High School Redesign & Academic Rigor: East High United Meeting 11/9 @ 7:00p.m.

With all of the talk about the district’s high schools going through a redesign process (similar to what the middle schools did last summer), I think it’s important that as many interested people as possible attend the East High United meeting at 7 p.m. on Nov. 9 at East High School [map/directions].
I recently asked principal Alan Harris about English 9 and whether it would continue to be divided into three ability groupings: TAG, Academically Motivated, and regular. I was pleased to find out that they no longer call one section Academically Motivated. Instead, it’s called Advanced.
At any rate, Alan told me that assistant principal David Watkins is the best contact for all information regarding core academics (English, Math, Science, Social Studies). He also told me that they are in the current planning stages for next year and can’t say whether ability groupings will be offered.
Alan stated: “At our East High United meeting on November ninth, at 7:00 we will be discussing our Vision 2012 goals related to high expectations. Advanced classes, TAG programming and curriculum expectations will be a part of this discussion.”
If TAG programming, high expectations, and academic rigor are important to you, please attend this meeting and voice your concerns.
Thank you,
Alan Sanderfoot
H 608.242.7344
E sanderfoot at charter.net

Dane County health insurance costs are lowest in Wisconsin

A new study by the Institute for One Wisconsin found that Dane County had the lowest regional health insurance cost in the state, as did the Madison metropolitan area compared to other metro areas.
The analysis by the nonprofit research and education organization, which supports a progressive agenda, found that there was a nearly 30 percent cost variation between the highest and lowest cost areas.
Northwestern Wisconsin had the highest costs by region, followed by west-central and then southeastern Wisconsin. The Racine metro area had the highest cost, followed by the Chippewa Valley and then La Crosse.
By Anita Weier, The Capitol Times, October 31, 2006.
October 31, 2006


Chuckle from the MMSD budget

I know that decision-makers often try to bury items in budgets, planning documents, and legislation, but I had to chuckle at one that I found in an MMSD budgte document that details spending on consultants. Here’s how the explanation of a consulting expenditure of $159,144 reads:

debate and forensics, accompanists for choral/band/orchestra concerts and rehearsals and jazz directors, piano/organ player for graduation, consultant for developing middle school guidance program, drama (costume designers, pit orchestra, lighting, set designers). Other expenses are speakers for all school assemblies, artists in residence, speakers for various classes.

Now isn’t it odd that an expenditure for a “consultant for developing middle school guidance program” get buried in a long list of items for the performing arts? Could a reasonable person believe that someone was trying to hid the expenditure for a consultant for developing middle school guidance program?
I asked the MMSD to provide a breakout of the expenditure for the guidance program consultant.
Feel free to search for other oddities in the million dollar budget for consultants. Click here for a PDF of the expenditures.

Toss Out the PR Playbook

As a senior adviser and former president of Public Agenda, I’m often asked to interpret public-opinion research in relation to the priorities of major education groups. These groups are seeking information that can help them refine their “messaging” strategies to promote a particular agenda.
“Messaging,” when it assumes that the solution is a given, merely in need of better packaging, is the last thing education reform needs more of. What is undeniably needed in its stead is authentic public engagement, and lots more of it.
The American public education system is facing multiple challenges that are unique in its history, and its ability to respond will depend on greater public involvement and understanding than has been evident to date.
By Deborah Wadsworth, Education Week, October 25, 2006


Madison School District Healthcare Cost Savings

The Madison School District Board of Education approved a collective bargaining contract with the custodial units last night in which the custodians agreed to move from their current health care plans (GHC and the Alliance PPO) to a 3 HMO plan which is GHC, Dean Care and Physicans Plus. MMSD continues to pay 100% of the premium, but there are cost savings associated with this change. 85% of those costs savings was passed on to employees in salary and 15% went to MMSD.
This change is effective 1/1/2007. A big benefit of this change is that Administrators will also move to the 3 HMO option.
I’ve not seen an MMSD press on this important issue, but this is what I understand is happening.
Health care expense links.
This is a very positive development, particularly given the inaction on this topic in the recent past and one I believe helps support the 11/7/2006 referendum.
MMSD Press Release.

Conserving Energy in the Madison School District


The cooler weather that arrived early this year forced many people to turn on their heat much sooner than they might have hoped. The high cost of heating is compounded for the Madison Metro School District, which pays about three million dollars a year in utilities. Recently, the district has gotten creative about conserving energy, and money, with a little help from energy conservation group Focus on Energy.
“Every dollar we save in an energy bill is a dollar that can be put back into the classroom,” says Doug Pearson, with MMSD.

NCLB Exemptions

Wall Street Journal Editorial:

For example, the Education Department has granted a waiver to Chicago’s public schools, even though that system has been identified repeatedly as “in need of improvement” under NCLB and therefore not allowed to provide after-school tutoring. There is no shortage of private providers — from Newton Learning to Sylvan to the Princeton Review — willing to step in and serve the 200,000 or so students in the Windy City eligible for free tutoring.
But under pressure from teachers unions and public education bureaucrats like the Council of the Great City Schools, Ms. Spellings is allowing the Chicago system to offer its own tutoring. And with predictable results. After assuring the secretary that it would not limit student access to private tutoring, Chicago is doing exactly that. Principals have been directed to give preference to the district’s service and limit parent and student access to alternatives. Teachers have handed out registration forms for the district’s tutoring program at events where outside providers were banned. A full third of all students enrolled in tutoring are enrolled in the public district’s program.

More on Teacher Merit Pay

Stanford’s Terry Moe:

The Department of Education recently announced its first grants in a new $94-million program to fund incentive-pay plans for teachers. The money itself is a drop in the bucket for a public school industry that spends more than $400 billion annually. And only a small portion of the nation’s school districts will be chosen to participate. But the idea — that a teacher’s pay should depend in part on how much his students actually learn — is revolutionary. It is also common sense.
The current system makes no sense at all. Beyond a brief probationary period, teachers have lifetime job security (tenure) and are virtually impossible to dismiss even if their students learn absolutely nothing year after year. Their pay, moreover, is based entirely on a salary schedule defined by seniority and credentials, and takes no account of whether their students are learning anything. All teachers, good and bad, are rewarded equally — a truly dumb idea. With this kind of reward structure, teachers are not given strong incentives to promote student learning to the fullest, because nothing happens to them one way or the other. Good teachers do not gain from their successes; mediocre teachers suffer no consequences for their failures. So why strive extra hard to get students to achieve? Taking it easy yields the same rewards.
To make matters worse, teachers who are especially talented, skilled and effective — qualities that employers throughout the economy are looking for — are well aware that their superior value will only be rewarded if they leave teaching for another career, which many of them do. Mediocre teachers, meantime, have the same lifetime security and pay as the good teachers. And people of low quality have especially strong reason to seek out these jobs and remain in the system until retirement, because almost nowhere else (outside government) would their poor performance be tolerated — indeed, rewarded. The disconnect between pay and performance, then, inevitably affects the quality and motivational character of the entire pool of people who wind up in the classroom.

Recent comments on merit pay. More on Terry Moe.

More on the 11/7/2006 Madison Schools Referendum

Andy Hall:

The outcomes of previous ballot measures have varied.
Voters approved six of seven referendums offered from 1995 to 2003.
In May 2005, district voters approved a referendum exempting $29.2 million in maintenance and equipment expenses from state revenue limits through 2010.
Voters rejected two other measures, though, that would have exempted $7.4 million in operating costs from revenue limits and would have approved $14.5 million for renovations and a second school on the Leopold site.
The School Board then decided to press ahead with a scaled-down project at Leopold, paying for it — at least for now — out of the operating budget.

More on the referendum here. Meanwhile, Janesville has a $70M question for voters.

Breaking Down The Ivory Tower: Study Finds Ed Schools in Poor Shape

Jay Matthews:

This should be a shining moment for education schools. Never has the nation paid so much attention to improving the quality of teaching. Yet the institutions that produce teachers have never faced so much criticism.
Teacher education is the Dodge City of the education world,” said Arthur Levine, former president of Columbia University’s Teachers College. “Like the fabled Wild West town, it is unruly and chaotic.”
Stanford University educational historian David F. Labaree wrote in a recent book: “Institutionally, the ed school is the Rodney Dangerfield of higher education; it don’t get no respect. The ed school is the butt of jokes in the university, where professors portray it as an intellectual wasteland.”
The attacks have become so frequent and intense that some educators say they have gone too far. But a growing number of educators say ed schools fail to give teachers enough background in their subject matter, fail to prepare them for the difficulties of urban schools and fail to recruit the best students.

New Jersey’s “Robin Hood” School Finance System Faces Questions

Winnie Hu:

Garfield is a so-called Abbott school district, one of 31 poor districts that have received a total of $35 billion in state aid since 1997 as part of an ambitious court-ordered social experiment to narrow the achievement gap between rich and poor students, whites and minorities. In a decision that set a precedent for school equality cases nationwide, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that the poorest urban school districts should be given the resources to spend as much on their students as the wealthiest suburban districts do.
In the meantime, state education officials plan to audit all 31 Abbotts in the next year after finding that the highest-spending districts were making the fewest gains. Asbury Park spent the most, $18,661 per student, in the 2004-5 school year. Still, slightly fewer than half the district’s fourth-grade students were proficient in state language arts and math tests in 2005. “What we know is lots of money has been spent, and in some places, there is very little to show,” said Lucille E. Davy, the education commissioner.
For their part, the Abbott districts have criticized what they see as a bureaucratic system that undermines local authority and forces them to adopt programs that they do not need. For instance, Patrick Gagliardi, the Hoboken superintendent, said that he is required to provide full-day preschool to every 3- and 4-year-old child in his district, regardless of income, a mandate that now benefits many affluent families. “The court intended to help poor people, not the wealthy,” he said. “Now it’s costing the state more money, and it’s inefficient and flawed.”

LA adds More Charters (now 103) With Some Interesting Commentary

Naush Boghossian:

LAUSD has 103 of the independent public schools, the most of any district in the nation. It has opened 40 charters since 2005.
Young projects that the LAUSD will continue to add 20 to 30 charters a year. Statewide, more than 300 charter schools are in development.
District officials, as well as the president of the teachers union, bristle at assertions by the Charter Schools Association that middle and high school charters are significantly outperforming their district counterparts.
A fairer comparison would be with the district’s magnet schools, which outperform charters, school board member Jon Lauritzen said.
“I think it’s basically unfair to compare an entity that is able to take their entire budget and focus it entirely on their own schools,” he said. “They have some real advantages over our schools in the flexibility of actually providing the type of education that a particular community wants, whereas we are trying to provide a curriculum that works for everyone all across the school district.”
Earlier this year, Lauritzen was unsuccessful in his bid to place a moratorium on approving additional charters.

Seeking an equal say in schools’ future

Carla Rivera:

By the end of the day one thing was clear: Parents, teachers and community organizations want an equal say in determining how the district will be remade.
illaraigosa acknowledged as much in his opening remarks to the group of 100 or so people, who represented church groups, businesses, human services agencies, city and county departments, law enforcement, city councils and numerous schools.
“This issue of ‘mayor control’ is a misnomer,” he told the meeting — billed as an education retreat — at the Doheny campus of Mount St. Mary’s College near downtown. “This is the perfect example of a partnership. I don’t need to bring 200 people together if I was just going to do it alone.”

A close observer of the Madison public education scene for a number of years, I’ve seen this tension grow, something reflected in recent referenda results and board elections.
On the one hand, we have statements from top Administrators like “we have the children” to teachers, on the other; staff and parents very unhappy with a top down, one size fits all approach to many issues (see the most recent example of substantive changes without public discussion). Parental interest and influence (the use of the term influence does not reflect today’s current reality) ranges from those who are extremely active with respect to systemic issues and those active for individual children to various stages of participation and indifference.
In 2006, I believe that parents and citizens continue to have a much smaller role in our K-12 public system governance than they should, given our children’s interests and the District’s source of funds such as property taxes, fees, sales and income taxes recycled through state and federal spending. Madison’s school climate is certainly not unique (Nielsen’s Participation Inequality is a good read in this context).
Peter Gascoyne asked some useful questions in response to Gene Hickok’s recent Washington Post piece. I “think” that Hickok was driving in the direction of a much more substantive parental role in education.

Revenue From (Developer) Growth Tax Falls Short of Promises

Miranda Spivack:

A Montgomery County “growth tax” law designed to force builders to pay for new roads and schools to ease the impact of development has raised substantially less money than promised by its supporters.
County officials had predicted that the 2003 law, which created a tax to help pay for schools and increased an existing roads tax, would generate as much as $66 million over the past two years. Instead, the amount raised has totaled about $37 million.
Although the shortfall was caused in part by a slowdown in the housing market, more than a third — about $13.5 million — of the anticipated funds were not collected because the County Council allowed a four-month delay before the new taxes took effect. That lag set off a rush by builders to apply for permits before the March 1, 2004, deadline.

“More Straight Talk from Bill Cosby”

Deborah Schoch:

But while some black leaders and educators have condemned his criticisms, he was greeted with sustained applause Saturday when he took on the black educational system in front of hundreds of Los Angeles area parents, teachers and students at Maranatha Community Church in the Crenshaw district.
Cosby was the keynote speaker at a forum titled “Education Is a Civil Right,” organized by local black educators to help forge an African American education agenda.
No subject was sacred.
Cosby chastised those black parents who he said fail to involve themselves in their children’s education, know what subjects they’re studying, visit their schools or meet the teachers. Some fail to monitor their children’s habits, he said.
“We’ve got parents who won’t check the bedrooms of their children to see if there’s a gun,” he said.
He chided teachers for not explaining clearly to students who ask, “Why do I need to know this?” that their algebra and English classes can help them obtain higher-paying jobs.

The Entrepreneurial Imperative

Denis P. Doyle:

What if we were to start from scratch? Would we design a similar system? Hopefully not. To the contrary, we would recognize that schooling should fit the cultural and economic system of which it is a part, and we are a long way from the agrarian calendar and factory model which inspired the modern school. Today’s reality is latch-key kids, working moms, high tech, high touch (games and tools): in a word, multitasking. The social order kids are part of is a world with few adult role models. It is the peer group that dominates, which is impressionable, with no institutional memory, flexible to the point of chaos, open, innovative and more than ever in need of structure and adult guidance.
Indeed, the two most pressing needs of modern culture and the economy are a safe place for children to be from dawn till dusk, year ‘round, and mastery of the knowledge and skills kids need to take their place in society when they grow up. No social institution (save only the family) is better prepared to serve these needs than the school. But not as it is presently organized. It should look like the modern high tech firm – open 24/7, year ‘round, with rank established not by time in the saddle but by demonstrated accomplishment.
Imagine a school which is open when the family needs child care and that provides a constant stream of academically oriented enrichment activities; one that is standards-based (not age-based) in which you advance at your own pace. These deceptively simple structural changes would have a profound impact – for example, for whatever reason, students could “stop out” for days, weeks or months at a time, returning to where they left off when they came back. They could do so to join an expedition, live abroad, prepare for exams, participate in Olympic training, or simply take a break.

Book link.

Paying More for Good Teachers

Jason Shephard:

If Wisconsin lawmakers ever get around to seriously pondering changes in K-12 education, they should ask UW-Madison professor Allan Odden about research linking teacher bonuses to student performance.
“Democrats, Republicans, big-city schools and small rural schools all want to change teacher pay structures,” says Odden, co-director of the UW’s Consortium for Policy Research in Education. “The real challenge is getting viable ideas and plans on the table.”
Across the country, school districts have had mixed success with merit-pay programs, lately dubbed “performance pay” to broaden political appeal.
In January, Houston expanded its school-based bonus system to target individual teachers, who can receive $3,000 bonuses if students meet performance expectations. Last year, Denver began a $25 million plan that pays more to teachers who earn advanced degrees, take tough assignments and meet student-achievement goals. And California lawmakers last year proposed a constitutional amendment linking teacher pay to student performance.
But, as with many other educational reforms, Wisconsin has been slow to embrace merit pay. This, says Odden, may be because educational leaders here are “a little bit squeamish about testing and uncertain about strong state accountability measures.”

Most Young People Entering the U.S. Workforce Lack Critical Skills Essential For Success

Partnership for 21st Century Skills, The Conference Board, Corporate Voices for Working Families and the Society for Human Resource Management:

As the baby boom generation slowly exits the U.S. workplace, a new survey of leaders from a consortium of business research organizations finds the incoming generation sorely lacking in much needed workplace skills — both basic academic and more advanced “applied” skills, according to a report released today.
The report is based on a detailed survey of 431 human resource officials that was conducted in April and May 2006 by The Conference Board, Corporate Voices for Working Families, the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, and the Society for Human Resource Management. Its objective was to examine employers’ views on the readiness of new entrants to the U.S. workforce — recently hired graduates from high schools, two-year colleges or technical schools, and four-year colleges.
“The future workforce is here, and it is ill-prepared,” concludes the report.
The findings reflect employers’ growing frustrations over the preparedness of new entrants to the workforce. Employers expect young people to arrive with a core set of basic knowledge and the ability to apply their skills in the workplace – and the reality is not matching the expectation.

Complete 3.5MB PDF report | PDF Workforce Readiness Report Card

The Education Revolution America Needs

Eugene Hickok:

Even if Secretary Spellings were right that NCLB is 99.9% pure, it still would not be the formula for what ails American education.
The current debate over NCLB overlooks a critical problem: Nothing the administration does under NCLB will ensure the law’s promise that every child will be proficient in reading and math by 2014. For reasons unrelated to the law’s merit, NCLB is simply not up to the task. Something far more profound and transformative must happen for American education to offer every child the opportunity to succeed.
The deeper problem is the existing institutional architecture of American public education. No Child Left Behind erects an accountability system atop the status quo and requires states to provide families with options when schools fail. But public education governance, structure, finance, management and politics remain intact.
Here is the heart of the problem: American public education — because of the way it is structured, administered, funded and understood by parents, teachers, administrators and taxpayers — is incapable of delivering on the promises of NCLB. The root of the problem isn’t in the law; it’s in the American education system. It can’t get there from here.

Getting out information about MMSD health insurance costs: some progress

At the October 23, 2006 meeting of the Human Resources Committee for the Madison School Board, I reported on why the Board of Education and employee representatives should work together to reduce future health insurance costs.
With one exception, my data came directly from the September 25 presentation by Bob Butler, attorney-consultant for the Wisconsin Association for School Boards. Madison School Board HR Committee: Health Care Costs Discussion What’s new in my presentation [880K pdf version]is the cost for employee health insurance in 2006-07 ($43.3M) and the portion of this year’s budget that goes to pay for health insurance (13%).
Here’s the short version of my presentation.
Reason 1: Health insurance costs for school districts are increasing at higher rates than for the private sector or other government employers in Wisconsin.
Reason 2:
The percentage of the district’s operating budget that goes to health insurance is large and growing rapidly.

  • $43,303,350 will go to employee health insurance for 2006-07
  • 13% of the total budget for 2006-07 will go to employee health insurance
  • 17% of the budget under revenue limits will go to employee health insurance

Reason 3: Spending more and more on health insurance means that the district must go to strategies such as cutting positions, not replacing employees that retire, increasing class sizes, or creating positions that do not qualify for health insurance in order to balance the budget.
Reason 4: Health insurance costs are drastically reducing dollars that can go to pay competitive wages.
Reason 5: Health insurance costs are also drastically reducing post-retirement benefits to our employees.
Reason 6: Changes in providers and plans can significantly affect future costs.
Reason 7: Districts can have a significant impact on future health insurance costs by working with employee representatives to propose changes in plan designs, providers and wellness plans.


Working on a Scientific Mindset

Joel Dresang:

With the shift from manufacturing to a knowledge-based economy, the call for workers schooled in the sciences, technology, engineering and math is expanding. At the same time, the region also needs more jobs in the sciences to stimulate greater pursuit of those careers.
“Every job out there incorporates science into it,” says Creapeau, who has an associate’s degree from Milwaukee Area Technical College. “Science isn’t just your chemistry, physics, classes like that. It’s analytical skills. It’s being able to figure something out with the variables you’re given. You know, that’s present in every job.”
It’s an area of social justice in our school district,” says Lauren Baker, coordinator of career and technical education at Milwaukee Public Schools. Too few Milwaukee students are exposed to scientists and engineers and need to discover the opportunities in those fields, Baker says. “Our kids can do the kinds of jobs they see around them, but it won’t get them out of poverty,” Baker says. “STEM occupations get kids out of poverty.”
Using broad measures of occupational employment, the four-county Milwaukee area is on par with the national average for jobs in the sciences, math and engineering, especially when health care is included. But Milwaukee lags behind rates in some other nearby cities, including Minneapolis, Indianapolis, St. Louis, Omaha, Neb., and Madison.
“My gut reaction is we’re not doing all that well. Madison is doing much better,” says Jill Zoromski, managing director for the Milwaukee-based employment recruiting wing of Capital H Group.

Educational Attainment by State: Wisconsin 9th in High School Graduates and 33rd in College Grads

US Census Bureau. The data is aggregated a variety of ways, including by state. Minnesota ranks first in the percentage of population 25 and older who have a high school diploma (Wisconsin is 9th) while Connecticut ranks first in the percentage with Bachelor’s degrees at 36.8% (Wisconsin is 33rd at 25%). .xls file.
Census Bureau press release:

Adults age 18 and older with a bachelor’s degree earned an average of $51,554 in 2004, while those with a high school diploma earned $28,645, according to new tabulations released today by the U.S. Census Bureau. Those without a high school diploma earned an average of $19,169.
The series of tables, Educational Attainment in the United States: 2005, also showed advanced-degree holders made an average of $78,093.

It will be interesting to see which way the Madison school district goes – one size fits all ala West High’s English 9 & 10 [Bruce King’s report] or toward a more rigorous, college prep/technical curriculum. One hopeful sign is Johnny Winston Jr.’s recent statement that education is “not one size fits all“. We’ll see how this plays out and if the school board is active on this question.

Gates Foundation Shifts High School Strategy

Debra Viadero:

Since 2001, the American Institutes for Research, based in Washington, and SRI International, of Menlo Park, Calif., have been evaluating progress in a sample of Gates-funded schools in four districts. But foundation officials told the two research groups last year that they planned to pull the plug on that study. The foundation intends instead to forge a new study plan centered around building a database to monitor educational performance in every school it supports.
The studies conducted to date have not found dramatic gains in student achievement in the experimental schools. But Tom Vander Ark, the executive director for education initiatives at the Seattle-based philanthropy, said that Gates was not altering its evaluation strategy to “paint a rosier picture” of the results.

Superintendent’s Efforts to Improve 134,000 Student Maryland District

Nelson Hernandez and Daniel de Vise:

Deasy has vowed to raise the county’s test scores, which have increased in recent years, by reallocating staff to the system’s worst-performing schools, bolstering teacher recruitment and retention, improving parental participation, and giving children more opportunities and better training to participate in Advanced Placement courses.
“You need not be concerned about the level of gravity in which we take it,” Deasy told the board. “You need to be concerned about the celebration when we meet our goals.”

Milwaukee Property Taxes Increase 7.7%

The “tax freeze” continues. Alan Borsuk:

At the heart of a decision by Milwaukee Public Schools officials to increase property taxes for schools by 7.7% was a choice not discussed in public:
Millions of dollars that had been freed up within the $1.15 billion budget for the 2006-’07 school year could be used to hold down the tax increase. Or they could be used to increase spending by $78.90 per student across the MPS system – totaling almost $6.7 million.
Administrators and a split School Board on Tuesday went with the increased spending.
Labeled a “one-time rebate” in MPS budget documents, the payments will go to all the schools in the traditional MPS system and to charter schools staffed by MPS employees.
That will help ease a financial squeeze that is harming education in the city, MPS officials say. The money will allow schools to do such things as restore teaching or safety aide positions that were cut going into this year, MPS Superintendent William Andrekopoulos said Wednesday.

The Madison School District’s property taxes will rise 5.8% with the arrival of December’s tax bills. Local school property taxes had been relatively flat the past few years due to redistribution of income, sales taxes and fees via state aids and to some extent flat enrollment and the revenue caps.

Project Follow Through


Have you ever heard of Project Follow Through? Most people haven’t, despite the fact that it was the largest-scale and most expensive education study ever conducted, costing more than $1 billion and involving more than 20,000 children.
PFT was initiated by President Lyndon Johnson as part of his “war on poverty”, and was designed to see how educators could sustain and build on the advances made by young children in Head Start programs. The program tested multiple approaches to reading instruction, and generated clear evidence as to the efficacy of some programs over others.
Sounds great, right? A large-scale, longitudinal research study that offered unambiguous and actionable results. So why doesn’t anyone know about PFT – and why do we still have such a hard time teaching kids to read?

Clusty search results.

11/7/2006 Referendum Update

I’ve added a number of links to the election page including:

  • Marisue Horton’s letter to the editor: “Yes Moves Schools Ahead”.
  • One Question Wraps Up $23.5M Referendum – Channel3000
  • Where’s the Beef? – WKOW-TV
  • CAST Pro Referendum Internet Advertising, appearing Thursday the first day of no school during the fall WEAC convention. (TJ Mertz notes in a comment that the ads started running Wednesday.)

Latest on the Madison School District’s Policy Change Regarding Credit for Non-MMSD Courses

Here is the official wording of the new MMSD policy regarding students taking non-MMSD courses. 78K PDF. See my earlier post on this unpublished change:

A. Taking outside courses (other than Youth Options) if a student wishes to receive credit toward graduation.

  1. The course must be pre-approved by the principal.
  2. The course may only be an elective.
  3. A student may only receive elective credit toward graduation provided the District does not offer a comparable course, if a student receives credit it will be reflected as pass/fail.
  4. Elective credits toward graduation shall be granted in the following manner:

    No more than 1 elective credit per year. No more than 1 elective credit in the same subject. more than 2 elective credits may be applied to the total graduation requirement.

  5. The student’s transcript shall only include a description of the course, the institution, if any, the date the course was completed, the credit, if any, and the pass/fail grade.
  6. No grades will be included as part of a student’s GPA.
  7. All costs related to taking the course shall be the responsibility of the guardian of the student or student.


Attracting and Keeping School Leaders


I am extremely impressed with the collaborative coaching and learning (CCL) model. What is the philosophy that led to its development?
For decades, America’s schools have been structured and scheduled in ways that make collaboration and shared learning among teachers difficult. Teachers are alone in classrooms with their students most of the day and have little time for interaction with colleagues. In most professions, there is regular interaction and shared responsibility for tasks and outcomes. CCL breaks down the isolation by scheduling common planning time for teachers to review student data, discuss the curriculum, observe each other teach, and collaborate as a group to determine what works and what doesn’t. Teachers and principals become part of a professional learning community.

Misunderstood Minds


Millions of American children struggle in school daily because of serious learning problems. The causes are often unknown, specific problems can be difficult to pinpoint, and the long-term effects hard to predict.
Research in the field of learning problems took off in the 1960s, when the first federal funds were earmarked to support children with specific learning disabilities. Experts know more now than ever before, but the evolution of that knowledge also parallels the rise of standardized tests and the current era of high-stakes testing. The tension between the demand for academic success and the stubborn reality of a problem makes learning difficulties one of the most contentious topics in an increasingly competitive and educated society.
It comes as no surprise that when a child can’t read or write or pay attention — and when the problem doesn’t go away — parents, educators, experts, and policymakers often collide in an earnest struggle to find answers.
The landscape of learning problems encompasses a range of expert opinions. Different approaches to terminology and treatment reflect that range. Some learning specialists use the phrase “learning differences” to describe cognitive strengths and weaknesses without labels that they believe may erode children’s self-esteem and motivation to succeed. Neurologists and other learning specialists prefer the phrase “learning disabilities” to describe specific neurocognitive breakdowns in otherwise bright children and to underscore the existence of disabling conditions.

Could be much worse

Having long believed that there are solid grounds for criticizing the Madison School Board, I am happy to see how well we compare in our conduct and meetings to some school boards.
School board has a truancy problem
Steve Brandt, Star Tribune
State conservation officer Brian Buria was checking a wetland complaint on Deer Lake last summer when he encountered a nude Minneapolis school board member.
“It was 3 o’clock in the afternoon. I said, ‘Jeepers. You got to be careful about that. You can get yourself in trouble. You could get registered as a sex offender exposing yourself.’ ”
Neighbors say it was just another swim for Audrey Johnson. Bert Robertson, who lives next door, is among the neighbors who say that Johnson has been living at her family’s Itasca County cabin, almost 200 miles from her Minneapolis constituency.
Johnson is one of three members of the seven-person board whose attendance has plummeted this year.
Johnson and Colleen Moriarty, both lame ducks whose terms conclude Dec. 31, have missed six and nine, respectively, out of about 30 public meetings since January, records indicate. Mid-termer Sharon Henry-Blythe has missed seven.
Responding via e-mail from her cabin, Johnson said she has spent substantial time at her cabin for family reasons and acknowledged the skinny-dipping, but she disputed the neighbors’ time estimates for both. She said she keeps in touch with constituents mostly by e-mail but also by phone.
Other board members say the absences are frustrating, one factor in the perception that the board has lost steam this year.
There’s plenty to deal with: falling enrollment, tight money, an achievement gap, reforming middle and high schools. The board sets policy in these areas, hires a superintendent and oversees finances.
“It’s never an easy job, but when I look at what’s on their plate, it’s an awful lot,” said Ann Kaari, a former board chairwoman.
The board adopted a budget in June with only four of seven members present; the numbers were the same on Aug. 22 and Sept. 26, when the board got state testing results. Minutes indicate that the board hasn’t met at full strength since July 11.
“It’s been really frustrating not to have a full board for meetings,” said first-termer Peggy Flanagan. “Frankly, when you run for the board you say you’re going to serve the people of Minneapolis, and people need to honor that commitment to the end of the term.”


To Tailor Schedules, Students Log In to Online Classes

Sean Cavanagh:

Some students crave a class that their school doesn’t offer. Others want to fortify their high school transcripts before college-admissions officers review those records.
Jessica B. Byerly, 17, had her own reasons for signing up for an online course as a junior: Her schedule was so packed with academic classes the previous year, she was forced to give up her lunch period. She wanted it back.
“I was stressed out all the time,” recalled Ms. Byerly, now a senior at University High School in Normal, Ill. Taking an online Advanced Placement literature and composition course outside the traditional school day “gave me a lot of options,” she said. “I liked the flexible scheduling of it.”
Interest in online school courses is surging nationwide, especially at the high school level, according to those who follow trends in educational technology. Much of that demand is coming not from home-school students or students seeking to take all their courses online, but from those, like Ms. Byerly, who enroll in just one or two classes a year to meet a particular academic need or resolve a scheduling hang-up.

Should for-profit companies run public schools? An entrepreneur and a principal weigh in.

Steven Wilson & George Wood:

Resolved: For-profit companies shouldn’t run public schools.
Wilson: The irony! Here we are, in the temple of entrepreneurialism, debating a proposal to continue to deny our public schools–our most troubled institution–that greatest of American strengths, private sector innovation. The results are entirely predictable: An inefficient, outdated education system that consumes ever-increasing resources and posts flat or declining academic results. Worse still, in many inner cities, the public schools not only betray our shared ideals. They are our national shame. Systematically, callously, year after year, they fail millions of children, especially the urban poor. How can there be equal opportunity without universal access to a high quality education? Private action in public education should be welcomed, not decried. Let’s engage the talents of private sector in reinventing the schools.
Wood: Not so fast, my friend. Let’s look at a couple of your suppositions before we go on, beginning with the claim that our public schools are our most troubled institution. Really? Checked out the health care system lately? How about Congress? And before you credit the American private sector with too much innovative power let us not forget Enron and General Motors to name just a couple of instructive examples.
Of course schools could be better; I’ve spent the past 25 years working inside of them to do just that. With fewer resources than any CEO would accept, my school and thousands like it are doing a terrific job for every kid that walks through the door. We do something the private sector would never dream of doing: with no control over the funds we have, the materials we are given, or the outcomes that are dictated to us, we do our job and enjoy the highest level of trust of any institution in this country (see the 5/22/06 Zogby poll).

Change in Federal Rules Backs Single Sex Public Education

Diana Jean Schemo:

The Bush administration is giving public school districts broad new latitude to expand the number of single-sex classes, and even schools, in what is widely considered the most significant policy change on the issue since a landmark federal law barring sex discrimination in education more than 30 years ago.
Two years in the making, the new rules, announced Tuesday by the Education Department, will allow districts to create single-sex schools and classes as long as enrollment is voluntary. School districts that go that route must also make coeducational schools and classes of “substantially equal” quality available for members of the excluded sex.
The federal action is likely to accelerate efforts by public school systems to experiment with single-sex education, particularly among charter schools. Across the nation, the number of public schools exclusively for boys or girls has risen from 3 in 1995 to 241 today, said Leonard Sax, executive director of the National Association for Single Sex Public Education. That is a tiny fraction of the approximately 93,000 public schools across the country.

Andrew Rotherham notes that Hilary Clinton has long supported single sex education.

Vang won’t run for re-election

Now, six years later, we were alone as we discussed Vang’s reasons for not seeking reelection to the school board in April 2007. While I had heard rumors of his decision, our discussion made it public and official. Vang’s life had changed in six years. His job at Kajsiab House as the resource development director was taking up more and more of his time. And his children were growing older and needing more and more of his time, whether they realized it or not. His oldest son was now in high school.

Continued at The Capital City Hues.

A different view of Reading First controversy

From Nancy Salvato, a Head Start teacher in Illinois:

In the Summer of 2001 Dame Marie Clay, creator of the New Zealand based Reading Recovery program, and her entourage came to the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, DC, to speak with House Education Committee Staffer Bob Sweet. Her purpose was to ascertain whether Reading Recovery would be eligible for Reading First funding once the bill was passed. Bob explained to Ms. Clay that explicit, systematic phonics instruction had to be included in any program eligible for RF funding because it was one of the necessary key components of reading instruction that had been established through decades of carefully conducted quantitative research.
These findings had been validated in the Report of the National Reading Panel in 2000 and were now going to become an essential part of the Reading First Law. He pleaded with Ms. Clay to use her extensive network of teacher training programs all over the US to help in the implementation of the RF program. He encouraged her to provide the leadership within the RR family to make the modifications necessary, and thus make RR eligible for RF funding consideration.
With a stare as cold as ice, Marie Clay replied that RR would not be making any changes to their program; however, Mr. Sweet could be certain a new description of its components would be written in such a way as to bring it into compliance with the RF law. Momentarily dumbfounded, he maintained that Reading Recovery could not be eligible for RF funding without modification, and his initial estimation then still stands today.

Continued at National Ledger:

Read 180: A Reading Boost for Older Children

Amy Hetzner:

Reading aloud embarrassed Vanessa Hernandez when she had to do it in a classroom full of students for whom words and pronunciation seemed to come easy.
But after seeing her reading ability jump two grade levels in just over a month, and with only a computer judging how she pronounces words, Vanessa Hernandez said she is finally learning how reading can be fun.
“You feel so much confidence,” the sixth-grader from Waukesha’s Hadfield Elementary School said of the improvements she’s made this year.

Madison School District Working on Virtual School


By this time next year, students from across the country could be attending Madison schools online.
The Madison Metropolitan School District is developing a virtual campus and curriculum. The idea has been in the works for several years, but the district hopes to make it widely available for the 2006-2007 school year.
WISC-TV caught up with one Sun Prairie family who uses online education to home school nine of their 10 children.
Sharon Leonard has nothing but glowing words for virtual schools. Her son John, 7, is currently enrolled in the Appleton School District’s Virtual kindergarten program.
“I like curriculum with a lot of diversity that’s a bit challenging,” said Leonard. “Not too heavy on the writing part, not lots of homework, not lots of extra assignments. I just want them to focus on the basics.”

“Take Responsibility for School Violence”

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:

That is why Madison School Superintendent Art Rainwater was right last week when he said a recent flurry of violence in Madison schools merited attention by families and the community, as well as educators.
School violence is not just a school problem. It is a community problem.
Rainwater also said something that was wrong, however: “Our schools are absolutely safe.”
To be sure, Madison schools deserve high marks for safety. But the evidence shows that safety is far from absolute.

Notes & Links on Constructivism

Joanne Jacobs:

I said Ken De Rosa of D-Ed Reckoning would write more on why constructivism doesn’t work. He has. See part 1, part 2, part 3 and part 4.

Natalie Solent looks at reasons why constructivism (aka “discovery, experiential, problem-based or inquiry learning” ) remains popular despite lack of results. She thinks people who were good at school are generalizing from their own ah-hah! experiences, forgetting the non-ah-hah! moments and flattering themselves that they figured things out without help. Also, she says, “they don’t want to look bossy.”

But they’re plenty bossy when they teach prospective teachers, writes Tin Drummer.

US Welfare Accounting Overhaul

Krishna Guha:

A radical new approach to government accounting that would require the US administration to account for the cost of future social security payments year by year as people build up entitlements will be proposed on Monday.
The proposal by the federal accounting standards advisory board (FASAB) – which would also require the government to account for benefits accrued under Medicare and other social insurance programmes in the same way – is unprecedented internationally. It would radically change the presentation of US government finances, in effect bringing forward the cost of rapidly increasing social security and Medicare obligations and greatly increasing the reported fiscal deficit.
George W. Bush’s administration is firmly opposed to the proposal, which officials believe wrongly implies that the government is contractually obliged to make future payments based on current benefit rules.
They fear this would make it more difficult to reform the big entitlement programmes and increase pressure on future governments to raise taxes to meet projected funding shortfalls.
The big increase in the reported fiscal deficit under the proposed rule could have an immediate political effect, making it more difficult to press for Bush tax cuts scheduled to expire in 2010 to be made permanent.

This will ripple all over the place, or “trickle down” as it were. FASAB “preliminary views“.

The Merrow Report

Learning Matters:

The Broad Foundation awards $1 million to the top urban school district in the nation. But what is the measure of success? And what are the ways that urban superintendents can lead their schools toward success in the long-term? John Merrow moderates a symposium with the five finalists. Superintendents from Boston; Bridgeport, CT; Jersey City, N.J.; Miami-Dade County; and New York City joined last year’s winner from Norfolk, VA to discuss and debate the best practices of urban education.
Reforming our urban educational systems is a daunting task and a national necessity, particularly as America’s urban centers become more diverse. The lively exchanges among these experienced superintendents about everything from union negotiation and parental expectations to state-takeovers and the merits and short-comings of the controversial No Child Left Behind legislation are sure to inform–and entertain–you.


Saving Money in the Toledo School System

Chris Meyers:

ideasfortps.com is all about citizen-powered ideas. You can comment, rate and even submit your own ideas here to help the Toledo Public School (TPS) district save money. Learn more about the site purpose and function or get help by reading our FAQ.
You can rate the ideas without an account. You also do not need an account to submit your great idea(s), but if you are interested in commenting please create an account. View the ideas below or using the links on the left in the Navigation box. You DO NOT need to live in Toledo to submit ideas. We need everyone’s help!

Via Rotherham.
Deja vu on the list of ideas, particularly with respect to the Administration Building. A great example of citizen activism.

UW Gets $3M to Explore Educational Gaming

Chris Fleissner:

An education research team at the University of Wisconsin-Madison will receive $3 million from the MacArthur Foundation to study the impact of digital media on youth culture, learning, and literacy.
MacArthur’s total $50 million investment will support 24 national studies of different aspects of the digital revolution and its educational and societal implications.
“What MacArthur is actually trying to do, with this grant to us, is establish the field of video games and learning,” said James Paul Gee, principal investigator in the UW-Madison project.
“It’s a new field,” Gee said, “We will do the research to establish what the key issues, topics, and approaches in the field ought to be, and the implementation of new programs.”

Clauses and Commas Make a Comeback: SAT Helps Return Grammar to Class

Daniel de Vise:

Mike Greiner teaches grammar to high school sophomores in half-hour lessons, inserted between Shakespeare and Italian sonnets. He is an old-school grammarian, one of a defiant few in the Washington region who believe in spending large blocks of class time teaching how sentences are built.
For this he has earned the alliterative nickname “Grammar Greiner,” along with a reputation as one of the tougher draws in the Westfield High School English department.
Or, as one student opined in a sonnet he wrote, “Mr. Greiner, I think you’re torturing us.”
Greiner, 43, teaches future Advanced Placement students at the Chantilly school. Left on their own to decide where to place a comma, “they’ll get it right about half of the time,” he said. “But half is an F.”
Ten or 20 years ago, Greiner might have been ostracized for his views or at least counseled to keep them to himself. Grammar lessons vanished from public schools in the 1970s, supplanted by a more holistic view of English instruction. A generation of teachers and students learned grammar through the act of writing, not in isolated drills and diagrams.
Today, Greiner is encouraged, even sought out. Direct grammar instruction, long thought to do more harm than good, is welcome once more

One of my high school English teachers was just like Greiner.

Political Backlash Builds Over High-Stakes Testing

Peter Whoriskey:

This election season may be the first in which the growing use of high-stakes school testing, embodied in the No Child Left Behind legislation, has reached this level of political prominence.
A similar exam revolt has become a key issue in the race for governor in Texas, another state in the vanguard of the testing movement, and the issue has roiled the Ohio gubernatorial contest as well.
High-stakes testing — using standardized test scores to impose consequences affecting teachers and students — has been embraced widely in recent years as a way to hold educators and students accountable for their performance. Experts say the movement is one of the most significant shifts in U.S. education in decades.

Mike Antonucci has more.

Study Takes a Sharp Look at NYC’s Dropout Rate

Elissa Gootman:

The first comprehensive look at New York City’s failing students has found that nearly 140,000 people from ages 16 to 21 have either dropped out of high school or are already so far behind that they are unlikely to graduate.
The study, which the New York City Department of Education is to present to the State Board of Regents today, for the first time sheds light on a population of students who for decades have been relegated to the shadows of the city’s sprawling school system. The study was conducted by the Parthenon Group, a Boston consulting group, and was paid for with $2.6 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Lucy Mathiak recently discussed a Madison School District Study that evaluated late 1990’s dropout data:

I think we need to be careful about what we assume when we are talking about students of color in the schools. The children of color in our schools include a growing number of children whose parents, regardless of racial or ethnic identity, are highly educated with degrees ranging from the BA/BS levels to PhD, law, and medical degrees. Many have attended schools or come from communities with high numbers of professionals of African American, Latino/a, Asian American, or American Indian heritage. As our businesses and higher educational institutions hire more diverse professionals, we will see more children of color from middle and upper income families.
Children of color with highly educated parents historically have had trouble getting access to advanced educational opportunities regardless of their academic preparation or ability. And we are seeing a concurrent relocation to private schools, suburbs, and other cities because the parents have every bit as high expectation for their children as any other parents.

I hope there will be an update to this study. Related: The Gap According to Black.

Parents vs. Coach

C.W. Nevius:

Parents interfering in their kids’ sports is nothing new. But a group of parents at Castro Valley High is taking it to a new extreme.
What started as a group of unhappy parents griping amongst themselves has ballooned into multiple investigations, an observer attending every girls varsity basketball practice and a committee that will pick the team.
It’s the kind of over-the-top behavior that’s increasingly common — parents running on the field, screaming from the sidelines and, in the worst cases, punching out officials. It happens when well-intentioned parents let their protective instincts for their children overwhelm their good judgment.
In Castro Valley, the club wielded by parents is legal clout.

Terrific job by Lucy Mathiak

Lucy Mathiak deserves high praise for her performance in the discussion on the MMSD’s math curriculum. She pressed and pressed the superintendent to justify his recommendations.
A board member of any organization or corporation does not need to be an expert on a topic, but simply has to be certain that the head of the organization holds a firm grasp of the facts to support the direction of the organization.
We need more Lucy Mathiak’s on the board.

Wisconsin School Financing Proposal

Amy Hetzner:

A major study of restructuring the state’s school funding system has produced a plan its author predicts could double academic achievement among Wisconsin students for 6.8% more money annually than the state spends currently.
The study by Allan Odden, a University of Wisconsin-Madison education professor, is more than a year in the making and has included input by some of the state’s most influential education policy makers. However, members of the task force who have been advising Odden say it is still a work in progress, and major disagreements arose Friday at a meeting at which he released detailed cost estimates for his plan.
“Nobody agrees with everything,” Odden conceded, “but there’s been no great revolts.”
Odden is slated to present the plan at a hearing next week of a special legislative council on the school-aid formula, which is headed by state Sen. Luther Olsen ( R-Ripon), a member of Odden’s task force.
The council will also hear about two other plans, one from Democratic state Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton) and the other from the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools, Olsen said.
Jack Norman, research director for the Institute for Wisconsin’s Future, who helped draft the funding plan for the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools, called Odden’s plan “really terrific.” But he disagreed with some of the details, including how it would fund special education and its reduced funding for high school electives.

Amplification in the Classroom

Reader Steven Ralser emails this article by Wendy Cole:

Twenty pairs of eyes eagerly converge on Jennifer Larcey as the afternoon science lesson gets under way at Bassett Elementary in suburban Cleveland, Ohio. Sure, the transfixed first-graders are salivating at the prospect of examining–and tasting–the physical properties of peanuts, raisins and M&Ms. But something else is riveting the kids, even as Larcey stands to the side of the room issuing directions: the breathtaking clarity of her voice. “Feel the peanuts, and try to describe the texture,” she instructs.
Larcey is one of seven teachers at Bassett who are, in effect, wired for sound. Nearly every word to her students is amplified through speakers wirelessly linked to a small blue transmitter dangling from her neck. Because she began using the technology three years ago, Larcey barely notices the device, except for the rare instances when she forgets to switch it on. “It’s obvious. The kids just don’t pay attention in the same way,” she says. Bassett has joined the growing ranks of schools embracing a deceptively simple technology at a time when federal No Child Left Behind accountability standards are compelling districts to find new ways to boost academic performance. Although amplification systems have long been used to help hearing-impaired students, recent research has shown that enhanced audio benefits all students by helping a teacher’s voice get through loud and clear, even at the back of the classroom.

Dane County Saves $1.2M on Employee Health Insurance: Will the Madison School District Follow This Lead?

Recently, the Sun Prairie School district and its teachers’ union successfully bargained with DeanCare to bring down future costs for employee health insurance. This week Dane County and five of its employee unions agreed to save $1.2M in employee health insurance costs for 2007 by moving all covered employees to one provider, Physicians Plus HMO. County reaches pacts with 5 of 9 employe unions They chose Physicans Plus HMO following a competitive bidding process.
Can the Madison School Board learn from these examples? I hope so.
On September 25, the Human Resources Committee (Kobza, Vang and Robarts) heard a presentation from a Bob Butler, an attorney-consultant from the Wisconsin Association of School Boards on this topic. Containing MMSD’s employee health insurance costs: what’s next? The presentation demonstrated why school districts have no choice but to work with employee representatives to try to get the best health insurance for the lowest cost.
On Monday, October 23, the Human Resources Committee will consider making recommendations to the full board regarding future health insurance costs. The meeting will be at 7:45 p.m. in McDaniels Auditorium and will be televised.

Nations With ‘Happy’ Students Post Poorer Scores

A nation full of students who enjoy mathematics and feel confident in the subject is not necessarily a nation that scores high on international math tests, a report being released this week concludes.
The report from the Brookings Institution suggests, in fact, that the so-called “happiness factor” in math may be inversely related to achievement. In countries where students express high levels of math confidence and enjoyment, it says, students tend to score below average on international math exams in 4th and 8th grades, and vice versa.
Students in the United States are among the world’s happiest, though their average scores are higher than those for most countries that rate strongly on the “happiness” scale.
By Debra Viadero, in Education Week, published October 18, 2006


No Test Tubes? Debate on Virtual Science Classes

Sam Dillion:

When the Internet was just beginning to shake up American education, a chemistry professor photographed thousands of test tubes holding molecular solutions and, working with video game designers, created a simulated laboratory that allowed students to mix chemicals in virtual beakers and watch the reactions.
In the years since, that virtual chemistry laboratory — as well as other simulations allowing students to dissect virtual animals or to peer into tidal pools in search of virtual anemone — has become a widely used science teaching tool. The virtual chemistry laboratory alone has some 150,000 students seated at computer terminals around the country to try experiments that would be too costly or dangerous to do at their local high schools. “Some kids figure out how to blow things up in half an hour,” said the professor, Brian F. Woodfield of Brigham Young University.

To Voting Madison Citizens

I didn’t vote for the Leopold referendum last spring, and I still believe that was the correct vote. If the community had voted to build a second school on Leopold then we would not have the opportunity for the community to vote “Yes” on this referendum, which I believe is a better financial and long term solution for our growth. When I was asked to participate on the Westside Long Range Planning Task Force, I was determined to find a better solution for our district than building another school.
I approached this job with study and concentration, as did many of the Task Force participants. In my effort to not build a new school I looked at shifting students East, shifting South, moving 5th graders to middle school, and moving neighborhoods to other schools and in the end I found it was more than just filling seats. The shifts made equity uneven. One shift created a school with less than 5 % low income while others were closer to 70%. Other shifts still left some schools too full because the seats were not where the growth is coming from. Some shifts worked but only for two years. After many hours of discussion and shifting, it became clear that we could shift students if we wanted to; split neighborhoods, shift them again in two years, create schools of inequity, provide 100’s of students with a bus ride of 45 minutes or more each way, and change our classroom quality so that teachers no longer had classrooms but carts that they moved from room to room (Art and Music Teachers). When we thought about those options, none of us wanted it for our own children or grandchildren and we believed that for $30 a year, others in the community would prefer that their children and grandchildren not be handed one of these options either. There are other options, but none with the long term solutions that the current referendum provides.


New Jersey Considers School District Consolidation

Tom Hester, Jr.:

New Jersey voters would decide whether the state should create 21 county school districts under a plan considered Wednesday by legislators looking to cut the nation’s highest property taxes.
A referendum question would ask voters to approve the shift next year, a massive undertaking for a state with 616 school districts spread across 566 municipalities.

Madison School Board Math Curriculum Discussion with the Superintendent

Video | Audio

School Board members that ask questions are essential to public confidence in and strong oversight of our $332m+ district. Monday evening’s Superintendent review discussion with respect to the district’s controversial math curriculum was interesting in this respect. Watch the video or listen to the mp3 audio file. The math related discussion starts about 24 minute into the video and ends at about the one hour mark.

3 School Board seats are up for election in April, 2007. These meetings demonstrate the need for candidates with strong leadership and governance abilities with respect to the most important issues for our next generation: a world class curriculum.

Maybe Math isn’t Supposed to be Fun: Just Cutting to the Chase is a Better Approach

Ben Feller:

Children who are turned off by math often say they don’t enjoy it, they aren’t good at it and they see little point in it. Who knew that could be a formula for success?
The nations with the best scores have the least happy, least confident math students, says a study by the Brookings Institution’s Brown Center on Education Policy.
Countries reporting higher levels of enjoyment and confidence among math students don’t do as well in the subject, the study suggests. The results for the United States hover around the middle of the pack, both in terms of enjoyment and in test scores.
In essence, happiness is overrated, says study author Tom Loveless.”We might want to focus on the math that kids are learning and just be a little less obsessed with the fact that they have to enjoy every minute of it,” said Loveless, who directs the Brown center and serves on a presidential advisory panel on math.
“The implication is not Let’s go make kids unhappy,'” he said. “It’s Let’s give kids better signals as to how they’re performing, relative to the rest of the world.'”
Other countries do better than the United States because they seem to expect more from students, he said. That could also explain why high performers in other nations express less confidence and enjoyment in math.

MetLife 2006 Survey of the American Teacher

Harris Interactive:

The 2006 survey looks at the expectations of teachers upon entering the profession, factors that drive career satisfaction, and the perspectives of principals and education leaders on successful teacher preparation and long-term support. In addition, it examines data collected from past MetLife American Teacher surveys to understand the challenges teachers face and their likelihood of remaining in the profession in order to recommend recruitment and retention strategies. Through focus groups of prospective and former teachers, also conducted by Harris Interactive, the report offers added insight about why individuals choose to enter the profession, and why some “opt out” early.

Key findings include:

1. Today’s teachers face challenges:

  • Most teachers do not have enough time for planning and grading (65%), helping individual students (60%) or classroom instruction (34%).
  • Although teachers’ professional prestige is on the rise, nearly four in 10 (37%) say their professional prestige is worse than they expected.
  • Two-thirds of teachers (64%) report their salaries are not fair for the work they do.

2. The struggle to retain teachers gives cause for concern:

  • One quarter (27%) of teachers say they are likely to leave the profession within the next five years to enter a different occupation.
  • The veteran teacher with 21 years or more experience is more likely than his or her less-experienced colleague to “opt out”—that is, more than twice as likely to leave the profession (56% vs. 26%).

3. Principals and education leaders have dramatically different perspectives on what new teachers should expect on-the-job.

  • More than half of principals (54%) think teachers are unrealistic about the number of hours they will work each week, in contrast to 32% of deans and chairpersons.
  • More than half of principals (52%) believe teachers are unrealistic about the number of students with special needs with whom they will work, in contrast to 25% of deans and chairpersons.

4. Teachers’ experiences align more closely with what principals say they should expect than with the views of deans and chairpersons who prepare them for classroom life.

  • Four in 10 teachers (42%) work more with special needs students than they expected.
  • Fifty-eight percent of teachers find the hours they work each week are worse than expected.
  • Three of the four top strategies teachers recommend for recruitment and retention—a decent salary, more financial support of school systems and more respect in society–are similar to those of principals.

5. Still, there is good news about the state of K-12 education:

  • Despite the challenges they face, teachers’ career satisfaction is at 20-year high: 56% are very satisfied with teaching as a career, a 70% increase over findings reported in the 1986 MetLife Survey of the American Teacher: Restructuring the Teaching Profession.
  • Today’s new teachers feel better prepared to engage families, work with students of varying abilities and maintain order in the classroom than did their than experienced peers when they first entered the career.
  • Eighty-two percent of new teachers were matched with a more experienced mentor during their first year of teaching, compared to only 16% of veteran teachers.

Full Survey 800K PDF.

The Structural Inadequacy of Public Schools for Stigmatized Minorities: The Need for Institutional Remedies

Shavar Jeffries:

This Article challenges the failure of courts and advocates considering remedies in school cases to assess whether public schools, as currently constituted, are institutionally aligned with stigmatized minorities’ particular educational needs. Numerous legal scholars have written about the longstanding failure of public schools to effectively educate racial minorities; but they have overlooked the relationship of public schools’ institutional context to the educational consequences of racial stigma. This Article does so, claiming that because stigma attacks the very capacities enabling education, services must specifically account for stigma’s noxious effects on racial minorities’ educability. Stigma distinctively affects minorities’ educational fortunes both categorically and individually. As a class, the ontological challenge posed by stigma, obviously, affects only the stigmatized; individually, children have different levels of access to resources contradicting stigma and also cope variably with stigma. Schools therefore need flexibility to respond not only to the unique class-wide harms engendered by stigma but also its specific manifestations in individual children.
Despite this need for flexibility, traditional public schools are highly bureaucratic and rule-bound, preempting the flexibility stigmatized minorities require. This disposition toward uniformity, moreover, is not coincidental but is central to political accountability, especially in urban districts disproportionately serving racial minorities. Finally, because they are minorities, relatively poor, and stigmatized, stigmatized minorities cannot politically realize bureaucratic rules consistently responsive to their educational needs.

For Math Students, Self-Esteem Might Not Equal High Scores

Jay Matthews:

It is difficult to get through a day in an American school without hearing maxims such as these: “To succeed, you must believe in yourself,” and “To teach, you must relate the subject to the lives of students.”
But the Brookings Institution is reporting today that countries such as the United States that embrace self-esteem, joy and real-world relevance in learning mathematics are lagging behind others that don’t promote all that self-regard.
onsider Korea and Japan.
According to the Washington think tank’s annual Brown Center report on education, 6 percent of Korean eighth-graders surveyed expressed confidence in their math skills, compared with 39 percent of U.S. eighth-graders. But a respected international math assessment showed Koreans scoring far ahead of their peers in the United States, raising questions about the importance of self-esteem.

1.3mb PDF Full Brookings/Brown Report

Facts & Questions about the 2006 Madison School District Referendum


What is the anticipated cost of equipping the Leopold addition and the elementary school at Linden Park? Are those projected costs included in the referendum authorization or not?
What is the anticipated cost of operating the Leopold addition and the elementary school at Linden Park? How will those costs be appropriated/budgeted (and in what years?) given that the Board expects to have to cut $6-8 million per year?
What are the “shared revenue” total costs for each of three parts of the referendum question? Are these costs included in the $29.20 estimated cost for a median assessed home-owner? Please provide the ‘working papers’ or calculations arriving at these costs. How can a home-owner figure the annual cost of this referendum for the assessed value of their home?
What information about the Ridgewood complex and projected enrollment was used to calculate the need for the Leopold addition?
Construction has already begun for the Leopold addition without voter/taxpayer approval. What is the current impact on the operations budget? What would be the future impact on the operations budget if the referendum fails?


If Chartering is the Answer, What was the Question?

Ted Kolderie and Joe Graba, charter school leaders at Education/Evolving urge legislators to expand Wisconsin’s charter school law:

“The Importance of Innovation in Chartering”
Remarks to the Legislative Study Committee on Charter Schools
By Ted Kolderie and Joe Graba, Education/Evolving
October 17, 2006
Let me try to set the context for the Legislature’s use of the chartering strategy. The ‘Why?’ of anything is important to legislators. It is fair to ask: “If ‘chartering’ is the answer, what was the question?”
The question is: How do we make schooling different enough to motivate the kids who have never learned well in conventional school?
Paul Houston, the head of AASA, has been pointing out how dramatically the signals have been switched for public education. Forever, their charge was access and equity: take everybody; give everybody the opportunity to participate and to learn. Now suddenly the charge is proficiency: The districts are required to see that all children learn.
This is a huge change. The current model of schooling was not built for this. The districts were not built for this. Success with this very different assignment requires major readjustment in the institution.


Does Television Cause Autism?

Michael Waldman, Sean Nicholson and Nodir Adilov [Full 728K PDF Report]:

One of the major health care crises currently facing the United States is the exploding incidence of autism diagnoses. Thirty years ago it was estimated that roughly one in 2500 children had autism while today it is estimated that approximately one in 166 is diagnosed with the condition – more than a ten-fold increase.1 In turn, due to the high costs of treating and caring for a typical autistic individual over his or her lifetime, it is estimated that the annual cost to society of autism is thirty-five billion dollars (Ganz 2006). Clearly, the highest priority needs to be given to better understanding what is causing the dramatic increase in diagnoses and, if possible, using that improved knowledge to reverse the trend.
Despite the recent rapid increase in diagnoses and the resulting increased attention the condition has received both in the media and in the medical community, very little is known about what causes the condition. Starting with the work of Rimland (1964), it is well understood that genetics or biology plays an important role, but many in the medical community argue that the increased incidence must be due to an environmental trigger that is becoming more common over time (a few argue that the cause is a widening of the criteria used to diagnose the condition and that the increased incidence is thus illusory). However, there seems to be little consensus and little evidence concerning what the trigger or triggers might be. In this paper we empirically investigate a possibility that has received almost no attention in the medical literature, i.e., that early childhood television watching is an important trigger for the onset of autism.

Via Slate.

Researchers might also turn new attention to study of the Amish. Autism is rare in Amish society, and the standing assumption has been that this is because most Amish refuse to vaccinate children. The Amish also do not watch television.

Reading First: The Lie of Robert Sweet of Errors and Misconceptions in Washtington Post

Trying to find the truth in education, like in most areas in American society, is fraught with dilemma — most public commentors are either incompetent or bald-faced liars.

Robert W. Sweet, Jr. likely falls into both categories.

See previous posts of regarding his comments on this site, and his letter to the Washington Post here. Robert Sweet’s title is Former Professional Staff Member Committee on Education and the Workforce, U.S. House of Representatives Committee Staffer for the Reading First law.

First, let’s place all this into context. The Inspector General’s Reading First report (hereafter IGRF), published September 2006, audited the Reading First Grant Application Process and reported problems. Michael Grunwald of the Washington Post wrote an article about the IGRF Report, and Robert Sweet responded to the Grunwald article in a letter to the Washington Post editor. The crux of the Sweet letter was to allege, point-by-point, each significant error made the Grunwald in his article interpreting the IGRF findings.

I’m not going to review either Grunwald’s article nor Sweet’s response point-by-point, and I have not read or studied the IGRF fully, so I’m not prepared to do so. To prove Robert Sweet a liar will only require comparing one, his first, claim of “error” he’s alleged with the actual language of the IGRF.

Here is Sweet’s first alleged error by Grunwald.

1. Grunwald: “The Reading First panels that oversaw state applications were stacked with department officials and other phonics fans.”
Correction: Department officials were not on panels that judged state applications.

Sweet’s comment shows his art of misdirection — his “correction” does not refute Grunwald’s interpretation. It’s true that Department officials were not on the panels, but as the IGRF details, quoted below, it was the Department officials who actually judged the applications from the States’ perspective.
Let’s read the actual language of the IGRF report, at length (with minimal editting).


“Far too Fuzzy Math Curriculum is to Blame for Declining NYC Test Scores”

Elizabeth Carson:

Here’s a math problem for you: Count the excuses people are trotting out for why schoolkids in New York City and State did poorly in the latest round of math scores. The results showed just 57% of the city’s and 66% of the state’s students performing at grade level – and a steady decline in achievement as kids got older.
It’s about family income, said an article in The New York Times. “The share of students at grade level in affluent districts was more than twice as big as in impoverished urban districts.”
It’s about unfair funding levels, said state education Secretary Richard Mills.
It’s about class size, said activist Leonie Haimson.
Wrong again, claimed other observers. The real culprit was a new test.
If, like me, you’re running out of fingers – and patience – there’s a reason. Nobody spinning the test scores is zeroing in on the single biggest reason math achievement in New York City and state lags and will continue to lag: Our schools use a far-too-fuzzy curriculum that fails to give kids rigorous instruction in the basics.
In New York City, the program required in the vast majority of schools is called Everyday Mathematics. Chancellor Joel Klein swears by it. If you ask administrators to explain it, they’ll use just enough jargon to make it sound decent.
But the truth is, Everyday Math systematically downplays addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, which everyone knows are the foundations for all higher math. Instead of learning those basic four operations like the backs of their hands, students are asked to choose from an array of alternative methods, such as an ancient Egyptian method for multiplication. Long division is especially frowned upon.

Everyday Math is used in the Madison School District. Much more on Math curriculum and politics here. Via Joanne.
Carson is Co-Founder and Executive Director of NYC Hold:

The performance of American students in mathematics is mediocre at best. In many cases, mathematics instruction is not serving our children’s best interests. In order to help all students achieve success in school mathematics courses, have access to adequate preparation for the broadest options in high school math and science courses, and the opportunity to advance into mathematics based college courses and careers, it is important to examine the direction of recent attempts at mathematics education reform.

More on Everyday math.

Tips for Better Parent-School Relationships

Jay Matthews:

In many ways, parents are the most important teachers children will ever have. But drawing them into schools is often difficult. So is forging a constructive parent-school relationship. Teachers complain about parents who meddle too much and those who can’t be found. Parents say that educators claim to want more involvement but that they belittle their suggestions.
Here are 10 recommendations for better relations from educators and school-savvy parents.

City Students Endure Traumatic Day

Andy Hall:

tudents, parents, police and educators throughout Madison were rattled Monday but no significant injuries were reported in three unrelated incidents that included a lockdown at East High School, a pellet gun attack outside West High School and a car crash triggered by two O’Keeffe Middle School students.
Tensions were high because of recent violence and threats in schools in Wisconsin, Colorado and Pennsylvania, officials acknowledged. Monday’s chaos ended peacefully, they said, because of an unnamed community tipster, good security planning and quick police work.
Madison Superintendent Art Rainwater said about 1,800 students at East High School were restricted to their third-period classrooms, except for a quick trip to the cafeteria and bathroom breaks, from 11 a.m. until classes were dismissed at 3:30 p.m. because of a “credible threat” against a student.

Significant errors and misconceptions – “Billions for an Inside Game on Reading” by the Washington Post

Robert W. Sweet, Jr.

This letter and the enclosure are an appeal to you for help in alerting your readers to significant errors and misconceptions in an article printed in the Post on October 1, 2006 titled “Billions for an Inside Game on Reading” by Michael Grunwald.
He asserted that Reading First grants were awarded to preferred reading programs, and that billions of dollars were misspent because the requirement in Reading First that reading programs be based on “scientifically based reading research” were ignored.
Below is a summary of the essential facts that document the errors and misconceptions that have damaged one of the most effective programs to teach vulnerable children to read. Attached to this letter is a detailed presentation that seeks to correct the record.
It is my hope that you will consider printing a clarification so that the public you serve will know the truth about Reading First.

The MMSD’s omission with respect to Reading First was to support the Superintendent’s rejection of the $2M+ grant without a School Board discussion, particularly in light of the District’s devotion to the expensive Reading Recovery program. 2M is material, even to an organization with an annual budget of $332M+. Much more on Reading First here and Bob Sweet [Interview].

East & West locked down on Monday

From madison.com:

Madison school officials locked down East High School this morning after “serious” threats were made by one student to another.
The school’s safety procedures call for the doors, which were secured at 11 a.m., to remain locked until the end of the school day at 3:30 p.m. Students were not to be released until that time.
The threat was made to one student who was at the school by another who was off school grounds.
“The danger is outside the school, not inside,” said school district spokesman Ken Syke. “That’s why we went into lockdown.”
Officials said the threats stemmed from fights between East High students over the weekend, with the disputes remaining unresolved today.
Syke said rumors circulating among students that someone was spotted with a gun are simply “not true.”
But he added, “It was a legitimate enough notice that we have taken it seriously.”
Also at West High School this morning, pellet gun shots were reportedly fired from a vehicle passing the school. The shots were reported by a witness who heard the shots and saw the vehicle.
Police had the alleged perpetrator in custody by 1 p.m. District security coordinator Luis Yudice, West High administrators, central office staff and Madison police worked together to initiate the district’s safety and security procedures to respond to the situation at West, which included limiting access to the school until early this afternoon.

E-Learning Guide

US News & World Report:

Thinking about getting an online education? USNews.com’s E-Learning Guide lays out detailed information gathered directly from more than 2,800 traditional colleges and virtual universities. Select one of the options below to find the online degree or certificate that’s right for you.

Special Education Funding

Andy Hall:

Pressure on schools has intensified because the state has paid a decreasing share of special education costs. This year, the state is reimbursing schools 29 percent of the $1.16 billion cost. In 1993, the state paid 45 percent of the $585.9 million cost of special education.
Educators say they have been forced to cut so deeply into overall school budgets that in many cases, the educations of regular and special education students are jeopardized.
Terry Milfred, superintendent of the Weston district, 75 miles northwest of Madison, said administrators had to eliminate a school counseling position, slice the music program in half, eliminate cooking and sewing portions of home economics classes, outsource drivers’ education to a private company and reduce library staffing to balance the budget in recent years.
“Those things aren’t required by law, and consequently that’s where the services tend to be reduced to the point that we feel we can,” said Milfred, who sympathizes with the Legislature’s desire to hold down taxes but hopes for reforms.
Meanwhile, he said, the bill for one of the district’s special education students is $30,000, and another is transported 160 miles a day to receive specialized services.

The Essential Support for School Improvement

Penny Bender Sebring, Elaine Allensworth, Anthony S. Bryk, John Q. Easton, and Stuart Luppescu:

n this report, which draws on data from Chicago public elementary schools in the 1990s, the authors present a framework of essential supports and community resources that facilitate school improvement. The authors provide evidence on how the essential supports contribute to improvements in student learning, and they investigate how community circumstances impact schools’ ability to embrace the essential supports.
The authors offer empirical evidence on the five essential supports—leadership, parent-community ties, professional capacity, student-centered learning climate, and ambitious instruction—and investigate the extent to which strength in the essential supports was linked to improvements in student learning, and the extent to which weakness was linked to stagnation in learning gains.

Defending the Classroom

Jeff Carlton:

Youngsters in a suburban Fort Worth school district are being taught not to sit there like good boys and girls with their hands folded if a gunman invades the classroom, but to rush him and hit him with everything they got – books, pencils, legs and arms.
“Getting under desks and praying for rescue from professionals is not a recipe for success,” said Robin Browne, a major in the British Army reserve and an instructor for Response Options, the company providing the training to the Burleson schools.
That kind of fight-back advice is all but unheard of among schools, and some fear it will get children killed.
But school officials in Burleson said they are drawing on the lessons learned from a string of disasters such as Columbine in 1999 and the Amish schoolhouse attack in Pennsylvania last week.

via Joanne.

More concern about technology in MMSD: another teacher explains the problem

Recently, I posted a letter from a middle school teacher in Madison regarding inadequate computers at one of our middle schools. Fancy programs on aging computers:an MMSD teacher tries to make things work
Today the Madison school board received another letter from a teacher explaining how the current state of computers and software makes teaching harder and more stressful. While this is a typical complaint from the schools, I don’t see the same problems with central administration computers.
Dear Board Members and Mr. Rainwater,
I have been a teacher for MMSD for fifteen years. I am committed to and love this district and its students. I work at …. This is a wonderful building in which to work. The staff is solid, caring, and professional.
A second concern in our building is technology. I love the new attendance system and am currently using the grading program on infinite campus which I also enjoy. Unfortunately, our computers are slow and often freeze up. Quite often, I have to call my attendance into the office because it takes 10-15 minutes for the computer to load. We have little access to adequate computers as a staff. It makes it difficult to be able to keep grades in a timely manner. Six of us in 8th grade have to share one antiquated computer for our planning area. My guess is that most other professionals in this city would not even think of working with such inadequate technology.


Wisconsin Tax Climate Update & Local Property Tax Levy Changes

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:

The first step toward improving the state’s tax climate must be for lawmakers to control spending. The state cannot afford to cut taxes and thus forgo revenue unless the next governor and Legislature do a better job of paring, consolidating and conserving.
Even the promise that lower taxes will generate more business development in the future will not address the immediate strains created by rising costs for Medicaid and other programs.

Tax Foundation’s report.

WISTAX has more:

  • Municipal Property Taxes Outpace “Freeze”, Rise 4.1% in Large Cities:

    Despite a “freeze” designed to slow property tax growth, Wisconsin’s 230 largest cities and villages increased levies at the same rate as in prior years. According to the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance (WISTAX), municipal-purpose property tax levies rose 4.1% in these municipalities in 2005-06 (2006), the same as the average increase from 2002 to 2005.

  • State Budget Increasingly on Autopilot:

    In recent years, most state spending growth has been in two areas: school aids and Medical Assistance (MA). The inescapable link between state aid and school revenue limits on the one hand and property taxes on the other virtually assures that, when combined with accelerating MA costs, most new state revenue is already “spoken for.” Funds for state agencies, higher education, and other state programs are likely to grow little, if at all, thus continuing a long trend..
    State law gives the governor and legislators the power to enact budgets. Yet, through various actions and commitments from both over the past decade, they have increasingly put the state budget on autopilot.

  • Election 2006 Issues and Questions.

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:

Globally, American companies already are at a disadvantage because the benchmark federal corporate tax rate is 35%, which the Tax Foundation notes is “one of the highest corporate tax rates of any of the industrialized economies” – even after the successive rounds of tax reductions under President Bush.
The foundation’s report, however, only added to a bewildering array of national tax rankings, each using different methodologies that have sparked a lively debate among policy-makers.
The foundation’s annual State Business Tax Climate Index is based on a weighted index that ranks each state’s corporate taxes, individual income taxes, sales taxes, unemployment taxes and property taxes. While it relies on U.S. census data for each state’s property tax, it compares state tax rates and tax laws to measure the other four. It employs a matrix of 10 subindexes and 113 variables.
The Madison-based Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, using the latest available census numbers, put Wisconsin at No. 6 when measured as a percentage of personal income. That figure represents years of incremental improvements after Wisconsin registered No. 3 in the nation under the same measures in 1994.

Taxes, particularly the much discussed property tax “Freeze” will certainly be on voter’s minds November 7, 2006. The Madison School District’s 06/07 budget will grow local property taxes by 11,626,677 to $211,989,932 (5.8%) [See 2006/2007 Budget Executive Summary – PDF]. Gotta love politics, 5.8% is certainly not a freeze :). The Madison School District’s property tax levy changes over the past 6 years. The mill rate has not changed at the same rate as the levy increases because local assessed values have been increasing. That will probably change now as the housing market takes a breather.

The Handwriting is on the Wall

Margaret Webb Pressler:

The computer keyboard helped kill shorthand, and now it’s threatening to finish off longhand.
When handwritten essays were introduced on the SAT exams for the class of 2006, just 15 percent of the almost 1.5 million students wrote their answers in cursive. The rest? They printed. Block letters.
And those college hopefuls are just the first edge of a wave of U.S. students who no longer get much handwriting instruction in the primary grades, frequently 10 minutes a day or less. As a result, more and more students struggle to read and write cursive.
Many educators shrug. Stacked up against teaching technology, foreign languages and the material on standardized tests, penmanship instruction seems a relic, teachers across the region say. But academics who specialize in writing acquisition argue that it’s important cognitively, pointing to research that shows children without proficient handwriting skills produce simpler, shorter compositions, from the earliest grades.

Better Teachers: A Lesson Plan

Marie Gryphon:

Good teachers matter. This may seem obvious to anyone who has a child in school or, for that matter, to anyone who has been a child in school. For a long time, though, researchers couldn’t actually prove that teaching talent was important. But new research finally shows that teacher quality is a close cousin to student achievement: A great teacher can cram one-and-a-half grades’ worth of learning into a single year, while laggards are lucky to accomplish half that much. Parents and kids, it seems, have been right all along to care whether they were assigned to Mrs. Smith or Mr. Brown.
Yet, while we know now that better teachers are critical, flaws in the way that administrators select and retain them mean that schools don’t always hire the best.
Many ingredients of good teaching are difficult to ascertain in advance–charisma and diligence come to mind–but research shows a teacher’s own ability on standardized tests reliably predicts good performance in the classroom. You would think, then, that top-scoring teachers would be swimming in job offers, right? Not so, says Vanderbilt University professor Dale Ballou. High-scoring teaching applicants “do not fare better than others in the job market,” he writes. “Indeed, remarkably, they do somewhat worse.”
Even more surprising, given the national shortage of highly skilled math and science teachers, school administrators are more keen to hire education majors than applicants who have math or science degrees.


A New School on Madison’s Far West Side: A Long Term Perspective

On November 7, Madison area residents will be asked to vote on a referendum concerning our local schools. While the referendum has three parts, this paper will focus on the first part – the construction of a new school on the far west side, representing over 75% of the total cost of the referendum.

This report will argue that the most important determinant of whether or not a new school should be built on the far west side (or anywhere else in the district), is whether the long-term outlook clearly indicates it is appropriate. Otherwise, the problem should be considered temporary, with temporary measures pursued to address it. However, the situation here suggests strongly that the problem is a more permanent one, requiring a “permanent solution”, the building of a new school.

This report will not attempt to forecast specific enrollment figures for the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) – such an effort would take several months to do properly. Instead, it will focus on the TRENDS that support the conclusion a new school is warranted.


Changing our high schools

by Superintendent Art Rainwater
The purpose of high school is to ensure that all of our students leave ready for college, jobs and civic involvement. Our traditional, comprehensive high schools today look and feel much like they have for generations. However, the world our students will live and work in has changed dramatically.
The structure of high schools has served society well by preparing young people for the world they were entering. There were good, family supporting jobs that didn’t require a high school diploma. The type of classroom teaching strategies that were employed worked well for the post high school plans of our students.
It is becoming increasingly clear however, that not only four year colleges, but also any post secondary education or job training program requires a substantial background in mathematics, science, social studies and language arts.
We need to dramatically change our high schools. This is not a reflection of current high school teachers or their teaching methods. It is a reflection of a changing society. The needed reforms at high school have to be concentrated on making a high level of demanding coursework accessible to all students. To accomplish this goal requires that we change the way we relate to students and that we implement a wide variety of teaching strategies in every class.
The education world has not been oblivious to this need for change. There have been many efforts, across the country, to change high schools, including in our own district. However, high school reform has rarely addressed the underlying problem — the high school classroom.
To meet the needs of every student, the student, not the content of the course, must be at the center of our work. It’s obvious that the content is critical, for that is what will prepare students for adult success. But first, everything from our teaching methods to the way we inculcate positive behaviors must begin with the student and not the textbook. We have to use our knowledge of how children learn to create classroom strategies that connect with students’ own experiences and relate what we want them to learn to its use in the real world.
Regardless of how our high schools look there must always be three goals for our students: ensure that every student gains the knowledge and skills to be a successful adult, provide the opportunity for every student to grow academically and socially, and to learn to be an active participant in the society in which they live.
To reach these three goals we must continue to foster high academic achievement; we must close the achievement gap among different groups of students and we must promote civic and personal growth among our students.
We are beginning the journey of redesigning our high schools. This will take creativity, commitment and our best thinking. It will take all of us, collectively, having the will to find the way so that a diploma from our high schools can provide a ticket to the future for all of our students.

Conference on High School Task Force recommendations

The State Superintendent will host a conference on October 20 on the recommendations of the High School Task Force, which she appointed:

A: Encourage educators and policymakers to move outside of existing structures and pursue innovation.
B: Give students the opportunity to engage in rigorous, authentic learning experiences that are relevant to their learning needs and future ambitions.
C: Create smaller, personalized learning environments and require learning and lifelong education plans for individual students.
D: Promote and enhance partnerships among schools, parents, businesses, and communities, linking community resources with school programs and curriculum

Link to a PDF of the conference brochure.

Indiana School District Deploys District-Wide Wireless Network

Government Technology:

New Castle School District of New Castle, Indiana, is deploying the Meru Networks Wireless LAN System across its district to enable its more than 4,000 students and 500 staff and faculty to access a broad range of wireless voice and data applications. When completed, the wireless deployment will span New Castle’s seven elementary schools, a middle school, high school and vocational school, the district’s administration building and its technology center.
With a wireless LAN and several mobile computer labs, New Castle could allow entire classrooms to use computing resources efficiently and cost-effectively. In addition, the district wanted a solution that could be used for both data and voice over IP, allowing staff to keep in touch as they move about the school’s campus during the workday.

The State of the City’s Schools

Superintendent Art Rainwater and Madison School Board President Johnny Winston, Jr. discuss the state of Madison’s public schools with Stuart Levitan.

Watch the video | MP3 Audio

Topics discussed include:

  • School Safety
  • The November 7, 2006 Referendum
  • School funding
  • “Education is not one size fits all” – Johnny during a discussion of the initiatives underway within the school district (the last 12 minutes) such as online learning, the Studio School and differentiation.
  • Levitan asked Art Rainwater if, during his 8 years as Superintendent, the education our children receive is better than it was in 1998? Art said it was and cited a number of examples.


The Mathematics Education of Elementary School Teachers

Jim Lewis:

The Mathematical Education of Teachers [268K PDF] recommends that the mathematical education of teachers be viewed as a partnership between mathematics faculty and mathematics education faculty and further recommends that there needs to be more collaboration between mathematics faculty and school mathematics teachers. We will report on The Mathematics Semester at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, a partnership that resulted from Math Matters, a NSF-CCLI grant.

Also: Math in the Middle Institute Partnership [PDF]

The Politics of K-12 Math and Academic Rigor

The Economist:

Look around the business world and two things stand out: the modern economy places an enormous premium on brainpower; and there is not enough to go round.
But education inevitably matters most. How can India talk about its IT economy lifting the country out of poverty when 40% of its population cannot read? [MMSD’s 10th Grade Reading Data] As for the richer world, it is hard to say which throw more talent away—America’s dire public schools or Europe’s dire universities. Both suffer from too little competition and what George Bush has called “the soft bigotry of low expectations”.

Thursday’s meeting between Madison School Superintendent Art Rainwater, the MMSD’s Brian Sniff and the UW Math department included two interesting guests: UW-Madison Chancellor John Wiley [useful math links via the Chancellor’s website] and the Dean of the UW-Madison Education School. Wiley and the Ed School Dean’s attendance reflects the political nature of K-12 curriculum, particularly math. I’m glad Chancellor Wiley took time from his busy schedule to attend and look forward to his support for substantial improvements in our local math program.


Teaching Math, Singapore Style

The countries that outperform the United States in math and science education have some things in common. They set national priorities for what public school children should learn and when. They also spend a lot of energy ensuring that every school has a high-quality curriculum that is harnessed to clearly articulated national goals. This country, by contrast, has a wildly uneven system of standards and tests that varies from place to place. We are also notoriously susceptible to educational fads.
Editorial, New York Times, September 18, 2006


World Famous Artist Collaborates with Cherokee Middle School Students


tudents at a Madison middle school collaborated with a world-famous contemporary painter to create a mural.
The artist known simply as Wyland — who is famous for panting building-sized marine murals in cities around the country — visited Cherokee Middle School on Tuesday where he worked with 40 students to paint a mural.

Much more on Wyland. Wyland’s Milwaukee County Courthouse Annex “Whale Commuters” was recently destroyed as part of a new freeway project.

Report Urges Changes in the Teaching of Math in U.S. Schools

In a major shift from its influential recommendations 17 years ago, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics yesterday issued a report urging that math teaching in kindergarten through eighth grade focus on a few basic skills.
If the report, ”Curriculum Focal Points,” has anywhere near the impact of the council’s 1989 report, it could signal a profound change in the teaching of math in American schools. It could also help end the math curriculum struggles that for the last two decades have set progressive educators and their liberal supporters against conservatives and many mathematicians.
Article by Tamar Lewin, New York Times, September 13, 2006


The No. 1 Graduate School of Education?

Kevin Carey:

What’s the No. 1 graduate school of education in America? If you asked people in the academic world, many would probably mention Teachers College at Columbia University, which is not only well-regarded by its peers, but also unusually large, granting more than 100 doctoral degrees in education every year.
But for the past two decades, one university has out-produced Teachers College in doctorate production: Nova Southeastern University. Based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Nova enrolls more than 25,000 students, making it the seventh-largest private, nonprofit university in the nation. It was founded as a technical university in 1964 and specializes in distance learning for adult students. Most students for advanced education degrees are classroom teachers and other educators in public schools.
For most of the 1990s, Nova Southeastern granted about 250 education doctorates per year. But as Chart 1 shows, those numbers began to increase sharply in 2002. By 2005, Nova’s degree production surged to almost 450 a year. Teachers College granted 150 education doctorates that year, virtually the same as it granted in 1998.

The Accuracy and Effectiveness of Adequate Yearly Progress: NCLB’s School Evaluation System

William J. Mathis [16.1MB PDF]:

Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) is the key element of the accountability system mandated by the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). This report reveals that AYP in its 2006 form as the prime indicator of academic achievement is not supported by reliable evidence. Expecting all children to reach mastery level on their state’s standardized tests by 2014, the fundamental requirement of AYP, is unrealistic. The growth model and other improvement proposals now on the table do not have sufficient power to resolve the underlying problems of the system. In addition, the program, whether conceived as implementation costs or remedial costs, is significantly underfunded in a way that will disproportionately penalize schools attended by the neediest children. Further, the curriculum is being narrowed to focus on tested areas at the cost of other vital educational purposes.

Money & Academic Success

Ken DeRosa:

In his new book, Eric Hanushek delivers the smack down on Johnathan Kozol who has been insisting these many years that the funding gap between middle class and inner city schools was the cause of the achievement gap between white and minority kids. Thus, to erase the achievement gap all we had to do was eliminate the funding gap:

In both Savage Inequalities and its 1995 successor, Amazing Grace, Kozol described the once beautiful and successful Morris High School in the Bronx as “one of the most beleaguered, segregated and decrepit secondary schools in the United States. Barrels were filling up with rain in several rooms. . . . Green fungus molds were growing in the corners” of some rooms, and the toilets were unusable. Kozol wrote that it would take at least $50 million to restore Morris’s decaying physical plant and suggested that the white political establishment would never spend that much money on a ghetto school. The city actually did spend more than $50 million to restore Morris High School after the publication of Savage Inequalities, though Kozol had not a word to say about it when discussing Morris in the second book. Of course the newly gleaming building had no perceptible effect on the academic performance of the students.

Fancy programs on aging computers: an MMSD teacher tries to make things work

From time to time, I wonder whether MMSD’s central administration decisions take into account the needs of staff in our schools. Here’s a recent letter to the school board from a middle school teacher discussing the poor fit between software and hardware at the school.
“I came in very early this morning to run new student summaries for several of my kids who had decided to make up missing work in order to raise their grades. I think we would all agree that this is a good thing.
I spent 15 minutes trying to get my computer to print one student’s summary. The computer kept locking up on me and I would have to cold boot it. Actually, this is not my computer; it is the only computer in the planning area shared by 6 eighth grade teachers. It runs Windows 98.


Report from the First Grade Trenches

Ken Derosa:

The first month of school is now over for my son who is in first grade. Let me summarize what has transpired in the first 1/9 of the school year so far. Bear in mind that most of my information comes from a six year old with the attention span of a flea.
One assignment asked them to draw pictures of things having numbers, like a clock or calendar. Another asked them to find a picture that told a math story–there are three dogs and two cats in this picture, how many are there all together.
He’s learning about math, instead of learning math. Clearly, the focus is on “understanding,” and not on developing proficiency in basic math skills. There are opportunity costs associated with this high constructivism approach as well. Time spent on these contrived exercises is time lost in which basic math skills, like addition, could have been taught and practiced.
I hesitate to call what’s going on reading since there is so little actual reading going on. The kids were given a DIBELS test and broken up into reading groups. Whether they were broken up by ability, I do not know. Teaching consists mostly of letting kids pick out books they like and letting them “read” them independently. If the kids can’t read yet, they can look at the pictures. That’s nice.
Again, we see a pedagogy that favors higher performers. Kids who can read already, practice their reading skills. Kids who can’t read, practice their picture viewing skills. Which kids do you suppose will make more progress learning to read this year?

New Bus Routes Get LaFollette Students Involved


One year after LaFollette students complained of having to drop out of extra-curricular activities becasue of busing problems, the situation is fixed. More buses are running and WISC-TV went back to see if it has made a difference.

Falling need for West side school?

Do current housing declines wipe out the need for a new West side school? Here’s an article from The Capital Times (Oct. 9, 2006):

Home building keeps plunging here
The decline in home building in Dane County this year accelerated in September, remaining the weakest this century, according to the latest figures from MTD Marketing.
There were just 73 permits issued for single-family homes and duplexes here in September, less than half the 195 last September, and at least 68 below every September back to 1999, the earliest year MTD reported figures.
The September permits did set a record average value for the month at $242,836. The average square footage was 2,410, third highest since 1999.
Year-to-date through September, there were 1,116 permits in Dane County, 711 below a year ago and at least 332 below every year back to 1999. The average value for the first nine months of the year did set a record at $246,660. The average square footage of 2,449 was behind only the 2,469 in 2004.

Book: What School Boards Can Do

Donald R. McAdams:

To provide essential guidance to urban school board members committed to high achievement for all children, Don McAdams presents a comprehensive approach to board leadership he calls reform governance. This accessible framework brings together all the work of an urban school board, including everything from big ideas about core beliefs and theories of action for change, to the fundamental relationships and processes through which boards and superintendents work together, and the leadership role boards have in building community support for sustained change. Taking into account the hot political arena of urban education, reform governance:

  • Helps school board members understand why it is necessary to redesign urban districts and what their role in the process should be.
  • Sets forth principles that boards can use as guides to action, and gives real-life examples of how they work.
  • Shows how a strong board and superintendent team can work together to be agents for change.