Sun Prairie Finalizes Three High School Referenda Questions

Gena Kittner:

The first question would be if the district should build one high school, which could be expanded, for 1,400 students on the city’s east side, said board President Mary Ellen Havel- Lang.
The other two possible questions would be if the district should build a bigger gym than what’s proposed in the new high school and if the auditorium should be built so that it could be turned into a performing arts center, she said.

Sun Priarie School District site.

And, For Perfect Attendance, Johnny Gets a Car

Pam Belluck:

Attendance at Chelsea High School had hovered at a disappointing 90 percent for years, and school officials were determined to turn things around. So, last fall they decided to give students in this poverty-stung city just north of Boston a little extra motivation: students would get $25 for every quarter they had perfect attendance and another $25 if they managed perfect attendance all year.
“I was at first taken a little aback by the idea: we’re going to pay kids to come to school?” said the principal, Morton Orlov II. “But then I thought perfect attendance is not such a bad behavior to reward. We are sort of putting our money where our mouth is.”

Taking Control of Restless Energy

Susan Troller:

Students at Lowell Elementary School are learning better ways to release pent-up energy than by kicking a desk or taking a poke at a classmate.
Through an innovative series of exercises designed to link body movement to breathing to a calm and focused mind, students and teachers, as well as some entire families, are finding an alternative to the restless energy that creates conflict and disrupts classrooms.
“The 3S Smart Learning System is transforming,” said Elisabeth Phillips, a special education teacher at Lowell who has been instrumental in developing the yoga-like program at Lowell.

State of Education: Who Makes the Grade?

Kavan Peterson:

Schools spend fewer dollars per student in Utah than in any other state, but more fourth-graders there improved reading and math scores over the past decade than in more than half of the states.
Maine, for example, spends nearly twice as much on a comparable student population — $9,300 a student vs. $4,800 in Utah. But fewer Maine fourth-graders improved their math scores — and their reading scores actually declined in the past decade.
Both states ranked just above the national average on 2005 national reading and math tests, known as the National Assessment of Education Progress, or NAEP. But Utah stands out for its success in boosting the number of students to pass the tests since 1992, the first year of state-by-state NAEP testing, despite ranking dead last for spending.
State by State Test Scores and Per Pupil Spending (.xls)

UPDATE: a reader emails:

The relevant comparison to make on the data on school funding and NAEP scores is Minnesota versus Wisconsin. We have a somewhat higher level of students eligible for free or reduced lunch, over 10% higher funding per pupil and lower NAEP scores.

Reader Reed Schneider on Curriculum and School Boards

Reed Schneider emails on recent posts regarding a School Board’s role in curriculum policy:

I agree that the school board should be responsible for the district’s curriculum. In fact, it is the most important thing they are charged with. 10 or more years ago, before widespread internet availability, the non-edu-estab person on a board would have the excuse that it would be impossible for them to know which curricula works. All decisions would be deferred to the so-called experts. That excuse doesn’t work any more. Any board member can now go to and discover opinion and independent research showing programs like Reading Recovery and balanced Literacy have serious flaws. They can go to and discover that math programs recommended by the NCTM like Everyday Math fail our children.
Even if the board becomes involved, it will take board members willing to do this. Just because they become involved with curriculum will not automatically mean they will critically evaluate administrators recommendations. Far too often they simply rubber stamp what the curriculum specialist puts in front of them.
The parents and tax payers are the only ones with the power to change this. A good question at a board candidate’s forum would be: “What is your opinion of reading or math programs based on constructivist theory?” If they don’t understand the question, can’t answer, hem and haw, or embrace it, don’t vote for them. It’s really that simple.

MMSD School Board Says They Don’t Do Curriculum: WI State Law Says Otherwise

The Madison School Board is directly and legally responsible for the curriculum taught in their district. The WI Administrative Code, which is law, sets forth the legal requirements for public instruction. Public Instruction, Chapter PI 8.01 (Download Admin. Code Public Instruction – School Standards)says:
2. Each school district board shall develop, adopt and implement a written school district curriculum plan which includes the following: a. A kindergarten through grade 12 sequential curriculum plan in each of the following subject areas: reading, language arts, mathematics, social studies, science, health, computer literacy, environmental education, physical education, art and music.
Does this mean the Madison School Board is responsible for designing and creating curriculum and curriculum plans? No, of course not. I feel, however, they are responsible a) for making sure a process is in place so that academically rigorous, sequential curriculum plans are developed and evaluated regularly for meeting stated goals (and with opportunity for public comment along the way) and b) for approving curriculum plans developed under the guidance of the administration. How does the process currently this work? It’s not publicly clear, perhaps, because the Madison School Board has no written curriculum board policy and no written administrative procedures (that I could find and I’ve asked – see below) for the development and approval of curriculum plans.
I have been told by board members the Superintendent and his staff “do curriculum,” because they are the experts. What does that mean? Of course, we hope they are the experts; and, being experts in education administration, we hope and expect they use the teachers and other professionals who are experts in their field to develop curriculum plans using a well defined process that is clear and known by all. Yet, the sentiment from the board that was heard again in the their discussions of heterogenous classes is simply, “We don’t do curriculum.” When I first heard this type of statement from board members several years ago, I was puzzled and then I found the WI Admin. Code, which identifies the Board’s responsility over approval of curriculum plans. My question for the Madison School Board is: How do and will you execute your legal responsibility? How can the School Board make this clear to the public? Written board policies and procedures that are discussed and approved by a school board are how board members spell out publicly how they will execute their legal responsibilities. I feel such policies and procedures for curriculum, which ties directly with a board’s top priority of student achievement, would be illuminating and helpful for the board, public, teachers, administrators, etc.

Continue reading MMSD School Board Says They Don’t Do Curriculum: WI State Law Says Otherwise

Notes from Performance & Achievement Meeting on Ability Grouping

At this past week’s meeting, Adam Gamoran from the UW Center for Educational Research spoke to the Board about ability grouping. Dr. Gamoran talked about how ability grouping often ends up grouping students by race and SES because these students enter school having had different early childhood experiences and different educational opportunities (recall Donna Ford discussing the number of books in the homes of low income and middle income families).
Dr. Gamoran noted that there are often differences in the classroom experiences of high and low ability groups of students in regards to teacher expectations, academic rigor, and teacher ability.
He also emphasized that there is no simple solution to the achievement gap. Heterogeneous or homogeneous grouping by themselves will not reduce the gap in achievement. However, there are some clear cut solutions that are obvious according to Dr. Gamoran.

  1. No more dead end classes like general math for the low ability students;
  2. high academic expectations for students of all ability levels; and
  3. teachers should not be assigned in a way that results in only the newest and least experienced teachers working with the low ability students, in other words, all students deserve quality instruction.

In discussing heterogeneous grouping, Dr. Gamoran noted that differentiation is hard work for teachers, and they need a lot of support and training in order to be successful.
Dr. Gamoran also shared an example of a school where heterogeneous grouping was successful. This was a school that was 51% free and reduced lunch, but because the school had a strong, dynamic leader and had gotten grants, they were able to recruit a top notch staff. Not only was the principal able to select which teachers worked in the school, but approximately half of the student body had to go through an interview process to get into the school, so this magnet school was selective about its teachers and its students. Class size was kept to 15 students and instruction went at a fast pace. Students who were struggling were expected to attend tutoring sessions on Saturdays. I think there was an expectation that parents would be involved in their student’s education, but I am not sure about that.
Obviously the situation in the Madison schools is different from this ideal, and that’s why I think it is important for the Board and the administration to hear from students and parents what it is like in the classroom. I should add that Bill Keys was very annoyed that the Board was even discussing this issue because he believes that the Board has no place in the classroom. According to Mr. Keys this is the responsibility of the teachers and administrators and they know better than the members of the Board what should be done in the classroom. However, I would argue that the teachers and administrators don’t know any better than the Board does about what happens in the classroom, and they certainly don’t know what it is like for high ability students in those classes. Those of us who have sat around the kitchen table while our children talk about their boredom, frustration, and lack of challenge need to help them understand and make our voices heard.

School Foods Policy Meeting

I took the opportunity to attend the meeting for health professionals on the development of a school foods policy for the MMSD.
Americans seem to take an “all or nothing” approach to nutrition (either “on” a diet or “off”; restrained with eating all day and anything goes in the evening)–I’m afraid most of us know what I’m talking about. I’m hoping food policy doesn’t take a similar dichotomy.
There is concern that school food service will not be able to operate in the black if they don’t sell food that “students will actually buy and eat”. I think there can be a moderate approach that is healthful. Yes, pizza can still be served, but how about a smaller portion as part of a meal that includes fruit/vegetable/salad and milk?
Here are the recommendations from our clinic–in short, we want to encourage normal meals at mealtimes (a good mix of foods, appropriate portion sizes, reasonable time allotment). Much of what has gone wrong with our eating is this country can be traced to the breakdown of meals and the huge increase in snacking/grazing on processed snack foods. Correcting this accomplishes the first big step in changing our consumption patterns and disease risk.

Continue reading School Foods Policy Meeting

Nutritionist campaigning against junk food

Anne Wallace Allen:

Stephanie Rose walked into the lunchroom of the Idaho Falls High School with a homemade chart and tallied what she found: Canisters of potato chips. Heaps of candy. Cellophane-wrapped cakes. High-caffeine sports drinks.
Twelve percent of the foods offered by the district a la carte program were granola or cereal bars, fruits, vegetables, or low-fat chips or pretzels. The other 88 percent included nachos, corn dogs, chips and cookies.
“For 25 cents you can buy 310 calories,” said Rose, a nurse and diabetes educator who attended Idaho Falls High in the 1980s, when she had to take a helping of beans on her plate whether she wanted them or not.
These days, the school promotes “Corn dogs: two for a dollar,” she says. “Good Lord, what are you trying to do here?”

UW Health Nutritionist Marcy Braun participated in a recent Forum on Nutrition and Schools audio / video

February Math Events

  • Hamilton Middle School [Map] is hosting a Math Night, Wednesday, February 8, 2006 at 7:00p.m., evidently designed for parents of children attending that school this fall.
  • Rafael Gomez is organizing a Forum on Middle School Math Curriculum Wednesday evening, February 22, 2006 at the Doyle Administration Building (McDaniels Auditorium) [Map] from 7:00 to 8:00p.m. Participants include:

Leopold: Add on or Build New School in Fitchburg?

Sandy Cullen:

The Madison School District should purchase land now for a future school in Fitchburg, rather than build an addition on crowded Leopold Elementary School, School Board member Lawrie Kobza said.
But in the interim, that would likely mean Fitchburg students who now attend Leopold would be reassigned to Lincoln and Midvale schools, where space is now available.
The proposal differs from the recommendations of a task force that was assembled to address crowding problems in the West and Memorial high school attendance areas. The task force advised building an addition at Leopold, which has dealt with crowding for five of the last six years.
School Board President Carol Carstensen said she supports that idea, adding that members of the task force considered building a school in Fitchburg but felt an immediate solution was needed.
We are facing a real crisis at Leopold. It’s not only a space crisis,” Carstensen said, adding the Leopold community’s support for the district is also at risk.
A referendum to build a second elementary school adjacent to Leopold failed last year.

Swan Creek Petitions to Leave the MMSD

Fitchburg’s Swan Creek subdivision petitioned recently to leave the Madison School District. [Map] A reader emails that Swan Creek currently has 21 students in the MMSD. Links:

5 pages from the petition [1.1mb pdf] Wisconsin Statutes: [106K PDF]
UPDATE: A reader wondered recently what the mileage differences might be between Swan Creek and schools in the MMSD or Oregon*.

  • High Schools: Madison West 7 miles [map] or Oregon High School 7 miles [map]
  • Middle Schools: Cherokee 7.2 miles [map], Oregon’s Rome Corner’s Intermediate 7.7 miles [map] or Oregon Middle School 8.3 miles [map]
  • Elementary Schools: Leopold 3.5 miles [map], Lincoln 4 miles [map], Midvale 8.2 miles [map]. Oregon: Prairie View Elementary 6.7 miles [map] Netherwood Elementary 6.7 miles [map] Brooklyn Elementary School 13 miles [map]

* Obviously, the pickup route and traffic conditions determine the actual travel time, given similar distances.

Regular computer users perform better in key school subjects, OECD study shows

OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development):

The relationship with student performance in mathematics is striking. Students who have used computers for several years mostly perform better than average. By contrast, those who don’t have access to computers or who have been using computers for only a short time tend to lag behind their class year.
According to the OECD study, students who had been using computers for less than one year (10% of the total sample) scored well below the OECD average. By contrast, students who had been using computers for more than five years (37% of the total sample) scored well above the OECD average.

Via the Economist. My view on this, fwiw, is that we need to get the curriculum right first, then apply technology where it makes sense.

New York City Eliminates Whole Milk from The Menu

David Herszenhorn:

For generations of children, a serving of whole milk, customarily in a red and white carton, has been as synonymous with school as a yellow No. 2 pencil. When President Harry S. Truman signed the National School Lunch Program into law in 1946, a half pint of milk was one of five dietary staples required by the bill.
But children today are fat, or at least too many of them are, and to cut the risks of obesity, diabetes and other health problems, New York City — the nation’s largest school district — has decided to cut whole milk from the menu.
That feat, no small one in a system that serves a half-million half pints of milk a day, is already under way, with whole milk banished from cafeterias in the Bronx and in Manhattan. To the ire of the dairy industry, which has lobbied fiercely against the change, the other boroughs are following suit and, by the end of this month, officials say, whole milk will be gone for good.

Why Education is Productive, A Parable of Men and Beasts

Tyler Cowen:

We know the paradox. Education improves earnings but most formal schooling appears to be a waste of time. Many economists claim that education is mostly a means of signaling quality.
I view education as a self-commitment to being a more productive kind of person. Education is about self-acculturation.
Men are born beasts. But education gives you a peer group, a self-image, and some skills as well. Getting an education is like becoming a Marine. Men need to be made into Marines. By choosing many years of education, you are telling yourself that you stand on one side of the social divide. The education itself drums that truth into you.

Oregon Kids Getting Heavier

Tim Fought:

Because Oregon kids are growing out faster than they are growing up, public schools must get students exercising and remove the temptation of junk food, child advocates say.
Nearly one in four Oregon children meet the definition of overweight or obese, in adult terms, according to the annual Kids Count report.
It said this is part of a national trend: More than twice as many children and three times as many adolescents are overweight today than was the case 30 years ago.
The leader of the group that issues the report, Children First for Oregon, said overweight children are part of an epidemic.

Change and the Five C’s

Seat 1 Madison School Board Candidate Maya Cole:

This election is about change. I want to see a Board that embraces change as a way to focus our limited resources on quality education for all kids.
I, for one, would like to see our Board work out of the box and get to a point where they are governing instead of bounding from issue to issue. We have an annual budget cycle. We need to look at a budget cycle of three to five years. The budget comes up every year and every year we talk about cuts to strings, cuts to janitorial services, cuts to art and physical education.
Let’s revisit a commentary by Peter Hutchinson, president of the Public Strategies Group Inc. of St. Paul, Minnesota in Education Week in 1997.

I’m actively supporting Maya Cole’s Candidacy.

Students and Teachers, from K to 12 Hit the Podcasts

Jeffrey Selingo, via reader Wade Waege:

THE subjects were typical for a seventh-grade classroom: a summary of a mealworm’s metamorphosis, strategies on improving memory and making studying easier and a story about a classroom candy thief.

But the discussions last fall at Longfellow Middle School in La Crosse, Wis., were not taking place only for their classroom to hear. They were recorded as part of a series of podcasts the students produced and syndicated over Apple’s iTunes music store.

“Their audience has moved to the entire world,” said Jeanne Halderson, one of two seventh-grade teachers at Longfellow who supervise the podcasts. “The students find that exciting. It’s a lot more motivating to write something that the whole world can hear, rather than just something for a teacher to put a grade on.”

Podcasting – posting an audio recording online that can be heard through a computer or downloaded to a mobile device like an iPod – is following blogs and online classes as yet another interactive technology catching on as a teaching tool. Currently, iTunes lists more than 400 podcasts from kindergarten through 12th-grade classes, while Yahoo has nearly 900 education-related podcasts. Some are produced by teachers wanting to reach other educators with teaching tips, while many are created by students, like the La Crosse seventh graders with their podcast, at

Wade mentioned that Apple is holding a free seminar on February 14 in Brookfield, 2006 on Education and Podcasting.

Take Home Test, Week 2

Isthmus continues their quite useful take home test with two interesting questions for the candidates:

  1. Beyond the nucleus of academic requirements and mandated services, what programs are essential to the district’s success and should be protected from budget cuts?
  2. As a student, what was your worst experience in school? As an adult, what lessons do you draw from it?
  3. What was the last book you gave as a gift to a family member or friend?

WisPolitics Lunch (2/3/2006): Mark Green and Scott Walker is hosting a lunch for Republican Gubernatorial candidates Mark Green and Scott Walker who are facing off to run against incumbent Democrat Jim Doyle this fall.
Cost is $15 for Madison Club members and $19 for non-members. Call Loretta to RSVP at the Madison Club, 608-255-4861.
This is perhaps one of the best local opportunities to question the candidates regarding their views of K-12 public financing, the achievement gap, the QEO and our state’s economy which supports our education system. Governor Doyle created a school finance task force several years ago, but did not implement any changes to the current regime.