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.