Blame State Leaders if Schools Close: WI State Journal Editorial

The Wisconsin State Journal’s July 11th editorial says Blame State Leaders if Schools Close “…state leaders are just as much if not more to blame if the Florence School District shuts down. And don’t be surprised if more school districts, particularly in rural areas, are soon forced to consider such a drastic option.”
When will our state leaders get down to business? How much more do our kids have to take?

Edward Tufte in Madison 8/8

Presenting Data and Information: A One-Day Course Taught by Edward Tufte is in Madison August 8, 2005 ($320/person):

I attended his course in Chicago last year. Highly recommended. More on Edward Tufte.

Arizona School Drops Textbooks


A high school in Vail will become the state’s first all-wireless, all-laptop public school this fall. The 350 students at the school will not have traditional textbooks. Instead, they will use electronic and online articles as part of more traditional teacher lesson plans.
Vail Unified School District’s decision to go with an all-electronic school is rare, experts say. Often, cost, insecurity, ignorance and institutional constraints prevent schools from making the leap away from paper.

Goodbye, Class See You in the Fall: Looping in Ardsley NY Public Elementary School

The New York Times
July 11, 2005
Goodbye, Class. See You in the Fall.
ARDSLEY, N.Y. – Even though it was his last day of kindergarten, Zachary Gold, a bright, enthusiastic 6-year-old, said he wasn’t scared about moving up to the rigors of first grade. Unlike most kindergartners at the Concord Road Elementary School in this Westchester County village, he already knew who his first-grade teacher would be.

Continue reading Goodbye, Class See You in the Fall: Looping in Ardsley NY Public Elementary School

Letter from Art Rainwater to Sherman Parents About Changes at Sherman and Plans for all Madison Middle Schools

In response to inquiries from Sherman Middle School parents, Art Rainwater wrote a letter to parents/guardians dated June 27, 2005. In that letter he mentioned District plans to revisit the core courses taught middle school students – “…we will revisit this document [Common Expectations for All Middle Schools] again, beginning this summer, and address each of the areas in the document to ensure that our middle schools are consistent in the courses offered to each student.” I didn’t read anything about parents being included in such a process. If you have comments re your child’s middle school academics and/or what processes you hope the administration follows – send them to the School Board at
Download Superintendent Rainwater letter to Sherman parents/guardians

K-12 Math Curriculum: A Visit With UW Math Professor Dick Askey

UW Math Professor Dick Askey kindly took the time to visit with a group of writers and friends recently. Dick discussed a variety of test results, books, articles and links with respect to K-12 math curriculum. Here are a few of them:

  • Test Results:

    Wisconsin is slipping relative to other states in every two year NAP (sp?) Math test (4th and 8th grade). In 1992, Wisconsin 4th graders were 10 points above the national average while in 2003 they were 4 points above. Wisconsin students are slipping between 4th and eighth grades. In fact, white and hispanic children are now performing equivalent to Texas students while Wisconsin black students are performing above Washington, DC and Arkansas (the two lowest performers). He mentioned that there is no serious concern about the slippage.

    30 years ago, the United States had the highest % of people graduating from High School of any OECD country. Today, we’re among the lowest. We also have a higher drop out rate than most OECD countries.

    Said that he has asked Madison Schools Superintendent Art Rainwater twice in the past five years if our District asked for and received corrections for the current connected Math textbooks.

    Mentioned that CorePlus is evidently being used at West High but not Memorial

    Asked why these math performance declines are happening, he mentioned several reasons; “tame mathemeticians”, declining teacher content knowledge (he mentioned the rigor of an 1870’s California Teacher exam) and those who are true believers in the rhetoric.

  • Books:

    Knowing and Teaching Elementary Mathematics: Teachers’ Understanding of Fundamental Mathematics in China and the United States

    The Schools by Martin Mayer

Continue reading K-12 Math Curriculum: A Visit With UW Math Professor Dick Askey

Something New: Sun Prairie’s Website is Now a Blog

The Sun Prairie School District has launched a new website, essentially a blog with links. The key for Sun Prairie or any organization is to embrace all that that internet offers (audio, video, links, background information) and provide timely and useful information. They must frequently update the site. I wish them well. PBS’s Frontline provides a great example. Their stories include video/audio clips, transcripts, documents and extensive background data.

More on the Florence School District

Phil Brinkman takes a look at the Florence School District, which may disband:

“I want them to teach our children within their means,” said Tibbs, probably the chief antagonist in what has become a battle between cash-strapped residents and an equally cash- strapped school district over the future of education here.
Members of the Florence County School Board are finally conceding that battle after voters last month turned down the third spending referendum in the past two years. The measure would have let the district exceed state- imposed revenue caps by $750,000 a year for three years.
“There are other school districts of the same size, wealth and makeup that aren’t dissolving,” said Tony Evers, deputy state superintendent of public instruction. “Clearly, things happened in this school district that didn’t happen in other school districts.”
But Evers said Florence County’s death spiral provides sobering evidence that the state’s school funding formula is overdue for a change. Under that formula, state aid is provided in roughly inverse proportion to a community’s property wealth, and the total revenue a district can raise is capped. If costs exceed that – and officials in districts from Florence to Madison to Milwaukee say they are – districts must ask property taxpayers for more.
“We will need to, absolutely, continue to find better ways to measure wealth than property value,” Evers said.

note: this link will suffer “linkrot” as Capital Newspapers takes their links down after a period of time.

Continue reading More on the Florence School District

“No” on Intellectual Pluralism

George Archibald:

“There are no secret agendas here. Divergency [of views] in the classroom is being stifled. More and more, what we can say in the classroom is being restricted,” said Mr. Jackson, a high school English teacher from Kennewick, Wash.
Teachers have a responsibility “to instruct students how to think, not to indoctrinate,” he said. “All this is trying to do is to open this up and to prevent restriction” of the academic freedom of students as well as teachers.
But Tom Oxter, president of a Florida higher-education group that led the fight before the Florida Legislature against a similar campaign for a student academic bill of rights there, denounced the proposal as “really just the beginning of a witch hunt” by conservatives.

Via Joanne Jacobs. Joanne also summarizes the NEA’s comments on the Achievement Gap.

Superintendent Rainwater’s Letter to Governor Doyle

Madison School Superintendent Art Rainwater via WisPolitics :

Thank you for making public education in Wisconsin a priority in the budget you presented to the Legislature – a proposal that protected Wisconsin’s overburdened property tax payers and the children of the state. Unfortunately, the budget before you resembles little of what you offered for our taxpayers and K-12 students.
Since the inception of state-imposed revenue limits in 1993, Madison has cut over $43 million in its “same-service” budget and eliminated almost 540 positions – including 121 positions for the 05-06 school year. It is disingenuous for Republican leaders to claim their $458 million school aid increase as “historic,” when over 90 percent of the resources are targeted for school property tax relief, not for school programs and services. We have long surpassed cutting fat from our local budget, but have cut into bone as we increase class size in secondary instruction, eliminate classroom opportunities for students and cut support staff who assist our most needy students and families.
I urge you to use your veto authority to the fullest extent in order to restore revenue limit increases that keep pace with inflation, versus the GOP plan that cuts the allowable increase to 1.4 percent – less than half of the current inflation rate. Aside from increases in categorical aids, the revenue limit increase represents a school district’s only opportunity to fund critical programs for students.

I’m glad the Superintendent sent his comments to the Governor. It will be interesting to see where the Governor, facing a 2006 election campaign, lands on the amount of increased spending for Wisconsin schools (the battle is over the amount of increased money: the Republican budget includes a 458M increase to the 5.3B base, while Governor Doyle originally proposed a $900M increase via borrowing and other shifts).

Madison is also somewhat unique in this discussion in that about 25% of its budget comes from the State (State school spending will go up faster than inflation, in either case. The puzzle for me is the 1.4% that Superintendent Rainwater refers to. Is this due to Madison’s flat enrollment and/or based on the formulaic penalty we face for our higher than average per student spending? The enrollment situation is sort of strange, given the housing explosion we’ve seen over the past 10 years), whereas other districts receive a much higher percentage of their budget from state taxpayers. Further, Madison taxpayers have supported a significant increase in local school support over the past decade. The District’s Operating Budget has grown from $200M in 1994-1995 to $317M in 2005-2005. Art’s letter mentions “cut $43 million in its “same-service” budget and eliminated almost 540 positions – including 121 positions for the 05-06 school year”. There’s also been some discussion here about District staffing changes.

I also believe the District needs to immediately stop operating on a “same service approach”. Given the rapid pace of knowledge and information change today (biotech, science, engineering among others) AND the global challenges our children face (Finland, India, China and other growing economies – see Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat) things that worked over the past decade may no longer be practical or affordable for that matter.

Having said all that, it is difficult to manage anything when the curveballs are coming rather quickly. It would be great for the state to be consistent in the way it provides funds for 25% of our District’s budget. Similarily, in the private sector, many would love to see less risk and change, but I don’t see it happening.

It’s About the Kids

My vote re the proposal to fund two West High JV soccer teams was about the kids and was for the kids. MMSD’s athletic budget for next year will fund 8 teams in each high school for soccer, but at West the demand from kids is for 10 teams, so the parent proposal was to fundraise for the two teams that school would be short under next year’s team allocation matrix.
I appreciated the parents’ efforts to be proactive on behalf of 50 high school kids who want to play soccer. I appreciated that the parents from West High expanded the name of their group to Madison, recognizing the possible future need to help kids across the city who want to play soccer. I hope we can harness these parents’ positive efforts for future discussions about what we need to do to keep athletics and other educational opportunities strong for our kids.
Further, in my opinion the long-term issue regarding extra-curricular sports is not about the number of teams (by the way, it’s up to 66 teams for all grades per high school in several sports, not just soccer), but a) what high school athletic program do we want for Madison’s children, b) how much does that athletic program cost, c) how much can the District afford to pay, and d) how will we pay for the amount not covered in the budget. The School Board has not had this discussion and needs to have this discussion ASAP.
In the meantime, as a community member on the Partnership Committee I supported this proposal and will continue to be open to new ideas from the community in all educational areas for different ways to build community linkages that will support a strong, complete educational environment for all our kids.

I Voted Yes to Privately Fund Two West High Soccer Teams

At its June 27, 2005 meeting, the Partnership Committee listened to a request from West High School parents (Friends of West High School Soccer) to fundraise money for an additional 2 soccer teams this fall. A committee member made a motion to allow parents to fundraise the money and that motion passed unanimously. The entire School Board will vote on the Partnership Committee’s recommendation on Monday, July 11th and I hope the majority of the School Board votes yes.
I am a community member on the Partnership Committee, and I voted yes because I want as many children as possible who want to play sports (soccer in this case) to have that opportunity, and I appreciate the parent group stepping forward to take on the job of fundraising the necessary money to field two more teams. I would also like to thank the parent group for changing their name from Friends of West High Soccer to Friends of Madison Soccer, intending to form a city-wide support group if that becomes necessary so kids can play sports in high school.
Was I concerned about equity issues among the 4 Madison high schools who field athletic teams when I voted yes? Not in this instance, because during the 2005-2006 school year each high school will have the opportunity to field up to 66 freshman, sophmore, junior varsity, varsity and combination athletic teams (264 teams in total). This district-wide team structure has a $2 million+ budget for next year that the School Board approved in June 2005.
Further, the up to 66 teams per school that is budgeted for the 2005-2006 academic year is more than the number of teams East and Lafollette High Schools had during the 2004-2005 school year and less than the number of teams that West and Memorial High Schools had this past school year.
The West High proposal is NOT about one school having teams and another school not having teams because of any disparity due to access to funding. The Athletic Committee that came up with the team structure for next year treated each school equally when it came to the number of teams per sport and total teams that would be funded.
To me, this proposal is about parents and community members a) seeing a demand for soccer greater than the District’s budget can afford next year, and b) working together to come up with a proposal for helping kids play sports. Helping kids – that’s what made so much sense to me in this proposal.
Will the School Board have to have discussions about equity when funding school activities, public vs. private funding for different activities? Yes, definitely, but I don’t think those needed future discussions should stop the School Board from going forward with a proposal that makes sense. I hope a majority of the School Board supports this proposal on Monday, July 11th. I think it’s a proposal that is good for kids, works within the existing athletic infrastructure, and we will be able to learn from this effort for future discussions about how sports are funded. Thank you, parents and community members for coming forward to help Madison’s students.

California English Teacher on Teacher Evaluations

Tod Seal discusses teacher evaluations in three parts:

  • Student Voices

    Students choosing the easy route make up a large percentage of any public school. I’d say that easily 80% of the students in any high school will choose the teacher who shows movies and simply requires basic recall of class lecture over the teacher who reads novels and requires challenging essays. Yes, students in public school choose Advanced Placement (AP) classes.

  • Teacher Voices

    It’s been suggested that there is a struggle to create “objective, articulable standards” [sic] for teacher evaluation. It’s further been suggested that teachers be evaluated based on subjective standards, in the absence of those “articulable standards.” I, for one, certainly don’t want to be judged on subjective standards and I don’t want other teachers evaluated thusly. I wouldn’t judge my students subjectively and I wouldn’t expect any boss to evaluate employees subjectively.

  • Administrator View

    Teachers in my school district are currently evaluated by a bi-annual visit from an administrator (principals and the like). Every 2 years, an administrator spends 53 minutes in my classroom, taking notes on what happens during that time. That 53-minute period, that solitary visit to my classroom on a day and time that I know about well in advance is supposed to be some type of record of how effective I am as an educator. That visit is the single requirement our district has for teacher evaluation.
    Clearly, this is a flawed system

Health Talks Won’t Be Secret

Jason Shepherd wrote about the nature of the Madison School District’s joint committee with MTI (Madison Teachers Inc.)regarding health care costs. Initially, according to Shepherd, Madison School Board President Carol Carstensen said that “the open meeting law does not apply to the committee”.

KJ Jakobsen, a parent studying the District’s health insurance costs, wants to attend the meetings to see if the district is conducting an appropriate review. “Questions have been raised for 20 years,” she says. “Change won’t happen if these meetings are secret”.

But Carstensen, in an e-mail to Jakobsen, barred her from the meetings, claiming the committee is “part of the bargaining process” and thus excluded from the open meetings law. That raised the ire of [Ruth] Robarts, who said, “The public has a right to know what the distrct has been doing about its health insurance costs”.

Read the article here. Isthmus’ web site

Are Students More Equal than Others?

Susan Lampert Smith: “West High kids may have more opportunities because their parents are able to pay so they can play”. Evidently, the issue is $6,000 in the Madison School District’s $320M+ budget.
Meanwhile, Sandy Cullen discusses an attempt to move extramural sports to MSCR (part of Fund 80) as a response to the elimination earlier this year of freshman no cut sports. Madison Superintendent Art Rainwater mentioned:

“Our problem is facilities,” Rainwater said, adding that after-school activities, practices and games, as well as community programs, are already using the space needed for an extramural program. “If we don’t have facilities, we can’t do it.”

I hope and assume that programs for our school age children always come first in these discussions.

Going Online Keeps Students in Line

Tom Kertscher:

At the same time, a new system for disciplining students also helped reduce the number of Badger Middle School students sent to the dean’s office because of misbehavior, said first-year principal Ted Neitzke, 34. But the use of a daily “blog” – an adaptation of e-mails shared among teachers and other staff – was perhaps more important, Neitzke said. He had used the system a year earlier on his previous job as an assistant principal in Sheboygan.

The blog, Neitzke said, is a “positive, proactive communication tool.”

The West Bend School Board received annual reports from schools on progress they are making on individual improvement plans. Badger, the larger of West Bend’s two middle schools, said reducing behavioral problems was its “greatest achievement” in the school year that just ended.

Gibson: Who Owns the Words?

William Gibson:

We seldom legislate new technologies into being. They emerge, and we plunge with them into whatever vortices of change they generate. We legislate after the fact, in a perpetual game of catch-up, as best we can, while our new technologies redefine us – as surely and perhaps as terribly as we’ve been redefined by broadcast television.

“Who owns the words?” asked a disembodied but very persistent voice throughout much of Burroughs’ work. Who does own them now? Who owns the music and the rest of our culture? We do. All of us.

Though not all of us know it – yet.

Gibson’s most recent book is Pattern Recognition, which is a must read. Gibson’s website.

Developing Credibility

From Debroah Bush-Suflita, Communications Manager of the Capital Region Board of Cooperative Educational Services, Albany, New York:

The most important element of an effective public information program is credibility. Indeed, credibility is the most important element in an effective educational program. You cannot lie or obscure the truth, because you will quickly lose credibility. . . .

Continue reading Developing Credibility

California’s Proposed School Funding Changes

Nanette Asimov:

Since California’s property tax revolt more than 25 years ago, teachers, parents and school supporters have honed their battle skills arguing with politicians in Sacramento for more education money every year.
They haven’t always gotten their way, but since 1988 they have been able to count on a minimum funding level established by Proposition 98, the voter- approved ballot measure enshrined in the state constitution that says schools would be given first priority in the budget.

Florence School District Likely to Close in One Year

In northern Wisconsin Florence County Schools Likely To Close. The local school board voted 6-1 to consider closing the schools.
Since 1998-1999 school year, Florence School District:
student population declined 15%
property tax share of school costs increased 16%
state contribution to school costs decreased 15.7%
cost to educate a child increased 23.3%
With changes like this coupled with the recent absence of meaningful discussions by the WI government on public education, more school closing/mergers are likely.
When are we going to have the discussion – what does it cost to educate a child? When will the WI government get down to seriously discussing the business of financing the public education of Wisconsin’s children and stop the unproductive rhetoric saying we’re spending more on schools than ever without having any idea of what level of investment is needed to fund public education? The state is happy to avoid the question blathering on about taxes and giving money to special projects all the while shifting the costs of education to property tax payers, an approach that won’t work much longer.
How many more school districts have to close? How many more kids have to be displaced?
School district leadership bears some of the responsibility of meaningful strategic discussions about the future of financing public education and examining different approaches. More on that topic in a later blog.
Immediate issue is a state government that is not seriously undertaking the issue of school financing but is giving tax credits to home and private schooling while avoiding important discussions about the financing of public schools, which is part of the state’s constitution. The United States is littered with examples of state governments who have avoided this responsibility – why does WI have to be one of those states?

Property Taxes Biggest Share of Income in Milwaukee and Madison Areas


The other part of the state where the property tax burden was high was Dane county, according to WISTAX. The city and town of Madison led the area with property taxes at 8.8% and 8.2% of income, respectively. Five suburbs surrounding Madison also made the top-50 list: McFarland and Mt. Horeb (both 7.4%); Sun Prairie (7.3%); and DeForest and Stoughton (both 7.1%).
In a separate part of the report, WISTAX notes that the property tax-to-income ratio is much like a political “heart monitor.” When property taxes relative to income climb above 4%, discontent begins to grow. The study cited several periods in the postwar era when property taxes were unusually high and led to a major change, either in politics or in policy-making. Most recently, this occurred in 1993-94, when property taxes completed a 14-year rise, hitting 4.8% of income. Then, a bipartisan majority in state government imposed school revenue limits and first committed the state to providing two-thirds of local schools’ revenues.

DPI Letter – Optional Class Hours are NOT Part of the Regular School Day

In his letter to a Sherman parent, Michael George, Director of Content and Learning Team wrote:
“The requirements for regular instruction in 121.02(1)(L) are to be scheduled within the regular school day which is defined as “the period from the start to the close of each pupil’s daily instructional schedule.” Times of the day or week during which student attendance is optional are not considered part of the regular school day.”
In May Sherman principal Ann Yehle sent a letter to Sherman parents telling them band, orchestra and vocal music classes would be offered in an optional 8th hour. Parents wrote to DPI for clarification of the state law regarding regarding regular school day.
There will still be an optional 8th hour class with some form of music, but the newest proposal is to offer orchestra, band and vocal music education courses as pull-out classes, pulling students from other classes who want to study band, orchestra or vocal music. I’m left to wonder why students who want to study band, orchestra or vocal music continously have to “double up” their studies – seems like they are being penalized. Why wouldn’t this put additional and, perhaps, unnecessary, pressure on these students.
The entire content of the DPI letter follows:

Continue reading DPI Letter – Optional Class Hours are NOT Part of the Regular School Day

Wisconsin Senate Passes Budget

The Wisconsin State Senate passed their version of the next two year budget early this morning. Read more here:

The bill goes back to the Assembly next week, where it must be approved before it is sent to Governor Doyle. The Senate version increases state support for K-12 public schools by 458M to 5.3billion (the Governor wanted to increase state support by 938M via borrowing and transfers).

I think Doyle, looking toward an election year in 2006, will take a Solomon approach and split the difference via his line item veto powers.

Denver’s New Superintendent

Rocky Mountain News:

Moreover, he will lead the campaign for a mill levy to fund ProComp, the pay-for-performance model that has been approved by teachers and that also has Hickenlooper’s support. Indeed, Bennet is so committed to that model that he hopes to negotiate such a provision as part of his own employment contract, a sure sign of confidence that the job is doable and the challenges are not intractable.
On Monday, Bennet said naming a chief academic officer would be among his highest priorities, and that he expects to start a national search for that person soon. That decision, perhaps more than any other he makes early in his new post, could determine whether he achieves the ambitious goal he has set for Denver: to be the best urban school district in the country.

Joanne Jacobs has some useful links behind this story, one of which is Siegfried Englemann’s piece on students “who are victims of the unshifted paradigm”.

Keep School Spending in Check

A reader forwarded this Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:

You have to wonder if the members of the Madison School Board couldn’t benefit from a remedial math course.
Last week, with the School District facing the prospect of having to cut $3.1 million from its budget, the School Board voted to add $651,400 in spending.
No wonder frustrated School Board member Bill Keys felt compelled to warn: “We have a serious financial problem on our hands. I do think the community and the board is in a kind of denial.”
Keys’ words deserve the attention of taxpayers not only in Madison but also throughout a majority of school districts in Wisconsin. Any district that denies the looming threats to its budget risks paying a stiff price.
School boards face uncertain budget circumstances. Schools will benefit from an increase in state spending on education in the next state budget. But how big the increase will be remains undecided.

Wisconsin Property Tax Hikes Outpacing Wages


Aids to local governments increased dramatically since 1955, according to the study. Local school aids rose 10.8% per year, while shared revenues to local governments increased 4.9% annually. However, WISTAX researchers point out that there are questions about the long-term effectiveness of local aids for reducing property taxes. Economic research in Wisconsin and elsewhere finds that state and federal aids to local governments only partially offset local property taxes, as a portion of that aid funds new spending.
The study finds that some limits on local governments have been effective at relieving property taxes and some have not. During the 1970’s, the state imposed cost controls on schools and levy limits on counties and municipalities. Due to an increasing number of “loopholes,” they were deemed ineffective and eliminated in 1983. Recent revenue limits on schools have been more effective, because they do not have similar loopholes. Counties and technical colleges have limits on the tax rates they can impose. However, large increases in property values have limited their effectiveness.

Simply amazing

This season’s Concerts on the Square kicked off with an interesting medley of polka/waltz/cancans, but the best reason to have attended was the performance of a Dvorak piece by a 16-year old violinist from Janesville Parker, Saya Chang-O’Hara. Put simply, she was brilliant. Juilliard should be knocking on her door any day now. It was an honor to hear her play.
But what might be of interest to folks on this site is this: she only started playing when she was eleven, AS PART OF HER SCHOOL’S STRINGS PROGRAM.

Sherman’s Curriculum Riles Parents

Sandy Cullen’s article in the June 28, 2005 WI State Journal Sherman’s curriculum riles parents notes:

On Friday, the state Department of Public Instruction ruled that under Wisconsin law, instrumental music instruction must be available to all students in grades seven through 12 during the regular school day.
“It is unusual to pull students from one class to meet instructional time in another class,” said Michael George, director of the Content & Learning Team for the state Department of Public Instruction, who issued Friday’s ruling. “Clearly, they’re not getting the same experience as other students.”

Besides music instruction, Sherman parents are concerned that few students have the opportunity to take 8th grade algebra and that no child will have the opportunity to take a full year of foreign language prior to high school.
Yehle said middle school is a time when students should be sampling many subject areas to gauge their interests and skills, and should be introduced to what it’s like to study a foreign language, rather than develop proficiencies.

Sherman principal Ann Yehle’s comments seem at odd with a) Wisconsin’s Model Academic Standards in foreign language which call for “… a strong foreign language program beginning in the elementary grades” and b) Wisconsin’s Administrative Code – Public Instruction, Chapter PI 8 Appendix 8 Instructional Guidelines which recommend 100 minutes of foreign language instruction per week beginning in Grade 5.
It’s hard to see where Sherman Middle School’s curriculum is not being dummed down for its students compared to other Madison middle schools and to school districts surrounding Madison WI.

Middle School Curriculum

Much afoot at Sherman Middle school. MMSD will look at developing a district-wide middle school curriculum. While that might improve the mess at Sherman, it might also mean watering down the curriculum, eg. math, throughout the district.
“School Board President Carol Carstensen, who made it one of her priorities to examine how the district’s 11 middle schools are structured and to consider proposals for changes, said that questions and concerns about middle- school curriculum existed before the situation at Sherman boiled over.
“It came to a head around Sherman,” Carstensen said.
Among the concerns is whether the kind of preparation students receive for high school varies depending on which middle school they attend, she said.
In one of her first jobs as the new superintendent of secondary schools, Pam Nash will focus on designing a middle school system that is consistent across the district, Rainwater said.
“Each of our middle schools has developed in a very different way,” Rainwater said, adding, “It provides a tremendous amount of flexibility.”
Carstensen said that while a more centralized model would sacrifice some autonomy and creativity in a school’s ability to meet the needs of its specific student population, she believes that all students should have the same opportunities in certain areas, including instrumental music and advanced math classes.”

Continue reading Middle School Curriculum

Bringing Better Nutrition to School Cafeterias

Talk of the Nation:

The school cafeteria line is hardly the place to develop healthy eating habits. Forget fruits and veggies — the typical lunch usually contains fast food staples like pizza and french fries. What can — or can’t — school districts do to make lunches healthier?

audio. Chez Panisse’s Alice Water’s participated in this program (Waters has been active in Berkeley nutrition programs).

Great Decision Making

The current issue of Fortune (2nd of a 2 part 75th anniversary edition) includes some fascinating examples of leadership and decision making. Jerry Useem summarizes the article.

If surmounting your anxieties is step one, step two is letting go of your inner perfectionist because there is no such thing as a perfect decision-maker. Even if you had all the information in the world and a hangar full of supercomputers, you�d still get some wrong.
But there�s a big difference between a wrong decision and a bad decision. A wrong decision is picking Door No. 1 when the prize is actually behind Door No. 2. It�s a lousy result, but the fault lies with the method. A bad decision is launching the space shuttle Challenger when Morton Thiokol�s engineers predict a nearly 100% chance of catastrophe. The method, in this case, is no method at all.
The distinction is important, because it separates outcomes, which you can�t control, from process, which you can. Wrong decisions are an inevitable part of life. But bad decisions are unforced errors. They�re eminently avoidable—and there are proven techniques to avoid the most predictable pitfalls (see Great Escapes).

20 Decisions that made history is also quite worthwhile.

Leopold Referendum Not in Near Term

Cristina Daglas:

The Madison School Board flirted Monday night with the idea of holding another referendum to seek funding for a second school on the Leopold Elementary grounds, but then backed away from it for now.
The board’s Long Range Planning Committee met with parents from Leopold at the school and heard their pleas for another referendum. Two of the three committee members – Juan Jose Lopez and Bill Keys – favored holding another referendum but ultimately moved to table the idea when it was clear that a majority of board members were not ready to go back to the voters so soon after the defeat of a similar referendum on May 24.

Virginia Drops Non-Math Teacher Math Tests

Joanne Jacobs:

Virginia will drop a basic skills test for would-be teachers which measures high-school-level reading, writing and math performance. Instead, the state will develop its own test of college-level reading and writing skills. Only math teachers will be tested on math knowledge.

Here are “advanced math” test prep questions for Praxis I, which is being abandoned. Thirty-five years out of high school, I can do these problems in my head. It’s hard to believe there are people smart enough to teach who can’t pass a basic math test. How are they going to average students’ grades?

Grigsby on WI Sex Education

Rep Tamara Grigsby, via Wispolitics:

  • Wisconsin has the highest incidence of African-American teen births in the nation.
  • Milwaukee has the highest high school drop-out rates for African-Americans in the country, which is directly connected to the high teen birth rate in our state.
  • In 2001, Milwaukee had the second highest teen birth rate of the nation’s 50 biggest cities.
  • Wisconsin has the 14th highest chlamydia rate (17,942 cases reported) and the 21st highest rate of syphilis in the nation (5,663 cases reported).
  • Almost ½ of all new sexually transmitted infections are contracted by 15-24 year olds, despite the fact that this population only makes up 25% of the sexually active population.


Diane Ravitch:

In a comparison of a 1973 algebra textbook and a 1998 “contemporary mathematics” textbook, Williamson Evers and Paul Clopton found a dramatic change in topics. In the 1973 book, for example, the index for the letter “F” included factors, factoring, fallacies, finite decimal, finite set, formulas, fractions and functions. In the 1998 book, the index listed families (in poverty data), fast food nutrition data, fat in fast food, feasibility study, feeding tours, ferris wheel, fish, fishing, flags, flight, floor plan, flower beds, food, football, Ford Mustang, franchises and fund-raising carnival.
It seems terribly old-fashioned to point out that the countries that regularly beat our students in international tests of mathematics do not use the subject to steer students into political action. They teach them instead that mathematics is a universal language that is as relevant and meaningful in Tokyo as it is in Paris, Nairobi and Chicago. The students who learn this universal language well will be the builders and shapers of technology in the 21st century. The students in American classes who fall prey to the political designs of their teachers and professors will not.

Teen Screen

Reader David Lehane emailed this article by Evelyn J. Pringle:

he scheme concocted by the pharmaceutical industry and pushed forward by the Bush administration to screen the entire nation’s public school population for mental illness and treat them with controversial drugs was already setting off alarms among parents all across the country. But in the state of Indiana, the alarm just got louder.
Tax payers had better get out their check books because school taxes are about to go up as the law suits against school boards start mounting over the TeenScreen depression survey being administered to children in the school.
The first notice of intent to sue was filed this month in Indiana by Michael and Teresa Rhoades who were outraged when they learned their daughter had been given a psychological test at school without their consent.
In December 2004, their daughter came home from school and said she had been diagnosed with an obsessive compulsive and social anxiety disorder after taking the TeenScreen survey.

Does Wisconsin’s method inflate graduation rate?

Original URL:
From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Does state’s method inflate graduation rate?
Wisconsin says 92% finish high school; report estimates 78% do

Posted: June 23, 2005
A new report lambastes states across the country for using flawed, and even “irrational,” methods of calculating graduation rates that ultimately dupe the public.
The report does not criticize Wisconsin as harshly as a few other states, such as North Carolina, but it does offer an alternative method of estimating graduation rates that would put Wisconsin’s rate at 78% for the 2000-’01 school year, 14 percentage points lower than the 92% rate reported for the 2002-’03 school year.
“Every year (states) report these literally preposterous numbers,” said Kati Haycock, director of the Education Trust, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that advocates for disadvantaged students and released the report.
The report suggests that Wisconsin and many other states measure graduation rates in a manner that gives an overly rosy, distorted picture of the number of students who are actually finishing high school in the United States.

Continue reading Does Wisconsin’s method inflate graduation rate?

What schools get SAGE next year?

What criteria does the district use to select SAGE schools?
The board has before it on Monday, June 27, a motion to drop SAGE at Lapham/Marquette (37/24% low-income) and Crestwood (23% low-income). Huegel (41%) and Sandburg (42%) will replace them. The agenda also lists all of the schools scheduled to be designated SAGE schools.
The following schools will be SAGE schools though they have a lower percentage of low income students than Lapham’s 37%: Chavez (29%), Muir (29%), Shorewood (28%), Stephens (32%).
The following schools with particularly high percentages of low-income students do not appear on the list: Glendale (67%), Lincoln (70%), Mendota (73%), Midvale (65%), and Nuestro Mundo (45%).
The MMSD Web site has a list of low-income students in all schools.

Continue reading What schools get SAGE next year?

Education Gets the Schank

Roger Schank spoke at iLaw today:

i had to retire before i could talk about this stuff!
Charles Eliot was the president of harvard 1869-1909 is the most evil man in the history of harvard — he set up the high school curriculum that is still in place TODAY.
If you ever wondered why you took algebra in high school, is because the guy in princeton was selling a textbook on algebra, so he put algebra on high school curriculum!
i’m a math major and a computer science prof, and algebra has never come up in my life, maybe it has in yours.

Roger C. Schank Backbround

Talking To Strangers

Bruce Schneier:

“Many children are taught never to talk to strangers, an extreme precaution with minimal security benefit.”
In talks, I’m even more direct. I think “don’t talk to strangers” is just about the worst possible advice you can give a child. Most people are friendly and helpful, and if a child is in distress, asking the help of a stranger is probably the best possible thing he can do.
This advice would have helped Brennan Hawkins, the 11-year-old boy who was lost in the Utah wilderness for four days.
The parents said Brennan had seen people searching for him on horse and ATV, but avoided them because of what he had been taught.
“He stayed on the trail, he avoided strangers,” Jody Hawkins said. “His biggest fear, he told me, was that someone would steal him.”
They said they hadn’t talked to Brennan and his four siblings about what they should do about strangers if they were lost. “This may have come to a faster conclusion had we discussed that,” Toby Hawkins said.
In a world where good guys are common and bad guys are rare, assuming a random person is a good guy is a smart security strategy. We need to help children develop their natural intuition about risk, and not give them overbroad rules.

Cap Times Editorial Supports Kobza on Use of $240K

The Capital Times:

Newly elected Madison School Board member Lawrie Kobza was wise to move to use $240,000 in money made available by insurance savings to revive Lincoln Elementary School’s Open Classroom Program and to restore “specials” – music, art and gym classes at the elementary schools – to their regular sizes. And the board majority was right to back her move to maintain broadly accepted standards of quality in the city’s public schools.

Capital Times Editorial: Board backs school quality

Newly elected Madison School Board member Lawrie Kobza was wise to move to use $240,000 in money made available by insurance savings to revive Lincoln Elementary School’s Open Classroom Program and to restore “specials” – music, art and gym classes at the elementary schools – to their regular sizes. And the board majority was right to back her move to maintain broadly accepted standards of quality in the city’s public schools.

Continue reading Capital Times Editorial: Board backs school quality

Taught at Home, but Seeking to Join Activities at Public Schools by James Dao, New York Times

The New York Times
June 22, 2005
STRASBURG, Pa., June 16 – Mary Mellinger began home-schooling her eldest sons, Andrew and Abram, on the family’s 80-acre dairy farm five years ago, wanting them to spend more time with their father and receive an education infused with Christian principles. Home schooling could not, however, provide one thing the boys desperately wanted – athletic competition.

Continue reading Taught at Home, but Seeking to Join Activities at Public Schools by James Dao, New York Times

Newsweek Updates Top 1000 US High Schools List

Jay Matthew has updated his list of the top 1000 US High Schools. The list, known as The Challenge Index, uses a ratio: the number of Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate tests taken by all students at public high schools in 2004, divided by the number of graduating seniors at the schools in 2004. Newsweek says that although the list “doesn’t tell the whole story about a school, it’s one of the best measures available to compare a wide range of students’ readiness for higher-level work, which is more crucial than ever in the postindustrial age.”
Here’s a list of Wisconsin High Schools included on the Challenge Index. Verona (710) and Madison Memorial (598) were the only Dane County schools included. Milwaukee Rufus King was the top ranked Wisconsin school on the list at 215.
Tom Kertscher takes a look at a recent addition to the list, Grafton High School.

Dept of Admin June 21 Memo on per-student revenue
Date: June 21, 2005
To: Marc Marotta
From: David Schmiedicke
State Budget Director
Subject: School District Revenue Limits — REVISED
We have received a number of inquiries regarding the impact of the reduction to the allowable per pupil revenue limit increase made by the Joint Committee on Finance (JCF’) in its version of the 2005-07 biennial budget bill (AB 100). As you know, Governor Doyle’s budget recommendations retained the current law allowable increase, which is last year’s allowable increase plus increase in the consumer price
Under current law, the increases are estimated to be $248.48 per pupil in FY2005-06 and $252 in FY2006-07. The JCF version of the budget reduces those increases to $120 per pupil in FY06 and $100 in FY2006-07. For the biennium, this represents a reduction of an estimated $352 million in school district revenues compared to current
On a percentage basis, current law and the Governor’s proposal would provide the average district with per pupil revenue increases of approximately 2.9% in each year (over the state average base revenue per pupil of $8,415 for FY05). Under the JCF version of the budget, the allowable increase would be reduced to 1.4% in FY06 and 1.2% in FY07.
The net increase in school district revenue limits after the JCF reductions to current law can also be compared with the increase in the all-funds state budget adopted by JCF. Compared with the fiscal year 2004-05 base of $24.9 billion, the JCF budget increases all funds spending over the prior year by 5.0% in fiscal year 2005-06 and 2.4% in fiscal year 2006-07. The increase to general fund spending in the JCF budget over the fiscal year 2004-05 base of $12.0 billion is 7.7% in fiscal year 2005-06 and 2.6% in fiscal year 2006-07 over the prior year.

We are Our History – Don’t Forget It

David Gelernter:

I thought she was merely endorsing the anti-war position. But my son set me straight. This student actually believed that if she had lived at the time, she might have been drafted. She didn’t understand that conscription in the United States has always applied to males only. How could she have known? Our schools teach history ideologically. They teach the message, not the truth. They teach history as if males and females have always played equal roles. They are propaganda machines.
Ignorance of history destroys our judgment. Consider Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill), who just compared the Guantanamo Bay detention center to Stalin’s gulag and to the death camps of Hitler and Pol Pot — an astonishing, obscene piece of ignorance. Between 15 million and 30 million people died from 1918 through 1956 in the prisons and labor camps of the Soviet gulag. Historian Robert Conquest gives some facts. A prisoner at the Kholodnaya Gora prison had to stuff his ears with bread before sleeping on account of the shrieks of women being interrogated. At the Kolyma in Siberia, inmates labored through 12-hour days in cheap canvas shoes, on almost no food, in temperatures that could go to minus-58. At one camp, 1,300 of 3,000 inmate

More on David Gelernter.

Unprepared: Back to the Basics in College

Melissa Milios:

n high school, I was a 3.8 (grade-point average) student. It was simple for me to get by with the bare minimum. I just got lazy,” says Andrea Edwards, 19, a graduate of Inglewood High. “Now that I’m here, it’s embarrassing — there’s so much I just don’t know.”
“You kind of feel left behind — like, why is my report card lying?” adds 19-year-old Kiwanna Hines, who was in the top 10 percent of her class at Junipero Serra High in Gardena. “I have my grandma, my auntie, my mom, my cousins — all of them are depending on me to graduate college. It’s a lot of pressure.”

The story notes that 8 out of 10 first-time freshman enrolled at Dominguez Hills last fall needed remediation in English and 7 in 10 needed remediation in math. Throughout the 23-campus CSU system, only 43% of the entering freshmen were proficient in both classes. Dominguez Hills president James Lyons summed it up: “There’s a disconnect between what they’re doing in high school to earn that GPA, and what is required and expected at the university level.” Via Eduwonk and Joanne Jacobs

Put “no” voters on task force

The long range planning committee approved motions to address the East and West side “demographics and long range facility needs, including the development of a task force, a charge to the task force, task force membership, task force timeline, and task force process.”
The West side task force will presumably tackle the problem of Leopold overcrowding. The body should definitely include representatives of those of us who voted against the referendum on building a second school at Leopold. Hopefully, an inclusive group will produce a proposal that can win wide-spread support. A task force only of supporters will likely fail to gain needed public confidence.

WI State Budget Update

The Wisconsin Assembly approved a new two year state budget early this morning by a 56-40 vote. Spending increases 6.4%, while the percentage of funds generated by sales taxes goes up 9.9%. Governor Doyle proposed a 16% (!) increase in road projects to 4.4billion. Republicans added $93M to that, creating a 18% increase in road spending. State support for local school spending grows 8.6% (458M) to 5.3billion (Doyle proposed a $938M increase, “paid” for by additional state borrowing and transfers from other programs).

  • Phil Brinkman does a great job summarizing the budget. I appreciate the fact that he included total spending dollars along with the increases.
  • Stacy Forster and Patrick Marley also summarize the Assembly’s budget.
  • WisPolitics’ Budget Blog tracks the Assembly’s activities.

Referenda News: Germantown & Racine

Two interesting looks at Referenda activity:

  • Tom Kertscher finds that Germantown residents are attempting to raise funds for a High School expansion privately first:

    But supporters of the music programs realize that in Germantown – and throughout the Milwaukee area – most borrowing referendums for school building projects have failed in the past year and a half. So they are trying a new approach: Before asking for public money, they plan to raise private money to help fund additions to the high school.
    Germantown parent John Dawson, who is leading plans for a music referendum, said the message to taxpayers will be “we need your help, but we’re not looking for a handout.”

  • Alice Chang reports that Racine voters approved a $6.45M one year operating referendum (a $17.8M two year question failed this past April):

    The reprieve from financial pressure will be relatively short-lived. The district still faces a $13.4 million shortfall next year and likely will be asking voters again for a boost in funding.
    Rather than resting on the success of the spending referendum, School Board members already were looking ahead to future challenges.
    “We have an obligation to make sure we keep an eye on being fiscally responsible,” said board member Randy Bangs, who added that the passage of the referendum proposal was just one battle. “The bigger prize is a better district, which needs the support of the entire community.”
    Bangs said the board will continue to search for ways to make the district more efficient so that next year, if finances necessitate it, the district will attempt to pass a spending referendum for a minimal amount.

  • Brent Killackey has more on the Racine Referendum

Insights into Promoting Critical Thinking in Online Classes

Daithí Ó Murchú and Brent Muirhead:

At the beginning of the 21st. Century, all educators and all educational institutions, at all levels of education provision, are faced with the greatest time of possibility for change and evolution or stagnation and regression. Barker, 1978 in New York, stated that “action with vision can change the world” and the authors, based on their many years of experience working in both traditional and managed or virtual, E-Learning, lifelong-learning environments contend that the promotion of critical thinking is a key element in meaningful, responsible and soulful learning. Our ‘raison d’être’ as educators is to prepare our students for the society which does not yet exist and in doing so, provide them with opportunities to critically assess and transform their experiences into authentic learning experiences (Ó Murchú, 2005). This article explores the thought processes, realities and perceptions of the authors’ on-going experiences in on-line classes and gives their insights into promoting critical thinking in these Managed Learning Environments (MLEs).

Elementary Specials: Funding Restored for All Elementary Special Classes Except Strings? Can That Be Correct?

At the Monday June 20, 2005 MMSD School Board meeting, funding was restored for music, art and gym elementary specials for a total of about $550,000. Can it be possible that all elementary specials, except elementary strings, would be restored? I can’t believe this. Isn’t the elementary string course an elementary music special (part of the School Board approved music education curriculum). If this restoration of funds exclude the elementary string teachers, isn’t this even more demoralizing to a small group of teachers who have already seen 60% of their colleagues laid off. And, what about the nearly 2,000 children who will only learn half what they previously learned in two years – that’s okay? How can these children’s education NOT be affected if they are only learning half the curriculum?
The Administration in March and the School Board last night have made all these decisions without asking one single question about the impact of their decisions on what children will be able to learn. They did not ask one single question about what planning has taken place in music education curriculum in the past year. There hasn’t been any.
Money is not the only issue. I believe a lack of strategic planning in fine arts is an issue. I’m coming to think this about foreign language and more advanced math in middle school – challenging curriculum in general. Progressive curriculum planning in the face of draconian budget constraints is desperately needed in music education and has not taken place over the past five years that courses have been on the chopping block. Administrative staff admits they have not assessed music curriculum. Without further exploration, staff continues to think only general music is needed. Administrators do not want to pay attention to music education in my opinion, so parents, teachers and the community need to let our School Board know action is needed (

Continue reading Elementary Specials: Funding Restored for All Elementary Special Classes Except Strings? Can That Be Correct?

6.20.2005 School Board Meeting Summary

Sandy Cullen summarized last evening’s Madison School Board meeting where:

  • Board members approved an administrative staff hiring freeze (5-2 with Bill Keys and Juan Jose Lopez voting against it)
  • Voted to use 200K in excess district insurance funds for elementary art, music and gym class sizes at 15 students in SAGE schools. (4-3 with Bill Keys, Juan Jose Lopez and Johnny Winston, Jr. voting against it)
  • Adopted the 2005-2006 budget 5-2 with Ruth Robarts and Shwaw Vang opposed

Legislative Fiscal Bureau Memo on Proposed Changes to Revenue Limits for School Districts

This June 20, 2005 document is on-line in PDF format at:
In response to a number of legislative inquiries, this memorandum provides information on
the potential changes to revenue limits for school districts, compared to the 2004-05 base year,
under AB 100 as proposed by the Governor and the Joint Finance version of the budget.
Under the Joint Finance provisions, the per pupil adjustment would be set at $120 in 2005-06
and $100 in 2006-07 and thereafter, compared to an estimated $248 and $252, respectively, under
current law and AB 100. Under the Joint Finance provisions, the low-revenue ceiling would be
increased from the current law $7,800 in 2004-05 to $8,100 in 2005-06 and $8,400 in 2006-07,
identical to AB 100.
The attachments present information to illustrate the possible revenue limit changes under
AB 100 and the Joint Finance provisions compared to the 2004-05 base year.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on WI Budget Debate over Funding Public K-12 Schools

How far can schools stretch their dollars?
Education funding is central to budget debate in Madison

By ALAN J. BORSUK and AMY HETZNER, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Posted: June 18, 2005
Let’s say your parents base your budget for gasoline for the year on $1.75 a gallon.
The next year, Mom and Dad say, we’re increasing your allowance to cover $2 a gallon.
But gas now costs $2.30.
54987School Funding
There has to be more of a middle ground here that I would challenge both parties to deal with. They’re not serving the state very well with this kind of polarization.
Have your folks given you an increase? Of course. A big one, if you look at the percentage.
Have they given you a decrease? Of course. There’s no way you’re going to be able to drive as far you did last year with less gasoline.
Welcome to the intense, real and genuinely important debate over state funding of education for the next two years.
Here’s a two-sentence summary of an issue likely to dominate the Capitol for the next few weeks as the state budget comes to a head:
Republican leaders are saying the increase in education funding for the next two years, approved by the Joint Finance Committee and heading toward approval by the Legislature itself, calls for $458 million more for kindergarten through 12th-grade education for the next two years, a large increase that taxpayers can afford.
Democrats and a huge chorus of superintendents, teachers and school board members around the state are protesting, saying that the increase will mean large cuts in the number of teachers and the levels of service for children because it doesn’t contain enough fuel to drive the educational system the same distance as before.

Continue reading Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on WI Budget Debate over Funding Public K-12 Schools

WI State Budget Republican K-12 Proposed Funding – Bad for Children and WI’s Economic Future

Please write/call legislatures ASAP – the legislature plans to take up the proposed budget this coming week, and the proposed budget for education is a disaster for our children’s future and our state’s economic health.
Schultz (WI State Senator, Republican Leader in the Senate):
Gard (WI State Representative, Wi State Assembly Speaker):
The Republican legislature is planning to move forward with a proposed state budget that is attempting to back off once again 2/3 state funding of schools with some fancy language. Just like that – saying we are already giving the largest increase in history to education.
Thanks for making the effort to contact GOP leaders and to ask the Gov. to hold firm (which ALL his public statements have indicated that he will, but it’s unclear what his veto opportunties will be until the statutory languagefor the budget document is available). This information was provided by:
Joe Quick
Legislative Liaison/Communication Specialist
Madison Schools

Continue reading WI State Budget Republican K-12 Proposed Funding – Bad for Children and WI’s Economic Future

Education in Wisconsin: K through UW

Ostensibly about how short-sighted the legislative cuts are to the UW system, this guest MJS business op-ed addresses a few big issues affecting how we finance public education in general.
Of particular interest was this: “Working with a team of business leaders to explore strategies that would free resources to enhance educational outcomes. Do we need 16 school districts in Dane County? Could distance education better leverage UW’s teaching stars?
Finding a lower cost health care benefits solution that mirrors private sector changes to build more consumerism into health care decisions.
Working with Doyle to find a better K-12 school financing system that also recognizes the need for some degree of spending limits in our schools.
We do not want to wake up and wonder what happened to the educational system that once made Wisconsin and its businesses so great. Businesses, not to mention our children, will pay the price.”

Continue reading Education in Wisconsin: K through UW

Trends in Grade Inflation, Nationwide

Economist Mark Thoma offers some thoughts on grade inflation:

There are two episodes that account for most grade inflation. The first is from the 1960s through the early 1970s. This is usually explained by the draft rules for the Vietnam War. The second episode begins around 1990 and is harder to explain….

My study finds an interesting correlation in the data. During the time grades were increasing, budgets were also tightening inducing a substitution towards younger and less permanent faculty. I broke down grade inflation by instructor rank and found it is much higher among assistant professors, adjuncts, TAs, instructors, etc. than for associate or full professors. These are instructors who are usually hired year-to-year or need to demonstrate teaching effectiveness for the job market, so they have an incentive to inflate evaluations as much as possible, and high grades are one means of manipulating student course evaluations.

Alex Tabarrock offers some additional thoughts & background links.

TABOR in the News

Paul Caron points to two articles on TABOR:

  • America’s Next Tax Revolt – Wall Street Journal:

    A Taxpayer Bill of Rights is a long overdue addition to the architecture of state constitutions. Proposition 13 halted the aggressive encroachment of state government more than 25 years ago, but only temporarily: Even after adjusting for inflation, most state tax collections are two to three times fatter than they were then. The painful experience since is that only hard and fast constitutional limits can rein in the powerful spending interests that live off the government.

  • Tax Foundation, TABOR, The Cure for Ratchet Up:

    Another important tool in alleviating tax and spend “ratchet-up” is the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR). This budget tool requires that excess revenue growth (in excess of population plus inflation) be rebated to the taxpayers. TABOR also requires voter approval for tax increases.

WI State K-12 Budget Summary

Alan J. Borsuk and Amy Hetzner:

Republican leaders are saying the increase in education funding for the next two years, approved by the Joint Finance Committee and heading toward approval by the Legislature itself, calls for $458 million more for kindergarten through 12th-grade education for the next two years, a large increase that taxpayers can afford.
Democrats and a huge chorus of superintendents, teachers and school board members around the state are protesting, saying that the increase will mean large cuts in the number of teachers and the levels of service for children because it doesn’t contain enough fuel to drive the educational system the same distance as before.
At the root of the issue is an education funding system approved by the Legislature a decade ago, when Republican Tommy G. Thompson was the governor. It created a cap on how much school districts could spend each year for general operations. In general, two-thirds of that amount was to come from the state with the rest from local property taxes.

Continue reading WI State K-12 Budget Summary

Animosity Toward Band, Orchestra and Vocal Music Curriculum Unnecessary – Alienates Parents, Community

I think what I found most disturbing about the elimination of band, orchestra and vocal music from the school day in Sherman Middle School was the exclusion (almost isolation) of music staff by other Sherman staff from the front of the room at the parent meeting in early June to present the exploratory changes being mandated including questions/issues surrounding the music curriculum at Sherman. I found the a) open irritation by some Sherman Middle School staff toward the music staff shocking, b) the lack of music curriculum assessment and planning for the changes unsettling, and c) the exclusions of parents and students in the process alarming.

Continue reading Animosity Toward Band, Orchestra and Vocal Music Curriculum Unnecessary – Alienates Parents, Community

Turn On, Tune In, Veg Out

Neal Stephenson:

Anakin wins that race by repairing his crippled racer in an ecstasy of switch-flipping that looks about as intuitive as starting up a nuclear submarine. Clearly the boy is destined to be adopted into the Jedi order, where he will develop his geek talents – not by studying calculus but by meditating a lot and learning to trust his feelings. I lap this stuff up along with millions, maybe billions, of others. Why? Because every single one of us is as dependent on science and technology – and, by extension, on the geeks who make it work – as a patient in intensive care. Yet we much prefer to think otherwise.
Scientists and technologists have the same uneasy status in our society as the Jedi in the Galactic Republic. They are scorned by the cultural left and the cultural right, and young people avoid science and math classes in hordes. The tedious particulars of keeping ourselves alive, comfortable and free are being taken offline to countries where people are happy to sweat the details, as long as we have some foreign exchange left to send their way. Nothing is more seductive than to think that we, like the Jedi, could be masters of the most advanced technologies while living simple lives: to have a geek standard of living and spend our copious leisure time vegging out.
If the “Star Wars” movies are remembered a century from now, it’ll be because they are such exact parables for this state of affairs. Young people in other countries will watch them in classrooms as an answer to the question: Whatever became of that big rich country that used to buy the stuff we make? The answer: It went the way of the old Republic.

Music Education – Learn About the Benefits Before Cutting Curriculum

If there is no money, cut arts education is the decisions administrators make – often, though, without first looking at the impact on student’s achievement (using readily available data) or without consideration of the impact on who will stay/leave a school. Couldn’t decisions made in the absence of examining data and listening to parents cost far more in lost revenue and prestige than the cost of a class?
When I read about the cuts to music education at the elementary school level, the primary reasons given are that these cuts were due to budget constraints and pull-out programs are difficult to schedule. When I read about the cuts to Sherman Middle School’s vocal and instrumental music program from the regular school day, the primary reasons given are lack of interest (decline in enrollment during the past several years coincidentally matches the current principal’s tenure) and the principal’s requirement for heterogenous classes and mandated exploratory options for Sherman’s children.
Yet, when I read the national news, research and hundreds of other documents I learn that a) music improves children’s peer relationships and academic performance in schools and b) schools with a signficant low income student body that increase their arts education see significant increases in these children’s test scores.

Continue reading Music Education – Learn About the Benefits Before Cutting Curriculum

June 17 MMSD Asks PTOs and Presumably Parents to Contact Legislators

For Legislative Fiscal Bureau policy papers and membership lists of relevant committees, go to:
If you have already received this Update, our apologies. We are trying to inform parents about this important budget issue before the Legislature votes next week.
Dear PTO/A Leaders:
The attached information outlines changes Republican leaders made to Gov. Doyle’s budget. Please take a moment to call Senate Majority Leader Dale Schultz and Assembly Speaker John Gard (contact information in news update) to express your opposition to cutting back on the allowable per pupil revenue limit increase. Gov. Doyle’s budget allows a $248 per pupil increase for next school year, the GOP plan, $120 (would require an additional $3.1 million cut to the budget BEFORE it is finalized this October); for the 06-07 school year, the Gov. allows an increase of $252 per pupil, the GOP plan $100 per pupil (would require MMSD to cut $6.9 million in 06-07).

Continue reading June 17 MMSD Asks PTOs and Presumably Parents to Contact Legislators

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

Little solid evidence is available to gauge whether the federal government’s multibillion-dollar Reading First initiative is having an effect on student achievement, but many states are reporting anecdotally that they are seeing benefits for their schools.
Among those benefits are extensive professional development in practices deemed to be research-based, extra instructional resources, and ongoing support services, according to an Education Week analysis of state performance reports published June 8, 2005.

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

Milwaukee Schools Discuss School Closings

Via Wispolitics:

Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) today announced the second phase of its community engagement initiative regarding the future use of its facilities. School officials will again host a series of meetings to seek and gather information from teachers, principals, community organizations and parents.
MPS must eliminate vacant space that exists because of a downward trend in enrollment, and make solid decisions regarding dwindling resources. MPS currently has 95,600 students, but it operates buildings that, combined, feature room for 122,000 students.
“We are encouraging the community to come out for the second round of meetings,” said Tyrone Dumas, Milwaukee Public Schools’ Community Engagement project leader. “We’ve heard from some teachers, administrators and parents in the first phase of this process, however, we need to touch many more in order to develop fair and accurate guidelines by which we could close some school sites.”

Gilmore: Add Elementary Strings to the Curriculum

Andrea Gilmore (This opinion piece was published in the Wisconsin State Journal):

I am lucky. I have been playing the violin since I was in the fourth grade. I was exposed to music at an early age and music has helped me gain skills that have enhanced my school career. Through music, I learned self-confidence, self-discipline, time management, cooperation and study skills.
Unfortunately, many young people may not have the opportunity I had. The elementary strings program costs only $500,000 in a budget of about $300 million. School board members recently decided to keep the elementary strings program next year in some form, while cutting approximately $500,000 overall out of the music-education programs.

Continue reading Gilmore: Add Elementary Strings to the Curriculum

Social Mobility & The Educated Class

The Economist [6.9.2005]:

The obvious way to deal with this is to use the education system to guarantee a level playing field. Improve educational opportunities for the poorest Americans, make sure that nobody is turned away from university on grounds of financial need, and you will progressively weaken the link between background and educational success. Alas, there are at least three big problems with this.
The first is that the schools the poorest Americans attend have been getting worse rather than better. This is partly a problem of resources, to be sure. But it is even more a problem of bad ideas. The American educational establishment’s weakness for airy-fairy notions about the evils of standards and competition is particularly damaging to poor children who have few educational resources of their own to fall back on. One poll of 900 professors of education, for example, found that 64% of them thought that schools should avoid competition.

Continue reading Social Mobility & The Educated Class

Dear MMSD Interim Fine Arts Coordinator –

I was asked to post the following letter from Robert Rickman, MMSD instrument teacher, to Rita Applebaum, MMSD Interim Fine Arts Coordinator:
Dear Ms. Applebaum,
I was recently informed that you spoke to Mark Messer, Memorial High School orchestra teacher, about the 4th and 5th grade Strings classes. I am shocked to hear that you have moved to eliminate fourth grade Strings classes based upon a conversation with him, and a hurried and undiscussed vote from Strings teachers that you solicited by e-mail the day before school was out.

Continue reading Dear MMSD Interim Fine Arts Coordinator –

Music Education in MMSD Needs Help from the Madison Community

Music education in Madison’s public schools has been on the chopping block for the past four years, beginning with the Superintendent’s proposed cut to Grade 4 strings. All the proposed cuts were made without any planning for changes, and the harshest cuts came this year, again without any planning for change among the key stakeholders and those most affected by the change – our children. This past year, in the absence of a fine arts coordinator, a team of teachers was to be put into place to oversee fine arts education – this did not happen but an interim fine arts coordinator was hired in the spring. Perhaps it’s time for the community to form a task force to collaborate on future directions and an educational framework for music education in our public schools?
This spring 60% of the elementary string staff was cut – 4 FTEs will teach nearly 2,000 children in 27 schools next year, 10% of the elementary music staff was cut and instrumental and vocal music were proposed for afterschool at Sherman Middle School.

Continue reading Music Education in MMSD Needs Help from the Madison Community

Challenge to Teacher Ed

A new worldwide chain of for-profit colleges started to go public with its plans last month for Whitney International University, which will offer a range of programs in numerous countries. At the time, Best Associates, the Dallas-based merchant bank that is creating Whitney, said it also had plans for teacher education in the United States.
Those plans are now starting to emerge — and the American College of Education, as this effort will be called, represents a new model for training teachers. In fact, organizers of the teacher education program make no effort to hide their disdain for most programs that exist today.

Story continues

State Gives Schools Extra Leeway

Jamaal Abdul-Alim:

Despite increasingly tough standards, the number of Wisconsin schools that will be flagged this year for failing to meet federally mandated reading and math goals will be less than half what it was last year – 51 as opposed to 108 – but not because things are getting better.
Rather, it is the state’s controversial calculation method that allows schools to miss the goals by substantial percentages without having it count against them.
For the same reason, only one school district in the state will be flagged for failing to meet the federally mandated standards, whereas last year 30 school districts were listed as failing to make enough progress.
The dramatic shift is due to the use of a statistical tool known as confidence intervals.

Allied Drive Open House Tonight

Via Wispolitics

Allied Drive Open House tonight
5:30 p.m.
Allied Drive Head Start Building,
2096 Red Arrow Trail. Map
Madison, WI.
FYI: the mayor will attend the 2nd annual Allied Drive open house tonight. The event starts at 5:30pm, with a short speaking program at about 6:15pm. In addition to the mayor, Art Rainwater and Kathleen Falk are also expected to attend.
The open house is an opportunity for Allied Drive residents and service providers to meet with each other and their elected officials to discuss issues important to the neighborhood and learn about available services from city, county and non-profit agencies. Food, childcare and Spanish and Hmong translation services are all offered at the event.
George Twigg
Communications Director
Office of Mayor Dave Cieslewicz
(608) 266-4611

A Better Way to Teach

By Katherine Esposito

“At Marquette Elementary, Lapham’s 3rd through 5th grade sister school, skillful use of Direct Instruction has resulted in reading scores for Marquette third-graders that are virtually unsurpassed district-wide. Scores for black students particularly stand out.
In 1998, just 9% of Marquette black third graders were considered “advanced” readers, as measured on the third-grade state reading comprehension test; by 2003, 38% were “advanced.” District-wide, only 9% of black children scored as “advanced” in 2003.”

Read the full article here.

What’s the Future for Ads in the Madison Schools?

Johnny Winston Jr., chair of the Finance and Operations Committee of the Madison School Board, kicked off a new discussion of the possible role of business ads to raise money for our schools at the June 13 meeting of his committee. Committee member Lawrie Kobza asked the administration to bring back information about what other districts are doing beyond the advertisements in yearbooks, school newspapers and the like. Good ideas, both.
However, why stop there? Maybe there are products looking for School Board member endorsements.

Continue reading What’s the Future for Ads in the Madison Schools?

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