On Food Policy

Reader Rosanne Lindsay emails:

On Food Policy: I would encourage MMSD to investigate the recent studies that attribute a poor diet, high in sugars and trans fats to hyperactive behavior. The more we learn about food additives, the more we realize its negative affect on behavior and health in general. Please go to http://www.feingold.org/ or alternatively look at a clear example of what a healthy food program can accomplish in improved focus and behavior in schools, as seen in our own backyard, Appleton, WI.
Name Rosanne Lindsay E-mail: lindsayvalley@msn.com

Suggestion: Improve Election Day

Reader Paul Malischke emails:

Board of Education: Common Council Liaison Committee Date: April 18, 2006
Here is a suggestion to improve election day: schedule a staff development day (no school for students) for the November gubernatorial and presidential election days, when there is a very high voter turnout. This would make it easier to find an appropriate room for the polls. Previously, schools have placed equipment and voters in hallways where there is heavy student traffic; or used classrooms, which disrupt classes.
An additional advantage to this schedule proposal is that it will eliminate the extra election-day security concerns for students generated by the many people entering the school to vote. An additional safety concern is the increased vehicular traffic around the school on election day.
Paul Malischke E-mail: malischke@yahoo.com

What Makes A Good High School?

NPR’s Elaine Korry:

How can U.S. high schools do a better job? A new study identifies key characteristics of high schools that work. And at Granger High in Washington state, the principal demands high standards for students and staff.


Opening Classroom Doors

A good teacher friend emailed this article: Nicholas Kristof:

Suppose Colin Powell tires of giving $100,000-a-pop speeches and wants to teach high school social studies. Suppose Meryl Streep has a hankering to teach drama.
Alas, they would be “unqualified” for a public school. Elite private schools would snap them up, of course, but public schools that are begging for teachers would have to turn them away because they don’t have teacher certification.
That’s an absurd snarl in our education bureaucracy. Let’s relax the barriers so people can enter teaching more easily, either right out of college or later as a midcareer switch.


Weekly Email Message

Carol Carstensen:

Parent Group Presidents:
The 2006-07 proposed budget is on the district’s web site (www.mmsd.org/budget). The Executive Summary provides an overview of the budget. The list of specific staff cuts is found on pages 3 & 4 of Chapter 3, Department & Division Reports.
None of the cuts are good for the district or for the education of our children but they are required to keep the budget in compliance with the state revenue caps. Since there is likely to be considerable discussion about the cut affecting the elementary strings program, I wanted to provide a little additional information. The administration is proposing to continue the current structure (strings once a week for 45 minutes) for 5th graders only. Additionally, there is a recommendation to have a committee of district staff and UW music education specialists develop a new approach for K-5 music that will include, for all students, experience playing an instrument.
There are forums on the budget scheduled for Tuesday, May 2 at 6:30 p.m. at LaFollette and Tuesday, May 9 at 6:30 at Memorial.


For Physics Teacher, Experiments in Learning

Ian Shapira:

In his eternal quest to demystify the nuanced wonders of physics for his students at Gar-Field Senior High School, Bill Willis, 65, has conducted a number of experiments that educate as well as entertain.
Once, he built a hovercraft from a leaf blower and cushion so he could demonstrate Newton’s laws of motion. Another time, he lay on a bed of about 1,000 upright nails to show how weight distribution can affect pressure. And, on other occasions, he has swung a bowling ball hanging from the ceiling at his face to show how kinetic energy cannot surpass potential energy.

DeForest Student Arrrested with Loaded Guns


A 17-year-old DeForest High School student was arrested on Thursday for allegedly keeping two loaded guns in his car in the school parking lot.
Authorities said that a loaded 9 mm and a loaded .25 caliber automatic pistol were in the student’s car.
The student was booked into the Dane County Jail on charges of possession of a concealed weapon on school grounds, WISC-TV reported.

and Dodgeville

West students win Science Olympiad

Bill Novak:

Science students from West High School will be competing against students from all 50 states in May after winning the 2006 Wisconsin Science Olympiad state tournament last weekend at the UW Engineering Department.
La Follette High’s A team finished second and its B team was sixth, while Memorial High was seventh out of 46 teams.
Students competed in 28 events at the state meet, ranging from food chemistry and nuclear science to astronomy and protein modeling.

Audio: Mitch Henck Interviews Carol Carstensen and Nan Brien

Mitch Henck interviewed Carol Carstensen and Nan Brien this morning. They discussed the District’s 06/07 planned budget, health care spending, local property taxes and Monday’s approval of an 856K electrical upgrade to Sennett Middle School that was $397,000 over the estimated cost, funded by the maintenance referendum (I’ve not seen any discussion of this in the local media [Cap Times | Channel3000]. Excerpt: 5.7MB MP3 file.
The property tax discussion is interesting as there are many factors that affect what a homeowner pays for schools including:

  • redistributed state taxes (“aid” – via income, sales and other taxes/fees), # of students (the district’s taxing/spending authority follows students numbers. Losing students is expensive.),
  • assessed value changes (some communities like Madison reassess annually, while others, such as Fitchburg are on a much less frequent schedule) and
  • Fund 80 – district spending that is not constrained by state revenue caps.

I’m glad Carol, Nan and others are discussing these issues. I hope we see more of this.

Fostering Young Artists: Start Spreading the News

Erika Kinetz:

The foundation awards high school seniors more than $500,000 in cash prizes each year for achievement in the performing, literary and visual arts. It also nominates presidential scholars in the arts, and some colleges refer to its rosters for recruitment.
Yet many people have never heard of the foundation.
“That’s what I was surprised about,” said Grace Weber, a winner in voice who attends Pius XI High School in Milwaukee. “People outside the art world don’t know about it.”
Billy Buss, a winner in jazz trumpet and a senior at Berkeley High School in California, added, “My friends only cared I was winning a lot of money.”

National Foundation for the Advancement of Arts website. 2007 registration is open.


In an e-mail to the Board of Education, Roger Price admitted a serious error in the budget documents given to the board only three days ago:

I incorrectly classified some professional positions as administrators and some supervisory positions as clerical.

Price attached a corrected Excel table to show the FTEs in the revised “balanced budget.”
I’ve taken Price’s revised “balanced budget” FTEs and compared them to the current year FTEs in a second Excel table.
Initially, Price’s table show and INCREASE of 5.38 FTE clerical positions. Now he shows a DECREASE of 16.32. His original table showed a DECREASE of 22.70 supervisor FTEs. Now he shows a decrease of 1. For administrators, the original table showed an INCREASE of 2.50. His table now shows a DECREASE of 3.00.
You have to wonder how many other figures are wrong. You have to wonder whether the rest of the budget figures need to be changed throughout the 99-page Financial Summaries document to reflect the errors.
And now the MOST AMAZING CHANGE! Price’s new chart includes the seven members of the board in the FTEs. This has NEVER been done previously, and Price gave no reason in his memo to explain the sudden need to add the board members to the FTEs.
This budget process has GOT TO CHANGE!
Remember, this is the same Roger Price who couldn’t produce a budget on time last year, and then needed hundreds of hours of staff overtime to produce the budget at the last minute! This is the same Roger Price who cost the district tens of thousands of dollars to reprint referendum ballots because of “miscommunication”.


100 Black Men of Madison Presents its Annual African American History Challenge Bowl

Via a Johnny Winston, Jr. email:

On Saturday May 6th, 2006 the 100 Black Men of Madison presents its Annual African American History Challenge Bowl at 8:30 a.m. This event will be located at 545 W. Dayton St. in Madison at the MMSD Doyle Administration Building, McDaniels Auditorium.
The African American History Challenge Bowl is a competition where teams of middle and high school students from the Madison School District and Edgewood answer questions based on African American history. Winners of the local contest are awarded savings bonds and an all expense paid trip to the national competition where they will compete against other chapters of the 100 Black Men of America in Atlanta, Georgia.
This event is free to the public. We are encouraging our community to attend. This event will televised live on MMSD Cable Channel 10.


LA’s Mayor Takes Charge

The Economist:

“WE CAN’T be a great global city,” says Antonio Villaraigosa, “if we lose half of our workforce before they graduate from high school.” The hyper-energetic mayor of sprawling Los Angeles is stating the obvious. A low graduation rate from the giant Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) feeds through into fewer skilled workers, more criminals and every social ill in America’s second-biggest city, from drug abuse to broken families.
And the rate is low indeed. According to a study last year by Harvard’s Civil Rights Project, only 45.3% of LAUSD students who started ninth grade (ie, senior high school, at the age of 14 or so) graduated four years later from 12th grade; for Latino students, who make up three-quarters of the student body, the rate was a mere 39%. School-district officials dispute the figures, saying they include as dropouts students who have simply moved away, but even their estimate—a dropout rate of around 33%—is unacceptable.

Cieslewicz State of the City speech

Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz spoke at yesterday’s Rotary club meeting. His 3416 word state of the city speech included 159 directly related to our local public schools:

8. We need to work more seamlessly to maintain our excellent public school system.

Our public schools have recently been ranked the third best in the nation. Yet, they face unprecedented challenges as they work to educate more children that come from impoverished families and more children with special needs. I am very aware that we elect a school board to make these decisions and it is not my intent to overstep my authority, but I do recognize that good schools are vital ingredients in healthy neighborhoods. We will renew our efforts to work with the school district, with parents and teachers to make sure that city government and the schools are pulling together, not working at cross purposes. For instance, the decisions the City regarding new housing development has a significant impact on school attendance and boundary issues. Our recently-adopted Comprehensive Plan notes the importance of city and school planning staff working together.

Kristian Knutsen attended the speech.

New Study Examines Industry’s Demand for Highly Educated Workers

The Campaign for College Opportunity:

Can California Keep it’s Competitive Edge?
California has long been regarded as a center of innovation and industry. The state ranks as the sixth largest economy in the world, and much of this economic success has been driven by a highly-educated workforce.
Yet, looking ahead, California’s competitive advantage – and therefore our economic vitality and quality of life – may be at risk. California’s population is growing in regions of the state and among ethnic groups with lower levels of educational attainment.
“Keeping California’s Edge: The Growing Demand for Highly Educated Workers,” is a new study commissioned by the Campaign for College Opportunity and researched by economists at the Applied Research Center at California State University, Sacramento. Looking forward to 2022, this study identifies growing sectors seeking highly educated workers, analyzes the economic value created by those workers and identifies the top six industries with the most at stake in our state’s highly educated high demand future.

Executive Summary [pdf] Fast facts, Full report [pdf]
There’s a webcast today @ 1:00p.m. CST where you can listen to a variety of perspectives from education and business leaders on the report. A number of my classmates immediately left Madison after graduating from the UW for a warmer climate and far better tech career opportunities in California. They’ve not returned.
Lisa Krieger has more.

Gap in teacher quality falls on income lines

Ledyard King:

Public school teachers in the nation’s wealthiest communities continue to be more qualified than those in the poorest despite a federal law designed to provide all children equal educational opportunity.
Preliminary data released by the Department of Education show that in 39 states, the chance of finding teachers who know their subjects are better in elementary schools where parents’ incomes are highest. The data show that’s also the case among middle and high schools in 43 states.
“Obviously, we have a long way to go,” says Rene Islas, who monitors teacher quality for the Department of Education. “Even if you have high numbers (of certified instructors) in the aggregate, there are pockets where students are being taught by teachers that are not highly qualified.”
Under the No Child Left Behind law President Bush signed in 2002, states are supposed to have “highly qualified teachers” for all core academic courses, such as math, English and science, by the end of this school year. States that don’t face a loss of federal funding.

Educating from the Bench

Jay Greene:

Spending on public schools nationwide has skyrocketed to $536 billion as of the 2004 school year, or more than $10,000 per pupil. That’s more than double per pupil what we spent three decades ago, adjusted for inflation–and more than we currently spend on national defense ($494 billion as of 2005). But the argument behind lawsuits in 45 states is that we don’t spend nearly enough on schools. Spending is so low, these litigants claim, that it is in violation of state constitutional provisions requiring an “adequate” education. And in almost half the states, the courts have agreed.
Arkansas is one such state, and its “adequacy” problem neatly illustrates the way courts have driven spending up and evidence out. In 2001 the state Supreme Court declared the amount of money spent at that time–more than $7,000 per pupil–in violation of the state constitutional requirement to provide a “general, suitable and efficient” system of public education. Like courts in other states, Arkansas’s court ordered that outside consultants be hired to determine how much extra funding would be required for an adequate education.
A firm led by two education professors, Lawrence Picus and Allan Odden, was paid $350,000 to put a price tag on what would be considered adequate. In September 2003 Messrs. Picus and Odden completed their report, concluding that Arkansas needed to add $847.3 million to existing school budgets. They also recommended policy changes, but the only thing that really mattered, at least as far as the court was concerned, was the bottom line–bringing the total to $4 billion, or $9,000 per pupil.

Uniforms Proposed at Janesville School Board Meeting


School uniforms were proposed at the Janesville School Board meeting Tuesday night, even thought the topic wasn’t on the agenda.
Board member Todd Bailey suggested a pilot program, taking place as early as next January, with uniforms consisting of trousers and polo shirts.
Bailey said it would end arguments between parents and children over school attire, cut family clothing costs, and eliminate distractions inside the classroom.
Bailey declined WISC-TV’s request for an interview.
Many students at Janesville Craig High School said the idea of uniforms hinders their ability to express themselves.

West High Student Does A Virtual Hip Replacement

James Edward Mills:

West High School sophomore Haya Khatib, 16, is already planning a career as a physician. And even though she hasn’t even picked a college yet, Khatib had an opportunity Monday to perform her first operation.
A nonprofit Web site called Edheads.org lets visitors wield a scalpel through a virtual knee surgery, and beginning Wednesday, a virtual hip replacement surgery. Developed with the help of UW Health doctors, this is the latest addition to an online education site that offers interactive experiential learning programs. Students at West are testing the program before its national launch.
The program was funded through a grant from Zimmer, an orthopedic products company in Warsaw, Ind.

The Madison Community – Students, Parents, Professionals, Citizens – Can Help Elementary Strings: Here’s How

The community CAN HELP elementary strings and fine arts education in MMSD. Please write the School Board – comments@madison.k12.wi.us – ask them a) to establish a community fine arts education advisory committee beginning with a small community working group to put together a plan for this, b) develop a multi-year strategic and education plan for fine arts education, c) work with the music professionals and community to address short-term issues facing elementary music education (other fine arts areas – dance, drama) that supports children’s learning and academic achievement. Until this is done, please write the School Board asking them not to accept (to reject) the Superintendent’s current K-5 music education proposal to eliminate elementary strings.
At this late date in the year, I feel a small community working group needs to be established that will develop a plan for moving forward with the community on fine arts education issues. I would be more than happy to volunteer my time to help coordinate this effort, which I see as a first step toward the establishment of a community fine arts education task force/advisory committee. However, what is key is the School Board’s support and the Superintendent’s leadership, and I would be honored to work with all members of the school board and with the Superintendent. I’m sure other people would be happy to help as well.
The issues with MMSD’s fine arts elementary music education is not solely a budget issue, but the administration’s lack of imagination and longer-term education planning in fine arts makes courses such as strings become budget issues because nothing is done from year to year to make it anything other than a budget issue.
Elementary strings is a high-demand course – this isn’t 50 kids across the district, it was 1,745 in September 2005. From 1969 to 2005, enrollment has tripled, increasing by 1,000 students from 1992 until 2002, at the same time that the number of low income and minority children increased in the elementary student population. Demand for the course is annually 50% of the total enrollment in 4th and 5th grade. Plus, minority and low income enrollment has increased over the years. This year there are about 550 low income children enrolled in the elementary class. More low income children enrolled to take the course, but did not because of the pull out nature, I’m assuming. There is nowhere else in the City that so many low-income children have the opportunity to study an instrument at a higher level and continuously as part of their daily education.


Florida Links Teacher Pay to Student Test Scores

Peter Whoriskey:

A new pay-for-performance program for Florida’s teachers will tie raises and bonuses directly to pupils’ standardized-test scores beginning next year, marking the first time a state has so closely linked the wages of individual school personnel to their students’ exam results.
The effort, now being adopted by local districts, is viewed as a landmark in the movement to restructure American schools by having them face the same kind of competitive pressures placed on private enterprise, and advocates say it could serve as a national model to replace traditional teacher pay plans that award raises based largely on academic degrees and years of experience.
Gov. Jeb Bush (R) has characterized the new policy, which bases a teacher’s pay on improvements in test scores, as a matter of common sense, asking, “What’s wrong about paying good teachers more for doing a better job?”
But teachers unions and some education experts say any effort to evaluate teachers exclusively on test-score improvements will not work, because schools are not factories and their output is not so easily measured. An exam, they say, cannot measure how much teachers have inspired students, or whether they have instilled in them a lifelong curiosity. Moreover, some critics say, the explicit profit motive could overshadow teacher-student relationships.

Milwaukee Schools Budget: District wants to spread funds evenly

Sarah Carr:

Next year, the High School of the Arts might not have a spring musical at all.
Some parents and teachers say the soul of the school is at stake. Their concern is echoed at some of the other most renowned high schools in Milwaukee Public Schools, including Rufus King, considered the toughest school to get into.
Parents are crying out that MPS schools with strong academic or art specialties can’t survive much longer under current budget realities. They argue that their programs have been taken for granted as the district moves to put more families in neighborhood schools and create dozens of smaller high schools.
“I’m really afraid the School Board is positioning itself to cut its arts program,” said John Glaspey, whose daughters attend the arts high school. “I think they are hellbent on sacrificing that for the neighborhood and K-8 schools and this small high school initiative.”

Red Flag in the Brain Game

Business Week:

The members of Duke University’s computer programming team had solved only one problem in the world finals of the ACM International Collegiate Programming Contest in San Antonio on Apr. 12. The winning team, from Saratov State University in Russia, solved six puzzles over the course of the grueling five-hour contest. Afterward, Duke coach Owen Astrachan tried to cheer up his team by pointing out that they were among “the best of the best” student programmers in the world. Edwards, 20, still distraught, couldn’t resist a self-deprecating dig: “We’re the worst of the best of the best.”

Similar Students, Different Results

From the latest Teacher’s College Record.
It looks like a solid study, but I have one caveat. One of the findings is that successful schools are aligned with the State Standards and success is then measured by these standards. This does raise questions about the content of these standards. The creation of these standards has been highly political and in some cases the resulting standards leave much to be desired. For an earlier California story, see Gary Nash, Charlotte Crabtree and Ross Dunn’s History on Trial.

Similar Students, Different Results
by Trish Williams & Michael W. Kirst — January 25, 2006
Why do some California elementary schools serving largely low-income students score as much as 250 points higher on the state’s academic performance index (API) than other schools with very similar students?
That’s the research question asked by a new, large-scale EdSource-led study that surveyed principals and teachers in 257 such schools across the state. What we learned is that the higher performing schools tend to have four interrelated practices at the core of their operation—prioritizing student achievement; implementing a coherent, standards-based curriculum and instructional program; analyzing student-assessment data from multiple sources; and ensuring availability of instructional resources.
Many studies have examined successful schools as a group, in an effort to understand their methods or best practices. This study—conducted by EdSource and researchers from Stanford University, the University of California, Berkeley, and the American Institutes for Research—took a different tack. Rather than looking at a specific performance zone, we examined elementary schools within a specific, fairly narrow socioeconomic and demographic band but across the full range of school performance.


Nine Madison School District students named All-State Scholars

Madison Metropolitan School District:

Nine Madison School District students named All-State Scholars

Nine students from the Madison School District have earned the All-State Scholars honor out of 120 so named in Wisconsin. In addition, the nine Madison students comprise 60% of the 15 students chosen from the six-county Second Congressional District.

The All-State Scholars from Madison are:

  • Lauren Brown, La Follette HS
  • Brian Lee, Memorial HS
  • Adeyinka Lesi, West HS
  • Neil Liu, Memorial HS
  • Edson Makuluni, Memorial HS
  • Alexander Pinigis, East HS
  • Yaoli Pu, West HS
  • Mitchell Shanklin, La Follette HS
  • Mary Thurber, West HS

Selection as an All-State Scholar is based primarily on a student’s
overall high school grade-point average and ACT or SAT scores. In the
event of a tie, judges consider student statements, extracurricular
activities, and leadership.

All-State Scholars receive a $1,500 one-year scholarship which can be renewed for an additional three years.

Charter Schools?

In light of the planning grant application approval for the proposed Studio School Charter yesterday, I’m curious about how others view public charters and what their roles should be.
Here are some different conceptions that I’ve heard or read (I’m sure there are many more and I’d be glad to hear about those):

  1. Charters as laboratories for innovations that can be replicated in other district schools.
  2. Charters as a means of of addressing the needs or desires of self-defined populations.
  3. Charters as a first step toward replacing the current system with a system of semi-autonomous schools.

Related questions include: How should charters and charter proposals be evaluated?

Concern about quality of 3rd quarter report cards (cont.)

Expressions of parent concern over the quality of third-quarter report cards for students in Madison’s elementary schools continue. Parents at Thoreau School joined parents from other schools who have wondered why their children make so little progress in the third quarter of the year in many subject areas that no information on progress can be provided to their families. Another Parent Concerned About Third-Quarter Report Cards and Can We Talk 3: 3rd Quarter Report Cards
Here is a letter from Thoreau parents to the Assistant Superintendent for Elementary Schools.


MMSD Budget Mystery #6: FTEs from the Black Box Budget

Once again the strange MMSD budget process presents uncountable mysteries for our intrepid investigators.
Somehow the administration puts this year’s budget and staff into a black box somewhere in the Doyle Building and miraculously out comes a prediction of the FTEs needed to continue the current level of services, as well as proposed FTEs for a balanced budget.
A look at this year’s FTEs compared to the balanced budget FTEs produces a much different picture for investigation, as you can see from the attached Excel file.
Train your spy glasses on the puzzling FTEs in a couple of job classifications.
In 2005-2006 the district employed 34.70 supervisors. However, the administration said only 11 are need under the cost to coninue budget (page 41) and 12 under the balanced budget. Page 41 then shows an increase of one position, when the comparison between current FTEs and the balanced budget shows a reduction of 22.7. (As an aside, does the cost to continue with 11 supervisors mean that last year the district employed 23.70 supervisors who really weren’t needed?) Very strange.
In another inexplicable change, the district employed 94.57 food service workers in 2004-2005. This year’s balanced budget proposes 105.89 FTEs for Food Service Workers. Why? Why does the district need 11.32 more FTEs to serve about 300 fewer students? Maybe we’re getting bigger eaters in the MMSD. Who knows?
Check this writer’s facts, the district’s facts, and come up with soluitons to the Mysteries of the Black Box Budget!

Charter Schools in Wisconsin

Madison School Board OK’s charter school of arts applying for DPI planning grant.  See The Studio School Website
Converting to Healthy Living Charter School
Governor Proclaims May 1 – 6, 2006 as Charter Schools Week in Wisconsin
Charter Schools about Social Justice, says Fuller
What is Chartering and Where Did It Come From?
DPI’s NEW 2005-06 Charter Schools Directory   (Under “Charter School Information” on right side of page, click “2005–06 Directory” (pdf)


Fordham Foundation’s 2007 Education Excellence Nominations

Thomas B. Fordham Foundation:

The Foundation awards two prizes annually:

  • The Thomas B. Fordham Prize for Distinguished Scholarship is awarded to a scholar who has made major contributions to education reform via research, analysis, and successful engagement in the war of ideas.
  • The Thomas B. Fordham Prize for Valor is awarded to a leader who has made major contributions to education reform via noteworthy accomplishments at the national, state, local, and/or school levels.

Anyone can be nominated whose work has had a profound impact on education in the United States. Candidates may be nominated either for cumulative lifetime achievement or for extraordinary one-time accomplishments. Employees and trustees of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation are not eligible, nor are members of the prize committee.

More thoughts on math teacher training

Jo Anne Cobasko:

“A small cadre of math specialists is helping teachers with instruction and curriculum.”
While it sounds promising that “math specialists” will be helping teachers with instruction and curriculum, the converse may be likely to occur.
In the following excerpt from “Why Johnny Can’t Calculate” (Los Angeles Times, September 26, 2005–link here), CSU-Northridge mathematics professor David Klein and high school teacher Jennifer Marple have detailed how the “experts” responsible for professional development for LAUSD often fail to deliver.
The district requires math teachers to attend in-service meetings to learn more math and better ways to teach it. No one would quarrel with those goals, but the quality of professional development programs is often so poor that they are likely to cause more harm than good.

Competition as an Effective Education Reform

Nancy Salvato:

Reminding the audience that public education is charged with educating our citizenry to participate in self government, he quoted Jefferson, “If you want a nation that is both ignorant and free, that is something that never was and never will be.” Because a good education should afford each person an opportunity to participate in the American Dream, education taxes are levied so that generations may acquire the skills necessary to earn a living, knowledge required to sustain a Democratic-Republic, and civility essential to a free society.
A plethora of studies implicate the public schools for failing to provide a good education. The American Institute for Research found U.S. math students at all grade levels were consistently behind their peers around the world. A survey, conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics, found only 31% of college students tested as proficient in reading and extracting information from complex material, such as legal documents. In an employer survey from The National Association of Manufacturers, 84% of respondents reported K-12 schools were not doing a good job of preparing students for the workplace; lacking basic employability skills, such as: attendance, timeliness, and work ethic, exhibiting deficiencies in math and science, and in reading and comprehension. Hoover Institution’s Koret Task Force found the performance of the U.S. public education system virtually unchanged in the twenty years since the publication of A Nation at Risk. The Knight Foundation found most U.S. high school students don’t understand the First Amendment. Finally, none of the eight education goals (Goals 2000) established by President Bush (41) and 49 state governors were achieved.

MMSD Cross-High School Comparison — continued

I recently posted a comparative list of the English courses offered to 9th and 10th graders at Madison’s four high schools. The list showed clearly that West High School does not offer its high achieving and highly motivated 9th and 10th grade students the same appropriately challenging English classes that are offered at East, LaFollette and Memorial.
Here is the yield from a similar comparison for 9th and 10th grade Social Studies and Science.


Insurance trumps teachers’ raises

Jake Rigdon:

The dilemma has hit smaller school districts the hardest.
According to unofficial estimates, health insurance premiums are expected to increase between 16 percent and 23 percent in the next school year in the Athens, Auburndale, Edgar, Marathon, Spencer, Stratford and Tomahawk school districts, affecting more than 460 teachers. Some districts pay 100 percent of the premiums. Others require teachers to pay a portion.
In response, Athens, Auburndale, Edgar, Marathon and Stratford are considering options such as finding a new insurance carrier that offers a cheaper plan, shifting to plans with fewer benefits or joining an insurance consortium.

Fifth Verse – Same, Sorrowful Tune: Superintendent Proposes to Elminate Elementary Strings

Other districts facing fiscal and academic achievement challenges have had successes maintaining and growing their fine arts education – through strategic planning, active engagement and real partnerships with their communities. In Tuscon, AZ, with a large low income and hispanic population, test scores of this population have climbed measurably (independent evaluations confirmed this). This state has received more than $1 million in federal funding for their fine arts education work. School districts in Chicago, New York, Texas and Minneapolis have also done some remarkable work in this area.
In my opinion, the administration’s music education work products and planning efforts this year are unsatisfactory, unimaginative and incomplete. In spite of research that continues to demonstrate the positive effects on student achievement (especially for low income students) and the high value the Madison community places on fine arts, the administration continues to put forth incomplete proposals that will short change all students, especially our low-income students, and the administration does its work “behind closed doors.”
Three or four weeks ago, I spoke at a board meeting and said I thought we needed to do things differently this year – Shwaw Vang and other board members supported my idea of working together to solve issues surrounding elementary strings. Apparently, the administration saw things differently. Since my public appearance the Superintendent has issued two reports – one eliminating elementary strings replacing K-5 music with a “new, improved” idea for K-5 music and a second report with enrollment data presented incompletely with an anti-elementary strings bias. Teachers had no idea this proposal or data were forthcoming, saw no drafts, and they did not receive copies of statistics relevant to their field that was sent last week to the School Board. Neither did the public or the entire School Board know these reports were planned and underway. During the past 12 months, there were no lists of fine arts education priorities developed and shared, no plans to address priorities, processes, timelines, staff/community involvement, etc. String teachers received no curriculum support to adjust to teaching a two-year curriculum in 1/2 the instructional time even though they asked for this help from the Doyle building, and they never received information about the plans for recreating elementary strings in the future. None.
I don’t feel the Superintendent proceeded in the manner expressed to me by Mr. Vang nor as demonstrated by the School Board’s establishment of community task forces over this past year on a number of important issues to the community. Madison’s love of fine arts lends itself well to a community advisory committee. I hope other Board members support Mr. Vang’s community team approach, rejecting the Superintendent’s recent music proposal as incomplete and unacceptable.
In his fifth year of proposals to eliminate elementary strings, the Superintendent is proposing a “new and improved” K-5 music that is not planned for another year, but requires elimination of Grade 4 strings next year. The recent proposal, once again, was developed by administrators without any meaningful involvement of teachers and no involvement of the community. Elementary strings and fine arts education are important to the community. The Superintendent did not use a process that was transparent, well planned with a timeline, open and involved the community.
Music education, including elementary string instruction, is beneficial to a child’s developing, learning and engagement in school. However, music education, also directly supports and reinforces learning in math and reading. Instrument instruction does this at a higher level and that’s one of the reasons why MMSD’s music education curriculum introduces strings in Grade 4, following a sequence of increasing challenges in music education. In fact, all the points made in the Superintendent’s “new” K-5 music program, including multicultural experiences, exist in MMSD’s current music curriculum. The only thing “new” in the Superintendent’s proposal is the elimination of elementary strings.
It is not acceptable to say that we have to do something, because we have to cut money. Also, this is not about some folks being able to “yell” louder than others. To me, this is about five years that have been wasted – no planning, no community involvement, no shared visions. Our kids deserve better. Let’s get started on a new path working together now.


Landmark Legal Foundation: Files IRS Complaint Against Wisconsin NEA Affiliate (WEAC)


Landmark Legal Foundation today asked the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to investigate numerous activities by the National Education Association’s Wisconsin affiliate, the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC) that may have violated federal tax law.
WEAC made a total of $430,000 in contributions to the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC) that weren’t reported on WEAC’s tax returns. The DLCC is a political organization formed by the Democratic National Committee to provide funding and logistical assistance to state legislative campaigns around the country. The WEAC contributions, which were reported by the DLCC on its tax filings, were made in 2000 and 2002, and were apparently used by the DLCC to underwrite state legislative campaigns in California and elsewhere.
WEAC is a 501(c)(5) tax-exempt union under the Internal Revenue Code (IRC). As a 501(c)(5), WEAC is required to report and pay federal income tax on almost any general revenue funds used for political purposes, including contributions made by the union to political organizations like the DLCC (called 527s, for the section of the IRC under which they are formed.) WEAC’s own 527, the Wisconsin Education Association Council — Political Action Committee (WEAC-PAC), also did not report the DLCC contributions in question on their tax filings.

Teachers share fear of questioning school boards

Arrin Newton Brunson:

A grass-roots group, Parents for Positive Change, invited the two lawyers after controversies erupted in the Logan School District earlier this year, leading to the resignation of a popular principal and the early retirement of an embattled superintendent.
Many of the complaints centered on the rights of teachers to complain without fear of retribution.
McCoy assured teachers that challenging school officials on issues of public concern is protected speech. “You do have substantial rights,” he said.
State law prohibits retaliation against teachers who speak out about practices or policies they perceive as detrimental to students, McCoy said. Punishments such as the loss of salary, prestige and job opportunities are illegal, he said.

Milwaukee Graduation Rates – Poverty & Governance

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel editorial:

t is simply nothing short of catastrophic that so many Milwaukee youngsters are being left behind in a world in which a bachelor’s degree is the new high school diploma. It’s a trend that bodes ill for the region’s capacity to grow and compete.
Yes, Milwaukee again makes a list it should wish it weren’t on with a ranking that should properly make every Milwaukee Public Schools official, School Board member, teacher, parent and taxpayer intensely introspective, not to mention angry.
That’s because, whether the graduation rate is 45% – ranking it 94th among the 100 largest school districts in the country, according to the generally conservative-leaning Manhattan Institute – or 61% or 67%, what, respectively, the state and district say it is, that’s too few high schoolers graduating.
And the gap between African-American and white achievement in Wisconsin (and between boys and girls) should be topics getting more focus than they have to date. The Manhattan Institute study, released Tuesday, says Wisconsin overall enjoys an 85% graduation rate, but for African-Americans statewide, it’s 55%, the second lowest in the country.
Yes, we know all the societal factors involved in low graduation rates, mostly revolving around poverty. However, these graduation figures also point to a degree of failure in the district in dealing with these realities

Learning on Their Own Terms

Nick Anderson:

“I just really hated school, and Roosevelt brought that out of me,” the 19-year-old said one spring afternoon next to an iron handrail that doubled as a launching slope. “Being told what to do and what to learn. Having to do homework. Grades. Grade levels. Everything that this school stands against.”
Justin will graduate in June from the highly unconventional Fairhaven School with a diploma that may require explanation to a college or future boss. He took no tests in his three years at the private school, received no grades and had no course requirements. But he played electric guitar, read and wrote poetry, made friends and got the last laugh on lunch. “No more tater tots!” he said.

Cory Doctorow discusses his own experiences with a “free school” and points to a trailer for a documentary called “Voices from the New American Schoolhouse“.

Milwaukee Voucher School Accreditation

Alan Borsuk:

About 50 of 122 schools in the voucher program have no form of accreditation – no organization outside the school that is giving it a stamp of approval. Although some of the unaccredited schools should be able to get accreditation, the list includes almost all the schools that raise the most doubts among knowledgeable observers.
Some of those observers will be in positions to do something because they will be involved in accreditation, and generally, they are talking a tough game: They will be insistent that voucher schools demonstrate they meet genuine standards of quality.
The new law makes that more than idle talk. While attention focused on allowing the program to grow from less than 15,000 students to 22,500, the law also makes this clear: No accreditation, no money from the state.

Sarah Carr has more.

Families Need to Take Responsibility

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:

Madison’s attempt to reach a growing number of low-income, minority and immigrant students requires a return effort: The target families need to take responsibility for their own success.
That means the low-income, minority and immigrant communities should build more organizations to promote their own causes. The Madison School Board needs to hear from them when decisions are made about what programs to keep or cut. The Madison Area Family Advisory Advocacy Coalition, which speaks up for black students, is an example.

MAFAAC’s website.

Adapt to New Student Population

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:

If Madison is to maintain the high quality of its public schools, the community must solve a growing problem. But first, Madison must distinguish what the problem is from what it is not.
It is not a dramatic increase in the number of minority, immigrant and low-income students requiring extra services. That is not a problem. That is a fact.
The problem is the community’s response to the stunning change in the student population. We must find ways to cost-effectively educate the new and vastly more diverse generation of Madisonians.

DC Public Schools & Charters

Kevin Carey:

Normally I leave charter school issues to my colleagues Eduwonk and Sara Mead. But this morning’s front page article in the WaPo struck me as too obvious to pass up. It details how DC Public Schools is considering a novel arrangement with KIPP, one of the city’s most successful charter schools. KIPP wants to start a new middle school, but is having a hard time finding space. Meanwhile, one the regular DCPS elementary schools is losing enrollment and thus has too much space, to the point that it’s in danger of being closed. Thus, the arrrangement: co-locate in the same building, don’t overlap grades, and coordinate curricula so students from the elementary school can stay in the building and go to the KIPP middle school if that’s what they want to do.

Sounds great, right? Not to DC school board vice president Carolyn Graham, who said:

“We want to fully embrace a working relationship with KIPP, but we don’t want to do it to the detriment of our student body and financial viability,” she said, adding that the system lost about $11 million in city funding this year after more than 3,000 students departed. “We want them to come up with a way of working with our charter school partners so that all our students would benefit.”

Hmmm. You know, that’s kind of wordy, let’s tighten that up a little:

“We want to fully embrace a working relationship with KIPP, but we don’t want to do it to the detriment of our student body and financial viability,” she said, adding that the system lost about $11 million in city funding this year after more than 3,000 students departed. “We want them to come up with a way of working with our charter school partners so that all our students I would benefit.”

There we go. Much more clear.

It’s true that more students in charter schools means less students in DCPS. But if you’re going to complain about that, you’ve got to at least make an attempt to say why that would be bad, particularly wih the test scores, parental demand, and the best judgment of the DCPS superintendant providing evidence to the country. The fact that Graham offers nothing of the kind is enormously telling

A Cry in the Streets of Brooklyn is Answered by a Prep School

Pete Thamel:

In looping printed letters, which looked like the handwriting of a young girl, Thomas wrote a one-page cry for help: “I cannot read or write. I need all you people’s help. Please do not turn your back on me.”
Thomas’s note was not that clear, however. Riddled with spelling mistakes, it had clear signs of what experts later diagnosed as dyslexia. He spelled please “peasl,” turn was “tron” and write was “witer.”
That admission by Thomas, one of the nation’s top basketball prospects, stunned faculty members at South Kent. But they soon found out that it was just the beginning of his story. He lived on the subways as a preteenager, sold drugs for a year as a teenager and could not read at age 17.

Children Before Special Interests

Matthew Ladner:

Oprah Winfrey recently used two days of her program to highlight the crisis in American public schools, focusing attention on our appalling dropout problem. The visuals were quite stunning.
In one segment, a group of inner-city Chicago students traded places with a group of suburban students to compare facilities and curriculums. In another, a valedictorian from a rural high school told of needing remedial classes in college. Perhaps most striking of all, CNN’s Andersen Cooper toured a high school near the White House that was in a shameful state of disrepair. Pieces of the ceiling had fallen on the ground, holes in the roof let rain pour into the school, restrooms were inoperable and unlit.
Oprah deserves a good deal of credit for putting a spotlight on these problems. Public schools face a dropout problem of stunning scale. Estimates from the Manhattan Institute put the nation’s dropout rate near 30 percent, with rates much higher among low-income and minority students. Many who do graduate do so without mastering high-school level material, as evidenced not only by the need for remediation among college students, but also in the stunningly poor literacy skills of the public.
National reading tests show that 38 percent of our fourth-graders score “below basic” in reading, meaning that they have failed to gain the basic literacy skills necessary to function academically. These students will drift into middle school, and literally be unable to make heads or tails of their textbooks.

via Andrew Rotherham:

Matthew Ladner, of steak dinner fame, weighs-in in the Philly Inquirer about what the Oprah hype all means. You can disagree with Ladner’s advocacy of vouchers but he nails the macro-problem here:

2 Teachers Respond: “Teach to the Test”

Jay Matthews:

To my astonishment, I am still receiving e-mails about an op-ed piece, “Let’s Teach to the Test,” I wrote two months ago. I argued that most good teachers consider No Child Left Behind and other test-driven assessments convenient benchmarks and don’t find them disabling, as many critics say they are. I said what people call teaching to the test is actually teaching to the state standards, which most of us parents think is good, so perhaps we should consider teaching to the test a good thing, if the test is valid and the teaching sound.
Most of the hundreds of e-mails that have come in have suggested, in mostly polite terms, that I have no business writing about schools. But a larger minority than I expected said I was right. Given that continued interest, I thought I would share reactions to the op-ed from two teachers whom I know well, and who are both stars in the classroom. Kenneth Bernstein, who teaches social studies at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Prince George’s County, Md., and Mark Ingerson, who teaches social studies in the city of Salem, Va., look at this issue from different angles. In my view they should be read carefully because they both understand how best to communicate difficult material in the classroom and motivate students to learn.

6% Success Rate: From High School to the Future: A first look at Chicago Public School graduates’ college enrollment, college preparation, and graduation from four-year colleges

Consortium on Chicago School Research at the University of Chicago:

Following CPS (Chicago Public Schools) graduates from 1998, 1999, 2002 and 2003, this report uses records from Chicago high schools and data from the National Student Clearinghouse to examine the college experiences of all CPS alumni who entered college in the year after they graduated high school.
The study paints a discouraging picture of college success for CPS graduates. Despite the fact that nearly 80 percent of seniors state that they expect to graduate from a four-year college, only about 30 percent enroll in a four-year college within a year of graduating high school, and only 35 percent of those who enroll received a bachelor’s degree within six years. According to this report, CPS students’ low grades and test scores are keeping them from entering four-year colleges and more selective four-year colleges.

Complete study [14.9MB PDF]


Madison Schools’ Proposed Balanced Budget for 2006/2007

The Madison Metropolitan School District Administration published it’s proposed $332.9M+ balanced budget for 2006/2007 in 3 parts:

  • Executive Summary [pdf]
  • Financial Summaries [pdf]
  • Department and Division Reports [pdf]

“Total spending under the proposed budget is $332,947,870, which is an increase of $11,012,181 or 3.42% over 2005-06. The increase of 2.6% under the revenue limit plus other fund increases or expenditures makes up the whole proposed budget. The property tax levy would increase $11,626,677 or 5.8% to $211,989,932.”
“The property tax levy has to increase more than spending because state and federal aids and grants are decreasing. The district is being conservative in its early estimates of these aids and grants in order to avoid overspending.”

4/5 strings is once again on the chopping block. Page 6 of the executive summary. The document refers to the “current strings program”.
Links & Notes:

West HS English 9 and 10 Again — No Child Moves Ahead

Several of us received the following email today from Ted Widerski, MMSD TAG (“Talented and Gifted”) Resource Teacher for Middle and High Schools. Ted has been working with other District and West HS staff to find a way to allow West 9th and 10th graders who are advanced in English to grade accelerate in English, whether through the INSTEP process or some other method.
Here is what he wrote:

Parents –
On Wednesday, April 12th, Welda Simousek and I met with Pamela Nash, Mary Ramberg, Mary Watson-Peterson, Ed Holmes, and Keesia Hyzer to discuss In-STEP procedures for students in English 9 and/or 10. Through this discussion, it became clear that there was no reasonable method available at this time to assess which students might not need to take English 9 or 10 because part of what is learned in English classes comes through the processes of analysis, discussion, and critical critiquing that are shared by the entire class. An alternative assessment approach was discussed: having students present a portfolio to be juried. This approach would require a great deal of groundwork, however, and would not be available yet this spring. It will be looked at as a possibility for the future.
Please keep in mind that it is the intention of West High School to offer meaningful and challenging English courses for all levels of students. It is also the usual TAG Classroom Action Summary and In-STEP approach to have students be present in a classroom for a period of time before it is possible to assess whether they are extremely beyond their classroom peers and need a different option. Welda will follow up with teachers and students in the fall to ascertain progress for students during the first semester. The use of the Classroom Action Summary and In-STEP approach (with a brainstorming of possible options) will be reviewed again at the end of semester one.
Please feel free to contact me with further questions.

Ted Widerski
Talented and Gifted Resource Teacher
Madison Metropolitan School District

I replied to Ted (copying many others, including parents, Teaching and Learning staff, Art Rainwater, Pam Nash, the BOE, and West HS staff), saying that this is a case of unequal access to appropriate educational opportunities because of how poorly West HS provides for its 9th and 10th graders who are academically advanced in English, as compared to the other three high schools.
Here is my reply:


AP Poll: Teachers & Parents on No Child Left Behind

Ben Feller:

Teachers are far more pessimistic than parents about getting every student to succeed in reading and math as boldly promised by the No Child Left Behind Act. That’s left a huge expectations gap between the two main sets of adults in children’s lives.
An AP-AOL Learning Services Poll found nearly eight in 10 parents are confident their local schools will have students up to state standards by the 2013-14 school year target. Yet only half of teachers are confident the kids in their schools will meet that deadline.
The finding underscores a theme in the poll. Parents and teachers often disagree on daily aspects of education, from the state of discipline to the quality of high schools.
A major reason is that adults see the children differently. Parents tend to focus on their own children, while teachers work with dozens of students from different backgrounds.

Ms. Cornelius has more

Carol Carstensen’s Weekly Email

Carol Carstensen:

Parent Group Presidents:
The administration’s proposed budget for the 2006-07 school year will be made public on Friday, April 21. Board members and the media will have hard copies of the budget and an electronic version should be up on the web site shortly. The Board begins discussion and consideration of the budget on Monday April 24th at about 6:30 p.m. There are forums scheduled for Tuesday, May 2 at 6:30 p.m. at LaFollette and Tuesday, May 9 at 6:30 at Memorial.


2006-2007 School Budget Already Implemented: What’s the Current Fanfare About?

The Superintendent, along with the President and Vice President of the School Board, is holding a press conference to announce the 2006-2007 school budget. They’re performing as if this is the start of the public discussion of the budget for next year, which it is. While late April may be the first time the School Board and the community have seen next year’s school budget, this budget has already been implemented, beginning in early April and possibly earlier –
Was the School Board involved with any aspect of the implementation of next year’s budget? NO. On April 3rd, under the Superintendent’s direction, all schools received their staffing allocations for the next year – 85% of the district’s budget is staffing. The administration says deadlines for layoff notices and surplus notices to teachers per the union contract drive this timeline, because it takes the district two months to figure out who will need to be laid off – last year it was about 10 people who received layoff notices.
What does this reason have to do with School Board’s responsibility to see that proposed resources are being allocated according the the School Board’s goals and objectives for next year? Nothing. If the Superintendent feels he needs to give allocations to schools in early April, he then needs to present the budget earlier if he is implementing allocations with budget cuts. (I do not feel the School Board understood that the budget is implemented when allocations are given when they set the budget timeline.)
Prior to the implementation of next year’s school budget, I believe the School Board needs to know what is in the budget, what cuts (if any) are being proposed, what curriculum changes are being implemented. Also, they need to know what planning is underway in other areas of the budget for next year that is using current staff time and dollars. In order to perform their responsibilities, the School Board needs some form of an Executive Budget that lays out the framework and gives the School Board the opportunity to publicly discuss the Superintendent’s proposed changes. I would recommend strongly that the School Board consider this for next year.
When could the School Board do this? I would suggest the School Board consider doing this during the month of March prior to April 3rd if that deadline is firm. Did any budget discussions take place this year, prior to April 3rd and the April 4th school board elections. NO. Johnny Winston, Jr., who chairs the Finance and Operations Committee, held no meetings in March to discuss next year’s school budget, so this might be the time to hold those meetings, asking for the presentation of an Executive level budget with proposed changes.
There is another reason to do this – staffing confusion and uncertainty. Building principals give surplus notices, but staff has no idea what the budget is, if the School Board approved these decisions (School Board has not approved the staffing allocations).
I believe budget objectives, an executive budget (by department) and any cuts to the budget need to be packaged together and the School Board needs to publicly discuss this prior to implementation. As one principal said to me years ago, “Once the Superintendent gives us our allocations, there won’t be any changes.” That’s what I have observed over the past five years. By the time the School Board receives the budget document, next year’s budget is already in place and being implemented, and the School Board ends up talking in great detail about less than $1 million of the budget, is unable to make/direct changes.
Sure, the School Board has the authority and can make any changes the majority approves, but a) why isn’t the School Board “approving” the budget vs. the Superintendent and b) why would a School Board want to waste precious resources implementing and then reimplementing the budget?

Classroom Realities

Shari Wilson:

Finally I attended a valuable workshop on high- and low-context learners. Suddenly I could understand why certain students wanted to know about the whole semester’s work at the start of the first few classes. And why other students were happy to have information parceled out at two-week intervals. Desperate to improve retention, I rewrote my class materials again. I drafted a day-by-day course outline that provided not only important due dates, but guidelines of what we’d be doing in each class. Some were general ideas; others were specific instructions, listing handouts and work to be done.
My high-context students were thrilled. They immediately skimmed the course outline and highlighted certain dates. Armed with knowledge, they started to feel more accountable. Many spent more time on assignments, saw tutors, and turned in better work. My low-context students, of course, were not affected. They simply read what was immediately due the next day and accomplished that one piece. A few read ahead — if only to avoid scheduling problems with their busy social lives. Others only consulted the syllabus minutes before class

Madison School Board to Vote on a Proposed Charter Elementary School of Arts & Technology

The Madison Board of Education is scheduled to act on Monday evening (4/24) on a request relating to a proposed charter elementary school of arts and technology.
The Board will vote on whether or not to support a grant application to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction for funds to support planning of The Studio School by a group of educators, parents and others. See info about The Studio School, including the proposed planning grant application at: http://www.madisonstudioschool.org .
The Board’s meeting, which begins at 5:00 pm, will be held in the McDaniel’s Auditorium at the district offices at 545 West Dayton Street. [map]

MD to use Data to Combat Bullying

Lori Aratani:

Maryland’s middle school students are more likely than their elementary or high school peers to be involved in incidents of bullying and other harassment, according to a recently released state report — the first such effort to track the problem.
Incidents most often took place on school campuses or buses, the report said, with the majority involving name calling or threatening remarks. About one-third of the incidents involved a physical attack.
The 21-page report to the General Assembly is an attempt by state officials to count incidents of bullying and other harassment in its 24 public school systems. Officials in Virginia have been collecting information on bullying and other harassment in public schools since 1999.

Constructivist Theory of Education

As we know, curriculae like Everyday Math, Core Math, Reading Recovery, Balanced Literacy and the Literacy Collaborative are based on the constructivist theory of education. Indeed, the Literacy Collaborative (a trademarked name for Balanced Literacy) states that its framework is based on the theories of Vygotsky, Bruner and Clay.
For an interesting exercise, do a google search with all three of these keywords “constructivist marxism vygotsky” [ask | clusty | google | msn | yahoo]
Now before the constructivists out there accuse me of labelling them as marxists, let me say I am not. I am, however, making the point that the curriculae you advocate has deep roots in marxist egalitarian theory.

Classmates Count

I was looking for more information about the combined grades at Elvejhem (my grade school was all combined grades with team teaching and it worked very well) and I found an interesting study that I don’t think has been previously noted on SIS. It is by noted Urbanist David Rusk and looks at the effects of economic segregation and integration on academic performance in Madison schools. I hope the East and West task forces were aware of this study.
The conclusion states:

“Summing Up Part V: A school’s socioeconomic context does matter far more for low-income pupils than for their middle class counterparts. The statistical analysis did show a slight decline of middle class pupils’ test scores as the percentage of low income classmates increased. The rate of decline for middle class pupils was less than half the rate of improvement for low income pupils.
However, that apparent decline in middle class pupils’ performance most probably reflected the changing composition of the “middle class” in schools with increasingly higher percentages of low income classmates. “Middle class” schools with very few low income pupils had higher percentages of children from the highest income, largely professional households. In “middle class” schools with much larger numbers of lowincome pupils, children from more modest “blue collar” households predominated.
That was most likely the primary contributing factor to the apparent slow decline in middle class test scores and not any directly adverse effect of having more low income classmates. From a larger perspective, middle class pupils’ performance levels never dropped below 70-75% achieving advanced and proficient levels under any socioeconomic circumstances in Madison-Dane County (which had no very high-poverty schools).”

Here is a link to the pdf file: Final Report

Study Suggests Link Between Achievement and Curriculum Choice in High-Poverty Elementary Schools


MOUNTAIN VIEW, CA—Does a school’s performance on California’s Academic Performance Index (API) relate to the use of a particular curriculum program? An analysis released today by EdSource from a large-scale survey of elementary schools serving similarly-challenged students suggests an answer.

School APIs are based on student test scores on the California Standards Tests, which measure how well students at the school are mastering grade level academic standards. According to many experts, California’s K-12 academic standards, adopted in the late 1990s, are among the most challenging in the nation.

The new analysis found that for English language arts, using the Open Court curriculum program school-wide did appear to make a difference in a school’s API score. Open Court appeared to be most effective when it was:

  • used intensively—i.e., all teachers in the school reported using Open Court daily;
  • combined with a coherent, school-wide, standards-based instructional program; and
  • combined with the frequent use of student assessment data to improve instruction.

Open Court is one of two main English language arts curriculum packages currently approved by the State Board of Education in California. The new findings are the result of an extended regression analysis of survey data collected last spring from 5,500 K-5 classroom teachers in 257 schools from 145 different districts.

Joanne Jacobs has more.

The New Push to Rate Schools Will Make Adults Perform and Help Kids Learn

Jay Greene:

Accountability is a constructive and increasingly powerful force in the education of New York City schoolchildren. It starts with report cards and runs far deeper.
Third-graders have to pass a basic skills test to be promoted to fourth grade. High school seniors cannot earn a Regents diploma without passing a series of exams. And, of course, students hoping to attend college need to take, and perform moderately well, on the SAT or ACT.
B ut while young people have been held increasingly accountable for results, adults who work in the schools have been largely shielded from such judgments. Whether students succeed or not has little or no effect on whether teachers or administrators continue to be employed or how much they are paid. Heroic educators who transform the lives of their students are not rewarded, nor are subpar educators who deprive students of future opportunities required to improve or punished.

Wisconsin Academic Decathlon Saved…

Wisconsin Academic Decathlon:

Last month, members of the non-profit Wisconsin Academic Decathlon announced that “donor fatigue” had severely weakened program donations and that the organization would deplete its reserves to make it through this year’s State Finals. Program Director Molly Ritchie revealed that the 23-year-old extra curricular scholastic program for Wisconsin high school students might very well have to shut down. Ritchie invited a major corporate sponsor, or sponsors, to come to the rescue with a $150,000 donation.
Dependent on private funding for the last eleven years-since the elimination of their Department of Public Instruction state grant in 1995, Wisconsin has maintained a solid and competitive statewide program, third largest among 40 in the nation, faring well in national competition. For the past two decades, the state champions have placed in the top 10 nationwide, in all but two appearances, and landed the national overall title with Waukesha West’s big win in 2002. However, the program’s success alone no longer generates enough donations to cover the $220,000+ annual budget (67% of funds are secured through donations, team entrance fees bring in the rest).

Peter Gascoyne kindly covered this years event, held a few weeks ago.

New York offers Housing Subsidy as a Teacher Lure

David Herszenhorn:

New York City will offer housing subsidies of up to $14,600 to entice new math, science and special education teachers to work in the city’s most challenging schools, in one of the most aggressive housing incentive programs in the nation to address a chronic shortage of qualified educators in these specialties.
To be eligible for the subsidies, teachers must have at least two years’ experience. City officials said they hoped the program, to be announced by the city Education Department today, would immediately lead to the hiring of an extra 100 teachers for September and, with other recruitment efforts, ultimately help fill as many as 600 positions now held by teachers without the proper credentials.

The New Soft Paternalism

The Economist covers a fascinating subject:

For its exponents, this is a paternalism for the times. People are jealous of their freedoms; yet they squander them. They resent outside authorities telling them how to live their lives, but they lack self-command. They have legions of entrepreneurs dedicated to serving them better, but often they fail even to understand the embarrassment of offerings that is spread before them. Some gentle guidance would not go amiss.
But if such manipulation is sometimes a necessity, should it be made a virtue? (John Stuart) Mill, for one, would have disapproved.

He who lets the world choose…his plan of life for him, has no need of any other faculty than the ape-like one of imitation. He who chooses his plan for himself must…use observation to see, reasoning and judgment to foresee, activity to gather materials for decision, discrimination to decide, and when he has decided, firmness and self-control to hold to his deliberate decision.

Reasoning, judgment, discrimination and self-control—all of these the soft paternalists see as burdens the state can and should lighten. Mill, by contrast, saw them as opportunities for citizens to exercise their humanity. Soft paternalism may improve people’s choices, rescuing them from their own worst tendencies, but it does nothing to improve those tendencies. The nephews of the avuncular state have no reason to grow up.

UW-Madison and MATC Finalize Transfer Agreement


A new agreement allows qualified students at Madison Area Technical College guaranteed admission to the University of Wisconsin-Madison as transfer students.
The program announced Wednesday by both schools is intended for students who begin as freshmen in MATC’s liberal arts transfer program.
Qualified students who complete 54 credits in specified areas and earn a 3.0 grade-point average will be guaranteed admission to UW-Madison when they apply as transfer students.

LA Not so Confidential

Education Sector:

Los Angeles is rightly known as a cultural bellwether because of its diverse population, thriving entertainment industry, and powerful artistic community. But the city is also a harbinger of educational change, as two recent developments suggest. Democratic Mayor Anthony Villaraigosa is seeking substantial control over the Los Angeles Unified School District, while minority parents are demanding alternatives to the city’s existing public schools, putting them at odds with the teachers’ union and the school district. The result is a debate pitting Democrats against Democrats in the city.
Who gets to control schools is of course an old debate. Historically, urban school districts have vacillated between centralized and decentralized control. Villaraigosa’s bid for more leverage over the Los Angeles school system is a reflection of the frustration of urban mayors today: They are politically accountable for school performance and whether a city offers quality public schools but have little control over actual educational decision-making.
Villaraigosa has stopped short of calling for outright control of the schools, saying he would retain an elected school board. But he is still seeking to choose the next superintendent, to have control over major budget decisions, and to launch an ambitious effort to turn around low-performing schools, so it is obvious where he would like power to be vested. This was enough to prompt the National School Boards Association at its annual meeting this month to pass a resolution strongly opposing mayoral control, a measure clearly aimed at Villaraigosa. Meanwhile, with Los Angeles Superintendent Roy Romer on his way out, the power struggle complicates the search for a replacement.

Nan Brien on Local Property Taxes

Nan Brien:

In recent weeks Madison homeowners received their 2006 assessments. Most of us saw an increase in the value of our homes. What will this mean for the next property tax bill?
Last spring Grandparents United for Madison Public Schools attempted to explain that school property taxes had actually gone down for many Madison homeowners over the previous 10 years.
Now it’s time to revisit five factors that influence the school district’s role in your property tax bill.
School District tax levy: Property taxpayers fund a little less than two-thirds of the Madison School District budget, which was $321 million in 2005-06.

Arlene Silveira: Thanks for support, now it’s on to work

A letter to the editor
Dear Editor: I want to thank my supporters and many volunteers during the spirited run for Seat 1 of the Madison School Board. I appreciate the challenging forums and discussions with the press and community members, who have shown why Madison is always considered among the top school systems in the United States.
I also thank those who voted for me in this close election a choice that was confirmed with a well-organized and competent recount.
I look forward to being sworn in on April 24 for Seat 1, and from then on, serving every child, school and family in the best way I know how. I will represent all the district and will seek information from all sources, listen carefully and make sound choices when voting on all issues.
I am eagerly anticipating being the School Board member I promised to be during the campaign: ensuring access to all, welcoming all, improving on a strong school system, and respecting taxpayer dollars in school spending.
Arlene Silveira
Madison School Board member-elect
Published: April 18, 2006
The Capital Times

Teachers Unions as Agents of Reform

Sara Reed:

Voters in Denver, Colo., in 2005 overwhelmingly approved a $25 million tax increase to fund a new, nine-year performance-based pay system for the city’s teachers. Brad Jupp taught in Denver’s public schools for 20 years, and was the lead DCTA negotiator on the team that negotiated the pilot project in 1999, and for the next 5 years he worked on the team that implemented the ProComp pilot.
ES: Why were you able to develop a pay-for-performance model in Denver when other places haven’t been?
BJ: Denver had a combination of the right opportunities and people who were willing, once they saw the opportunities, to put aside their fears of losing and work with other people to try to take advantage of those opportunities. The people included a school board president willing to say, “If the teachers accept this, we’ll figure out how to pay for it. They included the teacher building reps who said, “This is too good to refuse outright; let’s study it.” They included a local foundation that, once we negotiated the pay for performance pilot, realized we might actually be serious and offered us a million dollars to help put it in place. They included the Community Training and Assistance Center, the group that provided us with technical support and a research study of our work. They were willing to take on the enormous and risky task of measuring the impact of the pilot. And they included 16 principals in Denver who were able to see that this was going to be an opportunity for their faculties to build esprit de corps, to make a little extra money, to do some professional development around measuring results. I don’t really think there was a secret ingredient other than people being able to move past their doubts and seize an opportunity. It was a chance to create opportunities where the rewards outweighed the risks. I don’t think we do that much in public education.
But public schools have a harder time making changes, especially in the way people are paid, for a number of reasons. First, we don’t have a history of measuring results, and we don’t have a results-oriented attitude in our industry. Furthermore, we have configured the debate about teacher pay so that it’s a conflict between heavyweight policy contenders like unions and school boards. Finally, we do not have direct control over our revenue. It is easier to change a pay system when there is a rapid change in revenue that can be oriented to new outcomes. Most school finance systems provide nothing but routine cost of living adjustments. If that is all a district and union have to work with, they’re not going to have money to redistribute and make a new pay system.

Fascinating interview.

Seattle’s Teaching of Math adds up to Much Confusion

Jessica Blanchard:

Rick Burke remembers looking at his elementary-school daughter’s math homework and wondering where the math was.
Like many Seattle schools, his daughter’s school was teaching “reform” math, a style that encourages students to discover math principles and derive formulas themselves. Burke, an engineer, worried that his daughter wasn’t learning basic math skills.
“It was a lot of drawing pictures and playing games,” he said. “Her whole first-grade year was pretty much a lateral move.”
So for the past few years, Burke and his wife have been tutoring their three children after school — and this fall, they plan to switch them to North Beach Elementary, which uses a more traditional approach to math.

Sarah Natividad adds:

The biggest problem is that the teachers currently in service never learned enough math to begin with, and so can’t be expected to teach what they don’t already know. We only think our teachers know math because they know just as little math as we do. If you want to know how scarily ignorant of math our teachers are, I suggest reading Liping Ma’s Knowing and Teaching Elementary Mathematics for a start.
I’ve written about this on my own blog, and I’m not just talking out of my butt here. I’ve taught math to these potential teachers. They lack the prerequisite skills to pass a college algebra class. You can tell who in the class is in the Elementary Education program; they’re the ones sitting in the back row, getting a D on every exam because they have to use a calculator to do three times two (and they think this is normal). So when Bob Brandt of Bellevue says “How do you know three times two equals six? Any idiot knows that,” I would counter that an exceptional idiot must be teaching his kids math. We’ve raised an entire generation of teachers who don’t even know enough about math to know that they are ignorant of it.

D-Ed Reckoning touches on math as well.

Leaving Boys Behind: Public High School Graduation Rates

Jay Greene and Marcus Winters:

This study uses a widely respected method to calculate public high school graduation rates for the nation, for each state, and for the 100 largest school districts in the United States. We calculate graduation rates overall, by race, and by gender, using the most recent available data (the class of 2003).

Among our key findings:

  • The overall national public high school graduation rate for the class of 2003 was 70 percent.
  • There is a wide disparity in the public high school graduation rates of white and minority students.
  • Nationally, the graduation rate for white students was 78 percent, compared with 72 percent for Asian students, 55 percent for African-American students, and 53 percent for Hispanic students.
  • Female students graduate high school at a higher rate than male students. Nationally, 72 percent of female students graduated, compared with 65 percent of male students.
  • The gender gap in graduation rates is particularly large for minority students. Nationally, about 5 percentage points fewer white male students and 3 percentage points fewer Asian male students graduate than their respective female students. While 59 percent of African-American females graduated, only 48 percent of African-American males earned a diploma (a difference of 11 percentage points). Further, the graduation rate was 58 percent for Hispanic females, compared with 49 percent for Hispanic males (a difference of 9 percentage points).
  • The state with the highest overall graduation rate was New Jersey (88 percent), followed by Iowa, Wisconsin, and North Dakota, each with 85 percent. The state with the lowest overall graduation rate was
    South Carolina (54 percent), followed by Georgia (56 percent) and New York (58 percent).

Sarah Carr notes that some question the methods used in this analysis:

Milwaukee public high schools have one of the worst graduation rates [chart] in the country among large school districts, according to a new report that takes the unusual step of trying to make comparisons across large school districts as well as states.

Tamar Lewin also takes a look at this report:

The report, “Leaving Boys Behind: Public High School Graduation Rates,” found that 59 percent of African-American girls, but only 48 percent of African-American boys, earned their diplomas that year. Among Hispanics, the graduation rate was 58 percent for girls, but only 49 percent for boys.
“It’s a fairly large difference, particularly when you consider that unlike differences across racial and ethnic groups, boys and girls are raised in the same households, so it’s not so easy to explain the differences by their community, or their income level,” said Jay P. Greene, an author of the report.
Mr. Greene helped set off widespread national alarm with findings several years ago that almost one in three high school students, and almost half the African-American and Hispanic students, did not complete high school. His research has been widely embraced by policy makers, though some researchers argue that his method overstates the dropout problem over all and among minorities in particular.

Can We Talk 3: 3rd Quarter Report Cards

Ms. Abplanalp and MMSD District Staff (cc’d to the Board of Education),
I read with some confusion your letter [350K PDF] sent to all elementary school parents about the lack of measurable change in students marking period as too small to report to parents on their third quarter report cards.  
Here’s my confusion.  I have complained many times about the lack of communication from MMSD to parents concerning students grades or progress.  At the elementary level the “grade issue” seems to do with the lack of any measurable assessments.  While I know testing is a bad word in the education world I find it amusing that between the end of Jan. and beginning of April,  my two elementary students failed to have any measurable change in their grades.  My 7th grader had a full report card…..with grades and everything.  I’m old at 42, but we used to have report cards come home every 6 weeks. My parents could assess my progress rather well that way, and I got lots of candy from Grandma.  I accept the quarter system as being more practical but seriously…you can’t even accomplish quarterly reports.  
I am wondering why my two elementary students were sent home early on April 4th.  My tax dollars went to pay for what?…..four grades evaluated out of 31 (not including behavior grades).  The teachers spent the time to log onto the computers to tell me about one grade in reading and 3 in math.  My daughter who is in 5th grade tells me lots of social studies and science occurred from Jan. to April but I guess none was graded.  The paper work, the early release, the time spent logging on for four grades has to rank up there with the last day of school with the amount of  waste of tax payer money (last day is one and 1/2 hour of school with bus service and all). 


The School Transformation Plan

A Strategy to Create Small, High-Performing College-Preparatory Schools in Every Neighborhood of Los Angeles
Green Dot Public Schools, Bain & Company [180K PDF]:

Public school reform has become the #1 issue for the City of Los Angeles. While most acknowledge the poor state of the public education system, the discussion to date has largely focused on governance issues, such as mayoral control and district break-up. This whitepaper is intended to refocus the debate on a future vision for public schools in Los Angeles about which all stakeholders will be enthusiastic. Simply put, every child in Los Angeles should have the opportunity to attend a small, safe, college-preparatory public school. This whitepaper also provides a strategy for how the City of Los Angeles can take advantage of its historic opportunity to make this vision a reality. With $19 billion in bond funding, the Los Angeles Unified School District has unparalleled resources to execute a dramatic transformation.

via Eduwonk.


Food Policy and Physical Education

To those concerned about the success of the Madison Schools,
I am writing to express my support for the positive changes proposed by the district with respect to food policy. It is exciting that the district has been proactive in including students, parents, health providers, educators, and policy makers. As a pediatrician working with childhood obesity and childhood diabetes, I believe our schools do- and can have an even more positive influence- on the health of our children. 
We are all struggling with the epidemic of childhood obesity, its costs, ramifications, and its effect on children and their families. We need to address this problem though our families, through our communities, and definitely through our schools. We continue to “leave many children behind” when it comes to healthy nutrition and physical activity. The State of California has shown that children with greater fitness levels, also have greater academic levels. Supporting an environment for achieving this is imperative for our children.
Healthy food choices should always be offered even if it means different fund raising methods in our schools including removing soda, and other unhealthy food practices.  It is time for the Board to look carefully at how they can help be part of the solution regarding this problem and the long-term health of our students. 


Coke’s CEO on Soda in Schools

Chad Terhune:

WSJ: How well is the company responding to the obesity issue?
Mr. Isdell: We are in what I would call the bull’s-eye of public opinion with regard to calorie consumption. It’s something I inherited and something as an industry we have not been able to rebut effectively at this point in time. It’s something we are working diligently on as an industry…. We really need to widen the debate. For example, Diet Coke, a zero-calorie beverage, is actually in the obesity debate because there has been a demonization of carbonated soft drinks. But if it’s really about obesity, why would you not want people to drink a diet soft drink?
WSJ: Why should any regular sodas be sold in middle or high schools?
Mr. Isdell: It’s high schools where the current policy we have is 50% noncarbonated drinks. In the middle schools [full-calorie sodas are sold from vending machines] only after school [according to an industrywide agreement.]
I saw this interesting piece on a guy in California who came out very strongly and said, “Why am I allowed to vote and I can own a gun, but I can’t choose my own soft drink?” I think when you reach high school, you do have a level of sophistication and you can be allowed to choose what you wish…. There are some schools where some kids are making good money bootlegging soft drinks in and selling them to students…. I think that is not all bad for us. After all, every kid likes being rebellious.

MPS Plans Free Web Access

Tom Held:

Looking to give poorer students the technological muscle to scale the “digital divide,” the Milwaukee Public Schools district is turning to the promise of an emerging wireless service described as “Wi-Fi on steroids.”
Using WiMax, MPS would provide free broadband Internet service to the homes of all MPS students and staff.
The district would be one of the first public entities in the country to launch a WiMax system, using television channels that the Federal Communications Commission allocated for educational purposes. A pilot system covering roughly 5 square miles is scheduled to be operating by August 2007.

Conflicting Interests

John D. Wiley:

Having said all this, let me turn, now, to some of the reasons for the growing public cries for better accountability, and some of the problems I think we need to address in our system of self-regulation:
1. Even in the best-performing universities, there is still considerable room for improvement. To mention one high-visibility area, I think it is nothing short of scandalous that, in 2006, the average six-year graduation rate is only around 50 percent nationwide. Either we are doing a disservice to under-prepared or unqualified students by admitting them in the first place, or we are failing perfectly capable students by not giving them the advising and other help they need to graduate. Either way, we are wasting money and human capital inexcusably. Even at universities like mine, where the graduation rate is now 80 percent, if there are peer institutions doing better (and there are), then 80 percent should be considered unacceptably low.
Now, if we were pressured to increase that number quickly to 85 percent or 90 percent and threatened with severe sanctions for failing to do so, we could meet any established goal by lowering our graduation standards, or by fudging our numbers in plausibly defensible ways, or by doing any number of other things that would satisfy our self-interest but fail the public-interest test. Who’s to stop us? Well, I submit these are exactly the sorts of conflicts of interest the accrediting organizations should be expected to monitor and resolve in the public interest. The public interest is in a better-educated public, not in superficial compliance with some particular standard. The public relies on accreditors to keep their eye on the right ball. More generally, accrediting organizations are in an excellent — maybe even unique — position to identify best practices and transfer them from one colleges to another, improving our entire system of higher education.

Minority Student Achievement Network Conference on Saturday 4/22 at J.C. Wright

Via a an email from Johnny Winston, Jr.

The Madison Metropolitan School District presents its 2nd Annual Minority Student Achievement Network Conference for students of color on Saturday April 22, 2006 at 8 am to 2 pm at James C. Wright Middle School located at 1717 Fish Hatchery Road. Students and families of middle school children are invited. If you have questions, please contact Diane Crear, Special Assistant to the Superintendent at 204-1692 or Michelle Olson, Minority Services Coordinator at LaFollette High School at 204-3661.
Topic for students and parents include: Achieving in High School, Health Matters, Goal Setting, Careers in Journalism and Science; SPITE programs and “Success for your Student.” Keynote address by the performance group “Elements of Change.” Refreshments will be provided during the morning and lunch in the afternoon at no cost to the participants. There will be limited on-site registration.
Hope to see you on Saturday April 22nd at the MMSD’s 2nd Annual Minority Student Achievement Network Conference at 8 am to 2 pm at James C. Wright Middle School.
Please share this information with other interested persons or organizations. Thank you.

States Help Schools Hide Minority Scores

Frank Bass, Nicole Ziegler Dizon and Ben Feller:

States are helping public schools escape potential penalties by skirting the No Child Left Behind law’s requirement that students of all races must show annual academic progress.
With the federal government’s permission, schools aren’t counting the test scores of nearly 2 million students when they report progress by racial groups, an Associated Press computer analysis found.
Minorities – who historically haven’t fared as well as whites in testing – make up the vast majority of students whose scores are being excluded, AP found. And the numbers have been rising.
“I can’t believe that my child is going through testing just like the person sitting next to him or her and she’s not being counted,” said Angela Smith, a single mother. Her daughter, Shunta’ Winston, was among two dozen black students whose test scores weren’t broken out by race at her suburban Kansas City, Mo., high school.
To calculate a nationwide estimate, AP analyzed the 2003-04 enrollment figures the government collected – the latest on record – and applied the current racial category exemptions the states use.
Overall, AP found that about 1.9 million students – or about 1 in every 14 test scores – aren’t being counted under the law’s racial categories. Minorities are seven times as likely to have their scores excluded as whites, the analysis showed.
Less than 2 percent of white children’s scores aren’t being counted as a separate category. In contrast, Hispanics and blacks have roughly 10 percent of their scores excluded. More than one-third of Asian scores and nearly half of American Indian scores aren’t broken out, AP found.

Citizens’ Commission on Civil Rights website.
Carrie Antifinger notes that the loophole snares 33% of Wisconsin minority students.
Andrew Rotherham:

First, a reader of some of the back and forth might end up thinking that the law requires some minimum subgroup or that the feds set the subgroup size. It doesn’t, they don’t. Here are the exact AYP regulations from the Federal Register (pdf) and here is Ed Trust’s explanatory piece. It’s left up to the states although the feds approve the state plans and consequently have approved the various sizes in effect now. Now they’re trying to figure out how to clean up (pdf) some of the mess they’ve created.

Students Receive Academic Honors

Via the Capital Times:

Three Madison students are among 800 high school seniors honored for their academic excellence by the National Achievement Scholarship Program, which recognizes talented African-American youths.
Aubrey M. Chamberlain and Adeyinka Lesi, both seniors at West High School, and Kayla M. McClendon, a senior at Memorial High School, were named Achievement Scholarship winners.
The National Achievement Program, a privately financed academic competition, is conducted by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation. Competitors for the award were chosen based on their high scores on the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test, taken when the students were juniors. Finalists were judged on their academic record, recommendation by their high school principals, submission of an essay about personal interests and goals, and earning an SAT score that confirmed their PSAT performance.

The heterogeneous debate: Some say best students get short shrift

Sandy Cullen:

Some parents say the Madison School District’s spending cuts, combined with its attempts to close the achievement gap, have reduced opportunities for higher-achieving students.
Jeff Henriques, a parent of two high-achieving students, said one of the potential consequences he sees is “bright flight” – families pulling students with higher abilities out of the district and going elsewhere because their needs aren’t being met.
One of the larger examples of this conflict is surfacing in the district’s move toward creating “heterogeneous” classes that include students of all achievement levels, eliminating classes that group students of similar achievement levels together.
Advocates of heterogeneous classes say students achieving at lower levels benefit from being in classes with their higher-achieving peers. But some parents of higher-achieving students are concerned their children won’t be fully challenged in such classes – at a time when the amount of resources going to talented and gifted, or TAG, programs is also diminishing.

Check out Part I and Part II of Cullen’s series.
Watch Professor Gamoran’s presentation, along with others related to the homogeneous / heterogeneous grouping debate here. Links and commentary and discussion on West’s English 10. Jason Shepherd took a look at these issues in his “Fate of the Schools” article.

Madison Schools Make Effort to Close the Achievement Gap

Sandy Cullen:

Working in conjunction with the Schools of Hope project led by the United Way of Dane County, the district has made progress in third-grade reading scores at the lowest achievement levels. But racial and income gaps persist among third-graders reading at proficient and advanced levels.
Other initiatives are taking place in the middle and high schools. There, the district has eliminated “dead-end classes” that have less rigorous expectations to eliminate the chance that students will be put on a path of lower achievement because they are perceived as not being able to succeed in higher-level classes.
In the past, high school students were able to take classes such as general or consumer math. Now, all students are required to take algebra and geometry – or two credits of integrated mathematics, combining algebra, statistics and probability, geometry and trigonometry – in order to graduate.
One of the district’s more controversial efforts has been a move toward “heterogeneous” classes that include students of all achievement levels, eliminating classes that group students of similar achievement levels together.
Advocates of heterogeneous classes say students who are achieving at lower levels benefit from being in classes with their higher-achieving peers. But others say the needs of higher-achieving students aren’t met in such classes.
And in addition to what schools are already doing, Superintendent Art Rainwater said he would like to put learning coaches for math and reading in each of the district’s elementary schools to improve teachers’ ability to teach all students effectively.

The first part of Cullen’s series is here.

In Carson, Teachers Say No Thanks to Grant

Mitchell Landsberg:

The concept of Talent Development rests largely on two pillars. One is a special ninth-grade “academy” that focuses extra attention on freshmen, who are at the highest risk of dropping out. Once students make it to 10th grade, the odds are strong that they will graduate.
The other pillar involves a different way of scheduling classes. Known as the “four-by-four block schedule,” it breaks the school year into quarters, and the school day into four 90-minute classes. The idea is to make each course more intensive, collapsing a semester’s work into 10 weeks. It also gives students the opportunity to take more courses over a school year — 16, compared with 12 in a typical schedule. If a student flunks a class, there are more opportunities to make it up.
John Francis Polytechnic High School in Sun Valley adopted the four-by-four schedule in 2004, along with other aspects of the Talent Development program. Last June, 92% of its ninth-graders had enough credits to move up to 10th grade, about one-third more than the previous year.

Milwaukee schools build their budgets

The Web site of the Milwaukee schools includes the documents school use to build their budgets. Unlike the MMSD, which creates a budget in a black box at the top, the Milwaukee district appears to build a budget publicly from the bottom up. I prefer Milwaukee’s approach.

Promises Betrayed

Five years ago we moved to Madison. A big factor in this decision was the expectation that we could rely on Madison public schools to educate our children. Our eldest went through West High School. To our delight the rigorous academic environment at West High transformed him into a better student, and he got accepted at several good public universities.
Now we are finding this promise betrayed for our younger children. Our elementary school appears to be sliding into disarray. Teachers and children are threatened, bullied, assaulted, and cursed at. Curricula are dumbed down to accommodate students who are unprepared for real school work. Cuts in special education are leaving the special needs kids adrift, and adding to the already impossible burdens of classroom teachers. To our disappointment we are forced to pull one child out of public school, simply to ensure her an orderly and safe learning environment.
Unless the School Board addresses these challenges forcefully and without obfuscation, I am afraid a historic mistake will be made. Madison schools will slip into a vicious cycle of middle class flight and steady decline. The very livability of our city might be at stake, not to mention our property values.
To me the necessary step is clear. The bottom five to ten percent of students, and especially all the aggressive kids, must be removed from regular classes. They should be concentrated in separate schools where they can receive the extra attention and intensive instruction they need, with an option to join regular classes if they are ready.


Richard Davis Birthday Bash Audio / Video

Richard Davis’s Friday night Birthday Bash (Richard mentioned that his birthday is actually tax day, April 15) seemed an appropriate way to wrap up a beautiful Madison week, with temperatures reaching into the 70’s. The bash was held Friday night at Mills Hall and included participants from the Bass Conference Faculty.

Audio / Video:

Conference pictures are available here.

More on Richard: Wikipedia | Clusty | Google | Yahoo

The Changing Face of Madison’s Schools

Sandy Cullen:

Other school districts surrounding Madison also are seeing an increase in minority and low-income students.
In Sun Prairie and Verona, the percentage of minority students is more than five times what it was in the early 1990s, while the percentage of low-income students in Verona has more than doubled. Both districts also have seen significant growth in the number of Hispanic students who are not proficient in English.
Private schools in the Madison area also are seeing increases in their percentage of minority students. In the last seven years, minority enrollment increased 54 percent at Edgewood High School, where minorities now make up nearly 12 percent of the student body. At Madison Country Day School, in the Waunakee School District, 17 percent of its 247 students are minorities, up from 15 percent in 1997.
Between 1997 and 2004, enrollment at private schools in the Madison School District increased by 400 students, according to figures compiled by the district. Edgewood spokeswoman Kate Ripple said most Madison students who enroll in the private Catholic high school do so because of its faith component.

Madison Schools, New Population, New Challenges

Sandy Cullen:

Twenty-five years ago, less than 10 percent of the district’s students were minorities and relatively few lived in poverty. Today, there are almost as many minority students as white, and nearly 40 percent of all students are considered poor – many of them minority students. And the number of students who aren’t native English speakers has more than quadrupled.
“The school district looks a lot different from 1986 when I graduated,” said Madison School Board member Johnny Winston Jr.
The implications of this shift for the district and the city of Madison are huge, city and school officials say. Academic achievement levels of minority and low-income students continue to lag behind those of their peers. Dropout, suspension and expulsion rates also are higher for minority students.
“Generally speaking, children who grow up in poverty do not come to school with the same skills and background” that enable their wealthier peers to be successful, Superintendent Art Rainwater said. “I think there are certainly societal issues that are race-related that also affect the school environment.”
While the demographics of the district’s students have changed dramatically, the makeup of the district as a whole doesn’t match.
The overall population within the school district, which includes most of Madison along with parts of some surrounding municipalities, is predominantly white and far less likely to be poor. And most taxpayers in the district do not have school-age children, statistics show, a factor some suggest makes it harder to pass referendums to increase taxes when schools are seeking more money.
Forty-four percent of Madison public school students are minorities, while more than 80 percent of residents in the city are white, according to U.S. Census figures for 2000, the most recent year available. And since 1991, the percentage of district students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches has nearly doubled to 39 percent; in 2000, only 15 percent of Madison’s residents were below the poverty level.
Although the city’s minority and low-income population has increased since the 2000 census, it’s “nowhere near what it is in the schools,” said Dan Veroff, director of the Applied Population Laboratory in UW- Madison’s department of rural sociology.

Barb Schrank asked “Where have all the Students Gone? in November, 2005:

There’s a lot more at work in the MMSD’s flat or slightly declining enrollment than Cullen’s article discusses. These issues include:

Thoreau’s most recent PTO meeting, which included 50 parent and teacher participants, illustrates a few of the issues that I believe are driving some families to leave: growing math curriculum concerns and the recent imposition of mandatory playground grouping without any prior parent/PTO discussion.
Student losses, or the MMSD’s failure to capture local population growth directly affects the district’s ability to grow revenue (based on per student spending and annual budget increases under the state’s revenue caps).
The MMSD’s failure to address curriculum and govenance concerns will simply increase the brain flight and reduces the number of people supporting the necessary referendums. Jason Shepherd’s recent article is well worth reading for additional background.
Finally, Mary Kay Battaglia put together some of these numbers in December with her “This is not Your Grandchild’s Madison School District“.

Building Knowledge: The Case for Bringing Content into the Language Arts Block

E.D. Hirsch, Jr.:

I am sure that the power of vested interests is vastly exaggerated compared with the gradual encroachment of ideas…. Soon or late, it is ideas, not vested interests, which are dangerous for good or evil.
—J. M. Keynes
The General Theory of Employment,
Interest, and Money
Consider the following sentence, which is one that most literate Americans can understand, but most literate British people cannot, even when they have a wide vocabulary and know the conventions of the standard language:
Jones sacrificed and knocked in a run.
Typically, a literate British person would know all the words in the sentence yet wouldn’t comprehend it. (In fairness, most Americans would be equally baffled by a sentence about the sport of cricket.)

Views on California’s Proposition 82 (preschool for all 4 year olds)

Two articles on Proposition 82:

  • Dana Hull:

    It sounds like a no-brainer for advocates of early childhood education: a state ballot initiative that would offer preschool to every 4-year-old in California, free of charge to parents. What preschool wouldn’t be all for that?
    But as the June 6 election approaches, an increasingly vocal number of preschools are lining up against it.
    Some Montessori schools fear Proposition 82, dubbed the Preschool for All Act, would lead to state standards that could compromise their teaching methods and mixed-age classrooms. Faith-based preschools say they would be at a competitive disadvantage because the measure wouldn’t fund schools that offer religious instruction. Others worry a requirement that teachers earn a bachelor’s degree would drive them out of business.
    “I am going to vote no, and I am very much in favor of universal preschool,” said Bonnie Mathisen, director of Discovery Children’s House, a Montessori school in Palo Alto. “I just feel that Prop. 82 is not the right way to go about it. When you get down to the nitty-gritty, a lot of preschools will be left out.”

  • Dana Hull:

    The children, ages 3 to 6, are part of a class of 28 at Casa di Mir Montessori School in Campbell. While many schools group children by age, Montessori believes children of different ages teach, help and learn from each other.
    Tara started the year as a kindergartner at a local elementary school, where her parents were stunned to learn there was homework. She rebelled against its structure, and her parents struggled with what to do. In January, they enrolled Tara at Casa di Mir.
    “Montessori is perfect for her,” says Haleh, Tara’s mom. “They don’t ring a bell to start class; they play a flute. She wrote a four-page journal about cats.”

  • Joanne Jacobs has more