For The Record: Wisconsin School Finance Adequacy Initiative

Channel 3’s For the Record recently interviewed Allen Odden (University of Wisconsin-Madison), Tim Schell (Waunakee School District) and Jennifer Thayer (Monroe School District) regarding their participation in the Wisconsin School Finance Adequacy Initiative. 77MB mp4 video file (suitable for video ipods and other devices).
Neil Heinen’s conversation with Allen, Jennifer and Tim includes some interesting comments on funding and education quality.

A Call for an Honest State Budget

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:

Wisconsin’s state government ended the past fiscal year with a giant deficit of $2.15 billion, according to the accounting methods used by most businesses.
But the state’s books show a cozy balance of $49.2 million.
The discrepancy results from years of Wisconsin governors and legislators manipulating the accounting process to hide irresponsible budget decisions.
Those accounting tricks must stop. Wisconsin should begin to hold itself to the more business-like accounting methods used by Wall Street and by 16 other states the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, known as GAAP.

Wisconsin’s fiscal situation makes it unlikely that there will be substantial changes in state funding for K-12 schools, particularly for rich districts like Madison that spend 23% ($333,000,000 for 24,576 students) more per student than the state average. Current state law penalizes districts that increase local school spending (property taxes) via referendum via reduced state aids. This means that for every $1.00 of new local spending above state revenue growth caps, Madison taxpayers must pay $1.61.
The 2/20/2007 and 04/03/2007 school board election presents an interesting contrast between candidates who believe that the best interests of our children are served by advocating for larger state spending beyond the typical 3.5%+ annual increases in the District’s budget and those who view the likelihood of substantial state changes for rich districts, like Madison as remote and therefore advocate more efficient management of the extraordinary resources we currently have. Health care costs present a useful example of this issue: Inaction [What a Sham(e)] vs discussion and some changes (in this example, 85% of the health care cost savings went to salaries).]

Desegregation, neighborhood schools face off as Racine Redraws School Boundaries

Dani McClain:

More than 100 Racine residents gathered Tuesday to hear panelists debate the merits of desegregation vs. neighborhood schools.
The forum, sponsored by the Racine Taxpayers Association, comes as the U.S. Supreme Court deliberates on school desegregation battles in Louisville, Ky., and Seattle, and as the Racine Unified School District decides how to redraw its own district boundaries for next year.
“Desegregation in Racine and throughout the nation has failed based upon the mechanism used, which is busing,” said County Supervisor Ken Lumpkin, who publishes a black community newspaper called Insider News.
Mattie Booker, who taught in the Racine Unified School District in the days before desegregation, argued that transporting students is necessary to achieve equityThe forum, sponsored by the Racine Taxpayers Association, comes as the U.S. Supreme Court deliberates on school desegregation battles in Louisville, Ky., and Seattle, and as the Racine Unified School District decides how to redraw its own district boundaries for next year.
“Desegregation in Racine and throughout the nation has failed based upon the mechanism used, which is busing,” said County Supervisor Ken Lumpkin, who publishes a black community newspaper called Insider News.
Mattie Booker, who taught in the Racine Unified School District in the days before desegregation, argued that transporting students is necessary to achieve equity

Art Rainwater on Principals

Madison Schools Superintendent Art Rainwater:

Over 20 years ago Dr. Ron Edmonds, a Harvard researcher, first reported the critical role that a school principal’s instructional leadership plays in creating successful learning opportunities for all students. That fundamental proposition has borne the test of further research and time and is now included in almost all school reform measures.
While there is general acceptance of the critical nature of instructional leadership by the school principal, the demanding nature of that role for a lone individual who bears that responsibility is not often described. The principal of a school, whether a large urban high school or a small rural elementary school, shares the responsibility for the future of every student in his/her building.

School Choice: How Low Income Parents Search for the Right School

Paul Teske, Jody Fitzpatrick, and Gabriel Kaplan [1.1MB PDF Report]:

Starting with the economist Milton Friedman, supporters of school choice have assumed that competition would lead to better schools, and that parents could do a better job of assigning children to schools than could school administrators. The debate on the first assumption is raging. The second assumption has received little attention, except from those who assert that middle-class families can make good choices but impoverished families can’t.
Barriers to parent choice can all be overcome, but it will take planning, organization, and some modest public spending.
Our new research paints a very different picture of how low-income and minority families in big cities choose schools when they get the chance. Like middle-class parents who have always had choices, low-income parents don’t look for alternatives if their children are happy and successful in school. But once they start thinking about school options, low-income families want information about schools and think hard about the choices they have. Poor parents seek to escape problems evident in their children’s current school, and have definite ideas about the differences between one child and another (our studious boy, our distractible girl) that lead them to search for an appropriate match between child and school.
But our results also identify barriers that must be overcome before low-income parents can become the types of savvy consumers that can make school choice work well for them.

Center on Reinventing Public Education
Alan Borsuk has more:

The researchers based their findings on surveys conducted about a year ago with 300 parents in Milwaukee, 300 in Washington, D.C., and 200 in Denver. Milwaukee and Washington are on the cutting edge of school choice in the United States, each with wide arrays of options for parents, including numerous charter schools and private schools that take part in publicly funded voucher programs for low-income families.
“This report’s general finding is that low-income urban parents report feeling more well informed than was anticipated,” the researchers said in the report, being released today. “They are extremely satisfied with their choices, and most do not believe that they lacked any important information when they made their choice.”
The optimistic conclusions about school choice – in the broadest sense of the term – do not include an assessment of whether parents were actually making good choices in terms of schools where academic achievement is strong or where their children specifically would thrive.

Advocating Single Sex Schools

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Editorial:

The School Board should proceed down this path, but cautiously. As officials of the Milwaukee Public Schools have noted, private schools have long offered single-sex education. Parents who send their children to public schools deserve that choice, too. But officials should be prepared to abandon this experiment if it is shown to hurt girls, as gender separation did in the past.
The proposal is to open an all-boys school and an all-girls school in September, though that target date may not be met. There should not be a rush to do so. Getting the schools right is more important than getting them open quickly. MPS has yet to specify what grade levels the schools would encompass.
The initial impetus for proposals to separate school kids by sex was to help girls, who lagged behind boys in math and science. The theory was that girls were too reticent around boys and that the sexes had different styles of learning. In an all-female setting, girls wouldn’t be afraid to show how smart they were, and the material could be presented in a feminine style. Also, such a setting would permit girls to take leadership roles they would be too bashful to assume in a co-ed milieu.

More Demand for Mandarin Classes

Sarah Carr:

In Milwaukee, the School of Languages added Chinese as a partial immersion program this school year. The Marshall Montessori International Baccalaureate High School is starting to build a Mandarin program. When the Milwaukee Academy of Chinese Languages opens in the fall, students as young as 4 will have at least a half-hour of Chinese-language instruction daily.
The trend is as strong in urban public schools as it is in wealthier suburban and private ones, according to experts. The University School of Milwaukee in River Hills, one of the most elite and expensive private schools in the area, will offer Chinese next school year as part of a new global studies program at the school. Ten University School teachers will travel to China in summer in preparation. “I think we see China as the next emerging power, and there’s an intense interest both among our students and our parents,” said Roseann Lyons, the head of the upper school.
This year, the College Board unveiled its first Advanced Placement exam in Mandarin; AP exams are often considered in college admissions, and good scores can provide students with college credit. The College Board surveyed schools about their interest in the exam before its release, and the Chinese exam caught the interest of 10 times more schools than a new topic normally would, said Michael Levine, a vice president of the Asia Society, a non-profit organization that works to educate Americans about Asian cultures.

At 10 a.m., is it lunch or brunch?

Edward Kenney:

Senior Jernai Turner dug into a plateful of hearty beef macaroni for lunch last week in the Brandywine High School cafeteria.
Not a bad lunch. But for Turner and her fellow diners, bacon and eggs might have been more appropriate: Lunchtime at the school starts at 10:30 a.m.
The early start time is common at schools in Delaware and elsewhere, as scheduling large numbers of students into a cafeteria with limited seating dictates spreading the lunch shifts out.
But, Jernai said, “Sometimes, you don’t have the appetite, and you don’t eat. It is too early. I think lunch should start around 11:30.”
It could be much worse: Lunch is served beginning at 8:20 a.m. at Central High School in Philadelphia and at 9:05 a.m. at Bayside High School in Virginia Beach, Va.

Madison Superintendent To Retire In 18 Months

From Channel 3000:

MADISON, Wis. — Madison Metropolitan School District Superintendent Art Rainwater announced on Monday night that he will retire next year.
Rainwater informed the district’s Board of Education at their Monday meeting. His retirement will be effective the end of next school year, which will be June 30, 2008, according to a district press release.
“I am thankful for the opportunity to serve the board and the Madison community,” said Rainwater in the news release. “This is a great school district and a great community that has always put the welfare of our children first. I am honored to contribute to this effort.”
Rainwater said that he gave the board 18 months notice so they would have sufficient time to conduct a search for the next superintendent.
Rainwater has been the district’s superintendent since February 1999.

View from the MMSD Student Senate

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

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

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

    *Group majority

    Continue reading

    Mayors and Public Schools

    There’s been a great deal of activity vis a vis Mayoral control and influence over local public schools:

    Locally, Mayor Dave has been, as far as I can tell, very quiet vis a vis substantive public school issues, other than periodically meeting with MTI’s John Matthews. I’m unaware of any similar parental meetings on what is a critical issue for any community: raising our next generation with the tools necessary to contribute productively to our society (and I might add, support a growing economic/tax base). Madison has long strongly supported it’s public schools with above average taxes and spending.
    Former Madison Mayor (and parent) Paul Soglin weighs in on this topic:

    For over thirty years I said, “There is nothing a mayor can do that has the impact on a city that is as great as the public school system.”
    The mayor needs to be a partner, a protector, an advocate for the public school system. Any mayor who lets a week go by without having some contact, involvement or support with public education is not doing the job.

    Perhaps the April, 2007 Mayor’s race will include some conversations about our $333,000,000; 24,576 student K-12 system.

    Wisconsin Governor Doyle Again Focuses on Teacher Pay

    Steven Walters:

    In what could be the biggest fight yet over repealing the controversial law limiting the pay raises of Wisconsin’s teachers, Gov. Jim Doyle and Democrats who run the state Senate once again are taking aim at it.
    The so-called qualified economic offer law was passed in 1993 to control property taxes on homes.
    It says that teachers unions and school boards at a collective bargaining impasse cannot request binding arbitration, if the unions have been offered wage and fringe benefit raises that total 3.8% a year. If increased fringe benefits costs eat up the 3.8%, school boards don’t have to offer teachers any pay raise.
    Stoking the Capitol fire is the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the state’s largest teachers union, which says the entire school-aid formula is so broken it must be reinvented this year – a change the union says should include abolishing the qualified economic offer law.
    Backing up Republicans such as Rhoades is Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, the state’s largest business group and one of the most powerful Capitol lobbying groups.
    “Any effort to repeal QEO is a non-starter with the business community because it’s going to lead to pressure to raise property taxes,” said Jim Pugh, the business group’s spokesman. “Wisconsin has the seventh-highest taxes in the nation.”
    But the largest teachers union, an equally powerful Capitol force, says the school-aid formula is so broken a new one must be passed this year – a huge task that legislators might not have the time, will or cash to approve.
    Wisconsin Education Association Council President Stan Johnson said the formula fails the poorest one-third of all public school students – the ones who need the most help.
    Since 1993, Johnson says, the pay-raise limit has caused average salaries for Wisconsin’s teachers to fall to 24th nationally overall and to 30th nationally for starting teachers.
    The law has meant that property taxes have been controlled “on our backs” for the past 13 years, Johnson said.
    It “has been their property tax relief program,” Johnson said of Capitol officials.
    Although the council spent $1.9 million to help re-elect Doyle, Johnson said he did not know whether the Democratic governor will include a complete new school-aid formula in his state budget proposal.

    Related Links:

    Milwaukee Pushes Single Sex Schools

    Alan Borsuk:

    In documents made available in advance of a School Board committee meeting Tuesday, MPS administrators said, “MPS strongly believes that parents should be given the opportunity to choose single-sex schools for their children if they believe that these schools will help their children.”
    Specific schools are not spelled out in the resolution to be considered Tuesday – in fact, it doesn’t pinpoint whether the focus should be on high schools, middle schools or even elementary grades.
    But the MPS administration, led by Superintendent William Andrekopoulos, recommended giving the idea a green light and allowing administrators to seek proposals for two single-sex schools, with the goal of opening them for the coming school year. That plan is expected to be recommended by the board’s Innovation and School Reform Committee on Tuesday and be approved by the full board Jan. 25.

    Debating the Education of Young Adolescents

    Kate Zernike:

    First, educators created junior high schools, believing preteens needed to be treated like adults. But those students weren’t ready to be treated as high school students, either. So reformers created the concept of middle schools, which were supposed to be a warm bath to ease the transition. Now, an increasing number of schools across the country, including in Baltimore and Philadelphia, are shifting the middle grades back to elementary school.
    But some research suggests that may not be the solution, either. So the age-old issues persist, with some variation from decade to decade: surging hormones make students irritable and sleepy. They struggle to relate to their peers and gain independence from their parents. To hear some parents tell it, one day their babies are innocent elementary schoolers in overalls, the next they’re dressing like Paris Hilton and simulating sex on the middle-school dance floor. How do you solve a problem like adolescence? Is there anything schools can do?
    The move toward middle schools, after the push for junior high that started in the late 19th century, was supposed to create environments that were more serious than the story-hour life of elementary schools, though less impersonal and confidence-zapping than the controlled chaos of high schools.

    Education Sector Study: Cutting Provisions In Union Contracts Could Free Funds

    Jay Matthews:

    U.S. public schools could have as much as $77 billion more a year to improve teaching if they reduced spending on seniority pay increases, teacher’s aides, class size limits and other measures often found in teacher union contracts, a new study contends.
    he provisions include salary increases based on years of experience or educational credentials; professional development days; sick and personal days; class size limits; use of teacher’s aides; and generous health and retirement benefits.
    Teachers union officials sharply disputed the report’s findings. School administrators and school board representatives said that although they would like more flexibility in the use of funds, there was little evidence that cutting such provisions would raise achievement.

    250K PDF Report.

    Education Sector Press Release by Marguerite Roza

    State and federal accountability systems are putting immense pressure on public schools to improve the performance of low-achieving students. To respond, schools must be able to recruit and retain high-quality teachers, strengthen curricula, and take other steps to provide struggling students with the help they need.
    But such efforts are expensive and, as the nation faces the cost of caring for an aging population and other challenges in the years ahead, it is unlikely that education will receive a great deal of new funding. Education leaders, as a result, will increasingly have to scrutinize their existing budgets to find ways to fund their reform initiatives. One potentially valuable source of funds for reform are common provisions in teacher contracts that obligate schools to spend large amounts of money on programs that lack a clear link to student achievement.

    Andrew Rotherham has more:

    New ES report by school finance guru Marguerite Roza makes the uncomfortable but important point that there is a lot of money in education now that could be repurposed to greater effect within education. WaPo here. Similar to the point made by the recent Skills Commission report. To some this could appear as picking on teachers, and it will be framed that way, but the simple fact is that education is, by it’s nature, pretty labor intensive, and most of the $500 billion spent annually is tied up in labor costs. Consequently, pace our good friend Willie Sutton, that’s one place policymakers are going to have to look for funds. In other words, we need to get serious about financing education, but also about refinancing it as well. And, we have to take on what is a four letter word in many education circles, productivity.

    Mike Antonucci:

    Education Sector has released an exceptional report by Marguerite Roza that quantifies the costs of various standard provisions in collective bargaining agreements that have little or no connection to improved student achievement or even efficient distribution of resources. Items like automatic raises for experience, university credits, and paid professional development end up totaling almost 19 percent of all education spending, without any indication that they are giving us what we’re after: better schools.
    Roza suggests more flexibility is needed:

    West High School Small Learning Community Presentation 1/8/2007 @ 7:00p.m.

    Madison West Small Learning Community Coordinator Heather Lott is giving a presentation at Monday evening’s PTSO meeting: “SLC Post-Grant Update and Discussion”. Location: Madison West High School LMC [Map] West’s implementation of Small Learning Communities has been controversial due to the move toward a one size fits all curriculum (English 9 and English 10).
    Background Links:

    Loading Clusty Cloud …

    Parents with children potentially on their way to West High School should check out this Monday evening event.

    Fame Junkies

    Jake Halpern
    Recently profiled on ABC’s 20/20, the soon-to-be published book Fame Junkies highlights anecdotes and research on the attitudes of American kids (and adults) regarding fame.

    Fame Junkies chronicles journalist Jake Halpern’s journey through the underbelly of Hollywood and into the heart of the question that bedevils us all: Why are Americans so obsessed with fame and celebrities?
    We live in a country where more people watch the ultimate competition for celebrityhood – American Idol – than watch the nightly news on the three major networks combined. So what are the implications of this phenomenon? In his new book, Fame Junkies, Halpern explores the impact that celebrity-obsession is having on three separate niches of Americans: aspiring celebrities, entourage insiders, and diehard fans.
    Halpern begins his journey by moving into a gated community inhabited almost entirely by aspiring child actors. During his stay, he interviews dozens of kids and teenagers, who seem to have an almost religious conviction that fame is a cure-all for life’s problems. What’s truly impressive is that these anecdotes are then supported with hard evidence. As part of the extensive research that he did for this book, Halpern teamed up with several statisticians and orchestrated a survey involving three separate school systems and over 650 teenagers. Many of his findings were deeply troubling. For example – when given the option of “pressing a magic button” and becoming stronger, smarter, famous, or more beautiful – boys in the survey chose fame almost as often as they chose intelligence, and girls chose it more often. Among today’s teenagers, says Halpern, fame appears to be the greatest good.
    In second part of his book, Halpern becomes an honorary member of the Association for Celebrity Personal Assistants (ACPA) where he spends a great deal of time with Annie Brentwell who has slavishly devoted every iota of her personal and professional life to celebrities like Oliver Stone, Sharon Stone, and (most recently) Dennis Hopper. In her spare time, when she is not serving Hopper, Brentwell teaches at a school that the ACPA runs to teach aspiring assistants; and, of course, Halpern tags along. This section of Fame Junkies also investigates a fascinating vein of psychological research on what type of people are most likely to “bask in reflected glory” or BIRG. For example, college students with low self-esteem are far more likely to embrace their school’s football team when it wins and dissociating themselves from that same team when it loses. Halpern goes on to consider how BIRG research applies to Hollywood.

    Why You Should Learn Algebra

    David Eggenschwiler:

    EVERY YEAR, as many California high school seniors struggle with basic algebra, which is required for graduation, Times readers complain, “Who needs it? How many students will ever use it?” Well, I use it every day; I’m using it now, even though I haven’t worked an algebraic equation since my son was in the seventh grade several years ago.
    Mathematics and science are unnatural practices. As physics professor Alan Cromer has brutally and elegantly written, “the human mind wasn’t designed to study physics,” and of course mathematics is the language of physics. “Design” here does not indicate an intelligent designer, which would suggest a creator with a math phobia. Rather it indicates evolutionary processes by which the human brain and mind have come to be what they are.
    During the approximately 2 million years that it took for our Homo forebears to progress from habilis to sapiens, they had little use for mathematical reasoning abilities. Their sapientia seems to have been more suited in a good Darwinian sense to the immediate demands of their survival, such as eating, mating and avoiding premature death. Whether for good or ill, as time may tell, our situations have changed much in the last few thousand years, and so have demands on our poor, lagging minds. I don’t mean only the obvious and oft-repeated claim that technical jobs require greater skills. That is clear enough in auto mechanics and computer programming. I mean the need to think abstractly, systematically and rationally in various ways.

    Local School Budget Tea Leaves

    The Madison School Board Communication Committee’s upcoming meeting includes an interesting 2007-2009 legislative agenda for state education finance changes that would increase District annual spending (current budget is $333,000,000) at a higher than normal rate (typically in the 3.8% range):

    4. 2007-09 Legislative Agenda
    a. Work to create a school finance system that defines that resources are necessary to provide students with a “sound basic education.” Using Wisconsin’s Academic Standards (which is the standard of achievement set by the Legislature), coupled with proven research that lays out what is necessary to achieve those standards, will more clearly define what programs and services are required for students to attain success.
    b. Support thorough legislative review of Wisconsin’s tax system; examining all taxing.
    c. Provide revenue limit relief to school districts for uncontrollable costs (utilities, transportation). [ed: This shifts the risk to local property taxpayers, which has its pros and cons. The definition of “uncontrollable” would be interesting to read.]
    d. Allow a local board of education to exceed the revenue limits by up to 2% of the district’s total budget without having to go to referendum. [ed: $6,660,000 above the typical 3.8% annual spending growth: $333,000,000 2006/2007 budget + 3.8% (12,654,000) + 2% (6,660,000) = $19,314,000 increase, or 5.8%]
    e. Allow school districts to exceed the revenue limits for security-related expenses by up to $100 per pupil enrolled in the district. [ed: about $2,400,000]
    f. Modify the school aid formula so negative tertiary school district (Madison) taxpayers aren’t penalized when the district borrows. (Madison Schools’ taxpayers have to pay $1.61 for every dollar borrowed.) [ed: This will cost other districts money]
    g. Improve Medicaid reimbursement from state to school districts (current law allows the state to “skim” 40% of the federal Medicaid reimbursement dollars for school-based services).
    h. Support state aid reimbursement for 4-year old kindergarten programs, similar to the reimbursement for 4-year old kindergarten in Milwaukee choice and charter schools.
    i. Support increasing state aid for public school transportation costs.
    j. Support allowing a declining enrollment school district to use the highest enrollment in a 5-year period for purposes of calculating its revenue limit. [ed: I wonder if the MMSD perceives itself as a growing or declining district, given the attendance projections used to support new schools over the past several years? Perhaps this item is the answer? The current state funding scheme rewards growing districts. Barb Schrank noted the enrollment changes in surrounding districts last fall.]
    k. Support additional resources for mandated special education and English as a Second Language programs, currently reimbursed at 28% and 12%, respectively (when revenue limits began, the reimbursement was 45% and 33% respectively).
    l. Maintain current law for disbursement of resources from the Common School Fund for public school libraries.
    m. Support increase in per meal reimbursement for school breakfast programs.

    There are some good ideas here, including a thorough review of Wisconsin’s tax system. Many of these items, if enabled by the state, would result in higher property taxes (Wisconsin is #1 in property taxes as a percentage of the home’s value) for those living in the Madison School District. Any of these changes would likely help address the District’s $5.9M structural deficit.
    I trust that there are some additional budget scenarios in play rather than simply hoping the state will change school finance to help the Madison School District (unlikely, given several recent conversations with state political players). Madison already spends 23% more per student than the state average.

    • A 5 Year Approach to the Madison School District’s Budget Challenges; or what is the best quality of education that can be purchased for our district for $280 million a year?
    • 2007/2008 Madison School District Budget Outlook: Half Empty or Half Full?
    • Budget notes and links
    • Sarah Kidd’s historical charts on District staffing, attendance and spending.
    • Italian Minister of Economy & Finance Tommaso Padoa-Schioppa:

      I now come to the last and conclusive theme of my argument. Controlling expenditure always has to balance technical arguments and constraints, with the legitimate and competing claims (often drawing on very different ideological Weltanschauungen) on the resources managed, directly and indirectly, through the political processes. Balancing the two elements is a difficult exercise, as I experience on a daily basis.
      Political economists have blamed the difficulty on the fact that the time-horizon of a typical political cycle is shorter than the one relevant on average for the society as a whole, in turn leading the legislature to attribute a smaller weight to the long-run implications of public expenditure policies than it would be socially desirable. Empirical evidence shows that discretionary public expenditure tends to rise before the elections irrespective of the political orientation of the incumbent government, and also in spite of the weak evidence of a relation between the size of pre-election spending and the election outcomes. The politicians’ short horizons and the long lag between reforms and their beneficial effects gives rise to a pervasive tension in expenditure control.
      For Faust, the lure of Mephistopheles’ services is greatly enhanced by the fact that the price – albeit a terrible one – is to be paid later. For politicians, the lure of the support obtained through public expenditure is similarly enhanced by the fact that public debt will be paid (o reneged) by next generations, often well after the end of one’s political career. As to myself, having inherited a public debt larger than GDP, and having committed myself and my government to comply with sound fiscal principles, I scarcely can afford even to contemplate the possibility of accepting Mephistopheles’ services.

    Tea Leaves.
    Update: I recently learned that the MMSD’s Joe Quick wrote this list, which was not voted on by the Madison School Board.

    More Notes on Milwaukee’s Plans to Re-Centralize School Governance

    Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Editorial:

    Looking for the path to effective education, leaders of the Milwaukee Public Schools have long slogged through the wilderness of school reform only to end up where they started. All used to be centralized at MPS. Then decentralization became the watchword. Now centralization is again in.
    This lunging between two opposite approaches is in a way understandable. Getting big-city school systems to work is no easy task, to judge from the rarity of the accomplishment. Superintendent William Andrekopoulos is right in being dissatisfied with the slow pace of improvement and in searching for ways to step it up. And recentralization does carry the force of logic for decentralized schools that have failed to improve.
    Still, as onetime MPS chief Howard Fuller reminded us when we reached him in New Orleans, where he is consulting, neither centralization nor decentralization is a magic bullet. The key ingredient for great schools are “people committed to do whatever it takes to educate our children.”
    n doing so, MPS must minimize the red tape, which has clogged school operations. Another trick the system must manage is to refrain from hurting the schools that have thrived under decentralization, an example of which is Hamlin Garland Elementary School on Milwaukee’s south side. Borsuk highlighted the school in another article this week.

    Madison appears to be rather centralized, with a push for standardized curriculum, generally lead by downtown Teaching and Learning staff. I often wonder how practical this actually is, given 24,000+ students and thousands of teachers and staff. Perhaps, in 2007 and going forward, the best solution is to support easy to access internet based knowledge tools for teachers where they can quickly review a variety of curriculum (including those not blessed by the central administration) with notes and links from others. This could likely be done inexpensively, given the wide variety of knowledge management tools available today.

    Spellings Says No Child Left Behind Act on Track

    Amit Paley:

    “We’ve made more progress in the last five years than the previous 28 years,” Spellings said. “Can the law be improved? Should we build on what we’ve done and all of that sort of thing? You bet. But I don’t hear people saying: ‘You know what? We really don’t need to have education for all students.’ ”
    Her remarks come as various groups begin to weigh in on the law and what they believe works and what does not. The No Child Left Behind law is scheduled to be reauthorized by Congress, but it is uncertain when lawmakers will act.
    The Forum on Educational Accountability — a coalition that includes education, religious, civil rights and disability rights groups — said yesterday that the law overemphasizes standardized tests and arbitrary academic targets. The coalition also criticized penalties the law imposes on schools that fail to meet standards.
    “We don’t have to throw out the whole law and make a big political battle,” said Reginald M Felton, a senior lobbyist for the National School Boards Association, a member of the coalition. “But we need to change from the punitive, ‘gotcha!’ kind of approach to actual support for progress.”

    Rotherham has more on NCLB.

    Teacher Rules, Roles & Rights National Collective Bargaining Searchable Database

    National Council on Teacher Quality:

    the portal is the first of its kind-empowering anyone to analyze and compare the day-to-day operations of teachers and schools in a single district or all fifty. You can choose to download the full text of a teacher contract, just the salary schedule, and even the school calendar. Or perhaps you just have a single question and don’t want to wade through lengthy documents. Most likely the answer in our database, easily retrieved in three quick steps using our report generator. The database provides answers to over 300 questions, ranging from salary and benefits to how a teacher gets evaluated–with more getting added all the time.
    The more this site gets used, the more powerful it will become. We invite users to contribute knowledge and ideas to our data collection, helping us keep the site current, accurate and fair. Consider this site the central depository for teacher policies. To ensure the accuracy of this database, we will be vetting all user feedback before posting any changes.

    The 158 page collective bargaining agreement (7/1/2005 to 6/30/2007) between Madison Teachers, Inc. and the Madison Metropolitan School District is available here [540K pdf]. Additional links and documents can be found here.
    Mike Antonuccia has more.

    Education for all is just a bad dream

    Jo Egelhoff:

    Wisconsin is failing minority and low-income students. Plain and simple. Of the 10 issue areas featured in the Post-Crescent’s end-of-year “Editorial Agenda Update,” at least six are critically reliant on our schools performing – performing much better than they do now – and performing better and better around the state, not just here in our cozy, cuddly Fox Cities backyard.
    Think about it. Success in these six important “Issue” areas – labeled by the Post-Crescent as Economic Development, Fiscal Responsibility, Education (of course), Government Accountability, Working Poor, and Citizenship have at their core a well-performing education system.
    Then think about this. According to The Fordham Report 2006: How Well Are States Educating Our Neediest Children?, Wisconsin is doing a dreadful job in closing the achievement gap between the haves and the have-nots. The difference in achievement scores between Wisconsin white and African-American students is in the dead-last position – tied with Minnesota.

    Notes on the Use of Student Digital Id Cards

    Bruce Schneier:

    However, Green MSP Patrick Harvie said the suggestion was troubling.
    “We should be preparing young people for the reality of defending their privacy and civil liberties against ever-more intrusive government systems,” he argued.
    “We’ve heard proposals for airport-style scanners and random drug testing in schools, fingerprinting is already in place in some schools. There’s a risk of creating environments which feel more like penal institutions than places of learning.
    “These ID cards will do absolutely nothing to address the causes of bullying. Instead they will teach the next generation that an ID card culture is ‘normal’, and that they should have to prove their entitlement to services.”

    A Surprising Secret to a Long Life: Stay in School

    Gina Kolata:

    James Smith, a health economist at the RAND Corporation, has heard a variety of hypotheses about what it takes to live a long life — money, lack of stress, a loving family, lots of friends. But he has been a skeptic.
    Yes, he says, it is clear that on average some groups in every society live longer than others. The rich live longer than the poor, whites live longer than blacks in the United States. Longevity, in general, is not evenly distributed in the population. But what, he asks, is cause and what is effect? And how can they be disentangled?
    He is venturing, of course, into one of the prevailing mysteries of aging, the persistent differences seen in the life spans of large groups. In every country, there is an average life span for the nation as a whole and there are average life spans for different subsets, based on race, geography, education and even churchgoing.
    But the questions for researchers like Dr. Smith are why? And what really matters?

    Trying to Find Solutions in Chaotic Middle Schools

    Elissa Gootman:

    Driven by newly documented slumps in learning, by crime rates and by high dropout rates in high school, educators across New York and the nation are struggling to rethink middle school and how best to teach adolescents at a transitional juncture of self-discovery and hormonal change.
    The difficulty of educating this age group is felt even in many wealthy suburban school districts. But it is particularly intense in cities, where the problems that are compounded in middle school are more acute to begin with and where the search for solutions is most urgent.
    In Los Angeles, the new superintendent, David L. Brewer III, has vowed to transform middle schools as a top priority, and low-performing schools are experimenting with intensive counseling.
    In Philadelphia and Baltimore, school systems are trying to make the middle school problem literally disappear, by folding grades six through eight into K-8 schools. In one Columbia, S.C., school district, all five middle schools have begun offering some form of single-sex classes, on the theory that they promote self-esteem and reduce distractions.

    School envy a 2-way street for China, U.S.

    Sarah Carr:

    China’s schools have struck fear in the West with their relentless focus on subjects such as physics and math – areas where American students have struggled compared with other nations.
    However, visits to dozens of schools in China and hundreds in the United States reveal that both countries love to hate their own schools, and live in awe of others’ strengths. While Americans revere the Chinese mastery of basic subjects such as math and geography, the Chinese extol the American emphasis on creativity and nurturing individual talent.
    In the prosperous seaside region of Zhejiang, the situation’s changing, though, as entrepreneurs inject some of the country’s relatively new capitalist fervor into the schools. The result is a panoply of schools that comes close to resembling Milwaukee’s education scene in its diversity – hardly what one would expect to find in a Communist state.
    Students attend fancy private schools focused on such non-academic subjects as kung fu martial arts. A fledgling school voucher program aims to give families more choices as well as strengthen alternative and private schools. Educators describe a shift toward more local control and creativity in teaching. And parents like Xu are closely examining their new options.

    Schools Seek and Find Gifted Students

    Daniel de Vise:

    Not every student at Bannockburn is above average. But 70 percent of the third-grade class has been identified as gifted, based on tests and other academic indicators. The school serves one of the largest concentrations in the region of students capable of working beyond their assigned grade, sometimes well beyond.
    “We’re constantly trying to find things to pique their interest,” said Peterson, whose students have lately practiced dividing numbers into 32nds in their heads.
    The bumper crop of gifted children at Bannockburn is a result not of some exclusive magnet program but of Montgomery County’s aggressive policy on identifying academic talent. The county screens every second-grader for extraordinary ability. In most other school systems, it’s left to parents or teachers to initiate the process. Also, Montgomery’s criteria for “giftedness” are unusually broad, covering not just intelligence data but also classroom performance and the impressions of teachers and parents.
    That approach drives up the numbers — 40 percent of Montgomery’s 139,000 students carry the label — and creates a gifted majority at schools such as Bannockburn, which serves an affluent, highly educated neighborhood.

    Montessori Goes Mainstream

    Jay Matthews:

    The American Montessori Society, based in New York, reported 7 percent membership growth in just the past year, and many of the schools are getting ready to celebrate the centennial of the Montessori beachhead.
    Once considered a maverick experiment that appealed only to middle-class white families in the States, Montessori schools have become popular with some black professionals and are getting results in low-income public schools with the kind of children on which Montessori first tested her ideas.
    The stubborn Italian physician and her contemporary, U.S. philosopher and psychologist John Dewey — who believed that learning should be active — are considered perhaps the most influential progressive thinkers in the modern history of education.

    Madison has at least two Montessori schools, here and here.

    School Board head faces challenger

    Susan Troller reports in the Cap Times:

    When Tom Brew takes on incumbent School Board President Johnny Winston Jr. in the spring election for Seat 4, he, like Winston, will bring a lifetime of experience with Madison schools to the race.
    Brew’s own children attended Huegel and Orchard Ridge schools and graduated in the late ’80s to mid-90s. A lifelong Madisonian, he attended the former Longfellow Elementary and Central High schools.
    “I felt I had some different viewpoints to offer from Johnny’s,” Brew said this morning. “Basically, I think Johnny has had a go-along-to-get-along attitude.”

    Continue reading

    Milwaukee Schools Criticized for Decentralized Approach

    Alan Borsuk:

    The picture that the team painted was not pretty. Clearly favoring a strong central administration, the team said decentralization in MPS had “gone too far.”
    “Decentralization has rendered the central office instructional unit (in MPS) irrelevant to the process of raising student achievement,” the report says. The team said some schools were using a hodgepodge of materials to teach students, and no one was leading these schools to be more effective. From the School Board to the classroom, there was not a clear vision of what it takes to succeed.
    ut the report particularly is critical of the attitude among the 70-plus people the team interviewed, from top MPS leaders to teachers and parents.
    “MPS has seen only small, incremental gains in student achievement over the last several years,” it says. “More problematic, however, is that many people in the district see these marginal improvements as acceptable. . . . A sense of urgency to raise student achievement is not apparent throughout the organization. The board, administration and staff appear fairly complacent.”
    The report adds, “Interviews with MPS staff indicated that most were proud of the gains that the district had made, even though scores reflected minimal progress.”

    A Direct Challenge

    Direct Instruction is just curriculum that uses direct, systematic, and explicit instruction. Any one of the direct instruction curricula would improve academic performance if it were used in the MMSD.
    This comes from an Education Week article in 1999:

    When an independent research group evaluated the research backing up 24 popular school reform models this year, it found two surprises.
    The first surprise was that only three programs could point to strong evidence that they were effective in improving student achievement. The second surprise was that Direct Instruction, a program long scorned by many educators and academics for its lock-step structure, was one of them.
    Direct Instruction grew out of studies on the teaching of beginning reading that Siegfried Engelmann began at the University of Illinois in the 1960s. Thirty years later, only 150 schools across the country use on a schoolwide basis the program he developed. By comparison, Success for All, another reform model with high marks for its solid research base, is used in more than 1,100 schools.
    Thousands more schools, however, use Direct Instruction’s commercially produced materials–usually in remedial classrooms, special education resource rooms, or special programs for disadvantaged students.
    “We were sort of like the plague for regular education,” says Mr. Engelmann, now 67 and a professor at the University of Oregon. “Regular education would have nothing to do with us. It wasn’t until the last few years that we started to break the mold.”

    A New Year for School Reform

    NY Times Editorial:

    The No Child Left Behind Act broke new ground when it required the states to educate impoverished children up to the same standards as their affluent counterparts, in exchange for federal aid. The law did not just drop out of the sky. It represented a deliberate attempt by Congress to ratify and accelerate the school reform effort that swept the country in the early 1990’s, when the states began to embrace standards-based accountability systems that quickly showed promising results.
    The achievement gains have fallen far short of what Congress hoped for when it passed the landmark federal law — and also far short of what the country needs to keep pace with its economic rivals. In addition, student performance has flattened in recent years. In many cases, that is because states that reaped all of the early, easy gains that are typically achieved by merely paying attention to a long-neglected problem failed to do the tougher work necessary to sustain their reforms.
    Recent studies offer sobering news about the challenges that lie ahead. Happily, there is also encouraging news from the states that have stayed the course and continued to build rigorous, standards-based reforms.

    Wisconsin’s $2.15 Billion State Budget Deficit

    Stacy Forster:

    The state’s financial books show that Wisconsin ended the last fiscal year with a $2.15 billion deficit, under accounting principles that are standard for private companies, according to a report that the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance released Friday.
    State Budget Director David Schmiedicke said the budget was balanced as required under state law, and that the difference between the two numbers is a matter of timing – how certain costs are accounted for and when they are paid. He added that other states run GAAP deficits, depending on the year.
    The $2.15 billion deficit – nearly $400 for each of Wisconsin’s 5.5 million residents – is about what the state spends to run correctional institutions or the University of Wisconsin System over a two-year budget.
    It was outlined this month in the state’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, which must be filed every year, like a corporation’s annual report.

    NCLB and the Stress Between “Bringing up the Bottom and Supporting High End Kids”

    A reader involved in these issues emailed this article by Andrew Rotherham:

    Second, the story highlights my colleague Tom Toch’s criticism that a lot of tests states are using under NCLB are pretty basic. That’s exactly right. I’m all for better tests, but isn’t that, you know, an indictment of schools that can’t even get kids over a pretty low bar rather than an indictment of the law? In other words, excepting some fine-grained issues around special populations, NCLB can’t be wildly unrealistic in what it demands of schools and really basic at the same time, can it? The story doesn’t sift through that in detail but would be nice if some journo would.* The reality is that we don’t deliver a very powerful instructional program in a lot of schools, and that’s not the fault of NCLB.
    *Related, there is a tension between high-performing students and low-performing ones in terms of where to put resources and attention. Not completely binary, and plenty of students falling behind today could be high performers in better schools. But still there and mostly talked about in code words rather than forthrightly: Are we as a nation better off really focusing on the millions of kids at the wrong end of the achievement gap even if its suboptimal for kids on the high end? And spare me the rhetoric about how you can easily do both. You can to some extent but constrained resources, carrots and sticks in policy, and time constraints all make tradeoffs a reality.

    A few other readers have mentioned that this is a conversation Madison needs to have.

    Wisconsin Resident’s Total 2006 Tax Rate: 33.4% of Income


    For the third consecutive year, total taxes paid by Wisconsin individuals and firms relative to personal income increased in 2006. They now claim 33.4% of income, up from a 2003 low of 30.7%. Both the federal and state tax burdens increased in 2006, while the local government burden dipped slightly.

    • State tax collections rose 5.3%, while federal receipts grew 5.2%. Both increases were smaller than in 2005.
    • Local tax collections, primarily property taxes, rose 2.5% in 2006. The increase was the smallest since 1998’s 1.8% rise.
    • For the sixth consecutive year, sales tax collections increased less than 5%. Prior to 2001, the sales tax rose at least 5% for nine straight years.
    • Wisconsin’s top income tax rate is 6.75%. Since 1978, when the top rate was 11.4%, it has been lowered five times.
    • Personal income rose 4.2% in 2005, lower than 2004’s 6.2% increase

    The Allure of Magnet Schools

    Ian Shapira:

    Educators, parents and teenagers in Northern Virginia say there is a growing demand for exclusive magnet schools similar to Thomas Jefferson, a regional “governor’s school” in the Alexandria section of Fairfax that admits fewer than 20 percent of applicants. They believe such schools are more desirable because their high-level math and science courses and stringent application process make them look formidable to university admissions officers.
    Prince William’s proposal comes two years after neighboring Loudoun County created its own exclusive magnet school, the Academy of Science. It screens students based on grades, performance on a standardized test and a creative writing sample. The school on average admits fewer than 30 percent of students who apply. Academy Director George Wolfe said it is the only public school in Northern Virginia aside from Thomas Jefferson that has rigorous academic admissions criteria for the entire student body.

    Notes on Multi-Age Classrooms

    Amy Hetzner:

    In fact, the only indication this is a multiage classroom comes more than an hour into the day’s math lesson, when the students are divided into two groups – first-graders with Weber, second-graders with gifted-specialist Kristin Stein.
    Since the beginning of the school year, the Menomonee Falls school has been trying out the multiage classroom as a way to raise student achievement and forge better relationships with parents and students. Riverside Principal Kathy Myles is so encouraged thus far that she hopes to add another class – for third- and fourth-graders – next year.
    “My whole thing is about creating options for learners,” said Myles, who also thinks it’s important to keep traditional grade-level classes for students who learn better that way.

    How Much Does a Neighborhood Affect the Poor?
    Government test tracks families who moved; girls flourish, not boys.

    Jon Hilsenrath & Rafael Gerena-Morales:

    Climbing out of poverty hasn’t been as easy as getting on the bus. She says her life is now drug-free and more stable, and her children are growing up in a better environment. Yet in many ways, her struggles traveled with her.
    “You really need to have a focus to get out of the ghetto,” says Ms. Grayson, a New York native.
    Her experience offers clues to a question society has wrestled with for years: Can a family escape poverty by getting out of the neighborhood where it takes root? It also sheds light on the government’s shifting efforts to use housing policy as a solution to poverty.
    A $16 billion federal infrastructure has built up around housing vouchers designed to give poor families more choices about where to live. About two million families currently use “Section 8” vouchers that allow them to move with subsidized rent. Since 1993, the government has been demolishing urban housing projects and forcing families to resettle in other places, sometimes with vouchers.
    But results show that may only partially be true. “It would have been wonderful to have discovered the magic bullet,” says Jeffrey Liebman, a Harvard economist who has studied the program.
    Findings, he says, were more complicated. Among them: boys whose families moved actually fared worse than boys who stayed in bad neighborhoods. Girls, however, fared significantly better. Adults felt better, physically and mentally, than those who stayed behind, but didn’t do better financially.

    Reading Between the Lines: Madison Was Right to Reject Compromised Program

    Jason Shephard:

    From the beginning, Mary Watson Peterson had doubts about the motivations of those in charge of implementing federal education grants known as Reading First. As the Madison district’s coordinator of language arts and reading, she spent hundreds of hours working on Madison’s Reading First grant proposal.
    “Right away,” she says, “I recognized a big philosophical difference” between Madison’s reading instruction and the prescriptive, commercially produced lessons advocated by Reading First officials. “The exchange of ideas with the technical adviser ran very counter to what we believe are best practices in teaching.”
    The final straw was when the district was required to draft daily lesson plans to be followed by all teachers at the same time.
    “We’ve got 25,000 kids who are in 25,000 different places,” says Superintendent Art Rainwater. The program’s insistence on uniformity “fundamentally violated everything we believe about teaching children.”
    In October 2004, Rainwater withdrew Madison from the federal grant program, losing potentially $3.2 million even as the district was cutting personnel and programs to balance its budget. Rainwater’s decision, made without input from the school board, drew intense criticism and became an issue in last year’s board elections.

    From a public policy perspective, the School Board should have discussed the $3.2M, particularly given the annual agony over very small changes in the District’s $333M+ budget.
    The further concern over a one size fits all Reading First requirement (“We’ve got 25,000 kids who are in 25,000 different places,” says Superintendent Art Rainwater.) is ironic, given the push toward just that across the District (West’s English 10 [Bruce King’s English 9 report] and the recently proposed changes at East High School).
    Barb Williams noted that other “blessed by the District” curriculum are as scripted as Reading First in a December, 2004 letter to Isthmus. More here via Ed Blume and here via Ruth Robarts.
    It will be interesting to see what Diana Schemo has to say about Reading First.

    New Year’s resolutions offer a chance to examine schools, education in state

    Marisue Horton:

    As we head into the season for making New Year’s resolutions, here’s my wish list for resolutions relating to education in 2007:

    1. Embrace our differences. Education is the ability to provide opportunity and challenges to all students. Each child is a gift and has talent. Families, schools and politicians need to avoid pitting one group of learners against another. All are valuable.
    2. Build understanding and avoid condemnation. Parents, learn to advocate for children by defining the problem to be resolved. School staff, encourage family input and work together to find solutions. Community members, visit and offer to volunteer in your public schools. Before criticizing schools, look carefully at what they are doing. Know the issues.
    3. Educate the public by researching the issues. Members of the media, do your homework. We are sitting on one of the best research institutions in the world. Don’t fuel the fires of divisiveness on educational issues by quoting sources without researching their assertions.
    4. Appreciate school staff. There is no greater career, nor many that are open to as much public criticism, as teachers. Take time to thank a teacher, appreciate their work by attending and participating in school events. Find out what’s going on in your public schools each day.
    5. Get involved in solutions to improve public education. Define waste. Rather than criticize local decision-making, share ideas for fiscal responsibility. Help boards of education and administration make districts more effective. Acknowledge that 13 years of revenue caps are stripping our public schools of their ability to effectively educate students. Referendums are NOT the answer. They are little more than panhandling for our kids. Stop asking us to beg for our future.
    6. Acknowledge that leadership matters. Support the hiring of the best quality staff. Ask for local progress reports on your schools. Talk to your legislators and other policymakers about the state’s responsibility to keep their commitments on public education. If you believe in two-thirds funding from the state, demand that legislators live up to their promises!

    Marisue Horton
    Madison schools parent

    Let the Money Follow the Student

    Marie Gryphon:

    Only by empowering parents to choose their children’s schools can Mayor-elect Fenty achieve his goal of a quality education for every child. He should increase public school choices, lift the arbitrary cap on the number of charter schools allowed in DC, and expand the district’s nascent but promising school voucher program.
    Poor teaching quality, one of the District’s worst problems, is exacerbated by public school administrators who prefer to hire education majors instead math and science majors, even though the latter make better teachers in their subjects. Giving parents the ability to choose which public schools get their money discourages these and other counterproductive practices, as Harvard economist Caroline Hoxby has found.

    The Underground History of American Education Available Online – Free

    John Taylor Gatto’s book:

    I want to open up concealed aspects of modern schooling such as the deterioration it forces in the morality of parenting. You have no say at all in choosing your teachers. You know nothing about their backgrounds or families. And the state knows little more than you do. This is as radical a piece of social engineering as the human imagination can conceive. What does it mean?
    One thing you do know is how unlikely it will be for any teacher to understand the personality of your particular child or anything significant about your family, culture, religion, plans, hopes, dreams. In the confusion of school affairs even teachers so disposed don’t have opportunity to know those things. How did this happen?
    Before you hire a company to build a house, you would, I expect, insist on detailed plans showing what the finished structure was going to look like. Building a child’s mind and character is what public schools do, their justification for prematurely breaking family and neighborhood learning. Where is documentary evidence to prove this assumption that trained and certified professionals do it better than people who know and love them can? There isn’t any.


    James Sterngold:

    State prisons are crowded with inmates lacking a basic education — Their dismal job prospects mean they’re likely to land back behind bars.
    Gregory Davenport, a congenial 46-year-old in prison blues, shared with a visitor to the big state penitentiary here a common inmate’s lament — he left behind two well-educated daughters with whom he could not correspond because he could not read.
    But Davenport, serving time for a burglary conviction, is one of the lucky ones. He has finally made progress in his long struggle with illiteracy, a breakthrough he described while holding one of the more sought-after prizes in California’s overburdened corrections system — a classroom seat. He had to wait a year to get into a class in a cramped trailer at the prison in Norco, the California Rehabilitation Center, but now he gets six hours a day of instruction and help with a learning disorder.

    Work to change school funding already begun

    A story by Kayla Bunge in The Monroe Times reports:

    MADISON — With a new legislative session beginning in just about a week, the issue of school funding is certain to receive more attention.
    And two local legislators — 17th District Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center, and 27th District Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton — already have begun working.
    Schultz, the former Senate majority leader, played a leading role in creating the Special Committee on Review of the State School Aid Formula.
    The committee’s purpose, he said, is “to recognize the special challenges that small school districts have trying to continue to provide a quality education in rural communities where student populations are declining.”

    Continue reading

    Middle School Reform Discussions

    Joel Rubin:

    Most frustrating, Chavez-Palmer said, is the difficulty in getting students and parents to follow through on her recommendations for tutoring and other services. At a recent meeting, only 20 parents showed up.
    There is little Chavez-Palmer and the other counselors can do to compel middle school students to work harder. A district policy requiring principals to hold back eighth-grade students who fail to meet minimal standards in English and math is largely ignored, said Collins, the chief instructional officer.
    The small piece of leverage counselors do have over failing students — threatening to ban them from informal graduation ceremonies schools hold for eighth-graders — often does little to sway students.
    “As long as I go on to the ninth grade,” a 14-year-old boy shrugged when Diane-Chavez raised the prospect.
    “You didn’t pass the majority of your classes in seventh grade and went on to eighth. The same will happen this year,” the blunt-talking counselor replied. “But what’s going to happen next year? How many times do you think Huntington Park High School is going to allow you to do this?”

    Random Breath Tests at High School Events

    Kristian Munson:

    When Los Gatos High School students return to campus after winter break, they will be given random Breathalyzer tests at school functions.
    The measure proved necessary after staff discovered students under the influence of alcohol at several school activities this year, said Principal Doug Ramezane.
    The school has used Breathalyzers for several years, but randomly using the tests will be a new procedure.
    “We’ve always had a Breathalyzer at dances and we’ve used it whenever we felt there was a need,” Ramezane said, such as if a student appeared drunk.
    In October, five students were identified as being either under the influence of alcohol and/or possessing alcohol or marijuana at the school’s Coronation Ball. At three of the four home football games this year, students were found under the influence, school officials said.

    Wisconsin School Boards Evaluate Governance Focus

    Amy Hetzner:

    Under the model, used by a number of school boards in the state, the board develops a set of expectations and then holds its administrators accountable to achieve those goals and report on progress.
    The result is a more focused board that has more objective criteria for evaluating the performance of the school superintendent, said Sue Kutz, president of the Racine Unified School Board, which began using policy governance this year.
    Monthly monitoring reports and a review of the board’s goals are used to evaluate the superintendent’s performance, she said, rather than a subjective evaluation that focuses on “the last great fiasco that happened.”
    Boards are also spared the details and decision-making on issues for which they have little expertise.
    “As a way of doing business, it seems to make so much more sense than the old way,” Kutz said.

    Interesting. Serving on a school board is perhaps one of the most difficult public service positions “available” today. The recently revealed $6M Madison School District structural deficit (in place for 7 years) along with ongoing curriculum questions and a recent lack of oversight obligations such as reviewing the Superintendent requires a vigilant, active board.

    Parent Group Seeks Control of High School Repair Budget

    Dion Haynes:

    “We’re trying to see if a local school can do things that the present school system is too dysfunctional to handle,” said Chuck Samuels, chairman of Wilson’s local school restructuring team, the group of parents and teachers that advises the principal. “From this seed of a pilot project could grow more autonomy for Wilson and for other schools to do the same.”
    Last year, Wilson parents and teachers explored the idea of becoming a charter school after becoming frustrated by the central office’s slow response to their maintenance problems and by its move to cut $400,000 from the school’s budget to cover a systemwide shortfall.
    To avert the exodus of the highest-performing comprehensive high school from the system, Janey signed an agreement with the Wilson parents and teachers allowing them to devise a proposal for becoming independent of the central office by taking charge of areas such as the budget and teacher hiring.

    Madison Studio Charter School: A Final Push – You can Help

    Dear Supporters of The Studio School:
    As you probably know, we met with the MMSD Board members last Wednesday and are satisfied with how the Board meeting went. Many individuals took the opportunity to speak at the meeting and each of them did a fantastic job! THE OUTCOME OF THE MEETING IS THAT WE NEED TO PREPARE A RESPONSE TO THEIR QUESTIONS and have very limited time to accomplish this since they need to have it by January 18th. So here’s our plan:
    We need to put together three short-term task forces:

    1. “money team” to work on the budget and financing
      • Determine what an accurate and detailed representation of costs and revenues would look like and fill in the numbers.
      • Consider creative ways to finance the school with the implementation grant Help! We need more school finance expertise for this one.
      • We still need money to file for tax exempt status ($750) Help! If we could get a/some contributions to cover this cost, we have found an attorney who will file it pro bono…
      • So if we could get a sizable donation to get this school started since the district’s finances are in such a bad state, the Board would be more favorably disposed to our proposal. (This would be added to federal grant funds of $340,000.)
    2. “people team” to reach out to a more diverse population (Kristin Forde is going to organize this.)
      Meet with or provide information to people we haven’t had an opportunity to connect with so we can share information about the school and encourage them to attend the January 22nd meeting to express support and interest in The Studio School Help! We could use some marketing expertise.

    3. “plan team” to develop a clearer description of the school and how it would actually work, including the technology
      Develop a more detailed implementation plan and a clearer representation of how it will operate and look. Help! I can work on this but I would like some people (parents, educators, interested parties) to collaborate with me in order to figure out how to communicate it more clearly.

    If you or anyone you know can help out over the next few weeks, please have them contact me. This is our last opportunity to pull it all together and make The Studio School a choice for Madison children – this means that we need to start the new year ready to get it done.
    We have made it to this point because of the dedication and hard work of our core planning group and the assistance and support from people like you. We are almost there! A “final push” kickoff meeting is scheduled for January 3rd at 6:00…location to be determined. After that, we have two weeks to get it all done. So please let me know ASAP if you, or someone you know, can lend us a hand.
    Thank you for your continued support. We are looking forward to celebrating and sharing our success in February after the final vote on January 29th!
    Nancy Donahue
    The Studio School, Inc.

    Property Tax Levies in Wisconsin #1 As a % of Home Values

    Avram Lank:

    Property taxes in Wisconsin are the nation’s highest in proportion to the value of owner-occupied homes, according to a recent national study.
    hat is “nothing terribly new or earth-shaking,” said Todd A. Berry, president of the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance in Madison, who predicted the taxes still are too low to cause a fundamental change in state policy.
    The study results are “a combination of two things,” Berry said. “We are a higher property tax state . . . (and) our median home value is lower. Put those together, and it is going to push us up.”

    The Tax Foundation [Gerald Prante]:

    No tax riles the American people more than property taxes, especially real estate taxes that are based on the value of their homes and land. According to a recent Tax Foundation poll, property taxes are thought to be the least “fair” of all state and local taxes.
    Most likely, part of the reason for this loathing is that taxpayers are more acutely aware of what property taxes cost them than they are of income, payroll, corporate, or sales taxes. Sometimes, property taxes are paid into an escrow account without much personal attention from the taxpayer, but often property taxes involve the actual writing of a huge check to the local government.
    Key Findings:

    • Property taxes highest in the Northeast, Texas, Illinois, and Wisconsin
    • New York and New Jersey dominate list of high-tax counties
    • About half of all property taxes go to public schools
    • Property taxes rose faster than incomes from 2002 to 2004
    • Housing market decline may force local governments to cut spending or raise property tax rates

    Prante’s last point regarding the relationship between changes in the housing market, tax assessments and rates is an important factor to watch. Madison has experienced substantial housing growth (and therefore parcel quantity and values) over the past decade. If/when that changes, there will be some blowback with respect to assessments, millrates and the net taxes we pay.
    Add the Madison School District’s recently revealed 7 year structural deficit, the subsequent need to reduce the annual school district spending increases in it’s current $333M+ budget by a larger than normal amount and we have a rather challenging school spending environment. Complete report: 409K PDF

    Fall 2007 Madison Virtual Campus Grand Opening

    Joan Peebles and Kelly Pochop:

    In Fall 2007, the Madison Metropolitan School District will celebrate a “grand opening” of the Madison Virtual Campus which will be able to serve staff and students with opportunities to learn using online tools and methods. While the Madison Virtual Campus will provide online learning services across the entire district, students and teachers will benefit in particular.
    Over the next nine months, staff from all divisions within the Teaching and Learning Department will be developing ways to deliver professional development to teachers in buildings across the district. Teachers will be able to receive training to support and improve their classroom instruction without the need for traveling to workshops across the district or planning for substitute teachers during their intermittent absences to receive instructional training.

    Judge tosses out mayor’s takeover of L.A. schools

    Howard Blume and Joel Rubin:

    A Superior Court judge Thursday struck down legislation that gave Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa substantial authority over the Los Angeles Unified School District, a stunning setback to his plans for assuming direct control of dozens of Los Angeles schools.
    Judge Dzintra Janavs said the law, which would have taken effect Jan. 1, violated multiple provisions of the state Constitution and the Los Angeles City Charter. She ordered public officials “to refrain from enforcing or implementing” any part of Assembly Bill 1381, which codified Villaraigosa’s powers.
    In a late afternoon news conference, the mayor vowed to seek an expedited appeal.

    On the QEO (Qualified Economic Offer)

    Jay Bullock:

    Here’s the short story on the QEO: Back in the early 1990s, when Tommy Thompson, et al., did their part to appease the anti-taxers regarding school costs and property taxes, they implemented a trio of reforms. The QEO (qualified economic offer) law allowed school districts to impose a 3.8% cap on increases in public school teacher salaries and benefits without bargaining, given that bargaining first comes to an impasse. The second reform placed caps on how much revenue districts could raise from the local levy. The third was a promise–not a statutory requirement like the other two–that a full two-thirds of funding for schools would be paid out of the state’s general fund, also to keep property taxes low.
    District administrators and school boards hate the revenue caps; teachers hate the QEO; the legislature (when Republican-flavored, anyway) hates the 2/3 promise. And I’d bet 98% or more of the rest of the state probably couldn’t even tell you what any of the three things are.

    LaFollette’s four block schedule: good or bad?

    When the four block schedule began at LaFollette a few years ago, the MMSD praised its succeses:

    Under the new “four block” schedule, La Follette High School students are missing school less, are better behaved and are taking tougher courses, all of which is adding up to better academic performance, an analysis of first quarter data shows. Press release, December 17, 1997.
    La Follette High School students flourished during the first year of the school’s four block schedule, a year-end summary reports. Press release, September 9, 1998

    Continue reading

    Homeschool-Public School Bonds Growing

    Jessica Blanchard:

    More parents are supplementing lessons at home by embracing public school partnerships.
    Students at the tiny, nondescript public school building in North Seattle have no playground, no formal cafeteria, no sports teams, no bells signaling the end of class.
    They come and go as they please, and the nearly 250 who pass through the halls don’t even consider themselves public school students.
    They’re among the more than 20,000 children statewide who are thought to opt out of public schools each year. They and their parents are drawn instead to the flexibility and freedom of homeschooling.

    Meanwhile, another Wisconsin virtual high school opens.

    Watch a Discussion of the Proposed Madison Studio School

    Watch this 2 hour discussion or download the 69MB video clip.

    Much more on the Madison Studio School.
    Ben Popper:

    “I want to know why these charter options exist in other parts of the state, but not in Madison,” said Christina Navaro. “Here in the shadow of this amazing university, why don’t we have the choices that will keep parents in the public school system?”
    Becky Van Houten, director of the Preschool of the Arts, where Donahue had taught, tried to give a historical perspective on the importance of a Reggio education.
    “The educators who created Reggio were reacting to the terrors of fascist regimes,” she said. “They wanted to educate students who would not simply go along with what they were told.”

    Zig & Zag with the Madison Studio School Politics.

    Funding Gaps: 2006


    School finance policy choices at the federal, state, and district levels systematically stack the deck against students who need the most support from their schools, according to a report released today by the Education Trust.
    The report, Funding Gaps 2006, builds on the Education Trust’s annual studies of funding gaps among school districts within states. For the first time the report includes data and analysis on:

    • How federal Title I funds widen rather than narrow the education funding gaps that separate wealthy states from poor states; and,
    • How funding choices at the school district level provide enhanced funding to schools serving higher concentrations of affluent students and white students at the expense of schools that serve low-income students and students of color.

    Wisconsin’s Title 1 allocation per “poor child” is $1,577.00 [PDF Report]. One interesting piece of data: Wisconsin school district receipts from federal sources are 6.1% of total revenues. The state average is 8.9%. (Minnesota is 6% while Illinois is 8.6% and Iowa is 8.3%). The State of Wisconsin provides, on average 52.2% of district revenues (above the federal average of 47.1%). Local tax receipts are, on average 41.7% of district revenues (national average is 43.9%).

    New La Follette Principal Meets With Parents


    On Tuesday’s meeting at the school, some parents in attendance said that there were feelings of confusion, concern and anxiety. The meeting was a listening session and allowed the new principal to introduce himself and then work to quell concerns.
    Rathert told the parents about his extensive leadership experience and outlined his plans for moving forward, He also fielded questions from attendees, WISC-TV reported.
    “The main thing I’ve done is just come in and tried to listen and get around to as many people and get in front of as many students as possible and learn as much as I can as quickly as I can,” Rathert said.

    Video Games/Computers for Children a No-No

    Baby Frankenstein — Forbes
    Jane Healy, an educational psychologist and author of Failure to Connect: How Computers Affect Our Children’s Minds and What We Can Do About It doesn’t agree that video games and computers for children will give them a leg-up in the competitive world of the 21st Century. “Behind the big push to get kids onto computers is this idea that if we don’t, they won’t become functional members of the 21st century,” she says. “That’s not only false, it’s dangerous.”
    In Healy’s opinion, electronic gaming at a young age can lead to shorter attention spans, a lack of internal motivation, difficulty with problem solving and a lack of creativity. She thinks kids should avoid computers entirely until the age of 7.
    But while harried parents may love the videos, to suggest that it therefore means they’re good for kids is like suggesting that Coca-Cola (nyse: KO – news – people ) is a health drink because millions of customers love it.
    Good learning games, on the other hand, can be simple and cheap. A game of jump rope, for example, promotes fitness, coordination and social skills, while basic board games like Hasbro’s (nyse: HAS – news – people ) Candy Land and Snakes and Ladders teach children about rules and consequences.
    So, by all means, give your kids a leg up on learning when picking out their gifts this year. But consider doing so with a set of blocks, a board game or a jump rope.

    Local Politics: Zig and Zag with the Madison Studio School

    Steven Elbow’s Tuesday article in The Capital Times on the proposed Madison Studio School included a rather tantalizing opening quote from organizer Nancy Donahue:

    When Nancy Donahue began her effort for a charter school in Madison, she had no idea she would be wading into a world of politics.
    “It’s a campaign,” said Donahue, who hopes to have her arts- and technology-oriented Studio School up and running next fall. “And before this I was very apolitical. But I’ve learned if you believe in something you do what you have to do.”

    A couple of close observers of Madison’s political tea leaves emailed some additional context:

    Former teacher and Progressive Dane education task force member Kristin Forde is a member of the Madison Studio School’s “core planning group”. In the past, Forde has participated in School Board candidate interviews and a Progressive Dane (PD) candidate Forum.
    Madison School Board President Johnny Winston, Jr. has been and is supported by PD along with recently elected (in one of the closest local elections in memory – by 70 votes) board member Arlene Silveira.
    PD reportedly requires any candidate they endorse to back all of their future candidates and initiatives. [ed: Shades of “with us or against us“. Evidently both Russ Feingold and Barack Obama have not read the memo.]

    I find PD’s positions interesting. They recently strongly supported the Linden Park edge school [map] (opposed by a few locals who dislike the sprawl implications, though it handily passed in November, with 69% voting in favor). I do think Madison is behind the innovation curve with respect to online learning and possibly charters. Appleton has 12 charter schools, including an online school.
    Background documents:

    The timing and politics are a challenge, given the recently disclosed 7 year Madison School District structural deficit which will require larger than normal reductions in the 2007 / 2008 budget increases.
    I have very fond memories of Madison’s Preschool of the Arts.
    It will be interesting to see if the Studio School supporters endorse PD’s spring, 2007 candidates, which include Johnny Winston, Jr who is standing for re-election.

    Madison Studio School Public Hearing Today @ 5:00p.m.

    Will you have an opportunity to register SUPPORT for The STUDIO SCHOOL at today’s (5:00pm) public hearing by the Madison School Board?
    With the approval of the school board, the public charter school of arts and technology would open next fall in Madison. See more about The STUDIO SCHOOL (SIS Links) here:

    Please contact school board members to voice your support for creating this new educational opportunity, within the public school system, for children in Madison. Thank you.

    Milwaukee School Property Tax Error

    Larry Sandler & Sarah Carr:

    Milwaukee taxpayers accidentally got a $9.1 million tax break – and city and Milwaukee Public Schools officials now have a $9.1 million headache.
    Because of a paperwork snafu between MPS and City Hall, the property tax bills mailed this month inadvertently left out a tax increase that the School Board approved in October.
    Now fingers are being pointed, the schools are demanding that the city come up with the money, and city officials are huddling in high-level, closed-door meetings to figure out what went wrong and how it can be fixed.
    City officials aren’t saying what options are under study or whether they might include a special tax assessment or borrowing money to be paid back in future years.

    Rigorous Evidence in Educational Practices

    U.S. Department of Education – Research, Statistics and Publications
    In reading studies, reports, and especially, journalists’ impressions and advocacy articles, the paper entitled Identifying and Implementing Educational Practices Supported By Rigorous Evidence: A User Friendly Guide should be required reading.
    It is a well-written 28-page summary of good research design and the problems that can and do occur and the inappropriate conclusions drawn from poorly-designed and implemented research.
    It should certainly stop all of us from merely repeating opinions and articles as though they were true, even when they support our own prejudices.
    I’m reminded of a quote (paraphrased), I believe from John Tukey: “You can lie with statistics, but you can’t tell the truth without statistics.”
    Quoting from the Executive Summary of this report:
    Purpose and Executive Summary
    This Guide seeks to provide educational practitioners with user-friendly tools to distinguish practices supported by rigorous evidence from those that are not.

    The field of K-12 education contains a vast array of educational interventions – such as reading and math curricula, schoolwide reform programs, after-school programs, and new educational technologies – that claim to be able to improve educational outcomes and, in many cases, to be supported by evidence. This evidence often consists of poorly-designed and/or advocacy-driven studies. State and local education officials and educators must sort through a myriad of such claims to decide which interventions merit consideration for their schools and classrooms. Many of these practitioners have seen interventions, introduced with great fanfare as being able to produce dramatic gains, come and go over the years, yielding little in the way of positive and lasting change – a perception confirmed by the flat achievement results over the past 30 years in the National Assessment of Educational Progress long-term trend.
    The federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, and many federal K-12 grant programs, call on educational practitioners to use “scientifically-based research” to guide their decisions about which interventions to implement. As discussed below, we believe this approach can produce major advances in the effectiveness of American education. Yet many practitioners have not been given the tools to distinguish interventions supported by scientifically-rigorous evidence from those which are not. This Guide is intended to serve as a user-friendly resource that the education practitioner can use to identify and implement evidence-based interventions, so as to improve educational and life outcomes for the children they serve.

      Table of Contents:

    1. Title Page
    2. Coalition Board of Advisors
    3. Purpose and Executive Summary
    4. Identifying and Implementing Educational Practices Supported By Rigorous Evidence: A User Friendly Guide
    5. I. The randomized controlled trial: What it is, and why it is a critical factor in establishing “strong” evidence of an intervention’s effectiveness.
    6. II. How to evaluate whether an intervention is backed by “strong” evidence of effectiveness.
    7. III. How to evaluate whether an intervention is backed by “possible” evidence of effectiveness.
    8. IV. Important factors to consider when implementing an evidence-based intervention in your schools or classrooms.
    9. Appendix A: Where to find evidence-based interventions
    10. Appendix B: Checklist to use in evaluating whether an intervention is backed by rigorous evidence
    11. References

    2007 – 2008 Madison School District Budget Discussions Underway

    Watch Monday evening’s school board discussion [Video | Download] of the upcoming larger than usual reductions in revenue cap limited increases in the District’s 2007 – 2008 budget (they are larger than normal due to the recently disclosed 7 year structural budget deficit). The 2006 / 2007 budget is $333M+ (it was $245M in 98/99 while enrollment has remained flat, though the student composition continues to change).

    Related Links:

    25 Year Old KIPP Teacher’s Math Program

    Jay Matthews:

    But one of the secrets of KIPP’s success in attracting the brightest young teachers and raising achievement for low-income children throughout the country is its insistence on letting good teachers decide how they are going to teach. KIPP principals, such as Johnson, have the power to hire promising young people such as Suben and let them follow their best instincts, as long as the results — quality of student work, level of student classroom responses, improvement in standardized test scores — justify the teacher’s confidence in her approach.
    Johnson and Schaeffler were variously startled, amused and intrigued by Suben’s determination to do math her way. They say they are also very pleased with the results, which justify both the hiring of Suben and the KIPP insistence on lively engagement of every child in class.

    Seattle students getting junk-food fix elsewhere

    Jessica Blanchard:

    It was a lunch that would horrify a dietitian: a bag of Tropical Skittles, a Jones soda, two Little Debbie marshmallow treats, a deep-fried pizza stick and a bottle of sweetened iced tea.
    The high-calorie, sugar-packed treats are standard fare for Cleveland High School freshman Tikisha Spires, who travels off campus for lunch each day.
    It’s certainly not what the Seattle School Board had in mind two years ago when it adopted a rigorous nutrition policy and canceled a lucrative vending contract with Coca-Cola. Chips and cookies were replaced in vending machines with granola bars and trail mix; sugary drinks are no longer sold in schools. Cleveland fell into line with other schools, offering healthier foods in its cafeteria and vending machines.
    Teens such as Tikisha fell into line, too — out the door to find their junk food off campus.

    Reading First-Gate

    Marc Dean Millot:

    The abuses revealed in federal investigations of the Reading First program are not, as the normally levelheaded U.S. Rep. George Miller of California asserts, the product of a Republican “culture of corruption.” Nor do they spring from a vast business conspiracy, as opponents of privatization would have us believe; an autocratic bureaucrat ideology, as the Bush administration seems inclined to suggest; or an isolated set of circumstances, as all reasonable people hope. The scandal is part of a pervasive pattern in public education today, and is the predictable result of elected officials’ well-intentioned but incomplete approach to school reform legislation.
    Since the early 1990s, federal and state government has rightly moved public education in the direction of standards, accountability, and competition. By any reasonable assessment, the programs that schools purchase, not just teachers and the bureaucracy, bear some responsibility for the conditions that led to legislative change. Capped by the federal No Child Left Behind Act, the legislative framework political leaders established aims at compelling public schools to purchase new, innovative programs from the private sector. But in the process, policymakers unwittingly took aim at deeply entrenched purchasing relationships involving school districts, federal and state education agencies, large multinational publishing firms, and an expert class of consultants in academia and the think tanks. Elected officials failed to change the rules of that game. Instead, they left the making of their new market to this syndicate.

    Resignation & Fights At La Follette


    The same day principal John Broome resigned, last friday, three fights broke out, leaving many students, staff and parents wondering if they are related.
    Mitch weber discovered the fights ended with two students in trouble with the law and one teacher injured.
    Since the school year started, we’ve reported on rising violence at La Follette – a student pulling a knife on another student, a fight in the hallway involving girls.
    Today, the district denied the principal’s resignation and the fights last week are connected.
    As school got out this afternoon at La Follette High School. Many students knew why we were there. Damian Clendening found out today his new principal isn’t coming back.

    I have to agree with Phil M that the Administration deserves “some level of credit” for addressing this now, rather than later. Tim had some useful comments on the challenging job that is an urban high school principal.

    La Follette principal resigns; Rathert named interim principal

    The MMSD released the following this afternoon:

    La Follette High School Principal John Broome on Friday tendered his resignation from his position. Former Madison high school principal Loren Rathert now becomes the interim principal at the school for the remainder of the 2006-07 school year.
    The Madison School District will conduct a national search for a new La Follette principal to begin the 2007-08 school year.
    “John Broome came to us Friday and said that the needs of the school and his skills were not a match, and in the best interests of the school he felt he should resign,” said Superintendent Art Rainwater.
    “I’m appreciative to John for recognizing the situation and putting the needs of the La Follette students first.”
    Rathert is a veteran school administrator who retired in June of this year. He was the principal of Madison West for three years (2001-04) and was the interim principal at Madison East from September 2004 through June 2005.
    “We’re fortunate that Loren Rathert is willing to take this position,” said Rainwater. “He’s an outstanding principal and is experienced in managing a large, urban high school.”
    Broome became La Follette’s principal on July 1, coming here from a high school principalship in Charleston, IL.

    Why Not Walk to School Today?

    Brian Lee and Jared Cunningham:

    By applying GIS analysis, University of Kentucky undergraduate landscape architecture students have found ways to make it safer and easier for children to walk to school. Concerns with the growing childhood obesity epidemic, increased costs in driving children to school, and fostering the perception that it is more normal to drive rather than to walk to destinations have made walking to school an issue. With ArcView 9.1 and the ArcGIS Spatial Analyst extension, these students identified dangerous walking and bicycling areas, proposed design safety solutions, and evaluated alternatives for improving adverse conditions.
    The immediate safety, as well as the long-term health, of children walking to and from schools has become an important topic of discussion in communities. The doubling of the childhood obesity rate over the past 30 years has raised concerns about short- and long-term health costs. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005 recommend that children and adolescents frequently participate in at least 60 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity, preferably on a daily basis. A short recess period during school does not provide enough physical activity for a growing child. One way to increase physical activity is to incorporate it into the child’s daily school commute. However, neighborhoods have often been designed with the automobile exclusively in mind. Consequently, children walking or bicycling to school is not always a safe alternative to the car or school bus.

    Open Enrollment Gives Special Students More Options

    Amy Hetzner:

    Middle school isn’t an easy time for anybody, but it was especially difficult for Jordan Johnson.
    His fellow students teased him about the cane he used, and his teachers frequently forgot to provide worksheets and other materials in the large type he needed because of a progressive vision loss called retinitis pigmentosa. He would fall behind and frequently lose work, but his parents wouldn’t learn of his problems until quarter grades came out, said his mother, Sally.
    That ended when he transferred to the Waukesha School District, under the state’s open enrollment program, to use the district’s virtual high school, iQ Academies at Wisconsin, which allows students to attend classes via computers set up in their home.
    “Ever since, I’ve been getting pretty good grades,” said Jordan, 16, whose family moved to Hudson recently.

    07/08 Budget Discussions Begin

    Superintendent Art Rainwater sent a memo to the School Board [550K PDF] outlining 10 categories that will be considered as the District prepares a balanced 2007/2008 budget in April, 2007. This budget will be more challenging due to the recently disclosed $6M structural deficit, which means that the reduction in the Distict’s revenue cap limited spending increases in its’ $333M+ budget will be larger than usual. The discussion categories include:

    1. Athletics/Extra Curricular
    2. Consolidate Schools
    3. Teacher/Staff Ratios
    4. Building/Facilities
    5. Reduce Administrative Staffing
    6. Services
    7. Student Services
    8. Curriculum Development and Support
    9. Decrease allocations for instructional supplies/materials/equipment by up to 20%
    10. Eliminate/Reduce District Student Programs/Services

    QEO Politics: Politicians Discuss Wisconsin’s Qualified Economic Offer

    Jason Stein:

    To avoid arbitration, the QEO mandates that districts maintain the same increasingly costly benefits for teachers, Leistikow said.
    “Districts are put in a terrible box,” Leistikow said. “Repealing the QEO will give school districts more flexibility in managing their benefits cost.”
    The WEAC union, a staunch and powerful Doyle supporter, would like to see both the QEO and revenue caps eliminated, President Stan Johnson said. “It’s got to be part of a total package,” he said.
    Doyle, however, favors keeping the revenue limits to hold down property taxes, Leistikow said.
    Odden said repealing the QEO but leaving the revenue caps in place would leave school districts in a difficult position.
    “Unless there’s a major change in the school funding formula, I wouldn’t predict that the QEO would be eliminated,” Odden said.
    If it happened, the effect would probably be higher salary and wage costs at the expense of other programming and items in school budgets, including possibly job cuts, Odden said.

    There will be no shortage of challenges dealing with revenue cap limits to growth in the Madison School District’s $332M+ budget during the upcoming 2007/2008 process, including the recently disclosed 7 year structural deficit.

    High Schools Crack Down: Dance Nice or Not at All

    Michelle York:

    Before Sophie Friedman, 15, went to her first high school dance last year, her friends warned her: This would not be like those in middle school with shy, awkward dance moves.
    But their advice did not prepare Sophie for what she saw when she showed up. “It was a pretty big shock,” she said. “I didn’t expect it to be that crazy.”
    Her classmates were bumping, grinding, shaking, arching, teasing and flaunting in a way that made the chaperons gape.

    Educators, Parents Eager for an Edge Opt for IB Classes in Grade Schools

    Ian Shapira:

    Hunting for the best education for her three young children, Traci Pietra fretted about low test scores at her Arlington neighborhood school. Then the principal told her about Randolph Elementary’s affiliation with one of the most prestigious and rapidly growing brands in education: IB.
    International Baccalaureate is best known for a high school diploma program geared to the university-bound academic elite. But Pietra and her husband, Peter, were sold on the lesser-known elementary version of IB. Both were attracted to the IB emphasis on global understanding, Pietra said, and added: “He was like, ‘Our kids are going to an Ivy League school, and we need an education that’s going to get them on the right track.’ “

    Cardozo High School AP English Teacher Video

    John Poole 5:21 video:

    Cardozo High School in Washington, DC, is a national pioneer in introducing Advanced Placement courses to disadvantaged students. It has found ways to build student skills so that they can begin to get passing grades on the AP exams. One of its star AP teachers, Frazier O’Leary, taught the school’s first AP class 10 years ago and, since then, has become a frequent speaker and adviser to school districts around the nation.

    Well worth watching.

    More Notes on Re-Thinking K-12

    Amanda Paulson:

    What if the solution to American students’ stagnant performance levels and the wide achievement gap between white and minority students wasn’t more money, smaller schools, or any of the reforms proposed in recent years, but rather a new education system altogether?
    That’s the conclusion of a bipartisan group of scholars and business leaders, school chancellors and education commissioners, and former cabinet secretaries and governors. They declare that America’s public education system, designed to meet the needs of 100 years ago when the workplace revolved around an assembly line, is unsuited to today’s global marketplace. Already, they warn, many Americans are in danger of falling behind and seeing their standard of living plummet.

    Rotherham adds:

    I think we need to think more daringly, yes, but I don’t think we tried everything or nearly hard enough to improve American schools within the current context. But I think that is sort of irrelevant today because the context has changed so much and consequently more of the same amounts to trying to make the current system work to do things we don’t want it to do anymore anyway.

    Locally, dealing with the recently disclosed 7 year structural deficit in the Madison School District’s $332M+ budget will require strong leadership, open minds and the ideas contained in Peter Gascoyne’s words.
    V. Dion Haynes has more.

    Structural budget deficit will increase MMSD revenue shortfall for 2007-08

    A few weeks ago when the Madison School Board was finalizing the budget for the current academic year, Vice-President Lawrie Kobza pointed out two very serious problems. First, the district has been overstating expected revenues in recent years during the months when the board was reviewing and approving the budgets. Second, the district has been balancing the budget at the end of the year by dipping significantly into its reserves (equity fund).
    In Susan Troller’s article in The Capital Times, Roger Price, the assistant superintendent for Business Services, promises a “more conservative approach” to budgeting. In part, the “more conservative approach” seems to mean that revenue estimates will not be overstated, making deeper cuts more necessary, but perhaps giving the board a way to reduce the drain on its reserves.
    School Board anticipates big budget shortfall.

    On Banning the High School Honor Roll

    Margery Eagan:

    It’s been ridiculed since Monday. Even Jay Leno weighed in with a joke about his PC home state, Massachusetts, where Needham High, in case you missed it, will stop printing the honor roll in the paper lest, as Leno put it, “it might make the kids flunking out feel bad.”
    “We protect our children too much. This sends the wrong message,” said one Needham mother, whose son graduated in June. Yet she understands the principal’s good intentions.
    Her boy is among those still reeling from four student suicides in three years. One was her son’s friend. She understands too the paradoxes: How the pressure on high schoolers to achieve – from parents, peers, school – is greater than ever. But teenagers have less ability to cope.
    That’s because a hallmark of middle-class parenting, 2006, starting in preschool, is to stamp out any situation that teaches children how to deal with, say, getting picked last, over and over, in a schoolyard pick-up game – assuming your kids’ school even allows pick-up games anymore.

    Searchable Database of Big City School Board Policies and Teacher Contracts

    Mike Antonucci:

    It was a big job, but the National Council on Teacher Quality has put together a database that will allow you to “easily search the contents of collective bargaining agreements and board policies from the nation’s 50 largest public school districts.”
    NCTQ will unveil it in DC on January 4. I’m guessing that somewhere in the halls of Harlem Success Charter School, Eva Moskowitz is smiling.

    2007/2008 Madison School District Budget Outlook: Half Empty or Half Full?

    Susan Troller’s piece today on the larger than usual reduction in “revenue cap limited” increases (say that quickly) in the Madison School District’s $332M+ 2007/2008 budget is interesting, from my perspective, due to what is left unsaid:

    • The District has been running a “structural deficit for years, revealed only recently after school board Vice President Lawrie Kobza spent considerable time seeking an answer to the question:

      “Why did our equity go down this past year since we, the board, passed a balanced budget in 2005/2006? Why did it go down by $2.8M (about a 1% variance in last year’s $319M+ budget)?

      Superintendent Art Rainwater responded:

      “The way we have attempted to deal with maintaining the quality of education as long as we could was to budget very, very aggressively, realizing that we had an out of fund balance ($5.9M in 2006/2007). We made the decision 7 years ago or so to budget aggressively and try to manage to that budget believing that we would use less fund equity over time than if we set aside a set amount. So that’s been our approach. That fund equity has now come down to the point that we believe we can’t do that any more and we will not bring you a balanced budget that is aggressive particularly where it gets into aggressive on the revenue side in how much efficiency we believe we can budget. So, what the effect of that is to increase the amount you have to pay.

    • I’ve not seen a published figure on how much the District’s equity has declined during this “7 year aggressive” budget posture. The District’s operating budget in 1998/1999 was approximately $245M. The current year’s budget is $332M. Enrollment has remained flat during this time.
    • Madison is a “rich” district, spending 23% more per student than the state average. Madison is also a property tax rich district, with an average property value per student of $775,000 (Appleton is $411K, Milwaukee $267K, Verona 526K and Middleton-Cross Plains $779K) – via SchoolFacts 2006. George Lighbourn’s recent WPRI school finance article is, in my view correct:

      Even the most vocal proponents of change understand the reality that big changes are not in the offing. They know that they are up against the most formidable impediment to change, the printout, that age-old tabulation showing how much money each school district will get out of Madison. Any change that shows dozens of school districts will see a decline in state aid has almost no chance of succeeding.

    • All of this points to the importance of managing the $332M+ budget well, choosing the most effective curriculum and building public confidence for future referendums. I wonder when the public might have learned of the structural deficits (and the District’s dwindling cash equity) had elections gone a different way the past few years (reformers vs old guard)? Learn more about the April, 2007 School Board election.
    • Notes/links:

    School finance is a mess. However, the Madison School District’s $332M+ budget provides resources far beyond most public school systems. Throwing up our arms and blaming the state or feds, or ? will not solve anything and certainly does not put our children’s interests first. Transparency, responsibility, creativity, local control (be careful what we wish for with respect to state and federal school finance updates) and wise investments are key to maintaining the community’s remarkable financial and voluntary public education support.

    Madison United for Academic Excellence, 12-December-2006 Presentation

    The Madison United for Academic Excellence (MUAE) meeting of 12-December-2006 offered a Question and Answer session with Madison Director of Teaching and Learning, Lisa Wachtel, and Brian Sniff, District K-12 Math Coordinator.
    A list of questions was prepared and given to the speakers in advance so they could address the specific concerns of parents.

    The video

    QT Video
    of the meeting is 130MB, and 1 hour and 30 minutes long. Click on the image at left to watch the video.
    The video contains chapter headings which allow quick navigation to sections of the meeting. The video will play immediately, while the file continues to download.

    The topics covered during remarks and the question and answer sessions were accompanied by a PowerPoint presentation (here in PDF format), highlights of which are

    • Changing demographics in the school district
    • Listing of Superintendent’s Goals for comprehensive review, as set by the Board of Education
    • K-5 Math Standards, Resources, and role of Teaching and Learning
    • Professional development for K-5 teachers
    • 5th Grade Math Assessment Pilot project for advanced students
    • Middle school math, 6th to 8th grade
    • Math certification of middle school math teachers, with an extended discussion of the statistic that only 5% of middle school math teachers are math certified,
      comparing Wisconsin to bordering states
    • WKCE tests and testing in general
    • Discussion by audience of recent studies and trends in math preparation for college

    Spring elections for Madison School Board: reformers versus old guard

    Writing in this week’s Isthmus newspaper, reporter Jason Shepard frames the issue in the spring school board elections for MMSD: Will Madison voters support the new direction of “tackling fiscal, managerial and achievement-related problems” or bring back an approach that blames all problems on the state legislature and is very light on oversight and accountability regarding finances and student achievement?
    Spring elections could bring new directions

    Exploring Alternatives to the Traditional High School

    Rethinking K-12: Out of the 20th Century

    National Center on Education and The Economy:

    In a TIME article on How to Bring Our Schools Out of the 20th Century , Claudia Wallis and Sonja Steptoe write that the national discussion around education will change “when the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce, a high-powered, bipartisan assembly of Education Secretaries, business leaders and a former Governor releases a blueprint for rethinking American education from pre-K to 12 and beyond to better prepare students to thrive in the global economy.”

    Executive Summary 2.1MB PDF
    Andrew Rotherham comments.

    On Wisconsin’s Learning Gap

    Alan Borsuk:

    The education achievement gaps between African-American and white children in Wisconsin remain among the worst in the United States, according to an analysis released Wednesday by an influential education group.
    To a degree that’s good news. That’s better than in 2004, when a similar analysis by the Journal Sentinel showed the proficiency gaps in several key measures between African-American and white children were larger in Wisconsin than in any other state.
    Using more recent results of the same series of tests – the National Assessment of Educational Progress – the Education Trust found that in fourth-grade reading and eighth-grade math, Wisconsin was near the bottom of the list, which included the states and the District of Columbia. In eighth-grade math, Nebraska had a bigger gap. In fourth-grade reading, Wisconsin was sixth from worst in gap size and eighth from the bottom when it came to the average score of black students.
    The results, said Daria Hall, a senior policy analyst for the organization and the main author of the report, “show just how far Wisconsin has to go in order to ensure that all kids, particularly poor kids and kids of color, are getting equal opportunities to meet high standards.”
    Hall – herself a graduate of Milwaukee Public Schools – said Wisconsin should look to states with much smaller gaps and with gaps that have been narrowed in recent years to see what it should do. She named Massachusetts and Delaware as examples.
    Massachusetts has eliminated funding gaps between school districts serving high-income and low-income students, she said. But it’s not only about money, she added. The state has created rigorous education standards and accountability systems.
    Tony Evers, deputy state superintendent of public instruction, said the analysis showed that the scores of African-American and Latino students in Wisconsin had risen in recent years while the scores of white students stayed flat – which he called “slightly good news.”

    Edtrust Wisconsin Report 500K PDF.

    A Look at Single Sex Schools in Milwaukee

    Erin Richards:

    In a school with more non-Catholics than Catholics, a more universal identifier is average income: More than 80% of the students receive vouchers to attend St. Joan, and almost the same number qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.
    “Our girls face a huge amount of challenges,” says Teddi Kennedy, the school’s director of advancement. “For some of them, just getting here on the bus and getting a good meal is a concern.”
    That meal is served in a tiny lunch line in the corner of the school’s gymnasium. On this day, nearly everything is the same color: a fried chicken patty with a slab of cheese, corn and canned fruit salad.

    A New Paradigm of Education Reform Litigation

    Shavar Jeffries:

    I believe it is time, once again, to consider a new approach to using the law to facilitate meaningful educational opportunities for minority children. I suggest that civil-rights lawyers initiate a new wave of litigation premised on reshaping the governance of public schools and, in so doing, empowering minority parents to assume meaningful decision-making roles concerning the kind of education available to children of color. Litigation efforts to this point have been focused fundamentally on widescale, largely uniform government decision-making about the educational needs of minority children; the voice and needs of individual children and parents have largely been unheeded. And it is usually the case that policymaking focused on across-the-board remedies inevitably ignores the particular needs of minority children. The approach I suggest does not imply, however, an atomistic preoccupation with individual needs in opposition to the civic and social purposes motivating public subsidy of educational services; rather, I suggest a public-private form of governance fundamentally different from the almost exclusively government-centered litigation model used today.

    More on Teacher Merit Pay

    Larry Abramson:

    A new study by education researchers concludes that the best way to improve the quality of teaching is to pay teachers more. And to pay good teachers even more. Critics aren’t so sure, notably teacher’s unions. They warn that merit-pay systems are notoriously subjective and unreliable.


    Milwaukee Evaluates Online Textbooks & Free Wireless Internet for Students

    Erin Richards:

    Milwaukee Public Schools may go digital with some learning resources as the district selects about $7.7 million worth of new language arts, foreign language, technology education and social studies textbooks.
    With a new wireless network expected to bring free broadband Internet access into the homes of MPS students by next semester, Superintendent William Andrekopoulos said the district could start to “expand its textbook options” and look at more paperless models. But questions remain about if and how the district would make the most necessary resource – computers – available to a largely low-income population of students.
    “This is the first time we’ve started looking at online options, especially with language arts material,” Andrekopoulos said last month, after a School Board committee voted to move forward with the textbook adoption process. The committee’s recommendation was approved by the full board on Nov. 30.
    Aquine Jackson, chief academic officer for MPS, said electronic options could improve some of the literacy curricula that need supplemental resources. At a district-estimated $6.7 million worth of materials, language arts texts for grades K-8 and spelling for grades K-5 constitute the bulk of material that’s up for adoption.

    Curated Education Information