Category Archives: Uncategorized

On Tiger Moms

Julie Park:

When Amy Chua published an article in the Wall Street Journal last January entitled “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior,” people were offended. The article–an excerpt from her memoir, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother–makes the case for a “Chinese” style of parenting in brutally honest terms. Chua, a professor of law at Yale and mother of two daughters, observes that “Chinese” parents produce many more “math whizzes and music prodigies” than “Western” parents. This, she claims, is the fruit of a style of parenting that values academic excellence, musical genius and, above all, success, and which does not shy away from imposing strict rules and restrictions, hard work that verges on torture, and despotic punishments. The Western style–with its emphasis on playing sports, having fun and building self-esteem–is by contrast woefully flaccid.
To illustrate her point, Chua describes her own parenting techniques: she never allowed her daughters to earn less than perfect grades (an A- or second place was unacceptable); even on vacation she forced them to endure three-hour piano and violin practice sessions without food or bathroom breaks (once, when her then three-year old daughter disobeyed, she made her stand outside in freezing weather); she used threats and extortion to force them to excel (when her younger daughter resisted learning a piano piece, Chua “threatened her with no lunch, no dinner, no Christmas or Hanukkah presents, no birthday parties for two, three, four years”). The only extracurricular activities she allowed her daughters were those in which they could win a medal (and that medal had to be gold)–“loser” activities like crafts, theater, television, sleepovers and dating were forbidden. Chua never mentions corporal punishment, but she does think it perfectly acceptable to call one’s children fat, lazy, stupid or worthless–so long as it is done out of love and for the children’s own good. She once told her older daughter she was “garbage.”

Higher education as investment opportunity

Konstantin Ryabitsev:

It strikes me that most people in favour of tuition hikes view higher education as a net loss paid by their taxes, rather than as an investment that will bring high dividends in the future. It is my wish that more people approached higher education funding like venture capitalists approach startups — as an investment rather than as a cost. Let me explain what I mean.
Statistically, 9 8 out of 10 startups will fail, costing venture capitalists millions. However, the 2 that succeed will more than cover the losses on the other 8, with lots of extra profit on top, which is why the VCs continue to do it.
Opponents to free higher education tend to point out how many students have trouble finding jobs after they graduate, especially those who chose to major in humanities. However, if we look at it from the same perspective as venture capitalists, it doesn’t matter that many students who receive higher education end up working minimal-wage jobs. We as a society reap our monetary and cultural benefits from those few who do succeed.

The Role of Congress in Education Policy

Charles Barone & Elizabeth DeBray:

A practical look at the education laws established by Congress over the past half-century shows three things that Congress is uniquely positioned to do well: promote equal educational opportunity, set goals and keep score, and invest in research and development. Further historical reflection also shows that Congress has two significant limitations: an inability to respond quickly and a limited capacity to monitor and enforce.
Over the past 50 years, Congress has enacted sweeping changes to federal law when a segment of U.S. society was judged as having been denied equal educational opportunity, and when states and municipalities were unable or unwilling to remedy those inequities.
Title I of the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act was intended to equalize the educational opportunities available to poor and minority children. Title IX of the 1965 Civil Rights Act, as amended in 1972, banned sexual discrimination in federally funded education programs. The 1975 Education for All Handicapped Children Act, known today as the Individuals with Disabilities Act, or IDEA, granted the right to a free and appropriate public education for students with disabilities. Pell Grants, established in 1965, expanded access to postsecondary education for millions of low-income students.

Family is 2-for-2 on Presidential Scholars

Jeff Glaze:

It’s all in the family for a Madison Memorial High School senior.
On Wednesday, Sundaram Gunasekaran and his wife, Sujatha, were notified their second child, Suman, 17, was selected as a Presidential Scholar by the U.S. Department of Education
In 2009, the couple’s daughter Suvai received the honor and now is at Harvard University where Suman will join her in the fall.
Staff with the Presidential Scholars Program said having two students from the same family receive the honor is a rare occurrence but were unable to confirm whether it’s happened before.
Suman, one of 141 selected for the honor out of more than 3,300 candidates, said he was proud to be the second in his family to receive the honor and credited his parents’ encouragement

Social trends and baby names

The Economist:

THE range of names parents choose to give their offspring has increased dramatically in recent decades. While many countries seek to ban some of the most exotic appellations (see article), the quest for originality continues. To help parents, and inspired by America’s Baby Name Voyager, Anna Powell-Smith has created a neat visualisation of baby-naming patterns in England and Wales using 15 years of data from the Office of National Statistics. It reveals some interesting social trends. There has been a move towards more flowery, old-fashioned names for girls, and away from Biblical names for boys. Chloe, Lauren, Daniel and James are out. Lily, Grace, Oliver and Ethan are in. Films such as “The Matrix” and “Amélie” have had significant influences; and the proportion of eastern European names jumped in 2005 following the expansion of the European Union. The biggest proportional fallers were Brittany for girls, Macaulay for boys, and Jordan for both.

Real ‘Beautiful Mind’: College Dropout Became Mathematical Genius After Mugging

Neal Karlinsky & Meredith Frost:

Working behind the counter at a futon store in Tacoma, Wash., is not the place you would expect to find a man some call a mathematical genius of unprecedented proportions.
Jason Padgett, 41, sees complex mathematical formulas everywhere he looks and turns them into stunning, intricate diagrams he can draw by hand. He’s the only person in the world known to have this incredible skill, which he obtained by sheer accident just a decade ago.
“I’m obsessed with numbers, geometry specifically,” Padgett said. “I literally dream about it. There’s not a moment that I can’t see it, and it just doesn’t turn off.”

Goal of Gallup poll: Improve environment in Madison schools

Matthew DeFour:

While reviewing the results of a new student survey this year, the Sennett Middle School student council was surprised to learn about safety concerns.
After further investigation, council members discovered some students didn’t feel comfortable in a certain hallway, so Principal Colleen Lodholz ensured a security guard monitored the hallway between class periods.
Lodholz said the Gallup Student Poll, administered in grades 5-12 for the first time in the fall, was more effective than past school climate surveys because the results were available sooner.
“Typically when we did the climate surveys, you wouldn’t get the results until summer,” Lodholz said. “You could choose to use it the following year, but the kids had moved on.”
The Gallup poll asks students to rate 20 statements such as “I know I will graduate from high school” and “I feel safe in this school.” The statements correspond to the categories “hope,” “engagement” and “well-being.”

Is the Primary Purpose of Schools to Educate Students or Anchor Communities?

Mike Ford:

Kathleen Falk today used a closed school as a backdrop for a campaign speech touting her plans to restore school aid cuts if elected governor. The school, Phillis Wheatley Elementary, was recently shut down by the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS). Last month a candidate running against Milwaukee representative Jason Fields in the 11th Assembly District Democratic primary, Mandela Barnes, kicked off his campaign in front of MPS’ closed Daniel Webster Middle School. Barnes too spoke of restoring funding to public education, arguing that a closed school reflects poorly on a neighborhood:

“We chose this location because this closed school building represents the loss of hope and opportunity. Who would bring jobs to an area that closes schools?

Falk’s appearance and Barnes’ statement highlight a serious byproduct of Milwaukee’s culture of school choice. Schools close frequently in Milwaukee. They do by design.
The final set of reports from the School Choice Demonstration Project found that during the course of their five-year evaluation 36 private Milwaukee Parental Choice Program schools and 40 MPS schools closed their doors. There is evidence those schools were performing lower than schools that remain open, which on its face is a good thing for students.

Budget Cuts: We Won’t Be as Bold and Innovative as Oconomowoc, and That’s Okay.

Madison School Board Member Ed Hughes:

Another approach might be eliminating programs or initiatives that are more closely aligned to student learning. Possibilities here could include reducing our school staff who are not classroom teachers, like Reading Interventionists, Instructional Resource Teachers, and Positive Behavior Coaches. We could also eliminate special interventions for struggling readers. The reading recovery program is the best-known example. While reading recovery is backed by research that supports its effectiveness, it’s an expensive program and, at least as of a couple of years ago, we hadn’t seen in Madison the level of successful outcomes in terms of students’ reading progress that had typically been achieved elsewhere with the program.
My view is that we should have in place an established schedule for evaluating the effectiveness of our intervention programs, like Reading Recovery, and we should be willing to make difficult decisions based on what the evaluations tell us. But that evaluation and review process should be separate from our budgeting process. We shouldn’t look at cutting programs like Reading Recovery strictly as a cost-saving measure. I doubt that we’re willing to eliminate all intensive interventions for struggling readers – I don’t even know if we could do so legally – and it’s far from obvious that substituting one intensive reading intervention program for another would end up saving us all that much money.

Related: 60% to 42%: Madison School District’s Reading Recovery Effectiveness Lags “National Average”: Administration seeks to continue its use.
Much more on the Oconomowoc School District’s high school staffing an compensation plan, here.

Harvard and M.I.T. Team Up to Offer Free Online Courses

Tamar Lewin, via a kind Rick Kiley email:

In what is shaping up as an academic Battle of the Titans — one that offers vast new learning opportunities for students around the world — Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on Wednesday announced a new nonprofit partnership, known as edX, to offer free online courses from both universities.
Harvard’s involvement follows M.I.T.’s announcement in December that it was starting an open online learning project, MITx. Its first course, Circuits and Electronics, began in March, enrolling about 120,000 students, some 10,000 of whom made it through the recent midterm exam. Those who complete the course will get a certificate of mastery and a grade, but no official credit. Similarly, edX courses will offer a certificate but not credit.

Madison School District Must Pay $31K for Refusing to Turn Over Employee Sick Notes

Eugene Volokh:

The lawsuit was filed under state public records law, in the wake of the controversy over whether the sick notes were based on honest claims of sickness; the newspaper agreed to have the employee names blacked out to preserve employee privacy.
Speaking of Madison, this James Madison quote — made about support for education funding, but often also used by supporters of public access to government records — might be relevant:

A popular government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps both. Knowledge will ever govern ignorance; and a people, who mean to be their own governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.

More, here.

Speed Kills

Modern man (and woman?) is very interested in speed, on land and sea and in the air, but also in “scoring” student writing, it appears. Educational Testing Service recently praised its computer program’s ability to score 16,000 samples of writing in 20 seconds.
I should probably explain my bias against too much speed, and not just where it helps to kill thousands of people on the highway. Several decades ago, I took a speed reading course from Xerox Learning Systems. They gave a pre-test on reading and comprehension, and the tests after the course showed that I had doubled my reading speed and cut my comprehension in half.
The arguments in favor of grading student writing by computer program are that it saves money and time and allows huge volumes of student responses-to-a-prompt to be “addressed,” as they would say.
I am not sure whether Abraham Lincoln wrote The Gettysburg Address on the back of an envelope on the train to Pennsylvania or not, but if he had taken one of the new bullet trains, no doubt the speech would have been shorter and quite possibly less immortal.
Other writers have found inspiration watching the land pass by their train windows, but that again has become less common, no doubt, as the speed of travel has increased. The Dreamliner may make it easier to sleep during the flight, but there is not much to see out the window.
E.T.S. may be able to make some serious money in “assessing” student writing at 21st century speeds, but the comprehension of that work will have been cut to zero, I am quite sure, because, as you understand, the computer program, and perhaps some of those who are promoting this scoring by machine, have no idea what the student is saying in any case.
Assessing short writing samples at blinded speeds may lead to encouraging more teachers to assign such brief pieces to their students, thus saving them from having to take the time in coaching and evaluating writing that could be spent on watching videos and talking about the Twilight series or The Hunger Games in class. Thus, students’ greatest writing efforts in high school could be devoted to their 500-word “college essay,” instead of, for example, a 4,000-word Extended Essay such as they would need to do for the International Baccalaureate Diploma.
It should be noted that the College Board has recently announced a new Capstone Writing Initiative, by which they plan to introduce academic expository writing, over a three-year Pilot program into a select few of our high schools. At first, papers will be produced by groups on limited topics, but perhaps in a few more years, students of this new AP program will be allowed to attempt the sort of serious history research paper that The Concord Review has published by more than 1,000 secondary students from 39 countries over the last 25 years.
I would caution the AP, however, that if they are going to ask teachers and students to work on serious academic papers, they may very well have to slow down the assessments, unless, of course, computers have advanced enough in the next three or four years so that they can not only “evaluate” such papers at a rapid pace, but also begin the understand the very first thing of what the students are writing about (i.e. the subject matter). After all, Deep Blue did well at Jeopardy, didn’t it? So a future program, with hundreds of thousands of history books in its memory banks, may be able to make connections to allow it to at least seem to understand some of the history that the student has derived from their own reading and thinking.
These advances could make it easier at last to assign and assess serious student academic expository writing at the secondary level, at least enough to satisfy the College Board and those who buy the Capstone Project, but I am sorry to say that, for the student, the process of reading history and writing about it will be just as slow, and just as valuable, as it was for Thucydides and Tacitus and Edward Gibbon back in the day, and for David McCullough in our own day.
At a recent conference, David McCullough, who spent 10 years writing Truman, said that he is often asked how he divides his time between research and writing. He said no one every asks him how much time he spends thinking. The new computer scoring programs don’t waste any time thinking about the content of the work they are evaluating, and, in their rush to do a lot of writing “assessments” real fast and very cheaply, perhaps those promoting those programs don’t spend a lot of time on that part either.
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Teachers And Their Unions: A Conceptual Border Dispute

Matthew Di Carlo:

One of the segments from “Waiting for Superman” that stuck in my head is the following statement by Newsweek reporter Jonathan Alter:
It’s very, very important to hold two contradictory ideas in your head at the same time. Teachers are great, a national treasure. Teachers’ unions are, generally speaking, a menace and an impediment to reform.
The distinction between teachers and their unions (as well as those of other workers) has been a matter of political and conceptual contention for long time. On one “side,” the common viewpoint, as characterized by Alter’s slightly hyperbolic line, is “love teachers, don’t like their unions.” On the other “side,” criticism of teachers’ unions is often called “teacher bashing.”
So, is there any distinction between teachers and teachers’ unions? Of course there is.

Next Generation of Online-Learning Systems Faces Barriers to Adoption

Nick DeSantis:

More colleges are experimenting with online-learning platforms to meet the growing demand for higher education and to increase revenue in the face of budget cuts. But the next generation of online-learning systems faces several barriers to adoption, according to a new report.
Chief among them are professors’ desires to customize what they teach and their reluctance to use prepackaged course material. The most sophisticated of today’s online-learning systems rely on machine-guided instruction to adapt lessons to the needs of individual students. But most of those systems do not yet allow instructors to deeply tailor the material to meet their course needs. And highly-interactive systems are often too complex for pioneering professors to adopt and sustain on their own.

A week of a student’s electrodermal activity

Joi Ito:

Obviously, this is just one student and doesn’t necessarily generalize, but I love that the electrodermal activity is nearly flatlined during classes. 😉 (Note that the activity is higher during sleep than during class…)
“Changes in skin conductance at the surface, referred to as electrodermal activity (EDA), reflect activity within the sympathetic axis of the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) and provide a sensitive and convenient measure of assessing alterations in sympathetic arousal associated with emotion, cognition, and attention.”

Inside Ethiopia’s Adoption Boom

Miriam Jordan:

Seated in plastic chairs in a grade-school cafeteria in Minnesota, Sandra and Alan Roth admired their 7-year-old daughter, Melesech, making her stage debut last month in “Peter Pan” as one of the “lost kids”–the children who find themselves spirited away to a magical place called Neverland. Four years earlier, to the day, the Roths had brought Mel home from Ethiopia, where they had adopted her.
“Oh, Wendy, we thought you were going to be our mother!” said Mel on stage, speaking her only line and wearing a rust-colored tunic and fuzzy Ugg-style boots.
“She is very special,” said Mrs. Roth, 49 years old. For children like her in Ethiopia, she added, “There is no future.”

Mexican migrant town is left on its knees

Adam Thomson:

Altar (map), a rough and airless town lost in Mexico’s wild northern desert, used to provide a thriving trade for its 8,000 permanent residents. Seared by merciless summer heat, and just 60 miles from the Arizona border, it has served as the last and most important watering hole for thousands of undocumented Mexicans headed for the US.
Juan Ramírez, who sells last-minute supplies for migrants – miniature bars of soap, woollen blankets to protect against the freezing nights and carpet-bottomed moccasins to avoid leaving footprints on the perilous journey north – remembers the good times well. “There were people from all over,” he says. “There were times when the main square looked like a stadium just before a big game.”
Today, it looks like one long after the final whistle has blown. Since the US recession bit in 2008, Washington beefed up security along the border and Arizona passed a zero-tolerance anti-immigration law, the human river that once flowed north, much of it through Altar, has become almost as dry as the desert itself.

redefinED roundup: Voucher politics in Wisconsin, Jeb Bush in S.C., school choice defense in Florida and more


Florida: State Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson responds to newspaper questions about charter schools and vouchers. (Tampa Bay Times Gradebook blog) He suggest school choice critics have a double standard. (redefinED)
Wisconsin: Vouchers have become an issue in the Democratic primary for governor between candidates Tom Barrett and Kathleen Falk. (
South Carolina: Jeb Bush talks education reform and school choice at a summit for educators, lawmakers and business leaders. (Associated Press) Parents rally for choice as Legislature considers several proposals. (The State)

Open Negotiations with the Douglas County (Colorado) Federation of Teachers

Douglas County Board of Education:

In a bold move toward increased transparency, the Douglas County Board of Education adopted a resolution on March 20 to open labor negotiations with the Douglas County Federation of Teachers (DCFT) to the public.
On April 11, those negotiations commenced with presentations by representatives of Douglas County School District (DCSD) and the DCFT about their collective bargaining agreement proposals. The next session is scheduled for May 9 at the Cantril Building.
The sessions are open to the public and the media.

The Douglas County schools spend $8,112.40/student. The 2011 budget spends $481,066,888 for 59,300 students, according to this document. Madison spends 14,858.40 per student (2011-2012 budget).
Census data comparison: Dane (WI-USA 45.4% Bachelors Degree or higher; per capita money income: $32,392) vs. Douglas County (CO-USA 54.4% Bachelors Degree or higher; per capita money income: $42,418). It appears we spend far more on K-12 education from a much lower economic base.

International Education in Seattle

Melissa Westbrook:

John Stanford advanced the idea of a foreign language immersion school before his death in 1998. He thought that a district with many students speaking many languages could be an asset and had put forth the idea of a foreign language immersion school. Backed by the School Board and under the leadership of principal Karen Kodama, the John Stanford International School opened in the Latona building in the fall of 2000.
When it started it was dual language immersion for either Spanish or Japanese (these languages were chosen in a survey of parents and business leaders). Additionally, it was one of the elementary Bilingual Orientation Centers for elementary students. That was primarily where the native speakers came from who became part of the two-way learning for other students.
In 1999, JSIS was one of five of the University of Washington’s K-12 initiatives. The goals* were:

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: U.S. Debt Culture and the Dollar’s Fate

Christopher Whalen:

IN OUR common narrative, the modern era of global finance–what we call the Old Order–begins with the Great Depression and New Deal of the 1930s. The economic model put in place by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and others at the end of World War II is seen as a political as well as economic break point. But arbitrarily selected demarcation points in any human timeline can be misleading. The purpose of narrative, after all, is to simplify the complex and, over time, to remake the past in today’s terms. As we approach any discussion of the Old Order, we must acknowledge that the image of intelligent design in public policy is largely an illusion.
There is no question that the world after 1950 was a reflection of the wants and needs of the United States, the victor in war and thus the designer of the peacetime system of commerce and finance that followed. Just as the Roman, Mongol and British empires did centuries earlier, America made the post-World War II peace in its own image. The U.S.-centric model enjoyed enormous success due to factors such as relatively low inflation, financial transactions that respect anonymity, an open court system and a relatively enlightened foreign policy–all unique attributes of the American system.

America’s under-appreciated community colleges hold promise

The Economist:

COMPARED with its world-famous universities, America’s community colleges are virtually anonymous. But over half of the nation’s 20m undergraduates attend them, and the number is growing fast. Poor, minority and first-generation-immigrant students are far more likely to get their tertiary education from community colleges–where two-year courses offer a cheap route to a degree–than from universities. And, increasingly, many policymakers are wondering whether more attention to the colleges might be a low-cost way of resolving the nation’s shortage of skilled workers.
America’s problem with training was laid bare in a report published last year by Deloitte, a consultancy firm, and the Manufacturing Institute. It identified 600,000 positions that were going unfilled because there were too few qualified skilled workers. Too many colleges, it seems, still fail to align themselves with the needs of local employers, a mismatch that is bad both for the employers and for potential employees, though arguably universities are even worse at doing this.

Trying to Shed Student Debt

Josh Mitchell:

The growth of student debt is stirring debate about whether the government should step in to ease the burden by rewriting the bankruptcy laws–again.
In 2005, Congress prohibited student debt from being discharged through bankruptcy, except in rare cases, because of concerns that many young graduates–who often have no major assets such as a house or a car–would be tempted to walk away from loan obligations.
Some lawmakers now want to temper that position, pointing to concerns that a significant number of Americans could be buried under education loans for decades. Their efforts, however, would apply only to private loans–a fraction of the market.

No Easy Cure for Diabetic Children

Ron Winslow:

The only pill approved in the U.S. for treatment of children with type 2 diabetes is proving surprisingly ineffective, according to a new study, heightening worries about the fast-growing and largely preventable disease.
The research, reported Sunday, is one of the first long-term studies to test the effectiveness of drugs for diabetic children–estimated in the U.S. to number in the tens of thousands. It tested three different drug-based regimens aimed at controlling the disease and found that only about half the participants successfully controlled their blood sugar–despite relatively good compliance.
Researchers said the findings suggested a majority of youth with the disease may require more than one oral medication–or resort to insulin injections–within a few years of diagnosis.
The disappointing results, some of which caught researchers by surprise, underscore the daunting challenges in treating the condition, which had been viewed as an adult disease until it emerged among adolescents in the past 15 to 20 years alongside rising rates of obesity.

Laptops replace lectures in some area schools

Erin Richards:

Last year, Kim Crosby spent about 80% of her class time teaching math concepts at Waukesha STEM Academy. For the other 20%, she helped students individually.
This year that time is reversed: 80% of her class time is spent moving from student to student; about one-fifth continues to be a standard lecture format. The rest of the direct-instruction materials she wants students to see, she assigns to watch or read at home.
“To me, this makes more sense,” Crosby said.
When it comes to challenging traditional ideas about how schools should operate, this 2-year-old charter school in Waukesha is building a reputation with a curriculum that focuses on science, technology, engineering and math, and where student schedules can change every day.
Students choose when they want to eat and when they want to work during a 60-minute lunch, and can randomly be found working in groups behind the reception desk. Or in the teachers lounge.

Nutella must pay parents who thought chocolate spread was a healthy choice

Tralee Pearce:

Do you remember the first time you sampled Nutella as a breakfast food? Maybe smeared on a French baguette? You probably felt like you were getting away with something with every chocolate-hazelnut bite.
Well, it turns out not everyone knows that the chocolately treat is basically a candy bar in a creamy form.
Do you remember the first time you sampled Nutella as a breakfast food? Maybe smeared on a French baguette? You probably felt like you were getting away with something with every chocolate-hazelnut bite.
Well, it turns out not everyone knows that the chocolately treat is basically a candy bar in a creamy form.

Stephens Elementary (Madison) school parents concerned after high schooler found asleep with pot pipe

Dan Simmons:

After a high school student was found unresponsive in a West Side elementary school bathroom with a marijuana pipe in his backpack, parents are questioning why an alternative school program for academically at-risk high school students is in the same building as the elementary school.
“It does raise concerns,” said Becky Ketarkus, who has six children enrolled at Stephens Elementary, 120 S. Rosa Road. “I’d love to know what the plan is for the future to make sure the school is safe.”
Superintendent Dan Nerad answered that the program is not unique — two other elementary schools house alternative programs for high schoolers — and the district has had relatively few problems similar to the incident on Monday. He stressed that, unlike some other alternative programs, those in elementary schools are targeted to academically at-risk students, not those with behavior issues.

Christie wants to retire high school grad exam

Geoff Mulvihill:

Gov. Chris Christie announced Monday that he wants to retire New Jersey’s maligned high school graduation exam and instead give students a series of tougher tests at the end of required courses.
Christie said Monday that moving away from the High School Proficiency Assessment, or HSPA, would produce graduates more prepared for college or careers.
The current exit exam is considered weak. It requires juniors to be tested on knowledge that they should learn by early in their high school careers. Critics also say that, despite tightening standards, it’s too easy for students to take and pass a less rigorous alternative exam.
The change is the latest initiative from Christie aimed at trying to raise the standards in the state’s public schools. While on average, New Jersey students are among the nation’s highest performing, those in the state’s cities tend to fare much worse.

Education Is the Key to a Healthy Economy: If we fail to reform K-12 schools, we’ll have slow growth and more income inequality.

George P. Schultz & Eric A. Hanushek, via several kind readers:

In addressing our current fiscal and economic woes, too often we neglect a key ingredient of our nation’s economic future–the human capital produced by our K-12 school system. An improved education system would lead to a dramatically different future for the U.S., because educational outcomes strongly affect economic growth and the distribution of income.
Over the past half century, countries with higher math and science skills have grown faster than those with lower-skilled populations. In the chart nearby, we compare GDP-per-capita growth rates between 1960 and 2000 with achievement results on international math assessment tests. The countries include almost all of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries plus a number of developing countries. What stands out is that all the countries follow a nearly straight line that slopes upward–as scores rise, so does economic growth. Peru, South Africa and the Philippines are at the bottom; Singapore and Taiwan, the top.

The Big Easy’s school revolution; Test-Based Evidence on New Orleans Charter Schools

Jo-Ann Armao:

Neerav Kingsland lives and breathes numbers. But when you ask the chief strategy officer of New Schools for New Orleans about this city’s remarkable efforts to rebuild its schools in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, he starts not with statistics but with the story of Bridget Green.
A young woman whose grades earned her the distinction of valedictorian of her 2003 high school class, Green never gave the commencement speech or walked across the stage with her classmates. Despite five tries, she was unable to pass the math-competency exit exam required for graduation.
Green’s story is emblematic of the hopelessness that used to mark New Orleans’s schools. No matter how smart or hardworking or well-meaning the system’s leaders, there was no chance for sustainable improvement, given the enormity of its dysfunction. Then the levees broke and the city was devastated, and out of that destruction came the need to build a new system, one that today is accompanied by buoyant optimism. Since 2006, New Orleans students have halved the achievement gap with their state counterparts. They are on track to, in the next five years, make this the first urban city in the country to exceed its state’s average test scores. The share of students proficient on state tests rose from 35 percent in 2005 to 56 percent in 2011; 40 percent of students attended schools identified by the state as “academically unacceptable” in 2011, down from 78 percent in 2005.

Matthew DiCarlo:

Charter schools in New Orleans (NOLA) now serve over four out of five students in the city – the largest market share of any big city in the nation. As of the 2011-12 school year, most of the city’s schools (around 80 percent), charter and regular public, are overseen by the Recovery School District (RSD), a statewide agency created in 2003 to take over low-performing schools, which assumed control of most NOLA schools in Katrina’s aftermath.
Around three-quarters of these RSD schools (50 out of 66) are charters. The remainder of NOLA’s schools are overseen either by the Orleans Parish School Board (which is responsible for 11 charters and six regular public schools, and taxing authority for all parish schools) or by the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (which is directly responsible for three charters, and also supervises the RSD).
New Orleans is often held up as a model for the rapid expansion of charter schools in other urban districts, based on the argument that charter proliferation since 2005-06 has generated rapid improvements in student outcomes. There are two separate claims potentially embedded in this argument. The first is that the city’s schools perform better that they did pre-Katrina. The second is that NOLA’s charters have outperformed the city’s dwindling supply of traditional public schools since the hurricane.

Granny army helps India’s school children via the cloud

Jane Wakefield:

Jackie Barrow explains how she teaches children thousands of miles away
No-one does love and encouragement better than a granny. Now that love is being spread across continents, as UK-based grandmothers extend their embrace to school children thousands of miles away in India.
Jackie Barrow isn’t a granny yet but as a retired teacher she felt she might qualify for an advert in The Guardian newspaper calling for volunteers to help teach children in India.
She did and today, three years on, she is reading “Not Now Bernard” via Skype to a small group of children in the Indian city of Pune.
They love it and are engaged in the experience as she holds up an Easter egg to show them how children in the UK celebrated the recent holiday.

MacIver Large Wisconsin School District Report Card

MacIver Institute:

The MacIver Institute District Report Card takes an innovative look at the Wisconsin’s fifty largest public school districts and offers a vigorous analysis and traditional letter grading system in this unique analysis. It rates districts across several different measures to create a comprehensive look at how teachers and administrators are performing in their schools. The Report Card goes beyond the typical parochial comparison of neighboring communities to also focus on how children compete on a global level. With a dynamic global economy perpetually in front of us, a broader focus was needed to better understand how our districts stack up across many metrics.
The Report Card takes into account not only how a student is testing, but also how likely a district is to push their students to achieve more. The state has recently increased graduation requirements to include more coursework and more challenging classes. This metric works to gauge the progress that has been made in those departments. Finally, the MI District Report Card factors in a student’s basic background to better understand the challenges that a school district may face and their effectiveness as a result. Educating students from low-income families, as well as other students that have traditionally been difficult to teach, is critically important to the future of Wisconsin.
These rankings go beyond what standardized testing tells us. They take a closer look inside the classroom and assign grades based on achievement, attainment, and student population. Districts that have higher percentages of low-income and limited English proficiency (LEP) students, two factors that are traditionally linked to lower scores on state testing measures, earn extra points to address this greater degree of difficulty for their teachers.

Madison ranked 42nd out of 50 in academic achievement, 40th in student attainment, B- overall.

California fact of the day

Tyler Cowen:

Data available from the UC Office of the President shows that there were 2.5 faculty members for each senior manager in the UC system in 1993. Now there are as many senior managers as faculty. Just think: Each professor could have his or her personal senior manager.
A report on administrative growth by the UCLA Faculty Associationestimated that UC would have $800 million more each year if senior management had grown at the same rate as the rest of the university since 1997, instead of four times faster.

Can We Correlate WKCE Scores to Anything?


It’s time somebody looked (at least in the public eye) at some of the demographics and policy/practices and how they may or may not relate to achievement (in terms of WKCE scores).
First a very brief less in the art of correlation. We can take any two pieces of information and mathematically determine whether or not there is a pattern…a correlation. The mathematical tool is the correlation coefficient. It provides a number ranging from -1 (perfect inverse correlation, as X increases, Y decreases) to +1 (perfect correlation, as X increases/decreases, so does Y). Then, all we need to do is apply some statistics based on the size of our data set to determine whether or not the correlation is significant (statistically speaking). For this exercise we looked at the 95% level of confidence, which means that there would be 5% or less chance that the correlation observed resulted from chance alone.

Much more on the oft-criticized WKCE, here.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: How Retirement Benefits May Sink the States

Steven Malanga:

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel recently offered a stark assessment of the threat to his state’s future that is posed by mounting pension and retiree health-care bills for government workers. Unless Illinois enacts reform quickly, he said, the costs of these programs will force taxes so high that, “You won’t recruit a business, you won’t recruit a family to live here.”
We’re likely to hear more such worries in coming years. That’s because state and local governments across the country have accumulated several trillion dollars in unfunded retirement promises to public-sector workers, the costs of which will increasingly force taxes higher and crowd out other spending. Already businesses and residents are slowly starting to sit up and notice.
“Companies don’t want to buy shares in a phenomenal tax burden that will unfold over the decades,” the Chicago Tribune observed after Mr. Emanuel issued his warning on April 4. And neither will citizens.

Florida education commissioner suggests critics have double standard with charter schools, vouchers

Ron Matus:

Do critics have a double standard when it comes to scrutinizing school choice options like charter schools and vouchers? Florida Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson suggested as much in an interview published today by the Tampa Bay Times’ Gradebook education blog.
In response to a question from the Times editorial board, Robinson noted that charter schools that struggle academically and/or financially can be shut down (in Florida, that has happened many times) but that same ultimate penalty is rarely leveled at traditional public schools (off hand, we can’t think of any examples in Florida). “For the bad charter schools that aren’t working, they should close,” Robinson said. “But for the traditional schools that have also failed a number of our kids, we don’t see the same level of righteous indignation.”
Robinson has deep roots in the school choice movement, having once served as president of the Black Alliance for Educational Options. And interestingly enough, the editorial board’s questions focused mostly on choice options. Here are some other excerpts:

The Subliminal Self

On Point:

A fresh take on the uncanny, unnerving power of the unconscious mind.
We think we’re thinking our way through life. Well, yes and no. We’re thinking, but our unconscious minds are enormously powerful drivers. We think, but they can decide – often before we’ve even asked the question. For decades, we’ve understood we’re open to “subliminal seduction.” Our unconscious mind can be wooed.
Freud called it a beast. New science is showing just how powerful the mind beneath can be, and – often – how helpful. It’s us. And it’s way ahead of us.

Bo’s son is the poster boy for a private school system gone mad

Stephen Robinson:

Anyone who has been to an expensive private school with an energetic “alumni outreach officer” will know the deal. The letters and the glossy brochures come regularly – one of them dropped on my door mat only the other day. Nick Clegg will have got the same letter and so will Chris Huhne, or Christopher Paul-Huhne, as he was known as a boy at Westminster School. So, too, will the singer Dido, the actress Imogen Stubbs and Martha Lane Fox.
All of these distinguished people will have benefited enormously from their great good fortune to have been educated at one of the finest schools in the country. The attraction of our private schools has traditionally been in the excellence of the teaching, but no more, it seems. For the past 20 years or so, the great private schools of Britain, and some of the not so great ones, have been engaged in a demented arms race to outdo each other in facilities.
In 1984, average yearly boarding fees in private schools were about £4,000. Today, many of them charge more than £30,000, roughly a threefold increase in real terms according to the Bank of England’s inflation calculator. Private schools once offered a slightly superior version of a grammar school education. Many of them occupied lovely sites, but there was no special emphasis on lavish facilities.

Teach black and Hispanic students differently

Richard Whitmire:

In late March, a panel of 10 education experts gathered in Washington to nominate four most-improved urban school districts for a national education prize. What should have been a routine review of student data, however, suddenly took a new direction.
First one member on the review panel for the annual Broad Prize for Urban Education then another noticed the same thing: Plenty of large urban school districts nationwide were making solid progress with Hispanic students closing achievement gaps with white students. But African-American students continued to lag.
In theory, the experts should not have been seeing what they were seeing. The federal data tracking Hispanic and black students show that they are making roughly the same progress (not much) in closing learning gaps. That left the review panel members puzzled. Was this an illusion?


More Intelligent Life, via Brian S. Hall:

A fundamental paradox of human psychology is that thinking can be bad for us. When we follow our own thoughts too closely, we can lose our bearings, as our inner chatter drowns out common sense. A study of shopping behaviour found that the less information people were given about a brand of jam, the better the choice they made. When offered details of ingredients, they got befuddled by their options and ended up choosing a jam they didn’t like.
If a rat is faced with a puzzle in which food is placed on its left 60% of the time and on the right 40% of the time, it will quickly deduce that the left side is more rewarding, and head there every time, thus achieving a 60% success rate. Young children adopt the same strategy. When Yale undergraduates play the game, they try to figure out some underlying pattern, and end up doing worse than the rat or the child. We really can be too clever for our own good.
By allowing ourselves to listen to our (better) instincts, we can tap into a kind of compressed wisdom. The psychologist Gerd Gigerenzer argues that much of our behaviour is based on deceptively sophisticated rules-of-thumb, or “heuristics”. A robot programmed to chase and catch a ball would need to compute a series of complex differential equations to track the ball’s trajectory. But baseball players do so by instinctively following simple rules: run in the right general direction, and adjust your speed to keep a constant angle between eye and ball.

Angry Your Economic Security is in Jeopardy?

Madison Teachers, Inc. Solidarity Newsletter (PDF):

Chicken Little wasn’t kidding. While Governor Walker’s Act 10 stripped public employees of the right to bargain over virtually all wages, benefits and working conditions, the remaining “token” item, which unions theoretically had the continuing right to bargain, was the “total base wages”. Walker’s Act 10, however, limited said increase to no more than the consumer price index (CPI) over the prior 12 months (a higher amount would be subject to referendum). Now that the Walker-appointed Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission (WERC) has issued Administrative Rules as to the implementation of Walker’s Act 10 calculation of “base wages”, rather than providing a cost-of-living increase for teachers, it COULD ACTUALLY RESULT IN A SUBSTANTIAL DECREASE IN PAY. The following helps explain this apparently ludicrous rule.
For example, a Madison teacher with a Master’s degree is at Track 4, Level 16 (approximately 12 year’s experience) of the current salary schedule is paid $54,985 per year. Assuming a 3% increase in the CPI, this teacher would need a salary increase to $56,635 to maintain the same standard of living. However, the new WERC rule defines the “base pay” not as the current salary ($54,985), but the salary this teacher would have received without the pay additive recognizing the achievement of additional educational credits (Walker’s Law would calculate this teacher’s CPI increase pay at Track 1 [BA], Level 16, or $51,497). The WERC’s defined “Base Pay” for this teacher is $3,488 LESS than the teacher’s current pay. Applying a 3% CPI increase to the Walker’s Law base of $51,497 yields a salary of only $53,042. Therefore, under the WERC’s new rules, this teacher’s “cost-of-living increase” could actually result in a pay cut of $1,943 per year. Rather than a 3% increase in pay, Walker’s Law could produce a 3.5% decrease in pay. The greater the educational attainment (e.g. PhD at Track 8), the greater the potential cut. One publicized example from Monticello School District shows a scenario where a teacher there could take a $14,000 pay cut.
The impact of the WERC Administrative Rule is beyond belief. Calculations illustrate that using this means to calculate wage increases for Madison’s teachers will actually produce only about 90% of the revenue to fund the wages now on the salary schedule – that’s right! Chicken Little wasn’t kidding! This does not necessarily mean that teachers will receive a pay cut after bargaining Walker’s “cost- of-living” increase. School districts could, and should, continue to provide salary schedules which encourage teachers’ continued education and reward them for same. Doing so will be to the advantage of each child enrolled in the district. But, as with all other wages, hours and working conditions under Walker’s Law, such is entirely at the district’s discretion. Walker’s Law even makes it a violation of law for school districts to negotiate over wages, other than the increase in the CPI. Should the employer utilize such discretion, salaries would not have to be cut and increases could occur. But, it’s a fallacy to think that Walker’s Law allows Unions to truly bargain cost-of-living increases for all of their members. While that may be true for employee groups without compensation plans connected to educational credits, such as MTI’s EA, SEE, SSA and USO units, under Walker’s WERC rules, it is certainly not the case for teachers. JUST ONE MORE REASON TO RECALL!

Robo Essay Grading

“But Will Fitzhugh, the publisher of the Sudbury, Mass.-based Concord Review, a quarterly scholarly journal that publishes secondary students’ academic writing, said he is skeptical of whether there is any application of automated essay graders that would enhance students’ educational experience.”
Ian Quillen:

Education Week: Published Online: April 24, 2012
Published in Print: April 25, 2012
Study Supports Essay-Grading Technology
But researchers raise concerns about some conclusions
By Ian Quillen
After a recent study that suggested automated essay graders are as effective as their human counterparts in judging essay exams, “roboreaders” are receiving a new wave of publicity surrounding their possible inclusion in assessments and classrooms.
But while developers of the technology are happy to have the attention, they insist the high profile has more to do with timing of policy changes such as the push to common standards than with any dramatic evolution in the essay-grading tools themselves.
“What’s changed is the claims people are willing to make about it. … [I]t’s not because the technology has changed,” said Jon Cohen, an executive vice president of the Washington-based American Institutes for Research, one of nine organizations developing software that participated in the study.
“I think, over time, a mixture of technologies will make this really good not only for scoring essays,” but also for other assignments, said Mr. Cohen, the director of AIR’s assessment program. “But we really need to be clear about the limits of the applications we are using today so we can get there.”
Human vs. Machine
The study, underwritten by the Menlo Park, Calif.-based William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, is driven by the push to improve assessments related to the shift to the Common Core State Standards in English/language arts and math, and is based on the examination of essays written specifically for assessments. (The Hewlett Foundation also provides support to Education Week for coverage of “deeper learning.”)
Essay Graders
A recent study examined essay-grading software developed by the following organizations:
American Institutes for Research
Carnegie Mellon University
Educational Testing Service
Measurement Inc.
Pacific Metrics
Pearson Knowledge Technologies
Vantage Learning
SOURCE: “Contrasting State of the Art Automated Scoring of Essays: Analysis
Each developer’s software graded essays from a sample of 22,000 contributed by six states, using algorithms to measure linguistic and structural characteristics of each essay and to predict, based on essays previously graded by humans, how a human judge would grade a particular submission. All six states are members of one of two state consortia working to develop assessments for the new standards.
By and large, the scores generated by the nine automated essay graders matched up with the human grades, and in a press release, study co-director Tom Vander Ark, the chief executive officer of Federal Way, Wash.-based Open Education Solutions, a blended-learning consulting group, said, “The demonstration showed conclusively that automated essay-scoring systems are fast, accurate, and cost-effective.”
Mr. Cohen of AIR cautioned that interpretation could be too broad.
I think the claims being made about the study wander a bit too far from the shores of our data,” he said.
Mark Shermis, the dean of the college of education at the University of Akron, in Ohio, and a co-author of the study, said the paper doesn’t even touch on the most exciting potential of automated essay graders, which is not their ability to replace test scorers (or possibly teachers) with a cheaper machine, but their ability to expand upon that software to give students feedback and suggestions for revision.
Inspiring Composition
Two vendors in the study–the Princeton, N.J.-based Educational Testing Service and Vantage Learning, with headquarters in Yardley, Pa.–already have offered for most of the past decade software that gives students some basic feedback on the grammar, style, mechanics, organization, and development of ideas in their writing, Mr. Shermis said.
“It’s designed to be a support, so that a teacher can focus him- or herself completely on inspiring composition of writing or creative composition of writing,” he said. “It’s possible that an administrator will say, ‘I’m just going to throw it all to the computer,’… but that’s not what we would ever recommend.”
Further, one entrant in the study, the LightSIDE software developed by Teledia, a research group at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, was created as an extension of research its developers say is only loosely related to automated essay graders.
Their examination of natural language processing, or the science of how computers interact with human language, has focused on the idea that software could help students hold more-productive collaborative discussions about any range of academic subjects, said Carolyn P. Rose, an associate professor of language technology and human-computer interaction.
For example, one project involves using artificial intelligence to drive discussions on an online platform provided by the university to secondary students in the 25,000-student Pittsburgh public schools. A computer-generated persona interacts as one of several participants in an online discussion, asking questions of the students and at times even interjecting humor into a tense situation among students involved in the discussion.
Creating an automated essay grader based on that research came out of a curiosity to see whether the researchers’ methods of evaluating student discussion could transfer to assessment of student composition, said Elijah Mayfield, a doctoral candidate in language and information technology working with Ms. Rose. Commercial vendors involved in the study did not possess a similar background in studying student interaction, perhaps because they couldn’t afford to do so from a business standpoint, he said.
“I think it gets caught up between what machine learning is aiming for and what is commercially feasible,” Mr. Mayfield said.
Smarter Computers
John Fallon, the vice president of marketing with Vantage Learning, said that using current policy momentum–including the drive for the creation of new, more writing-intensive assessments–will only help drive improvements in all realms of natural-language-processing study. That includes projects like those at Carnegie Mellon, as well as those at his own company.
“A lot of it comes down to, the more submissions we get, the smarter the [computer] engine gets,” said Mr. Fallon, who asserts that his company’s offerings are able not only to score student writing, but also to give those students feedback for improvement.
“The transition to the common core and what that’s going to require is really bringing a much stronger focus for writing,” he said. “And the challenge has always been how can we get teachers to get students to write more and maintain interaction at the student level.”
But Will Fitzhugh, the publisher of the Sudbury, Mass.-based Concord Review, a quarterly scholarly journal that publishes secondary students’ academic writing, said he is skeptical of whether there is any application of automated essay graders that would enhance students’ educational experience.
Contrary to those concerned about how the technology would change the roles of teachers, Mr. Fitzhugh said the greater issue is that such software encourages the assignment of compositions to be written in class and the use of assessments in which learning the content before writing about it is undervalued.
And he disputes the notion that understanding organization, sentence structure, and grammar alone is enough to give students the writing command they’ll need in future careers.
“The idea that the world of business or the world of whatever wants you to write something you know nothing about in 25 minutes is just a mistake,” Mr. Fitzhugh said. “I haven’t looked deeply into what the computer is looking at, but I don’t think they are capable of understanding what the student is actually saying.”

Oconomowoc — unanswered questions

Regarding Oconomowoc’s proposal to let go 20% of its high school teachers, get rid of prep time, give the remaining teachers a $14,000 pay increase, and evidently move to a flipped classroom model supported by some kind of online system that provides content and creates individualized learning plans for the students —
It’s extraordinarily bold, and it may represent the wave of the future, but — I’m glad they’re going first. Reading between the lines of the Journal-Sentinel article, their plan will put a lot of weight on an online learning system that students will use at home, at night. The system will assess where each kid is on a learning continuum (probably the Common Core) and will “deliver appropriate content.” Teachers, during school, will help the kids with their homework. This is why the concept is called a “flipped classroom.” I’m oversimplifying, but this is the basic concept.
Some of this sounds good. Depending on class size, kids could end up getting more personalized attention from teachers than they do under the current lecture format. Kids also might have more opportunities to collaborate and problem solve together than they do now, lined up in rows and facing forward.
But there are concerns, too. A lot of students don’t even do schoolwork when at home, which means that in a flipped model they would never learn the subject matter in the first place. Online systems of this kind are expensive, which will put pressure on districts to increase class size. This could come to seem palatable since more and more of the instruction will be happening out of class, but it could backfire: the model depends on teachers having a manageable number of kids to help. And, most worrisome, online systems to support a flipped classroom are in their infancy. If I had kids at Oconomowoc HS, I’d be extremely concerned.
It would be nice if the Chris Rickerts of the world, before trumpeting the value of whatever disrupts the status quo, would look a little closer at the details, and ask a few more questions.

Narrow, Misguided and Uncorrected !

To Kathleen Porter Magee, via email:
“Of course, teachers should carefully consider how they can best hit the targets laid out in the Common Core. Obviously the vision outlined by Coleman and Pimentel isn’t the only path to implementation. Careful analysis is needed to determine how best to drive achievement in this new environment. However, in this case, it’s obvious from the outset that Chaffee and his colleagues were impervious to change. Unless the presenter was going to mirror back to them exactly the kinds of things that they’ve always done–perhaps with some tweaks, but certainly within the narrow constraints of their own vision of excellence–they were not open to the ideas. That is not the pathway to meaningful reform.
Worse, the particulars of Chaffee’s criticisms are often misguided (and apparently went uncorrected).”
Douglas McGregor, Sloan School, MIT, The Human Side of Enterprise
Boston: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1960, p. 163-164
“The Appropriate Role of Staff
The appropriate role of any major staff group…is that of providing professional help to all levels of management. In some cases, such as engineering, the help is provided primarily to one or two functions, e.g., manufacturing and sales. In other cases, such as accounting and personnel, the help is provided to all other functions.
The hierarchical nature of the organization has tended to focus attention on help given to the level at which the staff group reports. Rewards and punishments for staff members come from there. Moreover, prestige and status are greater the higher level of ‘attachment.’ In large companies, where there are both headquarters and field staff groups, it is particularly important that the headquarters groups recognize and accept their responsibilities for providing help to all levels of management.
The provision of professional help is a subtle and complex process. Perhaps the most critical point–and the one hardest to keep clearly in mind–is that help is always defined by the recipient. Taking an action with respect to someone because ‘it is best for him,’ or because ‘it is for the good of the organization,’ may be influencing him, but it is not providing help unless he so perceives it. Headquarters staff groups tend to rationalize many of their activities on the field organization in a paternalistic manner and, as a consequence, fail to see that they are relying on inappropriate methods of control. When the influence is unsuccessful, the usual reaction occurs: The recipients of the ‘help’ are seen as resistant, stupid, indifferent to organizational needs, etc. The provision of help, like any other form of control or influence, requires selective adaptation to natural law. One important characteristic of ‘natural law’ in this case is that help is defined by the recipient…
“Teach by Example”
Will Fitzhugh [founder]
The Concord Review [1987]
Ralph Waldo Emerson Prizes [1995]
National Writing Board [1998]
TCR Institute [2002]
730 Boston Post Road, Suite 24
Sudbury, Massachusetts 01776-3371 USA
978-443-0022; 800-331-5007;
Varsity Academics®

Why are our high schools invisible?

Jay Matthews:

Which better reflects who you are, your high school or your college?
For most Americans, the answer is high school. Half of us did not attend college. Many college graduates think, as I do, that our high schools are more in tune with our habits and tastes.
So why don’t we mention them? Why is it, in any detailed writing about a person, the college is often mentioned but the high school is not? The exceptions — like the San Diego Air and Space Museum identifying the Apollo 9 astronauts’s high schools (Western in D.C., Central Kalamazoo in Michigan and Manasquan in New Jersey) — are rare surprises.
High school defines us. It is an educational experience we nearly all share. Useful abilities, such as reading, writing, math and our own peculiar talents, for the most part take root in high school, or don’t, to our sorrow. High school offers lessons in love, social dynamics, news and what we are most likely to enjoy in our adult lives, at work and play. Hillsdale High School in San Mateo, Calif., gave me more than my colleges, Occidental and Harvard.

$9,860/student vs. $14,858.40/student; Paying for Educational Priorities and/or Structural Change: Oconomowoc vs. Madison

Chris Rickert summarizes a bit of recent Madison School Board decision making vis a vis educational outcomes. Contrast this with the recent governance news (more) from Oconomowoc; a community 58 miles east of Madison.

Moreover, it’s not like Madisonians are certain to oppose a large tax hike, especially given the way they responded to Walker’s bid to kill collective bargaining.
Before that idea became law, the board voted for — and the community supported — extending union contracts. Unions agreed to some $21 million in concessions in return for two years’ worth of protection from the law’s restrictions.
But the board could have effectively stripped the union of seniority protections, forced members to pay more for health insurance, ended automatic pay raises and taken other actions that would have been even worse for union workers — but that also would have saved taxpayers lots of money.
Board members didn’t do that because they knew protecting employees was important to the people they represent. They should be able to count on a similar dedication to public schooling in asking for the money to pay for the district’s latest priorities.

Christian D’Andrea

The changes would have a significant effect on teachers that the district retains. Starting positions – though it’s unclear how many would be available due to the staff reduction – would go from starting at a $36,000 salary to a $50,000 stipend. The average teacher in the district would see his or her pay rise from $57,000 to $71,000. It’s a move that would not only reward educators for the extra work that they would take on, but could also have a significant effect in luring high-level teachers to the district.
In essence, the district is moving forward with a plan that will increase the workload for their strong teachers, but also increase their pay to reflect that shift. In cutting staff, the district has the flexibility to raise these salaries while saving money thanks to the benefit packages that will not have to be replaced. Despite the shuffle, class sizes and course offerings will remain the same, though some teachers may not. It’s a bold move to not only retain the high school’s top performers, but to lure good teachers from other districts to the city.
Tuesday’s meeting laid out the first step of issuing non-renewal notices to the 15 teachers that will not be retained. The school board will vote on the reforms as a whole on next month.

The Madison School District has, to date, been unwilling to substantively change it’s model, one that has been around for decades. The continuing use of Reading Recovery despite its cost and lower than average performance is one example.
With respect to facilities spending, perhaps it would be useful to look into the 2005 maintenance referendum spending & effectiveness.
It is my great “hope” (hope and change?) that Madison’s above average spending, in this case, 33% more per student than well to do Oconomowoc, nearby higher education institutions and a very supportive population will ultimately improve the curriculum and provide a superior environment for great teachers.

Posted images of California school tests raise cheating concerns

Howard Blume:

Hundreds of photos of standardized tests have begun to appear on social-networking sites in California, raising concerns about test security and cheating by students.
In the worst-case scenario, the photos could lead to invalidating test scores for entire schools or prevent the state from using certain tests. For now, officials have warned school districts to heighten test security and investigate breaches. Students are not allowed to have access to cellphones or other devices that can take pictures when the tests are administered.
“Test security was compromised when students posted images of actual test questions, answer documents and test booklets to social networking sites,” Deb Sigman, a state Department of Education deputy superintendent, said in a letter Friday to school districts. “You have a responsibility to prevent any such incidences in the future.”
Educators involved in testing sign an affidavit asserting that they follow and enforce all rules.

Common Core standards driving wedge in education circles

Greg Toppo:

A high-profile effort by a pair of national education groups to strengthen, simplify and focus the building blocks of elementary and secondary education is finally making its way into schools. But two years ahead of its planned implementation, critics on both the right and left are seizing upon it. A few educators say the new standards, supported by the U.S. Department of Education, are untested, and one Republican governor wants to block the measure, saying it’s a federal intrusion into local decisions.
How did something so simple become so fraught?
The story begins in 2009, when the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers announced an effort to create voluntary national standards in math and reading. All but four states — Arkansas, Nebraska, Texas and Virginia — quickly signed on to the standards, known as the Common Core, agreeing to help create then implement them by 2014. Their decision was helped partly by President Obama, who has tied “college and career-ready standards” to billions in federal grants. Last September, he all but required adoption of the Common Core if states want to receive federal waivers from the 2002 No Child Left Behind law.

Much more on the common core, here.

The brain drain, as seen through one professor’s eyes

Craig Maher:

I read an article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel a few months ago with great interest. It was the story of a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee education professor who was struggling to make ends meet. My story is not entirely different from his, except that I had the opportunity to make a change, and it led me to accept a position with a university just south of Wisconsin’s border.
My story is one that I fear is being replicated throughout the UW System.
In order to put my recent decision in context, I think it is useful to share a portion of my life story (albeit a condensed version). I was born in Green Bay and moved to Milwaukee at a young age. I attended Forest Home Elementary School, Kosciuszko Middle School and Milwaukee Trade and Technical High School.
No one in my family had ever attended college before my older brother did. A few years later, I followed him to UWM. I went on to earn a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree and a doctorate from UWM. Upon graduation, I took a research position in Madison but remained in Milwaukee because my wife and I enjoyed the area and were closer to family (my wife grew up in Greendale, attended Marquette University and has been working at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin for the past 22 years).

Trying to Shed Student Debt

Josh Mitchell:

The growth of student debt is stirring debate about whether the government should step in to ease the burden by rewriting the bankruptcy laws–again.
In 2005, Congress prohibited student debt from being discharged through bankruptcy, except in rare cases, because of concerns that many young graduates–who often have no major assets such as a house or a car–would be tempted to walk away from loan obligations.
Some lawmakers now want to temper that position, pointing to concerns that a significant number of Americans could be buried under education loans for decades. Their efforts, however, would apply only to private loans–a fraction of the market.

Comments: What’s Wrong With Education in the U.S.?

David Wessel:

On whether a degree is necessary and importance of the choice of major:
Paul Elliott:
Like home ownership, Americans are obsessed with the importance of obtaining a college degree, and so it gets over-emphasized and over-subsidized through student loans that lead in many cases to too many people paying ever-higher tuition rates at mediocre colleges and obtaining a worthless degree. Look at Germany, whose population has a much lower percentage of college degrees than the U.S., but it still has a low unemployment rate and a solid manufacturing economy. We need to recognize that vocational occupations like mechanics, machinists, electricians, and plumbers are worthy alternatives to college.
Andrew Black:
Um, quality and usefulness of education is being ignored here? It isn’t a fact that more education means better jobs or a better workforce. Too many kids are majoring in sociology, women’s studies, and other useless fields of study that do not equate to any measurable economic benefit.
Also, they gloss over the fact that many people choose to go to college and rack up debt, when many of them would be better served going to a professional school or a trade school.

The Criminalization of Bad Mothers

Ada Calhoun:

On a rainy day just after Thanksgiving, Amanda Kimbrough played with her 2-year-old daughter in her raw-wood-paneled living room, petting her terriers and half-watching TV. Kimbrough, who is 32, lives a few miles outside Russellville, a town of fewer than 10,000 in rural northwestern Alabama, near the border of Franklin and Colbert Counties. Textiles were the economic engine of the area until the 1990s, when the industry went into decline and mills shut down. Now one of the region’s leading employers is Pilgrim’s, a chicken supplier. The median household income is $31,213, and more than a third of children live below the poverty line.

Mathematics curriculum development in Finland – unexpected effects

Olli Martio – University of Helsinki, Marticulation Board in Finland, via a kind Richard Askey email:

Curricula changes in the Finnish school system have taken place in 8-10 year intervals. They have been recorded in the official curricula for schools by the Finnish Ministry of Education. However, these texts do not provide a complete picture since they are rather short of details. Schools can freely choose their textbooks and there is neither an official inspection nor an official approval for the textbooks. The system is based on the free market principle. Because of this textbooks, and the practice of teaching, should also be studied in order to understand the Finnish mathematics curriculum. A similar situation prevails in many other countries.
The leading ideas, from the point of view of people working in pedagogy, from 1960 on were “New Math” (1960-1970), “Back to Basics” (1968-80) and “Problem Solving”(1978- ), see [M1] and [PAL]. These trends have appeared in many other countries as well. However, these key words do not give a proper picture what really happened in the mathematics curriculum and education.
In Finland these trends had the following effects on the mathematics curriculum.

  • Mathematics at school became descriptive – exact definitions and proofs were largely omitted.
  • Geometry and trigonometry were neglected.
  • Computations were performed by calculators and numbers and not on a more advanced level.

“Problem Solving” and putting emphasis on calculators have taken time from explaining the basic principles and ideas in mathematics. It should be also remembered that with the invention of calculators and computers the pressure to traditional mathematics teaching increased enormously since a general believe in 1960-70 was that all the mathematical problems can be solved by computers and hence the traditional school mathematics is useless. This criticism did not come from ordinary laymen only but from well known scientists as well and this attitude was very much adopted by people working in education and didactics. These ideas had a profound effect on the changes in the Finnish school curriculum.

2012 WSMA State Festival Madison Area High School Student Event Counts

I’ve periodically wondered what the downstream effects of the Madison School District’s mid-2000’s war on the long running strings program might be. Perhaps this chart is a place to begin the discussion.
Of course there may be many other explanations, from staff changes, student interests and so on. That said, the Wisconsin Youth Symphony continues to be popular.
Data via The Wisconsin School Music Association. Note that I looked around the WSMA site extensively for Sun Prairie counts, but failed to find any.
Per Student Spending:
Middleton 2011-2012 budget: $87,676,611 for 6,421 students = $13,654.67/student, about 8% less than Madison.
Madison spends $14,858.40/student (2011-2012 budget)
Waunakee spends $12,953.81/student about 13% less than Madison.

Public Comments on Madison’s Achievement Gap Plans

Matthew DeFour, via a kind reader’s email:

Madison community members say an extended school day, career academies, cultural training for teachers, alternative discipline, more contact between school staff and parents and recruiting minority students to become teachers are some of the best strategies for raising achievement levels of low-income and minority students.
However, some of those same ideas — such as adding an extra hour in the morning and emphasizing career training over college preparation for some students — are raising the most questions and concerns.
Those are a few of the key findings of a two-month public-input process on Superintendent Dan Nerad’s achievement gap plan.
The district released a summary report Friday. Nerad plans to revise the plan based on the public’s response and deliver a final proposal to the School Board on May 14.
Nerad said there is clearer support for more parent engagement and cultural training for teachers, than for an extended school day. He said not everyone may have understood that students who focus on a technical rather than liberal arts education might still go on to college after they graduate.

Additional reader notes:

There are profound deficiencies in the methodology and attempted “analysis” in the district’s and Hanover reports (, but it’s interesting to see the district’s summary of staff input on literacy (page 2 of Marcia Standiford’s memo):
“4. Literacy – Start early with a consistent curriculm [sic]
Support for an emphasis on literacy was evident among the comments. Staff members called for a consistent program and greater supports at the middle and high school levels. Several questioned why the recommendations emphasized third grade rather than starting at earlier grades. Comments also called for bringing fidelity and consistency to the literacy curriculum. Several comments expressed concern that dedicating extra time to literacy would come at the expense of math or other content areas.” And a somewhat buried lede in the Hanover report (p. 3 of the report, p. 21 of the pdf):
“Nine focus groups mentioned the reading recovery [sic] program, all of whom felt negatively about the strategy.” and (p. 10 of the report, p. 29 of the pdf) “Nine comments referred to the reading recovery plan, all of which were negative. Comments noted that ‘reading recovery has failed’ and ‘reading recovery has not been effective in Madison Schools.’ None of the comments supported reading recovery.”

Madison School District related website comments includes: specific criticism of Reading Recovery from Amy Rogers: and this from Chan Stroman-Roll:
60% to 42%: Madison School District’s Reading Recovery Effectiveness Lags “National Average”: Administration seeks to continue its use.

How to Handle Little Liars

Sue Shellenbarger:

When Cindy Ballagh’s 10-year-old son Kaden lost his portable videogame recently, she asked him where he last put it. His answer: on his dresser.
After they spent several minutes searching on, under and all around the dresser, she happened to spot the game–buried in his bed. He had been playing with it there the night before and broke a rule by falling asleep with it, says Ms. Ballagh, of Clarksville, Tenn. Frustrated, she told Kaden he would get in less trouble if he would “just be honest and tell the truth.”
It’s a tense moment–one almost all parents experience: You look in your child’s eyes and realize: “He’s lying.”

The Trust Molecule

Paul Zak:

Why are some of us caring and some of us cruel, some generous and some greedy? Paul J. Zakon the new science of morality– and how it could be used to create a more virtuous society.
Could a single molecule–one chemical substance–lie at the very center of our moral lives?
Research that I have done over the past decade suggests that a chemical messenger called oxytocin accounts for why some people give freely of themselves and others are coldhearted louts, why some people cheat and steal and others you can trust with your life, why some husbands are more faithful than others, and why women tend to be nicer and more generous than men. In our blood and in the brain, oxytocin appears to be the chemical elixir that creates bonds of trust not just in our intimate relationships but also in our business dealings, in politics and in society at large.

Student Debt Sparks a Fight

Josh Mitchell & Corey Boles:

Republican and Democratic lawmakers agreed this week to approve new subsidies for college students but clashed on how to offset the $6 billion cost of the measure so it doesn’t add to the federal deficit, setting up a potential election-year showdown over budget policy.
House Republicans plan to vote as early as Friday to freeze the interest rates on certain federal student loans at 3.4% for the year that starts July 1. The lawmakers plan to make up the unrealized revenue by tapping money that was directed by the 2010 health-care overhaul to fund investment in illness-detection procedures. Without congressional action, the rate on the loans would double on July 1 to the 6.8% level that applies to the most commonly used type of federal student loan. Loans issued before July 1wouldn’t be affected.

Education Slowdown Threatens U.S.

David Wessel & Stephanie Banchero:

Throughout American history, almost every generation has had substantially more education than that of its parents.
That is no longer true.
When baby boomers born in 1955 reached age 30, they had about two years more schooling than their parents, according to Harvard University economists Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz, who have calculated the average years of schooling for native-born Americans back to 1876.
In contrast, when Americans born in 1980 turned 30 in 2010, they averaged about eight months more schooling than their parents.

Teacher scorecards might sound easy, but good ones carry a price

McClatchy-Tribune Information Services:

Minnesota is in the midst of developing a new teacher evaluation system, one that Republican lawmakers would like to use to make layoff decisions based on performance rather than seniority.
The movement to overhaul how teachers are rated has picked up steam nationwide, fueled in part by President Barack Obama’s $4.35 billion Race to the Top competition. But as states such as Rhode Island and Colorado are finding out, developing intricate performance measures requires more time and money than they bargained for.
“It’s easy to make broad statements about goals and how this is going to work. But the devil’s always in the detail,” said Rose Hermodson, assistant commissioner at the Minnesota Department of Education.

Oconomowoc plan a recipe for burnout

Teacher Mark Miner:

I have taught 28 years in the Oconomowoc Area School District, the last 25 at Oconomowoc High School. I am retiring at the end of this year so I have some perspective on the proposed “transformation” of the high school. I also have the luxury of being able to speak my mind without fear of repercussion.
Media coverage has focused on how the transformation is a bold educational innovation. However, there is more to the story.
For most of the years I have taught, there has been a genuine feeling of collaboration and teamwork among administrators, teachers and support staff. That has quickly eroded this past year into a culture of fear. Teachers fear that by speaking up, by questioning, they may be putting their careers in jeopardy.
I do not believe this is the kind of culture our school administration wants, but it is what we have. And now they are going to compound this situation by taking away the most valuable resource a teacher has: time.
I have been, as have many teachers, to many workshops over the years where innovative and exciting ideas and programs have been put forth on how to better meet the needs of students. Teachers come away thinking: If only we could . . . well we could . . . if we had the time.
Without a doubt, the No. 1 limiting factor in the successful implementation of new ideas and programs is time – the time to read, to mull over, to discuss, to plan, the time to create, to implement, to evaluate and to make changes.

Alan Borsuk:

Oconomowoc Superintendent Pat Neudecker calls the plan “the right thing to do for our students, our schools and the teaching profession.” Even before the financial belt got much tighter across Wisconsin, she was an advocate of changing classroom life to take better advantage of technology and make education more customized for students. Neudecker is currently president of the American Association of School Administrators; she was a leading figure in developing a statement issued by a group of Milwaukee area educators in 2010 that called for these kinds of changes.
Now, talk turns into action. Act 10, the Republican-backed state law that pretty much wiped out the role of teachers unions in school life, and cuts in education spending create the landscape for Oconomowoc to make big changes.
Oconomowoc High uses a block schedule, which means its days are built around four periods of about 90 minutes each, rather than, say, seven of 50 minutes. Generally, teachers teach three blocks and get one to work on things such as preparation. (If you think three blocks is a fairly light schedule, that’s because you haven’t done it.)
There is a big need to reduce spending for next year. For many school districts, that is going to mean reducing staff, keeping a tight grip on salary and benefits (as allowed now by state law), reducing offerings and increasing some class sizes – the four pillars of school cost cutting.

The Great Middle Class Power Grab

Philip Stevens:

I keep stumbling across unswerving predictions that the future belongs to China. Or, perhaps to the contrary, that the Middle Kingdom will always struggle to challenge US primacy. Don’t ask where India and Brazil fit in. Enjoyable as it is, this exercise in the remaking of the geopolitical landscape is also something of a diversion. The 21st century will not be shaped by the abstract choices of states. Transformative power will belong to a new global middle class.
The story of the past couple of decades has been of the great shift of economic weight and geopolitical influence from west to east. This rebalancing still has some way to go. However, comparisons of the relative position of established and emerging powers obscure some of the more fundamental drivers of change. What is happening within states is every bit as interesting as what might change in the relationships between them. Within 20 years or so a world that is now predominantly poor will be mostly middle class.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: The California Exodus

Richard Rider:

For decades, California was regarded as the domestic paradise of the United States, lush with beautiful views and ample resources. This no longer seems to be the case. While many insist that those who reside in California are among the happiest in the country, studies show that Californians are increasingly pursuing happiness elsewhere.
In an interview with demographer Joel Kotkin, the Wall Street Journal found that this exodus of California residents is enormous in scale — with potentially profound impacts.

  • Nearly 4 million more people have left the Golden State in the last two decades than have come from other states.
  • This is a sharp reversal from the 1980s, when 100,000 more Americans were settling in California each year than were leaving.
  • According to Kotkin, most of those leaving are between the ages of 5 and 14 or 34 to 45; in other words, young families.

Mr. Kotkin’s analysis has found that the driving factors behind families’ decisions to move to states like Nevada and Texas include:

The New Sisterhood: Teenage Pregnancy Pacts


Our teens are fighting in a war that they can’t handle themselves.
This is just one of the many “pregnancy pacts” that teenage girls in communities and schools across the country are participating in. The girls create these pacts to form a sisterhood. They want to feel apart of something and have an image they can all identify with. Unfortunately, they’ve chosen to be young, single parents, birthing these children into an environment of instability and poverty, instead of aspiring to be lawyers, doctors, writers, engineers and scientists. Instead of game parties and movie nights, our teen girls are a apart of a group effort to get pregnant and give birth together.

Former students from other side of achievement gap weigh in on proposed solutions

Matthew DeFour:

Dominique Gaines, 22, has lived in Wisconsin foster homes most of his life. As he moved between schools he would miss lessons and fall behind. Eventually he dropped out.
Looking back he said he would have benefited from more hands-on, technical classes and experiences, similar to what he does now as a participant in Operation Fresh Start.
“It would have been nice to actively use the brain,” Gaines said.
Gaines and other Operation Fresh Start participants have experiences common among students whom the Madison School District wants to help with its sweeping achievement gap plan. They also have a unique perspective on how best to reach struggling students.
In their opinion, the best strategies for improving low-income and minority student achievement are providing assistance to transient families, offering students that cause trouble other outlets for their energy, and creating career academy programs, according to a recent survey.

Madison Teachers Inc. finds ‘one more reason to recall’ Walker

Todd Finkelmeyer:

The leadership of Madison Teachers Inc. is letting its membership know it has unearthed yet another reason to recall Gov. Scott Walker.
In its weekly “Solidarity!” newsletter that was mailed out Friday, the union warns how administrative rules recently released by the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission related to the implementation of Act 10 could result in teachers’ pay being cut.
“This is causing a lot of angst,” says John Matthews, executive director of MTI.
“This could be very bad for teachers,” adds state Rep. Sondy Pope-Roberts, D-Middleton, who sits on the Assembly’s Committee on Education. “These rules allow for teachers’ base pay to be redefined, and I think that’s absurd.”
The roots of this story reach back to last summer, when Act 10 eliminated most public employees’ ability to collectively bargain over virtually anything except “base wages.” Even then, workers are limited to bargaining over raises that can’t exceed the consumer price index (CPI), unless voters approve a hike via a referendum.
After receiving requests to explain what “base wages” could be bargained over, the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission (WERC) — a state agency designed to settle labor disputes — worked on rules to clarify the matter.

Two Madison students named Presidential Scholars semifinalists

Wisconsin State Journal:

Two Madison students are among 10 from Wisconsin who have been named semifinalists for the 2012 Presidential Scholars award, the nation’s highest honor for graduating high school seniors.
Suman Gunasekaran, a senior at Memorial High School, and Joanna Q. Weng, a senior at West High School, are among the 550 national semifinalists for the program.
About 3,300 students out of nearly 3.2 million graduating seniors were identified as candidates for the award based on their performance on college admissions tests. The semifinalists were selected by a national committee based on essays, self-assessments, secondary school reports and transcripts.
The Presidential Scholars program was established in 1964 to recognize and honor some of our nation’s most distinguished high school students. Presidential Scholars are selected each year to travel to Washington for an awards ceremony along with a teacher whom they identify as having been most influential in their education.

Chinese Christian High School in Alameda Taps Into Growing Demand From China for Access to U.S. Education System

Joel Millman:

Tom Zhou arrived from Beijing three years ago to attend Chinese Christian High School here. The 17-year-old is graduating in June and is set to attend the University of California, Los Angeles in the fall.
In China, “high school is just tests” with no emphasis on personal development, says Mr. Zhou. But at CCHS, “we learn to learn like Americans,” he says.
Going to a U.S. high school and learning to learn like Americans are what increasing numbers of students in China are hoping to do in order to improve their chances of getting into an American college, CCHS says. As an evangelical private high school with experience teaching students from China, CCHS has been taking in more of these overseas students and is starting to refer others to like-minded Christian high schools in the U.S.

Seattle Superintendent Candidate Press Conferences

Steven Enoch Press Conference by Melissa Westbrook:

You came saying you were looking for a good fit between you and the district. What do you think?
I hope my perspective can be useful and that I can be a good leader for this district but that’s for the Board to determine. I really enjoyed visiting schools and seeing the good work going on.
We understand that your Special Ed program has been recognized as a model for inclusion; could you tell us about it and your thoughts on Special Ed?
The model for inclusion is the right thing to do for most kids (recognizing that some students have more severe disabilities). The secret to success is 1)have teachers who receive these students in their class know the IEP and its goals/outcomes, 2) aides with kids who need them but be sure that the aides don’t solely focus on child to the point where the child isn’t part of the class (what looks the least restrictive could be more restrictive). He said you need good communication between your special education director and teachers. He said in his district they did have to cut admn staff but that they kept the staffing in Special Ed and had a Special Ed ombudsman to help parents navigate the system AND keep staff updated.

Sandy Husk by Melissa Westbrook.
Video is available here.

Big reward for your teaching strategies

Jay Matthews:

Here is an example of a school assignment sent to me by an inventive high school psychology teacher:
“To gain a better understanding of Piaget’s Stages of Cognitive Development, you will go to a toy store and choose one toy for each stage of development. In a paper, you will discuss what aspect of the toy corresponds with what developmental milestone in Piaget’s theory. Additionally you will discuss the issue of gender identity formation, based on your visit to the toy store.”
It is one of many such ideas that pop up on my Class Struggle blog. The teacher who forwarded the assignment, Patrick Mattimore, suggested an activity in which readers send in effective teaching strategies. He and I would select the best entries. Knowing the state of newsroom budgets, Mattimore suggested a reward of some value but no cost: publicity for the winner.

Ohio State’s Gordon Gee proposes “differential” tuition

Daniel de Vise:

Differential tuition” as a pricing concept doesn’t get much discussion in higher education; it’s easy to get lost in the variables. But Gordon Gee, president of Ohio State University and a national higher education leader, says he’s thinking about it. “We do have to start differentiating tuition costs,” he said, in a visit to the Post this week.
Maybe the practice isn’t so uncommon as we think.
A recent survey by the Cornell Higher Education Research Institute, reported in Inside Higher Ed, found 143 public institutions that had differential tuition policies, meaning that they charge different rates for students with different majors.

Online courses may make graduation too easy

Jay Matthews:

Russell Rumberger, a scholar with an encyclopedic grasp of the drop-out issue, has doubts about the latest, hottest cure — online credit recovery. That means letting struggling students take courses on a computer without the annoyances of listening to a teacher or doing homework.
Online credit recovery accounts for about half of all instruction in the $2 billion online-education industry, with great potential for good, many educators say. But Rumberger, director of the California Dropout Research Project at the University of California at Santa Barbara, says he knows of a student who got a D in English so took an online course that required reading only one book — “To Kill A Mockingbird” — and about 12 hours of work on a computer over one week.
The student received an A for that one-semester credit. “Online credit recovery offers students a quicker and more flexible way to earn high school credits,” said Rumberger, author of “Dropping Out: Why Students Drop Out of High School and What Can Be Done About It.” But, he said, “there is generally insufficient evidence and accountability to ensure that the online courses are as rigorous and impart as much learning as traditional courses.”

Head Start Faces a New Test

Stephanie Banchero:

Some local Head Start programs for the first time will have to compete for a share of $7.6 billion in federal funding under a plan aimed at weeding out low-performing preschool centers.
In its initial move, the Obama administration recently told 132 Head Start programs across the country that they have been identified as deficient, including the nation’s largest programs in Los Angeles County and New York City.
The targeted programs, which serve low-income three- and four-year-olds, won’t lose current funding. But instead of having their grants renewed automatically, as has been the practice, the programs now have to prove they are effective in preparing children for kindergarten before they will be given future funding.
The move is part of the administration’s broader goal to infuse competition and accountability into public education from preschool through college.

Ed Dept seeks to bring test-based assessment to teacher prep programs

Valerie Strauss:

The Obama administration wants to expand the use of standardized test scores as an accountability tool from K-12 into higher education.
The Education Department just tried — and failed — to persuade a group of negotiators to agree to regulations that would rate colleges of education in large part on how K-12 students being taught by their graduates perform on standardized tests. As part of this scheme, financial aid to students in these programs would not be based entirely on need but, rather, would also be linked to test scores.
The department’s plans assume that standardized test scores can reliably and validly be used for such accountability purposes . Most researchers in this field say they can’t — for a number of reasons, including the limitations of the tests themselves — and therefore shouldn’t be used for any high stakes decision in education anywhere. They say that making test scores so important is one of the negative consequences of the last decade of No Child Left Behind, and shouldn’t be continued.

Top-Third Tina, Bottom-Third Barry

Neerav Kingsland:

There’s been some good blogging lately on how to interpret the studies on Teach For America (TFA) teacher effectiveness – see Matthew Di Carlo and Adam Ozimek. But neither addresses the research from a Relinquisher standpoint. Here’s what they say:
Matt’s takeaway: TFA teachers are by most standards “talented” – i.e., they went to selective universities, graduated at the top of their class, are motivated, and work hard. But they don’t dramatically outperform traditional teachers. So perhaps that link between recruiting “talented” teachers and increasing test scores isn’t as tight as it might seem.
Adam’s takeaway: TFA teachers get five weeks of training and achieve roughly the same results as teachers who go through much longer university-based training programs. So imagine what “talented” TFA-type folks could do if they actually had more training.

Anacostia school is among those in pilot program stressing the arts

Lyndsey Layton:

In its effort to transform ­the nation’s worst-performing schools, the Obama administration is launching an unusual experiment to pump up arts education in eight struggling schools, including one in the District.
The President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, working with the Education Department, will announce a plan Monday to infuse art, music, dance, theater and other forms of creative expression into the schools over a two-year period.
Officials involved in the project want to prove a theory: Robust art, music, dance and theater can set failing schools on a path to academic success.

The Frozen Future of Nonfiction

Reviewed by Seth Mnookin:

hy The Net Matters: How the Internet Will Save Civilization. By David Eagleman, Canongate Books, 2010. (For iPad)
Unless you landed at Download the Universe with the mistaken impression that it’s a new torrent aggregator, chances are you’re already familiar with David Eagleman, the 40-year-old Baylor College of Medicine neuroscientist/author/futurist. Perhaps you’re one of the millions of people around the world who was dazzled by Sum, Eagleman’s breathtaking, oftentimes brilliant, collection of short stories about the afterlife–or perhaps it was Incognito, Eagleman’s exploration of the unconscious, that caught your eye. (It’s not everyday, after all, that a pop-sci book pulls off the tricky balancing act of simultaneously appealing to the cognoscenti and the hoi polloi.)

Stop Telling Students to Study for Exams

David Jaffee:

Among the problems on college campuses today are that students study for exams and faculty encourage them to do so.
I expect that many faculty members will be appalled by this assertion and regard it as a form of academic heresy. If anything, they would argue, students don’t study enough for exams; if they did, the educational system would produce better results. But this simple and familiar phrase–“study for exams”–which is widely regarded as a sign of responsible academic practice, actually encourages student behaviors and dispositions that work against the larger purpose of human intellectual development and learning. Rather than telling students to study for exams, we should be telling them to study for learning and understanding.

Talking With Your Fingers

John McWhorter:

The latest word on the street about English in America – always bad, it seems – is that the shaggy construction of texting and e-mail spells the death of formal writing. Yet the truth about English in America – always sunnier, in fact – is that the looseness and creativity of these new ways of writing are a sign of a new sophistication in our society. This becomes clear when we understand that in the proper sense, e-mail and texting are not writing at all.
Historical perspective is useful. Writing was only invented roughly 5,500 years ago with the emergence of cuneiform picture writing in Mesopotamia, what is now Iraq and parts of Iran, Syria and Turkey, whereas humanity arose a good 200,000 years ago, with language probably tracing back at least 50,000 years and most likely much further. According to one estimate, if Homo sapiens had existed for 24 hours, writing only came along after 11 p.m.

At Virginia Tech, computers help solve a math class problem

Daniel de Vise:

There are no professors in Virginia Tech’s largest classroom, only a sea of computers and red plastic cups.
In the Math Emporium, the computer is king, and instructors are reduced to roving guides. Lessons are self-paced, and help is delivered “on demand” in a vast, windowless lab that is open 24 hours a day because computers never tire. A student in need of human aid plants a red cup atop a monitor.
The Emporium is the Wal-Mart of higher education, a triumph in economy of scale and a glimpse at a possible future of computer-led learning. Eight thousand students a year take introductory math in a space that once housed a discount department store. Four math instructors, none of them professors, lead seven courses with enrollments of 200 to 2,000. Students walk to class through a shopping mall, past a health club and a tanning salon, as ambient Muzak plays.

HBO puts Madison, schools in obesity spotlight

Matthew DeFour:

The Madison School District’s lunch program serves as a window into the national debate over school nutrition and childhood obesity in an upcoming documentary film series.
The documentary, set to air on HBO on May 14 and 15 and for free on, also features two Madison families who participate in the UW Hospital’s Pediatric Fitness Clinic.
The four-part series, titled “The Weight of the Nation” and produced in collaboration with the Institute of Medicine, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health, is intended as a wake-up call for the country. According to the CDC, over the past 30 years the adult obesity rate has doubled and the child obesity rate has almost tripled, fueling a surge in heart and kidney disease, diabetes, cancer and strokes.
But the segment featuring Madison schools as the typical American cafeteria experience should alarm a city that prides itself on its farmers’ markets and community-supported agriculture, said Martha Pings, a local parent nutrition advocate who appears in the film.

Governance: Changing Expectations in Oconomowoc – Paying Fewer High School Teachers More

Erin Richards:

In a move sure to capture the attention of school districts across the state grappling with how to reallocate resources in a time of reduced funding, the Oconomowoc Area School District administration on Tuesday proposed a profound restructuring of its high school, cutting staff and demanding the remaining educators take on more teaching duties.
The kicker: Those remaining staffers would each get a $14,000 annual stipend.
The plan requires reducing Oconomowoc High School’s core teaching force by about 20% – from about 75 to about 60 people – across the departments of math, science, social studies, language arts, foreign language, physical education and art, Oconomowoc Superintendent Pat Neudecker said Tuesday before a school board meeting where the plan’s details were released.
Oconomowoc’s dramatic step reflects a district responding to reduced resources amid an urgent push to reshape teaching, with newfound leeway to adjust compensation, staffing and school structures without having to bargain with unions.
“We haven’t ever moved around the pieces in education like this,” Neudecker said, adding that even with the stipends next year, the district would save $500,000 annually under the new plan.
“Our expectations are changing for teachers, but we’re also going to deploy resources to help them change,” Neudecker said.

Structural change rather than just ongoing, overall spending increases.
Oconomowoc’s 2011-2012 budget is $51,381,000 for 5,211 students results in per student spending of $9,860, 33% less than Madison. Madison’s 2011-2012 budget spends $369,394,753 for 24,861 = $14,858.40/student.
Update: Alan Borsuk:

Oconomowoc Superintendent Pat Neudecker calls the plan “the right thing to do for our students, our schools and the teaching profession.” Even before the financial belt got much tighter across Wisconsin, she was an advocate of changing classroom life to take better advantage of technology and make education more customized for students. Neudecker is currently president of the American Association of School Administrators; she was a leading figure in developing a statement issued by a group of Milwaukee area educators in 2010 that called for these kinds of changes.
Now, talk turns into action. Act 10, the Republican-backed state law that pretty much wiped out the role of teachers unions in school life, and cuts in education spending create the landscape for Oconomowoc to make big changes.
Oconomowoc High uses a block schedule, which means its days are built around four periods of about 90 minutes each, rather than, say, seven of 50 minutes. Generally, teachers teach three blocks and get one to work on things such as preparation. (If you think three blocks is a fairly light schedule, that’s because you haven’t done it.)
There is a big need to reduce spending for next year. For many school districts, that is going to mean reducing staff, keeping a tight grip on salary and benefits (as allowed now by state law), reducing offerings and increasing some class sizes – the four pillars of school cost cutting.

Implementation of Wisconsin’s Statutory Screening Requirement

Wisconsin Reading Coalition, via a kind email [170K PDF]:

The selection of an early reading screener for Wisconsin is a decision of critical importance. Selecting the best screener will move reading instruction forward statewide. Selecting a lesser screener will be a missed opportunity at best, and could do lasting harm to reading instruction if the choice is mediocre or worse.
After apparently operating for some time under the misunderstanding that the Read to Lead Task Force had mandated the Phonological Assessment and Literacy Screen (PALS), the Department of Public Instruction is now faced with some time pressure to set up and move through a screener evaluation process. Regardless of the late start, there is still more than enough time to evaluate screeners and have the best option in place for the beginning of the 2012-13 school year, which by definition is the time when annual screeners are administered.
The list of possible screeners is fairly short, and the law provides certain criteria for selection that help limit the options. Furthermore, by using accepted standards for assessment and understanding the statistical properties of the assessments (psychometrics), it is possible to quickly reduce the list of candidates further.
Is One Screener Clearly the Best?
One screener does seem to separate itself from the rest. The Predictive Assessment of Reading (PAR) is consistently the best, or among the best, in all relevant criteria. This comment is not a comparison of PAR to all known screeners, but comparing PAR to PALS does reveal many of its superior benefits.
Both PAR and PALS assess letter/sound knowledge and phonemic awareness, as required by the statute.
In addition, PAR assesses the important areas of rapid naming and oral vocabulary. To the best of our knowledge, PAR is the only assessment that includes these skills in a comprehensive screening package. That extra data contributes unique information to identify children at risk, including those from low-language home environments, and consequently improves the validity of the assessment, as discussed below.
Both PAR and PALS have high reliability scores that meet the statutory requirement. PAR (grades K-3) scores .92, PALS-K (kindergarten) scores .99, and PALS (grades 1-3) scores .92. Reliability simply refers to the expected uniformity of results on repeated administrations of an assessment. A perfectly reliable measurement might still have the problem of being consistently inaccurate, but an unreliable measurement always has problems. Reliability is necessary, but not sufficient, for a quality screener. To be of value, a screener must be valid.
In the critical area of validity, PAR outscores PALS by a considerable margin. Validity, which is also required by the statute, is a measure of how well a given scale measures what it actually intends to measure; leaving nothing out and including nothing extra. In the case of a reading screener, it is validity that indicates how completely and accurately the assessment captures the reading performance of all students who take it. Validity is both much harder to achieve than reliability, and far more important.
On a scale of 0-1, the validity coefficient (r-value) of PAR is .92, compared to validity coefficients of .75 for PALS-K and .68 for PALS. It is evident that PAR outscores PALS-K and PALS, but the validity coefficients by themselves do not reveal the full extent of the difference. Because the scale is not linear, the best way to compare validity coefficients is to square them, creating r-squared values. You can think of this number as the percentage of success in achieving accurate measurement. Measuring human traits and skills is very hard, so there is always some error, or noise. Sometimes, there is quite a lot.
When we calculate r-squared values, we get .85 for PAR, .56 for PALS-K, and .46 for PALS. This means that PAR samples 51 to 84 percent more of early reading ability than the PALS assessments. The PALS assessments measure about as much random variance (noise) as actual early reading ability. Validity is not an absolute concept, but must always be judged relative to the other options available in the current marketplace. Compared to some other less predictive assessments, we might conclude that PALS has valid performance. However, compared to PAR, it is difficult to claim that PALS is valid, as required by law.
PAR is able to achieve this superior validity in large part because it has used 20 years of data from a National Institutes of Health database to determine exactly which sub-tests best predict reading struggles. As a consequence, PAR includes rapid naming and oral vocabulary, while excluding pseudo-word reading and extensive timing of sub-tests.
PAR is norm-referenced on a diverse, national sample of over 14,000 children. That allows teachers to compare PAR scores to other norm-referenced formative and summative assessments, and to track individual students’ PAR performance from year to year in a useful way. Norm referencing is not required by the statute, but should always be preferred if an assessment is otherwise equal or superior to the available options. The PALS assessments are not norm-referenced, and can only classify children as at-risk or not. Even at that limited task of sorting children into two general groups, PAR is superior, accurately classifying children 96% of the time, compared to 93% for PALS-K, and only 73% for PALS.
PAR provides the unique service of an individualized report on each child that includes specific recommendations for differentiated instruction for classroom teachers. Because of the norm-referencing and the data base on which it was built, PAR can construct simple but useful recommendations as to what specific area is the greatest priority for intervention, the intensity and duration of instruction which will be necessary to achieve results, and which students may be grouped for instruction. PAR also provides similar guidance for advanced students. With its norm-referencing, PAR can accurately gauge how far individual children may be beyond their classmates, and suggest enriched instruction for students who might benefit. Because they are not norm-referenced, the PALS assessments can not differentiate between gray-area and gifted students if they both perform above the cut score.
PAR costs about the same as PALS. With bulk discounts for statewide implementation, it will be possible to implement PAR (like many other screeners) at K5, 1st grade, 2nd grade, and possibly 3rd grade with the funds allocated by statute for 2012-13. While the law only requires kindergarten screening at this time, the goal is to screen other grades as funds allow. The greatest value to screening with a norm-referenced instrument comes when we screen in several consecutive years, so the sooner the upper grades are included, the better.
PAR takes less time to administer than PALS (an average of 12-16 minutes versus 23-43).
The procurement procedure for PALS apparently can be simplified because it would be a direct purchase from the State of Virginia. However, PAR is unique enough to easily justify a single-source procurement request. Salient, essential features of PAR that would be likely to eliminate or withstand a challenge from any other vendor include demonstrated empirical validity above .85, norm-referencing on a broad national sample, the inclusion of rapid naming and oral vocabulary in a single, comprehensive package, empirically valid recommendations for differentiated intervention, guidance on identifying children who may be gifted, and useful recommendations on grouping students for differentiated instruction.
The selection of a screener will be carefully scrutinized from many perspectives. It is our position that a single, superior choice is fairly obvious based on the facts. While it is possible that another individual or team may come to a different conclusion, such a decision should be supported by factual details that explain the choice. Any selection will have to be justified to the public as well as specific stakeholders. Some choices will be easier to justify than others, and explanations based on sound criteria will be the most widely accepted. Simple statements of opinion or personal choice, or decisions based on issues of convenience, such as ease of procurement, would not be convincing or legitimate arguments for selecting a screener. On the other hand, the same criteria that separate PAR from other screeners and may facilitate single-source procurement also explain the choice to the public and various stakeholder groups. We urge DPI to move forward reasonably, deliberately, and expeditiously to have the best possible screener in place for the largest possible number of students in September.

Although there is still a long way to go on improving reading scores, Brown Deer schools show that improvements can be made. by the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:

There are signs that the long struggle to close the achievement gap in reading has a chance of paying off. There is a long way to go – and recent statewide test scores were disappointing – but we see some reason for encouragement, nonetheless.
Alan J. Borsuk, a former Journal Sentinel education reporter and now a senior fellow in law and public policy at Marquette University Law School, reports that black 10th-graders in the Brown Deer school district did better in reading than Wisconsin students as a whole, with 84.2% of Brown Deer’s black sophomores rated proficient or advanced in reading, compared with 78.1% for all students and 47.7% for all black 10th-graders in the state. Some achievement gaps remain in this district that is less than one-third white, but they are relatively modest.

Schools are working to improve reading

As vice chair of the Read to Lead Task Force, I am pleased that Wisconsin is already making progress on improving literacy in Wisconsin.
The Read to Lead Task Force members deserve credit for making recommendations that center on improving reading by: improving teacher preparation and professional development; providing regular screening, assessment and intervention; ensuring early literacy instruction is part of early childhood programs; and strengthening support for parental involvement in reading and early literacy programs.
Across Wisconsin, districts and schools are working to implement the Common Core State Standards in English language arts and mathematics. These standards are designed to increase the relevance and rigor of learning for students. Milwaukee’s Comprehensive Literacy Plan is a significant step that defines common expectations in reading for Milwaukee Public Schools students, who now receive reading instruction through one curriculum that is consistent across schools.

Learn more about Wisconsin’s Read to lead Task force and the planned MTEL teacher content knowledge standards, here.

I hate to say this, but apps do beat books

Dan Snow:

I have recently undergone a Damascene conversion. I have fallen utterly head over heals for apps. It began as a bit of fun. I didn’t even own an iPad, or any device I could view apps on.
Brought up on books, living in a flat surrounded by books, an author of a couple of them, the son of one author and the nephew of another, I never listened to those who questioned whether the 500-year-old hegemony of words printed on paper was coming to an end.
Now I have all the zealotry of a convert.
I have spent the past six months working with a team to develop an app about the Second World War, Timeline World War 2. The process has given me a profound understanding and respect for exactly what is possible. Apps on a tablet device quite simply give you all the combined benefits of books, television, the web and radio, with few of the disadvantages.

Teach the Books, Touch the Heart

Claire Needell Hollander:

We’d just finished John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men.” When we read the end together out loud in class, my toughest boy, a star basketball player, wept a little, and so did I. “Are you crying?” one girl asked, as she crept out of her chair to get a closer look. “I am,” I told her, “and the funny thing is I’ve read it many times.”
But they understood. When George shoots Lennie, the tragedy is that we realize it was always going to happen. In my 14 years of teaching in a New York City public middle school, I’ve taught kids with incarcerated parents, abusive parents, neglectful parents; kids who are parents themselves; kids who are homeless or who live in crowded apartments in violent neighborhoods; kids who grew up in developing countries. They understand, more than I ever will, the novel’s terrible logic — the giving way of dreams to fate.

Governor Jindal extends his reach: Reforms that have transformed New Orleans are applied to the state

The Economist:

JUST three months after he unveiled it, Bobby Jindal, the governor of Louisiana, has signed into law an unprecedented overhaul of the state’s awful school system. His bold plan weakens teacher tenure, and therefore the teachers’ unions, while greatly expanding the use of school vouchers and the reach of charter schools. These reforms are modelled on, but go well beyond, the ones already employed to great effect in New Orleans, traditionally home to the state’s worst schools.
Until now, teachers in Louisiana earned tenure after three years in the classroom. They also had the right to a hearing before the local school board before they could be fired. Now they will get tenure only after being judged “highly effective” in five out of six years. The designation will be based on pupils’ test scores, and probably on classroom observation by a supervisor. Teachers who have tenure now will keep it, unless they become “ineffective”.

How the iPad Is Changing Education

Jason Paul Titlow:

The iPad may only be two years old, but it’s already begun to change many things. Reading is one of them. Work is another. It is selling like crazy, but it will be some time before most of the people you know own a tablet.
The market for this type of device may only be in its infancy, but it’s already becoming clear how it will revolutionize certain aspects our lives. Education is a huge one, as recent developments have demonstrated.
In January, Apple made good on its late CEO’s vision to enter the digital textbook market with the launch of iBooks 2 and the iBooks Author production tool for e-books. That early effort was met with mixed reactions. While some were excited to see Apple move into a space that’s ripe for disruption, others pointed out the inherent limitations in Apple’s model, which for starters, will be cost-prohibitive for many school districts.

Harvard Library pushes open access


This looks like a bombshell announcement to me (I’m not aware of the internal politics behind the announcement, but I’m presuming that Robert Darnton’s fingerprints are all over it). Discuss.
We write to communicate an untenable situation facing the Harvard Library. … The Faculty Advisory Council to the Library, representing university faculty in all schools and in consultation with the Harvard Library leadership, reached this conclusion: major periodical subscriptions, especially to electronic journals published by historically key providers, cannot be sustained: continuing these subscriptions on their current footing is financially untenable. … It is untenable for contracts with at least two major providers to continue on the basis identical with past agreements. Costs are now prohibitive. … since faculty and graduate students are chief users, please consider the following options open to faculty and students (F) and the Library (L), state other options you think viable, and communicate your views:

You can forget facts but cannot forget understanding

David Gurteen:

This short video clip Confessions of a Converted Lecturer from a talk by Professor Erik Mazur who teaches Physics at Harvard is quite mind blowing.
Professor Mazur discovered that his students can “learn” something conceptually and re-iterate it and pass exams but still fail to understand the subject or acquire the ability to apply that learning in real world situations. No amount of “lecturing”, how ever good, solves this problem.

Why tech-savvy youngsters are ahead of the curve

Jamie Carter:

One in six Hongkongers has an iPad and half want one, but how many are being used as electronic babysitters? Stuffed with games, photos, music and video, there’s a worry that tablet computers and smartphones are handed over too easily to youngsters.
A survey by Nielsen last month reveals how prevalent iPad use is among children in North America. In households where at least one iPad was owned, 70 per cent of children used it, and what it’s being used for is hardly surprising. The vast majority of children download games – 77 per cent – and while 43 per cent also watch TV and films, an impressive 57 per cent use educational apps, too. At least, that’s what their parents say, over half of whom admit to using an iPad to pacify their children while travelling, or while eating in a restaurant.

Students dig in to gardening assignment

Chris Davis:

Harvesting the vegetables he has helped to plant, nurture and cultivate, Vlado Vasile, a Year Seven student at South Island School, declares: “It is simply an amazing adventure that really makes you want to gasp.” In Hong Kong, where having a garden is often considered a luxury, Vlado, like many other children from 10 international and 10 local schools, has discovered the joys of horticulture and composting. That’s thanks to Growing Together, a one-year pilot project initiated by the British Chamber of Commerce and sponsored by HSBC.
Since last October, using micro gardens – box containers made of recyclable materials – children of all ages have been growing produce ranging from tomatoes, carrots and herbs to Chinese water spinach and bak choy. Using a Japanese Bokashi composting system, students have also been learning about recycling food waste from leftover school lunches. The fertiliser is then used to nurture the vegetables.

Don’t Praise the Child!

David Gurteen:

Too many students ‘get by’ and seek tactics that lead to good marks not good learning.
‘Never praise a child, praise what they did’ says Professor Black, and by this he meant praise the work of the learner and not the learner.
To praise the student encourages two ideas that are powerfully corrosive in learning; a) the idea that it’s all down to ability b) the idea that the ‘teacher’ likes me.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: The debt debate

Gillian Tett:

In US election year, voters and politicians face a wake-up call on the budget deficit.
White House Burning The Founding Fathers, Our National Debt and Why it Matters to You, by Simon Johnson and James Kwak, Pantheon, RRP$26.95, 368 pages
Last year, the Washington Post newspaper and ABC television channel conducted a poll that showed that 95 per cent of Americans wanted to cut their country’s budget deficit by reducing government spending (either alone, or with tax rises). No surprise there, you might think: the issue of America’s debt has come to dominate the political debate this year as the fiscal problems have worsened.

Taxes & statistics.

Secondary school diploma programmes offer breadth versus depth

Anjali Hazari:

The American high school diploma is considered less demanding than the IB and A-level qualification because students don’t undertake an external examination at the end of a high school career. Students (usually in 11th grade) may take one or more standardised tests depending on their post-secondary education preferences; that is, the Scholastic Achievement Test (SAT) or the American College Test (ACT), which evaluate the overall level of knowledge and learning aptitude. Competitive universities also require students to take two or three SAT subject tests that focus strictly on a particular subject matter.
The A-level qualification has been arguably the most widely recognised pre-university qualification. It places emphasis on in-depth knowledge, deep understanding, strong reasoning abilities and critical thinking and allows students to select three to four subjects in any combination. There are no educational systems where students could study fewer subjects and still meet the entrance requirements for a university.

The cost of teacher unions

Steve Prestegard:

When Gov. Scott Walker signed the public employee collective bargaining reform bill into law, most school districts used it to correct the relationship between the school district and its teachers.
Some did not, most notably Milwaukee, Kenosha and Janesville. Those three school districts have the lion’s share of teacher layoffs because they decided not to put their teacher unions in their correct place.
One Kenosha teacher, Kristi Lacroix, is writing about the result in her school district:

Chicago’s middle class not interested in ‘hidden gem’ high schools

Linda Lutton:

Fifteen years after Chicago embedded International Baccalaureate programs in tough neighborhood schools, the programs have not attracted the middle class.
Middle-and upper-income Chicagoans scramble to get their kids into Chicago’s top high schools, turning to test prep, private tutors, and educational consultants.
If their kids don’t get in, for many it’s private school or the suburbs.
But Chicago has another set of high-quality high school programs–considered gems of the district–that middle-income parents have rejected. WBEZ looks at why.

A short critique of the Khan Academy

Tony Bates:

Bean, E. (2012) Wrath of Khan?: Deconstructing the online learning academy Detroit Web 2.0 Examiner, March 12
Eric Bean is an educator who has signed up as a coach/volunteer for the Khan Academy. The Khan Academy has a library of over 3,000 videos covering everything from arithmetic to physics, finance, and history and 315 practice exercises, all free. The focus is mainly on k-12, supporting home schooling or providing additional support for students outside (and sometimes inside) school.
Bean has a number of criticisms from the point of view of a ‘coach’. (Interesting use of language here by the Khan Academy: why not teacher or tutor or instructor? Is there a difference in Salman Khan’s mind, and if so, what is it?) Bean’s main criticism is that the interface and navigation for coaches is poor, especially compared to the student interface.
I have another criticism. As someone who struggles with math, the Khan Academy would seem perfect for me. My problem though is I don’t know where to begin. Just jumping at random into a video suddenly makes me aware that I need lots of prior knowledge before I can understand this video, but there’s no help on that. Also, where’s the feedback? If I still don’t understand after watching the video several times and doing the exercises, what do I do?

The Preschool Race is No Joke

Robert Frank:

WILDLY implausible faux news stories appear each April Fool’s Day, some of which are taken seriously. This year’s clear winner was the National Public Radio feature about a preschool’s new requirement that all applicants submit DNA profiles.
As the segment begins, the host Guy Raz is greeted by Rebecca Unsinn, described as headmaster at a school called the Porsafillo Preschool Academy, located in a striking I. M. Pei-designed building in a leafy enclave on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Dr. Unsinn walks Mr. Raz through gleaming computer labs where toddlers master C++. She proudly describes the school’s Mandarin Chinese immersion program.
We are also told that Dr. Unsinn, a pediatric neurologist, was recruited to oversee the school’s new genetic tests, designed to help winnow 12,000 applications for 32 available spots in next year’s class. As she explains, “We now know that simple DNA testing can determine whether a child will end up at Yale or at Yonkers Community College.”