No Place for a Poet at a Banquet of Shame

You might agree or disagree with poet Sharon Olds on the war in Iraq, but you have to be touched by her description of writing by patients with severe disabilities. Read the full open letter in The Nation.

When you have witnessed someone nonspeaking and almost nonmoving spell out, with a toe, on a big plastic alphabet chart, letter by letter, his new poem, you have experienced, close up, the passion and essentialness of writing. When you have held up a small cardboard alphabet card for a writer who is completely nonspeaking and nonmoving (except for the eyes), and pointed first to the A, then the B, then C, then D, until you get to the first letter of the first word of the first line of the poem she has been composing in her head all week, and she lifts her eyes when that letter is touched to say yes, you feel with a fresh immediacy the human drive for creation, self-expression, accuracy, honesty and wit–and the importance of writing, which celebrates the value of each person’s unique story and song.

Middleton Schools Seek Answers to Failed Referenda

Ann Marie Ames:

The School Board wants to know why three of four referendum questions failed last month.
Board members on Monday night reviewed draft copies of a survey they intend to send to 400 residents in the Middleton-Cross Plains district.
The survey is one way the board hopes to improve communication between the school district and the community. The district also plans to increase the amount of positive information about district events sent to residents via e-mail.

2M Student System Approved

Matt Pommer:

The $2 million for the student information system will be spread out over six budget years. Assistant Superintendent for Business Roger Price and planning and research director Kurt Kiefer said the system will pay for itself through efficiency and reduced staffing needs.
Parents would begin to see the impact of the new online system in the 2006-2007 school year, Kiefer said. He warned that training and implementation of the new computer software would take time and be “painful” for a period. The system is similar to one already being used in the Middleton-Cross Plains school district.
When it is fully operational, parents will be able to use a computer to see their child’s grades, progress reports, attendance and behavior reports. Students will be able to examine course schedules and register over the new system. Class attendance reporting will be fully computerized with the system.
Board member Ruth Robarts questioned how much parents would be able to use the system to communicate with teachers or to see course assignments. Rainwater said there are labor union contract issues related to what teachers could be required to do in those areas.

Ruth identified a critical issue in the successfull implementation of such a system.

Evaluation of the SLC Project at West High School

Here is the full text of SLC Evaluator Bruce King’s recent report on the plan to implement a common English 10 course at West HS.
Evaluation of the SLC Project at West High School
The 10th Grade English Course
M.Bruce King, Project Evaluator
2 November 2005
The development and implementation of the common 10th grade English course is a significant initiative for two related reasons. First, the course is central to providing instruction in the core content areas within each of the four small learning communities in grade 10, as outlined in the SLC grant proposal. And second, the course represents a major change from the elective course system for 10th graders that has been in existence at West for many years. Given the importance of this effort, we want to understand what members of the English Department thought of the work to date.

Continue reading Evaluation of the SLC Project at West High School

A different student viewpoint of West High

This was forwarded to the West High listserve with the request that it be posted as part of the current discussion about changes at West High.

When I read the anonymous email from a current West freshman who is defined as “talented and gifted,” I could not help but feel that I should write about my own personal experiences. I am in the exact same position as the previous writer (a current freshman at West High, defined as “talented and gifted.”), but I have completely opposite views. My time at West so far has been quite enjoyable. While some of the core freshman classes are indeed rather simple, I do not feel that my assignments are “busy work.” While most classes may be easy, they still teach worthwhile information.

Continue reading A different student viewpoint of West High

New Wisconsin Promise Conference: Closing the Achievement Gap

The 2006 New Wisconsin Promise Conference, Closing the Achievement Gap, will be held at the Monona Terrace Convention Center in Madison on January 11-12, 2006.
The conference will focus on strategies for educators who are looking for help in meeting the progressively higher academic expectations of No Child Left Behind.

Continue reading New Wisconsin Promise Conference: Closing the Achievement Gap

Middle School Survey
Send this web site to all the middle school, future middle school parents, and concerned community members you can e-mail.
Pam Nash and the middle school committee are seeking input from parents and this is our chance to give them feedback. While I find the survey would be on the “How to Not Make a Survey” curriculum in my graduate school class on Effective Survey’s, I say congrates to the BOE and administration for allowing the community to give some feedback and input on this development. While it seems a little forced, quick and for some reason I am unclear why this issue is being discussed for middle schools that are functioning at a high level,(in other words let’s fix the problem’s where they exist, even if it means more resources, and not mess with what is working) I want all parents and those in the community interested to voice their thoughts and opinions. Please print off this survey and let the district know we want great middle schools, that reflect their community, not carbon copies of mediocre education.

“Poor Kids Aren’t Dolts — Push Them Harder”

Wendy Kopp (President and Founder of Teach for America):

According to the annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup survey, the most recent of which was released in September, most Americans cite a lack of parental involvement, as well as problems in students’ home life and upbringing and their lack of interest and motivation as the most important reasons for the huge gap between the achievement levels of students in upper- and middle-class neighborhoods and those in poor neighborhoods. More than 75% of those polled said they believe that white students and students of color have the same academic opportunities.
In contrast, Teach for America corps members, who are in those poor neighborhoods every school day, say the key to closing that gap is to train and employ better teachers and improve the quality of the leaders who make decisions in schools and school districts — while simultaneously ensuring that teachers, principals and parents expect the kids to meet challenging academic standards.

Much more, including this, here:

Funding, in itself, is not the answer. Teacher quality and expectations of students outranked funding as both causes of and solutions to the gap. And as corps members spend more time in the classroom, the priority they place on funding gives way to other factors, such as school leadership. While some of their proposed solutions may require further investment, corps members express skepticism about increasing funding without addressing current allocation of resources.

Via Joanne.

Sanderfoot on Ed Lite

Parent Alan Sanderfoot wrote a letter to the Isthmus Editor on Katherine Esposito’s recent article: Ed Lite: Madison Middle Schools Serve Up an Uninspiring Academic Menu:

Dear editor,
Thank you for publishing Katherine Esposito’s article about Madison’s middle schools (“Ed Lite,” Nov. 11, page 12). Please allow me, however, to correct some mischaracterizations in her piece.
On the contrary, my daughter Olivia did not “bail” from Sherman when she transferred to O’Keeffe. Her mother and I worked diligently during her entire 6th grade year at Sherman trying to get the school and teachers to address her unique academic and social needs. Throughout the year, we met with Olivia’s team of three teachers, the learning coordinator, the guidance counselor and administrators. Much was discussed, but little action followed.

Continue reading Sanderfoot on Ed Lite

No Gifted Child Kept Behind

A letter to the NYTImes:
Gifted Children
To the Editor:
Diane Ravitch (“Every State Left Behind,” Op-Ed, Nov. 7) hits the nail on the head when she suggests that we should not sacrifice our country’s future for low academic standards and demands for good news.
A particular problem not addressed by most American schools is that our gifted youth are told to wait for their classmates to catch up with them and not to rush their learning. America is wasting precious talent because it keeps its gifted children from soaring.
Stringent federal standards are great, but why does No Child Left Behind have to mean “every gifted child kept behind”?
Mary Beth Miotto
Northborough, Mass., Nov. 7, 2005
The writer is vice president, Massachusetts Association for Gifted Children.

2006 Distinguished Service Award Nominations

The Madison Metropolitan School District:

The Distinguished Service Award (DSA) honors individuals for service beyond the call of duty. It is considered to be the most prestigious of the recognition awards offered by the Madison Metropolitan School District. Distinguished Service Awards may be to employees who have served at least ten years with the MMSD in each of the following categories: elementary, middle and high school teachers, administrators, support personnel clerical/technical employees, custodial/building services/trades personnel, educational assistants and food service staff. Special awards are also given to employee teams, citizen volunteers and high schools seniors involved in community service.
To nominate someone you must answer five questions about the nominee and submit three letters of support. Anyone may submit a nomination. Self-nominations are not accepted. Please print the nomination form available below and carefully read the guidelines on page two of the nomination form.

I have several people in mind.

West High School Presentation on 10th Grade English: Same Curriculum for All Students

Click to view the Video

MP3 audio only

Barb Schrank, Videographer

Principal Ed Holmes, English department chair Keesia Hyzer, and teacher Mark Nepper presented information on the planned single English curriculum for all 10th graders at West this past Monday evening. Watch the video or listen to the audio by clicking on the links just to the left of this text. Background on this matter:

SchoolFacts 2005: Madison School District Comparison

Active Citizens for Education recently commissioned a custom report from WISTAX. This report compares demographics, income / wealth, spending, staffing ratios and test scores between the Madison School District and Appleton, Green Bay, Janesville, Kenosha, Middleton-Cross Plains, Milwaukee, Racine, Sun Prairie and Verona.

Details below:

  1. Demographics
  2. Income and Wealth
  3. Spending
  4. Staffing Ratios
  5. Test Scores
  6. Test Scores (more)

When all third graders read at grade level or beyond by the end of the year, the achievement gap will be closed…and not before

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

Continue reading When all third graders read at grade level or beyond by the end of the year, the achievement gap will be closed…and not before

Thursday’s Middle School Curriculum Parent Forum

I believe a relevant and challenging curriculum is the #1 priority for any educational organization. There have been a number of questions raised over the years regarding the Madison School District’s curriculum, including Math, English and Fine Arts and the recent controversial changes at Sherman Middle School (more details in Kathy Esposito’s recent Isthmus article).

The District is currently conducting a Middle School Curriculum Review, lead by Assistant Superintendent Pam Nash (Formerly Principal of Memorial High School). Pam lead a Parent Forum Thursday evening, which I attended (one of about 28 participants). (7MB video clip of Pam kicking off the Forum). The goal of this event was to collect feedback from parents regarding these five questions (pdf version):

  1. The school district is continually working to build more rigor into the learning experiences that students have. Rigor is defined as commitment to a core subject matter knowledge, a high demand for thinking, and an active use of knowledge. When you think of a rigorous academic curriculum in the middle school, what would it look like?
  2. What experiences do you want your child to have in middle school to enhance his or her social and emotional growth?
  3. What are your hopes and dreams for your child in middle school?
  4. What are your greatest concerns for your child in middle school?
  5. If you could design Madison middle schools in any way you wanted, what would they be like?

Pam mentioned that the parent comments would be posted on the district’s website, hopefully next week. She also said that the district would post these questions online, in an interactive way so that parents who were unable to attend Thursday’s event might add their comments.

My notes follow:

  • Superintendent Art Rainwater wants the middle school curriculum task force to report back to him by mid December (2005).
  • The task force “design teams” recently broke up into “work teams”.
  • Recommendations will affect middle school allocations.
  • I asked Pam when this process began. She said it started one month ago.
  • Pam mentioned that they hope to pull the parent group together one more time, in December.

I was initially displeased that the group of 28 participants was broken up (I was interested in hearing all of the conversations). However, I thought that the format was rather effective in obtaining comments from all participants (at least those in my group). Kudos to Pam for collecting a good deal of information.

I spoke briefly with Pam when the event concluded. I mentioned that it appears to me, a layman, that it would be challenging to implement major changes via a two month task force. However, incremental changes occuring via the allocations are certainly possible (for better or worse).

I heard many useful suggestions on these questions and will point to them when available on the District’s website.

Learn more about the “Middle Grades Design Team” via this Board presentation (800K PDF file) Email your comments on this initiative to the Madison School Board:

9th Grade Madison School District Algebra Data

Matt Pommer:

African-American rates increased from 27.5 percent to 49.7 percent in the four years and from 29.8 percent to 50 percent for Hispanic students. Among white students algebra completion rates had improved from 68.9 percent to 82.6 percent, the report said.

Related: this week’s Isthmus article on Middle School Curriculum.

These report items were interesting as well:

  • In 10 years the number of African-American students has increased from 4,126 to 5,216, while the number of Hispanic students has increased from 957 to 2,845. White enrollment has gone from 17,937 to 13,712 in the decade. Asian enrollment has grown from 1,885 to 2,569.
  • The 94 percent enrollment goal was met at the elementary (95.1 percent) and (94.4 percent) middle school levels. But high school attendance dipped last year to 92.5 percent overall, including an 86.8 percent rate for pupils from low-income families, the report said. The best overall attendance for high schools was 93.6 percent in 2002-2003.

Minority Hiring Not as Good as MMSD Touts

A story in today’s Wisconsin State Journal reports carries a headline saying “Schools show big boost in minority staff.” It’s just not so.
The MMSD chose to give the paper the number of minority employees in various job categories in 1987 and 2005 — ignoring an MMSD press release issued October 9, 1995, comparing 1987 and 1994.
If the recent release had compared 1994 and 2005, the comparison would have shown a decrease in the numbers and percentages of minorities among administrators from 23 (17%) in 1994 to 22 (15%) in 2005. Minority employees in clerical and technical catetories decreased from 47 (18%) in 1994 to 15 in 2005. (The press release did not provide a percentage for clerical technical categories.) Among custodians the number of minority employees remained unchanged: 37 (15%) in 1994 compared to 37 (17.7%) in 2005.
Click here for a Word file with numbers and percentages for all of the categories, including figures showing increases in the proportion of minority employees in other categories.

Irving Independent School District Symposium

David Weinberger on the Irving School District’s 1 to 1 Laptop Implementation:

Darrell Lynn of Apple, a sponsor of the event, introduces Angus King, former two-term, independent governor of Maine. King appears via his $129 iSite. He talks about the insights that guided him to the laptop policy.
First, he has no idea what the economy of the US and of Maine will be in ten years. But, he says he does know that whatever happens will require more education and a higher level of comfort with technology.
Second, every governor chases quality jobs for their state. “You don’t get ahead by keeping up.”
Third, everything governments do is incremental. Baby steps, not real change. In 1999, Maine had a surplus. So, King thought about how it could be used to bring change.
In 1996, he had lunch with Seymour Papert who told him that reducing the ratio of students to computers wouldn’t matter until the ratio is 1:1.
So, Maine started by giving laptops to every kid in grades 7-8. King thought this would be well received, but it wasn’t. He blurted out, in response to a question, that the computers would belong to the students, not the school. He says, “I got the living xxxx kicked out of me.” [xxxx Barrier transgressed at 9:15am…and by a former governor!] The emails to his officce were 10:1 against. He persevered. (PS: The schools own the laptops.)

At some point, textbooks will be gone. I do generally like this sort of thing and perhaps it’s fundamental to addressing some of the challenges Kathy Esposito noted in her excellent article on Madison’s middle school curriculum. There’s no doubt that for someone who knows how to use a computer effectively, the amount of information one can learn and use is simply extraordinary. My youngest found a very well done learning spanish podcast on itunes just the other day – free and simply delightful!!!

Ed Lite: Middle schools stress social adjustment at the expense of academic achievement

Katherine Esposito:

Helen Fitzgerald, Sherman parent and president of the school’s parent-teacher group, wants high expectations set for Sherman.
“My kids want to compete!” she says, clearly frustrated. “They want to go to Brown. They want to go to Yale, to UC-Berkeley. My daughter wanted to go to Harvard when she was in the fourth grade! That’s their eye on the ball. That’s their expectation. And Sherman ain’t teachin’ those kids!”
In the modern middle school, however, competition is barely a footnote. Cooperation is king.
In the 1960s and 1970s, as an antidote to a hierarchical and often violent world, American educators proposed a middle-grades school for preteens that would place a premium on their social needs. Such practices as cooperative learning, peer tutoring and heterogeneous grouping would be kinder, gentler substitutes for the traditional top-down form of classroom organization in these “middle schools.”

Wisconsin Assembly Passes Two Bills Expanding Charter School Opportunities

This week the Wisconsin Assembly passed two bills that could expand charter school opportunities in this state. The Legislative Committee of the Madison School Board will review these bills on December 5.
Assembly Bill 730 proposes to amend current law to allow 5 UW-System 4-year universities, in addition to UW-Milwaukee and UW-Parkside, to each sponsor not more than 5 charter schools. The vote to pass was 56-36.
Assembly Bill 698 would amend current law to raise the student enrollment cap from 400 to 480 for the elementary charter school (21st Century Preparatory School) sponsored by UW-Parkside. The vote on this bill was 62-29.

Continue reading Wisconsin Assembly Passes Two Bills Expanding Charter School Opportunities

Proposed West High 10th Grade English – The Male American Experience?

Meg Cooper, parent, gave permission for her observation of the proposed West HS 10th grade English curriculum to be posted:
Has anyone else noticed that 80% or more of the proposed new West HS English 10 curriculum consists of male authors? Perhaps it should be called The Male American Experience/Justice/Identity relating to The Male American Dream…! I was very shocked. It appears so traditional (in a bad way) and excludes half [the femamle’s perspective] of the American experience. How can this possibly be a better program than the current English 10 electives at West HS?

Wisconsin Charter Bill Passes the Assembly

Earlier this afternoon, the Wisconsin Assembly passed the following two legislative bills which would expand the Wisconsin charter school law:
AB 698 proposes to amend current law to raise the student enrollment cap from 400 to 480 for the elementary charter school (21st Century Preparatory School) sponsored by UW-Parkside. The vote on the passage motion was 62-Ayes and 29-Noes.
AB 730 proposes to amend current law to allow 5 UW-System 4-year universities, in addition to UW-Milwaukee and UW-Parkside, to each sponsor not more than 5 charter schools. The vote on the passage motion was 56-Ayes and 36-Noes. In a related development earlier this week, the Senate Higher Education and Tourism Committee recommended passage of Senate Bill 96 (i.e. Senate companion / identical bill to AB 730) on a vote of 4-Ayes (Senators Harsdorf, Kedzie, Kapanke and Plale) and 1-No (Senator Breske).
Both Assembly bills (AB 698 and AB 730) were messaged to the Senate.
A new ECS Issue Brief entitled “A State Policymaker’s Guide to Alternative Authorizers of Charter Schools” provides good info about the rationale for multiple-authorizers. You’ll find the ECS Issue Brief at the Education Commission of the State’s website —
The State Legislature’s current floorperiod ends today. The next two-week floorperiod is scheduled for December 6 – 15, 2005. Then, the legislature will recess through the holidays … and resume floorsessions in the new year.
This was a good day at the Capitol for charter school friends. If you have an opportunity, please communicate special thanks to Representative Leah Vukmir and Senator Alberta Darling who are the lead authors of AB 730 and SB 96 (i.e. companion / identical bills to allow 5 UW System universities to sponsor charter schools); and thank Rep. Vos and Senator Stepp who are the lead authors of AB 698. Enjoy the moment!

Report on Minority Employees in the MMSD

Press Release from the BOE Human Resources Committee:
The number of racial minorities employed by the Madison Metropolitan School District has increased substantially since 1987 according to a report released today. The data also includes information from 1994. “The Board of Education has made diversifying our workforce a strong priority, I am happy to see the increase in the numbers of staff that reflects the diversity of our schools” says Juan Jose Lopez, the Chair of the Human Resources Committee which also includes board members Shwaw Vang and Johnny Winston, Jr.

Continue reading Report on Minority Employees in the MMSD

Should MMSD Board Follow Open Meetings Laws or Change Them?

In her posting, “Westside Land Purchase – was public if you were interested, Marisue Horton suggests that I, as chair of the Madison School Board’s Legislative Committee “start making recommendations for change. Start changing the process instead of sitting around and bitching about it.”
I am not suggesting that we need new processes. Like Lawrie Kobza, I am advocating that the Madison School Board follow the spirit and letter of existing Wisconsin law. I agree with the principles of the Open Meeting law.
As the law states,

” [a] representative government of the American type is dependent upon an informed electorate, [therefore]it is declared to be the policy of this state that the public is entitled to the fullest and most complete information regarding the affairs of government as is compatible with the conduct of governmental business.” Only in specified exceptional cases may the school board go into closed sessions.

I also agree with Lawrie that the narrow exception allowing ongoing negotiations to be discussed behind closed doors did not apply to the October 10 meeting on the purchase of 8.3 acres of land near your home for a future elementary school. The Board’s attorneys disagree. The legal issue will not be resolved until, as Bill Keys recommended, an official complaint has been filed with the Dane County District Attorney and we have his opinion. Isthmus newspaper has filed that complaint and in due time we will have a ruling by a neutral legal authority.
In this case, the Open Meetings law protects the public’s interest in knowing how much the district planned to pay for this particular parcel and the conditions of the sale before the sale was complete. That interest was not respected. Maybe other sellers would have come forward with better offers, if they had known that we were poised to complete this purchase and were willing to sell the land back to them at less-than-appreciated value in the future. Maybe not. We will never know. Seven weeks passed between the signing of the deal by administration and the closed session meeting at which the board accepted the terms. The closing is not until November 15. What was the rush on November 7?

MMSD: Shutting out the public

Isthmus, November 11, 2005, reports on the refusal of the MMSD administration and Board of Education to release details on a land purchase for a new school. Isthmus posted the full article and supporting documents in the Document Feed of Here are excerpts:

Jim Zellmer doesn’t know whether buying land for a new elementary school on the city’s far southwest side is a good idea. But he’s sure keeping the deal secret almost until the moment of final approval is a bad one. . . .
The deal was kept under wraps until 4:30 last Friday afternoon, when the school district put the contract into media folders just before closing for the weekend. At Monday’s meeting, Robarts and Kobza urged the board to delay approval for one week, to allow for public input, including that of a task force studying west-side school overcrowding. . . .
But Kobza’s motion failed on a 3-3 vote, with board members Bill Keys, Juan Jose Lopez and Johnny Winston Jr. opposed. Keys haughtily challenged critics of the secret deal to “go ahead and file charges”; Kobza urged members of the public to take up his suggestion.
On Wednesday, Isthmus followed through, asking Dane County District Attorney Brian Blanchard to investigate and prosecute. . . .

Innovative Math: But Can You Count?

Samuel Freedman:

LAST spring, when he was only a sophomore, Jim Munch received a plaque honoring him as top scorer on the high school math team here. He went on to earn the highest mark possible, a 5, on an Advanced Placement exam in calculus. His ambition is to become a theoretical mathematician.
So Jim might have seemed the veritable symbol for the new math curriculum installed over the last seven years in this ambitious, educated suburb of Rochester. Since seventh grade, he had been taking the “constructivist” or “inquiry” program, so named because it emphasizes pupils’ constructing their own knowledge through a process of reasoning.
Jim, however, placed the credit elsewhere. His parents, an engineer and an educator, covertly tutored him in traditional math. Several teachers, in the privacy of their own classrooms, contravened the official curriculum to teach the problem-solving formulas that constructivist math denigrates as mindless memorization.
“My whole experience in math the last few years has been a struggle against the program,” Jim said recently. “Whatever I’ve achieved, I’ve achieved in spite of it. Kids do not do better learning math themselves. There’s a reason we go to school, which is that there’s someone smarter than us with something to teach us.”

This sort of thing is happening in Madison as well. Much more here.

West’s Core Program: Enrichment, or Deprivation?

This anonymous entry is from a current 9th grader at West who shares their thoughts about the proposed changes in 10th grade English as well as lets us know how the current 9th grade core is experienced by students.

I am writing from the viewpoint of a gifted and talented 9th grader at West High who is stuck in the core program of English and History 9. “Stuck” is the perfect word for my situation. I am stuck in classes where brilliance is not only limited, but discouraged. I have been reprimanded by teachers for exceeding their expectations. Does West want to be a school known for restricting its gifted students?

Continue reading West’s Core Program: Enrichment, or Deprivation?

More on Taser Report

Angela Bettis:

The Madison school district may have violated some of its’ policies, according to the report.
The incident involved Dalarence Goodwin, then 14, who was arrested at school and later shot by police with a Taser gun.
The independent report by lawyer Eileen Brownlee was posted on the Isthmus Website.
Brownlee was hired by the school district to sift through exactly what happened on Jan. 21 when Goodwin was tasered by Officer Tim Harder.
News 3’s Dawn Stevens talked exclusively with Dalarence and his mother when charges of resisting arrest were dropped last month.

Academic gap shrinks; both levels drop

By Michele Munz
Sunday, Oct. 30 2005
The gap in academic achievement between black and white students in the St. Louis area has decreased in the past five years, according to findings released Sunday of the first comprehensive study of school districts’ efforts to reduce the gap – but only because the academic performance of white students dropped more than that of black students.
The study concluded: “An alarming fact came forth: the decrease in the gap was not due to an increase in achievement by black students, but, instead, resulted largely from a decrease in achievement levels by both black and white students.”

Continue reading Academic gap shrinks; both levels drop

Report from West High PTSO Meeting

Some 70 parents were in attendance at Monday evening’s PTSO meeting to hear about West High School’s plans for 10th grade English. This was the largest turnout for a PTSO meeting in recent history. Approximately one-third of those there were parents of elementary and middle school students who will be attending West at some point in the future.
The consensus from parents was that they want more discussion of these planned changes, and given the school’s timeline for formalizing next year’s course offerings, these meeetings have to happen soon.
Parents heard from Principal Ed Holmes, English department chair Keesia Hyzer, and from teacher Mark Nepper. What follows is a brief summary of the presentation.

Continue reading Report from West High PTSO Meeting

Far West Land Purchase – Approved


The board voted four to two to spend 525-thousand dollars for the land.
The purchase was almost tabled by two school board members, which included Lawrie Kobza.
Lawrie Kobza said, ‘I believed the negotiations were finished we should of been talking about these things in the public really for the last month in a half.”
“It’s the process the board goes through and developing public trust on decisions that were made, I was really trying to focus on that and it’s disappointing the majority of the board didn’t go with me,” said Kobza.
“This isn’t a secret, our community knows it’s growing and we’re going to have to build new schools in the future and we’re going to have to purchase the land first,” said Madison School Board Member Johnny Winston.

Every State Left Behind

Diane Ravitch:

WHILE in office, Presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton both called for national academic standards and national tests in the public schools. In both cases, the proposals were rejected by a Congress dominated by the opposing party. The current President Bush, with a friendly Congress in hand, did not pursue that goal because it is contrary to the Republican Party philosophy of localism. Instead he adopted a strategy of “50 states, 50 standards, 50 tests” – and the evidence is growing that this approach has not improved student achievement. Americans must recognize that we need national standards, national tests and a national curriculum.
The release last month of test results by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which is part of the Department of Education, vividly demonstrated why varying state standards and tests are inadequate. Almost all states report that, based on their own tests, incredibly large proportions of their students meet high standards. Yet the scores on the federal test (which was given to a representative sample of fourth and eighth graders) were far lower. Basically, the states have embraced low standards and grade inflation.
Idaho claims that 90 percent of its fourth-grade students are proficient in mathematics, but on the federal test only 41 percent reached the Education Department’s standard of proficiency. Similarly, New York reports that nearly 85 percent of its fourth graders meet state standards in mathematics, yet only 36 percent tested as proficient on the national assessment. North Carolina boasts an impressive 92 percent pass rate on the state test, but only 40 percent meet the federal standard.

Carol Carstensen to speak Thursday night, Nov. 10

From Schenk-Atwood-Starkweather-Yahara Neighborhood Association council:

Long time Madison Board of Education member Carol Carstensen has agreed to be at our neighborhood association meeting next Thursday November 10 – 7:15 PM – at the Atwood Community Center – to talk about the future of east side schools, particularly Lowell and Lapham-Marquette elementary schools.
A school board task force is looking into underenrollment at some east side elementary schools – crowding at others – and what to do about it. Adjusting school attendance area boundary lines and / or closing schools are some of the options on the table. Emerson, Lapham and Lowell elementary schools — all under capacity — are said to be at risk if closings are considered.
In January the east side task force will recommend up to 3 options to the school board’s Long-Range Planning Committee.

The Shocking Truth

Jason Shepherd:

A series of institutional failures – by court employees, police officers and school officials – led to a Madison student being shot with a Taser stun gun in a school parking lot early this year, according to an independent investigator whose report the school district has tried to keep secret.
No one comes off unscathed in the report, issued last month by attorney Eileen Brownlee, whom the district hired to investigate the incident.
Some background: On Jan. 21, Madison Police Officer Tim Harder shot Dalarence Goodwin, a 14-year-old freshman, in the back with a Taser in the parking lot of Memorial High School. Goodwin had broken free from Harder’s grip while Harder was attempting to handcuff him after arresting him inside the school. The arrest itself was based on a warrant apparently issued in error by a juvenile court.
Brownlee’s eight-page report concludes in no uncertain terms that in the hours before and after the shooting, Harder and school officials violated district procedures.
“It is clear,” Brownlee notes after recounting various versions of the events, “that the policy was violated.”

Brownlee’s Report on the Taser incident [PDF]. Ed Blume’s notes.

Public Information and Tonight’s Land Purchase Vote

Tonight the Board of Education will vote on approving the purchase of land in the proposed plat of Linden Park located along Redan Road on the west side of Madison. The Board will vote on approving the purchase of 8.234 acres for the price of $535,258.83. One provision of the agreement requires the District to offer to sell the property back to the developer at the District’s original purchase price plus the cost of improvements plus 5% interest compounded daily, if the District determines not to build a school on the site and instead to sell the property.
The Offer to Purchase this property was signed by the developer on September 23, 2005, and was signed by Roger Price for the School District on September 26, 2005. The Offer is contingent upon Board approval.
Despite the fact that negotiations over this contract were completed at the end of September, this signed contract was not available for public review until last Friday, November 4, 2005. In fact, the signed contract was deliberately kept from public review before then. A Board meeting to discuss the signed contract was held in closed session on October 10, 2005 (Ruth Robarts and I voted against going into closed session on this matter), and an open records request by Jim Zellmer for a copy of the signed document was denied.

Continue reading Public Information and Tonight’s Land Purchase Vote

$293,000 Unspent in Library Aids; Mystery #2 Deepens

In our unrelently effort to unravel the mysteries of the MMSD budget, our loyal fans may remember the Case of the Disappearing Library Aids – Budget Mystery #2.
It all began with an innocuous inquiry from a schoolmarm and inquisitive assistant who claimed that their library did not receive library aids for the last school year.
After more than a month of pointed proding, Assistant Superintendent Roger Price responded with a most mystifying missive which includes the alarming admission that the MMSD did not expend $293,055 in library aids received from the DPI last year!

Continue reading $293,000 Unspent in Library Aids; Mystery #2 Deepens

Survey: Ohio Residents Attitutude Toward Public Schools

Fordham Institute:

This is a problem. Serious education reform demands strong, competent leadership for two reasons. First, kids don’t have lobbyists to look after their interests. The inertia and resistance to change manifested by the education system and its myriad adult interest groups are so powerful that, absent first-rate leadership, one must expect nothing much to change. This is particularly dangerous for a state with weak job growth, anemic economic growth, and signs of a brain drain.
Second, while Ohioans substantially agree about many of the problems facing public education and the reforms needed to address those problems, they are split down the middle on others. Effective leadership is mandatory, else nothing will change.
This would be okay if nothing needed to change, but Ohioans surely don’t think so—and plenty of objective evidence says they are correct. Only a third of survey respondents—and fewer than one in five African Americans—believe their local public schools are “doing pretty well and need little change.” Virtually all others want “major change” or “a whole new system.” This is no surprise in a state where close to half of respondents also see the economy as a serious issue. Ohioans know that education and economic opportunity are connected, and they’re worried about both
But there’s good news in the survey, too. On many important education issues and reform ideas, Ohioans manifest broad agreement as to what’s wrong, what’s important, and what ought to happen.
Here are five key education topics where we see something akin to consensus:

  1. Money alone won’t accomplish much. Respondents believe it would “get lost along the way” to classroom improvement (69 percent).
  2. Stop social promotion and automatic graduation. Teachers should pass kids to the next grade “only if they learn what they are supposed to know” (87 percent) and high school students should pass tests “in each of the major subjects before they can graduate” (83 percent).
  3. Free-up the front-line educators. Local schools ought to have considerably greater freedom and control over curriculum, budgets, and, especially, firing “teachers that aren’t performing” (89 percent).
  4. Reward good teachers. Good teachers should be rewarded with higher pay (84 percent) and paid more if they “work in tough neighborhoods with hard-to-reach students” (77 percent).
  5. Enforce discipline. Schools should enforce strict discipline with regard to student behavior, dress, and speech (91 percent).

Joanne’s site has links to Ohio’s NAEP numbers.

Questions about task force data

In surfing through the information posted for the task forces, I have two questions about some of it.
First, I don’t know why the MMSD staff presented the chart on Transportation_Students_Special Ed_ELL. However, the district does more busing and cabbing than just special ed and ELL students. Most children, I believe, in early childhood programs get bused or cabbed, but they may be included in the special ed students. In addition, children in TEP (Temporary Education Program) for homeless kids get bussed or cabbed (sometimes from Verona, Middleton, and Sun Prairie). If the chart were to include all kids who are bussed, the TEP kids definitely need to be added.

Continue reading Questions about task force data

Madison Leaders Discuss Gang Issue Saturday


“In the 80s, we had African-American gangs really hit the scene here in Madison,” said Madison Police Chief Noble Wray. “But what we’re looking at today is that we have more young ladies involved in gangs, we have Asian gangs, and a real increase in Latino gangs.”
Dane County Executive Assistant Ken Haynes said gang members are coming from diverse backgrounds, not just low-income neighborhoods.
“Problems … challenges don’t stop at geographic boundaries,” Haynes said.
Community leaders said that to reduce gang activity, everyone needs to work together.
“Our strategies need to be connected to all the strategies with other service providers, strategies in the schools and the strategies with parents,” Wray said

Video clips and archives from the recent Gangs and School Violence Forum.

East Options & West/Memorial Plans

The MMSD Web site lists eight options for further review by the task force. Rather than try to list them here, you can link to the meeting minutes with the options.
The minutes from the West/Memorial task force include the following:

Seven Task Force members indicated that they had ideas for options to begin the discussion. Jane noted that we would have members bring up their ideas and then determine how to proceed in refining the ideas. She also noted that District staff would analyze the options further before the next meeting of the Task Force.

Local School News Roundup

Local media posted a number of K-12 articles this morning:

Music and Art Improve Student Achievement, Especially for English Language Learners and Low Income Students In Tucson Unified School District

The Tucson Unified School District’s Opening Minds through the Arts , also known as OMA, was recently awarded a federal grant totaling over one million dollars to continue research on its music and art model and how it positively effects student achievement.
Independent research has shown that OMA participant’s especially English language learners and students from disadvantaged communities, have significantly improved their standardized test scores in reading, language, and math. Furthermore, research indicates that students at OMA schools demonstrate fewer behavioral problems, improve their classroom focus, and show greater respect for themselves and fellow students and teachers.
Now in its fifth year at TUSD, OMA integrates the fine arts into traditional and arts curriculum for kindergarten through sixth-grade students. The OMA model is based on extensive research on the neurological development of children. Using opera, dance, costume design and music, students learn new ways to view and understand complex math and language problems. In Grade 3 students learn to play the recorder. In Grade 4 all students learn to play a stringed instrument and in Grade 5 all students learn to play an instrument in a band or orchestra.
OMA was one of 23 programs selected nationally to receive the U.S. Department of Education grant. Titled Professional Development for Arts Educators, the grant will provide the district with $1,001,700 over the next three years for additional research on past student achievement results and specific OMA components that help increase student success.
It’s amazing what can be accomplished when minds are open to changes and a focus on what contributes positively to student achievement and what improves learning and closing the achievement gap. Federal funding for approaches similar to OMA have been available for several years. But, the first step is support for what supports children’s learning and achievement and a willingness to work together under current constraints on new ideas. This past summer the director of OMA conducted workshops throughout the US, one in Minneapolis. Perhaps School Board will put together a working group to get started on something similar for our children.

From Gunpowder to the Next Big Bang by Thomas L. Friedman

There is a techie adage that goes like this: In China or Japan the nail that stands up gets hammered, while in Silicon Valley the nail that stands up drives a Ferrari and has stock options. Underlying that adage is a certain American confidence that whatever we lack in preparing our kids with strong fundamentals in math and science, we make up for by encouraging our best students to be independent, creative thinkers.

Continue reading From Gunpowder to the Next Big Bang by Thomas L. Friedman

Board of Education’s 2005-06 evaluation of superintendent: next steps

On October 31, the Human Resources Committee of the Madison Board of Education reviewed a memo from Juan Jose Lopez, the chair of the committee. According to the memo, the Board developed goals for the 2005-06 evaluation of the superintendent during its recent closed sessions to evaluate his performance between 2002 and now.
If so, I believe that the Board violated the requirements of the Wisconsin Open Meetings law in those sessions. The Open Meetings law permits the Board to meet in closed sessions to consider “performance evaluation data”. That is, the Board may discuss how the superintendent’s performance measures up under the performance standards. The law does not permit the Board to develop the standards for future evaluations behind closed doors. That’s why the October 10 meeting was scheduled as an open meeting. The Board must hold its discussion of future standards for this evaluation in public.
The memo also refers to a still secret document, “the Superintendent’s evaluation”, and recommends that the next evaluation of Superintendent Art Rainwater focus on four categories. Did the Board evaluate the superintendent in just four categories? We can’t say, because the sessions were closed. Were there other ideas about where improvement is needed? We can’t say, because the sessions were closed. Is this memo an accurate summary of Board discussions? We can’t say, because the sessions were closed.
The next step is another Human Resource Committee meeting. Board members are encouraged to submit recommendations for the next evaluation before this meeting.
The memo follows:

Continue reading Board of Education’s 2005-06 evaluation of superintendent: next steps

Equity and School Board – Hard Work Needed by School Board AND Equity Task Force

I’ve attended many of the School Board meetings where equity issues came up. I listened to parents and representatives from the Northside Coalition talk about their concerns about equity issues over the past several years, including concerns about the application of the equity formula over the past several years frustrated, in part, that the School Board was not implementing and overseeing the established, Board approved equity policy.
My daughter does not attend any of the schools represented by these parents, but my husband has taught in some of these schools, so I’m familiar with some but certainly not all of issues, and I’ve worked as a PTO Board member in support of many similar issues. I wholeheartedly support parent and community members’ concerns, and I wholeheartedly believe we need to take steps to do the right thing for all our students, especially helping those who are in the greatest need of support to be successful learners.
I wasn’t at Monday night’s meeting, but I’ve heard Lawrie Kobza testify and speak on the need for the School Board to take steps to insure that the Equity Policy is implemented and to monitor the implementation of that policy as required. I agree with her recommendation that a first step for the Task Force would be to examine the existing equity policy, even though I believe this motion was defeated. I hope the Equity Task Force, when formed, will go ahead and begin their work by looking at the existing policy and keep the big picture in mind.

Continue reading Equity and School Board – Hard Work Needed by School Board AND Equity Task Force

Questions About West’s Proposed One 10th Grade English Class

Below is the list of questions about 10th grade English that were sent to West Principal Ed Holmes, West English Chair Keesia Hyzer, and Assistant Superintendent Pam Nash (who will be attending the meeting).  We explained — again — that our goals in sending them questions before the meeting are to give them time to prepare answers, minimize “surprises” at the meeting, and insure that all of our questions are answered.  They are aware that we are posting the questions to this list serve and that many parents in attendance next Monday night will know that these questions have been asked of them.  We have asked Mr. Holmes to consider publishing our questions and the school’s answers to them in the next issue of the Regent Reporter (much as Mr. Rathert did with my questions about the SLC initiative a year-and-a-half ago), in order that parents who are not able to attend the meeting next week can nevertheless be fully informed.  We also included a few questions about the research on ability grouping and the SLC initiative, more generally, but made it clear that we did not necessarily expect them to be addressed next week.
We hope to see a lot of you at the meeting (7:00 p.m. in the West LMC).  Feel free to bring along any additional questions you feel we have overlooked.

Continue reading Questions About West’s Proposed One 10th Grade English Class

Equity and the School Board – No Easy Answers

The district’s equity policy was originally adopted in 1994. Shortly after, the East Area Success Team came to the Board with a proposal that we adopt a more equitable approach to distributing resources. This became the Equity Resource Allocation formula; it was used, and is still used, to distribute additional resources (supplemental) to the neediest schools at the elementary level. The Board allocated a number of the supplemental positions to support SAGE programming at 16 schools in 2000-01. Since most schools used the supplemental resources to decrease class size this appeared to be a reasonable way to reduce class sizes and gain a bit more in state funding.
Last spring the Northside PTO Coalition, which has been very concerned about the equity policy, put this question before the school board: “If further cuts are required, will you commit to working with the community to try to protect smaller class sizes at the neediest schools, even if that means raising class sizes at schools with lower poverty levels?”
The Board discussion reported in the Capital Times earlier this week was about the questions and issues such an approach raises. My questions are:
How much do we take away from some schools and some programs to maintain resources at other schools?

  • Just to clarify, the first step the Task Force on Equity is directed to take is to review the district’s current policy and the equity resource allocation formula.
  • Is the income of students to be the overriding criteria in funding discussions?
  • Do we end SAGE at those schools with poverty levels significantly below the district average (say less than 30%)?
  • Do we take away the .5 supplemental allocated to schools with lower poverty rates?
  • How do we handle programs that serve a lower percentage of low-income students?
  • Do we eliminate advanced courses at the high school or foreign language at the middle school in order to give additional resources to the secondary schools with the highest proportion of low-income students?

I do not have a ready answer to these questions – but they are ones that the Equity Task Force will discuss in considering their recommendations to the Board. The Equity Task Force was specifically requested by a number of parents and the Northside PTO Coalition.

New Study on Inequality in School Readiness and Public Funding

New Fall 2005 study from the UW-Madison Institute for Research on Poverty:
“Inequality in children’s school readiness and public funding” was authored by a team that includes local assistant professor of social work Katherine Magnuson. It asks:

There are still many questions about children’s preschool experiences and the rise in public preschool funding. Has the substantial expansion of public funding made inroads into the disparities in preschool enrollment? How good are the various types of programs—are some forms of preschool higher in quality than others? How effective are they in remedying disadvantage—do poor children who attend preschool programs really enter school better prepared to learn? Do any advantages of preschool expe-rience fade over time?

The full document is available online in PDF format at:

One English Program for West’s Sophomores

Matt Pommer:

Under the new program targeted for fall 2006, all sophomores will take the same English program in the first semester focusing on the American Dream. In the second semester, students will be able to select from the themes of justice or identity, according to Keesia Hyzer, chair of the school’s English department.
In the past, 10th-grade students have had more than 20 options, but 85 percent have selected among five or six choices, she indicated. Current plans call for the curriculum to be taught next year in 18 sections.
Principal Ed Holmes said the core curriculum “will meet the needs of the struggling learner as well as those of our gifted and talented students.” He indicated that there is concern among some parents, but he urged them to see what the core curriculum will mean to their students. The core curriculum is still “a work in progress,” he said, but it will be explained at Monday’s PTO meeting.
“The parents’ concern is that we are going to give up the rigor and challenge for our most talented students. By no means!” he said in a Capital Times interview.


The shocking truth

From Jason Shepard’s column Talking Out of School in Isthmus, Madison’s only media outlet to give the public in-depth coverage of the MMSD:

A series of institutional failures — by court employees, police officers, and school officials — led to a Madison student being shot with a Taser stun gun in a school parking lot early this year, according to an independent investigator whose report the school district has tried to keep secret. . . .
[The report] is a remarkable indictment of the ways in which police and school officials handled the Taser incident. But perhaps the case’s most distrubing aspect concerns what appear to be ongoing efforts to cover up what transpired.

Continue reading The shocking truth

MMSD Equity Policy Exists – Board Not Overseeing Policy

On Monday, October 31st, the Madison School Board voted to establish an equity policy task force even though a board equity policy exists – The existing equity policy goals are twofold: (1) that all students will be provided an equitable educational opportunity in a diverse setting and (2) that all students will achieve in accordance with the 100% success objectives. MMSD School Board members are not taking the necessary steps to ensure that the existing School Board Equity Policy is being implemented as stated in the policy requirements. Why not? It seems to be easier for the Board majority to punt to another new task force and confuse the situation, further delaying action.
There are serious flaws and confusion in the ‘reasoning’ and applications of the ‘equity policy’ by the majority of the Board: equity and equal are NOT the same; nor do the equity policy and the equity formula mean, nor do the same things. The Board majority and the Administration conveniently hide behind the confusion and lack of accountability they create to ‘assure’ everyone they are doing everything they can given financial constraints that prevent them from doing more. The lack of prior board oversight, work and actions simply do not support the board majority’s statements on Monday night.
For example, as Chair of the Performance and Achievement Committee last year, Board member Juan Jose Lopez had both the power and the authority to set the agenda for his committee. Did his committee make closing the achievement gap a priority? No. Did his committee examine curriculum, identify where resources are being allocated and what support resources are needed, review test results, budgets and make recommendations for changes to improve the achievement gap? No. I attended all the Performance and Achievement Committee meetings. What was done? District administrators made “seminar type” information presentations on various subjects and curricula, but no data on MMSD’s students were presented.

Continue reading MMSD Equity Policy Exists – Board Not Overseeing Policy

Gates Foundation & LA’s Small Learning Communities

Naush Boghossian:

But the grant, the foundation’s first sizable sum to the Los Angeles Unified School District, falls far short of investments the foundation has made across the country to smaller districts – a disparity some officials blame on the LAUSD’s lack of a comprehensive plan.
And critics said Wednesday that, despite years of discussions with the Gates Foundation, the district superintendent, Roy Romer, has been unwilling to relinquish any control and create a partnership with the foundation to build the smaller learning environments that require autonomy to succeed – a charge Romer strongly denies.

School Districts Sharing Services

Reason Foundation:

in many parts of the country 40 to 50 percent of education funding never makes it to the classroom. A new report by Reason and Deloitte finds that saving just a quarter of the tax dollars spent by school districts on non-instructional operations could save $9 billion. To put this number in perspective, it is equivalent to 900 new schools or more than 150,000 additional teachers. “School funding and per pupil spending are always hot-button issues,” said Lisa Snell, co-author of the report. “Sharing services gives schools and districts a great opportunity to send a lot more money straight to classrooms, where it belongs. With much of the education world facing tough budget decisions, sharing services is a dramatically under-used option that can yield significant results.”

Full Report [PDF] Obviously a good idea, however like many such initiatives (city / county consolidation is another example), execution is generally non-trivial. Reason has a number of education oriented publications posted here.

Baltimore Schools Offer Algebra to Parents

Allison Keyes:

In Maryland, the current class of 9th graders will be the first to have to pass an algebra test to graduate from high school. That’s putting pressure on some parents to brush up on their math skills so that they can help their children. Baltimore County’s school system has recognized this potential problem and is now offering classes to bring parents up to speed on algebra.
The school system is offering its algebra awareness class for parents in a three-session format. Each session is two hours long.
The idea came from discussions of the new algebra requirement at Parent-Teacher Association meetings last year.

More Studies Document Benefits of Early Childhood Education

Researchers Say Early Education Programs Pay Off

PDFs of Studies at:
POSTED: 1:38 pm CST November 2, 2005
UPDATED: 2:10 pm CST November 2, 2005
Two new studies suggest pre-K and Early Head Start programs benefit children — especially those from low-income families — in a variety of ways, including increased cognitive and language skills.
The first study looked at children who took part in pre-K programs — programs run by public schools and serving 4-year-olds.
Researchers said they documented benefits in several aspects of school readiness, including improvements in reading, writing and spelling abilities.
The study, conducted by Georgetown University researchers, found that disadvantaged children and Hispanic children benefited the most from pre-K programs.
Researchers studied 1, 567 pre-K 4-year-olds and 1, 461 children who had just completed one of the pre-K programs in Tulsa, Okla.
The second study, conducted by researchers at Princeton and Columbia University, looked at the benefits of Early Head Start programs that serve infants, toddlers and their families.
Full story at:

Charter School Bills Advance

The state Assembly Committee on Education Reform acted today (11/2/05) to recommend passage of three bills to expand charter school authorizing in Wisconsin. The bills may be scheduled for a vote next week by the entire State Assembly.
On a vote of 7-Ayes (Reps. Vukmir, Nass, Towns, Wood, Nischke, Pridemore & A. Williams) and 2-Noes (Reps. Sinicki & Lehman), the committee recommended Assembly Bill 730 (AB 730) which proposes to allow five UW System 4-year universities, in addition to UW-Milwaukee and UW-Racine, to each authorize (i.e. sponsor) up to 5 charter schools.
AB 698, which would raise the student enrollment cap from 400 to 480 on a charter elementary school sponsored by UW-Parkside, was recommended on a vote of 8-Ayes and 1-No (Rep. Sinicki). Two Democrats, Rep. Lehman and A. Williams, joined all Republicans in supporting the bill.

Continue reading Charter School Bills Advance

Catholic Schoolgirls Unravel DNA

Michael D. O’Neill:

There were many big-league DNA scientists at the annual genome sequencing conference held here last month, but no one stood out more than a slight high school teacher in religious habit towing five of her students through the imposing crowd of genetics pioneers with a quiet grace.
The unlikely delegate was Sister Mary Jane Paolella, of Sacred Heart Academy, an all-girls Roman Catholic high school in Hamden, Connecticut. She wasn’t here on a sightseeing trip. Paolella showed up with her students to make an official presentation of DNA sequencing data that her honors biotechnology class generated from genes associated with osteoporosis.
Paolella’s been bringing her students here for eight years. The point, she says, is to give her class the opportunity to rub elbows with top scientists working at the cutting edge of research — luminaries like Craig Venter, who led the private effort to sequence the human genome, and Dr. Hamilton Smith, who won the 1978 Nobel Prize for his work on DNA-cutting enzymes. She credits the experience for inspiring more and more of her students to pursue careers in traditionally male-dominated scientific fields.

TABOR foes encouraged by Colorado

Sponsors of a proposed constitutional amendment to limit state and local tax increases today sought to put a positive spin on a key vote in Colorado to exceed similar limits there.
“I think this shows that TABOR is working,” said Rep. Frank Lasee, R-Bellevue, using the acronym for the Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights. “The voters there had their say. When the people decide to tax themselves, that’s how government should work.”
But opponents of the proposal called it a death knell for Wisconsin’s proposal.
By David Callender and Anita Weier
November 2, 2005 in The Capital Times

Continue reading TABOR foes encouraged by Colorado

West PTSO Meeting to Discuss Changes in English Curriculum

The November 7 meeting of the West High PTSO will feature a presentation by members of the West English department on the administration’s plan to create a uniform 10th grade English curriculum beginning in the fall of 2006-07. This change will mean that — beginning with the current 9th grade class — West 10th graders will no longer be allowed to choose from the wide array of electives offered by the English faculty, a list of courses that vary by both content and degree of difficulty. Instead, under the proposed plan, all 10th graders will take the same English curriculum,
delivered in heterogeneously composed classes, much as West 9th graders do currently. 11th and 12th graders will continue to choose from the list of electives. If you are a current or future West parent and would like to know more about this plan or have concerns about its implementation, you are encouraged to attend the 11/7 meeting. West PTSO meetings are held in the West LMC and begin at 7:00 p.m.
Note: Parents of all age children within the West HS attendance area are welcome at this meeting. Background links.

The Seven Options of the West/Memorial Task Force

The MMSD Web site says that the West/Memorial task force “identified seven options for additional analysis” by MMSD staff. I asked Superintendent Rainwater’s Chief of Staff Mary Gulbrandsen for a list of the seven options, and here is her reply:

The West Memorial task force has not even seen the seven ideas that
were put forth by the seven small work groups, as they were the last
thing that we did at the meeting on Thursday night. We are just pulling the ideas together and are going to work with some of the members to actually create options. As soon as we have something that is in a form to send out to the task force, it will be posted on the MMSD website for reviewing. Mary

Teacher Talk: Plainview, NY Teacher’s Union President

Morty Rosenfeld:

If the United States is to preserve our system of free public schools, teacher unions are going to have to stop accepting the status quo and making excuses for the poor performance of our students. Most of us know that contrary to all of the talk about how we are raising our standards, in most of our schools they continue to decline. The low scores on the so-called high stakes tests are testimony to the fact that large numbers of students leave school knowing next to nothing and ill equipped for any but the most menial of jobs. While many of our most talented young people spend their days in so-called accelerated courses with curricula once thought more appropriate to the college level, too many of them have whizzed right by basic skills and cannot string together three coherent sentences or know to any degree of certainty if they have received the correct change in a store. We must face the fact that some of the right-wing critique of public education, particularly their criticism of the ever inflating costs of public education, resonates with the American public because it is true, or at least truer than some of the blather put out by the people who run the schools and the unions who represent the people who work in them. If it is true that our freedom is ultimately tied to our being an enlightened and educated citizenry, we are in terrible trouble.
Excuse number one – We don’t have enough money to meet the educational needs of our students. While too many of our school districts do need more financial resources, resources that many find impossible to raise trough the regressive property tax, the fact of the matter is too many of them also waste a substantial portion of what they have, a good piece of the waste mandated by state and federal law. I’ve written elsewhere about the administrative bloat in school districts where level upon level of bureaucracy insures that teachers and educational support staff are over scrutinized and under supervised to the point where teaching innovation and imagination are increasingly giving way to the routines of educational programs, particularly in math and English, that are intended to make teaching thinking-free.

Via Joanne and EIA Communique.

Board Votes to Create Equity Task Force

Schools to take closer look at equity
Task force could lead to budget war

By Matt Pommer, The Capital Times
November 1, 2005
The Madison School Board created an “equity” task force Monday, setting the stage for a possible budget war over programs like elementary school strings and foreign language instruction in middle schools.
President Carol Carstensen said the board had been “skirting difficult issues” in budget preparations.
The board has been in favor of equality and directing resources to the neediest population, but “we have not used our power to allocate resources to our neediest children,” she said.
The citizens task force was given a March 31 target date for a report, time enough to influence the development of the School Board’s 2006-07 budget. Twelve people – three from each high school attendance area – will be named to the task force.
In light of state budget controls, it becomes more difficult to fund program like strings and foreign language in middle school, Carstensen said.
Board member Juan Lopez said the School Board has been “responsive” to organized groups rather than focused on equity. For example, the strings program is important, but he asked, “Is it equitable? No.”
Groups may come to the board with a plea for an additional charter school, Lopez noted. That may not be equitable, but the board responds to a political push, he suggested.
Abha Thakkar, a member of the Northside Planning Council and the East Attendance Area PTO Coalition, urged the board to appoint the task force. She said in a “time of prosperity” it is easy to continue programs that help just some of the students in the district.
Helping the pupils from poor families is not just an east side or north side issue, she indicated. “It’s a districtwide issue,” she said, in urging adoption of the task force.
After the meeting, she told The Capital Times she was pleased by the creation of the task force. But she was most pleased at the lengthy board discussion before the vote.
“They finally fessed up to the issue,” she said.
Board member Lawrie Kobza said the equity issue was the reason she ran for the board. “Maybe it’s difficult to define equity,” she said.

Run for School Board

It’s not too early to think about running, even though school board elections are “spring elections,” because it takes time to learn the issues and organize a campaign.
A lively debate during school board elections will help shape better policies and improve programs for Madison’s children. A lively debate, of course, requires more than one candidate in a race. You can be one of those candidates!
You won’t be alone. A strong network of experienced activists from all across the city will help with research, organizing, fundraising, and all the other necessities of running a campaign.
As a candidate, you would run city-wide for one of two numbered seats currently held by Bill Keys and Juan Lopez, both of whom I have encouraged to run again.
Learn more by visiting this web page.
If you’d like to know more about how to run, feel free to contact Jim Zellmer, Webmaster of, (608) 213-0434, zellmer at mac dot com; Don Severson, Active Citizens for Education, (608) 238-8300, don at activecitizensforeducation dot org; Ed Blume, (608) 225-6591, edblume at mailbag dot com.

West Task Force Survey (Cherokee)

A task force created by the Board of Education is evaluating options to address overcrowding in the West and Memorial attendance areas. The task force is expected to recommend three options to the Board in early January; the option chosen will be implemented in fall, 2006. Please help the Cherokee task force members accurately represent your views by answering the questions below.

Survey: English | Spanish

Referenda: Elmbrook’s Poll on $100M High Schools

Lisa Sink:

But he said that Elmbrook’s results likely wouldn’t stop other districts from moving forward with referendum plans because the cost of Elmbrook’s plans was more than double what others typically seek.
“The size of the amounts are just so out of line with what everybody else has done that I’d be leery to generalize (Elmbrook’s results) to someone who’s going to ask for $25 million to build a school,” Knapp said.
Spread across the district’s tax base, the five building improvement plans presented in Elmbrook’s survey would have a tax impact on an average $300,000 home of $288 to $363 per year for 20 years.

DPI Forum on Special Ed

From Lauren Mikol:

The Department of Educational Services would like to advise staff, parents and community members of a public forum on November 9 sponsored by the State Superintendent’s Council on Special Education.
The purpose of the forum is to gather public input on significant topics related to special education in Wisconsin including IDEA 2004 and state special education law and disproportionality issues in special education.
Open to anyone interested to attend and give input.

Middle School Focus Group – Parents

Pam Nash (Assistant Superintendent for Secondary Schools) emailed this notice:

Many of you have expressed an interest in participating and discussing the changes to our middle schools. There will be a middle school focus group meeting for parents on Thursday, November 10, 2005, 7:00-8:30 p.m. at the Doyle Building, 545 W. Dayton Street in Room 103. [Map]
At this meeting, we will be gathering thoughts of what parents would like to see in the middle schools in Madison. There will also be an on-line survey available for parents to complete if they were unable to attend the meeting.

Barbara Golden: Is Art Rainwater Doing a Good Job?

Barbara Golden:

The Madison Metropolitan School District HAS NOT CLOSED THE ACHIEVEMENT GAP. Black third graders are still not reading at the same level as white students, most school arrests involve African Americans and the graduation gap is as wide as ever. Black students are disproportionately referred to special education (and once in, rarely get out), and are overly represented in remedial classes that do not prepare them for higher education, or meaningful employment after high school.

Testing Time and Parent Power

See “Will Testing Be Right Answer for Schools?” in today’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel . The interesting story is about NCLB and testing time throughout Wisconsin. Coming Monday in the Journal Sentinel is a follow-up story about testing special ed students.
You may be interested, also, in reading “Cheating Our Kids — How Politics and Greed Ruin Education,” by Joe Williams, who writes about education for “The New York Daily News.” Joe is a former education writer for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel . According to a reviewer, Joe Williams shows how parents can use consumer power to put children first, shining light on the special interests controlling our schools, where politics and pork infuse everything and our children’s education is compromised, . He argues that increased accountability and choice are necessary, and shows how the people can take back the education system, enhancing responsibility inherent in democracy. The solution is a new brand of hardball politics that demands competence from school leaders and shifts the power away from bureaucrats and union leaders to the people who have a the greatest reason to put kids first: concerned parents. With practical steps and uplifting examples of success, this is a manifesto to action.

Bob & Jan Davidson: Child Geniuses Find A Home

CBS News:

Finally it meant I wasn’t the crazy mom who was pushing her kid to do things. I was a mom of a kid who had extraordinary abilities,” Alicja says.
Jacob Komar was the epitome of what the Davidsons were looking for and the Davidson Institute was just what the Komars needed. First, the Davidsons helped pay Jacob’s tuition to a private middle school for gifted math and science students.

More on Jan Davidson, here. Her low cost ideas for improving schools

I am Greatly Distressed About La Follette High School’s Four Block System

Dear La Follette Parents & Taxpayers,
I am writing because I am greatly distressed about conditions at La Follette High School under the 4-block system. I strongly believe that as parents and taxpayers you have the right to be included in the debate about your child’s education. Because I believe the future of the 4-block will be decided in the near future I am compelled to provide you with some information.

  1. Students in the traditional MMSD high schools are required to spend 50% of the credits required for graduation in academic areas. La Follette students are required to spend only 42% of their time in academic areas. Why does the district believe that La Follette students need less time in academic areas? Do the taxpayers support this decision? I understand that this is a debatable question. What I do not understand is why there is a different answer for La Follette students.

    Continue reading I am Greatly Distressed About La Follette High School’s Four Block System

Obama on No Child Left Behind

Barack Obama:

But we don’t make much progress for our kids when we constrain ourselves like this. It appeared for a brief moment that the President, working with leaders like Senator Kennedy understood this, and many of us were initially encouraged by the passage of No Child Left Behind. It may not be popular to say in Democratic circles, but there were good elements to this bill – its emphasis on the achievement gap, raising standards, and accountability. Unfortunately, because of failures in implementation, particularly its failure to provide adequate funding and a failure to design better assessment tests that provide a clearer path for schools to raise achievement, the bill’s promise is not yet fulfilled.
The shortcomings of NCLB shouldn’t end the conversation, however. They should be the start of a conversation about how we can do better. Yes, it’s a moral outrage that this Administration hasn’t come through with the funding for what it claims has been its number one domestic priority. But to wage war against the entire law for that reason is not an education policy, and Democrats need to realize that.

[PDF Verision]

Organized Athletics Taking Away from Kids Childhood?

Rob Zaleski:

A group of kids in the 8- to 10-year-old range would gather in a small park just across the street and engage in pickup baseball games, much like Richter, the recently retired University of Wisconsin athletic director, did while growing up on Madison’s east side a half-century ago.
“They actually took a hammer and nails and some old plywood they must have found and tried to make a dugout,” Richter laughs. “And they put a pole out in left field, with a tennis ball on top, as a foul line. I was just amazed.”

MMSD Legislative Committee Recommends Joining Statewide Coalition

On October 17, the Legislative Committee of the Madison School Board voted unanimously to recommend that the district join the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools (WAES) The organization is a diverse, statewide coalition working for comprehensive school-funding reform.
Partners in the coalition believe in the following core principles that serve as “membership criteria” and the rationale for a school-finance reform proposal based on the Adequacy model, the Wisconsin Adequacy

Continue reading MMSD Legislative Committee Recommends Joining Statewide Coalition

Colorado Referendum Targets Revenue Cap

To some Colorado residents, Referendum C is the best chance to spare the state’s schools from deep budget cuts. To others, the ballot measure—which will go before voters Nov. 1—represents a steep tax increase and gives lawmakers too much power over how state revenues are spent.
Referendum C is a proposed five-year suspension of Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights, or TABOR. TABOR is a voter-approved 1992 constitutional amendment that imposed a formula-driven cap on state spending and required the state and local jurisdictions, including school districts, to give back to taxpayers any revenues in excess of the cap.
“It is by far and away the most restrictive tax and spending limitation in the country,” said Wade Buchanan, the president of the Bell Policy Center, a think tank in Denver. “It really is a measure that gives fiscal decisionmaking powers almost exclusively to the voters.”
From “Colorado Referendum Targets Revenue Cap: Easing restrictions would free up more tax dollars for schools and colleges”, by Linda Jacobson in Education Week, October 19, 2005.

Continue reading Colorado Referendum Targets Revenue Cap

Poverty and Education Forum: Audio and Video Archive

Rafael Gomez organized an excellent Forum Wednesday evening on Poverty and Education. Participants include:

  • Tom Kaplan: Associate Director of the Institute for Research on Poverty kaplan at
  • Ray Allen, Former Madison Board of Education Member, Publisher – Madison Times
  • Maria Covarrubias: A Teacher at Chavez Elementary mcovarrubias at
  • Mary Kay Baum: Executive Director; Madison-Area Urban Ministry mkb at
  • Bob Howard: Madison School District rhoward at

Listen to the entire event (70 minutes) via a mp3 file on your ipod/mp3 player or watch the entire video here. Individual presentations are available below:

Maria Covarrubias: A Teacher at Chavez Elementary describes her journey from a California migrant worker to a UW Educated Madison Teacher. Video

Continue reading Poverty and Education Forum: Audio and Video Archive

Amazing solution to Mystery #3: Unknown Authorization

Try your decoder ring on this cryptic missive to solve Mystery #3, Case of the Unknown Authorization:

Major Division Highlights and Anticipated Challenges [for the Department of Educational Services]:
– Expand programming and placement options for elementary age students with severe Emotional Behavioral Disability (EBD) and significant mental health needs. Budget & District Profile, page 79

When you break the MMSD’s crypt it means:

Create two new classrooms at Marquette Elementary for students with EBD;
Put two teachers, two aids, and a school psychologist in the two classrooms;
Spend a minimum of $350,000 on the classrooms.

Continue reading Amazing solution to Mystery #3: Unknown Authorization

Arts & Technology Charter School

The Capital Times:

The initial steps toward creation of an arts and technology charter public school in Madison will be held Thursday at 6 p.m. at the Madison Gas and Electric Co. Innovation Center in Research Park.
The target date to begin such a program is the fall of 2007, according to Nancy Donahue, a leader in the Preschool of the Arts. The Madison School District now has two charter schools – the Wright Middle School and Nuestro Mundo, a kindergarten/first-grade unit operating in the Allis Elementary School. Board of Education approval would be required to add a third school.
Donahue said the charter school could be built on encouraging the exploration by pupils much like what occurs in the private preschool of the arts. A downtown location would enable pupils to tap into existing resources there, she said.

Madison Country Day School Budget Challenges

Doug Erickson:

Part of the operating budget for the private school was covered each year by John Frautschi of Maple Bluff, father of school founder Christopher Frautschi, according to Dan Stewart, newly elected chairman of the school’s board of trustees.
The elder Frautschi will no longer fill that role, Stewart said.
Stewart would not reveal the size of Frautschi’s annual subsidy, other than to say it was sizable. School officials are discussing the matter with other potential donors who have the capacity to give “six-figure gifts,” he said.
“We do face a fundraising challenge this year of significant proportion,” Stewart said. “The initial responses we’re receiving are very encouraging and point toward a significant opportunity for success.”

Parents question school safety at Memorial

The Wisconsin State Journal (October 26) carries a story on violence at Madison’s Memorial High School:

After a tumultuous two weeks at Madison Memorial High School marked by four weapons incidents, a student hit by a car and a gang fight, about 250 parents gathered to question Principal Bruce Dahmen about school security Tuesday night.

Language Learning Through Podcasts

Alex Williams:

It’s evident that podcasting is changing how educators view how they teach. Language learning services are picking up on the trend and in the process, showing the first examples of podcasting as a premium service.
I ran across an article in Asia Times Online about ALC Press Inc., a company in Japan that is teaching conversational english to students by using podcatching services. The cost comes to about $86 per year.
In ALC’s new service, the student will pay a monthly study fee. The student will also purchase a study book that includes the necessary software for “podcatching”, the process used to download new podcast feed files.
Here’s how it works.

300 Turn Out for Memorial Violence Meeting


There have been six incidents of violence at the school in the past week.
“It’s pretty obvious that there is some gang issues related to what happened at school yesterday,” said Lt. Tony Peterson.
Peterson said there have now been 40 arrests and citations at Memorial this school year.
Following a freedom of information request, the district released surveillance tape to News 3 showing a student waving a knife following an open gym night. Later, two others got into a fight.
Weapons, including a box cutter and a 9 mm handgun have also been seized from Memorial students.

Public’s Right To Know: Madison School District Land Purchases

Two weeks ago, I emailed this Open Records request to Madison School District Attorney Clarence Sherrod:

Good Afternoon, Clarence:
I hope this note finds you well.
I am writing to make an open records request under sec. 19.35 of the Wisconsin Statutes. I would like copies of any agreements signed this year by the Madison Metropolitan School District or its representatives to purchase land for a school site. I believe the issue of purchasing land for a school site was discussed by the Madison Board of Education on 10/10/2005.
I believe that these sort of land/facilities discussions should be public knowledge, particularly in light of the East / West task force activity.
Thank you very much and best wishes.

I received a response today from Bob Nadler, the District’s Custodian of Records. Essentially, this response means that the public has no right to know about the District’s purchase of land for a new school site until after the Board agrees to purchase. Read Bob’s letter here. I will post the document he referenced upon receipt.

Fights break out, staffer hit in face at Memorial

The Capital Times reports in a story by Lee Sensenbrenner:

A staff member at Memorial High School was struck in the face and a fire alarm went off after several fights broke out at once in a crowded hallway of Madison’s largest high school.
According to a report by Madison Police Lt. Pat Malloy, eight to 10 students were involved in a disturbance Monday morning that “turned into three to five physical fights in the hallway.” At some point during this, “an officer inadvertently touched a fire alarm,” Malloy said.
“A short time later, a staff member asked a student to remove a hat,” Malloy wrote in a release. “The student responded by striking the staff member in the face.”

Has the MMSD or any other agency followed up on the suggestions to convene a task force on gangs and student violence, as proposed at the forum sponsored by the Seems like some follow up would be a good idea.

Beaver Dam School Wins National Award


Statistics show half the students at South Beaver Dam Elementary fall into the disadvantaged category.
Yet the school scored 100 percent on reading, knowledge and concept exams and more than 96 percent in attendance.
The school received a National Blue Ribbon Award from the U.S. Department of Education.
“There is no child left behind,” said parent Amy Grunst. “No child who can’t go. Everybody goes.”
“Our expectations are high,” said Principal Dan Rikli. “We are sensitive where they came from, but we expect just as much from every kid who walks into this school.”

Curated Education Information