk about the need for more nonfiction, it is more than they can manage to dare to suggest a list of complete history books for kids to read. So we find them suggesting little nonfiction excerpts and short speeches to assign, along with menus, brochures, and bus schedules for the middle schoolers. Embarrassing.
Nevertheless, if asked, what history books would I suggest? Everyone is afraid to mention possible history books if they are not about current events, or civics, or some underserved population, for fear of a backlash against the whole idea of history books.
But I will offer these: Mornings on Horseback by David McCullough for Freshmen, Washington’s Crossing by David Hackett Fischer for Sophomores, Battle Cry of Freedom by James McPherson for Juniors, and The Path Between the Seas by David McCullough for Seniors in high school.
Obviously there are thousands of other good history books, and students should be free to read any of these as they work on their Extended History Essays or the very new Capstone Essays the College Board is beginning to start thinking about. And of course I do realize that some history took place before 1620 and even in countries other than our own, but these books are good ones, and if students read them they will actually learn some history, but perhaps more important, they will learn that reading a real live nonfiction history book is not beyond their reach. I dearly wish I had learned that when I was in high school.

Santa Monica College to delay 2-tiered fee hike

Associated Press:

The Board of Trustees at Santa Monica College voted Friday to postpone a two-tiered fee increase that led to angry campus protests where students were pepper-sprayed.
The board decided at an emergency meeting to delay a plan to deal with budget cuts by offering high-demand core courses at about four times the regular price.
The 6-0 vote followed the recommendation of college President Chui Tsang, who circulated a memo before the meeting urging that the plan be put on hold at least for summer classes to allow more time for community input.
His request to the board also reflected the college funding woes that prompted the fee plan.

How to Abuse Standardized Tests

Daniel Willingham:

The insidious thing about tests is that they seem so straightforward. I write a bunch of questions. My students try to answer them. And so I find out who knows more and who knows less.
But if you have even a minimal knowledge of the field of psychometrics, you know that things are not so simple.
And if you lack that minimal knowledge, Howard Wainer would like a word with you.
Wainer is a psychometrician who spent many years at the Educational Testing Service and now works at the National Board of Medical Examiners. He describes himself as the kind of guy who shouts back at the television when he sees something to do with standardized testing that he regards as foolish. These one-way shouting matches occur with some regularity, and Wainer decided to record his thoughts more formally.

Madison Teachers, Inc 4.1.2012 Newsletter

PDF Solidarity Newsletter:

Among the excellent benefits available to MTI members is the additional worker’s compensation benefit provided by MTI’s various Collective Bargaining Agreements.
Wisconsin Statutes provide a worker’s compensation benefit for absence caused by a work-related injury or illness, but such commences on the 4th day of absence and has a maximum weekly financial benefit.
MTI’s Contracts provide one’s full wage, beginning on day one of an absence caused by a work-related injury or illness, with no financial maximum. Also, under MTI’s Contract provision, one’s earned sick leave is not consumed by such an absence.
Although MTI is working to preserve this benefit, it is at risk due to Governor Walker’s Act 10.

Stop Smiling. Your Parents Sold You Out.

Kevin Carey:

American college students now owe more than $1 trillion on their student loans, more than total borrowing on credit cards or auto loans. Given how much people in our society like to drive cars and put their shopping bills on plastic, this is an astonishing sum. Borrowing for higher education used to be rare. Now students routinely leave college with tens of thousands of dollars in debt and, in the current job market, shaky prospects for paying it back.
The average amount of student debt carried in the United States by graduating seniors? $25,000. But many owe more than twice that, and forget about it if you plan to get a professional degree.
This represents an inter-generational betrayal with far-reaching consequences for the shape of civic life. Basically, our parents have sold us out.

Wisconsin, four other states offered chance at $133 million for young learners

Erin Richards:

After narrowly missing the cutoff last year to receive a share of $500 million to support early childhood education, Wisconsin has been offered another opportunity to apply for federal funding for its youngest learners, U.S. Education Department officials announced Monday.
The pool of grant money — $133 million — is smaller this time, but Wisconsin’s chances of winning are better than before because it would be competing against only four other states.
Department officials said the second round of the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge will be open to Wisconsin, Colorado, Illinois, New Mexico and Oregon — all states that barely missed the minimum score needed to receive funding in the first round.
Wisconsin’s score sheet from the first round shows it received 234 points out of a possible 300, but department officials said Monday that score had been revised to 224. They said the scores were revised for five states because of “inconsistencies” the department noticed in its review of applicant and reviewer feedback. The revised scores did not affect the overall outcome of the first round of the competition.

Okla. State Board of Education places 6 schools on low-performing list, tables action on 7th

Ken Miller:

The Oklahoma Board of Education approved six public schools Monday that must work with the state Department of Education to improve student performance.
The board chose the six as “priority schools,” though delayed action on a seventh school that department officials wanted on the list.
The department initially identified 75 schools as the lowest-performing in Oklahoma in terms of student achievement, then cut the list to seven. The criteria included being in the bottom 5 percent in reading and math scores, having graduation rates below 60 percent and receiving federal School Improvement Grants.
The board agreed with the department to list Keyes Elementary, Farris Public Schools, Okay High School, McLain High School in Tulsa, and Shidler Elementary School and Roosevelt Middle School in Oklahoma City.

Join conversation about schools

Wisconsin State Journal:

Sometimes public education can be like the weather: Everybody wants to talk about it, but nobody ever does anything about it.
The school-focused Planning for Greatness initiative in Madison aims for talking, yes; but especially, the project aims for doing things to improve and revitalize our public education system.
The effort launched back in November, followed by a series of large-group discussions involving educators and community leaders. Now, Planning for Greatness is entering a key “next phase” moment, as those initial discussions have produced a series of eight key topics.
One smaller “study group” session has already been held — on the topic of early childhood learning opportunities — and the other seven study group sessions designed to dig into the priority topics start Monday.
All the topics make sense, and are critical to any desire to rethink how we do public education, and how our community is involved in that process. Planning for Greatness is first on a deep fact-finding mission — which is what the upcoming study groups are all about — and ultimately will make recommendations and proposals for improving our schools and the school/community interaction.

College Waitlists Offer Little Hope

Rachel Louise Ensign & Melissa Korn:

So Harvard has put you–or someone you know–on its waitlist. Great news! Or maybe not.
A spot on a waitlist from an elite school doesn’t necessarily mean a candidate is closer to the finish line. Some may be waitlisted, for example, because though their grades weren’t quite good enough or they didn’t take enough advanced placement classes, they still piqued the interest of admissions officers. Others are offered spots purely out of courtesy, such as family members of alumni or children of donors who failed to make the academic cut.
Schools often pad their waitlists to protect their “yield,” or the proportion of accepted students who choose to attend. They can admit fewer students on the first pass, to maintain their aura of exclusivity, then move on to the waitlist if accepted students turn them down.

UW Dept of Educational Policy Studies Brownbag on MMSD Achievement Gap

Laura De-Roche Perez, via a kind email:

On Monday May 7, 2012 from 12-130 pm, the Department of Educational Policy Studies at UW-Madison will host a brownbag on the topic “What is the Madison Metropolitan School District achievement gap — and what can be done about it?” It will feature EPS faculty and affiliates Harry Brighouse, Adam Gamoran, Nancy Kendall, Gloria Ladson-Billings, and Linn Posey.
The brownbag will take place in the Wisconsin Idea Room at the Education Building, 1000 Bascom Mall.

Much more on Adam Gamoran, including a video interview, here.

Why getting into Harvard is no longer an honor

Jay Matthews:

You may have seen that Harvard just set a record for low undergraduate admission rate. Only 5.9 percent of applicants for the class of 2016 were accepted. I was going to do one of my many rants on why we should wake up and see that being admitted to the Ivies and certain other schools is no more a sign of depth and brilliance than winning the Mega Millions lottery. I was going to point out that Harvard could admit a full class of its rejects that would be just as good as the students it accepted. But I already wrote a book about that, “Harvard Schmarvard.” And yesterday I got an e-mail that says it better than I ever did.
So I offer this as a theme for this week’s discussion. The writer declined to be identified other than as “Concerned Student.” I usually don’t print anonymous contributions, but I am making an exception in this case since he speaks well for his college age group. Tell us what you think.
By “Concerned Student”

Madison schools prepare for life after Nerad

Matthew DeFour:

WANTED: A K-12 schools leader with experience uniting a divided community, managing tight budgets and closing achievement gaps in an urban school setting.
PROBLEM: A shrinking pool of such dynamic leaders and a growing number of urbanizing districts like Madison seeking top talent.
“It is a tight market,” said Dan Domenech, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators. “The number of experienced superintendents that have done well in their districts and have the reputation of having done well — those are relatively few and those are the ones that everyone is going after.”
Madison will soon be conducting a search for a new schools chief after superintendent Dan Nerad announced he plans to depart by June 2013, when his current contract expires. He recently was named a finalist for a superintendency in Omaha, Neb., and though he wasn’t selected, he hasn’t ruled out moving to another job before the next school year starts.
Though Nerad’s time in Madison will have been short-lived compared to his predecessor, Art Rainwater, who retired after 10 years, the average superintendent in a mid- to large-sized city holds the job for an average of 3.5 years, Domenech said.

Much more on the Madison Superintendent search, here.

With Common Core, changes are coming to curriculum, tests

Paul Jablow:

If you’ve never heard of the Common Core standards, it’s time to take note: They could have a big effect on what students will learn – and maybe also on the tests that measure their progress.
This attempt at creating uniform academic standards stringent enough to ensure that students in every state are ready for college or career has been years in the making. It is being pushed by the Obama administration, with help from organizations like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The goal is to raise the bar nationally and make American students more competitive with those abroad.
Longtime proponents point out that individual state standards are all over the place in terms of rigor and expectations. They argue that clear standards for what students at each grade level should know and be able to do, drawn up by top educators and used nationwide, can benefit everyone. And they say it doesn’t require dictating what happens in the classroom.

School referendums greeted favorably by Wisconsin voters

Barry Adams:

Beloit has the state’s highest unemployment rate at 12.5 percent, and property values in the Beloit School District averge $198,000 per student — one of the lowest ratios in the state.
But on Tuesday, voters in the southern Rock County school district approved one of the costliest referendums in state history.
The $70 million plan to renovate most schools in the district, build a middle school and a pool, is being called historic for the city. It will not only benefit education but, according to supporters, serve as a catalyst for economic development.
“From a marketing aspect, I shuddered every time I saw the figures. It’s a heck of a lot of money,” said Randy Upton, president of the Greater Beloit Chamber of Commerce, which publicly supported the plan. “By providing the facilities, it’s going to make people proud and make people look at Beloit as a place to live and invest.”
Beloit wasn’t alone Tuesday in its referendum success.

The Non-Joie of Parenting

Jennifer Conlin:

HARDLY a week goes by without an article or a book suggesting the newest, best — or oldest, but still best — way to raise a child. The most recent fixation is with the supposed superiority of the French.
I have been reading with great nostalgia Pamela Druckerman’s musings on the calmness of French parenting in “Bringing Up Bébé.” I too was a parent in France, having given birth to my son there some 15 years ago, after having a daughter, now 20, in England, and her sister, now 16, in Belgium.
In fact, it wasn’t until 18 months ago, when my husband and I finally returned to the States, that I first experienced motherhood in America. Until then, all I knew were the joys of European parenting as presented by Ms. Druckerman, from the way my children ate everything from coq au vin to kedgeree to our tranquil family life of weekend walks, nightly dinners and relaxing vacations.

Thornton’s tearing-down phase for Milwaukee Public Schools easier than building up

Alan Borsuk:

Milwaukee Public Schools Superintendent Gregory Thornton was fired up when he spoke recently to a crowd of about 250 at a north side church. I need your help, he told the audience. Help me tear down MPS and build up a better one.
I don’t think I’d ever heard a school superintendent say he wants to tear down the system he heads, but I understand where Thornton was going. The status quo in MPS is not so thrilling. Some things have to go if you want to get to a better place.
But I have a serious concern that, because of circumstances mostly beyond Thornton’s control, things may be going better on the “tearing down” side of Milwaukee Public Schools than on the “building up” side.
What does it take to have a successful school system? Let’s focus on a few key ingredients: People, money and a unifying, energizing sense of mission.
People, both in terms of quality and numbers. MPS is in a precarious state on these scores. When teachers voted a week ago by a decisive margin not to give up a week’s pay next year to ease cuts in classroom services, they played a serious part in the unfolding plot for 2012-’13 to be a grim year for MPS.

The Real Causes of Income Inequality: Any analysis of taxes paid in high tax-and-spend countries shows that the U.S. has the most progressive income tax system in the world

Phil Gramm & Steve McMillin:

In the stagnant days of the Carter administration, when inflation was approaching 13.5% and interest rates were peaking at 21.5%, income was more evenly distributed than in any period in 20th-century America. Since the days of that equality in misery, the measured income of the top 1% of income tax filers has risen over three and a half times as fast as the income of the population as a whole.
This growth in income inequality is largely the result of three dynamics:
1) Changes in the way Americans pay taxes and manage their investments, which were a direct result of reductions in marginal tax rates.
2) A dynamic shift in the labor-capital ratio, resulting from the adoption of market-based economies around the world.

Trying to Find a Measure for How Well Colleges Do

Richard Perez- Pena:

How well does a college teach, and what do its students learn? Rankings based on the credentials of entering freshmen are not hard to find, but how can students, parents and policy makers assess how well a college builds on that foundation?
What information exists has often been hidden from public view. But that may be changing.
In the wake of the No Child Left Behind federal education law, students in elementary, middle and high schools take standardized tests whose results are made public, inviting anyone to assess, however imperfectly, a school’s performance. There is no comparable trove of public data for judging and comparing colleges.

More Act 10 Enabled Changes Approved by Milwaukee Public Schools

Mike Ford:

In other words, MPS had a surplus of teachers because older teachers were not retiring so as not to lose state pension benefits. Hence, a second pension to offset any loss was created. However, since 1982 the early retirement penalty for teacher has been reduced or eliminated, turning the second pension into an additional benefit which MPS states it had “no intent to establish.”
The survival of the second pension long past its justifiable usefulness is a result of a collective bargaining process that rarely gives back established benefits (see, for example, MTEA’s 2011 rejection of concessions that would have saved teacher jobs). Former MPS superintendent Howard Fuller, school choice advocate George Mitchell, and former WPRI staffer Michael Hartman did a good job documenting in a 2000 book chapter (see figure one) the dramatic growth of the MPS/MTEA contract from an 18 page document in 1965 to a 232 page document in 1997. The most recent published contract? 258 pages.

Much more, here.

Group Aims to Counter Influence of Teachers’ Union in New York

Anna Phillips:

Leaders of a national education reform movement, including Joel I. Klein and Michelle Rhee, the former schools chancellors in New York and Washington, have formed a statewide political group in New York with an eye toward being a counterweight to the powerful teachers’ union in the 2013 mayoral election.
The group, called StudentsFirstNY, is an arm of a national advocacy organization that Ms. Rhee founded in 2010. Like the national group, the state branch will promote the expansion of charter schools and the firing of ineffective schoolteachers, while opposing tenure.
Led by Micah Lasher, who is leaving his job next week as the director of state legislative affairs for Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, the campaign is beginning while advocates of reform have an ally in the mayor. But their eyes are focused on 2014, when a new mayor — most likely one who is more sympathetic to the teachers’ union than Mr. Bloomberg has been — enters office.

There Are as Many Student-Loan Debtors as College Graduates

Richard Vedder:

Here is arguably the most startling statistic you have heard this year: It is likely that there are at least as many adult Americans with student-loan debts outstanding as there are living bachelor’s degree recipients who ever took out student loans. That’s right: as many debtors as degree holders! How can that be? First, huge numbers of those borrowing money never graduate from college. Second, many who borrow are not in baccalaureate degree programs. Three, people take forever to pay their loans back.
Let’s do the math. Recent data suggest there are about 40 million holders of student-loan debt. The New York Fed in a study puts the number a little lower, but estimates by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) suggest a somewhat higher figure. There are, give or take a million, roughly 60 million college graduates. Yet a good proportion, somewhere around one-third, of college graduates, never borrowed money to go to college (that is probably doubly true of graduates in the early 1990s). In other words, at most 40 million adults with four-year degrees borrowed money. Bottom line: an awful lot of people borrow to go to college and never graduate, and/or take forever to pay off their student loans.

Can This ‘Online Ivy’ University Change the Face of Higher Education?

Jordan Weissman:

Traditionally, for-profit colleges have operated on the lowest rungs of America’s educational ladder, catering to poor and lower-middle-class students looking for a basic, convenient degree or technical training. Aspiring Ivy Leaguers have remained far out of the industry’s sites.
That is, until now.
This week, the Minerva Project, a startup online university, announced that it had received $25 million in seed financing from Benchmark Capital, a major Silicon Valley venture capital firm known for its early investments in eBay, among other successful web companies. Minerva bills itself as “the first elite American university to be launched in a century,” and promises to re-envision higher education for the information age. The chairman of its advisory board: Larry Summers, the former treasury secretary and Harvard president. Among others, he’s joined on the board by Bob Kerry, the former United States senator and president of The New School.

UK Teaching unions open door for further strikes

Helene Mulholland:

Schools could be hit by fresh waves of strikes from this summer after two teaching unions put the government on notice that they intend to continue their campaign against the government’s planned reforms to their pensions.
The National Union of Teachers passed a resolution behind closed doors at its annual conference in Torquay seeking fresh walkouts as early as this summer amid concerns over the government’s changes to public sector pensions.
The resolution was passed just hours after the NASUWT, which is holding its conference in Birmingham, agreed to step up its industrial action campaign against what they see as a series of attacks on pay, pensions, working conditions and job losses – raising the possibility of strikes in the autumn term.

Madison School District High School Graduation Rate Discussion

Superintendent Dan Nerad:

This memo is follow up to a discussion of MMSD high school completion rates and on track status from February. Highlights of this follow up are:

  • Preparedness matters. Results from the Kindergarten Screener are predictive of a student’s likelihood of completing high school. Of students starting their school years unprepared, over 25% will drop out and nearly half will take longer than four years to complete high school.
  • Attendance matters. Over half of the students with a high school attendance rate less than 80% will drop out.
  • Credits matter. Students not earning the required number of credits in Grade 9 are less likely to complete high school. Students earning one credit or less face a dropout rate of 63%.
  • Tenure matters. The length of time a student is with MMSD or in one of its high schools has an impact on the likelihood he or she will earn a diploma or equivalency. Getting a student to attend longer than his or her first year is critical.
  • Behavior matters. Students with one or more suspensions per year complete high school only one third of the time.

Revised on track calculations still indicate a decline among Hispanic, black and ELL students. However, the decline is not as pronounced as it was once the numbers for 2009-10 presented in February were revisited.
The Board had also asked about the characteristics of certain students. Students enrolled less than four years with MMSD are more likely to be black, Hispanic, low income, and ELL. They are less likely to have earned 5.5 credits in Grade 9 and are less likely to have high attendance. Interestingly, they are less likely to be identified as special ed and are less likely to have been suspended. These may reflect the shorter duration of their enrollment with MMSD.
Black students known to be continuing beyond four years in high school are more likely to be low income, special ed, enroll in SAPAR, and have at least on out-of-school suspension. They are also less likely to have earned 5.5 credits in Grade 9.

Omaha’s new Superintendent no Stranger to Controversy

Deena Winter:

Omaha’s new school superintendent is no stranger to controversy, having survived nepotism charges as the schools’ chief in Des Moines.
Nancy Sebring’s tenure presiding over 31,000 Des Moines students since 2006 has been controversial at times – particularly when her twin sister was hired as director of Des Moines’ first charter school 15 months ago.
Despite questions about how her sister got the job, Sebring has said she had nothing to do with an advisory board’s decision. The charter school’s launch has been rocky. It opened six months behind schedule and enrollment has not met projections, with 40 percent of students leaving its first year. The school has not provided quarterly reports as required and its budget is nearly twice as big as projected, according to the Des Moines Register.

New IBM App Presents Nearly 1,000 Years of Math History

Alexandra Chang:

Math nerds and historians, it’s time to get excited. Minds of Modern Mathematics, a new iPad app released Thursday by IBM, presents an interactive timeline of the history of mathematics and its impact on society from 1000 to 1960.
The app is based on an original, 50-foot-long “Men of Modern Mathematics” installation created in 1964 by Charles and Ray Eames. Minds of Modern Mathematics users can view a digitized version of the original infographic as well as browse through an interactive timeline with more than 500 biographies, math milestones and images of relevant artifacts.
IBM hopes that classes and students will use the app, provoking more people to pursue math, science or technology-related educations and jobs.
“Careers of the future will rely heavily on creativity, critical thinking, problem solving and collaboration — all themes that were core to the ‘Minds of Modern Mathematics’ movement and remain equally relevant today,” Chid Apte, IBM Director of analytics Research and Mathematical Sciences said in a press release. “What better way than a mobile app to reintroduce this timeless classic to inspire a new generation of learners?”

Union hits out over ‘educational failure’

Chris Cook:

A teachers’ union leader has accused ministers of being “like Pontius Pilate”, seeking to avoid responsibility for the “educational failure over which they . . . have more control than anyone else”.
Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said on Wednesday that schools cannot close attainment gaps on their own: “If we are to raise educational standards we need to look at our schools, yes. But that is not enough.”
The ATL is the third-largest teachers’ union in the UK with 160,000 members. It is renowned for its moderate stance and is the largest union in independent schools. The ATL went on strike for the first time last year over pension rights.

A Guide to Alternative Programs in the Madison Metropolitan School District

Daniel A. Nerad, Nancy Yoder, Sally Schultz:

To meet the goal of “100 percent graduation,” the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) provides a mix of educational choices as diverse as the students and families it serves. The Alternative Education system is designed to give a wider range of appropriate education options to students. These alternatives provide a continuum of choices that allows students to develop skills and successfully transition to their next learning environment, whether that is a regular education classroom, another alternative setting, a post-secondary program, or an adult work setting.
Students with disabilities are eligible to attend any of the MMSD Alternative Programs. These students must meet eligibility criteria like any other student and go through the appropriate referral processes. An IEP [blekko clusty google] committee must recommend a change of placement before the student can attend. Some programs are designated for special education students, for students involved in the court system, for students in a specific high school attendance area or for students who meet

Administration Memo on the Madison Superintendent Search

Dylan Pauly, Legal Services:

Dr. Nerad recently announced his retirement effective June 30, 2013. Consequently, over the next few months this Board will be required to begin its search for the next District leader. While some members of the Board were Board members during the search that brought Dr. Nerad to Madison, many were not. A number of members have asked me to provide some background information so that they may familiarize themselves with the process that was used in 2007. Consequently, I have gathered the following documents for your review:
1. Request for Proposals: Consultation Services for Superintendent Search, Proposal 3113, dated March 19, 2007;
2. Minutes from Board meetings on February 26,2007, and March 12,2007, reflecting Board input and feedback regarding draft versions ofthe RFP;
3. Contract with Hazard, Young and Attea;
4. A copy of the Notice of Vacancy that was published in Education Week;
5. Minutes from a Board meeting on August 27, 2007, which contains the general timeline used to complete the search process; and,
6. Superintendent Search- Leadership Profile Development Session Schedule, which reflects how community engagement was handled during the previous search.
It is also my understanding that the Board may wish to create an ad hoc committee to handle various procedural tasks related to the search process. In line with Board Policy 1041, I believe it is appropriate to take official action in open session to create the new ad hoc. I recommend the following motion:

Dave Zweiful shares his thoughts on Dan Nerad’s retirement.
Related: Notes and links on Madison Superintendent hires since 1992.

Madison Superintendent Art Rainwater’s recent public announcement that he plans to retire in 2008 presents an opportunity to look back at previous searches as well as the K-12 climate during those events. Fortunately, thanks to Tim Berners-Lee’s World Wide Web, we can quickly lookup information from the recent past.

The Madison School District’s two most recent Superintendent hires were Cheryl Wilhoyte [Clusty] and Art Rainwater [Clusty]. Art came to Madison from Kansas City, a district which, under court order, dramatically increased spending by “throwing money at their schools”, according to Paul Ciotti:

2008 Madison Superintendent candidate public appearances:

The Madison Superintendent position’s success is subject to a number of factors, including: the 182 page Madison Teachers, Inc. contract, which may become the District’s handbook (Seniority notes and links)…, state and federal laws, hiring practices, teacher content knowledge, the School Board, lobbying and community economic conditions (tax increase environment) among others.

Superintendent Nerad’s reign has certainly been far more open about critical issues such as reading, math and open enrollment than his predecessor (some board members have certainly been active with respect to improvement and accountability). The strings program has also not been under an annual assault, lately. That said, changing anything in a large organization, not to mention a school district spending nearly $15,000 per student is difficult, as Ripon Superintendent Richard Zimman pointed out in 2009.

Would things improve if a new Superintendent enters the scene? Well, in this case, it is useful to take a look at the District’s recent history. In my view, diffused governance in the form of more independent charter schools and perhaps a series of smaller Districts, possibly organized around the high schools might make a difference. I also think the District must focus on just a few things, namely reading/writing, math and science. Change is coming to our agrarian era school model (or, perhaps the Frederick Taylor manufacturing model is more appropriate). Ideally, Madison, given its unparalleled tax and intellectual base should lead the way.

Perhaps we might even see the local Teachers union authorize charters as they are doing in Minneapolis.

A Public Education Primer: Basic (and Sometimes Surprising) Facts about the U.S. Education System, 2012 Revised Edition

Nancy Kober and Alexandra Usher, via a kind Richard Askey email:

The 2012 Public Education Primer highlights important and sometimes little-known facts concerning the U.S. education system, how things have changed over time, and how they may change in the future. Together these facts provide a comprehensive picture of the nation’s public schools, including data about students, teachers, funding, achievement, management, and non-academic services.

Poland’s Creative Commons’ Free Textbooks

nowoczesna Polska:

Polish Prime Minister Office yesterday accepted „Digital School program” with „Digital Textbooks” component included. With 45 million PLN (approx. 15 million USD) funding it has been the biggest governmental Open Educational Resources initiative in Poland so far. The government has decided to fund creating full set of educational materials for grades 4-6 (9-11 year olds). All those resources will be available under CC BY license, which is fully free license according to the Definition of Free Cultural Works.
„Digital School” program (with „Digital Textbooks” component) was initially drafted and proposed to the Prime Minister Office by Jarosław Lipszyc (Modern Poland Foundation), Piotr Pacewicz, Alicja Pacewicz (Center for Civic Education), Alek Tarkowski (Creative Commons Poland) with cooperation of Witold Przeciechowski (Prime Minister Office). All those organizations are members of Open Education Coalition, a network of NGOs and educational institutions promoting OER in Poland. This draft was accepted by Ministry of Education, but at a later stage of preparations the free licensing requirement was left out. Both Open Education Coalition and Modern Poland Foundation took part in the public consultation process; their comments in support of free licensing were taken on board in the very last minute. The final version of this program was yesterday accepted by the Prime Minister Donald Tusk.

Wealth or Waste? Rethinking the Value of a Business Major

Melissa Korn:

Undergraduate business majors are a dime a dozen on many college campuses. But according to some, they may be worth even less.
More than 20% of U.S. undergraduates are business majors, nearly double the next most common major, social sciences and history.
The proportion has held relatively steady for the past 30 years, but now faculty members, school administrators and corporate recruiters are questioning the value of a business degree at the undergraduate level.
The biggest complaint: The undergraduate degrees focus too much on the nuts and bolts of finance and accounting and don’t develop enough critical thinking and problem-solving skills through long essays, in-class debates and other hallmarks of liberal-arts courses.

Are Pre-K Programs About To Get Gutted?

Andrew Rotherham:

When a little girl, who I’ll call Tina, arrived in a pre-kindergarten program in Washington, D.C. she was unable to recognize any sounds or letters. By the time she left for kindergarten she knew all her letters and more sounds than D.C.’s standards require. Now, six years later, Tina’s teachers say she’s “on a roll” in school.
There are plenty of legitimate debates about what works in education, but the importance of early-childhood education is not one of them. High-quality early-childhood programs help kids in school and in life. Why? Research shows that good programs can improve a variety of outcomes and University of Chicago economist and Nobel Laureate James Heckman points out that dollars invested early are higher leverage than later remediation. But it’s also common sense. Tina’s teachers say that until she learned behavioral and participatory skills she was simply unable to engage with and benefit from instruction at school. It’s good for parents, too, because good programs teach them about how to be involved and advocate for their child’s education.

Building on the Values of No Child Left Behind

Eric Smith:

Last week, the nation’s top public school officials gathered in Washington, D.C. for the annual legislative conference of the Council of Chief State School Officers.
The hot topic, unsurprisingly, was the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), which recently celebrated its 10-year anniversary. Several attendees — charged with implementing the law in their respective states — have applied for federal waivers from this law.
Some school officials have found it difficult to meet the law’s standards requiring that every student — even those that are poor or in minority groups — make progress each year.
NCLB might need some tinkering. As the discussion about reauthorization continues, it’s vital for students and the future of this country that the core principles of accountability, transparency and equality be preserved.
The George W. Bush Institute recently released ten “principles” that serve as guidance for state accountability. These principles show how to build on the foundation established by NCLB and then further improve the key areas of standards, student groups, parental choice, and college and career readiness.

The Assault on Public Education

Noam Chomsky:

Public education is under attack around the world, and in response, student protests have recently been held in Britain, Canada, Chile, Taiwan and elsewhere.
California is also a battleground. The Los Angeles Times reports on another chapter in the campaign to destroy what had been the greatest public higher education system in the world: “California State University officials announced plans to freeze enrollment next spring at most campuses and to wait-list all applicants the following fall pending the outcome of a proposed tax initiative on the November ballot.”
Similar defunding is under way nationwide. “In most states,” The New York Times reports, “it is now tuition payments, not state appropriations, that cover most of the budget,” so that “the era of affordable four-year public universities, heavily subsidized by the state, may be over.”
Community colleges increasingly face similar prospects – and the shortfalls extend to grades K-12.

Chinese Applicants Flood U.S. Graduate Schools

Melissa Korn:

More than ever, Chinese students have their sights set on U.S. graduate schools.
Application volume from that country rose 18% for U.S. master’s and doctoral programs starting this fall, according to a new report from the Council of Graduate Schools that provides a preliminary measure of application trends. Specific programs of interest include engineering, business and earth sciences.
That is on top of a 21% jump last year and a 20% rise in 2010–and is the seventh consecutive year of double-digit gains from China, according to the graduate-school industry group. Applications from China now comprise nearly half of all international applications to U.S. graduate programs.

College-Bound Cast Wider Net


Laura Marino, a senior at Columbia High School in Maplewood, N.J., was spooked last year when a recent graduate there was accepted to only a couple of colleges, despite having top grades and strong test scores.
So Ms. Marino spread applications far and wide, adopting an increasingly common strategy among prospective college students, many of whom have learned the fate of their applications in recent weeks. She applied to 14 colleges, including 1,177-student Haverford College in Haverford, Pa.; University of Michigan, with more than 27,000 undergraduates; and six of the eight Ivy League schools.

Tennessee Is Lab for National Clash Over Science Class

Cameron McWhirter:

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam is likely in the coming days to sign into law a bill requiring that public schools allow science teachers to discuss purported weaknesses of theories such as evolution and global warming in their classrooms.
Supporters, including a socially conservative organization in the state and supporters of creationism, say the law allows teachers and students to critique scientific theories they believe have flaws. They point out the bill says the law “shall not be construed to promote any religious or non-religious doctrine.”
No major cases of Tennessee science teachers being punished for questioning widely held theories have come to light, but the bill’s proponents argue it will provide a safeguard for those who want to raise questions.

Teachers? When Will We Learn?

George Lightbourn:

How did this happen? How did conservatives come to find themselves glaring across the battleground at tens of thousands of Wisconsin’s teachers? In the long run, the confrontation is not one that is likely to end well for conservatives.
Too often conservatives fall into the trap of equating teachers with the teachers’ unions. While hostility toward the unions might be justified – after all, they have reflexively opposed conservative school reform ideas for decades and have inappropriately intruded into classroom activities with the passive concurrence of union supported school board members – this hostility should not be transferred to teachers themselves. Anyone who ignores the distinction between teachers and teachers’ unions does so at their own peril.
There are several arguments supporting this reasoning; I offer up two of the better ones here.
First, there’s no getting around it, teachers are the people who need to, well, teach. While a handful of misguided teachers might drag their ideology into the classroom, most do not. When the bell rings, nearly all teachers set about doing their best to attain the same goal espoused by every educational reformer: to improve the performance of the students in their charge. Some are better at their job than others, but these are not malicious people.

School Board Winners Face Big Challenges

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial

Congratulations to all of Tuesday’s spring election winners — especially those willing to take on the challenges facing our public schools.
First-time candidate Mary Burke and incumbent Arlene Silveira won big in their bids for Madison School Board.
They and their opponents (Michael Flores and Nichelle Nichols, respectively) deserve credit for leading a community conversation on the future of Madison schools during their high-profile campaigns.
Now comes the time for action. And something bold is needed to boost dismal graduation rates for blacks and Latinos. The status quo isn’t working for a huge portion of minority students.

Ongoing Language Deformation Battles: Past Wisconsin school Spending surveys shed new light on ’11-12 results

Notes: Fund Balance is a District’s reserve cash/assets. The Madison School District’s fund balance, or equity declined significantly during the mid-2000’s, but has grown in recent years.

*The most recent survey was conducted by the Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators and used a different format. The other surveys were conducted by the Wisconsin Education Association Council. WEAC didn’t respond to questions about whether it had results for the 2008-09, 2009-10 or 2010-11.

SOURCE: WASDA/WEAC surveys with comments from local newspaper reporter Matthew DeFour & Clay Barbour:
Matthew DeFour & Clay Barbour:

Wisconsin superintendents survey last fall found state budget cuts prompted school districts to eliminate thousands of staff positions, increase class sizes, raise student fees and reduce extracurricular offerings this school year.
But this week, Gov. Scott Walker’s office said those results don’t tell the full story and that similar surveys from past years show school districts fared better after his education changes went into effect.
Further, the governor’s office contends the organizations that conducted those surveys — the Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators and the Wisconsin Education Association Council — were unhelpful, and in WEAC’s case actually worked against the administration as staff tried to compare recent results to past surveys.
“It’s unfortunate that WEAC stands in the way of survey data that they have released in the past, which shows the governor’s changes are working and are good for their members and the state’s schoolchildren,” said Cullen Werwie, Walker’s spokesman.
The older surveys show more school districts increased class sizes, reduced extracurricular programs, raised student fees and tapped reserves to balance their budgets in each year between 2002 and 2008 than they did in 2011-12.
In past years, about two-thirds to three-quarters of districts reported increasing student fees each year. This year, 22 percent of districts reported doing so.

Related: WEAC: $1.57 million for Four Wisconsin Senators, Sparks fly over Wisconsin budget’s labor-related provisions and Teachers Union & (Madison) School Board Elections.
Describing the evil effects of revolution, Thucydides writes, “Words had to change their ordinary meaning and to take that which was now given them.” (P. 199 of the Landmark edition)
Politics and the English Language by George Orwell (1946).

In teaching, seniority trumps quality

Madeline Edison, James Kindle, Alicia La Croix & Sarah Schultes, via a kind Rick Kiley email:

A heavy burden rests on our shoulders as teachers: Alleviate Minnesota’s large achievement gaps, accelerate learning gains, and get all children college- and career-ready. We’re up to the challenge.
Teachers are the No. 1 in-school factor affecting student success. Research says a highly effective teacher can help students achieve as much as an additional year’s worth of academic gains over one school year compared with a less effective teacher.
That’s why it is so disheartening to see great teachers let go without regard to their performance.
Consider what happened late last month, when nearly 50 teachers in Eden Prairie received layoff notices.
These particular teachers were not laid off because they were bad teachers, because they had failed their students, or because parents, students or administrators wanted them to go. They were laid off because of a simple number: their number of years teaching in the district.
It’s become a common scene across the state, and it will repeat itself in the coming weeks and months because of the “last in, first out” teacher layoff policy, or LIFO. The policy requires school districts to look solely at the length of time a teacher has worked in the district when making layoff decisions, without any consideration of performance.

Teacher-Prep Rulemaking: Is Consensus in Jeopardy?

Stephen Sawchuk:

The panelists charged with rewriting federal teacher-preparation rules faced a grueling day today during which major tension points emerged with little resolution, all of which served to call into question whether they will be able to reach consensus by Thursday.
You don’t have to take my word for it: During some of the breaks, I spoke to a handful of negotiators–they all, reasonably, wanted to speak on background since the process isn’t finished yet–and by and large, they weren’t optimistic:
“It seems doubtful.” “Probably not good.” “I don’t know.” “I think the answer is probably no.”
If the panelists don’t reach a final consensus, the U.S. Department of Education gets to go it alone when writing the regulations.
Some of the tensions that emerged today have been brewing under the surface for a while, but as of the last session, there at least seemed to be agreement on the Education Department’s proposal to classify their teacher-preparation programs into four categories: “low performing,” “at risk,” effective,” and “exceptional,” based on a mix of input- and output-based measures.

The Meaning of MTEA’s Rejection of Children’s Week

Mike Ford:

The Milwaukee Teachers Education Association (MTEA) Children’s Week concept was a noble one. The idea was to have Milwaukee teachers, as well as high-profile business and community members, donate a week of their salary to the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS). Union members, however, rejected the idea on a 2,296 to 1,635 vote.
I call the effort noble for several reasons. First, it would have put a little more money into classrooms at a time when MPS’ budget situation is dire. The district soon will be paying almost $50,000 per-employee in health care benefits for current employees and retirees. The legacy costs in particular are responsible for a perverse situation where MPS’ per-pupil costs (over $14,000 according to DPI) far exceed what a classroom or school actually receives for education purposes. MTEA’s proposed gesture would have at least given classrooms additional resources next year.

Related: Ripon Superintendent Richard Zimman’s 2009 speech to the Madison Rotary Club.

New Tool for Calculating Participation Grades (downloadable)

Ariel Sacks:

I’ve always struggled with calculating students’ participation grades. I have experimented with rubrics for students to fill out for themselves, or ways for them to track their participation grades daily or weekly. I’ve tried ditching it altogether and just grading students for distinct speaking activities.
Often, I settle for making up a participation grade for each student at the end of the period. I tend to criticize myself for this imprecise method, but this time, I had an idea. What goes through my head when I “make up” this grade? I thought. If I could just find a way to put that down on paper for my students to understand…

Omaha’s new Superintendent no Stranger to Controversy

Deena Winter:

Omaha’s new school superintendent is no stranger to controversy, having survived nepotism charges as the schools’ chief in Des Moines.
Nancy Sebring’s tenure presiding over 31,000 Des Moines students since 2006 has been controversial at times – particularly when her twin sister was hired as director of Des Moines’ first charter school 15 months ago.
Despite questions about how her sister got the job, Sebring has said she had nothing to do with an advisory board’s decision. The charter school’s launch has been rocky. It opened six months behind schedule and enrollment has not met projections, with 40 percent of students leaving its first year. The school has not provided quarterly reports as required and its budget is nearly twice as big as projected, according to the Des Moines Register.
Then 53 laptop computers were not returned by students last year, and the school was dinged by police for not tracking the computers, according to the Register. Despite calls for a new director, Sebring’s sister remains in the job.

Can college be saved? With rising tuition, dropping enrollment and funding, the future looks grim. An expert explains why it need not be

Max Rivlin-Nadler:

During the 20th century, the American college held a vaunted position. It was the mark of a successful upbringing, and the launching pad from a bright childhood to a promising future. In the past few years, however, the idea of college seems to have lost its way. With rising tuition, the need to attain specialized knowledge earlier and earlier, and the massive funding cuts to state institutions, college has become more precarious, isolated and marginal. While undergraduate students will exceed a record 20 million within five years, only a small fraction will experience college in the traditional sense. Most will either attend online or vocational programs, and, at most, only 40 percent will get a degree — and, on average, a college graduate will incur more than $25,000 in student debt. In his new book, “College: What It Was, Is, and Should Be,” Columbia professor Andrew Delbanco acknowledges that the hour is late, but there’s still time to save this valuable institution.
By tracing the history of the American college back to its founding by Protestant congregations looking to fashion constructive members of the community, to its transition to forgotten parts of larger universities, Delbanco illustrates how fundamental college has been to the prosperity of the country. He laments the ways that colleges have ceased to make substantial attempts to offer an education to students of every socioeconomic background, and how more often than not, they just mirror the existing hierarchy. At times a history lesson, an elegy, and a call-to-arms, “College” looks to jump-start a discussion of the importance of a liberal arts education, and why Americans still need the time in life to contemplate a meaningful life.

MTEL Arrives in Wisconsin: Teacher Licensing Content Requirement, from 1.1.2014

2011 WISCONSIN ACT 166, via a kind reader:

Section 21. 118.19 (14) of the statutes is created to read:
118.19 (14) (a) The department may not issue an initial teaching license that authorizes the holder to teach in grades kindergarten to 5 or in special education, an initial license as a reading teacher, or an initial license as a reading specialist, unless the applicant has passed an examination identical to the Foundations of Reading test administered in 2012 as part of the Massachusetts Tests for Educator Licensure [blekko]. The department shall set the passing cut score on the examination at a level no lower than the level recommended by the developer of the test, based on this state’s standards.
(c) Any teacher who passes the examination under par. (a) shall notify the department, which shall add a notation to the teacher’s license indicating that he or she passed the examination.
115.28 (7g) Evaluation of teacher preparatory programs.
(a) The department shall, in consultation with the governor’s office, the chairpersons of the committees in the assembly and senate whose subject matter is elementary and secondary education and ranking members of those committees, the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System, and the Wisconsin Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, do all of the following:
1. Determine how the performance of individuals who have recently completed a teacher preparatory program described in s. 115.28 (7) (a) and located in this state or a teacher education program described in s. 115.28 (7) (e) 2. and located in this state will be used to evaluate the teacher preparatory and education programs. The determination under this subdivision shall, at minimum, define “recently completed” and identify measures to assess an individual’s performance, including the performance assessment made prior to making a recommendation for licensure.
2. Determine how the measures of performance of individuals who have recently completed a teacher preparatory or education program identified as required under subd. 1. will be made accessible to the public.
3. Develop a system to publicly report the measures of performance identified as required under subd. 1. for each teacher preparatory and education program identified in subd. 1.
(b) Beginning in the 2013-14 school year, the department shall use the system developed under par. (a) 3. to annually report for each program identified in par. (a) 1. the passage rate on first attempt of students and graduates of the program on examinations administered for licensure under s. 115.28 (7) and any other information required to be reported under par. (a) 1.
(c) Beginning in the 2013-14 school year, each teacher preparatory and education program shall prominently display and annually update the passage rate on first attempt of recent graduates of the program on examinations administered for licensure under s. 115.28 (7) and any other information required to be reported under par. (a) 1. on the program’s Web site and provide this information to persons receiving admissions materials to the program.
Section 18. 115.28 (12) (ag) of the statutes is created to read:
115.28 (12) (ag) Beginning in the 2012-13 school year, each school district using the system under par. (a) shall include in the system the following information for each teacher teaching in the school district who completed a teacher preparatory program described in sub. (7) (a) and located in this state or a teacher education program described in sub. (7) (e) 2. and located in this state on or after January 1, 2012:
1. The name of the teacher preparatory program or teacher education program the teacher attended and completed.
2. The term or semester and year in which the teacher completed the program described in subd. 1.


This is a sea change for Wisconsin students, the most substantive in decades. Of course, what is entered into the statutes can be changed or eliminated. The MTEL requirement begins with licenses after 1.1.2014.

The Day After: What’s Next for Madison’s Public Schools?

Kaleem Caire, via a kind email:

Dear Friends & Colleagues.
With one of the most competitive and expensive school board races in the history of the Madison Metropolitan School District now behind us, it is time for us to get to work on strengthening public education in our capital city and ensuring that every single one of our children have the schools and tools they need to succeed in education and in life.
We congratulate Mary Burke and Arlene Silveira for their success in securing three-year terms on the Madison Board of Education. They will bring significant experience and business acumen to the School Board. We also give great respect to their challengers, Nichelle Nichols and Michael Flores, for stepping up, taking a stand for children and ensuring that the voices of parents and children of color were front and center during the campaign. They ensured that the discussion remained focused on the alarming racial achievement gap that exists in our schools, and we deeply appreciate them for it.
As the Board of Education moves forward, we expect they will remain focused on our community’s five greatest priorities: (1) eliminating the racial achievement gap; (2) establishing world class schools that attract enrollment and prepare all children to thrive and succeed in college and work after high school; (3) empowering parents and engaging them in their children’s education; (4) developing a highly talented and skilled workforce that is more reflective of the students our school district now educates; and (5) aligning the District’s employee handbook to the priorities, needs and goals of students, staff and schools.
The Board of Education can start by focusing their efforts on hiring an outstanding new Superintendent who possesses significant leadership skill/experience and business acumen, a proven track-record of successfully leading urban schools with significantly diverse student populations; and a strong, clear and compelling vision and plan for public education and our children’s future.
Rather than deciding too quickly on approving an achievement gap plan that was rushed in its development, we hope the Board of Education will avoid getting too far ahead of the next Superintendent in implementing plans, and instead focus their attention on existing efforts where the District can make a difference in the next six months, such as:

  • Implementing the Common Core Standards and related common curriculum in literacy, English/language arts and mathematics in all elementary schools in grades K-5 (to start), with additional learning support for students who are significantly behind or ahead academically;
  • Re-establishing and aligning the District’s Professional Development Program for all educators and support staff to the curriculum, standards and needs/interests of students;
  • Implementing Wisconsin’s new Educator Effectiveness evaluation and assessment program;
  • Providing a full-time principal and adequate staffing for Badger Rock and Wright Middle Schools;
  • Requiring greater collaboration and alignment between the District’s safety-net, student-support programs such as Schools of Hope, AVID/TOPS, Juventud/ASPIRA, PEOPLE/ITA Program and ACT Prep Academies to ensure more effective and seamless identification, support and progress monitoring of students who need or are enrolled in these programs;
  • Partnering with local businesses, educational institutions and community organizations to recruit, hire, acclimate and retain a diverse workforce, and appropriately assign all staff to schools according to their skills and interests and the needs of students;
  • Engaging parents more effectively in the education of their children through community partnerships; and
  • Partnering with the United Way, Urban League, Boys & Girls Club, Centro Hispano, Hmong Education Council and other agencies to effectively build awareness and educate the community about local and national best practices for eliminating the achievement gap and preparing all youth for college and work.

We look forward to working with YOU, the Board of Education, our community partners and the leadership of our public schools to implement immediate opportunities and solutions that will benefit our children TODAY.
Kaleem Caire
President & CEO
Urban League of Greater Madison
Phone: 608-729-1200
Assistant: 608-729-1249
Fax: 608-729-1205


An expected outcome.
Thanks to the four citizens who ran.
The Silveira/Nichols race was interesting in that it was the first competitive school board election involving an incumbent in some time. Lawrie Kobza and Lucy Mathiak defeated incumbent candidates during the mid-2000’s. Perhaps the “success recipe” requires that the insurgent candidate have a strong local network, substantive issues and the ability to get the word out, effectively.
Arlene is a different incumbent than those defeated by Kobza & Mathiak.
That said, she has been on the board for six years, a time during which little, if any progress was made on the MMSD’s core mission: reading, writing, math and science, while spending more per student than most Districts. Perhaps the Superintendent’s looming departure offers an opportunity to address the core curricular issues.
I wish the new board well and congratulate Mary and Arlene on their victories.
Paraphrasing a friend, it is never too early to run for the School Board. Three seats are up in 2013, those currently occupied by Maya Cole, James Howard and Beth Moss.
A reader emailed a link to this M.P. King photo:

Chinese set course for foreign universities

Kathrin Hille:

Chinese students are increasingly heading to western universities for both undergraduate and postgraduate education
Du Jinxiu is only 16, but she knows exactly what she wants – to go to university overseas after she finishes secondary school in China.
“I am going to study actuarial science at Wharton Business School,” says the girl, one of 30 in a special class created by Shijiazhuang’s No 42 Middle School, for those who want to study abroad.
Jiao Bowen, one of her classmates, has his sights set on film school in Los Angeles, while Li Ying is determined to study in the UK because she loves Pride and Prejudice.
The Communist party is preparing to hand its leadership reins to a group of men who grew up during the Cultural Revolution, when higher education was demonised and exchanges with the west were cut. But now, just as the top echelons of the party battle over whether to continue down a path of reform, China’s youth are voting with their feet and getting western educations in rapidly rising numbers, possibly setting the stage for a fundamental shift in values as they return home.

Dutch boy’s doodle steals prize limelight

Ralph Atkins:

An eleven-year-old Dutch boy has stolen the limelight in a UK-organised prize competition on breaking up the eurozone with a scribbled cartoon scheme for ejecting Greece that seemed at least as plausible as some proposals by his grown-up rivals.
Jurre Hermans was awarded a special €100 gift voucher for his pictorial plans in the Wolfson Economics Prize, which invited economists to propose the best ways of dismantling Europe’s 13-year old monetary union.

For Prom, Schools Say ‘No’ to the Dress

Elizabeth Holmes:

This spring, Hal David, principal at Cedartown High School in northwest Georgia, has spent a lot of time thinking about evening gowns.
“Unacceptable,” he has labeled some dresses shown on posters plastered in the hallways to publicize the school’s first dress code for prom. The signs also show styles deemed “acceptable” for the event, set for April 21 at the local country club. “It’s a picture-is-worth-a-thousand-words kind of deal,” says Mr. David. “We don’t want somebody to spend a lot of money on a dress and then show up and there be an issue.”

Bloomberg and Tweed: “Our Standards Mean Nothing”

Leo Casey:

Last Wednesday, the New York City Department of Education (DoE) began holding public meetings for the 33 Transformation and Restart Schools that Mayor Bloomberg announced he would close in his State of the City speech. At the start of each meeting, a Deputy Chancellor reads out a prepared script which purportedly makes the case for closure. For 19 of those 33 schools, nearly 3 in 5, there is a glaring omission in the Orwellian accounts of their “deficiencies”: these schools do not meet the DoE’s own well-established standards for closure.
When the Scho0l Progress Reports were introduced five years ago, the NYC DoE decreed that the decision on whether or not to close a school would be henceforth be made on the basis of the school’s grade. Only those schools which received a “failing grade” — ‘F,’ ‘D’ or three consecutive ‘C’s — would be considered for closing. That scale cut a remarkably wide swath, as the Bloomberg-Klein DoE wanted an ample supply of schools to close: where else would consecutive ‘C’s constitute a failing grade? But whatever else you could say about this policy, it was a fixed and clear standard. Even when the DoE announced that it would grade elementary schools and middle schools on a curve, as too many were scoring ‘A’s and ‘B’s, it still held to this standard. (Since 85% of the grades for elementary and middle schools were derived from student scores on New York State’s standardized ELA and Math exams, school grades rocketed during the period of grade inflation on those exams.)

Louisiana school voucher bill argument centers on local dollars

Associated Press:

State money spent on education should “follow the student” and not an institution, according to the argument often voiced by supporters of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s bill enabling the state to pay private school tuition for some students who want out of low-quality public schools. Critics of the Jindal-backed tuition voucher legislation, however, say there’s a problem: Some of the money following that student is local money, approved by local voters for their local public schools.
They say that’s an issue that could wind up in court.
The Jindal administration says the issue was cleared up with an amendment when the House approved the bill, but the matter arose again this past week during a Senate Education Committee hearing. It could spark more arguments Monday when the Senate Finance Committee discusses the measure.

‘Our teachers are soldiers in the fight for social justice in America’


That quote just had to be a headline. It’s from Louisiana’s state superintendent of education, John White, responding this week in the Baton Rouge Advocate to letters from teachers complaining about ed reform. Sometimes an op-ed is worth printing word for word:

The Advocate has recently published several letters to the editor on public education. I have to say as an educator, I’m disappointed with the prevailing tone and content of those letters opposing change.
Here are some passages that illustrate a common thread:
“We, the public school teachers of East Baton Rouge schools, can’t educate children who don’t want to be educated. We can’t educate children whose parents don’t care and are not involved.”

National Education Standards – A Confidence Game?

Jim Stergios:

As many know, the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI) came onto the scene between 2006 and 2009, but got greater momentum when adopting the still-under-development standards became a criterion for states seeking grant funding under the US DOE’s Race to the Top contest in 2009-10.
Similar pushes for national standards, driven by various DC-based trade organizations, including Marc Tucker’s National Center on Education and the Economy, the Council of Chief State School Officers, the National Governors Association, and Clinton administration education officials who later migrated to Achieve, Inc., had been attempted in the 1990s and failed.
This recent drive for national standards reinvigorated a collection of unsuccessful DC-based players; and was fueled by more than $100 million from the Gates Foundation. A few years ago, I blogged on the Common Core convergence. Since then, it’s become increasingly clear that the push for national standards is an illegal, costly, and academically weak effort by D.C. trade groups, the Gates Foundation, and the U.S. Department of Education to impose a one-size-fits-all set of standards and tests on the country. And the effort goes beyond that: With the tests come curricular materials and instructional practice guides.

Grammar school expansion divides Kent town

Tracy McVeigh:

When the first expansion of a grammar school in more than half a century was approved last week, the result surprised even those parents who had fought so hard to achieve it.
A campaign in the Kent commuter town of Sevenoaks, which has no grammar school of its own, to provide for its brightest children had raised a petition of 2,600 names.
At present 1,120 of the town’s children have to travel to selective schools in nearby towns. The county council’s decision means an annexe associated with these schools can be built in Sevenoaks. “People power is alive and well,” said Mike Whiting, the Tory county councillor in charge of education in Kent.

The Middle School Plunge: Students who attend middle schools are at risk of dropping out of high school

Martin West and Guido Schwerdt, via a kind Brian S. Hall email:

As compared to students in K-8 elementary schools, middle school students also score lower on achievement tests. Losses amount to as much as 3.5 to 7 months of learning.
A new study of statewide data from all Florida public schools finds that moving to a middle school in grade 6 or 7 causes a substantial drop in student test scores relative to those of students who remain in K-8 schools, and increases the likelihood of dropping out of high school.
In the past ten years, urban school districts such as New York City, Baltimore, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, and Charlotte-Mecklenburg have reorganized some middle schools along the once-prevalent K-8 model. The study’s findings support these school conversions and “are also relevant to the expanding charter school sector, which has the opportunity to choose grade configurations” when schools are established. An article presenting the research, “The Middle School Plunge: Achievement tumbles when young students change schools,” is available at and will appear in the Spring, 2012 issue of Education Next.
Data on state math and reading test scores for all Florida students attending public schools in grades 3 to 10 from the 2000-01 through 2008-09 years were analyzed. The researchers also conducted a test-score analysis separately for schools in Miami-Dade County, which is Florida’s largest district (345,000 students) and offers a wide range of grade configurations up through grade 8. They find that “the negative effects of entering a middle school for grade 6 or grade 7 are, if anything, even more pronounced in Miami-Dade County than they are statewide.”

The paper can be viewed here.

A statistician’s view of constructivist math programs

Nicole O. Stouffer:

I’ve had 4 years of undergraduate math courses, two years of graduate math courses, and I have taught graduate level math courses. I had never seen the “lattice” method, the Egyptian method, or any of these other alternative algorithms until last year when I looked at Everyday Math homework. Students don’t need them, and those methods will not help a student move onto higher mathematics.
I would have been laughed out of my college classes if I used the “partial sums” method to add. I wouldn’t have been able to take differential equations if I hadn’t mastered long division. There is a reason why traditional algorithms (the math methods you learned in school to add, subtract, multiply and divide) are needed. Traditional algorithms are needed to understand higher mathematics in college. It is extremely important that they are practiced until they are mastered. In fact, the new Common Core State math standards recommend teaching the standard algorithms.
You might think there is no reason not to offer alternative algorithms, as long as they also teach the traditional methods, but I have three reasons why the teaching of alternative programs is a problem.

Stop Panicking About Bullies

Nick Gillespie:

“When I was younger,” a remarkably self-assured, soft-spoken 15-year-old kid named Aaron tells the camera, “I suffered from bullying because of my lips–as you can see, they’re kind of unusually large. So I would kind of get [called] ‘Fish Lips’–things like that a lot–and my glasses too, I got those at an early age. That contributed. And the fact that my last name is Cheese didn’t really help with the matter either. I would get [called] ‘Cheeseburger,’ ‘Cheese Guy’–things like that, that weren’t really very flattering. Just kind of making fun of my name–I’m a pretty sensitive kid, so I would have to fight back the tears when I was being called names.”
It’s hard not to be impressed with–and not to like–young Aaron Cheese. He is one of the kids featured in the new Cartoon Network special “Stop Bullying: Speak Up,” which premiered last week and is available online. I myself am a former geekish, bespectacled child whose lips were a bit too full, and my first name (as other kids quickly discovered) rhymes with two of the most-popular slang terms for male genitalia, so I also identified with Mr. Cheese. My younger years were filled with precisely the sort of schoolyard taunts that he recounts; they led ultimately to at least one fistfight and a lot of sour moods on my part.

Between A Rock & A Union-Space

Michael Lee-Murphy:

If you were going by the current public relations efforts from Connecticut’s teacher unions or charter school advocates, you would either think that charter schools are union-busting, anti-labor bastions, or that teacher unions are the biggest obstacle to education reform. But that’s not the case at two schools in southeastern Connecticut, where charter school teachers are themselves union members.
At both New London’s Interdistrict School for Arts and Communication (ISAAC) and Norwich’s Integrated Day Charter School (IDCS), the school’s teachers are part of a union affiliated with the Connecticut Education Association.
ISAAC’s teachers joined the CEA in 2005, eight years after opening. IDCS opened in 1997 and at the time was one of only six charter schools in the country endorsed by the National Education Association, the national affiliate of the CEA.

Reform School Valedictorian — What Is The Upside Of Underperforming?

Jeffrey Sica:

As we begin the month of April, people all over the United States are eagerly anticipating the arrival of Spring; a time for renewal and starting over. Although the winter in the East was milder than in winters past, just the sensibility of not feeling trapped indoors is enough to inspire anyone.
The Wait
For high school seniors, it’s probably one of the most important times of their lives; a time for starting over as high school draws to a close and plans are made for what comes next. For those who want to attend college, it’s around now that most letters of acceptance or decline have been sent and decisions need to be made. For those top performers, with entrance exams and grade point average considerations, it usually is a decision among several of their choice colleges.

Deterritorializing academic freedom: reflections inspired by Yale-NUS College (and the London Eye)

Kris Olds:

To what degree is academic freedom being geographically unsettled – deterritorialized, more accurately – in the context of the globalization of higher education? This was one of the issues I was asked about a few days ago when I spoke to a class of New York-based Columbia University students about the globalization of higher education, with a brief case study about Singapore’s global higher education hub development agenda. Some of the students were intrigued by this debate erupting (again) about Yale’s involvement in Yale-NUS College:

Clumsy teaching happens even in great schools

Jay Matthews:

If you thought my column two weeks ago about a struggling fifth-grader was an indictment of the Prince George’s County school system, please read the flood of comments to my blog about that.
The issue I discussed — some teachers being unable or unwilling to help a bright child with a learning disability — is not a Prince George’s problem, the responses show. It is every district’s problem.
If that is not the case, then why were there so many complaints about insensitive teachers from Montgomery County, which unlike Prince George’s is one of the wealthiest and highest-performing districts in the country? One Montgomery mother said the staff members at her daughter’s high school forgot their own promises and a psychologist’s recommendation to give the girl reminders when assignments were due. “They wouldn’t implement a plan for her because her test scores were too high,” the mother said.

Education’s Hungry Hearts

Mark Edmundson:  

EVERYBODY’S got a hungry heart,” Bruce Springsteen sings. Really? Is that so? At the risk of offending the Boss, I want to register some doubts.
Granted my human sample is not large — but it’s not so small either. I’ve been teaching now for 35 years and in that time have had about 4,000 students pass my desk. I’m willing to testify: Not all students have hungry hearts. Some do, some don’t, and having a hungry heart (or not) is what makes all the difference for a young person seeking an education.
There’s been a lot of talk lately about who should go to college and who should not. And the terms that have guided this talk have mainly been economic. Is college a good investment? Does it pay for a guy who is probably going to become a car mechanic to spend $20,000 to $30,000 going to a junior college for a couple of years? (I’m including the cost of room and board here.) He’s probably going to leave with a pile of debt that will take him years to work off. What’s more, the current thinking goes, he didn’t need that associate degree to end up with his job in the garage. Something similar is true for the young person who is going to become a flight attendant, a home health care aide, a limo driver or a personal security guard. It’s not a good investment, we’re told. It’s not the right way to spend your dough.

Know your Madison School Board candidates

Gretchen Miron:

Madison schools’ Superintendent Dan Nerad’s announcement that he will resign by June 2013 has given the April 3 School Board election new meaning. In addition to addressing the achievement gap and educational budget cuts, the Board will also be responsible for hiring Nerad’s replacement. Madison Commons talked to the four candidates to find out what makes them uniquely qualified for the position, and how they plan to tackle the problems facing the district.

Seat 1 Candidates:
Nichelle Nichols
Arlene Silveira (incumbent)
Seat 2 Candidates:
Mary Burke
Michael Flores
Arlene Silveira & Michael Flores Madison Teachers, Inc. Candidate Q & A

Madison School Board Candidates Make Final Push

Chris Woodard:

Tonight Madison School Board candidates are making a last minute push for votes.
4 people are battling for 2 seats with some big decisions looming.
Candidate Nichelle Nichols says, “I think it’s really important that people are paying attention.”
It is a much different political world in Madison than we’ve seen in years past.
Incumbent Arlene Silveira says, “I’ve never seen quite this much attention before but I think it’s great”
At this point the arguments are coming fast and furious.
Candidate Mary Burke says, “I sort of have about 20 years more of experience.”
Silveira says, “I think I’m the candidate who has actually made changes.”
Nichols says, “I don’t know that the incumbent is always as honest about areas where we need to improve.”
One of the two battles is between incumbent and 6 year board member Silveira and newcomer Nichols.
Silveira says her experience is important.

Seat 1 Candidates:
Nichelle Nichols
Arlene Silveira (incumbent)
Seat 2 Candidates:
Mary Burke
Michael Flores
Arlene Silveira & Michael Flores Madison Teachers, Inc. Candidate Q & A

New Reading Teachers Should Pass a Reading Test; The Battle over Teacher Content Knowledge

Sandra Stotsky:

The educators’ biases have held sway for decades. But a new coalition is trying to find a way to make sure prospective teachers have some instruction in what decoding strategies are and why they are effective.
The latest action has been in Wisconsin. The state Legislature passed a bill that will help ensure that teachers no longer receive inadequate training in their preparation and professional development. The Wisconsin Reading Coalition, the Wisconsin branch of the International Dyslexia Association, and a group of parents, educators, psychologists and other professionals supported the measure. I was among the many experts submitting testimony for it.
The group had begun looking carefully at beginning instruction after noting Wisconsin children’s stagnant reading scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, and comparing those results with the scores in Massachusetts.
Why Massachusetts? Because children there are doing better than pupils in most other states on reading tests.
As noted by Kathleen Porter-Magee in a 2012 Fordham Institute analysis of the impact of high standards on student achievement, the 2009 NAEP reading tests showed that “students scoring in Massachusetts’s bottom 25 percent score higher than students in the bottom 25 percent of any other state in the nation. And students scoring in the top 25 percent perform better than students in the top 25 percent of any other state.”
She attributed this performance to the effective implementation of its highly rated English-language-arts standards, first adopted in 1997 and then re-adopted in a slightly revised form in 2001.
But the Wisconsinites zeroed in on a more specific explanation for the Massachusetts results: the state’s licensing test, in place since 2002, for all aspiring teachers of elementary-age children. The content of the test includes knowledge of code-based beginning-reading instruction.


Last Minute Letters in Support of Madison School Board Candidates

Dean Anderson in support of Nichelle Nichols:

We need nothing short of wholesale change in the Madison public schools. In a city full of well-educated, so-called progressives, the graduation rate for blacks and Latinos should be considered an embarrassment.
If education is to be both a civil right and a social justice issue, we need to treat it as such.
The only real power voters have lies with School Board elections.
Please send a clear message to the school district power brokers by voting for Nichelle Nichols. She will stand up for all students and bring hope back to the school district.

Bob and Nan Brien in support of Arlene Silveira:

Trusted leadership is needed now, more than ever, on the Madison School Board. Arlene Silveira has provided, and will continue to provide, that leadership.
Under her direction, this community passed a $13 million referendum, with two-thirds of voters approving, to allow the district to weather significant cuts in state aid without devastating programs.
Silveira spearheaded efforts to begin early education for all Madison youngsters, and made sure federal dollars offset the cost for local property taxpayers.
She knows that a significant effort must be directed at improving graduation rates for all Madison students, that our highest achieving students must be challenged, and this all must be accomplished while respecting taxpayers.
Silveira is a leader we can trust to move the district forward. And she will do so in collaboration with the city, county and community organizations like the United Way (Schools of Hope) and Dane County Boys and Girls Club (AVID/TOPS).

David Leeper in support of Mary Burke:

I started school at Randall School in 1958. My family moved to Madison in large part because of its excellent schools. My three children have benefited from Madison’s public schools, and my wife is currently teaching there.
We are facing a serious crisis in our public schools. Mary Burke recognizes this crisis. She has the courage to name this crisis, and has put in countless volunteer hours for the last decade seeking to address it.
Madison needs the hard work and strategic planning experience that Burke will bring to the Madison School Board. Goodwill and genuine concern are important, but they are not enough. Madison’s schools need dynamic leadership to go beyond this crisis to a better day. Mary Burke can provide that leadership.

Karen Vieth in support of Michael Flores:

Recently, my Saturdays have been spent meeting with people with the common vision of electing Michael Flores to the Madison School Board. We are amateurs, but that doesn’t stop the level of inspiration.
Flores’ campaign has been a feet-on-the-ground, coffee-at-the-kitchen-table, grassroots campaign.
This is one way I fight for our public schools. I do it because I believe Flores can unite our community and empower our students.
I was shocked when I learned that Mary Burke had spent $28,000 on her campaign. That parallels how much I made my first year teaching.
This makes one difference very clear — Burke has put forth financial resources to get her word out to the community. Meanwhile, Flores’ campaign has come from the heart of our community.
Michael Flores is the change we need on our Madison School Board.

Seat 1 Candidates:
Nichelle Nichols
Arlene Silveira (incumbent)
Seat 2 Candidates:
Mary Burke
Michael Flores
Arlene Silveira & Michael Flores Madison Teachers, Inc. Candidate Q & A

Faces of the achievement gap in Madison: The stories behind the statistics

Pat Dillon:  

In 2010, just five black and 13 Hispanic graduating seniors in the Madison Metropolitan School District were ready for college, according to data from the district and Urban League of Greater Madison. These statistics should make your heart race. If they don’t, and you’re white, you may be suffering from what anti-racism educator Tim Wise calls “the pathology of white privilege.” If you do get it and don’t take action, that is almost worse.
The issue affects all of us and fell a little harder into my lap than it does in most white middle-class families when my daughter told me last summer that I was going to have a biracial grandson. My response? “Not in this school district.”
The dismal academic record of minorities has long been apparent to me, through my own experiences and the stories of others. But many people only hear about the statistics. To help humanize these numbers I asked students and parents who are most affected to share their stories so I could tell them along with mine. The experiences are anecdotal, but the facts speak for themselves.


In my view, the status quo approach to Madison’s long lived reading challenges refutes Mr. Hughes assertion that the District is on the right track.  Matt DeFour’s article:

Overall student performance improved in math and dipped slightly in reading across Wisconsin compared with last year, while in Madison scores declined in all tested subjects.

 Perhaps change is indeed coming, from a state level initiative on reading.

In the shadows: Left behind by the mainland’s economic ‘miracle’, life for many disabled people is a desperate struggle for survival

Paul Mooney:

Zhang Yonghong sits on the floor of a busy Beijing subway, a few thin cushions his only protection from the cold ground. Surrounded by hundreds of paper cuttings, he leans forward with a knife, his face creased with concentration. He carefully carves folk images out of a piece of bright red paper. Zhang is 38 years old but no taller than a toddler, the result of a condition the Chinese call the glass doll disease, so-named because sufferers have bones that break easily and they are generally shorter than normal. Unable to walk and confined to a wheelchair, Zhang struggles to make a living selling his artwork, spending his days on the streets of Beijing battling hot, humid summers and bitingly cold winters, and the ever-vigilant Urban Management Corps, a unit whose job it is to keep people such as Zhang out of sight.
On this bitterly cold day, Zhang is wearing a pair of children’s padded pyjamas and several layers of jumpers. His Sponge Bob backpack sits at his side. People stop to glance at the handicapped man’s artwork, some buying a few pieces, others dropping small bills into a red donation box. Many stare at a large plastic sheet on the floor which tells the story of the Shaanxi province native and includes a picture of his four-year-old daughter, Tianyu, who suffers from the same disease. Also on display are Zhang’s recent divorce papers – his wife ran off with another man. In the photo, the little girl lies on a bed crying, casts on one of her arms and a leg. A headline proclaims: “I use my skills to save my daughter.”

Detroit High School Protest: Students Suspended After Demanding ‘An Education’

Chastity Pratt Dawsey:  

About 50 high school students at Frederick Douglass Academy in Detroit were suspended Thursday after walking out of classes to protest a host of issues at the all-boys school.
The concerns included a lack of consistent teachers and the removal of the principal.
The boys, dressed in school blazers, neckties and hoodies, chanted, “We want education!” as they marched outside the school.
Parents organized the walkout because they fear for the school’s future. As recently as last month, students spent weeks passing time in the gym, library or cafeteria due to a lack of teachers, parents said.
Worries escalated after district offices moved into part of the building in January, and the school was not listed as an application school for next year. Current students had to apply to attend Douglass.q

More, here.

Reflections and questions on Wisconsin school test results

Alan Borsuk:

So what was new in all the data released last week summarizing results of the standardized tests, known as the WKCEs, that were taken last fall by more than 400,000 students from Kenosha to Superior?
Not much.
Some things a little better, most things the same, the state of meeting our educational needs pretty much unchanged.
But for every answer like that, I have a dozen questions (and lots of sub-questions).
Here they are:
1. Do we have the patience to pursue solid, significant improvement in how our students are doing?
The highflying schools I know of all took years to reach the heights.
Are we willing to do the steady, thoughtful work of building quality and resist the rapidly revolving carousel of education fads?
2. Do we have the impatience to pursue solid, significant improvement in how our students are doing?
At the same time we’ve got to be steady, we’ve got to be propelled by the urgency of improving.
Especially outside of Milwaukee, an awful lot of people are complacent about how Wisconsin’s kids are doing, and that complacency is often not well justified.


Student Loans on Rise — for Kindergarten

AnnaMaria Andriotis:

Instead of saving up for their sons’ college education, Bill Dunham and his wife are taking out loans for high school. Their eldest son will begin ninth grade at a school in Boston where annual tuition runs around $10,000 — and they already pay $5,000 a year for their younger child. A project manager for a mechanical construction company, Dunham says the schools referred him to lenders who specialize in pre-college education loans. He’s taking a loan to cover his son’s full high school tuition, which he plans to repay over two years. “If we had the money, we’d pay it now,” he says.

Minn. lawmakers consider giving schools the option to start before Labor Day

Tim Post:

Minnesota lawmakers are considering a bill that would give school districts the choice to start the academic year before Labor Day, a measure that has sparked a perennial debate over whether an early school start hurts tourism.
Minnesota is one of a handful of states that, in most cases, doesn’t allow schools to start classes before Labor Day. The long summer is a hit with Minnesota businesses that depend on late-summer trips by families.
Keith and Cherste Eidman, for example, take their active family on at least one week-long Minnesota camping trip every summer.
Their children — 11-year old Martha, 9-year old Sophie and Spencer, 6 — also take part in a number of day camps during the summer months.

Lawmakers’ Stinting Charter Schools Is A Loss For Children

Hartford Courant:

Public charter schools are a key to closing the achievement gap between urban and suburban schools, so it’s no wonder that Gov.Dannel P. Malloyhad proposed increasing funding for charters in his education reform bill this year.
Unfortunately, the legislature’s education committee, apparently at the beck and call of teacher unions, has voted to dial back the increases.
The vote was yet another attempt by majority Democrats to rally around the status quo — at the expense of students who deserve better.

4.1.2012 from Omaha: Madison Superintendent Dan Nerad: Narrowing gap a work in progress in Madison

Joe Dejka:

The push to raise achievement for minority and low-income students in Madison Metropolitan School District remains “a work in progress,” said Superintendent Daniel Nerad.
Work has been done on Nerad’s watch, such as drafting a new strategic plan and a multifaceted, $106 million proposal for programs aimed at shrinking test score gaps between students of different races and income levels.
As for results, Nerad and Madison school board member Ed Hughes say there hasn’t been enough progress.
“We certainly haven’t seen, overall, the kind of improvement that we would like to see in reducing the achievement gap,” Hughes said. “But we need to look at whether the steps are being put in place that would give us some hope or confidence that we will see those gaps narrowing in the future.”
Hughes thinks Madison is on the right track.


In my view, the status quo approach to Madison’s long lived reading challenges refutes Mr. Hughes assertion that the District is on the right track. Matt DeFour’s article:

Overall student performance improved in math and dipped slightly in reading across Wisconsin compared with last year, while in Madison scores declined in all tested subjects.

Perhaps change is indeed coming, from a state level initiative on reading.
A look at the numbers:
Omaha spends substantially less per student than Madison. The Omaha 2011-2012 adopted budget will spend 468,946,264 for 46,000 students: $10,194.48/student. Madison’s 2011-2012 budget spends $369,394,753 for 24,861 = $14,858.40/student, 31.4% more than Omaha…. Green Bay (Superintendent Nerad’s former position) spent about 10% less than Madison, per student.

How to remake the Education Department (or, it’s time to give teachers a chance)

Peter Smagorinsky:

“If your goal is innovation and competitive ability, you don’t want either excessive unity or excessive fragmentation. Instead, you want your country, industry, industrial belt, or company to be broken up into groups that compete with one another while maintaining relatively free communication–like the U.S. federal government system, with its built-in competition [among] our 50 states.” — Jared Diamond

Jared Diamond reaches this conclusion in the 2003 Afterword to his magisterial analysis of the evolution of human societies, “Guns, Germs, and Steel.” Diamond argues that a primary reason that Europe and China proceeded along different developmental lines followed from their relative degree of central organization. China, due to a friendly geographic layout, was able to become consolidated as a political entity under unified rule. Europe, in contrast, was broken up by its terrain to create smaller, more competitive states.
To Diamond, the political fragmentation of Europe produced greater innovation as states competed for goods and power, even as transportation routes opened up avenues of exchange and communication. China, in contrast, operated according to a chain-of-command that suppressed innovation in service of conformity to a broad, centrally administered national culture. These two political orientations led to very different degrees of technological advance and its consequences, with the more competitive social arrangement producing the circumstances most conducive to invention and advantage.

Our K-12 system has been overly centralized for some time. I asked the three 2008 Madison Superintendent candidates if they planned to continue on this path, or simply focus on hiring the best teachers and let them teach….
Of course, teachers must have content knowledge.

Teachers Unions, Mayors, And Trends

Andrew Rotherham:

Today’s Washington Post front pager on some realignment among urban mayors, teachers unions, and ed reform is the kind of article (and situation) that a decade or 15 years ago just a few were saying was on the horizon. But still a long way to go. Politically the big problems that I see are twofold. First, this is a hard conversation for union leaders to have. For every sensible statement like Randi Weingarten’s in today’s article:

“We have made mistakes,” [AFT President Randi Weingarten] said. “You have to really focus to make sure you’re doing everything you can so that kids are first. Tenure, for example. Make sure tenure is about fairness and make sure it’s not a shield for incompetence.”

There is another example of her, or someone else, denying these issues and calling the whole thing a right-wing plot, “so called reformers” etc…That speaks to the challenge of moving large organizations along – especially in a contentious time. But, second, it also speaks to how polarized our national debate about education (and most things) is. There are very few places you can go and have a conversation that allows for the political space to acknowledge two things that are true today and fuel these politics. First the unions need to mend their ways and change some key policy positions. Second, there are people who just want to do unions in and for whom this isn’t fundamentally about policy.

What NOT To Do When Teaching Creative Writing

Lindsay Renee Grace:

On this lazy Saturday I’ve been browsing the internet and in my search came across “The Greatest Story Ever Written.” You see, a foolhardy college professor had his students write a “tandem story.” Pairing them up randomly he had them write a story together, one paragraph at a time, via email. Rebecca and Bill’s story, which is the “Greatest Story Ever Written,” is particularly disastrous and hilarious (you should definitely read it!). It reminded me of the worst creative writing class I’ve ever taken (yep, with the same teacher who made me answer three pages of pointless questions about an already published short story).
It was my senior year of high school. I’d already taken Creative Writing once before, my sophomore year with Ms. Hosner. Her class was amazing. I grew so much as a writer and felt that taking her class once again could only improve my writing more. But the idiots who decided who taught what classes had given Creative Writing to another teacher (who I’ll leave unnamed to avoid libel). Her creative writing class was a complete waste of time in every way. The greatest offense, of her many offenses, is that she was continually making us do group assignments. Group Creative Writing? That’s right.

Our debt to Greek culture

Harry Eyres:

A conversation over lunch with the violinist Leonidas Kavakos – maybe Greece’s most gifted classical performer since Maria Callas – made me reflect more generally on the relationship between Greece and gifts. The most famous saying about Greeks and gifts is of course the line from Virgil’s Aeneid, “I fear the Greeks even when they bring gifts” (timeo Danaos et dona ferentes), but nowadays this might be reversed. The Greeks have good reason to fear the gifts in the form of bail-outs – designed to bail out creditors, not Greek citizens – that have reduced the country to a province in the European empire controlled, at least as to its purse strings, by Germany.
But Kavakos is not disposed to self-pity à la Grecque. He seems a rather tough-minded character who believes Greeks deserve much of the punishment they are getting. What he finds most unforgivable is the way Greece, or its political class, has betrayed its incomparable legacy of culture, philosophy and art. He reserved especial scorn for a certain Greek politician who decreed that the Greek language should be reduced from 6m words to 600,000. That was an entirely avoidable form of self-impoverishment.

Where Math Teachers Go to Get Energized

Yasmeen Khan:

Gil Kessler, self-described math enthusiast, always carries a four-color ballpoint pen. A former math teacher, he has found the pen to be a helpful tool in channeling his love for numbers and symbols.
“I tell the kids at the very beginning, ‘Anything we do, you can write in your notebooks in black or blue,'” he said. “‘But if it’s really interesting, use red. And if it’s unbelievably interesting, then use green.'”
Mr. Kessler taught math in New York City schools for 30 years, first at Seward Park High School on the Lower East Side, then at South Shore High School in Canarsie, Brooklyn, and finally at Canarsie High School. All the schools are now closed.
At 75, he is now retired. And when he’s not making up new math problems, playing classical piano or square dancing — one of his hobbies — he conducts math workshops for fellow teachers as part of the New York Math Circle, a non-profit organization that holds courses for both teachers and students. Most classes are held at the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences at New York University.

Closed Schools Ten Years Later: Who Goes There Now?

Jackie Bennett:

In case you have not been paying attention, the mayor is vowing to dismantle about 30 school communities for reasons that pretty much no one can figure out. In fact, things have reached such a level of absurdity in New York that there are very few New Yorkers who actually believe that the campaign against our schools has anything to do with “school quality” or a desire to make things better for at-risk kids.
I mention this because in the face of such a situation, it seems ridiculous for me to continue my private crusade to correct the DOE’s misrepresentations about the schools that close and the new ones that rise up in their midst. The DOE mask, truly, is off. Still, even though no one in New York believes the mayor, New York City mayors often have national ambitions. It can’t hurt to set the record straight.
So, let’s look at a few big old schools and the new ones that replaced them in the same building. In particular let’s look at the schools’ comparative reading levels and comparative math. Until very recently, I didn’t have these files, and until very recently I didn’t think about same-building schools (called campus schools) too much, either. But then, the DOE made an inaccurate and unsupported claim about one of these campuses, and a few weeks later, Communities for Change set the record straight. The DOE’s claim was the usual one (“similar” kids, astronomically better results). But the report from Communities for Change, showed that campus schools across the city were serving much lower concentrations of high-need special education students than the schools that they replaced. Before the old Seward shut down, for example, the concentration of self-contained students was 9%. In 2011, the new campus schools served 0%. Seward Park campus is in Manhattan, and the new schools earned As and Bs.

Researchers blast Chicago teacher evaluation reform

Valerie Strauss:

Scores of professors and researchers from 16 universities throughout the Chicago metropolitan area have signed an open letter to the city’s mayor, Rahm Emanuel, and Chicago school officials warning against implementing a teacher evaluation system that is based on standardized test scores.
This is the latest protest against “value-added” teacher evaluation models that purport to measure how much “value” a teacher adds to a student’s academic progress by using a complicated formula involving a standardized test score.
Researchers have repeatedly warned against using these methods, but school reformers have been doing it in state after state anyway. A petition in New York State by principals and others against a test-based evaluation system there has been gaining ground.