Cell Phones R Us: Avoiding Fiscal Responsibility the Madison School Board Way

Recently Governor Doyle directed state agencies to �examine all operations to bring accountability and fiscal responsibility to government�. As a result, the state has reduced the use of cell phones and saved thousands of dollars. The Department of Administration characterized the use of cell phones before this change as �part of the carelessness� that marked state spending under prior administrations.
Dane County and the City of Madison have written procedures that limit the assignment of cell phones to specific categories of employees. For example, the city permits assignment of a cell phone �where it is required that an employee be reachable at all times, or where an employee must be regularly able to make business telephone calls while in the field�.
In contrast, the Madison Metropolitan School District does not have a policy or an administrative procedure to restrict the use of cell phones at MMSD expense. Don�t expect that to change anytime soon, even though the annual cost of employee cell phones has increased 60% since 2001 from $51,225 to $82,259, including the monthly fee for each cell phone.
The majority of the Board does not favor budget targets for the superintendent or controls on how the administration spends the budget. The expanding use of cell phones by MMSD employees is just another example of this bias against fiscal controls.


School Tax Bill Increase Modest / Board Votes to Go Ahead with Leopold Elementary New School Design

School Tax Bill Increase Modest
Tuesday, October 26, 2004
By Lee Sensenbrenner The Capital Times
After a year of budget cutting and no referendums, Madison property taxpayers will see a modest increase in what they’ll pay for public schools next year.
For the owner of the house that perfectly follows the city’s statistical averages, rising in value this year from $189,500 to $205,400, the bill from the Madison Metropolitan School District will climb by $54. The total bill will be about $2,362, according to administrators’ figures.
For the few whose assessments did not increase, the school property tax will decline; the budget that the Madison School Board passed Monday cuts the tax rate from $12.18 to $11.50 per $1,000 of assessed property value, a 5.6 percent dip.
Overall, the portion of the $317 million budget supported by local property taxpayers rose by 3.16 percent this year, from about $196 million to $202 million. The year before, when voters approved a referendum, the same levy rose by almost 10 percent and school taxes for the average homeowner went up by $216.
Each fall, after counting official enrollment and making other adjustments, the Madison School Board formalizes the budget it set the previous spring. In this cycle, the board cut nearly $10 million worth of services that were squeezed out as cost increases pressed against the state’s cap on school spending.
Board member Ruth Robarts was the only dissenter in the votes to authorize the budget. She has criticized the administration for bringing up only parts of the budget for debate and scrutiny and she feels greater efficiencies could be found through fresh analysis and a more open process.
Other board members Monday praised the administration for a thorough and exhausting effort to come up with the best possible budget, given that nearly $10 million worth of services would be taken from schools.
“This is the budget of clarity,” board President Bill Keys said, adding that it underwent more scrutiny and was presented in more detail than ever before.
Leopold Elementary: On a unanimous vote, the School Board also moved closer Monday to building a new school on the city’s south side.
Their vote gives the administration permission to get architects’ designs for the school and to propose wording for the referendum that would fund its construction.
So far, the plan is to build a school on the campus that connects to Leopold Elementary. The old building would serve kindergarten through second grade and the new school would serve third through fifth grade, creating a campus with some 800 or more elementary school students.
The initial estimates put the cost for the project at roughly $11 million.
Leopold Elementary has been crowded for several years and many students who would be within its enrollment boundary are bused to schools on the west and far southwest side. Administrators say new subdivisions in the area are expected to further speed the influx of new students around Leopold.
“Not trying to build a school on that site would represent a break in faith with the Leopold parents,” board member Bill Clingan said. “This really is the only practical thing to do.”
Juan Jose Lopez, a board member who also spoke in favor of the school, brought up the two perennial concerns of trying to build a new elementary school. He said the district must find a way to convince those without children and those who live away from the south side to vote for it.
For the second group, there is, among other things, talk of districtwide boundary changes for elementary school enrollment.
E-mail: lsensenbrenner@madison.com

School Board Oks Budget For 2004-05 / Board Voted Unanimously to Pursue Building a Second Elementary School

School Board Oks Budget For 2004-05
Taxes On The Average Madison Home Will Increase $54.
Tuesday, October 26, 2004
Doug Erickson Wisconsin State Journal
The Madison School Board passed a final budget Monday that raises taxes by $54 on the typical city home.
The owner of an average-priced home in Madison, now valued at $205,400, will pay $2,362 in school taxes for 2004, according to the district.
In 2003, the average home was valued at $189,500, and the school tax bill on it was $2,308.
The board passed a preliminary budget in May. Adjustments are made every October after fall enrollment and state aid become clear.
Monday, the board approved total spending of $317.2 million for the 2004-05 school year. Comparisons to last year are tricky because the district is including more than $7 million worth of grant money in this year’s total, said Roger Price, assistant superintendent of business services. In the past, grant money was not part of this total, he said.
Price said last year’s budget of $305.1 million compares to $309.5 million this year, an increase of 1.4 percent.
Of the total budget, $202.4 million will come from the local property tax levy, an increase of $6.2 million, or 3.2 percent.
The district’s tax rate actually declined this year by 5.6 percent because the total value of property in the district rose due to factors such as inflation and new housing growth. However, most homeowners will pay more school taxes because the assessed value of their homes increased an average of 8.3 percent from last year to this year.
This year’s tax increase of $54 on the average home is one-fourth of last year’s $216 increase. That’s because the one-year spending referendum passed by voters in June 2003 has expired. Also, board members cut programs and raised fees this year to make up a $10 million difference between what the district wanted to spend and what state law would allow it to spend.
District enrollment this year is 24,710, down 178 students.
The vote on the budget was 6-1, with Ruth Robarts dissenting. “There are efficiencies that we must look at, and I have very little confidence that we’ve done that with this budget,” she said.
Also Monday:
* The board voted unanimously to pursue building a second elementary school on the campus of Leopold Elementary, 2602 Post Road.
The South Side school has 678 students — the top end of its capacity. Many more students are expected in the next five years due to home construction in Fitchburg.
Monday’s decision allows the administration to work with architects on a preliminary design. However, the board has not yet authorized a referendum. That decision will come in a later vote. The board is strongly leaning toward putting the issue on the ballot in April.
The district’s Long Range Planning Committee recommended earlier in the evening that the board pursue the second school.
Because Leopold’s attendance area is a peninsula that borders other school districts on three sides, changing boundaries would be an impractical solution, said Superintendent Art Rainwater. The district would be forced to change the attendance areas of many schools, in some cases busing children past their neighborhood schools to get to schools on the Isthmus or the East Side that have space.
“The only way to look at it is that you wipe out all the current boundaries and start over,” he said.
The estimated cost of the new school is about $11 million.

MMSD Budget Amendments and Tax Levy Adoption for 2004-2005

On Monday, October 25, 2004, the MMSD approved the final budget and tax levy for the 2004-2005 School Year. The budget was updated to include new grant revenues, accounting adjustments, 3rd Friday of September 2004 student count and State Aid certified by Department of Public Instruction.
The School Board passed three resolutions:
Resolution 1:
Be it resolved that the Board of Education approve amendments to the 2004-05 budget to reflect the adjustments between funds, departments and major functions as presented (October 25, 2004 document) and further that the Board of Education amend the 2004-05 budget to increase revenues and expenditures in the amount of $7,237,466.
Roger Price’s Presentation for Resolution 1:

Washington State Charter School Battle

Sam Dillon:

In Seattle, at a recent debate on charter schools at the University of Washington, sparring was intense.
“How long do I have to allow my kids to go to the public schools?” asked Henterson S. Carlisle, a teacher whose two children attend his school in the Seattle public system. “At what point can African-American kids who are suffering in the public system have some different options?”
A few minutes later in the same debate, Catherine Ahl, president of a school board on the Kitsap Peninsula west of Seattle and an officer of the Washington League of Women Voters, argued that charter schools, which are run by private boards rather than publicly elected ones, “take away citizens’ rights to oversee the spending of tax dollars.”
“We shouldn’t divert funds to create a separate, private school system,” Ms. Ahl said.

In a somewhat related article, Milwaukee School District residents are near their annual voucher cap (15% of district students). Sarah Carr takes a look at the politics, both locally and from the Governor.

Insights into Rainwater’s comment on MMSD’s 80% success in reading

Ruth Robarts wrote, “In his memo [to reject $2 million in Reading First funds]Superintendent Rainwater argues that MMSD should refuse to make the proposed changes at the five schools because we are a “successful” district. He states that our reading program is a success because more than 80% of all third graders score at grade level or above (“proficient or advanced”) on the Wisconsin Reading Comprehension Test. Unfortunately, that’s not true for the schools that qualified for Reading First grants. As Rainwater admits, more than 30% of the third graders in these schools fell below “proficient or advanced” scores in recent years. See “Madison Superintendent Declines $2M in Federal Funds Without Consulting the Board” below.”
The superintendent’s interprestion of the 80% success rate doesn’t seem to appreciate what Reading First consultants recommend for the other 20%.
To see what a complete reading program looks like, you can link to presentations by the Institute for the Development of Educational Achievement.
The presentation on the Center to Improve Reading Competence Using Intensive Treatments Schoolwide is especially revealing in showing how a reading program can address 80% of a school population, but the program needs a secondary prevention program to assist 15% of the school’s kids and a tertiary intervention for the 5% with severe, sustained reading difficulty.
From my experience, the MMSD does not appear to have consistent, effective intervention for either the 15% or the 5%.
Ed Blume

Madison Board Will Not Discuss Superintendent’s Decision to Quit Federal “Reading First” Program

In a recent submission, I discussed three reasons why I believe that the Madison School Board should receive more information about Superintendent Rainwater’s decision to end participation of five elementary schools in the federal “Reading First” program. See “What the Board Should Know Before Rejecting “Reading First” Funding”.
I remain unconvinced that Rainwater’s memo makes the case for declining $2M in federal reading assistance at Hawthorne, Glendale, Orchard Ridge and Lincoln/Midvale schools. In particular, the Board should be concerned about the reading achievement gap at each of these schools between economically disadvantaged children and children who are not economically disadvantaged. The results on the reading test at fourth grade in 2003–part of the Wisconsin Knowledge Concepts Evaluation tests—show these gaps between the economically disadvantaged students scoring “proficient or advanced” and their peers.
Hawthorne: Econ. Disadvantaged = 57%
Not Disadvantaged = 77%
Glendale: Econ. Disadvantaged = 73%
Not Disadvantaged = 82%
Orchard Ridge: Econ Disadvantaged = 55%
Not Disadvantaged = 90%
Lincoln: Econ. Disadvantaged = 66%
Not Disadvantaged = 88%
For District elementary schools combined: Econ. Disadvantaged = 66%
Not Disadvantaged = 88%
However, President Bill Keys has polled the Board members and told me that they all agree that discussion is not necessary. Here is our exchange of e-mails.


Could Madison Use Milwaukee�s Successful Reading Programs?

Please plan to attend a presentation by two principals of Milwaukee elementary schools that use a curriculum that won Barton Elementary federal recognition as a Blue Ribbon school, the only one in Wisconsin:
Could Madison Use Milwaukee�s Successful Reading Programs?
Norm and Dolores Mishelow
1:00 p.m.
Sunday, November 7
Madison Senior Center
330 W. Mifflin

Principal Norm Mishelow will discuss how academic achievement excels at Barton, because the school teaches reading using Direct Instruction (DI), a program that provides a detailed script for teacher-student interaction. The program focuses on small group learning and emphasizes phonics. The school also uses a math curriculum that focuses generally on building basic arithmetic skills.
Norm�s wife Dolores is a former principal of 27th Street School which was a failing school before she took over. She started DI, and their test scores soared. She used to believe in all the whole language and warm fuzzy teaching until, of course, she saw the light with DI. Norm was not using DI until Dolores nudged him to try it (after she retired) and his scores, though decent without DI, hit the stratosphere once DI got humming.
The same curriculum in MMSD elementary schools could help close the achievement gap, cut instructional costs, reduce special ed referrals, and raise achievement overall.
You can read more about Barton School.
Ed Blume

The Yin & Yang of Curriculum

Interesting timing, given Jeff’s post below about West’s intention to drop advanced biology.
Doug Erickson on Madison Country Day School’s expansion announcement:

Madison Country Day School broke ground Thursday on a $4.8 million expansion that will add a gymnasium, a performing arts stage and 13 classrooms.
The addition, which will house the private school’s middle and high school, is expected to be done in August.
Opened in 1997 with 22 students in five lower grades, the school has grown to 252 students in grades pre- kindergarten through 10th. It reached capacity two years ago and is now using two portable buildings, said Adam de Pencier, head of school. “We’re absolutely jammed.”
The school at 5606 River Road is in the town of Westport near Waunakee. It is a non- religious, independent school that was designed to incorporate the best curriculum from around the world. The school wants to be seen as a research facility whose teaching practices can be used as a model for other public and private schools, de Pencier said.
The school was founded by Christopher Frautschi, nephew of philanthropist Jerry Frautschi, whose $205 million donation is paying for construction of the Overture Center for the Arts in Madison.

As always, there are options for people willing to spend the money. A challenging and proven curriculum is vital to our community.
I recently emailed a bit with Bill Keys, Madison School Board President, thanking him for the BOE’s support of Lapham’s English program and two school’s exploration of Singapore Math. Here’s the email message.


West again proposes eliminating Accelerated Biology

Information from West High reveals that once again the Accelerated Biology course is being slated for the chopping block. The cutting of this course is being proposed as part of the initiative to maintain all inclusive, heterogeneous classrooms. Proponents of this cut, propose an alternative “Honors” designation for interested students who wish to be challenged above the standard course curriculum. Under this proposal, these “honors” students would do additional work alongside the standard curriculum that they would be completing in the heterogeneous classroom.
It was just this past spring, that a community letter writing campaign kept the accelerated biology class from being eliminated. If interested in sharing your thoughts on this program cut, please contact Mike Lipp, Science Dept. chair, Mikki Smith, Vice Principal in charge of scheduling, or Principal Ed Holmes.

Lifting the School System

Lifting the School System
Published Letter in New York Times: October 21, 2004
To the Editor:
In “Improving Education” (letter, Oct. 16), the writer says we not only need money but also “new ideas” to improve public education. But public education has been flooded with new ideas in recent decades, and far too many children continue to leave school without a decent education.
Just as improvements to horses and buggies do not produce an automobile, so all the many improvements to public schools over recent years do not add up to the new kind of education system needed to educate children in today’s world.
Learning can be brought to the levels now needed only by basically changed relationships among students, teachers and families, in which each participant first holds himself accountable for quality performance and then the others for collaborating and support in nonbureaucratic ways.
Educational experience and research confirm that these relationships make some schools successful, even with students from difficult backgrounds. What subverts the system is the bureaucratic culture in public schools.
The current drive for more money and accountability is unlikely to reform our schools, only further entrench the existing dysfunctional public school system. Policy makers need to face this fundamental system change.
David S. Seeley
Staten Island, Oct. 18, 2004
The writer is a professor of education at the CUNY Graduate Center.

LaFollette School Staffing – Special School Board Meeting – October 11, 2004

On Monday, October 11, the MMSD School Board met in a special meeting to review the request for additional staffing for La Follette High School. The District Administration was requesting an additional 1.65 FTE. Rather than hire new staff, District Administration was proposing to provide the additional staffing through existing teacher overloads. Requests for teacher overloads would be done on a voluntary basis.
Three teachers from La Follette spoke during public appearances at the meeting. They believed that staffing needs at La Follette were more than requested by District Administration. These teachers were concerned that too many students were spending nearly half their school day in study halls due to in adequate staffing needs and that teachers were feeling overburdened with existing staffing levels.
Since 2000, teacher FTEs at the high schools have decreased by 7 FTE, and the number of high school students has increased by 679 students.
Following is the video of one of the teachers who spoke during public appearances – Peggy Ellerkamp, LaFollette librarian.
Peggy Ellerkamp

Bill Cosby Visits Milwaukee North Division High School

Meg Kissinger & Mark Johnson:

He pilloried the media.
Cosby, who was criticized for comments last spring by some who thought he was too harsh on young African-Americans, saved much of his venom for the media. Looking at the scores of reporters in the crowd, he said:
“They won’t show up again until you kill somebody. They don’t show up and write about you until your test scores are so damn low and they can prove that you’re not smart. They don’t care about you.
“We are letting TV sets raise our children,” he said. “A transformation has to take place.

Eugene Kane summarizes the visit here. Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Editorial
MP3 Audio File

Parental Involvement Critical in the Drug War

Amelia Buragas:

Don’t be afraid to be involved – even intrusive – if you want to keep your kids off drugs, a Middleton High School student advised parents at a forum Tuesday night.
More than 250 people packed the school’s cafeteria to ask questions and get information from a panel that included school officials, social workers, students and police officers. Catherine Zdeblick also sat on the panel. Her daughter Julie, a junior at Middleton High School, died from an Oxycontin overdose in March. That death has had a big impact on the community.
Beth Wild, 18, who was a friend of Julie’s, talked about her own recovery from addiction to marijuana and Oxycontin. She told the crowd that her parents were instrumental in getting her sober because they were always there for her.
Wild, a senior at the Middleton Alternative High School, said she has been sober for 99 days, although she has been in treatment for two years.
She said that after several unhealthy relationships she finally decided to take her treatment seriously. Wearing a T-shirt that said “high on life,” Wild told the crowd, “I love life and I’m very proud of myself.”

I sent an email to Tom Vandervest, Middleton High’s principal urging him to post an html/pdf, audio and video transcript on their web site. He responded with “Our school personnel will be recording it for our use. Thanks, Tom”.
I hope that includes posting it online.

Reading First Rejection Hits Minorities Hardest

Superintendent Rainwater’s rejection of Reading First funds hits students of color the hardest. The funding would have gone to the following schools:
Lincoln – 77.4% of the students are minority students
Midvale – 72.5%
Hawthorne – 61.1%
Glendale – 64.4%
Orchard Ridge – 39.1
Ed Blume

Class Multiplies but the Math Divides

Samuel G. Freedman:

Ms. Dempsey circled all those numbers on her own chart, which was being projected onto the blackboard. Now, she said, everyone in the class should color in all the multiples of two on his or her page. The students uncapped their yellow markers and set about filling in the appropriate boxes, noting the patterns they formed.
“Wonderful,” Ms. Dempsey said, looking over one child’s completed worksheet. “Just awesome.”
At one particular desk, though, Jimmy was solving a different problem. He had just transferred to Claremont from a nearby Catholic school, and during the lesson he had whispered to an educator who happened to be visiting the room, “I know all my facts,” by which he meant his multiplication tables.
So that educator, Ferzeen Bhana, the math coordinator for Ossining’s elementary schools, gave him a problem to try: 23 times 16. Within a minute, Jimmy delivered 368, the correct answer. Ms. Bhana asked him how he had gotten it. Jimmy offered her a shy, yearning face and said nothing.
That brief moment, one moment in one school in one middle-income town, described the divide of the math wars in America. It was evident to Ms. Bhana that Jimmy had learned multiplication the old-fashioned way, with drills, algorithms and concepts like place-value. The rest of the students were using a curriculum called Investigations, one of the new constructivist models, which teaches reasoning out a solution.

What the School Board Should Know Before Rejecting “Reading First” Funding

According to John Dewey, the public school system “should want for every child what a good and wise parent wants for his child. Anything less is unlovely and undermines democracy”.
I think that this principle must guide the Madison Board of Education in deciding whether to permit Superintendent Rainwater to reject approximately $2M in federal funding for early reading programs at Hawthorne, Glendale, Orchard Ridge and Midvale/Lincoln Schools. Unless the superintendent can demonstrate that all families in these schools can expect better reading achievement from continuing the current reading curriculum than from adopting the curriculum required by the “Reading First” program, we should continue to participate in the program.
For me, key questions were not answered in the October 14, 2004 memo that the Board received from Mr. Rainwater.


Details on Reading Program Rejected by Superintendent

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction hosts a Web site of information on Reading First, which Superintendent Rainwater said would have “injured” Madison students.
On the Web site DPI says, “Wisconsin is proud to assist teachers in the 65 Reading First schools in the areas of professional development in reading; implementation of the essential components of reading instruction; and the selection and/or administration of screening, diagnostic, progress monitoring, and outcome assessments.”
Does the DPI endorse injuring the students in 65 schools?
See more at the DPI Web site.
Ed Blume

Reactions to statement on new school on Leopold site

Here’s a copy of the statement I used to address the Long Range Planning Committee on October 18.
After my statement, discussions with and among the Committee clarified that the annual additional cost of operating a new school falls in the range of $300,000 to $400,000 annually, not $2.4 million as I had calculated. The cost isn’t so high, according to the discussion, because the district already spends money on teachers and supplies that would simply move into a new building. Even with an annual operating cost increase of $300,000, no one pointed to a specific plan to cover the expense and no backup should a referendum fail to allow spending above the state-imposed revenue cap.
The student representative on the Board acknowleged at West might be crowded but it wasn’t a major concern. [I’m sorry that I don’t remember his exactly words, but I think I have the meaning of what he said.] District officials said that more detailed five-year enrollment projections would be available on the MMSD Web site in November.
Carol Carstensen agreed with the suggestion for more hearings across the city.
From Board members’ comments at the meeting and in news reports, the Board appears ready to approve a referendum.
Ed Blume


Madison Superintendent Declines $2M in Federal Funds Without Consulting the Board

On Friday, October 15, Madison School Board members received an e-mail from Superintendent Art Rainwater announcing that the district will withdraw from a federal program known as Reading First.
In subsequent interviews with local newspapers, Rainwater estimated that the decision means forgoing approximately $2M in funds for materials to help students in the primary grades learn to read. The Cap Times
Wisconsin State Journal
Whenever the district qualifies for such federal grants, the Board votes to increase the budget to reflect the new revenues. To the best of my knowledge, the superintendent has not discussed this decision with the Performance & Achievement Committee. He has certainly not included the full Board in the decision to withdraw from Reading First.
The memo follows (click on the link below to view it or click here to view a 200K PDF):


The value of AP courses

A study published this year in Psychological Science by April Bleske-Rechek and colleagues highlights the importance of Advanced Placement (AP) courses. Students who took AP courses in high school were much more likely to go on and obtain an advanced degree after graduating from college than similar students who did not take AP courses. This suggests that if we want students to make the most of their intellectual abilities, and if we want society to benefit from this intellectual capital, we need to provide these students with appropriate levels of challenge in their school coursework.


MTI’s John Matthews on 4 Year Old Kindergarden

John Matthews, writing in the Wisconsin State Journal:

For many years, recognizing the value to both children and the community, Madison Teachers Inc. has endorsed 4-year-old kindergarten being universally accessible to all.
This forward-thinking educational opportunity will provide all children with an opportunity to develop the skills they need to be better prepared to proceed with their education, with the benefit of 4- year-old kindergarten. They will be more successful, not only in school, but in life.
Four-year-old kindergarten is just one more way in which Madison schools will be on the cutting edge, offering the best educational opportunities to children. In a city that values education as we do, there is no question that people understand the value it provides.


Madison�s Accredited Early Educators Propose Solution for Four-Year Old Kindergarten

Several times in recent years, the Madison School Board has considered ways to create a four-year old kindergarten program for all Madison children. The goal of “universal” four-year old kindergarten is to assure that every child enters elementary school ready to learn. In the past, the administration’s proposals involved partnerships with private accredited daycare programs in Madison.
On Monday, October 18, the Performance & Achievement Committee of the Madison School Board will review a report from Superintendent Art Rainwater that recommends against going forward with four-year old kindergarten and rejects a July 2004 proposal from the Madison Area Association of Accredited Early Care and Education Providers.
The meeting will begin at 5 p.m. at Leopold Elementary School, 2602 Post Road. Below is a summary of the Association’s proposal in “question-and-answer” format.



The George Lucas Educational Foundation just launched a new education magazine: edutopia. George Lucas, who founded the organization was recently interviewed by the magazine:

Lucas, 60, is the father of three, but his interest in education dates back to his own school experience, as a boy in Modesto.
In an interview in the premiere issue of Edutopia, Lucas said, “I had a very hard time with education, and I was never described as a bright student. I was considered somebody who could be doing a lot better than I was doing, not working up to my potential. I wish I had known some of these (new methods) back then.”
“The way we are educating is based on 19th century ideas and methods. … Our system of education is locked in a time capsule. You want to say to the people in charge, ‘You’re not using today’s tools! Wake up!”

Superintendant Rainwater turns down $2m in Federal Reading Funds

Lee Sensenbrenner on Art Rainwater’s recent decision to turn down up to $2M in federal reading funds.
I have several comments:
1. I have no doubt that some state and federal regulations are non-sensical.
2. I have to agree with Ruth Robarts that this issue should have come before the board.
3. I find it unusual that the board has dealt recently with one or two person staffing issues, but not this up to $2M matter….
Send your thoughts to the Madison Board of Education’s email address: comments@madison.k12.wi.us

Nation’s students unprepared for college

A new report from ACT reveals that the vast majority of America’s high school students have not taken the courses they need to be successful in college or in the workforce. The report Crisis at the Core found that only 22% of the 1.2 million 2004 high school graduates who took the ACT exam in 2004 met all three of the ACT’s readiness benchmarks in science, math, and English. The report highlights the importance of taking high level courses in math and science.


MMSD has excess capacity

In researching the need for the MMSD to build a new elementary school on the Leopold site, I compared an MMSD analysis of elementary school capacity with current enrollment.
Existing Madison elementary schools could accomodate more than 1,600 new students. An MMSD official says only Hawthorne is over capacity.
You can see the school-by-school analysis in the table MMSD Excess Capacity 2004.
Ed Blume
ps. Feel free to post comments by clicking below.

Two Nations

The Economist, in a pre-election series, takes a look at our education system:

Some schools are thriving; others have been left behind
AMERICA’S system of education ranges from the superb to the awful. Its universities, especially at the graduate level, are the best in the world, gaining some 60% of all Nobel prizes awarded since the second world war. Its public-school system, however, is often marked by poor teaching, dilapidated buildings and violence (although the rate of violent incidents is falling, more than 5% of schoolchildren played truant last year to avoid violence at school). Official figures say that 85% of students finish high school, but the Urban Institute and other groups estimate that nearly a third of them drop out.
The result is a popular assumption that American education from kindergarten to 12th-grade high-school graduation (K-12) is in crisis. President Bush’s main remedy, passed in 2001 with bipartisan support, is the No Child Left Behind Act, a programme promising lots of federal money ($13 billion next year) to school systems that test their students and improve their performance�and sanctions for those that do not. All in all, claims the Bush team, federal spending on K-12 education will have risen by the 2005 budget by 65%, the biggest increase since the Johnson presidency in the late 1960s.
The Democrats retort that �Every Child Left Behind� would be a better name. Echoing criticisms by the teachers’ unions and many states, John Kerry calculates that the programme has been underfunded by more than $26 billion over the past four years. He would establish a National Education Trust Fund �to ensure that schools always get the funding they need�; put a �great� (and better paid) teacher in every classroom; expand after-school activities for some 3.5m children; and offer college students a fully refundable tax credit for up to $4,000 a year of college tuition (Mr Kerry says that Mr Bush reneged on a promise to increase Pell grants, which help the poor to pay for college).


Public Hearing – Oct. 18 – on Building New School

Monday October 18th, 2004
7:00pm – Long Range Planning, Leopold Elementary, Gym, 2602 Post Road.
Public Hearing Relative to Constructing a Second Elementary School on the Leopold Site
The MMSD’s documents on the new school appear on the agendas of the Long Range Planning Committee.
Ed Blume
Feel free to post comments or questions by clicking on comments.

WSJ on 4 Year Old Kindergarden

The Wisconsin State Journal Editorial Page addresses 4 year old kindergarden:

Early childhood education works: Children in a Madison kindergarten program for 4-year- olds made substantial literacy gains during the pilot project’s first year, UW- Madison researchers say.
But if financial realities don’t prevent more kids from reaping the clear and obvious benefits of 4-year- old kindergarten, it seems that union rules will.
The pilot project, which continues this school year, served just 33 students last year at Glendale Elementary School and another 17 students at a Head Start site on Lake Point Drive. UW- Madison researchers Arthur Reynolds and Beth Graue said children in the pilot program learned letters and words faster than would be expected by maturation alone. The findings provide a strong basis for expansion of the program.

Courage to Teach Fall Dinner/Fund Raiser

Barbara Hummel [bhummel at chorus.net]:

Courage to Teach, an important local effort to renew and support educators in Madison and Dane County, is holding a fall dinner fund-raiser Wednesday, October 27 at CUNA Mutual.
Courage to Teach (CTT) is an innovative program that has brought remarkable renewal to public educators in nearly 50 communities across the United States and Canada. Over the past two years, Bonnie Trudell and I have had the privilege of facilitating a local CTT group for 20 educators, thanks to the generous support of CUNA Mutual Group Foundation, the Foundation for Madison Public Schools, and many other businesses and individuals. The teachers who participate make a commitment of $500 themselves, in addition to giving 5 week-ends of their time over the year and a half program.
The impact of CTT on local educators was significant, as documented in the attached excerpt from the final report to CUNA Mutual Group Foundation. Participants reported steady and impressive improvements in all of the following areas:

  • Amount of time spent in focused reflection of their teaching practice;
  • Quality of connections with students and classroom practices;
  • Strength of collegial relationships at their school sites; and
  • Commitment to their educational practice.

Needless to say, we’re excited about the promise this holds for sustaining teachers in the essential task of preparing our children to become vibrant, informed future citizens and leaders of our community.

Via Bill Steinberg. Additional information: CTT 99K PDF Brochure Teacher Retention 83K PDF 02/04 Results Report to CUNA 110K PDF

The Limits of Money

Frederick M. Hess:

The truth is that, between 1960 and 2000, after-inflation education spending more than tripled. Harvard’s Caroline Hoxby has found that real, inflation-adjusted spending grew from $5,900 per pupil in 1982 to more than $9,200 in 2000. In its most recent figures, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) estimates that current U.S. education spending is over $10,800 per child.
In fact, some may be surprised to learn that the U.S. ranks at the top of the international charts when it comes to education spending. In 2000, the most recent year for which international comparisons are available, the OECD found that the United States spent significantly more per child than any other industrial democracy, including those famous for their generous social programs. In primary education, on a per-pupil basis, the United States spent 66 percent more than Germany, 56 percent more than France, 27 percent more than Japan, 80 percent more than the United Kingdom, 62 percent more than Finland, 62 percent more than Belgium, and 122 percent more than South Korea. At the secondary-school level, the figures are similar, with the U.S. outpacing Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom, Sweden, and South Korea, among others, by more than 40 percent per pupil.
Despite all this spending, the U.S. ranked 15th among the 31 countries that participated in the OECD’s 2000 Program for International Student Assessment reading exam. Ireland, Iceland, and New Zealand were among the nations that outperformed the U.S. while spending far less per pupil. The results in math are equally disquieting: In the international 1999 TIMSS study, which assessed mathematics and science achievement at the eighth-grade level, the U.S. ranked 19th out of 38 countries.

Joanne Jacobs has more.


Paul Burka takes an interesting look at the way the Texas Education Agency manages and calculates the dropout rate:

WHEN MY DAUGHTER FINISHED HER FRESHMAN year at Johnston High School, in Austin, where she was a student in a liberal-arts magnet program, I paid a visit to the college adviser to find out her class ranking. “She’s thirty-seventh in a class of 750,” he told me. “That’s good,” I said. “Top five percent. Good enough to get into the University of Texas.”
“Not really,” the adviser said. “We know from experience that only 250 freshmen, at most, will graduate. So think of her as thirty-seventh out of 250. That’s not in the top ten percent.”
That was bad news�both for my daughter and for the state of education in Texas. I did some quick calculations. There were around 100 freshmen in the magnet program. Presumably, almost all of them would graduate. This meant that of the remaining 650 or so students in her class�those who lived within Johnston’s regular boundaries, almost all of them Hispanic or black�fewer than 150 would graduate with their peers. If his prediction was accurate, the dropout rate at Johnston would be 67 percent. In fact, the rate was even worse: Only 223 of the original 750 graduated.

Nancy and I lived in Dallas some years ago and very much enjoyed reading the excellent Texas Monthly Magazine, where Paul Burka is the senior executive editor.


Recruitment of East High Principal

Assistant Superintendent Valencia Douglas assured East High parents that a national search would be conducted to find a replacement for removed Principal Catherine Tillman. East High parents might want to talk with members of the West High PTSO since West went through a principal search this past spring.

MMSD Fine Arts Teachers Ask School Board for Community Arts Committee

On Monday night, October 4, 2004, more than 12 MMSD Fine Arts teachers attended the School Board meeting. Four of those teachers read a letter to the School Board asking for the Fine Arts Coordinator position to be filled. They also asked that a community committee be formed to develop a fine arts vision for the district that would include an assessment of the current fine arts curricula. A summary of the points in the letter (which can be downloaded) includes:
Fine Arts Coordinator (FAC)
– Thank you for reinstating the portion of the Fine Arts Coordinator position that works with teachers. (The existing � time position was funded by Fund 80 and would not have supported the 140+ teachers in 47 schools.)
– Need a professional in the field to fill the vacant position
– Need someone soon
– Hire an interim FAC � much like a long-term sub until a full-time professional is hired
– In next budget, look across all professional support staff � over the the FAC cut from 2 FTE to 0 FTE. The � Fund 80 position isn�t able to work with staff
Fine Arts Vision
– Fine Arts have curricula in MMSD
– Fine Arts have standards in MMSD
– Overture and UW have their vision for the role of art in the community � MMSD needs to do the same
– Form a community committee � community assessment of the fine arts in schools and development of fine arts vision for the MMSD with goals, budget, etc.


New York’s “Pseudo Charters”

Caroline Hendrie:

How much slack should a big-city district cut its schools to maximize student performance? That�s the question that New York City school leaders want to explore with an experimental governance model they are calling the “autonomy zone.”
Started this month with 30 secondary schools, the pilot project sets specific performance targets for schools to meet in exchange for removing them from the bureaucratic hierarchy governing most of the city�s 1,300 public schools.
For his part, Louis Delgado hopes that the autonomy zone might help his 400- student Manhattan high school gain greater independence in hiring decisions. The 11-year-old Vanguard High School uses the district�s “school based” option for hiring teachers, which allows a committee of teachers and administrators at the school to screen candidates and offer them jobs. But those candidates can be bumped by more senior teachers who are laid off elsewhere in the system, the principal said, a situation he hopes the zone can help change.

Staffing shortage at LaFollette

The problem of insufficient staffing at LaFollette makes me wonder how Dr. Rainwater will find enough staff for a new school.
Here’s the beginning of an article from the WSJ:

“Tseoin Ayalew says her dreams of becoming a doctor are in jeopardy because a shortage of teachers at La Follette High School means she’s wasting 90 minutes a day in a study hall instead of taking an advanced physics or chemistry class.
“I want to get into a really good college, so I think it’s probably going to affect the scholarships,” the junior said Thursday. “They probably want to see I’m challenging myself in the science world.”
Jade Cramer, a La Follette freshman, says she’s scheduled to take two 90-minute study halls – half of the school day – beginning in November. She’s in one study hall right now, although she’d prefer to be taking a class.
“I’m trying to get rid of my study hall, but all of the classes are full,” Jade said.
Tseoin and Jade are among a growing number of La Follette students who find themselves diverted to study halls or other non-class activities this fall because, according to some students and teachers, there aren’t enough teachers.
The reason for the crunch: The school’s enrollment this fall climbed to 1,741, compared to last year’s count of 1,659, but staff levels remained virtually unchanged.”

The article continues at In study-hall limbo at LaFollette.
The Cap Times also has an article at Four block now a 3 block?

Ed Blume
ps If you have any comments, you can click on “comment” below to post them.