Ruth Robarts: Cole is just what the School Board needs

Dear Editor: My ten years on the Madison School Board have convinced me that the board’s highest priorities must be new ideas and new community partnerships. Maya Cole gets my vote for Seat 5 because innovation is her top priority and she has the energy to bring the community together to plan for the future.
As a community and school activist, Maya has learned to listen and build consensus. She is an independent and original thinker at a time when the board needs exactly that.
Inadequate state and federal funding for public schools and overreliance on residential property tax revenues are very significant problems. However, we cannot postpone innovation until those problems are solved.
We must start today by encouraging innovative programs, including charter schools, and enlisting business and community allies in new funding partnerships. We must evaluate curriculum in ways that are understandable and be willing to change when the student results are not as promising as we had hoped.
Together we must envision a high-achieving, stable school system in 2020. A shared vision of the future of our schools will help us agree on the changes necessary at the state and federal level as well as the changes necessary here and now.
Maya Cole understands innovation and can provide critical leadership during these difficult times. Please join me in voting for her.
Ruth Robarts, Member, Board of Education, Madison
A letter to the editor

Hasty Vote Wisely Avoided

“If we’re going to do it, we’re going to do it right,” board member Lucy Mathiak argued for the majority of the board in rejecting longtime board member Carol Carstensen’s push for the referendum.
School Board Member Mathiak has also detailed a number of options other than closing near eastside schools, which she does not support.
WI State Journal Editorial

An open letter to the Superintendent of Madison Metropolitan Schools

Dear Mr. Rainwater:
I just found out from the principal at my school that you cut the allocations for SAGE teachers and Strings teachers, but the budget hasn’t even been approved. Will you please stop playing politics with our children education? It?s time to think about your legacy.
As you step up to the chopping block for your last whack at the budget, please think carefully about how your tenure as our superintendent will be viewed a little more than a year from now when your position is filled by a forward-thinking problem-solver. (Our district will settle for no less.)
Do you want to be remembered as the Superintendent who increased class size as a first step when the budget got tight? Small class size repeatedly rises to the top as the best way to enhance student achievement at the elementary level. Why would you take away one of best protections against federal funding cuts mandated by the No Child Left Behind Act? Rather than increase pupil to teacher ratios, have you checked to see if the pupil to administrative staff ratio has been brought closer to the state-wide average? (In 2002, Madison Metropolitan schools were at 195 children per administrator; the rest of the state averaged 242 children per administrator.) Have the few administrative openings you?ve left unfilled over the past few years actually brought us into line with the rest of the state?


Some interesting insight into another district’s budgeting process, knowledge, and challenges.

Shane Samuels:

There are those who like to work with numbers, and then there are those who figure school budgets. They’re not necessarily the same person.
School finance consists of a labyrinth of property values, student enrollment totals, federal aid, and state aid. Only two people in Chetek claim to understand the funding formula from top to bottom: Superintendent Al Brown and business manager Tammy Lenbom.
A couple times of year their budgetary work catches the public’s eye – once in September when it comes time to pass the budget at the annual meeting, and once about this time of year when Brown and Lenbom propose that budget for next fall.
The budget proposal period is more visible, because that is when we find out how those financial decisions will affect people’s lives – teachers who may be forced to look for new jobs, or students who might have their favorite class offering taken away from them.
While it takes a professional to explain a school budget line item by line item, this article is an attempt to at least summarize how school administrators and the school board reach their budgetary decisions, as well as detailing some of the struggles they face.
The timetable


Linda Martin Files Suit Against the MMSD

Linda Martin, Plaintiff v. Madison Metropolitan School District and District officials Roger Price, Renee Bremer, Mary Teppo and Donna Williams, Defendants.
The District was Ms. Martin’s employer. Ms. Martin received a right to sue letter from the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission. Allegations include “bid rigging;” discrimination during a hiring process; denial of free speech rights; harassment; wrongful discharge; and intentional violation of federal law.
Susan Troller: School District Sued for Harrassment.


Cole endorsement was right on money

The Cap Times carried the following letter to the editor:

Dear Editor: I am supporting Maya Cole for Seat 5 of the Madison School Board.
The Capital Times was right in endorsing her candidacy. Her work ethic, thoroughness and openness to new ideas make her an ideal candidate. The school district is facing many tough issues, the most pressing being whether the elected School Board actually sets policy for the district or whether it merely acts as a rubber stamp for the administration and the teachers union.
Maya has shown a willingness to consider all points of view before making a decision and will be a thoughtful addition to the board.
While Maya and I probably do not agree on much regarding partisan politics, I feel confortable with her being on the School Board. Decisions regarding our children cannot be made based on political considerations and I believe that Maya Cole will leave politics at the door when making decisions about our schools.
Maya is giving us an opportunity to take back our schools and I urge everyone to vote for her on Tuesday.
John S. Pinto

MMSD, MTI and Health Insurance – A Clarification

There seems to be some confusion about the negotiations between MTI and the school district. The Board WILL be negotiating health insurance with MTI; the Board has NOT taken health insurance off the table. The Voluntary Impasse Agreement (VIA) does NOT eliminate this as a subject of negotiation. The VIA DOES set up a structure for negotiations: a schedule, agreement by MTI that teachers will not engage in job actions, dates for the start of mediation if a settlement hasn’t been reached, name of the mediator, a date for binding arbitration if mediation is not successful and name of the arbitrator. IF no voluntary settlement is reached and we go to binding arbitration, MTI agrees that it will not propose a change to the salary schedule and the Board agrees not to change health insurance. Those agreements are meant to make binding arbitration less attractive to both sides – and to put the emphasis on reaching a voluntary agreement.
Because the Board has not yet provided MTI with our proposals I cannot discuss them in public. I can however talk about the settlement we have reached with our custodians who are represented by AFSCME. The custodians agreed to change their health insurance to a choice of 3 HMO’s (Group Health, Physicians Plus and DeanCare). The savings from this change allowed a greater salary increase (2.5%). A small amount of the savings ($15,000) went back to the budget. These savings are realized only in the first year – thereafter, the base for figuring future costs uses the lower health insurance costs.
One of the most dramatic changes of the last 5 years (and one that has been little noted) is the movement of teachers from WPS to Group Health. This year more than 50% of the teacher’s unit take Group Health Insurance – the lowest priced HMO in the community.
A more complete discussion of this issue can be found at:,com_jd-wp/Itemid,31/p,51/
Carol Carstensen

Board needs Cole and Thomas

Our schools need a new School Board majority, one committed to open government, including transparent budgeting and decision-making, and accountability to the community.
The next board will also hire the new superintendent and handle his or her performance evaluation, something Superintendent Art Rainwater has had little of from the current majority.
We stand at a crossroads with this election. Will it be more of the same top-down, teachers union-directed governance, or independent, open-minded, responsive representation?
There are many good issues-based reasons to vote for Maya Cole and Rick Thomas, but concerns for fair process and superintendent selection stand out for me.
It will take electing them both to gain that new majority.
– Joan Knoebel, Madison

Unions pump funds to Passman

According to the last campaign finance report available on this blog, these teachers’ unions contributed to Marj Passman’s campaign:

$1,560 – MTI Voters
$250 – United Northeast Educators, Green Bay
$250 – Green Bay PAC (Green Bay Education Association)
$500 – Wi Ed. Assoc. Council Fox Valley PAC
$200 – Children’s Great School Fund (WEAC’s conduit)

Board of Education Candidate Forum of March 27, 2007

Board of Education Candidate Forum of March 27, 2007 was held in the cafeteria of Leopold School.

QT Video
The video of the meeting is 160MB, and 1 hour and 50 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.
Moderator: Laura Croft of the Middleton League of Women Voters
Panelists: (from left to right)
       Rick Thomas and Beth Moss,        vying for Seat 3
       Maya Cole and Marj Passman,      vying for Seat 5
       Johnny Winston and Tom Brew,      vying for Seat 4
The topics and questions covered are

  • Opening statements
  • Given that funding for TAG is again being cut, how would you raise money to support such programs?
  • How would you help coordinate the various PTO’s and other community groups to improve school effectiveness?
  • How would you reduce the educational gap between poorer performing kids and more the successful without holding back the more successful kids?
  • The MMSD Administration is proposing to cut SAGE, how would you vote on this proposal and why?
  • Should community service be required of students before graduation?
  • More and more families are leaving the school district because their children are not being academically challenged. How would you deal with this issue?
  • What is your plan to handle the growth in the Leopold-Thoreau area?
  • Shorewood and Fitchburg parent coalitions are being formed to discuss creating their own school districts. Why are these parents so upset?
  • Since the average employee costs the district $50 per hour, shouldn’t the budget gap remedy include employee wage and benefit sacrifices?
  • If you do not want to close schools, where else would you cut, and would that include school athletics?
  • Closing statements.

MMSD School Board Communications Committee Meeeting Tonight – Information and Advocacy Session

I’m passing along the following information I received:
The Governor’s 2007-09 biennial budget provides some assistance for Madison Schools in the areas of SAGE (Student Achievement Guarantee in Education), the 15:1 K-3 class size reduction program, special education/bilingual-bicultura l aid and allowing some expenditures for safety/security to be outside the revenue caps.
We would like to hold an information and advocacy session related to the state budget on Thursday, March 29, at 6:30 p.m. in the McDaniels Auditorium of the Doyle Administration Building . The meeting will provide you with information about the budget and advocacy “talking points” to contact legislators and gain support for some of the budget’s provisions.
At this meeting, we would also like to begin preliminary discussion of ways to link Madison parents to parents in school districts in counties surrounding Dane – a neighbor-to- neighbor outreach effort to talk to legislators about the devastating affect of revenue limits to our communities’ schools.
We share your frustration as we annually watch more programs and services to students slowly dismantled by the state-imposed revenue limits. Together, we can work to educate legislators and bring about school finance reform. We look forward to seeing you on March 29.
Johnny Winston, Jr.
Board President
Arlene Silveira
Communications Committee Chairwoman

The difference between Maya and Marj

Isthmus gave the candidates a chance to make one last pitch for votes before next Tuesday’s election.
The statements of Maya and Marj say a lot about them as people and potential board members.
Marj repeated her line on all of her experience and said:

I have developed a finely honed instinct for what works and what doesn’t.

By contrast Maya said:

The community will be a welcomed partner with our public schools.

In other words, Marj said, “I KNOW what’s right and wrong.” That’s the board majority’s persistent response to outside input. “We know what’s right and wrong. Thank you very much. You can go away now.”
While Maya says, “I welcome a partnership,” which reflects an openness to the community.
I’m voting for Maya.

Yes to strategic planning, no to last minute referendums and school closings

On March 26, I voted no on Carol Carstensen’s proposed three-year referendum for several reasons.
First, a referendum requires careful planning. Two weeks notice did not allow the Madison School Board to do the necessary analysis or planning. Ms. Carstensen—not the administration—provided the only budget analysis for her proposal. The board has not set priorities because the board it is just beginning the budget process.
Second, the referendum is not part of a strategic long-range plan. The district needs a ten-year strategic plan, and such a plan must address the structural deficit created by state revenue limits. It must also bring businesses, community organizations and the City of Madison into the solution. While referendums for operating dollars will be necessary, without planning they are of limited use.
Third, relief from the state revenue limits is not on the horizon. Governor Doyle has no proposal for eliminating the revenue limits. Madison’s state representatives recommend that we focus our lobbying efforts on small scale, stop-gap funding issues. Only Ms. Carstensen and the teachers union seem to think that change is coming soon.
There are some steps that the school board can take to increase public confidence and pass operating budget referendums in the future.
1. Direct the administration to find the best ways to use the Doyle Building to generate revenue for the district. In 2006, the board defeated this proposal (Kobza and Robarts voting yes, Carstensen, Keys, Lopez, Vang and Winston voting no). Using the building as a revenue-generating asset could also move administrators to school buildings and help keep the schools open.
2. Negotiate changes in health insurance coverage for teachers to minimize future costs. Administrators and other unions have recently made such changes without losing quality of health care. Dane County has a competitive health insurance market that can help use save dollars and protect quality of care.
3. Take the closing/consolidation options presented by the Long Range Planning Committee off the table. Look for more focused approaches to saving money, such as moving the Park Street Work and Learn Center into an under-enrolled elementary school as we did in the past when we housed WLC at Allis School.
4. Invite the community to join in a strategic planning process as soon as possible. As long as the state and federal governments shirk their responsibilities and the state over-relies on residential property taxes to pay for essential local services, there will be a gap between the tax funds available and the cost of the high quality, comprehensive k-12 school system that we want. We need a plan as badly as we need the elimination of the revenue limits and a progressive tax to adequately fund our schools.
I am ready to support operating budget referendums based on a strategic plan and best use of the revenues that we have.

Nancy Donahue: Cole not “beholden”

Nancy Donahue, one of the organizers of The Studio School, sent this message to SIS:

I have had the opportunity to talk with Maya Cole twice in the past two weeks and I am convinced that she would be an excellent addition to our school board …someone who can see the big picture and incorporate it into a vision for our schools and our community. A change agent? Moreover, Maya is unfettered by the MTI machinery and political agenda so I can trust that her votes are guided by her own judgment. I am also supporting Rick Thomas for many of the same reasons.
I think that it is imperative that we make every effort to ensure that the people we elect are not “beholden” to any large organization to support their campaigns. MTI’s questionnaire flagrantly and publicly advertises that candidates must comply with the MTI agenda if they want MTI political support (which would be difficult to pass up). But the campaigns are just the beginning of an insidious political relationship. Along with MTI support comes the continual threat of repercussions (i.e., public criticism and withdrawal of support) if, once elected, a candidate should muster the personal integrity to cast a vote that runs counter to the MTI position. I prefer that our school board members feel free to cast votes based on information rather than intimidation.


Strange, strange budget process

I’ve never seen a budget process like that being followed by the MMSD and board.
Without having a budget, the board appears poised to close schools and lay off teachers. Who or why would anyone make these types of decisions out of context, that is, without a budget, with out even looking at options other than those recommended by an administration hell bent on preserving as much power and as many positions as possible in the Doyle Building?
It’s just insane, and supposedly rational people on the board think that it makes sense! Do they check their brains at the door when they walk into a board meeting?

Maintain and Grow Madison’s Art Programs: Support Elementary Strings

Parents and Students distributed to attendees of the recent Spring 2007 Strings Festival the following information in a flier:
Madison Community Asks the MMSD School Board:
Don’t Cut, Work with the Community to Strengthen and Grow
Madison’s Elementary String Program

Superintendent Rainwater has proposed cutting Grade 5 strings, which would eliminate the nearly 40-year old elementary strings program. This does not have to happen and you can help:
1) Email the School Board (, letting the School Board know:
a. You support elementary strings and a vibrant, strong fine arts academic education for all Madison’s school children as important for and fundamental to a student’s personal and academic growth, and
b. You support and want the newly formed School Board Community Fine Arts Task Force to have a chance and time to explore ways to continue and to sustain elementary strings, and all arts education, in Madison’s schools, without further cuts to programs.

Out-of-Favor Reading Plan Rated Highly

Education Week
Reading Recovery, a popular one-to-one tutoring program that Bush administration officials sought to shut out of a high-profile federal reading program, has gotten a rare thumbs-up from the federal What Works Clearinghouse.
“I think this is good news for all the school superintendents who kept Reading Recovery alive in their schools,” said Jady Johnson, the executive director of the Reading Recovery Council of North America, a nonprofit group based in Worthington, Ohio. “I’m hoping this report will signal a change in direction for the [U.S. Education] Department.”
In the What Works review, posted online March 20, the clearinghouse said the program had “positive” effects—the highest evidence rating possible—on students’ alphabetic skills and general reading achievement. The reviewers also determined that the program had “potentially positive” effects, its next-highest rating, on reading fluency and comprehension.
That’s high praise from the clearinghouse, which the Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences created in 2002 to vet research on “what works” in education. So few education studies meet the clearinghouse’s tough research-quality criteria that some critics have dubbed it the “nothing works” clearinghouse.
On the clearinghouse’s “improvement index,” a measure used to provide a common metric on program effects, researchers found that the average 1st grader who completed Reading Recovery could be expected to score 32 percentile points higher in general reading achievement than similar students not in the program.
Yet some of the program’s early critics said in interviews last week that many of their original concerns remained.
“I never said Reading Recovery is ineffective,” said Jack M. Fletcher, one of 32 researchers who signed a widely circulated 2002 letter critiquing the program. “The real issue with Reading Recovery is the idea that it has to be done individually, when there’s a substantial research base on small-group interventions that shows there’s no drop-off in effectiveness.”

What Works Reading Recovery Report

2007 Wisconsin Charter Schools Conference

From the Wisconsin Charter Schools Association:

The 7th annual Wisconsin Charter Schools Conference, co-sponsored by the WCSA and DPI, will be attended by educators, parents, students, school officials, university people, community leaders, state officials, and many other charter friends. Conference Flyer (PDF).
Dates: April 15-17, 2007 (Sunday afternoon through Tuesday)
The Sunday afternoon (4/15) Wisconsin Charter Schools FAIR is open and FREE to the public. Conference sessions on Monday and Tuesday (4/16-17) will focus on planning, authorizing, implementing and operating high-performance charter schools.

I have a few comments on separate courses for students of different abilities

I think that it is important to have opportunities for advanced students to obtain seperate instruction is subjects they excel in. It is my belief that by doing this we don’t sacrifice diversity, we actually increase it.
My logic is as follows. If gifted students are not given the challenge they need in school, they will not achieve as much as they can. If the public schools are not able to provide for these childern, then parents of gifted kids will pull them out of school. Unfortunately, only involved parents with money will have the ability to give their kids the alternative education like private school. Thus, the public schools will be left with few children at the top end of the education spectrum since it can’t provide for them.
My belief that this is true comes from my home town in California. We have one elementary school in a wealthy area that is known to have much better educational opportunities for students. Parents in other districts constantly try to move their children to this school. Due to declining enrollment, other school districts have stopped letting students switch schools. To still provide for the children, the school in the wealthy area became a charter school. Now, parents can move their children there without incident. But, the other public schools are left without their brightest students. If the other public schools could provide for their brightest, the public schools would include all of the students.


School Board rejects referendum

From a story by Deborah Ziff in the Wisconsin State Journal:

The Madison School Board voted against asking taxpayers to help stave off budget cuts as Madison public schools face a projected $10.5 million budget shortfall.
The board voted 5-2 against holding a June referendum, a measure proposed by School Board Treasurer Carol Carstensen. Outgoing board member Shwaw Vang joined Carstensen in voting for the proposal that would have asked taxpayers for an additional $34 million over the next three years.
Board members who voted against the referendum said it was too hastily drawn up, without enough time to refine a referendum question or engage in a campaign to drum up support. Board member Lucy Mathiak said the board has known since October that it would need to make tough budget decisions.

Susan Troller’s story in The Capital Times is here.

Teacher accused of failing to report gun in school

Alan Borsuk:

Police and Milwaukee Public Schools officials on Monday were investigating allegations that a teacher at Pulaski High School, 2500 W. Oklahoma Ave., saw a gun in the possession of a student in school and did not notify authorities in a timely manner.
An unloaded gun was found Thursday in the 18-year-old student’s locker after a second teacher notified security aides at the school, sources familiar with the incident said.
Following a second incident on the same day the gun was found, MPS administrators said they were investigating a teacher who appeared to be out of her classroom while a fight occurred between two students, with many others watching. A student videotaped the fight, apparently on a cell phone, and the video was posted on the YouTube site on the Internet.

New revenue for schools

Governor Jim Doyle’s budget proposal includes language that would allow Wisconsin school districts to:

Construct or acquire, borrow funds to construct or acquire, operate and maintain a wind electricity generation facility, and use or sell the electricity generated by the facility, if the school board’s share of the installed capacity of the facility does not exceed 5 megawatts and the school boar incorporates information about the facility in its curriculum. (120.13(18m) WIND ELECTRICITY GENERATORS)

People should contact members of the Joint Committee on Finance to express support for the measure.

They’ll Do It Themselves, Thanks

Published: March 11, 2007
The New York Times
I LIKE it!” said Yaniv Gorodischer. “What a night!”
It was a big, big night at the group home. The three residents ­ Mr.
Gorodischer, 29, Jason Kingsley, 32, and Raymond Frost Jr., 28 ­ along with an entourage that included their group home supervisor, Ernest Daniels, and their parents, were going to the Town Board meeting to present a petition to get a sidewalk for their busy street, Chatterton Parkway.
All three had put on neckties. “For Town Hall I want to look decent,” Mr.Frost said. “Handsome and decent.” He’d practiced his speech six times. “I’m going to say, ‘My name is Raymond Frost Jr.’ And I’ll say that we got our neighbors to sign the petition, and 28 signed and 2 didn’t want to.”
And Mr. Gorodischer said: “First off, I’ll say, ‘My name is Yaniv
Gorodischer.’ And I can remember, I remember … shoot, I forgot.”
For that reason, Emily Kingsley, Jason’s mother, had written a speech for them to read. “Just in case,” she said, handing it to her son.
“We won’t need it,” he said. “We know how to say it.”
Several weeks before, Ms. Kingsley had drawn up the petition and
accompanied her son and his two roommates door to door. All three men have Down syndrome and cannot drive, but they are striving to be as independent as possible, and that means walking to their jobs along this street with its steep hill, its blind curve and cars that whiz by.
Ms. Kingsley, 67, had stood in the driveways while the three men knocked on doors, collecting signatures. “Most people were very nice,” she said. “When one man refused, they got confused. They couldn’t understand someone would say no to them. He was an old guy and said if he had a sidewalk he’d have to shovel snow. They said, ‘We’ll shovel it for you.’ And he says, ‘No, you won’t.’ And they say, ‘Yes, we will.’ ”
Since the group home opened in September 2002, the three have worked hard to be good neighbors. “Tell the story how you called me about baking a cake for your new neighbors,” Ms. Kingsley said.
“I don’t know that story,” her son said.
“Yes, you do.”
“It’s coming back,” the son said. “We asked to bake a cake for the new neighbors across the street. That was nice of us, to give them a little treat.” “And you called me for help with the cake,” the mother said. “And I said, “All three of you are on a diet.’ ”
“Not for us,” her son said. “For the neighbors.”
“Chocolate cake,” Mr. Frost said.
“We all helped,” Mr. Gorodischer said.
“Three Musketeers,” Mr. Frost said. “Now four beautiful years living in this house.” “Almost five beautiful years,” Mr. Kingsley said.
“A very big environment,” Mr. Gorodischer said.
“Because we all three guys looked out for each other,” Mr. Frost said.
“And what is the meaning of brotherhood?” Mr. Gorodischer said. “We can stand tall and be united. Meaning we can win over Town Hall!”
Then someone said it was time, and the three piled out the door and down the stairs and squeezed into Ms. Kingsley’s sedan, heading for Town Hall to see if they could get themselves a sidewalk.
WHEN Jason Kingsley was born, on June 27, 1974, the doctors told Ms.
Kingsley and her husband, Charles, to put him in an institution. “They told me he wouldn’t be able to distinguish us from other adults,” she recalled.
“They said, ‘Never see him again, and tell your friends and family that he died in childbirth.’ They were so sure I would institutionalize him, they gave me pills to dry up my milk.’ ”
Ms. Kingsley couldn’t have known it then, but her son was born right at the great divide between the dark years, when the mentally retarded were hidden away in state institutions, and modern times, when most of those institutions have been shuttered and the developmentally disabled live among us, in supervised group homes and apartment programs.
Two years before Jason’s birth, in January 1972,
Geraldo Rivera had sneaked into Willowbrook, a snake pit of an institution on Staten Island that was home to 5,400 mentally retarded people. He filmed a ward of 60 emaciated children, many naked, some in straitjackets, surrounded by walls smeared with feces and supervised by a single attendant. His televised exposé led to a federal class-action lawsuit, which Gov. Hugh L. Carey could have settled by promising to improve Willowbrook. Instead, Mr. Carey set off a social revolution. In a 1975 consent decree, he pledged to move the residents out of Willowbrook and
into state-financed community housing. Decades later, Mr. Carey would say it was the one thing he’d done as governor that he could really hold on to.
At the time, there were 26,000 people living in 20 state institutions for the retarded in New York and just 1,570 in state-financed group homes.
Today there are 32,722 developmentally disabled New Yorkers in community residences, and fewer than a thousand ­ the most severely disabled ­ in a handful of institutions. In 1980, New Jersey had just 471 community beds; Connecticut had 963. Today New Jersey has 7,173, Connecticut 5,313. They are paid for by the states, and most are run by nonprofit agencies.
In 1974, the Kingsleys started on what was then a new parenting approach for children with disabilities called early intervention, which today has become standard practice. The infant is exposed to high levels of stimulus and physical therapy. Ms. Kingsley did Jason’s room in bright colors; she made a quilt for him with every patch a different material. “We surrounded him with motion and music, and we’d talk and talk to him,” she says. To “wake up his senses,” she filled a tub with Jell-O, and plopped him in.
“I had people tell me that he wouldn’t be able to read,” she recalled. “He started reading at age 4. It was so exciting. Everything they said he wouldn’t do, he was doing.”
Jason’s parents would take him to Broadway musicals, and he would memorize all the songs. To this day, if Ms. Kingsley challenges her son to adapt a show tune for his roommates, he’ll burst into a verse of “Singing in the Raymond” or “Some Enchanted Yaniving.”
The Kingsleys lectured at medical schools about the untapped potential of children with Down syndrome. “Doctors needed to see the old stereotypes didn’t apply,” she said. Ms. Kingsley is a veteran writer for “Sesame Street” ­ she has won 17 Emmys ­ and she pushed to have Jason on the air, so the public, too, would see. Jason appeared a dozen times, starting at 15 months (sitting on Buffy Sainte-Marie’s lap as she sang). At age 6 he did skits with Ernie, at 8 with Forgetful Jones.
Being pioneers, Ms. Kingsley and her husband (who died nine years ago) had no sense where the limits were, and it was hard when they learned. “I thought he was so smart, I thought I had fixed it,” she said. “But between 6 and 8 all the typical kids caught up and passed by. Typical kids got sophisticated and streetwise, picked up nuances about relationships that he could not.
“Jason was great at parlor tricks, he could count to 10 in 12 languages,” she said. But when she put him in a youth soccer league, he too often ran the wrong way. He mastered the mechanics of reading but struggled with comprehension. “He learned, but took longer than regular kids.” Regular kids would say, “Do we have to have him on our team?”
“I realized this was in fact a child with D.S.,” she said, “and as hard as I worked, it would not go away.”
Thanks to his mother’s background in television, the son had opportunitiesmost never get. At 10 he appeared on the TV show “The Fall Guy”; at 19, on “touched by an Angel.” With his mother’s help, he and his friend Mitchell Levitz wrote a book about Down syndrome, “Count Us In,” published by Harcourt in 1994.
But when Mr. Kingsley was no longer young and cuddly, things were harder. Having mingled with the stars, he grew impatient with mundane work. He had a job shelving videos at a library, and came up with his own system for reorganizing the collection. “It made perfect sense to him,” his mother says, “but nobody could find anything.” He now delivers mail in an office building, though he still lists his career goal as “directing animated feature films for the Disney corporation.” His roommate Mr. Gorodischer works in the mailroom of a law office. Mr. Frost is a clerk at Petco, specializing in fish and small animals.
The Kingsleys set their son up in his own apartment in the late 1990s, but over time, he became isolated, the apartment grew messy, and he stopped shaving and bathing regularly. “We were too optimistic,” Ms. Kingsley said. “He needed more structure.” The group home, which is run by Westchester Arc, a nonprofit agency, has counselors on duty from 4 p.m. to 8 a.m. to provide both oversight and routine. It’s a comfort for the mother, who will not live forever.
AS they walked into Town Hall, Mr. Gorodischer lagged behind, and Mr. Frost yelled, “Yaniv, move up, you’re with us.”
Inside, Channel 12 was waiting. “How long have you been fighting for this?” the reporter asked.
“This is our first time,” Mr. Frost said.
“But you have petitions?” the reporter said.
“We hope to win over Town Hall,” Mr. Frost said.
They launched into a “Three Musketeers” cheer ­ all for one and one for all! ­ that caught Channel 12 off guard. “Hold on, we missed that,” the reporter said. “Let’s do it again. Quiet … action.”
Before the meeting, Paul J. Feiner, the town supervisor, told the men he supported the sidewalk and credited them with forcing the Town Board to develop a sidewalk policy, but said it could be two years before there was any action.
They were first on the agenda, and it must have been more nerve-racking than they had expected, because, after a few hems and haws, Mr. Kingsley pulled out the speech his mother had written, and each of them read a few sentences.
“You should go home tonight feeling very, very proud,” Mr. Feiner said. “You’ve already accomplished a lot, and I’ll work hard to make your dream of sidewalks a reality.”
The whole thing took about three minutes, and soon the entourage was back at the group home with everyone gathered around the dining room table eating cake. While the guests chatted away, Mr. Frost and Mr. Kingsley slipped upstairs. It was getting late, and they had work in the morning.

Milwaukee Public Schools / Milwaukee Symphony Arts Program

Alan Borsuk:

The Progressions program of the Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra, which gives kids mostly from Milwaukee Public Schools a start on classical instruments, is one of many arts programs in the city that are benefiting from a new $1 million fund created by the Milwaukee School Board.
That amount is being matched by private donations or contributed services from each of the organizations receiving the MPS grants.
Many in the arts community are viewing the new support as a strong boost for efforts to give city kids some of the arts education that has been shrinking in recent years under budget pressures.

Fooling the College Board

Scott Jaschik:

In the 1930’s, American businesses were locked in a fierce economic competition with Russian merchants for fear that their communist philosophies would dominate American markets. As a result, American competition drove the country into an economic depression and the only way to pull them out of it was through civil cooperation. American president Franklin Delenor Roosevelt advocated for civil unity despite the communist threat of success by quoting “the only thing we need to fear is itself,” which desdained competition as an alternative to cooperation for success. In the end, the American economy pulled out of the depression and succeeded communism.
Does that paragraph read like an excerpt of an essay with “reasonably consistent mastery” and that “effectively develops a point of view” and “demonstrates strong critical thinking, generally using appropriate examples”? Those are the College Board’s descriptions of the kinds of qualities that earn an essay a score of 5 (the second highest possible) on the essay portion of the SAT, a new and controversial part of the exam. And that is the score an essay with that paragraph (all punctuation, spelling, FDR’s new middle name and other “facts” verbatim) received from two readers when a student submitted it in October, having been coached on how to do so by a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

A Longer School Day?

Diana Jean Schemo:

States and school districts nationwide are moving to lengthen the day at struggling schools, spurred by grim test results suggesting that more than 10,000 schools are likely to be declared failing under federal law next year.
In Massachusetts, in the forefront of the movement, Gov. Deval L. Patrick is allocating $6.5 million this year for longer days and can barely keep pace with demand: 84 schools have expressed interest.
Gov. Eliot Spitzer of New York has proposed an extended day as one of five options for his state’s troubled schools, part of a $7 billion increase in spending on education over the next four years — apart from the 37 minutes of extra tutoring that children in some city schools already receive four times a week.
And Gov. M. Jodi Rell of Connecticut is proposing to lengthen the day at persistently failing schools as part of a push to raise state spending on education by $1 billion.
“In 15 years, I’d be very surprised if the old school calendar still dominates in urban settings,” said Mark Roosevelt, superintendent of schools in Pittsburgh, which has added 45 minutes a day at eight of its lowest-performing schools and 10 more days to their academic year.

April 3, 2007 Madison School Board Election Update

Much more on the election here.

After a Suicide, Privacy on Trial

Elizabeth Bernstein:

As Charles and Debi Mahoney watched six men and six women file into the jury box of a Pennsylvania courtroom one evening last August, they clutched hands and tried to remind themselves why they were in court. “Parents sending their kids off to college need to know that their kids aren’t safe when they think they are,” Mr. Mahoney recalls thinking at the time.
More than four years earlier, their 20-year-old son, Chuck, had hanged himself with his dog’s leash in his fraternity house at Allegheny College, in Meadville, Pa. At their son’s funeral, the Mahoneys learned that his friends and ex-girlfriend had repeatedly warned college administrators and counselors during his last days that Chuck was a danger to himself. The officials and his college therapist had discussed his crisis — but no one had alerted the family.
His parents sued for wrongful death in 2003, alleging that Allegheny should have taken more action at the end — such as breaking their son’s confidentiality to get them involved. One of Chuck’s fraternity brothers who tried to alert school officials, Michael Fischer, testified that seeing his friend’s last days “was like watching a car accident …. We knew something was going to happen. We had to try to stop it.”

The Hobart Shakespeareans


Imagine the sight and sound of American nine- and eleven-year-old children performing Shakespeare’s Hamlet or Henry V — and understanding every word they recite. Imagine them performing well enough to elicit praise from such accomplished Shakespearean actors as Ian McKellen and Michael York, and to be invited to perform with the Royal Shakespeare Company in England. Such a spectacle would be highly impressive in the toniest of America’s private schools. But what if the kids were the children of recent Latino and Asian immigrants attending a large Los Angeles inner-city public school in one of America’s toughest neighborhoods?
That is the astonishing story told by the new documentary “The Hobart Shakespeareans,” which discovers how one man’s uncommon commitment and resourcefulness have opened up worlds of opportunity for his “disadvantaged” students — and perhaps have demonstrated a way forward for America’s beleaguered public education system.
The Latino- and Asian-American children crowding Los Angeles’ sprawling Hobart Boulevard Elementary face daunting odds. Their neighborhood in the heart of Central Los Angeles is better known for crime than for opportunity. They grow up in low-income households. Their school, typically for public education in poor districts, is under-funded and overcrowded. Most of their parents do not speak English. No one is giving these kids educational perks, like class trips and intensive tutoring. And no one is expecting any but the smartest and luckiest to rise beyond the limitations of their environment. No one, that is, except Rafe Esquith.

Safe Blogs Becoming Part of School

Erin Richards:

When sixth-grade teacher Rachel Yurk created a blog for her classroom this year, she began the online learning experiment with a simple, engaging question: “What’s your favorite book and why?”
By that night, Yurk’s e-mail had exploded with about 200 messages – each one notifying her that another comment had been posted to the online discussion.
Safely nested in Virtual Office, a secure system that New Berlin Public Schools is piloting and plans to take districtwide by next year, Yurk’s classroom blog engages students in a common discussion tool without exposing them to uncensored activity in the real-world blogosphere.
“The students are more willing to talk about things, and they can type so fast,” Yurk said. “Pencil and paper is boring to them. The first day we opened up Virtual Office, one student’s sister – a high school kid – thought it was cool and put up a post about what book she thought the younger students should read.”
Blogs, or online discussions that usually host time-stamped entries in order of newest to oldest, have struggled to gain acceptance in mainstream K-12 education.

This is a very useful example of why it’s important for us not to continue to be caught up in the Frederick Taylor style education process as the world changes around us.

“Cooking the Numbers” – Madison’s Reading Program

Joanne Jacobs:

From the Fayetteville, NC Observer:

Superintendent Art Rainwater loves to discuss the Madison Metropolitan School District’s success in eliminating the racial achievement gap.
But he won’t consult with educators from other communities until they are ready to confront the issue head on.
“I’m willing to talk,” Rainwater tells people seeking his advice, “when you are willing to stand up and admit the problem, to say our minority children do not perform as well as our white students.”

Only then will Rainwater reveal the methods Madison used to level the academic playing field for minority students.
This is an odd statement. The racial achievement gap is accepted as an uncomfortable fact everywhere; it is much discussed. No superintendent in the U.S. — except for Rainwater — claims to have eliminated the gap.

Today, Rainwater said, no statistical achievement gap exists between the 25,000 white and minority students in Madison’s schools.
Impressive, but untrue, writes Right Wing Prof, who looked at Madison reading scores across all grades.

I found a graph comparing Madison to five similar districts in Wisconsin, all of which do much better than Madison on fourth-grade reading.

Joanne was in Milwaukee and Madison recently to discuss her book, “Our School“.
Related Links:

Tax credits and deductions for parents

Marshall Loeb:

Children can bring you a lot of joy … and a lot of bills. The good news is that at tax time, they can also save you some money. Mark Steber, vice president of tax resources at Jackson Hewitt Tax Service, reminds parents that children of all ages can bring a range of credits and deductions on parents’ 2006 income tax returns:

Seattle Superintendent’s Mid Year Report

Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Raj Manhas [777K PDF]:

A detailed document on the progress of the priority projects from the 2006‐07 Workplan is attached. Through the project tracking system that is under development as well as additional discussions with project managers, we have captured information on:

  1. What have we accomplished through February 2007?
  2. Are we on‐track to complete the project by August 2007?

The table below reports on the status of our priority projects with respect to completion by August 2007. 16 projects (or almost 60% of the total) are expected to be completed on‐time and another 10 projects are expected to be at least partially completed by August 2007.

School Board Candidate Forum: Madison United for Academic Excellence

Thanks to Laurie Frost & Jeff Henriques for organizing Thursday’s MAUE forum: Video / 30MB MP3 Audio. This event included some interesting questions:

  • 14 minutes: On the Superintendent’s proposed reductions in the budget increase and their affect on the MMSD’s 6 TAG members. Do you believe TAG services still have a role?
  • 20:40 What strategies do you have to raise academic standards for all students and avoid pitting one group of parents against another?
  • 27:50 What are the most positive and negative traits you would bring to the (school) board?
  • 34:28 Please state your position on the educational approach of offering core courses, delivered in completely heterogeneous groupings, with no opportunity for self selected ability grouping? (see West’s English 10)
  • 41:29 How do we do a better job of identifying academically gifted students?
  • 48:42 Would you support a referendum to deal with the (2007/2008) budget shortfall?
  • 54:26 Would you support African centered pedagogy classes for Madison High Schools?
  • 1:00 Where do you see MTI’s advocacy for teachers coming into the greatest conflict with the District’s students?
  • 1:07 What position or talent most distinguishes you from your opponent?

Download the 105MB video here.
Madison United for Academic Excellence.

MMSD Teacher on REACH

Spring Harbor Teacher Nan Yungerman:

At the MUAE forum to discuss education for gifted and talented students, it was disturbing to hear one candidate, Maya Cole for Seat #5, talk about eliminating REACH as a way to trade money to keep Eastside schools open. I was bothered on many levels.
One; REACH was developed to provide one additional and desperately needed hour of planning time for elementary teachers. It is in this hour that teachers might differentiate curriculum or do hundreds of other necessary tasks to keep their classrooms going. This precious hour, one of about a total of five permitted during the work week, is a negotiated term or part of the Teacher Bargaining Agreement. Maya Cole is suggesting it be eliminated. If this were possible, simply by saying it —- is not a friendly gesture to teachers. This will not save money. A different method of providing for children during the negotiated hour of planning time would need to be developed. Claiming to know what would help teachers and then suggesting to take away their planning time is down right nasty. Elementary planning time is beyond necessary for teacher sanity and is is the very basic component of being a thoughtful and reflective teacher!

I’ve heard some alt views on this from other teachers (and parents).

Important meetings about possible east side school closings

Forward from a friend:
The MMSD administration will hold public meetings on the following dates to detail their plans to close Lindbergh and Blackhawk. PLEASE ATTEND BOTH MEETINGS!
SUNDAY MARCH 25th 4-6pm @Warner Park
TUESDAY MARCH 27th 6:30pm @ Black Hawk

Balance of power could shift with school board election

Jason Shephard:

On April 3, voters will elect three members to the Madison Board of Education. At least two will be newcomers, replacing retiring Ruth Robarts and Shwaw Vang, while board president Johnny Winston Jr. is runing for a second term. Victories by Beth Moss and Marj Passman could give Madison Teachers Inc., the teachers union, greater control of the board’s majority. A victory by Maya Cole, meanwhile, could provide a continued 4-3 split between MTI-endorsed politicians and more reform-minded officials. Here’s a look at the three races.

Cap Times Editorial: “Give Winston Another Term”

The Capital Times:

Under Johnny Winston Jr.’s leadership, the often contentious Madison School Board has become a model of cooperative, respectful and efficient governance. No, the board’s not perfectly harmonious, but with Winston at the helm, it’s far more functional than it has been for a long time. Indeed, Winston’s proven to be exactly the right president at exactly the right time, ably balancing the concerns of the board’s two factions and running meetings with appropriate focus and authority.

The key to good schools? Housing policy

David Rusk & Marc Eisen:

Jason Shepard’s story this week, “How Can We Help Poor Students Achieve More?,” points out the strong correlation between schools with high levels of low-income students and substandard academic performance. As Shepard reports, that same point was made about the Madison schools by urban researcher David Rusk in 2001.
Rusk was a headliner at the “Nolen In The New Century” conference sponsored by Isthmus and several community and media groups. His speech was subsequently adopted for publication in Isthmus and became the first salvo in the campaign for inclusionary zoning. It’s reprinted below.(Readers are welcome to form their own conclusions on whether or not IZ has played out in Madison as Rusk outlined here.)
Rusk is the former mayor of Albuquerque. His Cities Without Suburbs, in the words of the Congressional Quarterly, “has virtually become the Bible of the regionalism movement.” Rusk’s study of census data linked failing cities to their political separation from the suburbs and, conversely, successful cities to their ability to annex or be part of a regional government. His more recent book, Inside Game/Outside Game, argues that regional land-use and tax-revenue policies are more critical to turning around failing neighborhoods than anti-poverty programs.

Cap Times Editorial: “Beth Moss for School Board”

The Capital Times:

Moss is an experienced educator who has taught diverse students in classrooms overseas and in urban districts in the U.S.
Moss is an incredibly active parent, who has been a classroom volunteer at Glenn Stephens Elementary School, a Schools of Hope tutor, a Madison School & Community Recreation program club coordinator, and a Parent Teacher Organization volunteer and fundraising chair. She’s worked with the Foundation for Madison’s Public Schools to obtain grants for student programs. And she served as co-chair of Community and Schools Together (CAST), the grass-roots group that secured passage of the last school funding referendum.

Beth Moss faces Rick Thomas April 3 for Seat 3, Madison School Board. Much more on the election here.

How can we help poor students achieve more?

Jason Shephard:

As a teacher-centered lesson ended the other morning at Midvale Elementary School, about 15 first-graders jumped up from their places on the carpeted rug and dashed to their personal bins of books.
Most students quickly settled into two assigned groups. One read a story about a fox in a henhouse with the classroom teacher, and another group, headed by a UW-Madison student teacher, read a more challenging nonfiction book about a grandmother who, as one child excitedly noted, lived to be 101.
In addition to this guided reading lesson, one boy sat at a computer wearing headphones, clicking on the screen that displayed the words as a story was read aloud to him, to build word recognition and reading stamina. Two other boys read silently from more advanced books. Another boy received one-on-one help from a literacy coach conducting a Reading Recovery lesson with him.
“I think what’s so important is that this program truly meets the needs of a variety of students, from those who are struggling to those who are accelerated,” says Principal John Burkholder.


Closing Marquette: A preposterous idea

A letter to the editor that appeared in the Cap Times:

Dear Editor: As leaders in the Marquette neighborhood, we are extremely disappointed with the discussion of possibly closing Marquette Elementary School.
The Marquette neighborhood is an incredible success story. The economic upswing of this neighborhood has been tied directly to the positive programs being presented at Marquette and Lapham schools.
The $3.5 million addition and improvements made to the O’Keeffe/Marquette complex a few years ago brought incredible stability to this neighborhood. The voters and taxpayers citywide realized the importance of the improvements in keeping families in the downtown area and overwhelmingly approved this expenditure. It would be an egregious slight to abandon this elementary school as throngs of young families have moved into the Marquette neighborhood and greatly improved the housing stock and precipitated a building boom.
It is unprecedented that a diverse neighborhood that could walk in close to 300 students to fill their re-modeled school in a kindergarten through fifth grade configuration would be threatened with closing. It would be beyond belief that a School Board would ask a neighborhood to send five busloads of students to a crowded Lapham building at a cost of $36,000 per bus or $180,000 for the upcoming school year. We support the continuing elementary programs at Marquette and Lapham and keeping O’Keeffe Middle School at its current size.
We realize the school funding dilemma that the whole state faces has led to this situation. We are hoping that these inequities will change and that the option to de-stabilize our community is taken off the table.
Judy Olson
6th District alderperson
Anya Firszt
president,Greater Williamson Area Business Association
Gary Kallas
director, Wil-Mar Neighborhood Center
Published: March 22, 2007

Fight and arrests at LaFollette

According to a report from the Madison Police Department:

On 3/22/07 at 10:02 a.m. there was a large disturbance at LaFollette H.S. A school administrator had noticed a large gathering of students and hostilities between some wanting to fight. It was later learned that the disturbance was caused by three females confronting three other females to fight. The Madison Police Department Education Resource Officer (ERO) noted that upon arriving to the scene several hundred students were watching the disturbance, clogging the hallway, and that 10-15 school officials had to restore order. A total of six Madison Police Officers were present in the school to help calm this disturbance. Eventually some students were detained and separated. In one separation, two students went to an office and began fighting again. Police had to respond to that office as well to break up the secondary fight. The above-listed juveniles were arrested and placed in Juvenile Reception until parents were notified.

“No, My Son Doesn’t ‘Act Black.’ There’s No Such Thing.”

This powerful first-person account by Aleta Payne first appeared in the Washington Post earlier this month. It brought tears to my eyes as I read it in our own Cap Times last night. The piece drives home the multifaceted nature of the achievement gap, underscoring the fact that the search for a single solution is seriously misguided and that we must each do our part.

Sam came home from the overnighter visibly crushed. He curled around his hurt as though he’d been punched in the gut, and he refused to say what had happened. My husband and I fought panic as all the horrible things that might happen to a 14-year-old away from home pounded through our brains. We cajoled and interrogated as he tried to disappear into the living room sofa, until finally, enough of the story emerged to reassure us that our oldest son hadn’t been physically injured. But his suffering was still real.
His friends had asked him why he didn’t act black.


The Co-op Model’s Relevance Today

Nancy L Zimpher:

Cooperative education is now more than 100 years old. The co-op approach, in which students alternate time in the classroom with professionally paid work directly related to their majors, was founded at the University of Cincinnati by Dean Herman Schneider in 1906. There are co-op programs today at 500 institutions in the United States.
The centennial marks a good time to take stock. How effective is co-op? What has been its impact on its three fundamental partners — students, employers, and institutions of higher education? Is co-op still relevant? Still viable? What role should co-op play in 21st century education?
I see empirical evidence of co-op’s value every day at the University of Cincinnati. We have 3,800 students in 44 disciplines participating in co-op opportunities at more than 1,500 employers in 34 states and 9 foreign countries. At graduation, UC co-op students have an enviable head-start in their careers by virtue of their on-the-job work experience (an average of one-and-a-half years for UC students), marketable skills, impressive credentials, and networking connections. Many are hired immediately by the companies where they completed their co-ops.

On Vouchers

Tyler Cowen:

1. The federal government will pay for vouchers, to some extent, and thus extend its control over schooling. Admittedly this is happening anyway.
2. No politically feasible vouchers program will apply immediate depth charges to current public schools or even reduce their initial budgets (“oh, you aren’t letting public schools compete…). That means the new money must come from somewhere. That means our taxes will go up.
Vouchers would create a new middle class entitlement, ostensibly aimed at education but often simply capitalized in the form of cash. In the meantime public schools would require additional subsidies to stay open. How pretty a picture is this?

Cole wins Cap Times endorsement

The Capital Times said:

The Madison School Board’s makeup will change with the April 3 election. Its chief dissident, Ruth Robarts, is stepping down. So, too, is a quietly thoughtful member, Shwaw Vang, who has more generally sided with the board majority and the district’s administrators.
There are those who suggest that the entire direction of the board and the school district is at stake. That’s a stretch. Chances are that the next board will have a majority that is generally deferent to the administration and a potent minority that tends to challenge the administration to do better.That’s about as it should be.
Madison schools are essentially sound. But they are not improving at the rate that they should. And they are facing increasingly challenging budget shortfalls. Thus, a board that mixes those who want to maintain what is good about the schools and those who will be pushing for more accountability and progressive innovation holds the most promise.
Our endorsements in this year’s three contests for school board seats will look to achieve that mix.
We begin today with a strong endorsement of Maya Cole, who is seeking the District 5 seat being vacated by Robarts. Backed by Robarts, Cole is a solid progressive who has shown a willingness to spar with the district establishment. That upsets some defenders of the status quo, but our sense is that she strikes a mature balance between supporting sound schools and understanding the need to try new approaches in order to meet funding, staffing and curriculum challenges.


Spring 2007 Madison School Board Election Update: Vote April 3!

  • Christine & Trent Sveom kindly forwarded candidate responses to additional questions not contained within the previously posted Video from the March 5, 2007 West High Forum. The questions:
    • Please explain your views on additional charter schools given the success of Nuestro Mundo here in Madison and several offerings in Appleton just to name a few?
    • How can the school district provide for second languages to be taught to all students starting in Kindergarten and continuing through all grades?
    • The board will be hiring a new superintendent. Please discuss what you believe is
      the top 3 criteria for a superintendent. You are free to ignore my request to address communication between Board and Administration/Superintendent, Boards communication with public, Superintendent and Public.

    • What role should School Board, Parents and Educators play in changing state law,
      which adversely affect our schools?

    • What accountability mechanisms do you envision? (Directed to Rick & Maya)
    • What is your position on the health insurance issue for teachers, that is the WPS option versus HMO’s?


Despite ‘Mommy Guilt,’ Time With Kids Increasing

Donna St. George:

Cynthie Bush pulled on her coat and started to say goodbye. She and a friend were taking a night out — three hours in all, for a quick dinner and a PTA event. It was not the kind of thing she did often, with two small children and a full-time job.
But before she could leave her Herndon home, her 4-year-old daughter began to cry for her. For a moment, Bush recalled, she wondered if she should cancel. Her days were already so full. She needed more hours with her children, not fewer.

More school closings in next budget

The board might as well start planning for the next budget’s $10 million deficit.
Making a decision on closing more schools now will allow for a more orderly transition in the years to come.

Winston supports school closings

At last night’s candidate forum at the Warner Park neighborhood center, Winston was the only candidate who said he’d vote yes to closing schools.
He proudly listed his connections to the Northside, while missing the irony of being the only one who would close the Northside’s Sherman Middle School.

$65M for 42 Houston Charter Schools

Jay Matthews:

The charter school movement, begun 16 years ago as an alternative to struggling public schools, will today make its strongest claim on mainstream American education when a national group announces the most successful fundraising campaign in the movement’s history — $65 million to create 42 schools in Houston.
The money, which comes from some of the nation’s foremost donors, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, would make the Knowledge Is Power Program the largest charter school organization in the country. KIPP, which runs three schools in Washington, has produced some of the highest test scores among publicly funded schools in the District and has made significant gains in the math and reading achievement of low-income students in most of its 52 schools across the country.

Meanwhile, Madison’s proposed Studio School will apparently open this fall as a private organization. I hope we learn more about the Studio School’s interactions with the Madison School District and how the process might improve in the future.

Pay Schools for Better Results

Jane Galt:

But it is not true that these kids are simply genetic train wrecks who we should be prepared to write off. Disadvantaged kids can be taught to read, write, and perform basic mathematical operations, and they can be taught to behave if their parents have neglected that task. In our system, however, any school that manages to do so achieves this feat only through heroic efforts to overcome the institutional barriers put in the way. For various reasons, this is not happening. I have a novel approach to solving this problem: I propose we . . . pay schools on the basis of their ability to educate these children. I plan to call this system something nifty and new-economy, like . . . a market. That has an edgy, new-millenial kind of feel, doesn’t it? I think it’s the juxtaposition of the hard-edged k and t sounds with the soft, sensuous labials of the first syllable.
Can the school system overcome all the handicaps that disadvantaged kids are born with? I doubt it. But it could certainly do better . . . and it could hardly do worse than many urban school districts.

Galt has more on schools here.

Business Tools for Better Schools

Business Tools for Better Schools:

The "Business Tools for Better Schools" toolkit is designed to engage, energize and focus company and business organization efforts in education reform. The toolkit is geared towards both policy and practical involvement, primarily at the state and local level, in three key K-12 education reform business priorities:

  • Ensuring that graduates are ready for work and college;
  • Strengthening the science, technology, education and math (STEM) pipeline;
  • Maximizing data-driven decisions in education.

The goal is to create a "one-stop" Web site where business can get the background information, facts, research and practical tools they need to effectively engage in education in their communities and states.

The toolkit was created and is maintained by Achieve, Inc. with generous support from the GE Foundation. Additional support was provided by the Business Roundtable. The content of the site was developed in consultation with national, state and local business organizations and companies. In particular, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable and their state affiliates were instrumental in the conception and development of the website.

Wisconsin’s page & Data.
Wisconsin Data Fact Sheet.

Madison’s Fund 80 & Elections

TJ Mertz:

In this morning’s Wisconsin State Journal there is a story that again misrepresents the place of Madison School Community Recreation and Fund 80 in the district and the community.
The chart comparing Fund 80 levies in Madison to those in other districts ignores the fact that most or all of those locales have municipal recreation programs paid for by municipal taxes. Due to a historical quirk, Madison has very little in the way of a municipal recreation department and programs and services that other locales fund via municipal or county taxes are funded and governed by the school district via Fund 80. In order to get a realistic comparison of Madison’s spending on recreational and community education programming one must look at total levies devoted to this. The last time I did this (early 2006) I found that the combined spending on MSCR and the Madison Parks Department was about $20 million. De Moines, IA (about the same size) has a parks and recreation budget of about $20 million. Ann Arbor, MI is about half the size of Madison and has a Parks and Recreation budget of $12 million. Green Bay, also about half the size has a Parks and Recreation Budget of $8 million. In other words, the spending in these areas is very much in line with what others spend.

There’s been no shortage of discussion on Fund 80 here. 2006 / 2007 Madison School District $333M+ Citizen’s Budget.

  • Amy Hetzner: Community Service Levies Climbed Since Revenue Caps Lifted:

    But once the Legislature removed the caps on the community service levies for the 2000-’01 school year and gave school districts an opportunity to keep their recreational activities from conflicting with educational programs, more took advantage of it.
    “I think – when you look at districts across the state – that’s really what caused the jump,” said Art Rainwater, superintendent of the Madison Metropolitan School District, which in 2005-’06 had the largest community service levy in the state.
    Like some of the bigger community service funds, Madison’s supports a full recreation department with adult and youth programming. But it also helps pay for television production activities, after-school activities, a gay and lesbian community program coordinator and part of a social worker’s time to work with low-income families, Rainwater said.
    The School District’s community service levy is expected to grow to $10.5 million in the coming school year. In contrast, the same levy for Milwaukee Public Schools – which serves nearly four times as many children in its educational programs – is expected to reach $9.3 million, said Michelle Nate, the district’s director of finance.
    Although the state Department of Public Instruction has issued guidelines to school districts on how they should use their community service levies, it leaves it up to local residents to decide whether their school boards do so wisely and legally.

  • Carol Carstensen: Fund 80 is Worth our Support.
  • Lucy Mathiak: Community Service Fund 80, Can We talk?
  • Ruth Robarts: A Tale of Two Budgets: the Operating Budget for Madison Schools versus its Budget for Community Programs and Services
  • A look at the City of Madison’s parcel count growth.

The charts are from Lucy Mathiak’s post:

East Side school plan opposed

East Side school plan opposed
March 19, 2007
Waving bright signs and chanting, dozens of parents, kids, and teachers converged at a School Board meeting Monday night to protest proposed budget cuts that could consolidate elementary and middle schools on the East Side.
Earlier this month, Madison school officials proposed addressing a projected $10.5 million shortfall in next year’s budget by moving Marquette Elementary students to Lapham Elementary and splitting Sherman Middle School students between O’Keeffe and Black Hawk middle school. The move would save about $800,000.
School Board members are still wrangling with at least five options to deal with the budget deficit and were presented with an alternative consolidation plan at Monday’s meeting.
But many affected students, parents and teachers came to the meeting angry about the administration’s recommendation to take students out of Marquette and Sherman, arguing it would eliminate neighborhood schools, force kids who currently walk to school to take buses, and increase class sizes.
“I really don’t want to go to Lapham,” said Kalley Rittman, a Marquette fourth-grader who was at the rally with her parents. “All the kids are going to be squished in one place.”
Currently, Kalley and her sister in third grade, Hannah, walk to Marquette, said their mother, Kit. They would have to be bused to Lapham.
Kalley was also clutching an envelope with letters from other students and teachers at Marquette, and later spoke in front of the board, telling them she created a video on the school for them to watch.
Faye Kubly said her 11-year-old son had trouble in elementary schools before he transferred to Marquette, where teachers developed a system for him to learn successfully. She and other parents called the middle school proposal a “mega middle school” and called on the state to change its funding guidelines.


Reality Check: Taxpayers Pay For Lobbying

Colin Benedict on Channel3000:

Wisconsin taxpayers are paying millions to lobby state lawmakers, in many cases, for more money.
Dane County does it too — it spent nearly $175,000 last session, WISC-TV reported. Part of it was for more money from the state to pay for county nursing home patients, and Dane County argued against the taxpayer bill of rights.
Rock County spent about $6,400 on similar issues, WISC-TV reported.
Schools do this as well. The Madison Metropolitan School District spent $133,000 on lobbying, with some of the tax money spent trying to get more tax money into the classrooms.
The district is on record fighting against revenue limits and against limits to local control, WISC-TV reported.

Fixing Dixie’s tricksy schools

The Economist:

The hard lessons of segregation
WAYNE CLOUGH, the president of the Georgia Institute of Technology, has just moved into a new office. The workmen are still in the corridors outside, generating noise and dust. A few years ago the site, in Atlanta, was full of drug addicts and prostitutes. The hotel across the street was boarded up and inhabited by vagrants. Now Georgia Tech is building a “sustainable, energy-efficient campus” with white roofs, recycled building materials and a system for catching and using rainwater. It is a bit more expensive, says Mr Clough, but “if you plan to be around for a while, you’ll recapture the costs eventually.”
Georgia Tech has a global reputation. Its 16,000 students will mostly go on to careers in engineering, medicine or some other tough and lucrative field. But Mr Clough does have some worries. Southern universities got into the research game later than their northern rivals, so the region is behind the curve in attracting high-tech industries, he says. From time to time, fundamentalists try to teach creationism as science in southern public schools, which “reinforces the backward image”. But his biggest worry is that not enough young southerners are mastering science and maths.
“Brother Dave” Gardner, a stand-up comic from Tennessee, greeted the 1954 Supreme Court order to end segregated schools with the quip: “Let ’em go to school, beloved. We went, and we didn’t learn nothin’.” That was harsh, but partly grounded in fact. The point of school segregation was to keep blacks down and whites separate. When it ended, many white parents moved their children from newly integrated public schools to private schools whose chief selling point was whiteness, not academic rigour.


Finding the Best High Schools, Part Two: Low-Income Stigma

Jay Matthews:

Consider this high-minded conclusion in their report: A successful high school should show high levels of student achievement, graduate almost all of its students and not let any demographic subgroup suffer at the expense of others. In a perfect world, I would not dispute that. But in the real world that means C. Leon King High School in Tampa does not belong on the best schools list because of its high dropout rate and low average test scores, even though Newsweek ranked it 73rd in the country in AP and IB test participation last year.
Asked to comment on the notion that her school ought to be taken off the list, Susie L. Johnson, assistant principal for the school’s IB magnet curriculum, said: “Honestly, that is ridiculous.”
Whoops. Did I say she runs the magnet curriculum? The Education Sector report dismissed magnets, special programs that draw students from outside school boundaries, as a sneaky way for schools like King to look good on the Newsweek list. In fact, it said, a school with a small number of students taking many tests will receive a high Challenge Index score even if it is providing a lousy education to the rest of it students.

More from Sara.

Testimony asks for three commitments

Thank you for your service and thank you for your request to hear from the community.
My name is Shari Entenmann and I’m here as a parent of 3 young children entrusting you with their school experience.
As you move forward with the budget process there are three things I’d like you to commit to:

1. Our downtown schools need to be vital, they are the heart of our city and why many of us moved here – myself included. Let’s not unravel what’s been built and what we can accomplish in the future. We want our schools to be vibrant and attractive so others choose to live here like I did.
2. Consider the details carefully – often it’s the details that matter:

a. What about the TEP program. My understanding from parents directly involved in bringing TEP to Lapham that part of what’s needed to make the program a success is the SAGE class sizes.

• Will Lapham still have TEP
• If TEP then SAGE, if SAGE is there room to consolidate?
• If not TEP, where will it go, back to Emerson – but wasn’t there concern about it being too much for one school?
• When making these decisions you have to consider this vulnerable population in this TEP program.

b. What about the alternatives program. Steve Hartley gave a very inspiring presentation last year at Marquette (when we were going through this exercise) and it was clear to me and others that the keystone to the success of the program is separating the kids from their age-group peers. Are you sure the proposal to move the program to Sherman has considered this, I didn’t see that consideration in the presentation to the board a few weeks ago.
c. Is the proposed larger middle school too big? I hear the comparison to Hamilton as a reference that it’s not. However, I don’t believe that’s an appropriate comparison. This is a very different population and I’ve heard concern from many teachers, and educators that’s it’s too big for this population, particularly with our resource restrictions.

3. An open process that allows all things to be discussed and considered with community involvement. We’ve heard several times that there’s nothing else to cut but things that effect the classroom and so everything must be on the table, even this drastic change that saves less than 700,000. However in all the discussion that’s lead to this point I haven’t heard any discussion on the following:

a. I’ve heard there may be more funds coming in the next few months – is this the time to propose such drastic changes – especially when these changes aren’t part of an overall plan but are part of the annual ad hoc widdling away process.
b. Extra-curriculars
c. Sports

Please consider what I’ve said. I believe it’s necessary to be successful because we live in a passionate community that strongly supports public education. Everyone needs to be involved.
Very sincerely, again, thank you for your service.
Shari Entemann

Little Consistency in Bus Safety Standards

Debra Nussbaum:

DR. ALAN ROSS did not develop a passion for school bus safety until 10 years ago, when his son asked why there were no safety belts on the bus he rode to school in Litchfield County, Conn.
“I was your typical parent, and I just assumed we had this covered in a school bus,” said Dr. Ross, who is now the president of the National Coalition for School Bus Safety, a volunteer group. “That started my quest to improve things. The state of school bus transportation is a very sad one.”
School buses remain the safest form of transportation to and from school, according to various federal statistics, but regulation of the buses is uneven. No federal laws govern whether safety belts are required on school buses, how often the buses must be inspected or how many years they can be on the road. On a state level, there are significant differences in such laws — New York and New Jersey require seat belts on buses, for example, but Connecticut does not. Districts can have their own rules, too.

For Teachers, Middle School Is Test of Wills

Elissa Gootman:

When a student at Seth Low Intermediate School loudly pronounced Corinne Kaufman a “fat lady” during a fire drill one recent day, Mrs. Kaufman, a 45-year-old math teacher, calmly turned around.
“Voluptuous,” she retorted, then proceeded to define the unfamiliar term, cutting off the laughter and offering a memorable vocabulary lesson in the process.
Such are the survival skills Mrs. Kaufman has acquired over 17 years at Seth Low, a large middle school in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn: How to snuff out brewing fistfights before the first punch is thrown, how to coax adolescents crippled by low self-esteem into raising their hands, how to turn every curveball, even the biting insult, into a teachable moment.
But not all middle school teachers can do it.

School Crime Data in Madison

Madison Parent:

How safe are our schools? This question can’t be answered without consistent collection and analysis of information about violent and disruptive incidents in our schools. While the Madison Police Department has just released its Uniform Crime Report for 2006 (the summary of crime statistics that is reported annually to the FBI), there’s no equivalent report for Madison schools. Our state’s Department of Public Instruction collects data for expulsions and suspension, but not for incidents. The Madison Metropolitan School District’s web site simply links to the DPI site. At the individual school level, there may be no system for proactively communicating with parents about incidents affecting safety, or, worse yet, a parent’s school safety questions may languish unanswered.

The post includes a list of recent school crime events. Gangs and School Violence Forum.

Milwaukee School Board Candidate Notes

Alan Borsuk:

Dannecker, 45, said people in the district are concerned about behavior in schools. In general, he said, “high school is a big issue to parents,” and many are not happy with most MPS high schools, particularly Bay View High School.
Dannecker played a central role in the decision in recent months to place police officers on a full-time basis in Bradley Tech High School and in a cluster of schools centered on Custer High School. He said he favors creating “almost an internal reform school” within MPS for students with major behavior issues.
Another trait: He says he pays attention to the way decisions are made. He often finds the decision-making of the current School Board and MPS administration lacking.
The recent MPS campaign against cell phones in school is an example. Falk said that with the way the ban works now, only some children don’t bring cell phones to school and enforcement efforts are weak.
The crackdown was not well thought out, he said, given the way students actually respond.

What was the MMSD Budget in 2004/05?

Help! I’m getting a major headache. I’ve been trying to track some changes in the MMSD budget over the last 5-10 years, and I have noticed that the numbers aren’t always the same in the different places that I have been looking. At first, I figured it just me and that definitions for budget categories change from year to year. However, I decided to look at something simple and straightforward: What was the total MMSD budget for 2004/2005? I have included the sources of this information for anyone who wants to check my work, but I tell you it’s driving me nuts.

  • $370,226,157 – This number comes from an April 2006 Executive Summary
  • $363,366,630 – This is from a 10/24/05 Budget Amendments and Tax Levy document and this budget number includes interfund transfers.
  • $320,039,617 – If we remove interfund transfers from the budget, the above document lists this number as our total budget.
  • $316,822,781 – I found this budget amount listed twice: in a five year budget forecast from 2/14/05 and a preliminary budget forecast dated 3/7/05
  • $317,695,011 – On 5/3/05, the 2005-06 Budget and Financial Summaries document listed this amount for the 2004/05 budget.
  • $317,163,034 – this amount is similar but not identical; it comes from page 233 of the 2005-06 Budget Book released on 5/17/05
  • $318,789,509 – this is the MMSD 2004/05 budget according to DPI’s website
  • $334,626,013.5 – this is a final guess at a budget number and it comes from the Five Year Financial Forecast document that the District had prepared by PMA Financial Network. This number is based on FY2004 and FY2005 data for Fund 10 ($265,678,423; $272,015,465) and Fund 27 ($66,148,621; $65,409,518). I just added the amounts for each fund for each FY (2004: $331827044; 2005: $337424983) and then averaged them as I wasn’t sure what the relation was of a FY (fiscal year) to a school budget year. I should also state the obvious that I know the MMSD budget includes expenses beyond these two funds, but that was all that was in the document.

I realize that some variability can be the result of numbers computed before the end of the school year, but shouldn’t all of the numbers computed after the end of the 2004/05 school year be the same? I have to be honest, this doesn’t make me feel very confident about the District’s money management abilities.

Madison Spelling Champ Does it Again

Ron Seely:

Forget basketball.
The real action in Madison on Saturday was on a brightly lit stage at Monona Grove High School where 47 gutsy young people stared down the vagaries of the English language and slugged it out verbally in the Badger State Spelling Bee.
The ending matched the thrill of a double-overtime NCAA tournament basketball game. Madison’s own Isabel Jacobson, of O’Keeffe Middle School, repeated as champion in a poised and confident performance. She won against a stalwart competitor, Andrew Grose, of Lake Country Academy in Sheboygan, in a nail-biting duel over the word “ineluctable.”
With just the two spellers standing on a stage amid empty chairs late in the afternoon, Andrew, who had calmly vanquished such words as “narcissistic” and “glockenspiel” during the afternoon, mistakenly put the letter “i” where the “a” belongs in “ineluctable.”
Isabel, with hardly a blink, spelled the word correctly and then awaited the final word that, if spelled correctly, would give her a memorable second straight state championship.
“Tutelary,” said pronouncer Brad Williams.

Sheboygan Oks 7 Charter Schools — DPI grants info webcast on Friday


Hard MMSD Budget Still Has Wiggle Room

Scott Milfred:

It’s a contentious fact that has run through so many Madison School Board races and referendums in recent years:
Madison schools spend a lot — $12,111 per student during the 2005-06 school year.
If the district is spending that much, how can it be in crisis?
The answer is complex and a bit murky. Yet a few things are clear.
Liberal Madison has long spent more than most K-12 districts in Wisconsin. This was true before the state adopted school revenue limits in the 1990s, and the caps only reinforced this today.
“When revenue caps went in, everyone was basically frozen in place,” Madison School Superintendent Art Rainwater said Friday. “We do spend more than the state average. But that has been the expectation of our community.”
So why does Madison spend more? Berry points to Madison’s higher number of staff who aren’t teachers. Madison hires a lot of social workers, psychologists, nurses and administrators.
Madison spends more per pupil than Racine, Green Bay and Kenosha — as well as the state average — on student and staff services, administration and building and grounds. And Madison’s non- instructional costs are rising as a percentage of its spending.
“Madison is actually de- emphasizing instruction,” Berry contends.
In addition, Berry suspects Madison is over-identifying students for learning disabilities.

Links: Madison spending, student and staffing history. 2006/2007 MMSD Citizen’s Budget. Carol Carstensen’s thoughts on a 2007 Referendum.

Budget Impacts at Franklin-Randall–Don’t Get Mad, Get Active!!

(This letter is being distributed to parents of Franklin-Randall students, but should concern everyone in the MMSD and Regent Neighborhood)
Don’t get mad, get active!!
March 16, 2007
The School Board recently announced sweeping budget cuts for the coming school year that will have a severe impact on Franklin-Randall, as well as other schools in the district. Following Tuesday’s PTO meeting, parents in attendance agreed that we must act QUICKLY to address this crisis. Below, we have summarized the funding crisis, and how cuts to our and other schools will affect our children’s education and safety. Most importantly, we conclude with specific ideas that we can all implement, to positively address this crisis.
Brief overview of the FUNDING CRISIS: Wisconsin has placed an indefinite “Budget Cap” on all additional funding towards schools. Every year there are increased costs to our schools to cover teacher salaries, increased student numbers, and increased maintenance costs. Without intervention and change, Madison’s reputation for excellence in education is going to change significantly, and with that, so will the diversity, appeal, and attraction of our city.
How will current district recommendations directly affect the education and safety of your children in the Franklin-Randall community?
*As a result of the “SAGE” program being cut from our schools, Franklin-Randall class sizes will rise from 15 to 22 for Kindergarten and First grade, and from 15 to 24 for Second and Third grades this Fall.
*Franklin will lose 5.1 teacher allocations; this most likely means that 3 classroom teachers will be laid-off, and there will be reductions throughout Art, Music, PE, and Reach.
*Randall will lose 1.6 teacher allocations.
*Randall will lose the 5th grade strings program (last year 4th grade strings was cut).
How will cuts at OTHER schools affect the education and safety of your children?
All of our city’s elementary school children come together in middle and high schools; sub-standard education in any one of these schools will therefore affect all students eventually: a loss for one school will become a loss for all.
What can I do NOW?
1. Talk to people at your bus stop, in your neighborhood, and in the hallways at school when you’re there– work together to come up with at least one idea to present at the Rescue Our Schools brainstorm session. This meeting will follow the monthly PTO meeting (Tuesday, April 10th at 6:30) in the Randall Library.
2. Talk to grandparents, aunts, uncles, and neighbors who DON’T have children about how these changes to our schools will affect them. One key point to address is that our city is only as appealing as its future, and our children are the future. Everyone, with or without kids, will be affected. Wisconsin has a history of valuing education and performance; if this changes, we are giving up a source of identity and pride!
3. Attend the Information and Advocacy Session at the Doyle Administration Building, Thursday, March 29th at 6:30pm
4. Form shared child-care groups with friends and neighbors to allow for more parental presence in the schools. Make it a goal to do this in some capacity weekly. These cooperatives will allow you to watch or volunteer at more school functions, participate in school trips, or attend school board meetings. Education research definitively shows, that the more YOU are involved, the more success your child will have in school!
5. As you are able, contribute with time or money to the PTO! $100 can buy a violin that will last 10 years! Commit to a half-hour stint helping on the playground weekly — this equates to invaluable community-building, camaraderie, injury prevention, as well as much-needed breaks for our teachers.
6. Attend the MMSD School Board Meetings, held on Mondays at the Doyle Administration Bldg at 545 W. Dayton St, next door to the Kohl Center. Beginning at 7:15, any person or group can make a “Public Appearance” (up to three minutes each) to deliver opinions / make arguments about any school-related topic. To find out more, go to : under “District Information” click on “Board of Education”, then under “Meetings”, click on “Board of Education Calendar”.
7. Become active in the you school PTO!!! Sign up to be on the Franklin-Randall List-Serve — This is a fast, easy and inexpensive way for people to notify each other about F-R events and news. Simply send an email to:, with “subscribe” in the subject line. To find out about all the up-coming meetings and events, go to the F-R PTO website. Site address is
8. Don’t forget to VOTE on Tues, April 3rd, during Spring break–And if you’re not in town, vote ABSENTEE! To vote absentee, go anytime within one week before the election, to the City-County Building at 210 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd, Rm. 103. 8-4:30pm. Alternatively, by calling 266-4601, you may ask the city to mail you a ballot (English, Spanish or Hmong), or simply go online: (also downloadable in English, Spanish or Hmong)
What can I do long-term?
Ultimately, we have to address long-term changes to school funding at the State and National level. Through grassroots organizing directed at raising awareness of the issues, we can make a change. We must reach out to like-minded groups (other PTO’s, PTA etc.), and legislators around the state. To this end, following April’s PTO meeting, we will meet to collect ideas, and organize our strategies —
*PLEASE come to the PTO Meeting, April 10th at 6:30pm (Randall Library)!! *
Thank you for taking the time to read this, and for taking action in whatever way you can!
Concerned Franklin-Randall Parents
For further information, please contact any of us:
Sari Judge 233-1754, Megan Brown 250-0552, Kate Zirbel 661-9090,
Mollie Kane 232-1809, Erika Kluetmeier, 238-6209

Spring Election Update – Vote April 3!

Much more on the election here.

WSJ Endorses Rick Thomas

WSJ Endorse Thomas for Seat 3
Rick Thomas has run a successful business.
He understands the importance of serving customers. He has made decisions about which employees, equipment and services he can afford and which he can’t afford.
He also understands and appreciates schools. He has been a substitute teacher and a volunteer tutor. He is a father with a son in elementary school.
His concern for Madison schools, enlightened by his business sense, would make him a valuable addition to the School Board.
He proposes more cost-benefit analyses to weed out unsuccessful programs.
He also proposes to improve discipline in the classrooms to create an environment more conducive to learning.
In addition, he wants the School Board and administration to be more open to parents’ ideas and to more partnerships with parents, businesses and community organizations, as well as more involvement by the schools in the community, particularly through student public service projects.

State Journal endorses Cole for school board

In an editorial on Saturday, the Wisconsin State Journal endorsed Maya Cole for school board:

Maya Cole likes to say that the Madison School Board needs to look outside the box.
She is right.
To solve budget shortfalls, address the district’s shifting demographics and narrow the achievement gap between minority and white students, the board cannot afford a business-as-usual approach. To push the board toward bolder action, voters should elect Cole.


Mayor Candidates Debate City Schools

Mary Yeater Rathbun:

Mayoral candidate Ray Allen told 250 Rotarians Wednesday that he would pull cops out of the schools, but later told The Capital Times that is not what he meant.
Allen said after the debate that what he meant to say, as he has said numerous times before, is that he would pull the cost of funding the police officers in the schools out of the school budget and transfer it to the city budget. This might, depending on the latest school financing laws, allow the schools to free up roughly $280,000 to apply to educational programs.
That is not, however, what members of Downtown Rotary heard at the Monona Terrace mayoral forum featuring both Allen and Mayor Dave Cieslewicz.
As Rotarian Amanda Todd said, “As a mom, I was surprised to learn Allen plans to remove the cops from the schools.”
Allen’s misstatement came in response to a question from forum moderator Regina Millner about community safety being critical to recruiting and retaining businesses in Madison. In her question, Millner said the other major factor was the quality of the schools and remarked that the mayor had no control over the quality of the schools.
Allen, who served nine years on the Madison School Board, took issue with this assumption. “The mayor can be the champion of the schools,” he said.

Gangs and School Violence Forum Audio / Video and notes.
Candidate Websites: Ray Allen | Dave Cieslewicz

MPIE and MUAE Update

As some of you may recall, back in December, I posted a few questions to the members of Madison Partners for Inclusive Education. As a result of that posting, several members of each group have met a couple of times in order to try and make personal connections and identify areas of shared concern and potential joint advocacy. It is too early to say how that effort is going. I, personally, am ever hopeful that we can find the patience and persistence needed to build a foundation of mutual understanding and trust, a foundation upon which we can ultimately work together for all children.
I would like to share a recent exchange from the MUAE list serve (where MPIE members have been welcome since the get-go — in fact, more than one are longtime MUAE list serve members). In response to a post about one of the BOE candidates, an MPIE member wrote the following:
I would like to clarify something that was misstated in a recent post. Madison Partners for Inclusive Education (MPIE) does NOT promote or endorse COMPLETELY heterogeneous classrooms ALL the time. The group does not think completely heterogeneous classrooms all of the time is in the best interest of children with disabilities. Their website goes on to explain their philosophy: Thank you for understanding this and clarifying in future posts.

I then replied:
Thanks for the clarification, though I really think we are in agreement on this point. Certainly the inclusion decision for students with disabilities should be a flexible one, based on the specific nature of the disabilities, the specific educational needs, and the family’s preference for their child. Most of us know, for example, about IDEA and the K-12 IEP process. We know, too, that our high schools offer alternative classes and other learning options for those students with disabilities for whom the “regular” classes are not appropriate.
I am sure we get sloppy with our language, at times; but our language errors are surely inadvertent, mostly because — like all parents — we are simply thinking about our own children, whether or not they are thriving, and whether or not their needs are being well met by our schools. We are guilty of being good parents. Nevertheless, we apologize.
The fact is, we do not want much of anything to change for students with disabilities. (We would like to see the state and federal governments pay a larger portion of the tab for special education — can we encourage your group to take the lead on that issue at the local level?). We support all of the flexibility, all of the options, and all of the tailoring of educational programming that goes on for them during their years in the MMSD. MUAE stands absolutely with MPIE on that, as I see it (though obviously I really can’t speak for everyone). We are your partners there.
We ask the same of you.
I wonder, will you be our partners in getting our children’s educational needs met in the same way that the needs of students with disabilities are met? Just as you do not think placement in completely heterogeneous classrooms all of the time is in the best interest of children with disabilities, so do we think such placement is inappropriate for our children. Full days spent in “regular” classrooms does not necessarily meet our children’s educational needs any better than it does your children’s needs. We are told the District is committed to giving each student the appropriate “next level of challenge.” And yet too many of us know (or have) “formerly bright” students who have become turned off to school as a result of too many years of insufficient challenge and chronic boredom. They are miserable. They are in pain. They are not growing well at all. Meanwhile, our advocacy efforts on our children’s behalf are too often met with disdain, deception and complete stonewalling. We do not yet have the same legal foundation on which to stand as you do.
We at MUAE are simply asking for the same flexibility — in thinking, in approach, in educational opportunity and in classroom placement — for the District’s highest potential, highest performing students that students with disabilities experience. Nothing more; nothing less.
Can you and the other MPIE members support us in that position as wholeheartedly as MUAE members support you in yours? (That’s really the question I was asking of you in my SIS post a while back.)
I hope so.

More on Madison’s Reading First Rejection and Reading Recovery

Joanne Jacobs:

Reading War II is still raging as reading experts attack a New York Times story on Madison’s decision to reject federal Reading First funds in order to continue a reading program that the Times claims is effective. Education News prints as-yet unpublished letters to the Times from Reid Lyons, Robert Sweet, Louisa Moats, Linnea Ehri and Joanna Williams, Timothy Shanahan and Mark Seidenberg. Professor Moats, formerly co-investigator of the NICHD Early Interventions Project, a five-year, federally funded study of reading instruction in high-poverty schools, points out that the Office of Management and Budget “recently gave the Reading First program its highest (and unusual) rating of effectiveness.”

Joanne will be speaking in Milwaukee on March 23, 2007. More: Reading First and Reading Recovery.

“A Free and Appropriate Education”

Paula via Paul Soglin:

Federal law states that in the U.S. every child has a right to a free and appropriate education no matter if the child is gifted & talented, average, or below average. Some children will cost more to educate than others.
There is an illusion that kids come with their abilities and needs stamped on their foreheads. As you have stated, we educate students with a huge range of intellectual, emotional, physical, linguistic, and economic needs. In special education, these needs are defined by arbitrary cut-offs and definitions. The premise is that these categories can be used as predictors of education costs to be incurred by specific disability and need.

Live Chat: Reaching Gifted Children

Join Education Week on Monday, March 19, from noon to 1 p.m., Eastern time, for a live Web chat with Karen Isaacson and Tamara Fisher, the co-authors of “Intelligent Life in the Classroom—Smart Kids & Their Teachers,” a new book from Great Potential Press of Scottsdale, Ariz. This is the second in a regular series of chats on education books.
Isaacson and Fisher make a unique writing pair: Isaacson is the mother of five gifted children, while Fisher is the K-12 gifted education specialist for a school district located on an Indian reservation in northwestern Montana.


Music Lessons Affect Brain Development

As the district considers the total elimination of strings education in our elementary schools, a recently published study provides yet more evidence of the benefits of musical training.
Music Training ‘Tunes’ Human Auditory System
Science Daily — A newly published study by Northwestern University researchers suggests that Mom was right when she insisted that you continue music lessons — even after it was clear that a professional music career was not in your future.
The study, which will appear in the April issue of Nature Neuroscience, is the first to provide concrete evidence that playing a musical instrument significantly enhances the brainstem’s sensitivity to speech sounds. This finding has broad implications because it applies to sound encoding skills involved not only in music but also in language.
The findings indicate that experience with music at a young age in effect can “fine-tune” the brain’s auditory system. “Increasing music experience appears to benefit all children — whether musically exceptional or not — in a wide range of learning activities,” says Nina Kraus, director of Northwestern’s Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory and senior author of the study.
“Our findings underscore the pervasive impact of musical training on neurological development. Yet music classes are often among the first to be cut when school budgets get tight. That’s a mistake,” says Kraus, Hugh Knowles Professor of Neurobiology and Physiology and professor of communication sciences and disorders.
For further information about how music instruction impacts intellectual development, readers are encouraged to explore the work of psychologist Glenn Schellenberg:
Schellenberg, E.G. (2005). Music and cognitive ability, Current Directions in Psychological Science, 14, 322-325.
Schellenberg, E.G. (2004). Music lessons enhance IQ. Psychological Science, 15, 511-514.

Schools Discover Automated Calling and Go Wild

Ellen Gameran:

All over the country, schools are putting in automated phone systems that can quickly place thousands of recorded calls. Originally intended to notify parents of emergencies, more and more automated messages are about routine matters, ranging from stern warnings about talking in class to how to dress for tomorrow’s pep rally.
One automated calling company, TeleParent Educational Systems, of Fullerton, Calif., lets teachers pick from a menu of 600 canned messages — including one that says a child is a “pleasure to have in class” and another saying he or she has “been late to class five or more times.”

Reading Recovery: More chipping and shredding in Fargo!

What makes this article from Fargo interesting is how it almost exactly mirrors the findings in my home district, Hortonville, and the recent analysis of Reading Recovery done in Madison. That being, a 50% success rate for RR students. From the article:

“However, West Fargo student data over time, as presented by Director of Knowledge Management Holly Budzinski Monday night, show that while this is happening in the short term, it?s not something the students sustain in the long run. The Administration has been scrutinizing the Reading Recovery program since two days after Budzinski arrived in West Fargo last January, and she has found that the majority of students served by Reading Recovery gradually lose their abilities to meet the class average by the time they reach sixth grade.”


Finding the Best High Schools: Part One

Jay Matthews:

While we are gathering this data, I want to use the next few columns to dig into the meaning of high school quality. This has become a controversial topic. Educators have a wide range of views. Some tell me the Newsweek list, which rates schools on the very narrow basis of participation in college-level tests, is a wonderful way to recognize schools with great staffs who are working hard to prepare average and sometimes below-average students for college. Others say the list distorts the images of many schools, particularly those in wealthier neighborhoods, by giving less emphasis to test scores and by ignoring special school qualities that cannot be reduced to a single number.
It is not just educators and journalists who are concerned about how we measure schools. Probably the most enthusiastic consumers of high school data are real estate agents, and their millions of clients. A recent study on how school statistics affect home prices dramatizes once again how powerful average test scores are in shaping public perceptions, even when many experts think there are better ways to assess schools.

WEAC, the EAW & the Waukesha School Board

Waukesha Taxpayer’s League:

alaries and benefits are by far the largest portion of the School District budget and the increases dictate what the School Board must do with programs and corresponding reductions in programs. During the ’90’s, negotiations used to begin with presentation of proposals of both sides, the EAW (Education Association of Waukesha) and the Waukesha School Board (the elected body that should be working on behalf of taxpayers to provide the best education possible). This was done so that negotiations was a give/take process (taxpayers usually gave more than they received in return). Recently, a couple of WTL members had a three way conversation with Bill Baumgart, President of the Waukesha School Board. In that conversation, the WTL verified that the School Board does not vote or have an acceptable QEO done prior to negotiations as a basis to work from. The School District also hasn’t filed with the appropriate Schedule D required by law at the close of negotiations for previous years. Following is the ‘proposal-less non-protection’ contract used by the School District of Waukesha (ie. Waukesha School Board) and the EAW. Is there a difference between the two groups??

A Child Left Behind

Terri Cullen:

My husband Gerry and I are at odds over a decision that could have a major impact on our son Gerald’s future: Should he repeat the second grade?
By repeating second grade, Gerald may greatly improve his grades — which, if it keeps up, will affect his ability to get into a good college, potentially leading one day to a higher-paying job. By going on to third grade, Gerald will keep pace with his friends and avoid the social stigma and self-doubt of having been left back — and a college education isn’t always the key to financial security and a happy life.

On Math Reform

Barry Garelick:

If one could make a case against the perpetrators of reform math—complete with arrests and jail time—showing that such programs are a form of child abuse, the math wars would cease in a matter of days. As it is, however, reasoned arguments from those who oppose the reform programs haven’t seemed to carry much weight, as the programs seem to proliferate in school after school across the U.S. And in a recent Education Week column, Mr. T.C. O’Brien seems quite content to skewer those who criticize the reform programs, resorting at times to borderline name-calling, and laying blame in large part on mathematicians. It seems that mathematicians’ call for math to be in math textbooks and that such math be is an artifact of purism and backwards thinking.
Ordinarily I would ignore such a diatribe. But I believe there have been too few rebuttals to this type of editorial which Education Week seems only too happy to publish. Take for example this statement: “The National Mathematics Advisory Panel, established by the Bush administration in April of last year, has been meeting to discuss the improvement of achievement in mathematics in the schools. A good portion of its members have no experience in mathematics, no experience teaching children, or both.”

More on Garelick

Phonics is necessary but not sufficient

This post came from a listserve on reading:

This is in response to the NY Times article about Madison’s reading program. Of course a quick response is often inadequate. But here goes.
The simple fact is that correct decoding is necessary but not sufficient to comprehend what one is reading. Necessary but not sufficient appears to be a concept that escapes most of the field of education. What’s so hard about it, I wonder? You have to have water to stay alive, but that’s not sufficient to keep you alive. You have to have air to stay alive, but that’s not sufficient to keep you alive. Look at that dead person there. We gave him water and he still died. That must prove that water kills you!


Upcoming BOE Candidate Forums

March 15 Thursday, 7:00-8:30 p.m., Dane County United Candidate Action Assembly, Covenant Presbyterian Church, 326 Segoe Rd. (Mineral Point and Segoe). Plenty of Parking and free child care available. [Source: Candidate websites (Maya Cole, Rick Thomas, Johnny Winston Jr)]
March 20 Tuesday, 7:00-8/9 p.m., Northside Planning Council Forum, Warner Park Building. [Source: Candidate websites (Marj Passman website, Rick Thomas)]
March 21 Wednesday, noon, Rotary Club of Madison, the Concourse Hotel. [Source: Rotary website, Candidate websites (Maya Cole, Rick Thomas, Johnny Winston Jr)]
March 22 Thursday, 7:00 p.m., Madison United for Academic Excellence 2nd Annual Forum, Room 209 Doyle Administration Building, 545 W. Dayton Street. [Source: MUAE website, AMPs website, School Info System website, candidate websites (Maya Cole, Marj Passman, Rick Thomas, Johnny Winston Jr)]
March 27 Tuesday, 6:30-8:30 p.m., PTO candidate forum sponsored by PTO’s at Thoreau, Midvale-Lincoln, Cherokee, and Leopold schools, Leopold Elementary School, 2602 Post Road. [Source: Cherokee PTO website, AMPS website, School Info System website, candidate website (Rick Thomas)] [Note: March 20th is listed as the date for this forum on the AMPs website and two candidate websites (Maya Cole, Johnny Winston Jr). This is listed here as the 27th as the Cherokee PTO is a primary source.]
March 28 Wednesday, 7:00-9:00 a.m., Dane County Public Affairs Council Debate/Forum, U.S. Bank building, downtown. [Source: Candidate websites (Maya Cole, Rick Thomas)]

MTI spending will likely top $10,000 for Moss & Passman

The Madison Teachers Union political action committee spent a little more than $7,500 in “independent expenditures” in support of for Juan Lopez and Arlene Silveira in last year’s school board races. The money paid for production and air time for radio and newspaper ads, but the figure does not include the newspapers’ charges for running the ad.
This year, MTI Voters (the official name for the union’s PAC) contributed the legal maximum – $1,560 – to each campaign committee of Marj Passman and Beth Moss.
We can surely expect MTI Voters to make independent expenditures for Passman and Moss equal to what the PAC spent last year.

Examining California’s School Governance and Finance Systems


“Getting Down to Facts” is a research project of more than 20 studies designed to provide California’s citizens with comprehensive information about the status of the state’s school finance and governance systems. The overall hypothesis underlying this research project is that improvement to California’s school finance and governance structures could enable its schools to be more effective.
Over an 18 months period from September 2005 to March 2007, the Getting Down to Facts Project brought together an extraordinary array of scholars from 32 institutions with diverse expertise and policy orientations. It represents an unprecedented attempt to synthesize what we know as a basis for convening the necessary public conversations about what we should do. “Getting Down to Facts” was specifically requested by the Governor’s Committee on Education Excellence, former Secretary of Education Alan Bersin, the President pre Tem of the California Senate, the Speaker of the California Assembly, and the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Nanette Asimov:

A yearlong, $3 million evaluation of California public schools by more than 30 education experts reveals a “deeply flawed” system that misdirects school money, emphasizes paperwork over progress, and fails to send the best teachers into the neediest schools.
“Getting Down to Facts” — a collection of 22 studies — begins with the sobering reminder that despite years of academic reform, California students of all ethnicities still score among the worst in the nation on tests of basic reading and math.
A year ago, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and a bipartisan group of state educators and lawmakers asked the researchers to find out what was wrong with the public school system. All agreed that once the report came out, they would together try to fix the problems.

Joel Rubin and Howard Blume have more.

Mark Seidenberg on the Reading First controversy

Via a reader email; Language Log:

Last Friday, the New York Times ran a story about how school administrators in Madison, Wisconsin, turned down $2M in federal Reading First funds rather than change their approach to the teaching of reading (Diana Jean Schemo, “In War Over Teaching Reading, a U.S.-Local Clash”). Considering the importance of the topic, it’s remarkable how poorly (or misleadingly) reported this article was. The story’s key claim:
Madison officials say that a year after Wisconsin joined Reading First, in 2004, contractors pressured them to drop their approach, which blends some phonics with whole language in a program called Balanced Literacy. Instead, they gave up the money — about $2 million, according to officials here, who say their program raised reading scores.
One set of problems with the article is discussed by Ken DeRosa here. Apparently the Madison program “raised reading scores” only because the test scoring system was changed. Once apples are compared to apples, the test results show that “Madison’s Balanced Literacy reading program […] failed to increase student performance in Madison and actually caused a relative decline in the schools that were supposed to get Reading First funding.”
Last night, Mark Seidenberg sent me a note in which he lays out some additional background, and identifies what he calls the “big lie” in Schemo’s story: