Reading, Writing, and Rabble-Rousing Does unionization make for better teachers?

Brian Palmer:

The Chicago teacher strike seemed to be heading toward resolution on Thursday, although school probably won’t be back in session until next week. Among the teachers’ complaints was Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to base evaluations largely on student test scores and to expand charter schools that hire non-union teachers. Are unionized teachers better than non-unionized teachers?
It’s not clear. Despite decades of trying, no one has come up with a perfect study design to measure the effects of unionization on teacher performance. One strategy favored by economists is to ask what happens to student outcomes when the teachers in a school district unionize. These studies don’t reflect well on unions. An oft-cited 1996 study found that the high school dropout rate in a school district increases 2.3 percentage points after its teachers unionize. The study also suggested that unionization tends to soak up a district’s financial resources: When non-union districts increase salaries and reduce class size, the dropout rate decreases. In unionized districts, however, the dropout rate is virtually impervious to increased spending. Another studied, published in 2009, was slightly kinder to unions, finding that teacher unionization had no significant impact on the dropout rate.

Madison’s Talented & Gifted Plan Revisions

Interim Superintendent Jane Belmore:

The initial TAG Plan, created by a variety of stakeholders including teachers, administrators, parents, and community members was approved by the Board of Education on August 27, 2009, and revised and approved on December 13, 2010. The Department of Public Instruction determined that the MMSD TAG Department was out of compliance at the end of May 2011. In June 2011, the current coordinator assumed duties and a new TAG Plan was written to address issues of noncompliance; the plan was approved by the BOE on August 8, 2011. An extension of one year was granted to MMSD to become compliant. The TAG End-of-Year document uses the framework of the original plan and incorporates information that addresses compliance issues as outlined in the 2011 TAG Plan. DPI has indicated that the audit will take place in the last half of September, 2012.
In the letter to Mr. Howard (August 14, 2012), DPI requested additional documentation be submitted to the DPI no later than September 7. The TAG Plan is a major piece of this documentation.

Related: Notes and links on the parent talented & gifted complaint.

NCTQ Sues UW Ed Schools over Access to Course Syllabi

Kate Walsh, via a kind reader’s email:

As reported by the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel and the Associated Press, NCTQ filed a lawsuit yesterday — a first for us — against the University of Wisconsin system.
UW campuses issued identically worded denials of our requests for course syllabi, which is one of the many sources of information we use to rate programs for the National Review of teacher preparation programs. They argue that “syllabi are not public records because they are subject to copyright” and therefore do not have to be produced in response to an open records request.
We believe that the University’s reading of the law is flawed. We are engaged in research on the quality of teacher preparation programs, and so our request falls squarely within the fair use provision of copyright law. What’s more, these documents were created at public institutions for the training of public school teachers, and so should be subject to scrutiny by the public.
You can read our complaint here.

Related Georgia, Wisconsin Education Schools Back Out of NCTQ Review

Public higher education institutions in Wisconsin and Georgia–and possibly as many as five other states–will not participate voluntarily in a review of education schools now being conducted by the National Council for Teacher Quality and U.S. News and World Report, according to recent correspondence between state consortia and the two groups.
In response, NCTQ and U.S. News are moving forward with plans to obtain the information from these institutions through open-records requests.
In letters to the two organizations, the president of the University of Wisconsin system and the chancellor of Georgia’s board of regents said their public institutions would opt out of the review, citing a lack of transparency and questionable methodology, among other concerns.
Formally announced in January, the review will rate education schools on up to 18 standards, basing the decisions primarily on examinations of course syllabuses and student-teaching manuals.

When A Stands for Average: Students at the UW-Madison School of Education Receive Sky-High Grades. How Smart is That?

Lake Wobegon has nothing on the UW-Madison School of Education. All of the children in Garrison Keillor’s fictional Minnesota town are “above average.” Well, in the School of Education they’re all A students.
The 1,400 or so kids in the teacher-training department soared to a dizzying 3.91 grade point average on a four-point scale in the spring 2009 semester.
This was par for the course, so to speak. The eight departments in Education (see below) had an aggregate 3.69 grade point average, next to Pharmacy the highest among the UW’s schools. Scrolling through the Registrar’s online grade records is a discombobulating experience, if you hold to an old-school belief that average kids get C’s and only the really high performers score A’s.
Much like a modern-day middle school honors assembly, everybody’s a winner at the UW School of Education. In its Department of Curriculum and Instruction (that’s the teacher-training program), 96% of the undergraduates who received letter grades collected A’s and a handful of A/B’s. No fluke, another survey taken 12 years ago found almost exactly the same percentage.

Madison Schools for Whites Equivalent to Singapore, Finland (!); Troller Bids Adieu

Susan Troller, Via email:

Madison schools aren’t failing, by any stretch of the imagination, for many students.
In fact, if you’re a white, middle-class family sending your children to public school here, your kids are likely getting an education that’s on a par with Singapore or Finland — among the best in the world.
However, if you’re black or Latino and poor, it’s an unquestionable fact that Madison schools don’t as good a job helping you with your grade-point average, high school graduation, college readiness or test scores. By all these measures, the district’s achievement gap between white and minority students is awful.
These facts have informed the stern (and legitimate) criticisms leveled by Urban League President Kaleem Caire and Madison Prep backers.
But they doesn’t take into account some recent glimmers of hope that shouldn’t be discounted or overlooked. Programs like AVID/TOPS support first-generation college-bound students in Madison public schools and are showing some successes. Four-year-old kindergarten is likely to even the playing field for the district’s youngest students, giving them a leg up as they enter school. And, the data surrounding increasing numbers of kids of color participating in Advanced Placement classes is encouraging.
Stepping back from the local district and looking at education through a broader lens, it’s easy to see that No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top have aimed to legislate, bribe and punish their way toward an unrealistic Lake Wobegon world where all the students are above average.

Remarkable. Are there some excellent teachers in Madison? Certainly. Does Madison’s Administration seek best in the world results? A look at the math task force, seemingly on hold for years, is informative. The long one size fits all battle and the talented and gifted complaint are worth contemplating.
Could Madison be the best? Certainly. The infrastructure is present, from current spending of $14,963/student to the nearby UW-Madison, Madison College and Edgewood College backed by a supportive community.
Ideally, Madison (and Wisconsin) should have the courage to participate in global examinations (Florida Students Take Global Examinations, Wisconsin’s Don’t). Taxpayers and parents would then know if Troller’s assertions are fact based.

Bidding Adieu to the Madison School Board; “Facts are an Obstacle to the Reform of America”

Lucy Mathiak, via a kind email:

Dear Friends,
I am writing to thank you for your encouragement and support in my decision to seek election to the MMSD Board of Education in late fall 2005. Your help in getting elected, your support during tough times, and your help in finding solutions to problems, have made a great difference to my service on the board.
I am writing to let you know that I will not seek re-election in 2012. I continue to believe that the Board of Education is one of the most important elected positions for our community and its schools, and encourage others to step forward to serve in this capacity. MMSD is facing significant challenges, and it is more important than ever that thoughtful citizens engage in the work that will be needed to preserve the traditional strengths of our public schools while helping those schools to change in keeping with the times and the families that they serve.
At the same time, I do not view school board service as a career, and believe that turnover in membership is healthy for the organization and for the district. I have been fortunate to have had an opportunity to serve on this board, and to work with many fine community organizations in that capacity. For that I am grateful.
Again, thank you for your interest, support, and collegiality.
Lucy J. Mathiak
716 Orton Ct.
Madison, WI 53703
Madison School Board
Seat #2

I am appreciative of Lucy’s tireless and often thankless work on behalf of our students.
Every organization – public or private, deteriorates. It is often easier to spend more (raise taxes), raise fees on consumers – or a “rate base”, reduce curricular quality and in general go along and get along than to seek substantive improvements. Change is hard.
Citizens who seek facts, ask difficult and uncomfortable questions are essential for strong institutions – public or private. Progress requires conflict.
Yet, very few of us are willing to step into the theatre, spend time, dig deep and raise such questions. I am thankful for those, like Lucy, who do.
Her years of activism and governance have touched numerous issues, from the lack of Superintendent oversight (related: Ruth Robarts) (that’s what a board does), the District’s $372M+ budget priorities and transparency to substantive questions about Math, reading and the endless battle for increased rigor in the Madison Schools.
In closing, I had an opportunity to hear Peter Schneider speak during a recent Madison visit. Schneider discussed cultural differences and similarities between America and Germany. He specifically discussed the recent financial crisis. I paraphrase: “If I do not understand a financial vehicle, I buy it”. “I create a financial product that no one, including me, understands, I sell it”. This is “collective ignorance”.
Schneider’s talk reminded me of a wonderful Madison teacher’s comments some years ago: “if we are doing such a great job, why do so few people vote and/or understand civic and business issues”?
What, then, is the payoff of increased rigor and the pursuit of high standards throughout an organization? Opportunity.
I recently met a technical professional who works throughout the United States from a suburban Madison home. This person is the product of a very poor single parent household. Yet, high parental standards and rigorous academic opportunities at a somewhat rural Wisconsin high school and UW-Madison led to an advanced degree and professional opportunities.
It also led to a successful citizen and taxpayer. The alternative, as discussed in my recent conversation with Madison Mayor Paul Soglin is growth in those who don’t contribute, but rather increase costs on society.
Lucy will be missed.

ACT Scores Decline Somewhat in Madison, Wisconsin Slightly Up, 32% of Badger Students “Ready” for College Level Courses in 4 Areas

Matthew DeFour:

The average ACT score among the Madison School District’s 2011 graduates dipped to its lowest level in 15 years, while the gap between white and minority student scores shrank for the first time in five years.
Though Madison’s average score dipped from 24.2 to 23.9, district students still outperformed the state average of 22.2 and national average of 21.1. A perfect score on the college entrance exam is 36.
Madison’s average scores in recent years have ranged from 23.5 in 1995 to 24.6 in 2007. The average score was also 23.9 in 2003.

Amy Hetzner:

With the highest percent of students taking the ACT in state history, Wisconsin’s Class of 2011 posted an average score slightly above that from the previous year’s graduates and maintained the state’s third-place ranking among states in which the test is widespread.
Seventy-one percent of the 2011 graduates from Wisconsin private and public schools took the college admissions test, averaging a 22.2 composite score on the 36-point test, according to information to be publicly released Wednesday. The nationwide average was 21.1 on the ACT Assessment, which includes tests in English, reading, mathematics and science.
State schools superintendent Tony Evers credited the results to more high school students pursuing more demanding coursework.
“The message of using high school as preparation for college and careers is taking hold with our students,” Evers said in a news release. “Nearly three-quarters of our kids said they took the rigorous classes recommended for college entry, up from just over half five years ago.”
Even so, ACT reported that only 32% of Wisconsin’s recently graduated seniors had test results that showed they were ready for college-level courses in all four areas. Results for individual subjects ranged from 39% readiness in science to 75% in English.

A few somewhat related links:

Ruth Robarts:

When all third graders read at grade level or beyond by the end of the year, the achievement gap will be closed…and not before.
On November 7 (2005), Superintendent Art Rainwater made his annual report to the Board of Education on progress toward meeting the district’s student achievement goal in reading. As he did last fall, the superintendent made some interesting claims about the district’s success in closing the academic achievement gap “based on race”.
According to Mr. Rainwater, the place to look for evidence of a closing achievement gap is the comparison of the percentage of African American third graders who score at the lowest level of performance on statewide tests and the percentage of other racial groups scoring at that level. He says that, after accounting for income differences, there is no gap associated with race at the lowest level of achievement in reading. He made the same claim last year, telling the Wisconsin State Journal on September 24, 2004, “for those kids for whom an ability to read would prevent them from being successful, we’ve reduced that percentage very substantially, and basically, for all practical purposes, closed the gap”. Last Monday, he stated that the gap between percentages scoring at the lowest level “is the original gap” that the board set out to close.
Unfortunately, that is not the achievement gap that the board aimed to close.

“Penelope Trunk”: (Adrienne Roston, Adrienne Greenheart(

10. Homeschool. Your kids will be screwed if you don't.
The world will not look kindly on people who put their kids into public school. We all know that learning is best when it's customized to the child and we all know that public schools are not able to do that effectively. And the truly game-changing private schools cost $40,000 a year.

Notes and links on the recent, successful Madison Talented & Gifted parent complaint.

Madison School District Talented & Gifted Program Update

Superintendent Dan Nerad:

During the 2011-2012 school year, as MMSD implements Response to Instruction and Intervention (RTI2) and the new district School Support Teams, the plan for delivery of Talented and Gifted Services will continue to be integrated and refined so that it accomplishes the following: 1) is both systemic and systematic in nature; 2) is collaborative; 3) is financially sustainable; 4) is fluid and responsive to student needs; S) offers appropriate opportunities for student growth and talent development; 6) addresses the comprehensive needs (academic, social and personal growth) of students; 7) is aligned with State regulations, professional standards, current research, and effective practice; and 8) provides goals and evaluation procedures to evaluate growth and suggest areas in which change is needed. This Plan for TAG Services describes the following:

Much more on the recent complaint regarding the Madison School District’s Talent & Gifted Update, here.

NEA vs. Teach for America

Laura Cunliffe:

Simmering tensions between the nation’s largest teachers’ union and a highly acclaimed national service program boiled over this week. The National Education Association vowed to “publicly oppose Teach for America (TFA) contracts when they are used in Districts where there is no teacher shortage or when Districts use TFA agreements to reduce teacher costs, silence union voices, or as a vehicle to bust unions.”
Teach for America is a nonprofit organization that recruits graduates from leading universities to teach for two years in some of the nation’s most impoverished school districts. Study after study shows that TFA’s dedicated teachers are effective in lifting achievement levels among the poor and minority students they serve. Why would the NEA want to deprive our neediest kids of good teachers?
NEA member Marianne Bratsanos of Washington, who proposed the anti-TFA resolution, complained that the volunteer group undermines schools of education and accepts money from foundations and other funders who are hostile to unions. The key complaint, however, seems to be that TFA volunteers are displacing more experienced teachers, even in districts with no teacher shortages.
Full disclosure: I’m a TFA alum. You may discount my views accordingly, but the NEA’s indictment is very far from the reality I encountered on the ground teaching Language Arts to inner city kids in Charlotte, N.C.

DPI Report: Madison Schools Are Out of Compliance on Gifted and Talented Education

Lori Raihala:

In response, Superintendent Nerad directed West to start providing honors courses in the fall of 2010. West staff protested, however, and Nerad retracted the directive.
Community members sent another petition in July, 2010-this time signed by 188 supporters-again calling for multiple measures of identification and advanced levels of core courses for 9th and 10th graders at West. This time there was no response but silence.
In the meantime, Greater Madison Urban League President Kaleem Caire told us: “The law is there for a reason. Use it.”
So, after years of trying to work with the system, we filed a formal complaint with the DPI in September, 2010. Little did we know what upheaval the next months would bring. In October, the district administration rolled out its College and Career Readiness Plan; teachers at West agitated, and students staged a sit-in. In February, our new governor issued his reform proposal; protesters massed at the Capitol, and school was called off for four days.
In the meantime, the DPI conducted its investigation. Though our complaint had targeted West for its chronic, blatant, willful violations, the DPI extended its audit to the entire Madison School District.

Much more on the Madison parents complaint to the Wisconsin DPI, here.

Madison School District Final Audit Report: Gifted and Talented Standard

Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction:

On September 20,2010, eight residents of the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) filed a complaint (numerous others were listed as supporting the complaint) alleging the school district was not in compliance with the Gifted and Talented (G/T) standard, Wis. Stat. sec. 121.02(1)(t), that requires that each school board shall “provide access to an appropriate program for pupils identified as gifted and talented.” Based upon this complaint, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (department) initiated an audit pursuant to Wis. Admin Code sec. PI 8.02. The purpose ofthe audit was to determine whether the school district is in compliance with Wis. Stat. sees. 121.02(1)(t) and 118.35, and Wis. Admin. Code
sec. PI 8.01(2)(t)2. The investigation focused on three core content areas: English/language arts; science; and social studies; in particular at the 9th and 1oth grade levels, per the letter of complaint.
The department informed the school district of the audit on October 13, 2010, and requested information and documentation for key components of the G/T plan. The school district provided a written response and materials on November 29, 2010 and supplemental materials on December 21 , 2010.
On January 25 and 26, 2011, a team of four department representatives conducted an on-site audit which began with a meeting that included the school board president, the district administrator, the deputy superintendent, the secondary assistant superintendent, the executive director of curriculum and assessment, the interim Talented and Gifted (TAG) administrator, an elementary TAG resource teacher, a secondary TAG resource teacher, and legal counsel. After this meeting, the team visited East, West, LaFollette, and Memorial High Schools. At each of these sites, the team conducted interviews with the building principal, school counselors, teachers, and students. At the end ofeach ofthe two days the department team met with parents.

State investigation finds problems with Madison talented and gifted program

Matthew DeFour:

The Madison School District is under added pressure to improve how it identifies and educates talented and gifted students after state officials found its program does not comply with state law.
In revealing shortcomings in the district’s offerings for talented and gifted (TAG) students, the Department of Public Instruction challenges the approach some schools, particularly West High School, have used in which all students learn together.
“The district is going to have to face (the question): ‘How do they reconcile their policy of inclusion with honors classes?’?” said Carole Trone, director of the Wisconsin Center for Academically Talented Youth at UW-Madison. “If parents see the other districts are challenging their students more, they might send their students there.”
Developing a comprehensive system to identify TAG students — including testing and staff training — can be expensive, Trone said. Moreover, districts that don’t identify students from all socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds open themselves up to discrimination lawsuits, she said.
Superintendent Dan Nerad said it’s unclear how much such a revamped program will cost.

Much more on the talented & gifted complaint, here.

Madison Teachers, Inc. 2011 Candidate Questionnaire

1MB PDF, via a kind reader’s email:. Mayoral Candidate Paul Soglin participated and I found this question and response interesting:


What strategies will you introduce to reduce the 6000+ families who move in and out of Madison Public School classrooms each year?
In the last three years more children opted out of the district than all previous years in the history of the district. That contributed to the increase of children from households below the poverty line rising to over 48% of the kids enrolled.
To stabilize our enrollment we need stable families and stable neighborhoods. This will require a collaborate effort between governments, like the city, the county and the school district, as well as the private sector and the non-profits. It means opening Madison’s economy to all families, providing stable housing, and building on the assets of our neighborhoods.
One decades old problem is the significant poverty in the Town of Madison. I would work with town officials, and city of Fitchburg officials to see if we could accelerate the annexation of the town so we could provide better services to area residents.

Ed Hughes and Marj Passman, both running unopposed responded to MTI’s questions via this pdf document.

MTIVOTERS 2011 School Board Election Questionnaire
Please respond to each ofthe following questions. If you wish to add/clarifY your response, please attach a separate sheet and designate your responses with the same number which appears in the questionnaire. Please deliver your responses to MTI Headquarters (821 Williamson Street) by, February 17, 2011.
General:
If the School Board finds it necessary to change school boundaries due to enrollment, what criteria would you, as a Board member, use to make such a judgement?
Ifthe School Board finds it necessary to close a school/schools due to economic reasons, what criteria would you, as a Board member, use to make such a judgement?
If the School Board finds it necessary, due to the State-imposed revenue controls, to make further budget cuts to the 2011-12 budget, what criteria would you, as a Board member, use to make such a judgement?
IdentifY specific MMSD programs and/or policies which you believe should to be modified, re-prioritized, or eliminated, and explain why.
What should the District do to reduce violence/assure that proper discipline and safety (of the learning and working environment) is maintained in our schools?
Do you agree that the health insurance provided to District employees should be mutually selected through collective bargaining?
_ _ YES _ _ NO Explain your concerns/proposed solutions relative to the District’s efforts to reduce the “achievement gap”.
Should planning time for teachers be increased? If yes, how could this be accomplished?
Given that the Wisconsin Association of School Boards rarely supports the interests of the Madison Metropolitan School District, do you support the District withdrawing from the W ASB? Please explain your rationale.
From what sources do you believe that public schools should be funded?
a. Do you support further increasing student fees? _ _ YES _ _ _ NO
Do you support the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools’ (WAES) initiative to raise sales tax by 1% to help fund schools?
_ _ YES _ _ NO
Do you support class sizes of 15 or less for all primary grades? _ _ YES _ _ NO
Do you support:
a. The use of public funds (vouchers) to enable parents to pay tuition with tax payers’ money for religious and private schools?
_ _ YES _ _ NO
b. The expansion of Charter schools within the Madison Metropolitan School District? _ _ YES _ _ NO
c. The Urban League’s proposed “Madison Preparatory Academy for Young Men” as a charter school which would not be an instrumentality of the District?
_ _ YES _ _ _ NO
Do you agree that the usual and customary work ofteachers, i.e. work ofthose in MTI’s teacher bargaining unit, should not be performed by others (sub-contracted)?
_ _ YES _ _ NO List MMSD staff and Board member(s) from whom you do or would seek advice.
Is your candidacy being promoted by any organization? _ _ YES _ _ NO
If yes, please name such organization(s). Have you ever been employed as a teacher? If yes, please describe why you left the teaching profession.
Do you support the inclusion model for including Title 1, EEN and ESL students in the regular education classroom? Why/why not?
What grouping practices do you advocate for talented and gifted (TAG) students?
Aside from limitations from lack ofadequate financial resources, what problems to you feel exist in meeting TAG students’ needs at present, and how would you propose to solve these problems?
The Board ofEducation has moved from the development ofpolicy to becoming involved in implementation of policy; i.e. matters usually reserved to administration. Some examples are when it:
a. Decided to hear parents’ complaints about a teacher’s tests and grading. b. Decided to modifY the administration’s decision about how a State Statute should be implemented.
Do you believe that the Board should delegate to administrators the implementation of policy which the Board has created?
_ _ YES _ _ NO
Do you believe that the Board should delegate to administrators the implementation of State Statutes? _ _ YES _ _ NO
Do you support the Board exploring further means to make their meetings more efficient? _ _ YES _ _ _ NO
Do you support a merit pay scheme being added to the Collective Bargaining Agreement _ _ YES _ _ _ NO
If yes, based on which performance indicators?
Do/did/will your children attend private or parochial schools during their K-12 years? Ifno, and ifyou have children, what schools have/will they attend(ed)?
_ _ YES _ _ NO If you responded “yes”, please explain why your child/children attended private parochial schools.
Legislation
Will you introduce and vote for a motion which would direct the Wisconsin Association of School Boards to request the introduction and promote the passage oflegislation to eliminate the revenue controls on public schools and return full budgeting authority to the School Board?
_ _ YES _ _ _ NO
Will you introduce and vote for a motion to direct the Wisconsin Association of School Boards to request the introduction and promote the passage oflegislation to prohibit the privatization ofpublic schools via the use oftuition tax credits (vouchers) to pay tuition with taxpayers’ money to private or religious schools?
_ _ YES _ _ NO
Will you introduce and vote for a motion to direct the Wisconsin Association of School Boards to request the introduction and promote the passage of legislation which will maintain or expand the benefit level of the Wisconsin Family and Medical Leave Act?
_ _ YES _ _ _ NO
Will you introduce and vote for a motion to direct the Wisconsin Association of School Boards to request the introduction and promote the passage oflegislation which will increase the retirement formula multiplier from 1.6% to 2% for teachers and general employees, i.e. equal that of protective employees?
_ _ YES _ _ NO
Will you introduce and vote for a motion to direct the Wisconsin Association of School Boards to request the introduction and promote the passage of legislation which will forbid restrictions to free and open collective bargaining for the selection ofinsurance for public employees (under Wis. Stat. 111.70), including the naming ofthe insurance carrier?
_ _ YES
_ _ NO
Will you introduce and vote for a motion to direct the Wisconsin Association of School Boards to request the introduction and promote the passage of legislation which will guarantee free and open collective bargaining regarding the establishment of the school calendar/school year, including when the school year begins?
_ _ YES _ _ NO
Will you introduce and vote for a motion to direct the Wisconsiu Association of School Boards to request the introduction and promote the passage of legislation to forbid the work of employees organized under Wis. Stat. 111.70 (collective bargaining statute) to be subcontracted?
_ _ YES _ _ NO
Will you introduce and vote for a motion to direct the Wisconsin Association of School Boards to seek passage of legislation which will require full State funding of any State-mandated program?
_ _ YES _ _ NO
Will you introduce and vote for a motion to direct the Wisconsin Association of School Boards to seek passage oflegislation which will provide adequate State funding of public education?
_ _ YES _ _ NO
Do you support a specific school finance reform plan (e.g., School Finance Network (SFN), Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools (WAES), Andrews/Matthews Plan)?
Why/why not? Your Campaign:
Are you, or any of your campaign committee members, active in or supportive (past or present) of the “Get Real”, “ACE”, “Vote No for Change” or similar organizations?
Name ofCampaign Committee/Address/Phone #/Treasurer. List the members ofyour campaign committee.

‘Embedded honors’ program has issues

Mary Bridget Lee:

The controversy at West High School continues about the Madison School District’s new talented and gifted program. Students, parents and teachers decry the plan, pointing to the likelihood of a “tracking” system and increasingly segregated classes.
While I am in agreement with them here, I must differ when they mistakenly point to the current “embedded honors” system as a preferable method for dealing with TAG students.
The idea itself should immediately raise red flags. Teaching two classes at the same time is impossible to do well, if at all. Forcing teachers to create twice the amount of curriculum and attempt to teach both within a single context is unrealistic and stressful for the educators.
The system creates problems for students as well. There is very little regulation in the execution of these “embedded honors” classes, creating widely varying experiences among students. By trying to teach to two different levels within one classroom, “embedded honors” divides teachers’ attention and ultimately impairs the educational experiences of both groups of students.
While the concerns raised about Superintendent Dan Nerad’s plan are legitimate, “embedded honors” as a solution is not.

Lots of related links:

Madison Schools will press ahead with High School honors classes despite protests

Matthew DeFour:

Despite lingering concerns from some parents, students and teachers, the Madison School District will introduce 9th and 10th grade honors classes next fall at West High School — changes that prompted a student protest last fall.
Superintendent Dan Nerad said he discussed with staff over the weekend the possibility of not introducing the honors classes after school board members and parents raised questions at a meeting Thursday night.
Nerad said the decision comes down to following the district’s talented-and-gifted plan, which called for offering honors classes at all high schools starting in this current school year.
“This has already been put off a year,” Nerad said in an interview Monday. “We have an obligation to move forward with what’s been identified in the TAG plan.”
On Friday, 18 West parents sent a letter to the district asking that the honors classes be delayed.

Lots of related links:

More here.

Response to WSJ Article: More Background, Additional Information, Long History of Advocacy

Lorie Raihala, via email

On Sunday, November 7, the Wisconsin State Journal featured a front-page article about the Madison School District’s Talented and Gifted education services: “TAG, they’re it.” The story describes parents’ frustration with the pace of reform since the Board of Education approved the new TAG Plan in August, 2009. It paints the TAG Plan as very ambitious and the parents as impatient-perhaps unreasonable-to expect such quick implementation.
The article includes a “Complaint Timeline” that starts with the approval of the TAG Plan, skips to the filing of the complaint on September 20, and proceeds from there to list the steps of the DPI audit.
Unfortunately, neither this timeline nor the WSJ article conveys the long history leading up to the parents’ complaint. This story did not start with the 2009 TAG Plan. Rather, the 2009 TAG Plan came after almost two decades of the District violating State law for gifted education.
To provide better background, we would like to add more information and several key dates to the “Complaint Timeline.”
November 2005: West High School administrators roll out their plan for English 10 at a PTSO meeting. Most of the 70 parents in attendance object to the school eliminating English electives and imposing a one-size-for-all curriculum on all students. Parents ask administrators to provide honors sections of English 10. They refuse. Parents ask administrators to evaluate and fix the problems with English 9 before implementing the same approach in 10th grade. They refuse. Parents appeal to the BOE to intervene; they remain silent. Meanwhile, parents have already been advocating for years to save the lone section of Accelerated Biology at West.

Madison grapples with how to serve ‘Talented and Gifted’

Gayle Worland, via a kind reader’s email:

Three times a week, Van Hise Elementary fifth-grader Eve Sidikman and two fellow students from her school board a bus bound for GEMS, the Madison school district’s “Growing Elementary Math Students” program for students whose math abilities are so high they aren’t challenged in a standard classroom.
Eve’s bus also makes the rounds to Randall and Thoreau before pulling up to the curb at Shorewood Elementary, where Eve and her GEMS classmates have a two-hour math session taught by a member of the district’s Talented and Gifted staff.
“She teaches it in a creative and fun way,” Eve, who was placed in GEMS after her mother sought out and paid for a national test that proved Eve was capable of acing eighth-grade math, said of her teacher. “I think she’s preparing us for our middle school years well.”
The Madison School district is grappling with how best to serve students deemed “Talented and Gifted,” or TAG in district shorthand — partly to stem a talent drain through open enrollment, partly to satisfy a vocal group of dissatisfied parents, and partly to find more Eves who don’t necessarily have a family with the financial means, determination and know-how to capitalize on their student’s untapped talents.
District critics say change is happening too slowly — something Superintendent Dan Nerad admits — and programs like GEMS are few and far between. Advocates also acknowledge, however, there is skepticism of gifted services among both the public and educators at a time when so many students fail to meet even minimal standards.

Lots of related links:

Watch, listen or read an interview with UW-Madison Education Professor Adam Gamoran. Gamoran was interviewed in Gayle Worland’s article.

The Backstory on the Madison West High Protest

Madison School Board Member Ed Hughes:

IV. The Rollout of the Plan: The Plotlines Converge
I first heard indirectly about this new high school plan in the works sometime around the start of the school year in September. While the work on the development of the plan continued, the District’s responses to the various sides interested in the issue of accelerated classes for 9th and 10th grade students at West was pretty much put on hold.
This was frustrating for everyone. The West parents decided they had waited long enough for a definitive response from the District and filed a complaint with DPI, charging that the lack of 9th and 10th grade accelerated classes at West violated state educational standards. I imagine the teachers at West most interested in this issue were frustrated as well. An additional complication was that West’s Small Learning Communities grant coordinator, Heather Lott, moved from West to an administrative position in the Doyle building, which couldn’t have helped communication with the West teachers.
The administration finally decided they had developed the Dual Pathways plan sufficiently that they could share it publicly. (Individual School Board members were provided an opportunity to meet individually with Dan Nerad and Pam Nash for a preview of the plan before it was publicly announced, and most of us took advantage of the opportunity.) Last Wednesday, October 13, the administration presented the plan at a meeting of high school department chairs, and described it later in the day at a meeting of the TAG Advisory Committee. On the administration side, the sense was that those meetings went pretty well.
Then came Thursday, and the issue blew up at West. I don’t know how it happened, but some number of teachers were very upset about what they heard about the plan, and somehow or another they started telling students about how awful it was. I would like to learn of a reason why I shouldn’t think that this was appallingly unprofessional behavior on the part of whatever West teachers took it upon themselves to stir up their students on the basis of erroneous and inflammatory information, but I haven’t found such a reason yet.

Lots of related links:

Notes and Links on the Madison West High School Student Sit-in

Gayle Worland:

Sitting cross-legged on the ground or perched high on stone sculptures outside the school, about a quarter of West High’s 2,086 students staged a silent 37-minute sit-in Friday morning outside their building to protest a district proposal to revamp curriculum at the city’s high schools.
The plan, unveiled to Madison School District teachers and parents this week, would offer students in each high school the chance to pick from advanced or regular classes in the core subjects of math, science, English and social studies. Students in the regular classes could also do additional work for honors credit.
Designed to help the district comply with new national academic standards, the proposal comes in the wake of a complaint filed against the district by parents in the West attendance area arguing the district fails to offer adequate programs for “talented and gifted” ninth and 10th grade students at West. The complaint has prompted an audit by the state Department of Public Instruction.

Susan Troller:

Okay, everyone, remember to breathe, and don’t forget to read.
A draft copy of possible high school curriculum changes got what could be gently characterized as a turbulent response from staff and students at West High School. Within hours of the release of a proposal that would offer more advanced placement options in core level courses at local high schools, there was a furious reaction from staff and students at West, with rumors flying, petitions signed and social media organizing for a protest. All in all, the coordination and passion was pretty amazing and would have done a well-financed political campaign proud.
Wednesday and Thursday there was talk of a protest walk-out at West that generated interest from over 600 students. By Friday morning, the march had morphed into a silent sitdown on the school steps with what looked like 200 to 300 students at about 10:50 a.m. when I attended. There were also adult supporters on the street, a media presence and quite a few police cars, although the demonstration was quiet and respectful. (Somehow, I don’t think the students I saw walking towards the Regent Market or sitting, smoking, on a stone wall several blocks from school, were part of the protest).

TJ Mertz has more as does Lucy Mathiak.
Lots of related links:

Uproar at West High over Madison School District’s Curricular Reform Proposal

Lorie Raihala:

There’s been a great deal of misinformation and angry speculation flying around West High regarding the District’s High School Curricular Reform proposal.
On Tuesday, District administrators unveiled their plan for high school curricular reform at meeting with nearly 200 educators from all four high schools. Several parents attended the subsequent TAG Advisory Committee meeting, during which they also revealed an overview of the plan to this group.
I attended the TAG Advisory meeting. As I understand it, this plan involves increasing the number of accelerated and AP courses and expanding access to these options.
When teachers at West got news of this plan, many were enraged at not being included in its development. Further, many concluded that the District plans to replace West’s electives with AP courses. They’ve expressed their concerns to students in their classes, and kids are riled up. Students plan to stage a walk-out on Friday, during which they will walk down to the Doyle Building and deliver a petition to Superintendent Nerad protesting the proposed reforms.

Lots of related links:

Reader complains about Hispanic students who take AP Spanish

Jay Matthews:

Early last Monday , while I was still in bed and wondering why the “Today” show had gotten so tabloidish, I was slammed on my washingtonpost.com blog by a reader who did not like my column about Doris Jackson, the principal at Wakefield High School in Arlington County.
It wasn’t Jackson who bothered the commenter, but my praise of the school’s strong performance on Advanced Placement tests. He had a complaint that has often puzzled me: Hispanic students who take AP Spanish, and the schools that let them, are getting away with something, he suggested.
“It is because of the Internet that we know that about half the students in Wakefield are Hispanic,” he said. “We also know that the AP test that they are taking, which has falsely massaged these stats, is the Spanish Advanced Placement test. Take away that fabrication of academic performance, and the true percentage of AP tests passed plummets.”

Harvard’s Hollow Core

“The philosophy behind the core is that educated people are not those who have read many books and have learned many facts but rather those who could analyze facts if they should ever happen to encounter any, and who could ‘approach’ books if it were ever necessary to do so.”

Caleb Nelson ’88 (Mathematics) writing in The Atlantic Monthly, September 1990:

Even before Harvard’s Core Curriculum made its debut, in 1979, Saturday Review hailed it as “a quiet revolution.” The magazine was wrong on both counts: not only was the core unrevolutionary but it rapidly became one of the loudest curricula in America. Time, Newsweek, and other popular periodicals celebrated the new program, which required undergraduates to take special courses designed to reveal the methods–not the content–of the various academic disciplines. “Not since…1945,” The Washington Post said, “had the academic world dared to devise a new formula for developing ‘the educated man.'” The reform was front-page news for The New York Times, and even network television covered it. Media enthusiasm continues today, with Edward Fiske, the former education editor of The New York Times advising readers of The Fiske Guide to Colleges: “Back in the mid-1970s Harvard helped launch the current curriculum reform movement, and the core curriculum that emerged ranks as perhaps the most exciting collection of academic offerings in all of American higher education.”
The core did indeed start a movement. A 1981 report issued by The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching spoke of “the Harvard lead” and recommended a general-education program that put more emphasis on “the shared relationships common to all people” than on any particular facts. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill soon adopted the Harvard approach, and other schools have instituted programs that stress skills over facts. The structures of these programs vary, but the Harvard core’s singular influence is suggested by Ernest Boyer’s 1987 book College: The Undergraduate Experience in America. Boyer’s survey of academic deans at colleges and universities nationwide found that the Harvard core was the most frequently mentioned example of a successful program of general education.
For their part, Harvard officials seem delighted with the program. A. Michael Spence, who just finished a six-year term as dean of the faculty of arts and sciences, has labeled it “a smash hit”; President Derek Bok has heralded its “enormous success.” Indeed, Bok, who will step down next year after two decades at the helm, said in 1983, when the faculty approved the continuation of the core, that the development of the program had given him more satisfaction than any other project undertaken during his presidency. In 1985 the members of Harvard’s chief governing board showed that they had no complaints either when the elected the core’s architect, Henry Rosovsky, to their number. (Rosovsky, who preceded Spence as dean of the faculty, has now been appointed acting dean while Harvard searches for Spence’s permanent replacement.) The program recently marked its tenth anniversary, and no fundamental changes are on the horizon.
Forty-five years ago Harvard had a clear idea of its mission. In 1945 it published a 267-page book laying out goals for educators, with the hope of giving American colleges and secondary schools a “unifying purpose and idea.” The thrust of this volume, titled General Education in a Free Society but nicknamed “the Redbook,” was that educational institutions should strive to create responsible democratic citizens, well versed in the heritage of the West and endowed with “the common knowledge and the common values on which a free society depends.” As James Bryant Conant, then the president of Harvard, once summed up his goal, “Our purpose is to cultivate in the largest possible number of our future citizens an appreciation of both the responsibilities and the benefits which come to them because they are Americans and are free.”
To accomplish this goal at Harvard, the Redbook recommended that every undergraduate be required to take two full-year survey courses, tentatively called “Great Texts of Literature” and “Western Thought and Institutions,” and a full-year course on the principles of either the physical or the biological sciences. The Harvard faculty balked at this specific program, but it endorsed the Redbook’s essence. In each of three areas–the humanities, the social sciences, and the natural sciences–it established a short list of approved courses. The general education program was first required in the fall of 1949 and was fully phased in two years later, when all entering students were required to do two semesters of approved coursework in each area.

Stop Sending Sick Kids to School

Valerie Strauss:

Let’s have a show of hands: How many of you have sent a child to school when you have suspected (I’m being polite here) that he/she was not well and might be contagious?
Maybe it will help if I tell you that my hand is up.
I know that you had your excuses: Your son didn’t have fever when you dropped him off at school at 8 a.m.–even if the nurse says he has 102 degrees Fahrenheit an hour later… You thought your daughter was sneezing and coughing because of her allergies… It is sometimes hard to tell when your kid’s physical complaint is an excuse to get out of a test.
I believe all of that. And I also believe that some people will keep sending their kids to school sick even if the secretary of Health and Human Services personally comes to their door and begs them not to.
But for those of us who are capable of changing our behavior, this is the time. Here’s why:

A story from the trenches — send me more!; DAVID STEINER ELECTED COMMISSIONER OF EDUC FOR NY; As Charter Schools Unionize; Must unions always block innovation in public schools?; NEA Discovers It Is a Labor Union; So You Want to Be a Teacher for America?

1) If you read anything I send out this year, let this be it. One of my friends responded to the survey I sent around a couple of weeks ago by emailing me this story of his experience as a TFA teacher in the South Bronx a decade ago (though he’s no longer there, he is still (thankfully) very much involved with educating disadvantaged kids). It is one of the most powerful, heart-breaking, enraging things I have ever read — and perfectly captures what this education reform struggle is all about. Stories like this about what REALLY goes on in our failing public schools need to be told and publicized, so please share yours with me:

Whitney,
Thanks so much for putting this survey together. It brought back some memories well beyond the few questions about what it was like to teach in the South Bronx with TFA back in the late nineties. I want to emphasize here that I no longer teach in the Bronx, so I have little idea how things have changed and have seen the current Administration take a number of important steps that may be making a great impact. I’m not close enough to the ground to know, but my guess is that there are still plenty of schools in the Bronx and in every other low-income community in the country that reflect some of the miserable stuff I saw in my school. You should really start collecting a book of stories like these. Among all the people I know who’ve done TFA, these stories are just a few among many sad ones.
As I filled out the survey, I was first reminded of the art teacher in our school. She was truly a caricature of bad teaching. Like something out of the movies. She spent almost every minute of every day screaming at the top of her lungs in the faces of 5-8 year olds who had done horrible things like coloring outside the lines. The ART teacher! Screaming so loud you could hear her 2-3 floors away in a decades old, solid brick building. When she heard I was looking for an apt, she sent me to an apt broker friend of hers. I told the friend I wanted to live in Washington Heights. “Your mother would be very upset with me if I let you go live with THOSE PEOPLE. We fought with bricks and bats and bottles to keep them out of our neighborhoods. Do you see what they have done to this place?” This same attitude could be heard in the art teacher’s screams, the administration’s ambivalence towards the kids we were supposed to be educating and the sometimes overt racism of the people in charge. The assistant principal (who could not, as far as I could tell, do 4th grade math, but offered me stop-in math professional development for a few minutes every few months with gems like “these numbers you see here to the left of the zero are negative numbers. Like when it is very cold outside.”) once told me “I call them God’s stupidest people” referring to a Puerto Rican woman who was blocking our way as we drove to another school. She also once told me I needed to put together a bulletin board in the hallway about Veteran’s Day. I told her we were in the middle of assembling an Encyclopedia on great Dominican, Puerto Rican and Black leaders (all of my students were Dominican, Black or Puerto Rican). “Mr. ____, we had Cin-co de May-o, and Black History Month, and all that other stuff. It is time for the AMERICAN Americans.”
Not everyone in the school was a racist. There were many hard working teachers of all ethnicities who did not reflect this attitude at all. But the fact that the leadership of the school and a number of the most senior teachers was either utterly disdainful of the students they taught, or has completely given up on the educability of the kids, had a terrible effect on overall staff motivation. And many of the well-meaning teachers were extremely poorly prepared to make a dent in the needs of the students even if they had been well led. The Principal told more than one teacher there that “as long as they are quiet and in their seats, I don’t care what else you do.” This was on the day this person was HIRED. This was their first and probably last instruction. He never gave me a single instruction. Ever. And I was a new teacher with nothing but TFA’s Summer Institute under my belt. The Principal proceeded to get a law degree while sitting in his office ignoring the school. When we went to the Assistant Superintendent to report that the school was systematically cheating on the 3rd grade test (i.e., the third grade team met with the principal and APs, planned the cheating carefully, locked their doors and covered their windows and gave answers) she told the principal to watch his back. A few months later, inspectors came from the state. After observing our mostly horrible classes for a full day, they told us how wonderful we were doing and that they had just come down to see what they could replicate in other schools to produce scores like ours. And the list goes on and on.
Like when I asked the principal to bring in one of the district’s special education specialists to assess two of my lowest readers, both of whom had fewer than 25 sight-words (words they could recognize on paper) in the 3rd grade, he did. She proceeded to hand one of the students a list of words that the child couldn’t read and tell her to write them over again. Then she went to gossip with the Principal. After explaining to him in gory detail, IN FRONT OF THE STUDENT, that she had just been “dealing with a case where a father had jumped off a roof nearby and committed double-suicide with his 8 year old daughter in his arms”, she collected the sheet with no words on it, patted the child on the head and left. No IEP was filed nor was I allowed to pursue further action through official channels (I lobbied the mother extensively on my own). I never asked for her to come back to assess the other student.
Our Union Rep was said to have tried to push another teacher down a flight of stairs. The same Union Rep, while I was tutoring a child, cursed out a fellow teacher in the room next door at the top of her lungs so the child I was tutoring could hear every word. When I went to address her about it, the other teacher had to restrain the Rep as she threatened to physically attack me. And when the cheating allegations were finally take up by city investigators, the same Union Rep was sent to a cushy desk job in the district offices. I hear that most of the people I’m referencing here are long gone now, and some of them actually got pushed out of the system, but how rare can this story really be given the pitiful results we see from so many of our nation’s poorest schools and how far the system goes to protect horrible teachers and administrators like the ones I worked with?
At the same time as all of this was happening, by the way, the few good teachers in the building often became beaten down and disillusioned. One of the best in my building was consistenly punished for trying to make her corner of the school a better place for learning. They put her in a basement corner with no ventilation, no windows and nothing but a 6-foot-high cubicle-style partition separating her from the other 5 classrooms in the basement. After fighting the good fight she went to teach in the suburbs. When I got a financial firm to donate 20 computers, the principal said he didn’t have the resources to get them setup for use and refused to allow them into the school. When I had my students stage a writing campaign to get the vacant lot behind the building turned into a playground, the principal wanted me silenced.
The saddest thing about the whole damn mess was that our K-3 kids still REALLY WANTED TO LEARN. Every day they came eager for knowledge. And every day this cabal of cynicism, racism and laziness did everything within their powers to drain it out of them. It was unreal. Don’t get me wrong. There were some good teachers there. And some well meaning, but poor teachers. But in many classrooms, the main lesson learned was that school became something to dread, many adults thought you were capable of very little, and some adults couldn’t be bothered to lift a finger.
I hope if any of the good, hard-working teachers who fought so hard to rid the school of this mess read this, they’ll know I’m not lumping them in with the rest. But the problem was, when I addressed the worst practices in the school at a staff meeting, the bad teachers laughed and the good teachers took it the hardest and thought I was criticizing them.
Thanks again for the survey. Let’s make these stories known.

Plans to reform the Italian school system run into criticism

The Economist:

TALY may be facing recession, but for Siggi, a textile firm near Vicenza in the north-east of the country, 2009 offers the promise of unprecedented growth. Siggi is the biggest producer of grembiuli, or school smocks. Once universal in Italian primary schools, they were becoming as outdated as ink-wells. But in July the education minister, Mariastella Gelmini, backed the reintroduction of grembiuli to combat brand- and class-consciousness among schoolchildren. Siggi’s output this year has almost sold out and its chairman, Gino Marta, says that “next year could see an out-and-out boom.”
The decision on whether pupils should wear the grembiule has been left to head teachers. It does not figure in either of the two education bills that have been introduced by Ms Gelmini. But it has become a symbol of her efforts to shake up Italian education. Her critics argue that these are a vain attempt to turn back the clock; her supporters see them as a necessary first step to a more equitable, efficient system.
On October 30th the opposition she has aroused will culminate in a one-day teachers’ strike. The union’s main complaint is a programme of cuts aimed at saving almost €8 billion ($11 billion). It includes the loss by natural wastage of 87,000 teachers’ jobs over the three academic years to 2012 and the return to a system in which just one teacher is allotted to each year of elementary school.

24/7 School Reform

Paul Tough:

In an election season when Democrats find themselves unusually unified on everything from tax policy to foreign affairs, one issue still divides them: education. It is a surprising fault line, perhaps, given the party’s long dominance on the issue. Voters consistently say they trust the Democrats over the Republicans on education, by a wide margin. But the split in the party is real, deep and intense, and it shows no signs of healing any time soon.
On one side are the members of the two huge teachers’ unions and the many parents who support them. To them, the big problem in public education is No Child Left Behind, President Bush’s signature education law. Teachers have many complaints about the law: it encourages “teaching to the test” at the expense of art, music and other electives, they say; it blames teachers, especially those in inner-city schools, for the poor performance of disadvantaged children; and it demands better results without providing educators with the resources they need.
On the other side are the party’s self-defined “education reformers.” Members of this group — a loose coalition of mayors and superintendents, charter-school proponents and civil rights advocates — actually admire the accountability provisions in No Child Left Behind, although they often criticize the law’s implementation. They point instead to a bigger, more systemic crisis. These reformers describe the underperformance of the country’s schoolchildren, and especially of poor minorities, as a national crisis that demands a drastic overhaul of the way schools are run. In order to get better teachers into failing classrooms, they support performance bonuses, less protection for low-performing teachers, alternative certification programs to attract young, ambitious teachers and flexible contracts that could allow for longer school days and an extended school year. The unions see these proposals as attacks on their members’ job security — which, in many ways, they are.
Obama’s contention is that the traditional Democratic solution — more money for public schools — is no longer enough. In February, in an interview with the editorial board of The Journal Sentinel in Milwaukee, he called for “a cultural change in education in inner-city communities and low-income communities across the country — not just inner-city, but also rural.” In many low-income communities, Obama said, “there’s this sense that education is somehow a passive activity, and you tip your head over and pour education in somebody’s ear. And that’s not how it works. So we’re going to have to work with parents.”

Madison La Follette Principal Joe Gothard helped turn around his alma mater

Tamira Madsen:

John Broome lasted just four months as principal of La Follette High School.
Under pressure due to escalating fighting at the 1,710-student east side school and hearing far-reaching complaints from parents and staff over his management style, Broome resigned in December 2006. Veteran district administrator Loren Rathert came out of retirement to finish the school year as interim principal.
So when Joe Gothard took over as principal last September, it was no secret that he was entering a difficult situation.
“Actually it was really bad,” says Jamison Vacek, a member of a Lancer senior class that has had four principals in four years. “There were fights almost every day at the school when we had those other principals.”
But ask students, staff and observers about La Follette now, and there seems a consensus that Gothard has helped put the school on the right path.

Much more on La Follette here.

On Madison Boundary Changes

Dear Board,
As the opening of a new school is coming close, I was surprised to some extent that the plans were changed with such a short amount of time left before the new year.
So………..I dug up my West Side Long Term Planning Binder and reviewed all the data presented to us, as a member of that committee, and remembered the HOURS we spent debating and reviewing the pros and cons of each plan. I believe this is a very hard process and I am sad it is being altered at this late date.
I think one thing many of us felt on the Long Range Planning Committee was even with the new school and addition to Leopold we did not devise a Long Term Plan. My #1 suggestion to the board would be to revisit the plan of “making the map look better” and balancing the income levels but TO MAKE IT A LONG TERM plan and say in 6 years this is what we are going to do. (and stick to it) I think when you spring it on families that in a few months Johnny has to switch schools, we parents are too invested and comfortable with the school and protest the change. But if a 6 Year Plan was in place with some options to start at the new school, grandfather for a couple of years the protest would be great but families would have lots of time to accept the change and deal with it. It would also be a LONG TERM PLAN.

A Few Words on Sports

Sports provide many opportunities for students, often well beyond the physical effort, competition and team building skills. These two articles provide different perspectives on sports, particularly the climate around such activities and the people who give so much time to our next generation.
Matthew Defour:

The Dane County Sheriff ‘s Office has fired Lt. Shawn Haney because he released to the Waunakee School District a report on a September underage drinking party allegedly involving Waunakee High School students.
Lester Pines, attorney for the 21-year veteran of the department who has no previous disciplinary record, said the termination was based on an ethics violation resulting from a “conflict of interest. ”
The sheriff ‘s report described a Sept. 30 incident that led to five people, including a member of the Waunakee High School football team, being charged with various misdemeanors. According to a criminal complaint filed Nov. 13, a witness told sheriff ‘s deputies investigating the party that “the majority of the Waunakee High School football team ” was at the party.
Waunakee School District Superintendent Charles Pursell did not return messages left Tuesday. He previously said several students, including football players, were disciplined in connection with the party and an elementary school teacher ‘s aide accused of hosting the party resigned. He also has said players weren ‘t disciplined before an important playoff game because the district ‘s investigation had not yet determined that any of them attended the party.

Bob Gosman:

The coaching lifer, much like the three-sport varsity athlete, is on its way to extinction.
But walk into a Wisconsin Lutheran boys basketball practice, and it’s obvious there is plenty of life left in that team’s 62-year-old coach.
It has been quite a season for Dale Walz and the Vikings (4-1). Walz picked up his 500th career victory Dec. 7 when the Vikings topped Hartford, 58-47. More good news came Sunday when he learned he will be enshrined in the Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame next October.
Walz, in his 35th year as a coach at the prep level, enjoys the game as much as ever. The Vikings play host to Slinger in a big Wisconsin Little Ten Conference game tonight at 7:30.
“I’ve known since college I wanted to be a high school basketball coach,” Walz said. “The challenge is always there. There’s not a day that goes by at any time of the year when I don’t think about basketball.”
Walz, an assistant principal at Wisconsin Lutheran, has remained true to himself while making subtle adjustments to how the game and kids have changed since he ran his first practice at Lakeside Lutheran in 1973.
“He’s still intense, but everybody mellows a little,” said Ryan Walz, Walz’s second-oldest son and the Vikings’ junior varsity coach. “He’s changed with the kids, which is part of the reason he’s coached as long as he has.”

I learned a number of things from my coaches many (!) years ago – including Walz. Those include:

  • the benefit of persistence and a willingness to keep on when most others give up, (I consider this an invaluable lesson),
  • Drive, sometimes bordering on fanaticism 🙂
  • The ability to push your body far beyond what was previously possible – and why that is important for one’s self confidence,
  • Competing against the best is the fastest route to improvement,
  • Duplicity, that is; things are not always black and white. The Waunakee story above reminded me of the fog that is athletic conduct rules (or, cheatingmore), something important to understand as one travels through life,
  • Growing up: the minute I realized that the NFL or NBA was not in my future, I became more interested in lifelong pursuits, including academics.

Looking back to the 1970’s, I am astonished at the level of time and effort my coaches put into a ragtag group of kids. Creating winners out of such raw material is an art.
Update: Susan Lampert Smith:

Boy, that Homecoming drinking party in Waunakee has a hangover that won’t go away.
So far, it’s cost the jobs of a Waunakee teacher’s aide, at whose home the party was allegedly held, and that of a 22-year veteran of the Dane County Sheriff’s Office, who was apparently fired ratting out the miscreants to the WIAA. Of course, that might have been because his son played for the football team of Waunakee’s arch rival, DeForest.
There are some lessons to be drawn from this fiasco: First, it seems that high school sports are just a little too important to people who are old enough to know better.
DeForest wasn’t the only Badger Conference town where people were rubbing their hands together in glee over rumors that, as one witness told the cops, “the majority of the Waunakee High School football team” was at the party. The celebrants hoped the players would get punished and miss some games. But really, why celebrate an event that could have cost lives in drunken-driving crashes?

Minneapolis School District Aims for a New Start

Catherine Gewertz:

The Minneapolis school district has been struggling in the past few years with low student achievement, declining enrollment, money shortages, and frequent leadership changes. Now, its leaders are staking their hopes on a new strategic plan to help revitalize the system and rebuild public confidence.
At a meeting last week, the school board adopted a set of nine recommendations drawn from the plan 36K PDF. They form a broad outline for the district as it addresses complaints that have prompted hundreds of city families to sign their children up for private, charter, and nearby suburban schools.
The recommendations include raising expectations and academic rigor for students, correcting practices that perpetuate racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps, building a stronger corps of principals and teachers, and shoring up the district’s financial health.
Minneapolis’ strategic plan still must be shaped into concrete steps to be implemented in the coming months, a process made tougher by next year’s projected $11 million shortfall in the roughly $650 million budget.

West High / Regent Neighborhood Crime Discussion

Parents, staff and community officials met Wednesday night to discuss a number of recent violent incidents at and near Madison West High School [map]
I took a few notes during the first 60 minutes:
Madison Alders Robbie Webber and Brian Solomon along with James Wheeler (Captain of Police – South District), Luis Yudice (Madison School District The Coordinator of Safety And Security), Randy Boyd (Madison Metro Security) and West Principal Ed Holmes started the meeting with a brief summary of the recent incidents along with a brief school climate discussion:
James Wheeler:

Police beat officer and Educational Resource Office (ERO) patrol during West’s lunch period.
“There have been complaints from the houses around the school” so MPD increased patrols to “make a statement last week”.
Still a relatively safe neighborhood.
3 arrests at Homecoming.
Made a drug dealing arrest recently.
People do see drug dealing going on and have reported it.
There have been additional violent incidents, especially at the Madison Metro transfer points

Ed Holmes

Behavior is atypical of what we have seen on the past . Perpetrators are new to West.
Emphasized the importance of a safe learning environment.
Make sure there are police and school consequences and that they are severe. These crimes are unacceptable and should not be tolerated.

Randy Boyd (Madison Metro)


60+ bus runs daily for the school system.
There have been some serious fights at the transfer points. Cameras are in place there.
Main problem is confidentiality due to the students age. Can track them via bus passes.
Adding DSL so that the police precinct can monitor the transfer points. Incidents are about the same as last year but the numbers are going up.
Baptist church elders have helped patrol the South Transfer Point. We are looking for more community help.

Luis Yudice

Big picture perspective:
Our community really has changed a lot within the past five years. I sense a great deal of stress within the police department.
Citywide issues
Increasing violence involving girls. He has looked at a lot of data with the District Attorney’s office. Girls are extremely angry.
Angry parents are coming into the schools.
Increasing issues in the neighborhood that end up in the schools. Mentioned South Transfer Point beating and that Principal Ed Holmes mediated the situation at an early stage.
Growing gang violence issue particularly in the east side schools. We do have gang activity at Memorial and West but most of the issues are at Lafollete and East. Dealing with this via training and building relationships
What the school are experiencing is a reflection of what is going on in the community.

Parents:

Parent asked about weapons in school, metal detectors and k9 units.
Response:


Do we have weapons in school? Yes we find knives in all the schools. No guns. Unfortunate fact is that if a kid wants to get their hand on a gun, they can. They are available.

Ed Holmes:

“We took away a gun once in my 18 years”.
I want to get across to the students – if they see something they have to report it. We have 2100 students and 250 staff members.

Parents:

Kids are afraid of the bathrooms
Another lunch assault that has not been reported.
Incidents are much higher than we know because many incidents are not reported.

A parent asked why the District/Police did not use school ID photos to help victims find the perpetrators? Ed Holmes mentioned that District has had problems with their photo ID vendor.

Madison School Board member (and West area parent) Maya Cole also attended this event.

No Child Left Behind Act faces overhaul, political donnybrook

Zachary Coile In 2002, two of Congress’ liberal Democratic lions – Rep. George Miller of Martinez and Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy – stood behind President Bush as he signed the No Child Left Behind Act, a law they promised would shine a bright light on the failures in America’s public schools and kick-start reforms. Five … Continue reading No Child Left Behind Act faces overhaul, political donnybrook

Going to the Mat for WPS

Jason Shephard: Suzanne Fatupaito, a nurse’s assistant in Madison schools, is fed up with Wisconsin Physicians Service, the preferred health insurance provider of Madison Teachers Inc. “MTI uses scare tactics” to maintain teacher support for WPS, Fatupaito recently wrote to the school board. “If members knew that another insurance [plan] would offer similar services to … Continue reading Going to the Mat for WPS

Not to Worry: Neal Gleason Responds to Marc Eisen’s “Brave New World”

Neal Gleason in a letter to the Isthmus Editor: I have long admired Marc Eisen’s thoughtful prose. But his recent struggle to come to grips with a mutli-ethnic world vvers from xenophobia to hysteria (“Brave New World”, 6/23/06). His “unsettling” contact with “stylish” Chinese and “turbaned Sikhs” at a summer program for gifted children precipitated … Continue reading Not to Worry: Neal Gleason Responds to Marc Eisen’s “Brave New World”

Standards, Accountability, and School Reform

This is very long, and the link may require a password so I’ve posted the entire article on the continued page. TJM http://www.tcrecord.org/PrintContent.asp?ContentID=11566 Standards, Accountability, and School Reform by Linda Darling-Hammond — 2004 The standards-based reform movement has led to increased emphasis on tests, coupled with rewards and sanctions, as the basis for “accountability” systems. … Continue reading Standards, Accountability, and School Reform

MAUE School Board Candidate Forum

Madison United for Academic Excellence [www site] held a Madison School Board candidate forum Tuesday evening, January 17, 2006. Maya Cole, Michael Kelly, Lucy Mathiak and Arlene Silveira participated (election website). Candidate statements and questions appear below:

Secrets of Success: America’s system of higher education is the best in the world. That is because there is no system

The Economist via Tom Barnett: Wooldridge says three reasons account for this: 1) the Fed plays a limited role, unlike in a France or Germany; 2) schools compete for everything, including students and teachers; and 3) our universities are anything but ivory towers, instead being quite focused on practical stuff (Great line: “Bertrand Russell once … Continue reading Secrets of Success: America’s system of higher education is the best in the world. That is because there is no system

Madison School Board Workshop: Evaluate Business Services?

The Madison School Board had several interesting discussions Monday night. The first was a proposed 3rd party evaluation of the District’s Business Services Department. This discussion is somewhat in response to the complaint that, given budget choices, the Madison School District lays off teachers rather than accountants. Watch This Discussion – Quicktime MP3 Audio The … Continue reading Madison School Board Workshop: Evaluate Business Services?

States Report Reading First Yielding Gains, Some Schools Getting Ousted for Quitting

Little solid evidence is available to gauge whether the federal government’s multibillion-dollar Reading First initiative is having an effect on student achievement, but many states are reporting anecdotally that they are seeing benefits for their schools. Among those benefits are extensive professional development in practices deemed to be research-based, extra instructional resources, and ongoing support … Continue reading States Report Reading First Yielding Gains, Some Schools Getting Ousted for Quitting

Madison Schools Health Care Cost/Benefit Analysis

Following are remarks and attachments distributed to the MMSD Board of Education electronically and hard copy on Monday, June 6, 2005, by KJ Jakobson, who is a researcher working with Active Citizens for Education in matters related to health care benefits for school district employees.  Discussion and questions may be directed to KJ Jakobson directly … Continue reading Madison Schools Health Care Cost/Benefit Analysis

Think about the School Board that you want, Vote on April 5

I believe that our community strongly supports high quality schools. I know that the state and federal governments do not provide sufficient funding for the programs that we want. I am willing to pay higher property taxes to make up the difference when necessary. However, before I commit to higher taxes, I must have a … Continue reading Think about the School Board that you want, Vote on April 5

Circulation of West High School Calculus Exams in 2001

Lee Sensenbrenner:

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

Fuzzy Math at West High: A Capital Times Editorial:

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

Doug Erickson:

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

Joan Knoebel:

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

Lee Sensenbrenner: Former Students Defend Teacher:

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

Doug Erickson:

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