Parent Responds to MSCR Editorial About Safe Haven Programs

Judy Sekulski is a parent at Midvale-Lincoln School in Madison. In this article she responds to the Madison district administration’s recent public statements about Safe Haven programs.
I am writing in response to Lucy Chaffin’s column on
July 12, 2004, (“Schools Offer Quality Childcare”),
about the Safe Haven after-school programs run by
MSCR. She states that, “The district doesn’t support
separate programs running side-by-side in elementary
schools (as was the case last year at Midvale) because
this results in segregation by income and race.”

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After School Child Care in Madison: Why the Madison Schools Should Continue Community Partnerships

On July 12, the Madison Board of Education will review proposals from Superintendent Rainwater that may mean the end of a long and successful collaboration between the district, the City of Madison and private child care providers to ensure quality after-school child care for elementary students. Apparently the superintendent plans to argue that MMSD can do a better job and can afford to expand into the after-school care business.

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California Plans to Restructure Education System

Nanette Asimov:

The California Performance Review team that drafted the efficiency plan is recommending a constitutional amendment to abolish all 58 county Boards of Education, the 53 elected county superintendents and the five who are appointed. School districts, with their school boards and superintendents, would remain intact.
In place of the county offices of education would be 11 super centers doing the same work — running programs for severely disabled students and kids in trouble with the law, helping teachers improve their skills, acting as fiscal watchdogs over school districts and more.

Latin America School Improvements

Claudio Sanchez reports (NPR):

Throughout Latin America, political and education officials are considering long-term plans to improve the region’s struggling public schools. Researchers recently met in the Dominican Republic to discuss education strategy. A successful public school in one of Santo Domingo’s worst neighborhoods could serve as a model for schools elsewhere in Latin America

Starting over in Chicago’s Poor Schools

Sam Dillon writes in the NY Times:

But there was an alternative – the city could shut them down on its own and create small, new, privately managed schools to replace them. And that, Mr. Martin wrote, would bring a crucial advantage: the new schools could operate outside the Chicago Teachers Union contract.
It seemed a fire-breathing proposal, since in its entire history Chicago had closed just three schools for academic failure, and the union is a powerful force in the school system here, the nation’s third largest. But Mr. Duncan was already convinced of the need for direct intervention in many failing schools, and the business group’s proposal helped shape a sweeping new plan, which Mayor Richard M. Daley announced in June. By 2010, the city will replace 60 failing schools with 100 new ones, and in the process turn one in 10 of its schools over to private managers, mostly operating without unions. It is one of the nation’s most radical school restructuring plans.
“It’s time to start over with the schools that are nonperforming,” Mr. Daley said in an interview July 19. “We need to shake up the system.”
The schools slated for closing include 40 elementary schools and 20 high schools. In all of them, most students perform far below grade level.

Barb Williams on The Harlem Project

Barb Williams forwarded a recent letter to the NY Times Magazine regarding the June 20, 2004 article: “It Takes a Hood” on The Harlem Project:

Of the many efforts aimed at interrupting the effects of poverty on kids’ lives, none has left me more hopeful than Paul Tough’s piece on The Harlem Project. Geoffrey Canada, to my mind, has got it right. His focus on poor black kids’ success in school, his goal to reach those least likely to succeed, and his preference for programs that emphasize accountablility are not new. But combine that with his plans for a charter school with longer days, a longer school year and a demanding curriculum (despite rifling the feathers of the teachers’ union) while having in place a network of support had me, a sometimes sad cynic, rooting him on. Maybe one day kids like Janiqua Utley will be guaranteed the kind education Canada envisions, rather than land on a waiting list. And perhaps Canada has identified what needs to be in place in order for children to imagine their own possibilities–unconstrained by their circumstances–and the means to realize them. We ought to pay very close attention. I salute Canada.

School Tax Relief Plan “all but dead”?


Amy Hetzner notes the interesting paradox to the current situation:

Residents in more than half of Wisconsin school districts could have ended up paying more under an all-but-dead idea to raise sales taxes to provide $1.44 billion in property tax relief, a new study says.
Milwaukee residents, in particular, could have paid $1 more in sales taxes for every 77 cents their property taxes were reduced if the plan had been in effect in 2003, claims a Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance report released Friday. In all, the study found 223 school districts containing 56% of the state’s public school enrollment would pay more in sales taxes than they would save in property taxes.
The study found that taxpayers in the Madison Metropolitan School District could get $1.20 in property tax relief for every new sales tax dollar.
“What this tells me is that when I see districts like Madison and Middleton in our area and Menomonee Falls or Wauwatosa in the Milwaukee area with positive returns of $1.20 per $1 sales tax or $1.30 or $1.40, that suggest a pattern going on,” Berry said.

School Technology Monoculture?

The Madison School District has more or less standardized many computers on Microsoft’s Windows operating system software. This approach, pitched as “sensible” because “that’s what most people use” ignores the explosive growth of other technology platforms such as:

The MMSD technology approach also ignores the fact that much will change by the time today’s K-12 students enter the workforce. At the end of the day, the network (the internet, essentially built on unix) is truly the computer.
Finally, one of the arguments for a windows monoculture is price. Advocates argue that windows pc’s are cheaper (generally ignorning the cost of virus, worm and other TCO (total cost of ownership) issues such as ongoing security patches, software compatibility issues and network support). Some of the cheapest pc’s around are linux based “LindowsOS PC’s, starting at $278.00.

School Finance Strangeness

Amy Hetzner summarizes the absurd aspects of the current state school finance schemes:

For example: If a school district with a maximum levy of $1 million one year decides to levy only $900,000, that district annually would collect $25,000 less from then on. Districts that voluntarily restrict their levies one year will not be able to catch up unless they ask voters to approve a tax increase in a referendum.
Hartford High School plans to levy taxes as high as it can for the coming school year but will be able to carry over only $118,000 of the unused levy from the previous year, Tortomasi estimated.

Latino Parents Decry Bilingual Programs

Samuel Freedman writes:

ON a sultry night in late June, when the school term was nearly over, two dozen parents gathered in a church basement in Brooklyn to talk about what a waste the year had been. Immigrants from Mexico and the Dominican Republic, raising their children in the battered neighborhood of Bushwick, they were the people bilingual education supposedly serves. Instead, one after the other, they condemned a system that consigned their children to a linguistic ghetto, cut off from the United States of integration and upward mobility.
These parents were not gadflies and chronic complainers. Patient and quiet, the women clad in faded shifts, the men shod in oil-stained work boots, they exuded the aura of people reluctant to challenge authority, perhaps because they ascribed wisdom to people with titles, or perhaps because they feared retribution.

The Importance of Phonics

Relevant to the sucess of students at Marquette Elementary School, U.W. Psychologist Mark Seidenberg has a new paper in Psychological Review that shows that phonics is critical for skilled reading. Seidenberg’s research “suggests that teaching young children the relationships between spellings and sounds – or phonics – not only makes learning to read easier, but also allows the flourishing of other skills that lead to faster, better reading.” “If you have a teaching method that discourages learning the connections among spelling, sound and meaning, you make the task of learning to read much harder for the child,” says Seidenberg. “You also leave out an important component of what ultimately makes us skilled readers.” You can read a press release here.

Social Promotion & Summer School

The WSJ Editorial page, in a wide ranging piece, discussed social promotion and the utility of summer school:

That’s because the get-tough approach – flunking students – isn’t realistic: Repeating a grade does more harm than good. Such students are much more likely to cause behavior problems, skip school and eventually drop out.
And simply advancing students to the next level – called “social promotion” – with no extra help only ensures the children will fall behind even faster the next year. Wisconsin law now prohibits social promotion out of fourth and eighth grades.
With both social promotion and grade retention discredited as phony strategies that harm, not help, student achievement, summer school starts to look like a good investme

3rd Grade Reading Scores Released

Wisconsin DPI just released statewide third grade reading test results:

  • DPI Superintendant Elizabeth Burmaster’s comments: (6 page pdf)
  • Sarah Carr: Still, at the state level, educators need to work on closing a persistent achievement gap between students of different races and socioeconomic classes, said Joe Donovan, state Department of Public Instruction spokesman. This year, 64% of African-American and 65% of Hispanic students scored in the top two categories, compared with 90% of white students.
    Lindsey added that too many MPS schools – 18 to be exact – have fewer than half of the students reading at proficient or advanced levels.

  • Lee Sensenbrenner: Marquette, a school for third- through fifth-grade students, partners with Lapham Elementary, which teaches phonics-based reading to its kindergarten through second-grade students.
  • Lee Sensenbrenner writes:
    Notable within the district were the two elementary schools that led the county for the percentage of students reading at the advanced level:
    Shorewood Hills, drawing from affluent homes and graduate student housing on the near west side, topped the list with 70.1 percent of its students at the top level.
    Second was Marquette Elementary, a near east side school where more than 28 percent of the students come from low-income homes. There, 65.7 tested at the advanced level, while another 28.6 read at the proficient level.
    This approach, coupled with an individual remedial reading program called Direct Instruction, is somewhat different from the curriculum in other Madison elementary schools.

Property-Tax Rise Triggers

Ray Smith’s article on the growing property tax backlash is one of many excellent examples of why Ruth Robart’s ongoing efforts to create a more strategic & transparent Madison Schools budget process is vital. The district’s plans for 2005 referendums simply increases the urgency for a well thought out process – rather than throwing hot button fee issues against the wall and determing what sticks. Read the entire article:

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High Schools Nationwide Paring Down

Caroline Hendrie writes in the June 16 edition of Education Week
As a strategy for reforming secondary education in America, small schools have gotten big.
Prodded by an outpouring of philanthropic and federal largess, school districts and even some states are downsizing public high schools to combat high dropout rates and low levels of student achievement, especially in big- city school systems. For longtime proponents of small schools, the upswell in support for their ideas is making for heady times.
Despite the concept�s unprecedented popularity, however, evidence is mounting that “scaling up” scaled-down schooling is extraordinarily complex. A sometimes confusing array of approaches is unfolding under the banner of small high schools, contributing to concerns that much of the flurry of activity may be destined for disappointing results.

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For the Children: Biometric ID’s

Via Kuro5hin:
Thanks to the kind generosity of the civic-minded folks at Ingersoll-Rand, teachers at Boca Raton’s Don Estridge High Tech Middle School will no longer have to take attendance. Side benefit: malleable, young students will become conditioned and eager to submit their body parts for biometric identification in the future.
Obligatory stomach-churning quote:

“It’s for the teachers’ protection as well as the kids … my kids are telling everyone about it. They think it’s so high-tech, so FBI, so cool.”

In case you experience any cognitive dissonance with the sentiment above, just keep repeating the following handy mantra to yourself: “it’s for our protection, it’s for our protection, it’s for our protection…”
BTW – Don Estridge headed up the skunk works in Boca Raton that led to the 1981 IBM PC. (Estridge died in the 1985 Delta L-1011 crash at DFW airport).

Charter school meeting – July 7, Madison

“Charter Schools: A New Vision of Public Education in Wisconsin.”
Date: July 7, 2004 (Wednesday morning)
Time: 9:00 am to 11:30 am
Site: Madison – Concourse Hotel (Capital Ballroom A – 2nd Floor)
Concourse Hotel
Purpose: Discuss the significance of the evolving charter schools sector as an institutional innovation within Wisconsin’s public education system. You and your colleagues are invited to participate in the discussion, sponsored by the Wisconsin Charter Schools Association, along with:
JOHN WITTE — John Witte bio
John is a UW-Madison Professor of Political Science & Public Affairs. He directs a major study of charter schools in Wisconsin — LaFollette Insitute
JOE GRABA — Joe Graba bio
Joe is a Senior Policy Fellow at Education/Evolving in Saint Paul. His
career in public education spans forty years and an impressive array of leadership positions including teacher, union leader, state legislator and higher education administrator.
COMMENTERS – Moderated by Jonathan Gramling
JONATHAN GRAMLING, Editor, The Madison Times
TONY EVERS, TALC, Milwaukee
MAI SEE THAO, Student, Madison
CHARITY ELESON, Executive Director, Council on Children & Families
BARBARA GOLDEN, Madison Area Family Advisory/Advocacy Council
DANERYS RIOS & DONTE HOLIFIELD, Students, Milwaukee
JUAN JOSE LOPEZ, Member, Madison Board of Education
DOUG & DEE THOMAS, Gates-EdVisions Project & MN New Country School
TOM SCULLEN, Superintendent, Appleton Area School District
REGISTRATION: This invitational meeting is FREE. Please register in advance by sending your name and contact info to:
Senn Brown, Secretary, Wisconsin Charter Schools Association
PO Box 628243, Middleton, WI 53562
Email: sennb@charter.net Tel: 608-238-7491
Barbara G.
608.836.0616
Madison Area Family Advisory/Advocacy Council
MAFAAC~Closing the achievement gap through information, advocacy & support
mafaac@aol.com
Join MAFAAC and be part of the solution

School Finance/Reform Articles

Amy Hetzner writes that school finance reform is necessary, but no one agrees on the formula. Hetzner points out the strange nature of this issue: spending, in many cases has gone up significantly despite “spending controls”. Excellent article. Steven Walters writes a followup today on the proposed sales tax boost.
The State Journal has posted four more editorial pieces on schools:

Resources online

I wanted to point out a couple of useful sites on the internet that can be very helpful in demonstrating the importance of music education as an important part of all students’ development.
A very useful site with lots of information, research and resources is SupportMusic.com. They can even help you build your case for keeping your school’s music program by addressing talking points to 13 common issues including: Music is not perceived as a core academic subject or districtwide budget cuts.
Another useful site is the American Music Conference. They also have a sizable listing of music related research.
For instance, did you know that middle school and high school students who participated in instrumental music scored significantly higher than their non-band peers in standardized tests. University studies conducted in Georgia and Texas found significant correlations between the number of years of instrumental music instruction and academic achievement in math, science and language arts.
Another important finding: A ten-year study, tracking more than 25,000 students, shows that music-making improves test scores. Regardless of socioeconomic background, music-making students get higher marks in standardized tests than those who had no music involvement. The test scores studied were not only standardized tests, such as the SAT, but also in reading proficiency exams.
Visit both of these sites and see why schools need more not less music instruction.

Wisconsin School Finance Opinion Articles

The Wisconsin State Journal has published three related editorials on school finance issues:

I would be surprised if this round of school finance changes substantially increases the amount of money available for schools. There’s also a growing risk of problems as local districts rely completely on state/federal funding sources (filled with political schemes and deal making).

Schools Chiefs Lead The Way in Pay Trends

From Education Week an article by Catherine Gewertz
New data from a survey of more than 500 school districts show the average salary of their superintendents has risen by more than 12 percent over the past decade in inflation-adjusted dollars, and that of their high school principals by more than 4 percent, while the average teacher salary declined by nearly 2 percent.
The salary survey of employees in precollegiate public schools also shows that the gap between teachers� and superintendents� salaries grew a bit wider in the same period. In 1993-94, the superintendents were paid on average 2.4 times as much as teachers. By 2003-04, the difference was 2.75 times.
The data come from the National Survey of Salaries and Wages in Public Schools and were released to Education Week this month by Educational Research Service as part of a research partnership.

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The �No Child� Law�s Biggest Victims

An Answer That May Surprise
Margaret DeLacy’s recent article in Education Week
Since education is high on the national agenda, here�s a pop quiz that every American should take.
Question: What group of students makes the lowest achievement gains in school?
Answer: The brightest students.
In a pioneering study of the effects of teachers and schools on student learning, William Sanders and his staff at the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System put in this way: “Student achievement level was the second most important predictor of student learning. The higher the achievement level, the less growth a student was likely to have.”
Mr. Sanders found this problem in schools throughout the state, and with different levels of poverty and of minority enrollments. He speculated that the problem was due to a “lack of opportunity for highscoring students to proceed at their own pace, lack of challenging materials, lack of accelerated course
offerings, and concentration of instruction on the average or below-average student.”
While less effective teachers produced gains for lower-achieving students, Mr. Sanders found, only the top one-fifth of teachers were effective with high-achieving students. These problems have been confirmed in other states. There is overwhelming evidence that gifted students simply do not succeed on their own.

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Balancing Mission & Money in Higher Education

Lewis Collens reviews Shakespeare, Einstein and the Bottom Line: The Marketing of Higher Education by David L. Kirp.

David Kirp’s excellent book “Shakespeare, Einstein, and the Bottom Line” provides a remarkable window into the financial challenges of higher education and the crosscurrents that drive institutional decision-making. He reminds us that the coin of the realm in higher education is the quality of education and research, and he cautions that the pursuit of dollars can debase the coin of the realm.
Kirp explores the continuing battle for the soul of the university: the role of the marketplace in shaping higher education, the tension between revenue generation and the historic mission of the university to advance the public good.

Isthmus articles

Two articles of interest appear in the issue of Isthmus dated June 15, 2004.
A small article on page 6 says “Several Madison elementary schools, including Thoreau and Glenn Stephens, will begin teaching Singapore Math next year. The change comes amid concerns that the district’s preferred math program, TERC Investigations, which stresses self-guided problem solving, does not teach students enough basic math skills.”
A lengthier article reviews the “difficult transiton at East High.” As “faculty vent deep discontent,” the article headline asks “is new princiapl to blame?” One source doubts, says the article, that “Tillman’s contract will be renewed” beyond next year.”
Ed Blume

2005 Referendums?

Lee Sensenbrenner writes about Madison Schools Superintendent Art Rainwater’s recent comments regarding three possible 2005 referendums:

“Facing growing subdivisions on the city’s edges, the expiration of a maintenance fund, and state laws that annually force cuts, the Madison School Board may be looking at three referendums next year.”

State laws do not directly “force cuts”. Rather, Wisconsin has controversial state laws that control the annual rate of increase in local school spending (“revenue caps”) and teacher contract compensation growth (QEO). Indeed, there are state caps on most, but not all school spending growth.
Interestingly, according to this Active Citizens for Education document (270K PDF), Madison school spending has increased from $180M in 1993 to $308M in 2003/2004 – with revenue caps in place ($12,419/student). The document also mentions that enrollment “has stayed virtually the same during the past ten years: 24,800”.
Given the spending growth, there must be more to this than is mentioned in Lee’s article.

School Finance Reform

Sunday’s Wisconsin State Journal features an editorial on the recently proposed Public School Finance Reforms:
School reformers fail math test:

Put together, this equation fails any basic math test. Even under the current limits, payroll eats around 80 percent of the money available to schools. If schools no longer limit employee cost increases but cannot get new money to cover those rising costs, where is the money coming from? Cuts to other areas? Most of the frills are already gone. More fees? Parents already fork over hundreds of dollars on top of the taxes they – and everyone else – already pay for schools. Tax swap aids pols, not schools Fatal flaw aside, any plan that uses sales taxes to help pay for schools invites a new set of problems. The task force nevertheless expects to recommend increasing the sales tax from 5 percent to 6 percent to generate $800 million a year.

Links and additional comments are available here.

Arts & School Crime in the Local Newspapers

Brendia Ingersoll on “Some say schools have gotten more violent.”
Lee Sensenbrenner on Arts in Schools supporters pressing the Board of Education to save K-12 curriculum.
Manny Fernandez provides another perspective on school crime, from Washington, DC.

He avoided trouble by sticking to the basketball court, focused on sharpening his game while walking past clusters of young men who hang out near his apartment building after school.

FAQ: “Community Service” Funds aka “Fund 80”

Q: What is ?Fund 80??
A: A property tax that school districts may levy for ?community programs and services.? Unlike property tax levies for school operations, Fund 80 property taxes are subject to less restrictive revenue limits.

Beginning in 1993, Wisconsin law has imposed limits on the increases in residential property taxes that school districts may levy to pay for the operations of the k-12 educational program. Unless a referendum passes, the districts may increase taxes only up to a limit determined by a legal formula.

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“Community Service” Funds: The Common Thread between Cutting the Fine Arts Coordinator, Displacing After School Programs and Buying More Computerized Time Clock Systems

On June 7, teachers, students, parents, and community representatives took the Madison Board of Education to task for its recent decision to eliminate the full-time district-level position of Fine Arts Coordinator. The same night, parents of children attending YMCA and After School, Inc. after-school programs at Midvale-Lincoln and Allis schools questioned the district?s unilateral imposition of a plan to replace those programs next year with ?Safe Haven?, a program operated by the district?s Madison School-Community Recreation department (MSCR). Later in the evening the Board voted 5-2 to spend more than $173,000 on a computerized time clock system for MSCR staff (YES: Carol Carstensen, Bill Clingan, Bill Keys, Juan Lopez, Shwaw Vang; NO: Johnny Winston Jr. and I).
On the surface the parent, staff, and community criticisms appear to have little relation to the decision to computerize time clocks for community program staff. But there is a common thread in terms of the district?s budget?something called ?Community Service? funds, or, ?Fund 80.?

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States’ End Run Dilutes Special Ed Burden

Diana Jean Schemo writes about States’ efforts to get around the No Child Left Behind improvement requirements:

Under the federal No Child Left Behind law, every category of student at Broad Acres � including special education � must show improvement or the entire school can face penalties. But like a dozen other states, Maryland is hoping to circumvent those rules, asking to count students like Ms. Grant’s only as children of poverty, a big group that would hide any lack of academic growth.
Maryland officials say their proposals would avoid large numbers of schools being labeled “in need of improvement” when only small numbers of students are doing poorly. If changes are not made, said Nancy Grasmick, Maryland’s superintendent of schools, “there’ll be a lot of anger on the part of the community,” some of it possibly directed at the special education students.

National Spelling Bee, School Finance

Two fascinating posts at former SJ Mercury writer Joanne Jacobs blog:

  • National Spelling Bee results, commentary from the American Literacy Union, who picketed the event (debt vs dette among other useful comments). Jackobs also writes about single mother Ashley White, a former spelling bee contestant featured in the film Spellbound.
  • School Finance Post, with some interesting comments and links (California Finance and a recent Economist article).

Cutting Fine Arts Coordinator Will Cost Money

With the recent elimination of the Fine Arts Coordinator in the Madison public schools, music and art (arts) education in Madison�s public schools will continue to crumble and to fall apart but at a faster pace. That�s bad for our children�s education, but it�s also bad for the City�s economy.
This letter to the editor of local Madison papers expresses concerns over the educational and financial costs of cutting 1/2 the position of the MMSD Fine Arts Coordinator that works with the District’s 130+ music and art FTEs in 47 schools to help these teachers deliver a quality curriculum.

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Smarter than the CEO

Wired’s James Surowiecki has an interesting look at authoritarian vs democratic governance cultures (he argues that collective intelligence is far more effective, than a top down structure)

Instead of looking to a single person for the right answers, companies need to recognize a simple truth: Under the right conditions, groups are smarter than the smartest person within them. We often think of groups and crowds as stupid, feckless, and dominated by the lowest common denominator. But take a look around. The crowd at a racing track does an uncannily good job of forecasting the outcome, better in fact than just about any single bettor can do.

NPR: Key to a Good Math Teacher?

NPR’s All Things Considered: Experts Say Best Instructors Spot Where Students Go Wrong:

Research shows that teachers with degrees in the subjects they teach are more successful. That’s the reason behind teacher-certification requirements in the federal No Child Left Behind education law.
But as Robert Frederick reports, not all mathematicians are successful math teachers. Most could use some help in becoming calculating sleuths. Education experts note that most advanced math programs are geared toward theoretical as opposed to practical instruction.
It’s not enough to know math, says Judith Ramaley of the National Science Foundation. Teachers “also need to understand how the minds of young people work, and how to diagnose� the kinds of tangles kids get into,” she says.

Would Shakespeare Get Into Swarthmore?

John Katzman, Andy Lutz, and Erik Olson write: How several well-known writers (and the Unabomber) would fare on the new SAT.

In the summer of 2002 the College Board announced its plans to change the SAT. The new test will (surprise, surprise) contain several higher-level algebra questions, will no longer contain analogies questions, and will�as part of a whole new section on “writing”�includ an essay question. It is scheduled to be administered for the first time in March of next year.
To illustrate how the essays on the “new” SAT will be scored, The Princeton Review has composed some typical essay questions, provided answers from several well-known authors, and applied the College Board’s grading criteria to their writing.

Barbara Schrank: Madison School Board needs more thoughtful budget process

It’s true, there isn’t any windfall to be found in next year’s Madison school budget. But small changes in the budget could have a major effect on Madison’s families and direct educational services to our children.
The following opinion piece was published in The Capital Times on Saturday, May 29, 2004.
http://www.madison.com/captimes/opinion/column/guest/75315.php

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Music Education Important – US House of Representatives Resolution

RESOLUTION RECOGNIZING BENEFITS AND IMPORTANCE OF SCHOOL-BASED MUSIC EDUCATION PASSED BY US HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES PASSES MUSIC EDUCATION RESOLUTION
On May 4, 2004 the United States House of Representatives approved a
resolution supporting music education. We encourage you to send a
letter to your congressperson thanking him or her for supporting music
in schools. It’s very easy to do, just visit www.house.gov/writerep
and enter your zip code. You will be linked right away to a form to
contact your representative. You can encourage your students and
parents to write to their representative as well.
For a complete listing of sponsors and votes on this resolution, visit http://thomas.loc.gov and enter “H Con Res 380” in the “Bill Number”
field.

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Good Teachers + Small Class Sizes = Quality Education

Barb Williams forwarded this article by Michael Winerip, and asked me to post it (“It is, I believe, the sum of all we need in education–period, the end”):

The secret to quality public education has never been a big mystery. You need good teachers and you need small enough classes so those teachers can do their work. Period. After that, everything seems to pale, including the testing accountability programs, technology, building conditions. Even curriculum seems secondary, as our best public colleges demonstrate. We have West Point and we have Berkeley, and the question isn’t which has the correct curriculum; the question is which curriculum is the best fit for the student and teacher.
Parents get this. Joe Gipson, a black parent from Sacramento who feels that black students are too often shortchanged, told me the best thing that happened to his children’s school was the California law capping class size at 20 through third grade. You can still have incompeten

Organizing for Adequacy

Tom Beebe writes:

Wisconsin�s public school system is arguably the most important component
of our high quality of life. It has historically been part of the �village�
that raises intelligent, motivated, and successful participants in both
public and economic life.
The quality we have known for decades, however, is under siege. Unless we
act soon to change the way we fund public education, more schools will
close, school districts will begin to disappear, communities will wither,
and our children will lose sight of the future we promised them.

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Budget Email

I sent this email to comments@madison.k12.wi.us this evening

I am writing, first to thank you for the time and effort you devote to the MMSD.
Second, I’m writing to find out why some of you voted recently to increase administrative compensation ($589K), while at the same time eliminating gym instructors AND increasing student fees?
Perhaps there is an opportunity to re-think this? I would suggest telling the administrators to find 589K from their budget to fund the comp increase. In return, the student fee increases can be rolled back and perhaps a few more gym instructors retained.
Let’s fund student curriculum & programs first, then deal with administrative costs.
Best wishes –

Links: Gym Instructor Reductions | Admin Compensation Increases

Next Steps – A Vision with a Roadmap

Believe me when I say that I never intended to spend my time over the past three years studying the MMSD budget, even though I have worked professionally with very large budgets. But I love public education, and I love the fine arts. My husband is principal bassist in the MSO and a music teacher in MMSD. My daughter is a young violinist in WYSO�s Concert Orchestra and middle school student at Velma Hamilton. I live in a city that invests heavily in its future as a center for the performing arts, and I love my city and the diversity of its neighborhoods.
So two years ago, when Superintendent Art Rainwater proposed to eliminate Grade 4 strings, one of the school district�s gateway programs, I was alarmed. I began to ask questions, and I�ve learned a lot. Over the next several months, I’ll be commenting on this website in more detail about next steps for the budget process.
With all the focus on cuts to education, more than anything else I believe what is needed now is a vision for the Madison public schools and the specific funding (public investment in schools) that would be needed for the future of Madison�s public schools over the next 3-5 years. This budget cycle Board members were unable to get to the point to seriously discuss whether to go to a referendum or not, because they do not have a roadmap to guide them. I was at these meetings and witnessed the lack of a decisionmaking framework that comes from not having a vision and roadmap.
From my personal business experience and my recent immersion in the District�s school budget process, I�ve learned there are no shortcuts to budgeting. It�s critically important to have a vision, measurable overall and specific goals and objectives for that vision and strategies to reach your vision. Madison�s School Board has some of those pieces, but I�m hoping they take the time to develop and to refine their vision for the next 3-5 years and that they engage the community in that process.
I’ve watched for three budget cycles as the School Board’s budget process in the spring revolves around managing the Superintendent’s proposed cuts to the Madison School budget. These cuts represent less than 5% of a $300+ million school budget. Yearly, the school budget is approved without any information on what departments actually will be doing with the money next year.
Madison’s schools and the School Board need to find another way to work through the yearly budget process. However, until the School Board has developed a 3-5 year vision for the schools with measurable goals and objectives by school department don’t be surprised if we end up in the same place next year – panicked parents and a chagrined community distrustful of its School Board’s decisions.
Madison needs more from its School Board members than simply threats of cut services if we don’t pass a referendum. The Board needs to understand that the support of grass roots efforts in the community will be critical to passing a future referendum.

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Ideas to Close the Education Gap

Alan J. Borsuk writes about efforts to close the education gap between black & white students:

In Wisconsin the gap is so wide that black eighth-graders and white fourth-graders had almost identical scores in math on a national standardized test given in 2003. The gap between white and black eighth-graders was larger in Wisconsin than in any other state in both reading and math on that set of tests.

There’s been quite a bit of discussion on Bill Cosby’s recent speech at Howard University. The Washington Post’s Colbert I. King says simply: “Fix it, Brother“. Debra Dickerson also comments on her blog.

“Debacle” at East High School

Highly respected East High School biology teacher Paul de Vair, who chairs the school’s National Honor Society Selection Committee, wrote a two-and-a-half page memo to Principal Catherine Tillman on May 7.
It starts, “I am writing this letter to formally protest the debacle involving six honor students who were elected to the National Honor Society by the Selection Committee and who were denied membership on the day of the induction ceremony.”
He goes through the details of “the mess you (Tillman) created,” resigns as chair of the Selection Committee, and concludes in italics, ” Never in my 40 years in education (which includes MTI and WEAC presidencies and terms on the NEA Board of Directors) have I seen a faculty’s spirit and enthusiasm plunge so rapidly as it has in the last 2 years at East High School.”
Mr. du Vair’s memo seems to be a public document, so I assume that I’m not violating any confidences by quoting it. He copied it to President, Board of Education; Superintendent of Schools; NHS Selection Committee; East High School Administration; EHS Faculty and Staff.
Ed Blume

Look before you leap: a good rule for public budget making?

The Madison School District owes strong support to its administrators, especially our building principals. Without the hard work and long hours of our administrators, we could not serve our children as well as we do. Nonetheless, in tough financial times, the School Board must not approve wage and benefit increases for administrators until it carefully considers the impact of the increases on future budgets. On May 17, the Madison Board violated this principle of good stewardship.

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Four votes for new budget process

Ruth Robarts offered an excellent model for rationally crafting a goal-specific budget for the MMSD, and we all surely support it. But how are we going to make it happen? The Superintendent won’t adopt it willingly, so we’re faced with requiring the Superintendent to use the process. That means getting four board members to vote for the requirement. How are we going to make that happen? We’d need some sort of campaign to get the four votes. Would we need a big public splash like a one-day conference to learn about the budget model? Could we get the job done by privately talking with board members? Again, how do we proceed to get the board to adopt the budet model proposed by Ruth?
Ed Blume

Technology & Cheating…

Nicole Sweeney updates us on several technology related cheating events in the Milwaukee area:

At Waterford Union High School, a handful of students stole the answers to their physics exam and programmed the answers into their graphing calculators.
At Racine Park High School, a student used her camera phone to send a photo of her test to a friend.
And at Walden III Middle and High School in Racine, some students tape-recorded their notes to play back on hidden ear phones during exams.

Schools Lose / Business Services Gains in 2004-2005 MMSD Budget

The recently approved budget was a winner for some and a loser for other MMSD Departments, most notably funding for schools. The 2004-2005 budget approved on May 17, 2004 is $308 million.
A. Budget Winners – Increases Over Previous Year’s Budget
Business Services 7%
General Administration 6%
Educational Services (spec. ed/bilingual) 1%
Business Services and General Administration increased $3.8 million
B. Budget Losers – Decreases Over Previous Year’s Budget
Elementary Education -1%
w/o Assist. Supt. Office -2%
Secondary Education -1%
w/o Assist. Supt. Office -2%
The Elementary and Secondary school budgets with direct teaching to students decreased $1.4 million.
When there is no money, shouldn’t all increases in spending first to to instruction – the children? Why are we seeing increases in Business Services when there are decreases in 130 teachers and new school fees? Why did the School Board approve more than $500,000 increases in salaries and wages for administrative contracts just minutes before authorizing the reduction of 130 teachers and $300,000 in new fees? Robarts, Vang, and Winston were right to vote against a budget that does not put the education of Madison’s children first. The majority of Board members (Carstensen, Clingan, Keys and Lopez) voted for these changes. Why?
Complete comparison can be downloaded: Download file
Note: The MMSD budget document notes that due to a new accounting system put into place that enters actual salaries vs. average salaries the 02-03 expenditures and 03-04 budget have crosswalk variances to the 04-05 budget. Contact the Business Services office with any specific questions.

MMSD Salary/Benefit Changes – Non-Instruction Greater Than Instruction

Salary and benefits comprise nearly 85% of the MMSD’s $308 million school budget. When you look at the approved 2004-2005 budget and compare salary and benefits to 2002-2003 expenditures for the same, you see that Instruction increased 1% while salary and benefits expenditures for Business Services increased 6% and for MSCR the increase was 18% over a two-year period.
The complete comparison is contained in the file: Download file
Note: The MMSD budget document notes that due to a new accounting system put into place that enters actual salaries vs. average salaries the 02-03 expenditures and 03-04 budget have crosswalk variances to the 04-05 budget. Contact the Business Services office with any specific questions.

School Board Balances Final Budget on the Backs of Some Kids

On Monday, May 17th, the MMSD School Board made less than $1 million in changes to Mr. Rainwater’s proposed $308 million budget for the 2004-2005 school year. These changes were made right after the Board approved more than $500,000 in salary and benefits increases to Administrators. The primary changes later made to the 2004-2005 budget were made by increasing existing fees (sport fees to $115/sport) and creating a new elementary strings fee of $50 per participant. The increase in fees for 2004-2005 totaled more than $300,000.
Robarts, Vang and Winston were right to vote against the proposed 2004-2005 school budget. Ruth Robarts’ call for an alternative budgeting approach is needed now. Reasons for her approach are outlined further in the following commentary that is also being submitted as a Letter to the Editor.

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Email to Board of Education

I sent this mail to the Madison Board of Education regarding the current budget discussions (comments@madison.k12.wi.us):
First, thank you for all that you do. You truly have a thankless role on the MMSD BOE.
I am writing to pass along a few comments on the current board budget deliberations:
a) I urge you to apply reduced spending increases or in some cases reductions, across the budget, rather than attempt to load fees onto a few programs (Keep in mind that Madison’s 308+m budget is much richer than many other like sized communities). This strikes me as the ONLY fair approach.

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Board Watch

Don Severson sent this email over the weekend regarding Monday’s BOE meeting (5.17.2004) :

Please join me (Don Severson) in a MMSD Board of Education watch Monday evening, May 17 at about 6:00 p.m. The agenda is copied below. The Board will start discussing amendments to the 04-05 budget proposed by Supt. Rainwater sometime by 6:00. The Board will ostensibly make decisions on $9.9 million worth cuts and changes to the budget. The rules of the Board discussion on the budget preclude public input at this meeting.
It is critical, however, that we have a strong show of community interest in
their deliberations.

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ACE Presentation to School Board

Don Severson forwarded his presentation to the Madison School Board Thursday evening:

Inasmuch as the BOE and district administration are engaged in the leadership of an educational enterprise this is a good time to reflect on our experiences in the operation of the system and its processes. Let me suggest a �lesson plan�. This lesson plan has been prepared for the BOE and administrative leadership of the district and intended for their collaborative planning and implementation with teachers, parents, students and the community.

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International Biotech Summit on Curriculum

M.R.C. Greenwood, provost and SVP of academic affairs for the University of California System kicked off the Summit with some comments on US Elementary School Curriculum:

The biggest problem in moving ideas from the lab to the marketplace, said Greenwood, is a massive drought of brainpower looming in the United States’ near future. As the National Science Foundation’s recently released Science & Engineering (S&E) Indicators 2004 report revealed, the number of U.S. jobs requiring science and engineering skills is growing at nearly 5 percent annually, compared with a 1 percent growth rate for the rest of the U.S. labor market. Yet there are not nearly enough qualified U.S. scientists and engineers to meet the demand. In the past the nation has relied on skilled foreign-born workers, but many are choosing to work in other countries in response to increasingly strict U.S. visa requirements and burgeoning global demand for their skills.
With Asian countries now conferring more science and engineering bachelor’s degrees and Europe more such Ph.D.’s than the United States, “our biggest national security problem is the number of students interested in science and math,” said Greenwood.

Copenhagen Consensus Project on The Learning Deficit

Harvard’s Lant Pritchett writes in a new paper for the Copenhagen Consensus Project:

There are many ways to press forward this kind of systemic reform, Mr Pritchett argues. Vouchers and a �market� for education might work well in some circumstances, but other approaches could achieve good results too in some cases: school autonomy (as granted to �charter schools� in the United States, for instance), decentralisation of control, community management, and the use of non-government providers, could all, Mr Pritchett argues, serve the goal of structural reform that he regards as necessary if the application of extra resources is to succeed.
One striking indication of how easy it is to spend money fruitlessly in education comes from the rich countries. According to one study cited by Mr Pritchett, Britain increased its real spending per pupil by 77% between 1970 and 1994; over the same period, the assessment score for learning in maths and science fell by 8%. Australia increased its real spending per pupil by 270%; its pupils� scores fell by 2%. Extra spending by itself is likely to be no more successful in the poor countries than it has been in the rich.

MMSD Elementary School Multi-age Classrooms

Roger Allen forwarded a note to me from the Mad_School_Imp Yahoo Group

On 5/11/04 the Elvejhem Elementary School held an informational meeting about its decsion to proceed with all multiage classrooms
(combined grade classrooms) for grades 2-5. There will not be any single grade classrooms for these grades.
The MMSD Lead Elementary Principal Jennifer Allen announced that multiage classrooms are the model the school district is moving to. She complemented Elvejhem for holding this meeting as many of the schools that are moving to this model will be doing so next fall without any such informational meetings.
Many parents were upset by their lack of options and the lack of consultation on the part of the district. Eleven teachers attended this meeting in addition to the shcool prinicpal and the district lead principal. The teachers presented a united front in favor of the multiage classrooms. However, there are other teachers who privately oppose this move. Twenty five parents attended the meeting.

Budget Hearing – Elementary Strings Update

At the May 13th MMSD Budget Hearing parents and community representatives spoke against the proposed elementary string fee, calling it outrageous and equivalent to cutting the program.
“We are not a good-things-come-to-those-who pay town,” said parent Maureen Rickman, adding that the proposed fee would “cut out a big chunk of the students [in the middle income range].”
This coming Monday, May 17, the Board will begin the process of voting on the budget amendments. It is expected that they will start with those amendments that involve personnel because layoff notices need to go out before the end of the school year.

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B Sharp Not Flat

In an effort to find funding for custodians and maintenance work, a Madison Board member proposed an unprecedented $460 fee for elementary strings, which is an academic curriculum subject in the Madison School District. No other fee, not even for extracurricular sports is as high.
He noted as part of his explanation for the fee that he starts high in a negotiation so as not to bargain away his position. Other Board member recommendations for changes to the MMSD 04-05 budget tried to minimize the impact on children’s instruction and opportunity to participate in activities beneficial to their education.
If the MMSD School Board wants the City of Madison’s support, I hope they take better care than to make extreme recommendations on a targeted group of students. The following Letter to the Editor, which has been sent in to the papers but not yet published asks for fairness and responsible decisionmaking when it comes to all academic curriculum.

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88 Years to Close Achievement Gap!

Based on a recent front-page story in Isthmus and other data provided by MMSD, here are some conclusions about closing the achievement gap at the advanced level of the third grade reading tests.
1. Eight schools increased the percentage of African American kids scoring advanced between the 1997-1998 and 2002-2003 school years.
Nine schools showed a decrease.
Seven schools showed no change.
2. Twelve schools had no African-American students in the advanced category in the 1997-98 year.
Nine had no students in advanced in 2002-2003.
Five school had none in 1997-98 and 2002-03.
3. Between the 1997-98 school year and the 2002-2003 school year, the percentage of African-American students scoring advanced rose from 8.03% to 10.08% — an increase of .4% per year.
4. At the current rate of increase, it will take almost 88 years to close the achievement gap at the advanced level! (In 2002-2003, 45% of the white students scored advanced. (45% – 10% = 35 divided by .4 = 88.)

Guru Parulkar on US Education Curriculum

From Dave Farber’s [IP] List (Farber is Distinguished Career Professor of Computer Science and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon): Guru Parulkar writes:

I read this posting with a lot of interest because I also grew up in India and have been following changes in US and in India (as an ordinary interested citizen) for the past 20 years since I came to this country. I was a bit surprised with the generalizations about both India and US suggested in the email from Slashdot.
India is a big country with a lot of diversity. The type of value system as well as exposure to science/engineering implied in the Slashdot posting (children writing essays about getting Nobel prize, children growing up aspiring to be pioneers in science and technology) apply to a small cross-section of the society. I don’t think it applies to India in general or even to the majority in India. It is definitely true that the large middle class in India puts tremendous emphasis on education. However, the reason for this emphasis has been that careers in engineering and medicine have been the only way to make descent living. Right or wrong (like it or not) at a very early age kids recognize (because parents and society drill it down) that unless they do well in academics, they wouldn’t be able to get into engineering or medicine and thus not have a descent life. And so kids get serious about education and they start to respect other kids who do well in the school. It is not the “love of science or innovation” that has been making people serious about education. It is simply the financial rewards down the road. A lot of us Indians here in US wonder if this academic pressure on kids in India is appropriate because this means kids study and study and don’t have time to learn, enjoy, and experience other stuff that matter too in life.

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School Board Budget Amendments – Keys Proposes Elementary Strings Students Pay for Custodians and Building Maintenance

On Wednesday, May 5th, six of seven Madison School Board members turned in their budget amendments to the Superintendent’s proposed 04-05 MMSD School Budget. Along with their budget amendments, school board members handed in recommendation on how they would “fund” their recommended changes to the Superintendent’s proposed budget.

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MMSD Administration’s Cost Analysis of Elementary Strings is Out of Tune – A Critique

If the City of Madison is to have confidence in the School Board’s decisions, a fair and equitable budget process that is clear and understandable to the public is essential.
In late April 2004, the District Administration responded to the Bill Keys’ question about the cost of the District’s elementary strings program. The following letter to the School Board is a critique of that analysis which concluded the budget and curriculum information presented to the Board on elementary strings was done in a manner inconsistent with other cost studies and was incomplete.

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String ’em up – Strings Hits the Isthmus

In an article by Vikki Kratz in the Isthmus, published on May 7, 2004, the author wonders if the MMSD is tone deaf.
“Bill Keys, president of the Madison Board of Education, recently asked for a budget analysis of the popular 4th and 5th grade strings program. … The move by Keys was the last straw for Rick Neuenfeldt, the district’s coordinator of fine arts, who says he can no longer work in the district’s anti-arts atmosphere. ”
The analsysis that exasperated the District’s Fine Arts Coordinator was not prepared by him, but by District business professionals, unfamiliar with the academic curriculum. The analysis stated that a fee to cover the costs of the program would need to be nearly $500 per academic year.
The elementary strings program costs 1/4 what the District spends on extracurricular sports ($2 million per year) but a possible fee would be more than 5 times higher than what is currently paid for by any participant in a MMSD extracurricular sport this school year.
Examining the costs of all the District’s programs and services ought to be part of a robust budget process – targeting one program seems purposeful and biased. This approach runs the risk of losing rather than building the community’s confidence in its School Board.
The complete article and reference material is included below and can also be read at:
http://www.isthmus.com/features/docfeed/docs/document.php?intdocid=76

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School Fees – School Board Presentation

Fees help to pay for extracurricular, special school activities that are not required by state law but that are valuable to a child�s education. Fees for extracurricular, special activities need to be developed fairly and equitably across all activities.
Introduction: Exponential increase in social service, special education, ESL expenses � unfunded mandates that hit the District�s bottom line under revenue caps � means less money is available for school activities.
The following presentation on school fees was made by Bruce Kahn and Barb Schrank before the MMSD School Board on February 16, 2004 and addressed the following questions:
Why are there school fees today?
What are the costs of Extra-Curricular activities?
How do Extra-Curricular costs compare to instructional costs?
What happens when fees don�t cover costs?
What are some suggestions for your consideration?
Inform Parents and the Community �
Fees share the costs
Fees save academics
Fees save extra-curricular activities
Recommendation: Bring the Community to the Table � To explore alternative funding options now � to develop a plan.
Summary: We cannot wait for school funding options to be worked out � our kids are at risk of losing these important activities now. We need to take meaningful action immediately � You can e-mail Madison’s School Board members at comments@madison.k12.wi.us.

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Teachers’ Bottom Line


Denver is the first major city to approve a salary structure that rewards teachers for the progress of their students, according to this article by Diana Jean Schemo.

As a teacher of emotionally disturbed children, Jeremy Abshire sets goals for each of his students. Geronimo, 14, an American Indian who knew only the letters for “Jerry,” will read and write, and sign his true name. Shaneesa, a meek 12-year-old reading at a first-grade level, will catch up to her middle-school peers and attend regular classes in the fall.
Under a proposal approved by teachers here and to be considered by voters next year, if Mr. Abshire’s students reach the goals he sets, his salary will grow. But if his classroom becomes a mere holding tank, his salary, too, will stagnate.
“The bottom line is, do you reward teachers for just sitting here and sticking it out, or for doing something?” said Mr. Abshire, who has been teaching for four years. “The free market doesn’t handle things that way, so why should it be any different here?”
In March, Denver’s teachers became the first in a major city to approve, by a 59 percent majority, a full-scale overhaul of the salary structure to allow “pay for performance,” a controversial approach that rewards teachers for the progress of their students.
At a time when more and more superintendents are supporting moves away from the traditional salary structure for teachers, and finding their efforts stymied in an atmosphere of suspicion and financial austerity, Denver teachers’ vote is a major breakthrough.

ACE Roundtable May 11 7 to 9p.m.

7:00p.m. Commodore Room @ the Radisson Hotel (Odana & Grand Canyon)
Active Citizens for Education (ACE) is seeking grass roots input from interested parents, teachers and others regarding the current effectiveness and future direction of MMSD curriculum, instruction, programs, services, leadership and operations. ACE believes theinformation, experiences and suggestions from those people who are living and working on a day-to-day basis with the school system are in the best position to assist indeveloping direction and strategies for future change and development. Ace is sensitive to the concerns people have for exposure of their concerns and ideas to others andpledges to honor the confidentiality of those sensitivities. ACE needs help in formulating processes that can have an impact on the school system for improved effectiveness and performance.
More Information 82K PDF

Circulation of West High School Calculus Exams in 2001

Lee Sensenbrenner:

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

Fuzzy Math at West High: A Capital Times Editorial:

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

Doug Erickson:

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

Joan Knoebel:

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

Lee Sensenbrenner: Former Students Defend Teacher:

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

Doug Erickson:

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

Elementary Strings Rally A Success

About forty elementary string students serenaded the School Board members as they entered the McDaniels Auditorium Monday evening, May 3rd. Nearly 200 parents and children filled the auditorium to demonstrate to School Board members their support for the academic program.
If you have not written the School Board about the strings program, take a moment to compose an e-mail. Ask your children if they want to write a letter to School Board members (545 W. Dayton Street, Madison, 53703) – School Board members read these letters AND THEY DO MATTER.
MMSD School Board e-mail: comments@madison.k12.wi.us
Public Hearing on the Budget – May 13 5:00 p.m. in the McDaniels Auditorium.

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