A New Year for School Reform

NY Times Editorial:

The No Child Left Behind Act broke new ground when it required the states to educate impoverished children up to the same standards as their affluent counterparts, in exchange for federal aid. The law did not just drop out of the sky. It represented a deliberate attempt by Congress to ratify and accelerate the school reform effort that swept the country in the early 1990’s, when the states began to embrace standards-based accountability systems that quickly showed promising results.
The achievement gains have fallen far short of what Congress hoped for when it passed the landmark federal law — and also far short of what the country needs to keep pace with its economic rivals. In addition, student performance has flattened in recent years. In many cases, that is because states that reaped all of the early, easy gains that are typically achieved by merely paying attention to a long-neglected problem failed to do the tougher work necessary to sustain their reforms.
Recent studies offer sobering news about the challenges that lie ahead. Happily, there is also encouraging news from the states that have stayed the course and continued to build rigorous, standards-based reforms.

Wisconsin’s $2.15 Billion State Budget Deficit

Stacy Forster:

The state’s financial books show that Wisconsin ended the last fiscal year with a $2.15 billion deficit, under accounting principles that are standard for private companies, according to a report that the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance released Friday.
State Budget Director David Schmiedicke said the budget was balanced as required under state law, and that the difference between the two numbers is a matter of timing – how certain costs are accounted for and when they are paid. He added that other states run GAAP deficits, depending on the year.
The $2.15 billion deficit – nearly $400 for each of Wisconsin’s 5.5 million residents – is about what the state spends to run correctional institutions or the University of Wisconsin System over a two-year budget.
It was outlined this month in the state’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, which must be filed every year, like a corporation’s annual report.

NCLB and the Stress Between “Bringing up the Bottom and Supporting High End Kids”

A reader involved in these issues emailed this article by Andrew Rotherham:

Second, the story highlights my colleague Tom Toch’s criticism that a lot of tests states are using under NCLB are pretty basic. That’s exactly right. I’m all for better tests, but isn’t that, you know, an indictment of schools that can’t even get kids over a pretty low bar rather than an indictment of the law? In other words, excepting some fine-grained issues around special populations, NCLB can’t be wildly unrealistic in what it demands of schools and really basic at the same time, can it? The story doesn’t sift through that in detail but would be nice if some journo would.* The reality is that we don’t deliver a very powerful instructional program in a lot of schools, and that’s not the fault of NCLB.
*Related, there is a tension between high-performing students and low-performing ones in terms of where to put resources and attention. Not completely binary, and plenty of students falling behind today could be high performers in better schools. But still there and mostly talked about in code words rather than forthrightly: Are we as a nation better off really focusing on the millions of kids at the wrong end of the achievement gap even if its suboptimal for kids on the high end? And spare me the rhetoric about how you can easily do both. You can to some extent but constrained resources, carrots and sticks in policy, and time constraints all make tradeoffs a reality.

A few other readers have mentioned that this is a conversation Madison needs to have.

Wisconsin Resident’s Total 2006 Tax Rate: 33.4% of Income


For the third consecutive year, total taxes paid by Wisconsin individuals and firms relative to personal income increased in 2006. They now claim 33.4% of income, up from a 2003 low of 30.7%. Both the federal and state tax burdens increased in 2006, while the local government burden dipped slightly.

  • State tax collections rose 5.3%, while federal receipts grew 5.2%. Both increases were smaller than in 2005.
  • Local tax collections, primarily property taxes, rose 2.5% in 2006. The increase was the smallest since 1998’s 1.8% rise.
  • For the sixth consecutive year, sales tax collections increased less than 5%. Prior to 2001, the sales tax rose at least 5% for nine straight years.
  • Wisconsin’s top income tax rate is 6.75%. Since 1978, when the top rate was 11.4%, it has been lowered five times.
  • Personal income rose 4.2% in 2005, lower than 2004’s 6.2% increase

The Allure of Magnet Schools

Ian Shapira:

Educators, parents and teenagers in Northern Virginia say there is a growing demand for exclusive magnet schools similar to Thomas Jefferson, a regional “governor’s school” in the Alexandria section of Fairfax that admits fewer than 20 percent of applicants. They believe such schools are more desirable because their high-level math and science courses and stringent application process make them look formidable to university admissions officers.
Prince William’s proposal comes two years after neighboring Loudoun County created its own exclusive magnet school, the Academy of Science. It screens students based on grades, performance on a standardized test and a creative writing sample. The school on average admits fewer than 30 percent of students who apply. Academy Director George Wolfe said it is the only public school in Northern Virginia aside from Thomas Jefferson that has rigorous academic admissions criteria for the entire student body.

Notes on Multi-Age Classrooms

Amy Hetzner:

In fact, the only indication this is a multiage classroom comes more than an hour into the day’s math lesson, when the students are divided into two groups – first-graders with Weber, second-graders with gifted-specialist Kristin Stein.
Since the beginning of the school year, the Menomonee Falls school has been trying out the multiage classroom as a way to raise student achievement and forge better relationships with parents and students. Riverside Principal Kathy Myles is so encouraged thus far that she hopes to add another class – for third- and fourth-graders – next year.
“My whole thing is about creating options for learners,” said Myles, who also thinks it’s important to keep traditional grade-level classes for students who learn better that way.

How Much Does a Neighborhood Affect the Poor?
Government test tracks families who moved; girls flourish, not boys.

Jon Hilsenrath & Rafael Gerena-Morales:

Climbing out of poverty hasn’t been as easy as getting on the bus. She says her life is now drug-free and more stable, and her children are growing up in a better environment. Yet in many ways, her struggles traveled with her.
“You really need to have a focus to get out of the ghetto,” says Ms. Grayson, a New York native.
Her experience offers clues to a question society has wrestled with for years: Can a family escape poverty by getting out of the neighborhood where it takes root? It also sheds light on the government’s shifting efforts to use housing policy as a solution to poverty.
A $16 billion federal infrastructure has built up around housing vouchers designed to give poor families more choices about where to live. About two million families currently use “Section 8” vouchers that allow them to move with subsidized rent. Since 1993, the government has been demolishing urban housing projects and forcing families to resettle in other places, sometimes with vouchers.
But results show that may only partially be true. “It would have been wonderful to have discovered the magic bullet,” says Jeffrey Liebman, a Harvard economist who has studied the program.
Findings, he says, were more complicated. Among them: boys whose families moved actually fared worse than boys who stayed in bad neighborhoods. Girls, however, fared significantly better. Adults felt better, physically and mentally, than those who stayed behind, but didn’t do better financially.

Reading Between the Lines: Madison Was Right to Reject Compromised Program

Jason Shephard:

From the beginning, Mary Watson Peterson had doubts about the motivations of those in charge of implementing federal education grants known as Reading First. As the Madison district’s coordinator of language arts and reading, she spent hundreds of hours working on Madison’s Reading First grant proposal.
“Right away,” she says, “I recognized a big philosophical difference” between Madison’s reading instruction and the prescriptive, commercially produced lessons advocated by Reading First officials. “The exchange of ideas with the technical adviser ran very counter to what we believe are best practices in teaching.”
The final straw was when the district was required to draft daily lesson plans to be followed by all teachers at the same time.
“We’ve got 25,000 kids who are in 25,000 different places,” says Superintendent Art Rainwater. The program’s insistence on uniformity “fundamentally violated everything we believe about teaching children.”
In October 2004, Rainwater withdrew Madison from the federal grant program, losing potentially $3.2 million even as the district was cutting personnel and programs to balance its budget. Rainwater’s decision, made without input from the school board, drew intense criticism and became an issue in last year’s board elections.

From a public policy perspective, the School Board should have discussed the $3.2M, particularly given the annual agony over very small changes in the District’s $333M+ budget.
The further concern over a one size fits all Reading First requirement (“We’ve got 25,000 kids who are in 25,000 different places,” says Superintendent Art Rainwater.) is ironic, given the push toward just that across the District (West’s English 10 [Bruce King’s English 9 report] and the recently proposed changes at East High School).
Barb Williams noted that other “blessed by the District” curriculum are as scripted as Reading First in a December, 2004 letter to Isthmus. More here via Ed Blume and here via Ruth Robarts.
It will be interesting to see what Diana Schemo has to say about Reading First.

New Year’s resolutions offer a chance to examine schools, education in state

Marisue Horton:

As we head into the season for making New Year’s resolutions, here’s my wish list for resolutions relating to education in 2007:

  1. Embrace our differences. Education is the ability to provide opportunity and challenges to all students. Each child is a gift and has talent. Families, schools and politicians need to avoid pitting one group of learners against another. All are valuable.
  2. Build understanding and avoid condemnation. Parents, learn to advocate for children by defining the problem to be resolved. School staff, encourage family input and work together to find solutions. Community members, visit and offer to volunteer in your public schools. Before criticizing schools, look carefully at what they are doing. Know the issues.
  3. Educate the public by researching the issues. Members of the media, do your homework. We are sitting on one of the best research institutions in the world. Don’t fuel the fires of divisiveness on educational issues by quoting sources without researching their assertions.
  4. Appreciate school staff. There is no greater career, nor many that are open to as much public criticism, as teachers. Take time to thank a teacher, appreciate their work by attending and participating in school events. Find out what’s going on in your public schools each day.
  5. Get involved in solutions to improve public education. Define waste. Rather than criticize local decision-making, share ideas for fiscal responsibility. Help boards of education and administration make districts more effective. Acknowledge that 13 years of revenue caps are stripping our public schools of their ability to effectively educate students. Referendums are NOT the answer. They are little more than panhandling for our kids. Stop asking us to beg for our future.
  6. Acknowledge that leadership matters. Support the hiring of the best quality staff. Ask for local progress reports on your schools. Talk to your legislators and other policymakers about the state’s responsibility to keep their commitments on public education. If you believe in two-thirds funding from the state, demand that legislators live up to their promises!

Marisue Horton
Madison schools parent

Let the Money Follow the Student

Marie Gryphon:

Only by empowering parents to choose their children’s schools can Mayor-elect Fenty achieve his goal of a quality education for every child. He should increase public school choices, lift the arbitrary cap on the number of charter schools allowed in DC, and expand the district’s nascent but promising school voucher program.
Poor teaching quality, one of the District’s worst problems, is exacerbated by public school administrators who prefer to hire education majors instead math and science majors, even though the latter make better teachers in their subjects. Giving parents the ability to choose which public schools get their money discourages these and other counterproductive practices, as Harvard economist Caroline Hoxby has found.

The Underground History of American Education Available Online – Free

John Taylor Gatto’s book:

I want to open up concealed aspects of modern schooling such as the deterioration it forces in the morality of parenting. You have no say at all in choosing your teachers. You know nothing about their backgrounds or families. And the state knows little more than you do. This is as radical a piece of social engineering as the human imagination can conceive. What does it mean?
One thing you do know is how unlikely it will be for any teacher to understand the personality of your particular child or anything significant about your family, culture, religion, plans, hopes, dreams. In the confusion of school affairs even teachers so disposed don’t have opportunity to know those things. How did this happen?
Before you hire a company to build a house, you would, I expect, insist on detailed plans showing what the finished structure was going to look like. Building a child’s mind and character is what public schools do, their justification for prematurely breaking family and neighborhood learning. Where is documentary evidence to prove this assumption that trained and certified professionals do it better than people who know and love them can? There isn’t any.


James Sterngold:

State prisons are crowded with inmates lacking a basic education — Their dismal job prospects mean they’re likely to land back behind bars.
Gregory Davenport, a congenial 46-year-old in prison blues, shared with a visitor to the big state penitentiary here a common inmate’s lament — he left behind two well-educated daughters with whom he could not correspond because he could not read.
But Davenport, serving time for a burglary conviction, is one of the lucky ones. He has finally made progress in his long struggle with illiteracy, a breakthrough he described while holding one of the more sought-after prizes in California’s overburdened corrections system — a classroom seat. He had to wait a year to get into a class in a cramped trailer at the prison in Norco, the California Rehabilitation Center, but now he gets six hours a day of instruction and help with a learning disorder.

Work to change school funding already begun

A story by Kayla Bunge in The Monroe Times reports:

MADISON — With a new legislative session beginning in just about a week, the issue of school funding is certain to receive more attention.
And two local legislators — 17th District Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center, and 27th District Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton — already have begun working.
Schultz, the former Senate majority leader, played a leading role in creating the Special Committee on Review of the State School Aid Formula.
The committee’s purpose, he said, is “to recognize the special challenges that small school districts have trying to continue to provide a quality education in rural communities where student populations are declining.”


Teaching Violence, and Control, to Children

All Things Considered:

Karate instructor Louise Rafkin describes the way that she teaches children to hit. Childhood is a violent time, Rafkin says, and her students learn how to control their innate violence.
As Rafkin talks with two of her young students, one describes the power struggles at his school.

Middle School Reform Discussions

Joel Rubin:

Most frustrating, Chavez-Palmer said, is the difficulty in getting students and parents to follow through on her recommendations for tutoring and other services. At a recent meeting, only 20 parents showed up.
There is little Chavez-Palmer and the other counselors can do to compel middle school students to work harder. A district policy requiring principals to hold back eighth-grade students who fail to meet minimal standards in English and math is largely ignored, said Collins, the chief instructional officer.
The small piece of leverage counselors do have over failing students — threatening to ban them from informal graduation ceremonies schools hold for eighth-graders — often does little to sway students.
“As long as I go on to the ninth grade,” a 14-year-old boy shrugged when Diane-Chavez raised the prospect.
“You didn’t pass the majority of your classes in seventh grade and went on to eighth. The same will happen this year,” the blunt-talking counselor replied. “But what’s going to happen next year? How many times do you think Huntington Park High School is going to allow you to do this?”

Random Breath Tests at High School Events

Kristian Munson:

When Los Gatos High School students return to campus after winter break, they will be given random Breathalyzer tests at school functions.
The measure proved necessary after staff discovered students under the influence of alcohol at several school activities this year, said Principal Doug Ramezane.
The school has used Breathalyzers for several years, but randomly using the tests will be a new procedure.
“We’ve always had a Breathalyzer at dances and we’ve used it whenever we felt there was a need,” Ramezane said, such as if a student appeared drunk.
In October, five students were identified as being either under the influence of alcohol and/or possessing alcohol or marijuana at the school’s Coronation Ball. At three of the four home football games this year, students were found under the influence, school officials said.

Wisconsin School Boards Evaluate Governance Focus

Amy Hetzner:

Under the model, used by a number of school boards in the state, the board develops a set of expectations and then holds its administrators accountable to achieve those goals and report on progress.
The result is a more focused board that has more objective criteria for evaluating the performance of the school superintendent, said Sue Kutz, president of the Racine Unified School Board, which began using policy governance this year.
Monthly monitoring reports and a review of the board’s goals are used to evaluate the superintendent’s performance, she said, rather than a subjective evaluation that focuses on “the last great fiasco that happened.”
Boards are also spared the details and decision-making on issues for which they have little expertise.
“As a way of doing business, it seems to make so much more sense than the old way,” Kutz said.

Interesting. Serving on a school board is perhaps one of the most difficult public service positions “available” today. The recently revealed $6M Madison School District structural deficit (in place for 7 years) along with ongoing curriculum questions and a recent lack of oversight obligations such as reviewing the Superintendent requires a vigilant, active board.

Parent Group Seeks Control of High School Repair Budget

Dion Haynes:

“We’re trying to see if a local school can do things that the present school system is too dysfunctional to handle,” said Chuck Samuels, chairman of Wilson’s local school restructuring team, the group of parents and teachers that advises the principal. “From this seed of a pilot project could grow more autonomy for Wilson and for other schools to do the same.”
Last year, Wilson parents and teachers explored the idea of becoming a charter school after becoming frustrated by the central office’s slow response to their maintenance problems and by its move to cut $400,000 from the school’s budget to cover a systemwide shortfall.
To avert the exodus of the highest-performing comprehensive high school from the system, Janey signed an agreement with the Wilson parents and teachers allowing them to devise a proposal for becoming independent of the central office by taking charge of areas such as the budget and teacher hiring.

Madison Studio Charter School: A Final Push – You can Help

Dear Supporters of The Studio School:
As you probably know, we met with the MMSD Board members last Wednesday and are satisfied with how the Board meeting went. Many individuals took the opportunity to speak at the meeting and each of them did a fantastic job! THE OUTCOME OF THE MEETING IS THAT WE NEED TO PREPARE A RESPONSE TO THEIR QUESTIONS and have very limited time to accomplish this since they need to have it by January 18th. So here’s our plan:
We need to put together three short-term task forces:

  1. “money team” to work on the budget and financing
    • Determine what an accurate and detailed representation of costs and revenues would look like and fill in the numbers.
    • Consider creative ways to finance the school with the implementation grant Help! We need more school finance expertise for this one.
    • We still need money to file for tax exempt status ($750) Help! If we could get a/some contributions to cover this cost, we have found an attorney who will file it pro bono…
    • So if we could get a sizable donation to get this school started since the district’s finances are in such a bad state, the Board would be more favorably disposed to our proposal. (This would be added to federal grant funds of $340,000.)
  2. “people team” to reach out to a more diverse population (Kristin Forde is going to organize this.)
    Meet with or provide information to people we haven’t had an opportunity to connect with so we can share information about the school and encourage them to attend the January 22nd meeting to express support and interest in The Studio School Help! We could use some marketing expertise.

  3. “plan team” to develop a clearer description of the school and how it would actually work, including the technology
    Develop a more detailed implementation plan and a clearer representation of how it will operate and look. Help! I can work on this but I would like some people (parents, educators, interested parties) to collaborate with me in order to figure out how to communicate it more clearly.

If you or anyone you know can help out over the next few weeks, please have them contact me. This is our last opportunity to pull it all together and make The Studio School a choice for Madison children – this means that we need to start the new year ready to get it done.
We have made it to this point because of the dedication and hard work of our core planning group and the assistance and support from people like you. We are almost there! A “final push” kickoff meeting is scheduled for January 3rd at 6:00…location to be determined. After that, we have two weeks to get it all done. So please let me know ASAP if you, or someone you know, can lend us a hand.
Thank you for your continued support. We are looking forward to celebrating and sharing our success in February after the final vote on January 29th!
Nancy Donahue
The Studio School, Inc.

Property Tax Levies in Wisconsin #1 As a % of Home Values

Avram Lank:

Property taxes in Wisconsin are the nation’s highest in proportion to the value of owner-occupied homes, according to a recent national study.
hat is “nothing terribly new or earth-shaking,” said Todd A. Berry, president of the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance in Madison, who predicted the taxes still are too low to cause a fundamental change in state policy.
The study results are “a combination of two things,” Berry said. “We are a higher property tax state . . . (and) our median home value is lower. Put those together, and it is going to push us up.”

The Tax Foundation [Gerald Prante]:

No tax riles the American people more than property taxes, especially real estate taxes that are based on the value of their homes and land. According to a recent Tax Foundation poll, property taxes are thought to be the least “fair” of all state and local taxes.
Most likely, part of the reason for this loathing is that taxpayers are more acutely aware of what property taxes cost them than they are of income, payroll, corporate, or sales taxes. Sometimes, property taxes are paid into an escrow account without much personal attention from the taxpayer, but often property taxes involve the actual writing of a huge check to the local government.
Key Findings:

  • Property taxes highest in the Northeast, Texas, Illinois, and Wisconsin
  • New York and New Jersey dominate list of high-tax counties
  • About half of all property taxes go to public schools
  • Property taxes rose faster than incomes from 2002 to 2004
  • Housing market decline may force local governments to cut spending or raise property tax rates

Prante’s last point regarding the relationship between changes in the housing market, tax assessments and rates is an important factor to watch. Madison has experienced substantial housing growth (and therefore parcel quantity and values) over the past decade. If/when that changes, there will be some blowback with respect to assessments, millrates and the net taxes we pay.
Add the Madison School District’s recently revealed 7 year structural deficit, the subsequent need to reduce the annual school district spending increases in it’s current $333M+ budget by a larger than normal amount and we have a rather challenging school spending environment. Complete report: 409K PDF

Fall 2007 Madison Virtual Campus Grand Opening

Joan Peebles and Kelly Pochop:

In Fall 2007, the Madison Metropolitan School District will celebrate a “grand opening” of the Madison Virtual Campus which will be able to serve staff and students with opportunities to learn using online tools and methods. While the Madison Virtual Campus will provide online learning services across the entire district, students and teachers will benefit in particular.
Over the next nine months, staff from all divisions within the Teaching and Learning Department will be developing ways to deliver professional development to teachers in buildings across the district. Teachers will be able to receive training to support and improve their classroom instruction without the need for traveling to workshops across the district or planning for substitute teachers during their intermittent absences to receive instructional training.

Judge tosses out mayor’s takeover of L.A. schools

Howard Blume and Joel Rubin:

A Superior Court judge Thursday struck down legislation that gave Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa substantial authority over the Los Angeles Unified School District, a stunning setback to his plans for assuming direct control of dozens of Los Angeles schools.
Judge Dzintra Janavs said the law, which would have taken effect Jan. 1, violated multiple provisions of the state Constitution and the Los Angeles City Charter. She ordered public officials “to refrain from enforcing or implementing” any part of Assembly Bill 1381, which codified Villaraigosa’s powers.
In a late afternoon news conference, the mayor vowed to seek an expedited appeal.

On the QEO (Qualified Economic Offer)

Jay Bullock:

Here’s the short story on the QEO: Back in the early 1990s, when Tommy Thompson, et al., did their part to appease the anti-taxers regarding school costs and property taxes, they implemented a trio of reforms. The QEO (qualified economic offer) law allowed school districts to impose a 3.8% cap on increases in public school teacher salaries and benefits without bargaining, given that bargaining first comes to an impasse. The second reform placed caps on how much revenue districts could raise from the local levy. The third was a promise–not a statutory requirement like the other two–that a full two-thirds of funding for schools would be paid out of the state’s general fund, also to keep property taxes low.
District administrators and school boards hate the revenue caps; teachers hate the QEO; the legislature (when Republican-flavored, anyway) hates the 2/3 promise. And I’d bet 98% or more of the rest of the state probably couldn’t even tell you what any of the three things are.

LaFollette’s four block schedule: good or bad?

When the four block schedule began at LaFollette a few years ago, the MMSD praised its succeses:

Under the new “four block” schedule, La Follette High School students are missing school less, are better behaved and are taking tougher courses, all of which is adding up to better academic performance, an analysis of first quarter data shows. Press release, December 17, 1997.
La Follette High School students flourished during the first year of the school’s four block schedule, a year-end summary reports. Press release, September 9, 1998


Homeschool-Public School Bonds Growing

Jessica Blanchard:

More parents are supplementing lessons at home by embracing public school partnerships.
Students at the tiny, nondescript public school building in North Seattle have no playground, no formal cafeteria, no sports teams, no bells signaling the end of class.
They come and go as they please, and the nearly 250 who pass through the halls don’t even consider themselves public school students.
They’re among the more than 20,000 children statewide who are thought to opt out of public schools each year. They and their parents are drawn instead to the flexibility and freedom of homeschooling.

Meanwhile, another Wisconsin virtual high school opens.

Watch a Discussion of the Proposed Madison Studio School

Watch this 2 hour discussion or download the 69MB video clip.

Much more on the Madison Studio School.
Ben Popper:

“I want to know why these charter options exist in other parts of the state, but not in Madison,” said Christina Navaro. “Here in the shadow of this amazing university, why don’t we have the choices that will keep parents in the public school system?”
Becky Van Houten, director of the Preschool of the Arts, where Donahue had taught, tried to give a historical perspective on the importance of a Reggio education.
“The educators who created Reggio were reacting to the terrors of fascist regimes,” she said. “They wanted to educate students who would not simply go along with what they were told.”

Zig & Zag with the Madison Studio School Politics.

Funding Gaps: 2006


School finance policy choices at the federal, state, and district levels systematically stack the deck against students who need the most support from their schools, according to a report released today by the Education Trust.
The report, Funding Gaps 2006, builds on the Education Trust’s annual studies of funding gaps among school districts within states. For the first time the report includes data and analysis on:

  • How federal Title I funds widen rather than narrow the education funding gaps that separate wealthy states from poor states; and,
  • How funding choices at the school district level provide enhanced funding to schools serving higher concentrations of affluent students and white students at the expense of schools that serve low-income students and students of color.

Wisconsin’s Title 1 allocation per “poor child” is $1,577.00 [PDF Report]. One interesting piece of data: Wisconsin school district receipts from federal sources are 6.1% of total revenues. The state average is 8.9%. (Minnesota is 6% while Illinois is 8.6% and Iowa is 8.3%). The State of Wisconsin provides, on average 52.2% of district revenues (above the federal average of 47.1%). Local tax receipts are, on average 41.7% of district revenues (national average is 43.9%).

New La Follette Principal Meets With Parents


On Tuesday’s meeting at the school, some parents in attendance said that there were feelings of confusion, concern and anxiety. The meeting was a listening session and allowed the new principal to introduce himself and then work to quell concerns.
Rathert told the parents about his extensive leadership experience and outlined his plans for moving forward, He also fielded questions from attendees, WISC-TV reported.
“The main thing I’ve done is just come in and tried to listen and get around to as many people and get in front of as many students as possible and learn as much as I can as quickly as I can,” Rathert said.

A Few Words on Professionalism

There’s been a bit of school climate discussion recently regarding safety as well as leadership changes, most recently at LaFollette. I’ve had the opportunity to observe a number of teachers and principals over the past few months and have to say that the level of professionalism and resiliency, in the face of significant challenges, have been impressive. I am thankful for their time and efforts.

Video Games/Computers for Children a No-No

Baby Frankenstein — Forbes
Jane Healy, an educational psychologist and author of Failure to Connect: How Computers Affect Our Children’s Minds and What We Can Do About It doesn’t agree that video games and computers for children will give them a leg-up in the competitive world of the 21st Century. “Behind the big push to get kids onto computers is this idea that if we don’t, they won’t become functional members of the 21st century,” she says. “That’s not only false, it’s dangerous.”
In Healy’s opinion, electronic gaming at a young age can lead to shorter attention spans, a lack of internal motivation, difficulty with problem solving and a lack of creativity. She thinks kids should avoid computers entirely until the age of 7.
But while harried parents may love the videos, to suggest that it therefore means they’re good for kids is like suggesting that Coca-Cola (nyse: KO – news – people ) is a health drink because millions of customers love it.
Good learning games, on the other hand, can be simple and cheap. A game of jump rope, for example, promotes fitness, coordination and social skills, while basic board games like Hasbro’s (nyse: HAS – news – people ) Candy Land and Snakes and Ladders teach children about rules and consequences.
So, by all means, give your kids a leg up on learning when picking out their gifts this year. But consider doing so with a set of blocks, a board game or a jump rope.

Local Politics: Zig and Zag with the Madison Studio School

Steven Elbow’s Tuesday article in The Capital Times on the proposed Madison Studio School included a rather tantalizing opening quote from organizer Nancy Donahue:

When Nancy Donahue began her effort for a charter school in Madison, she had no idea she would be wading into a world of politics.
“It’s a campaign,” said Donahue, who hopes to have her arts- and technology-oriented Studio School up and running next fall. “And before this I was very apolitical. But I’ve learned if you believe in something you do what you have to do.”

A couple of close observers of Madison’s political tea leaves emailed some additional context:

Former teacher and Progressive Dane education task force member Kristin Forde is a member of the Madison Studio School’s “core planning group”. In the past, Forde has participated in School Board candidate interviews and a Progressive Dane (PD) candidate Forum.
Madison School Board President Johnny Winston, Jr. has been and is supported by PD along with recently elected (in one of the closest local elections in memory – by 70 votes) board member Arlene Silveira.
PD reportedly requires any candidate they endorse to back all of their future candidates and initiatives. [ed: Shades of “with us or against us“. Evidently both Russ Feingold and Barack Obama have not read the memo.]

I find PD’s positions interesting. They recently strongly supported the Linden Park edge school [map] (opposed by a few locals who dislike the sprawl implications, though it handily passed in November, with 69% voting in favor). I do think Madison is behind the innovation curve with respect to online learning and possibly charters. Appleton has 12 charter schools, including an online school.
Background documents:

The timing and politics are a challenge, given the recently disclosed 7 year Madison School District structural deficit which will require larger than normal reductions in the 2007 / 2008 budget increases.
I have very fond memories of Madison’s Preschool of the Arts.
It will be interesting to see if the Studio School supporters endorse PD’s spring, 2007 candidates, which include Johnny Winston, Jr who is standing for re-election.

Madison Studio School Public Hearing Today @ 5:00p.m.

Will you have an opportunity to register SUPPORT for The STUDIO SCHOOL at today’s (5:00pm) public hearing by the Madison School Board?
With the approval of the school board, the public charter school of arts and technology would open next fall in Madison. See more about The STUDIO SCHOOL (SIS Links) here:

Please contact school board members to voice your support for creating this new educational opportunity, within the public school system, for children in Madison. Thank you.

Milwaukee School Property Tax Error

Larry Sandler & Sarah Carr:

Milwaukee taxpayers accidentally got a $9.1 million tax break – and city and Milwaukee Public Schools officials now have a $9.1 million headache.
Because of a paperwork snafu between MPS and City Hall, the property tax bills mailed this month inadvertently left out a tax increase that the School Board approved in October.
Now fingers are being pointed, the schools are demanding that the city come up with the money, and city officials are huddling in high-level, closed-door meetings to figure out what went wrong and how it can be fixed.
City officials aren’t saying what options are under study or whether they might include a special tax assessment or borrowing money to be paid back in future years.

Rigorous Evidence in Educational Practices

U.S. Department of Education – Research, Statistics and Publications
In reading studies, reports, and especially, journalists’ impressions and advocacy articles, the paper entitled Identifying and Implementing Educational Practices Supported By Rigorous Evidence: A User Friendly Guide should be required reading.
It is a well-written 28-page summary of good research design and the problems that can and do occur and the inappropriate conclusions drawn from poorly-designed and implemented research.
It should certainly stop all of us from merely repeating opinions and articles as though they were true, even when they support our own prejudices.
I’m reminded of a quote (paraphrased), I believe from John Tukey: “You can lie with statistics, but you can’t tell the truth without statistics.”
Quoting from the Executive Summary of this report:
Purpose and Executive Summary
This Guide seeks to provide educational practitioners with user-friendly tools to distinguish practices supported by rigorous evidence from those that are not.

The field of K-12 education contains a vast array of educational interventions – such as reading and math curricula, schoolwide reform programs, after-school programs, and new educational technologies – that claim to be able to improve educational outcomes and, in many cases, to be supported by evidence. This evidence often consists of poorly-designed and/or advocacy-driven studies. State and local education officials and educators must sort through a myriad of such claims to decide which interventions merit consideration for their schools and classrooms. Many of these practitioners have seen interventions, introduced with great fanfare as being able to produce dramatic gains, come and go over the years, yielding little in the way of positive and lasting change – a perception confirmed by the flat achievement results over the past 30 years in the National Assessment of Educational Progress long-term trend.
The federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, and many federal K-12 grant programs, call on educational practitioners to use “scientifically-based research” to guide their decisions about which interventions to implement. As discussed below, we believe this approach can produce major advances in the effectiveness of American education. Yet many practitioners have not been given the tools to distinguish interventions supported by scientifically-rigorous evidence from those which are not. This Guide is intended to serve as a user-friendly resource that the education practitioner can use to identify and implement evidence-based interventions, so as to improve educational and life outcomes for the children they serve.

    Table of Contents:

  1. Title Page
  2. Coalition Board of Advisors
  3. Purpose and Executive Summary
  4. Identifying and Implementing Educational Practices Supported By Rigorous Evidence: A User Friendly Guide
  5. I. The randomized controlled trial: What it is, and why it is a critical factor in establishing “strong” evidence of an intervention’s effectiveness.
  6. II. How to evaluate whether an intervention is backed by “strong” evidence of effectiveness.
  7. III. How to evaluate whether an intervention is backed by “possible” evidence of effectiveness.
  8. IV. Important factors to consider when implementing an evidence-based intervention in your schools or classrooms.
  9. Appendix A: Where to find evidence-based interventions
  10. Appendix B: Checklist to use in evaluating whether an intervention is backed by rigorous evidence
  11. References

2007 – 2008 Madison School District Budget Discussions Underway

Watch Monday evening’s school board discussion [Video | Download] of the upcoming larger than usual reductions in revenue cap limited increases in the District’s 2007 – 2008 budget (they are larger than normal due to the recently disclosed 7 year structural budget deficit). The 2006 / 2007 budget is $333M+ (it was $245M in 98/99 while enrollment has remained flat, though the student composition continues to change).

Related Links:

25 Year Old KIPP Teacher’s Math Program

Jay Matthews:

But one of the secrets of KIPP’s success in attracting the brightest young teachers and raising achievement for low-income children throughout the country is its insistence on letting good teachers decide how they are going to teach. KIPP principals, such as Johnson, have the power to hire promising young people such as Suben and let them follow their best instincts, as long as the results — quality of student work, level of student classroom responses, improvement in standardized test scores — justify the teacher’s confidence in her approach.
Johnson and Schaeffler were variously startled, amused and intrigued by Suben’s determination to do math her way. They say they are also very pleased with the results, which justify both the hiring of Suben and the KIPP insistence on lively engagement of every child in class.

Seattle students getting junk-food fix elsewhere

Jessica Blanchard:

It was a lunch that would horrify a dietitian: a bag of Tropical Skittles, a Jones soda, two Little Debbie marshmallow treats, a deep-fried pizza stick and a bottle of sweetened iced tea.
The high-calorie, sugar-packed treats are standard fare for Cleveland High School freshman Tikisha Spires, who travels off campus for lunch each day.
It’s certainly not what the Seattle School Board had in mind two years ago when it adopted a rigorous nutrition policy and canceled a lucrative vending contract with Coca-Cola. Chips and cookies were replaced in vending machines with granola bars and trail mix; sugary drinks are no longer sold in schools. Cleveland fell into line with other schools, offering healthier foods in its cafeteria and vending machines.
Teens such as Tikisha fell into line, too — out the door to find their junk food off campus.

Reading First-Gate

Marc Dean Millot:

The abuses revealed in federal investigations of the Reading First program are not, as the normally levelheaded U.S. Rep. George Miller of California asserts, the product of a Republican “culture of corruption.” Nor do they spring from a vast business conspiracy, as opponents of privatization would have us believe; an autocratic bureaucrat ideology, as the Bush administration seems inclined to suggest; or an isolated set of circumstances, as all reasonable people hope. The scandal is part of a pervasive pattern in public education today, and is the predictable result of elected officials’ well-intentioned but incomplete approach to school reform legislation.
Since the early 1990s, federal and state government has rightly moved public education in the direction of standards, accountability, and competition. By any reasonable assessment, the programs that schools purchase, not just teachers and the bureaucracy, bear some responsibility for the conditions that led to legislative change. Capped by the federal No Child Left Behind Act, the legislative framework political leaders established aims at compelling public schools to purchase new, innovative programs from the private sector. But in the process, policymakers unwittingly took aim at deeply entrenched purchasing relationships involving school districts, federal and state education agencies, large multinational publishing firms, and an expert class of consultants in academia and the think tanks. Elected officials failed to change the rules of that game. Instead, they left the making of their new market to this syndicate.

Resignation & Fights At La Follette


The same day principal John Broome resigned, last friday, three fights broke out, leaving many students, staff and parents wondering if they are related.
Mitch weber discovered the fights ended with two students in trouble with the law and one teacher injured.
Since the school year started, we’ve reported on rising violence at La Follette – a student pulling a knife on another student, a fight in the hallway involving girls.
Today, the district denied the principal’s resignation and the fights last week are connected.
As school got out this afternoon at La Follette High School. Many students knew why we were there. Damian Clendening found out today his new principal isn’t coming back.

I have to agree with Phil M that the Administration deserves “some level of credit” for addressing this now, rather than later. Tim had some useful comments on the challenging job that is an urban high school principal.

La Follette principal resigns; Rathert named interim principal

The MMSD released the following this afternoon:

La Follette High School Principal John Broome on Friday tendered his resignation from his position. Former Madison high school principal Loren Rathert now becomes the interim principal at the school for the remainder of the 2006-07 school year.
The Madison School District will conduct a national search for a new La Follette principal to begin the 2007-08 school year.
“John Broome came to us Friday and said that the needs of the school and his skills were not a match, and in the best interests of the school he felt he should resign,” said Superintendent Art Rainwater.
“I’m appreciative to John for recognizing the situation and putting the needs of the La Follette students first.”
Rathert is a veteran school administrator who retired in June of this year. He was the principal of Madison West for three years (2001-04) and was the interim principal at Madison East from September 2004 through June 2005.
“We’re fortunate that Loren Rathert is willing to take this position,” said Rainwater. “He’s an outstanding principal and is experienced in managing a large, urban high school.”
Broome became La Follette’s principal on July 1, coming here from a high school principalship in Charleston, IL.

Why Not Walk to School Today?

Brian Lee and Jared Cunningham:

By applying GIS analysis, University of Kentucky undergraduate landscape architecture students have found ways to make it safer and easier for children to walk to school. Concerns with the growing childhood obesity epidemic, increased costs in driving children to school, and fostering the perception that it is more normal to drive rather than to walk to destinations have made walking to school an issue. With ArcView 9.1 and the ArcGIS Spatial Analyst extension, these students identified dangerous walking and bicycling areas, proposed design safety solutions, and evaluated alternatives for improving adverse conditions.
The immediate safety, as well as the long-term health, of children walking to and from schools has become an important topic of discussion in communities. The doubling of the childhood obesity rate over the past 30 years has raised concerns about short- and long-term health costs. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005 recommend that children and adolescents frequently participate in at least 60 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity, preferably on a daily basis. A short recess period during school does not provide enough physical activity for a growing child. One way to increase physical activity is to incorporate it into the child’s daily school commute. However, neighborhoods have often been designed with the automobile exclusively in mind. Consequently, children walking or bicycling to school is not always a safe alternative to the car or school bus.

Open Enrollment Gives Special Students More Options

Amy Hetzner:

Middle school isn’t an easy time for anybody, but it was especially difficult for Jordan Johnson.
His fellow students teased him about the cane he used, and his teachers frequently forgot to provide worksheets and other materials in the large type he needed because of a progressive vision loss called retinitis pigmentosa. He would fall behind and frequently lose work, but his parents wouldn’t learn of his problems until quarter grades came out, said his mother, Sally.
That ended when he transferred to the Waukesha School District, under the state’s open enrollment program, to use the district’s virtual high school, iQ Academies at Wisconsin, which allows students to attend classes via computers set up in their home.
“Ever since, I’ve been getting pretty good grades,” said Jordan, 16, whose family moved to Hudson recently.

07/08 Budget Discussions Begin

Superintendent Art Rainwater sent a memo to the School Board [550K PDF] outlining 10 categories that will be considered as the District prepares a balanced 2007/2008 budget in April, 2007. This budget will be more challenging due to the recently disclosed $6M structural deficit, which means that the reduction in the Distict’s revenue cap limited spending increases in its’ $333M+ budget will be larger than usual. The discussion categories include:

  1. Athletics/Extra Curricular
  2. Consolidate Schools
  3. Teacher/Staff Ratios
  4. Building/Facilities
  5. Reduce Administrative Staffing
  6. Services
  7. Student Services
  8. Curriculum Development and Support
  9. Decrease allocations for instructional supplies/materials/equipment by up to 20%
  10. Eliminate/Reduce District Student Programs/Services

QEO Politics: Politicians Discuss Wisconsin’s Qualified Economic Offer

Jason Stein:

To avoid arbitration, the QEO mandates that districts maintain the same increasingly costly benefits for teachers, Leistikow said.
“Districts are put in a terrible box,” Leistikow said. “Repealing the QEO will give school districts more flexibility in managing their benefits cost.”
The WEAC union, a staunch and powerful Doyle supporter, would like to see both the QEO and revenue caps eliminated, President Stan Johnson said. “It’s got to be part of a total package,” he said.
Doyle, however, favors keeping the revenue limits to hold down property taxes, Leistikow said.
Odden said repealing the QEO but leaving the revenue caps in place would leave school districts in a difficult position.
“Unless there’s a major change in the school funding formula, I wouldn’t predict that the QEO would be eliminated,” Odden said.
If it happened, the effect would probably be higher salary and wage costs at the expense of other programming and items in school budgets, including possibly job cuts, Odden said.

There will be no shortage of challenges dealing with revenue cap limits to growth in the Madison School District’s $332M+ budget during the upcoming 2007/2008 process, including the recently disclosed 7 year structural deficit.

High Schools Crack Down: Dance Nice or Not at All

Michelle York:

Before Sophie Friedman, 15, went to her first high school dance last year, her friends warned her: This would not be like those in middle school with shy, awkward dance moves.
But their advice did not prepare Sophie for what she saw when she showed up. “It was a pretty big shock,” she said. “I didn’t expect it to be that crazy.”
Her classmates were bumping, grinding, shaking, arching, teasing and flaunting in a way that made the chaperons gape.

Educators, Parents Eager for an Edge Opt for IB Classes in Grade Schools

Ian Shapira:

Hunting for the best education for her three young children, Traci Pietra fretted about low test scores at her Arlington neighborhood school. Then the principal told her about Randolph Elementary’s affiliation with one of the most prestigious and rapidly growing brands in education: IB.
International Baccalaureate is best known for a high school diploma program geared to the university-bound academic elite. But Pietra and her husband, Peter, were sold on the lesser-known elementary version of IB. Both were attracted to the IB emphasis on global understanding, Pietra said, and added: “He was like, ‘Our kids are going to an Ivy League school, and we need an education that’s going to get them on the right track.’ “

Cardozo High School AP English Teacher Video

John Poole 5:21 video:

Cardozo High School in Washington, DC, is a national pioneer in introducing Advanced Placement courses to disadvantaged students. It has found ways to build student skills so that they can begin to get passing grades on the AP exams. One of its star AP teachers, Frazier O’Leary, taught the school’s first AP class 10 years ago and, since then, has become a frequent speaker and adviser to school districts around the nation.

Well worth watching.

More Notes on Re-Thinking K-12

Amanda Paulson:

What if the solution to American students’ stagnant performance levels and the wide achievement gap between white and minority students wasn’t more money, smaller schools, or any of the reforms proposed in recent years, but rather a new education system altogether?
That’s the conclusion of a bipartisan group of scholars and business leaders, school chancellors and education commissioners, and former cabinet secretaries and governors. They declare that America’s public education system, designed to meet the needs of 100 years ago when the workplace revolved around an assembly line, is unsuited to today’s global marketplace. Already, they warn, many Americans are in danger of falling behind and seeing their standard of living plummet.

Rotherham adds:

I think we need to think more daringly, yes, but I don’t think we tried everything or nearly hard enough to improve American schools within the current context. But I think that is sort of irrelevant today because the context has changed so much and consequently more of the same amounts to trying to make the current system work to do things we don’t want it to do anymore anyway.

Locally, dealing with the recently disclosed 7 year structural deficit in the Madison School District’s $332M+ budget will require strong leadership, open minds and the ideas contained in Peter Gascoyne’s words.
V. Dion Haynes has more.

Structural budget deficit will increase MMSD revenue shortfall for 2007-08

A few weeks ago when the Madison School Board was finalizing the budget for the current academic year, Vice-President Lawrie Kobza pointed out two very serious problems. First, the district has been overstating expected revenues in recent years during the months when the board was reviewing and approving the budgets. Second, the district has been balancing the budget at the end of the year by dipping significantly into its reserves (equity fund).
In Susan Troller’s article in The Capital Times, Roger Price, the assistant superintendent for Business Services, promises a “more conservative approach” to budgeting. In part, the “more conservative approach” seems to mean that revenue estimates will not be overstated, making deeper cuts more necessary, but perhaps giving the board a way to reduce the drain on its reserves.
School Board anticipates big budget shortfall.

On Banning the High School Honor Roll

Margery Eagan:

It’s been ridiculed since Monday. Even Jay Leno weighed in with a joke about his PC home state, Massachusetts, where Needham High, in case you missed it, will stop printing the honor roll in the paper lest, as Leno put it, “it might make the kids flunking out feel bad.”
“We protect our children too much. This sends the wrong message,” said one Needham mother, whose son graduated in June. Yet she understands the principal’s good intentions.
Her boy is among those still reeling from four student suicides in three years. One was her son’s friend. She understands too the paradoxes: How the pressure on high schoolers to achieve – from parents, peers, school – is greater than ever. But teenagers have less ability to cope.
That’s because a hallmark of middle-class parenting, 2006, starting in preschool, is to stamp out any situation that teaches children how to deal with, say, getting picked last, over and over, in a schoolyard pick-up game – assuming your kids’ school even allows pick-up games anymore.

2007/2008 Madison School District Budget Outlook: Half Empty or Half Full?

Susan Troller’s piece today on the larger than usual reduction in “revenue cap limited” increases (say that quickly) in the Madison School District’s $332M+ 2007/2008 budget is interesting, from my perspective, due to what is left unsaid:

  • The District has been running a “structural deficit for years, revealed only recently after school board Vice President Lawrie Kobza spent considerable time seeking an answer to the question:

    “Why did our equity go down this past year since we, the board, passed a balanced budget in 2005/2006? Why did it go down by $2.8M (about a 1% variance in last year’s $319M+ budget)?

    Superintendent Art Rainwater responded:

    “The way we have attempted to deal with maintaining the quality of education as long as we could was to budget very, very aggressively, realizing that we had an out of fund balance ($5.9M in 2006/2007). We made the decision 7 years ago or so to budget aggressively and try to manage to that budget believing that we would use less fund equity over time than if we set aside a set amount. So that’s been our approach. That fund equity has now come down to the point that we believe we can’t do that any more and we will not bring you a balanced budget that is aggressive particularly where it gets into aggressive on the revenue side in how much efficiency we believe we can budget. So, what the effect of that is to increase the amount you have to pay.

  • I’ve not seen a published figure on how much the District’s equity has declined during this “7 year aggressive” budget posture. The District’s operating budget in 1998/1999 was approximately $245M. The current year’s budget is $332M. Enrollment has remained flat during this time.
  • Madison is a “rich” district, spending 23% more per student than the state average. Madison is also a property tax rich district, with an average property value per student of $775,000 (Appleton is $411K, Milwaukee $267K, Verona 526K and Middleton-Cross Plains $779K) – via SchoolFacts 2006. George Lighbourn’s recent WPRI school finance article is, in my view correct:

    Even the most vocal proponents of change understand the reality that big changes are not in the offing. They know that they are up against the most formidable impediment to change, the printout, that age-old tabulation showing how much money each school district will get out of Madison. Any change that shows dozens of school districts will see a decline in state aid has almost no chance of succeeding.

  • All of this points to the importance of managing the $332M+ budget well, choosing the most effective curriculum and building public confidence for future referendums. I wonder when the public might have learned of the structural deficits (and the District’s dwindling cash equity) had elections gone a different way the past few years (reformers vs old guard)? Learn more about the April, 2007 School Board election.
  • Notes/links:

School finance is a mess. However, the Madison School District’s $332M+ budget provides resources far beyond most public school systems. Throwing up our arms and blaming the state or feds, or ? will not solve anything and certainly does not put our children’s interests first. Transparency, responsibility, creativity, local control (be careful what we wish for with respect to state and federal school finance updates) and wise investments are key to maintaining the community’s remarkable financial and voluntary public education support.

Madison United for Academic Excellence, 12-December-2006 Presentation

The Madison United for Academic Excellence (MUAE) meeting of 12-December-2006 offered a Question and Answer session with Madison Director of Teaching and Learning, Lisa Wachtel, and Brian Sniff, District K-12 Math Coordinator.
A list of questions was prepared and given to the speakers in advance so they could address the specific concerns of parents.

The video

QT Video
of the meeting is 130MB, and 1 hour and 30 minutes long. Click on the image at left to watch the video.
The video contains chapter headings which allow quick navigation to sections of the meeting. The video will play immediately, while the file continues to download.

The topics covered during remarks and the question and answer sessions were accompanied by a PowerPoint presentation (here in PDF format), highlights of which are

  • Changing demographics in the school district
  • Listing of Superintendent’s Goals for comprehensive review, as set by the Board of Education
  • K-5 Math Standards, Resources, and role of Teaching and Learning
  • Professional development for K-5 teachers
  • 5th Grade Math Assessment Pilot project for advanced students
  • Middle school math, 6th to 8th grade
  • Math certification of middle school math teachers, with an extended discussion of the statistic that only 5% of middle school math teachers are math certified,
    comparing Wisconsin to bordering states
  • WKCE tests and testing in general
  • Discussion by audience of recent studies and trends in math preparation for college

Spring elections for Madison School Board: reformers versus old guard

Writing in this week’s Isthmus newspaper, reporter Jason Shepard frames the issue in the spring school board elections for MMSD: Will Madison voters support the new direction of “tackling fiscal, managerial and achievement-related problems” or bring back an approach that blames all problems on the state legislature and is very light on oversight and accountability regarding finances and student achievement?
Spring elections could bring new directions

Exploring Alternatives to the Traditional High School

Rethinking K-12: Out of the 20th Century

National Center on Education and The Economy:

In a TIME article on How to Bring Our Schools Out of the 20th Century , Claudia Wallis and Sonja Steptoe write that the national discussion around education will change “when the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce, a high-powered, bipartisan assembly of Education Secretaries, business leaders and a former Governor releases a blueprint for rethinking American education from pre-K to 12 and beyond to better prepare students to thrive in the global economy.”

Executive Summary 2.1MB PDF
Andrew Rotherham comments.

On Wisconsin’s Learning Gap

Alan Borsuk:

The education achievement gaps between African-American and white children in Wisconsin remain among the worst in the United States, according to an analysis released Wednesday by an influential education group.
To a degree that’s good news. That’s better than in 2004, when a similar analysis by the Journal Sentinel showed the proficiency gaps in several key measures between African-American and white children were larger in Wisconsin than in any other state.
Using more recent results of the same series of tests – the National Assessment of Educational Progress – the Education Trust found that in fourth-grade reading and eighth-grade math, Wisconsin was near the bottom of the list, which included the states and the District of Columbia. In eighth-grade math, Nebraska had a bigger gap. In fourth-grade reading, Wisconsin was sixth from worst in gap size and eighth from the bottom when it came to the average score of black students.
The results, said Daria Hall, a senior policy analyst for the organization and the main author of the report, “show just how far Wisconsin has to go in order to ensure that all kids, particularly poor kids and kids of color, are getting equal opportunities to meet high standards.”
Hall – herself a graduate of Milwaukee Public Schools – said Wisconsin should look to states with much smaller gaps and with gaps that have been narrowed in recent years to see what it should do. She named Massachusetts and Delaware as examples.
Massachusetts has eliminated funding gaps between school districts serving high-income and low-income students, she said. But it’s not only about money, she added. The state has created rigorous education standards and accountability systems.
Tony Evers, deputy state superintendent of public instruction, said the analysis showed that the scores of African-American and Latino students in Wisconsin had risen in recent years while the scores of white students stayed flat – which he called “slightly good news.”

Edtrust Wisconsin Report 500K PDF. Edtrust.org.

A Look at Single Sex Schools in Milwaukee

Erin Richards:

In a school with more non-Catholics than Catholics, a more universal identifier is average income: More than 80% of the students receive vouchers to attend St. Joan, and almost the same number qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.
“Our girls face a huge amount of challenges,” says Teddi Kennedy, the school’s director of advancement. “For some of them, just getting here on the bus and getting a good meal is a concern.”
That meal is served in a tiny lunch line in the corner of the school’s gymnasium. On this day, nearly everything is the same color: a fried chicken patty with a slab of cheese, corn and canned fruit salad.

A New Paradigm of Education Reform Litigation

Shavar Jeffries:

I believe it is time, once again, to consider a new approach to using the law to facilitate meaningful educational opportunities for minority children. I suggest that civil-rights lawyers initiate a new wave of litigation premised on reshaping the governance of public schools and, in so doing, empowering minority parents to assume meaningful decision-making roles concerning the kind of education available to children of color. Litigation efforts to this point have been focused fundamentally on widescale, largely uniform government decision-making about the educational needs of minority children; the voice and needs of individual children and parents have largely been unheeded. And it is usually the case that policymaking focused on across-the-board remedies inevitably ignores the particular needs of minority children. The approach I suggest does not imply, however, an atomistic preoccupation with individual needs in opposition to the civic and social purposes motivating public subsidy of educational services; rather, I suggest a public-private form of governance fundamentally different from the almost exclusively government-centered litigation model used today.

More on Teacher Merit Pay

Larry Abramson:

A new study by education researchers concludes that the best way to improve the quality of teaching is to pay teachers more. And to pay good teachers even more. Critics aren’t so sure, notably teacher’s unions. They warn that merit-pay systems are notoriously subjective and unreliable.


Milwaukee Evaluates Online Textbooks & Free Wireless Internet for Students

Erin Richards:

Milwaukee Public Schools may go digital with some learning resources as the district selects about $7.7 million worth of new language arts, foreign language, technology education and social studies textbooks.
With a new wireless network expected to bring free broadband Internet access into the homes of MPS students by next semester, Superintendent William Andrekopoulos said the district could start to “expand its textbook options” and look at more paperless models. But questions remain about if and how the district would make the most necessary resource – computers – available to a largely low-income population of students.
“This is the first time we’ve started looking at online options, especially with language arts material,” Andrekopoulos said last month, after a School Board committee voted to move forward with the textbook adoption process. The committee’s recommendation was approved by the full board on Nov. 30.
Aquine Jackson, chief academic officer for MPS, said electronic options could improve some of the literacy curricula that need supplemental resources. At a district-estimated $6.7 million worth of materials, language arts texts for grades K-8 and spelling for grades K-5 constitute the bulk of material that’s up for adoption.

Washington Governor Wants More Math

David Ammons:

Gov. Chris Gregoire urged lawmakers Monday to plow nearly $200 million into Washington’s classrooms to help students who are struggling with math and science.
The governor’s sweeping proposal includes smaller middle school and high school math and science classes, recruiting hundreds of new math and science teachers, offering master teachers up to $10,000 in annual pay bonuses and expanding tutoring and other help for struggling students. She also wants to beef up local districts’ curriculum to “world-class” standards and then design achievement tests accordingly.

America’s Million-Dollar Superintendents

J.H. Snider:

The signature feature of the SEC’s newest rules, effective Dec. 15, is that companies must add up all compensation in a single figure, which facilitates easy comparisons across time and companies. To derive a total-compensation number, the SEC made difficult and controversial assumptions about the present value of stock options, deferred compensation, and other uncertain future income streams. But the effort was widely defended because the health of financial markets depends on such transparency.
Similarly, the efficient operation of public school systems requires that the public understand how its money is being spent. Surprisingly, however, public school systems have far lower standards of transparency for executive compensation than public companies’.

Oaksong School May Move

Sandy Cullen:

Developed in Germany in 1919, soon after the end of World War I, Waldorf education originated as a way to develop people who could bring peace to the world, aiming to develop each child’s sense of truth, beauty, and goodness.
But two years after moving into the building that OakSong’s leaders thought would give the alternative school a permanent place in a natural setting where it could expand, financial struggles could force them to give up the property and search for a new home.
Just raising the $110,000 for the down payment on the property’s $360,000 purchase price was “a big stretch” for the school’s small community of 15 to 20 families, said Susanne Schadde, OakSong’s board president, whose children Alice, 6, and Paul, 4, attend the school.

A Study of Core-Plus Students Attending Michigan State University

Janet Mertz recently mentioned (along with UW Placement’s James Wollack recently) this paper by Richard Hill & Thomas Parker [750K PDF]:

The latest, December 2006 issue of the American Mathematical Monthly, an official publication of the Mathematical Association of America, contains an 18-page article entitled “A study of Core-Plus students attending Michigan State University” by Richard Hill and Thomas Parker, professors at MSU who teach pre-service high school math teachers.
They state that, “as the implementation progressed, from 1996 to 1999, Core-Plus students placed into, and enrolled in, increasingly lower level courses; this downward trend is statistically robust (p<.0005). The percentages of students who (eventually) passed a technical calculus course show a statistically significant (p<.005) decline averaging 27 percent a year; this trend is accompanied by an obvious and statistically significant increase in percentages of students who placed into low-level and remedial algebra courses. The grades the Core-Plus students earned in their university mathematics courses are also below average, except for a small group of top students. ACT scores suggest the existence but not the severity of these trends."

Core-Plus is used in some Madison High Schools. Much more on math here.

Don’t like math? UW-O asks ‘why not?’

Ben Perlman & Pamela Buechel:

For many college students, high school math is but a distant memory of derivative functions and playing games on graphing calculators.
When a professor mentions that certain math skills are necessary for his class, it sends the lecture hall into a frenzy of questions and worry. It seems that math, more than any other subject, is lost in the student’s transition from high school to college.
With a $69,000 grant, University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh geology professor Jennifer Wenner intends to figure out why.
“There are a couple of hypotheses,” Wenner said. “From my own experience, some people get it in their head that they can’t do math, and they get this block about it.”

DC Area High School Rankings, 2006

Jay Matthews:

The Challenge Index, my system for rating high schools based on college-level test participation, grew from watching a low-income school in East Los Angeles — Garfield High — find ways to challenge average students that most high-income schools never thought of. As The Washington Post unveils its 10th annual Challenge Index rankings of Washington area public schools this week, I want to see how low-income schools in this region are doing.
The Challenge Index rates each school by taking the number of Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate or other college-level tests the school gave in 2006 and dividing by the number of seniors who graduated from the school this year. High school educators who have learned, as the teachers at Garfield did, that even average students benefit from AP and IB are more likely to have more students taking those exams and do better on The Post’s list. High school educators who stick with what is still the majority view about AP and IB in America — that the programs are suitable only for top students — do not do so well.
In many cases, the list defies the conventional wisdom that schools with lots of low-income students are bad and schools with few such students are good. That is not to say that most low-income schools do well on the list. Most do not. Many of their teachers and administrators accept the widespread assumption that their students can’t do AP or IB. But the few schools in poor neighborhoods that break out of this mindset are worth studying.

MPS starts talk of curbing cell phone use

Milwaukee schools Superintendent William Andrekopoulos says the school system must come up with a way to deal with the heavy use of cell phones when trouble breaks out at a school, an innovation that has increased the severity of incidents such as a fight Monday morning at Bradley Tech High School.
Five people were arrested and two others were given citations by police as a result of the fight, which included attacks on several Milwaukee Public Schools safety aides.
The fight, coincidentally, occurred on the same day that officials announced that Bradley Tech, at S. 4th St. and W. National Ave., would be the first MPS school to have a pair of police officers on duty full time. A second pilot project for stationing police in schools – an innovation in MPS, though it is common in suburban schools – will involve a cluster of schools on the north side, focusing on Custer High School, 5075 N. Sherman Blvd.
Andrekopoulos made his remarks about cell phones at a meeting with Bradley Tech teachers Monday afternoon.
The cell phone phenomenon has shown up in other schools in MPS, in the suburbs and nationwide: When trouble breaks out, students reach for the phones, and within moments, other youths are on their way to the scene, sometimes literally from miles around.
Bradley Tech Principal Ed Kovochich said he has had teachers change tests every hour because students take cell phone photographs of the documents and sell copies to peers who haven’t taken the exam.
Although use of cell phones is generally banned in schools, both in Milwaukee and the suburbs, it is obvious to anyone around a high school or middle school – and sometimes even elementaries – that a vast majority of students carry them and use them frequently. Sometimes when schools have tried to crack down on the phones, parents have been the ones to object the most, saying they want their children to be able to reach them during school hours.
Cell phones are banned during MPS basketball games, largely because they have been used during incidents in prior years to summon “help” when trouble breaks out among kids.
Kovochich said he doesn’t know how to stop students from using cell phones in school, a problem he said has gotten out of control.
“We keep having problems with extended members of someone’s family coming up to intervene,” he said. “I’m telling you, this whole thing with the use of cell phones is coming to a head. If we have a simple fight, everyone text-messages or calls their friends, half the school knows about it and shows up.”
On Monday, Kovochich said a staff member came to him during a routine weapons check at the door as students arrived for school and said two girls were arguing over a boy. The staff member thought trouble was about to start.
Within moments, Kovochich said, “all I could see was a ton of cell phones coming out of pockets.” A crowd gathered quickly, and the fight began. Police officers arrested one 17-year-old girl on allegations of substantial battery and issued disorderly conduct citations to another two.
Kovochich said one student must have called her extended family because a short time later, four adult males arrived at the scene, pushed aside the metal detectors, jumped the tables and attacked safety aides and others. Police eventually arrested all four men. Kovochich said he saw the butt of a gun sticking out of the pocket of one of the four.
Andrekopoulos told the Tech teachers, “We’re going to have to come up with a strategy” to minimize the negative effects of having cell phones in the hands of the vast majority of students.
He said MPS security chief Peter Pochowski began calling other districts Monday to find out what they do to hold down cell phone use during crises.
Kovochich told a reporter it’s also possible the schools could petition the Federal Communications Commission to allow for special antennas that, with a flip of a button, could block a citywide swath from cell phone service.
The pilot projects to place two pairs of police officers full time in MPS schools comes after a series of violent episodes this fall, including attacks on a principal and several teachers. Mayor Tom Barrett, Police Chief Nannette Hegerty, Andrekopoulos and leaders of MPS labor organizations have been meeting to come up with a plan.
“We’ve heard you loud and clear,” Sid Hatch, assistant executive director of the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association, told the Bradley Tech teachers. “It is painfully clear that the schools’ safety and security is the foremost issue in the minds of teachers.”
The effort is to be funded by up to $250,000 from the police budget and $250,000 from MPS. The “school resource officers” will begin work with the start of the second semester in late January, Andrekopoulos said.
Andrekopoulos told the high school staff that Bradley Tech was not picked for the program because it was the worst school in the city. On the contrary, he said, grade-point averages, attendance and graduation rates have risen over the last several years. But he said factors including the launch of a schoolwide academic and behavior program this fall made it a good candidate.
He said a good climate for education could be created in Milwaukee schools, but it will take “a herculean effort of all of us working together.”

Wisconsin School Finance; Next Step: Supreme Court?

George Lighbourn [55K PDF]:

Even the most vocal proponents of change understand the reality that big changes are not in the offing. They know that they are up against the most formidable impediment to change, the printout, that age-old tabulation showing how much money each school district will get out of Madison. Any change that shows dozens of school districts will see a decline in state aid has almost no chance of succeeding. Only when there’s enough new money to ensure all districts will see some growth, will the prospeckind of money is nowhere on the horizon.

Math failures – haven’t we heard this before?

Roberta M. Eisenberg:

As controversies rage about the best way to teach math and whether students should be allowed to use calculators — incidentally, the State Education Department on Dec. 1 declared that calculators will now be considered teaching materials, like textbooks, and schools must provide them to students — the real question is why children in this country are not better at learning math. Is it the curriculum? Is it the equipment? Is it the tests? And, haven’t we heard all this before?
In 1957, the Russians sent up Sputnik, stealing a march in the space race, and the United States decided that something had to be done, in a hurry, about math and science instruction in this country. Thus were born National Science Foundation grants to teachers of math and science so that they might get master’s degrees in their subjects rather than in education. A generation of teachers excitedly brought their advanced knowledge back to their classrooms.
Also in the early ’60s, the so-called New Math was influencing curricula across the country. The result was an emphasis on concepts to the detriment of the basics. Naturally, there was an eventual backlash when parents could no longer understand their children’s homework.
By the ’70s, teachers in middle and high schools were noticing that students were getting weaker on their recall of times tables and other basics. This could not then be blamed on calculators because there were no calculators yet in general use.

More on math here.

School Day Goes Into Overtime

Nelson Hernandez:

Starting with the Class of 2009, all Maryland students will be required to pass exams in algebra and data analysis, English, government and biology in order to graduate. All of the students in Guinn’s classroom failed the test in algebra last school year. Her class, part of a new program in Prince George’s County called the Twilight Academy, is meant to give students the extra push they need to pass the tests, known as the High School Assessments, which they will retake in January.
The county’s performance on the tests has improved, and students can take the tests multiple times. But more than half of the 24,000 freshmen and sophomores in Prince George’s are still at risk of failing to graduate. In the last school year, the county’s passing rate in algebra was 46.1 percent; in biology, 42.5 percent; in government, 55.5 percent; and in English, 45.9 percent. The results were well below state averages. The Prince George’s and Baltimore school systems together accounted for 45 percent of the students who did not pass the algebra test.

West / Memorial Cell Tower Lease Hearings

A parent’s email:

To All:
A Spring Harbor parent alerted me to hearings being held by the school board this Wednesday at 6:00 PM at Midvale Elementary [map] on the proposed lease of property at West and Memorial for cell towers. For details, please go to www.madison.k12.wi.us/topics/cell. This should be a somewhat controversial issue, since some people are concerned with the safety of cell towers.
I personally am concerned that, if the school board leases property for cell towers to Cingular or U.S. Cellular, they do so for a fair price and make sure that fair increases are built in over the course of the contract. (I lived in a building in Chicago which had given a wireless company a lease at a fixed rate in perpetuity. That was a very good deal for the lessee and a bad deal for the lessor.)
I hope that one or more of you is familiar with the safety issues and that one or more of you is an expert on real estate leases and would be willing to represent our interests at this hearing on Wednesday night. Unfortunately, I am an expert on neither, so I don’t think I can add anything.

FWIW, US Cellular is owned by TDS.

Free tuition for vow to stay?

Scott Williams:

Considering recommending free tuition for all students who agree to remain in the Dairy State after getting their degrees, reversing an exodus of college graduates and potentially transforming the state’s economy.
The commission will gather in Madison on Tuesday to discuss including the idea in a package of recommended reforms geared primarily toward improving the two-year campuses.

Comments on BOE Progress Report for December

Madison School Board President Johnny Winston, Jr. (thanks!) posted a rather remarkable summary of recent activity today. I thought it would be useful to recall recent Board Majority inaction when reviewing Johnny’s words:
It’s remarkable to consider that just a few short years ago, substantive issues were simply not discussed by the School Board, such as the Superintendent’s rejection of the $2M in Federal Reading First Funds (regardless of the merits, $2M is material and there should have been a public discussion).
Reductions in the District’s annual ($332M+ this year) spending increases were thinly discussed (May, 2004).
Today, we know that the School District has been running a structural deficit for years, something previous Board Majority’s were apparently unaware of or certainly never discussed publicly.


Friday Night Luxury?

Russell Adams:

On game days, football fan Tracy French pulls his SUV into a reserved parking spot and rides an elevator to a stadium suite outfitted with plush seats and a big-screen TV.
His team is the Panthers — the Cabot High School Panthers of Cabot, Ark. Mr. French is the president of a local bank that has given about $65,000 to the school’s athletic department over the past five years, and the luxury seats are one of the perks he gets in return. “I would never have thought they’d have these types of facilities,” he says.
Public education may face budget shortfalls across the country, but you wouldn’t know it from the new digs where the high-rollers of high school football are camped on Friday nights. In a development that is changing the way athletics are funded, some public schools are taking a page from the pros’ playbook on VIP seating. Vidalia High School in Georgia spent more than $2 million of public money last year to build a fieldhouse with eight air-conditioned skyboxes. Brookwood High School in Georgia built the Lodge, a facility overlooking the stadium where members of the booster club can lounge on leather couches and have a pregame meal of T-bone steak. Denton, John Guyer and Billy Ryan high schools, which share a new $18.3 million, 12,000-seat stadium in Denton, Texas, added two VIP suites, with tiered seating and cable TV. They rent out one of the suites for $150 a game. At Lucy C. Laney High School, also in Georgia, the principal and county athletic director use the stadium’s two skyboxes in part to entertain boosters, alumni and others over cheese plates and chicken wings.

The Supreme Court & Race in Schools

Adam Liptak:

But, as an extraordinary two-hour Supreme Court argument last week demonstrated, the meaning and legacy of Brown remain up for grabs. The court was considering whether school systems in Seattle and Louisville, Ky., could take account of students’ races to ensure racial balance.
During the argument, two sets of justices managed, with equal vehemence, to invoke Brown — while understanding it to require precisely opposite things.
One side relied on the logic of the case: Brown, these justices said, forbids racial classifications by the government, period, even when the goal has changed from segregation to integration.
The other side relied on its music, saying that the real point of Brown was to achieve and maintain integrated public schools, whether through social progress or through government action that takes account of race.

The Economist:

AMERICA’S public schools are unfair. Their quality varies widely and many are lousy, so some unlucky kids get a shoddy education. Rich children live in areas with more property taxes, more education spending and better schools. They also tend to be white. So is it fair to keep some white children out of good schools, and give black children their places?
That incendiary question is among those at the heart of two cases the Supreme Court heard on December 4th. In two districts that deliberately balance each school’s racial mix (Jefferson County, Kentucky and Seattle, Washington) some white children complain that, because of their skin colour, they cannot get a fair shot at admission into the public schools they want. Both sides claim to have on their side the constitution’s 14th amendment, which was ratified after slavery ended, and grants everyone equal protection under the law.

Financial Literacy Project

Dan Greene:

I have the beginnings of an idea for a project to do later in Spring, for the exponential functions unit, in conjunction with our freshman College Readiness classes.
I was thinking about when I was a freshman in college, and how there were always tables set up by credit card companies who would attract crowds of freshmen with such irresistable items as Citibank t-shirts and Bank of America frisbees. They would give a credit card to just about anyone. There have been lots of reports about how so many college students get into incredible credit card debts because they don’t know how to manage a credit card, and they are preyed on by these vultures.

Important new information about credit for non-MMSD courses issue.

“In preparation for the December 11, 2006 meeting of the BOE’s Performance and Achievement Committee, Assistant Superintendent Pam Nash prepared a memo dated December 5, 2006 along with 10 “exhibit” appendices for distribution to the BOE. “Exhibit 10” is a copy of the “Guidelines for Taking Coursework Outside the District” that she wrote in October, 2006, and I previously posted on SIS. In her memo she states “All the other nine procedures described herein, except this one, are governed by law or Board Policy. This process (her new Guidelines) was created by the MMSD to expand the opportunities for students to take courses outside the MMSD without increasing the costs to the MMSD and without undermining the integrity of the diploma a student receives from the MMSD. The “Guidelines for Taking Coursework Outside the MMSD” is the process and procedure currently used when, for example, a student who wants to take outside courses, but does not have any other option available to him/her. The cost for taking courses under this procedure is the responsibility of the student/parents. The procedure requires pre-approval by the principal and if the student wants credit for taking the course, he/she will receive elective credit if the District does not offer a comparable course. If the District offers a comparable course, the student will not receive credit. The student’s transcript will 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.”
As I had stated previously on SIS I believe this is a new policy. It is definitely different from the one used in the recent past at Madison West HS in several crucial respects. It has never previously been brought before the BOE for formal approval. At the November 13, 2006 meeting of the Performance and Achievement Committee, I presented Superintendent Rainwater and members of the BOE with a copy of these “Guidelines”. Superintendent Rainwater responded by stating that these Guidelines only apply to “Independent Study” and do not represent a change in policy. I interpreted his comments to mean they are simply a restatement of Board Policy 3545 – Independent Study. However, Nash’s December 5th memo to the BOE quoted above seems to indicate that her “Guidelines” are to be interpreted as a catchall, meant to apply not just to independent study, but to ALL course work not specifically governed by State law or existing MMSD Board Policies, i.e., her exhibits 1-9. In other words, it is to apply as well to UW courses taken outside of the YOP, WCATY courses, online courses such as Stanford’s EPGY taken outside of the InSTEP Program, UW-Extension courses where the District claims to offer a comparable course (even though in a very different format), etc., i.e., a variety of different types of formal course work offered through certified, non-MMSD programs. If so, shouldn’t these “Guidelines” need formal BOE approval as a new Board Policy since, as Nash states in her memo, they are not currently covered under any existing Board Policies?


Credit for Non-MMSD Courses: Performance & Achievement Committee Discussion

Please take note that the MMSD BOE’s Performance and Achievement Committee
will be meeting at 5:45 pm on Monday, December 11th. [map]
One of their two agenda items scheduled for that meeting is “Credit for Non-MMSD Courses.”
This is a very important issue for academically gifted students who would like to be able to substitute higher-level, faster-paced, or more-readily-accessible-to-them (e.g., because of transportation problems) courses taken via WCATY, EPGY, APEX, UW, etc. for ones offered by their local middle or high school. It is an important issue for other types of alternative learners (e.g., special ed students, temporarily ill or disabled students) as well. It has taken years to get this topic placed on the BOE’s agenda. This coming Monday may well be our best opportunity to influence MMSD policy relating to this matter.
Thus, I urge ALL of you who are concerned about this issue either (i) to attend this BOE meeting prepared to give a 3-minute speech during the Public Comments period, or (ii) to send an email this week to Art Rainwater, Pam Nash, and all BOE members (via their comments email address) describing why it is important for their students to be permitted to receive credit toward fulfilling graduation requirements for qualified high school- and college-level courses taken at UW, MATC, TAG summer programs, online, or via correspondence.”

A few questions for MPIE members …

I have a few questions for Barb and the other members of MPIE. I hope one or more of them will take the time to answer.
As I look over the course catalogs for the four high schools, I see that each school has both a Special Education Department and an English as a Second Language Department (although they may not be called exactly that at each school). Each of these departments in each of the four high schools offers an extensive range of courses for students who qualify and need the specialized educational experiences offered within these departments. Many of the courses offered by these departments fulfill graduation requirements and so can be used as curriculum replacement for the “regular” courses.
Here are my questions:

  1. Does MPIE advocate having the District dismantle the Special Education and English as a Second Language Departments in our high schools? (I assume the answer is “no.”)
  2. Does MPIE advocate having the District deny high school graduation credit for any and all courses offered within these departments, so that truly ALL students will be required to take 9th (and — at West — 10th) grade core courses at our high schools? (Again, I assume the answer is “no.”)
  3. If MPIE advocates full inclusion, why aren’t the answers to the above two questions “yes — absolutely, yes”?
  4. Does MPIE advocate getting rid of all advanced, honors, accelerated, TAG and Advanced Placement classes at our four high schools? In 9th grade? In 10th grade? In all four grades? What is your vision with regard to advanced and accelerated classes?
  5. Please help me understand the logic that says it’s O.K. to have entire departments within each high school devoted to the specialized educational needs of some groups of students (not to mention adjustments to high school graduation requirements designed to meet those students’ needs), but it is not O.K. to have even a few sections of classes aimed at meeting the specialized educational needs of other students? (IMHO, this way of thinking is really best described as a belief in “selective inclusion.”)
  6. Can you see the inherent illogic, inequity and unfairness of that position?
  7. How do you decide which groups of students with specialized educational needs get to have their educational needs met and which groups of students do not?
  8. It seems to me that a big part of the answer to that question should come from the research done from the perspective of the group of students under consideration. Do you agree or disagree with that premise?
  9. Are you aware of the consistency (of findings, of conclusions, of recommendations) within the literature on how best to meet the needs of high performing students (a.k.a. “best practices”)?
  10. Why does MPIE prefer the policy of getting rid of advanced high school classes over the policy of working with all K-8 students (and their families) in such a way as to increase the diversity of the students in those classes?
  11. What do some middle and upper middle class parents of children with special education needs find so threatening about the thought of having their schools meet the educational needs of high ability, high performing, even academically talented students with the same thoughtfulness and commitment that they meet the needs of students with other special educational needs?
  12. Are you aware that MMSD and national data indicate that approximately 20-25% of high school dropouts are academically gifted and have a demonstrated history of high academic performance? (In our District, that number is significantly higher at West HS than at the other three high schools and a disproportionate number of the “high performing” dropouts throughout the District are poor and minority students.) How do you understand those data and what do you think should be done about the situation?
  13. Have you read this American Psychologist article on “the two tails of the normal curve,” co-authored by nationally recognized experts on the educational needs of students in each of the two “tails”? http://psych.wisc.edu/henriques/papers/two_tails.pdf If so, what do you think of it?

Would any of you would be willing to meet over coffee to talk about how we can work together on these issues and to see if we can find common ground?

High School Redesign Notes

As Arlene has reached out to the community for suggestions about the Redesign of the high schools, let me share a couple of thoughts:

  1. It’s too late. The students that are behind in 5th grade rarely catch up. The 2/3 combinations are by far the worst academic combination for elementary students, yet we continue this practice to save money, and to save SAGE. I understand the pull out combination system is a great way to deal with cost and transient students….but does it really help? Can’t we negotiate with the Union to allow 4 year kindergarten? This is really annoying that we have to bow to the Union for the sacrifice of the lower income students.
  2. The middle school years has a great resource of teachers. My children have had teachers that felt students are undergoing hormonal warfare and felt they should teach less so as not to upset the students. As I quote a teacher my child had in a “Charlie Brown teachers voice”, “Less is more and as long as they learn a couple of concepts during the year I feel I have done my job”. This fortunately is not the normal approach my children have received. Most of the Jr. High teachers have been focused on preparing the students for Memorial. I wonder if this is the model for most of the Jr. High Schools throughout the district?
  3. The district currently has the highest number of National Merit Scholar graduates in the state, I would assume we send hundred of students to college each year and those that are from higher income families do well. I wonder if the problem is less racial gap and not more economic gap. Please follow the link to the following Newsweek article released by the North Carolina Democratic Party….http://ncdp.org/node/1081. This is an article about how North Carolina kept their struggling students, drop out prone students and low income students engaged in high school by offering them an option to attend a local community college (MATC) and receive not only their HS diploma upon graduation but also an associate degree in an area of interest so that staying in school had meaning….and graduating means getting a real job. Currently all we can offer students that graduate from high school is they will have a diploma and they can essentially get the same jobs in this area with or without that diploma….with an associates degree they can make more than their teachers in computer repair, Xerox repair, IT, health associate degrees and others. Please think about raising the standards and the options for the struggling students, not lowering the standards for the top tier students. This IDEA and a proven method could benefit the entire community and raise the standard of living for lower income families. Please read this article.

Back to School

Wide Angle:

In 2003 Wide Angle profiled seven children in seven countries-Afghanistan, Benin, Brazil, India, Japan, Kenya, and Romania-as they started their first year of school. Returning in 2006, we find that some of these children are already struggling, hanging onto their education by a thread. With over 100 million children around the globe out of school, this 90-minute special puts a human face on an issue with profound consequences for global development.

Reyhan Haranci has more.

Why the Achievement Gap Persists

NY Times Editorial:

The No Child Left Behind education act, which requires the states to close the achievement gap between rich and poor students in exchange for federal aid, has been under heavy fire since it was passed five years ago. Critics, some of whom never wanted accountability in the first place, have ratcheted up their attacks in anticipation of Congressional hearings and a reauthorization process that could get under way soon after the new Congress convenes in January.

More here.

Former teacher runs for School Board

Susan Troller reports in The Capital Times on school board candidates:

A retired teacher has thrown her hat in the ring as a candidate for the Madison School Board.
Marj Passman, who was active in the recent successful referendum to approve funding for a new elementary school, has announced that she will be a candidate for Ruth Robarts’ open seat on the board. Robarts, who has served as a School Board member since 1997, will not be running again.


New Math Curriculum Draws Complaints

Connected Math textbooks for one year and the equivalent Singapore Math version.
Brandon Lorenz:

A recent meeting at Central Middle School attracted about 50 people to discuss concerns with the district’s Connected Mathematics Project, a new constructivist approach that was introduced in sixth, seventh and eighth grades this year.
Another meeting for parents is scheduled for Dec. 13 at Horning Middle School.
Such new math programs rely on more hands-on activities and problem-solving skills than traditional programs.
Speaking with Zaborowski, Lynn Kucek said she was worried the math program would make it more difficult for her daughter, who does well in other subjects, to get into college.

More on Connected Math and the recent Math Forum.

Systems Struggling to Address Student Health

Valerie Strauss:

Today, a vision-laboratory-in-a-bus assembled by Turkel pulls up to schools in low-income neighborhoods, not only providing vision tests for children but also ensuring that glasses, when needed, are made to specifications and delivered within days — all for free.
The results, school principals say, are remarkable: Many of the kids — and in some schools it can be as much as half of the student population — who wear the glasses show improvement in attendance, focus and achievement. Their behavior often improves, too.

Tax Climate Notes & Links

The arrival of local property tax bills signal the onset of tax season. Accordingly, there has been a number of recent articles on Wisconsin’s tax climate:

  • Barbara Miner: More than 16,000 private properties in Wisconsin pay no property taxes. As a result, everyone else pays more. Why?

    In Milwaukee, for instance, almost 20 percent of the city’s non-governmental property value is exempt from taxes, a big jump from almost 10 percent six years ago. Add in government-owned property such as public schools, fire stations and parks, and the exempt total is more than 33 percent. Figures are similar for many other cities and suburbs in the area.
    Todd Berry has been president of the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance since 1994. Berry’s group has done many studies of Wisconsin’s taxes but has never looked at the impact of nonprofit tax exemptions.
    As Berry sheepishly admits, his group is itself exempt and doesn’t pay property taxes on the building it owns in Madison, valued at about $500,000 on its federal tax return. Thus, a group that often does studies exposing high taxes helps add to the tax level for others with its own exemption.

  • Institute for Wisconsin’s Future:

    Contrary to the claims of corporate lobbyists that the state has unreasonably high business taxes, Wisconsin is already a low-tax state for large firms.
    And this means the corporate sector is not making a fair contribution to the cost of maintaining public structures of state and local government, from schools to roads to public safety to the environment.
    To back up these statements, the Institute for Wisconsin’s Future released a mass of data on December 4, 2006, detailing that more than thirty states have higher taxes on corporations and that over 60% of the biggest companies operating in the state paid zero corporate income tax in 2003.

  • Wistax:

    After a drop of 0.5% in December 2005, school taxes this year will rise 5.4% to $3.79 billion. The increase is less than in 2003-04 (7.2%) but over the 1990-2005 median (4.9%) Increased property values helped drop the average tax rate from $8.62 per $1,000 to $8.31. Growth in another state tax credit will help offset the school tax hike.

Inevitably, tax favors are available for certain folks and are often inserted into bills late in the process. The Miller Park exemption is classic:

Restaurants pay taxes but not Friday’s Front Row Sports Grill at Miller Park because everything inside the stadium grounds is exempt.
The exemption for Friday’s particularly galls city officials, not only because another property leaves the tax rolls but because they see it as unfair to other competitors. While the Miller Park restaurant is tax-free, the TGIFriday’s in Greenfield pays property taxes of about $45,000.

Last fall, both Russ Feingold and Herb Kohl voted for a massive, one year large corporate tax giveaway: a 5% tax rate on offshore earnings. What a mess.

State Ed. Leaders Debate National Standards

Jessica Tonn:

“I submit to you that in a system of education that serves such a highly diverse and transitory culture, . . . shared standards aren’t simply an option, but a mandatory conversation,” the Council of Chief State School Officers’ executive director, Gene Wilhoit, said in a speech at the conference’s opening session. He took over the helm at the CCSSO Nov. 1.
Mr. Wilhoit’s appeal followed similar comments made this year by Michael Casserly, the executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, researchers at the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, and others. Such discussion, which comes as policymakers and educators compare education systems across the states and the world and prepare for the renewal of the federal No Child Left Behind Act next year, appears to be rekindling a push for national standards.

Council of Chief State School Officers.

School Boundaries, Money and Race

Shauna Grice:

In a process to ease over-crowding, facilitated by Dr. Jack Parish, Superintendent of Schools for Henry County, the proposed boundary lines for the new schools had been drawn to include a small portion of the Fairview community. Others in Fairview would remain at the older schools. Fairview is a modest neighborhood made up of children who are predominately African-American and whose parents are less affluent than those who reside in Union Grove, a fact which has sent Union Grove residents reeling.
As a resident of the Fairview community with a child in middle school, I had my concerns. Our streets aren’t made of gold, and the neighborhood certainly doesn’t boast lavishly decorated Home and Garden-type vacation cottages; but it’s not the ghetto either. Homes are modest and well-kept. Homeowners are comprised mostly of middle-aged baby-boomers, preparing for retirement and saving for their kids’ college funds all at the same time.
Most of the children I know from Fairview come from good homes with loving parents who teach them to be well-behaved. I couldn’t see much difference between families in our neighborhood and those in Union Grove. For days I had debated whether to attend a meeting where parents from both neighborhoods would come together to vent their concerns.

Spring 2007 Madison School Board Election Update

I’ve added two declared candidates to the April 3, 2007 election page:

  • Marj Passman for Seat 5 (Ruth Robarts is retiring)
  • Beth Moss for Seat 3 (Shwaw Vang’s seat)

Johnny Winston, Jr., in seat 4 has announced he is running again, but as of this afternoon, had not declared his candidacy according to the City Clerk’s office.
Check out the video interviews and links from the April, 2004 election; the last time these seats were contested.
Learn more about running for school board here. (updated to reflect the correct seats via Marj’s comments below).

Do Math Topics Lead to Better Instruction?

Daniel de Vise:

It says the typical state math curriculum runs a mile wide and an inch deep, resulting in students being introduced to too many concepts but mastering too few, and urges educators to slim down those lessons.
Some scholars say the American approach to math instruction has allowed students to fall behind those in Singapore, Japan and a dozen other nations. In most states, they say, the math curriculum has swelled into a thick catalogue of skills that students are supposed to master to attain “proficiency” under the federal No Child Left Behind mandate.

Math Forum audio / video

Gates Foundation Grants & Expectations

Jacqueline L. Salmon:

Gates grants have flowed to schools and school systems in 42 states and the District, including $126 million to New York, $65 million to Chicago and $38 million to Oakland, Calif. The grants have helped open 1,100 schools and revamp an additional 700. The foundation also has sunk millions into education think tanks and policy and academic groups (including Hechinger). Its agenda is to create high schools with rigorous college-prep curricula, to replicate successful experiments and to convert giant, mostly urban schools into effective, manageable units.
Reviews of the Gates school initiatives have been mixed.
This fall, Denver shut down a high school that had received $1 million in Gates grants; officials cited plunging enrollment after the school was divided into three smaller ones and students fled to other schools.

Bucking School Reform, A Leader Gets Results

David Herszenhorn:

“We are relentless,” Dr. Cashin said in a recent interview. “The secret is clear expectations. Everything is spelled out. Nothing is assumed.” She provides her principals, for instance, with a detailed road map of what should be taught in every subject, in every grade, including specific skills of the week in reading and focus on a genre of literature every month.
Dr. Cashin is obsessed with writing, and in most of her schools, student work lines the walls — not just the final product but layers of drafts. Even first graders have writing posted on the walls.
A feature used in every school is the four-square graphic organizer, a worksheet with four boxes like a window pane and a rectangle at its center that helps children develop a five-paragraph essay. Some progressive educators scorn it as a crutch; Dr. Cashin insists that it works.
While the city’s reading program focuses on story books, Dr. Cashin layers on lots of nonfiction. And, responding to research showing that impoverished children often lack vocabulary and basic facts, she has adopted a curriculum called Core Knowledge, which teaches basics like the principles of constitutional government, events in world history and well-known literature.