Madison School Board Debates School Security


The Madison school board on Monday night is set to consider approving a $780,000 plan to tackle problem behavior in middle and high schools.
Principals have been complaining that behavior issues are creeping up, said Assistant Superintendent Pam Nash. That includes everything from running in the hallways to bullying to fighting.
School officials want to hire what amounts to be a behavior coach in its middle and high schools. The staff person would work with students with behavior issues, reaching out to them and contacting their parents or county agencies, as needed.


At the high school level, the proposal would add four behavior and case managers to work with students who are already having problems, who may be disengaged or disruptive.
At the middle school level, the district wants to add seven and a half positive behavior coordinators who would help teach students how to be better school citizens.
“In our middle schools, I would say if there is one area that we have seen a bit of a shift in behavior, it’s bus behavior,” said Pam Nash, assistant superintendent for Madison Middle and High Schools. “We have more issues on middle school buses than any of us would like. That’s an area, that behavior piece, that we want to target as well.”
Part of the school security proposal would include adding two extra security guards at each of the city’s four high school and installing surveillance and radio equipment at middle schools.

Indicators of School Crime and Safety, 2006

US Department of Justice:

Presents data on crime and safety at school from the perspectives of students, teachers, principals, and the general population. A joint effort by the Bureau of Justice Statistics and the National Center for Education Statistics, this annual report examines crime occurring in school as well as on the way to and from school. It also provides the most current detailed statistical information on the nature of crime in schools, school environments, and responses to violence and crime at school. Data are drawn from several federally funded collections including the National Crime Victimization Survey, Youth Risk Behavior Survey, School Survey on Crime and Safety, and School and Staffing Survey.

Fixing schools usually fails

Liz Bowie:

Maryland’s attempts to turn around its worst schools in the past several years have largely failed, according to a report by a Washington-based nonprofit education research group.
Of the 76 schools labeled failing for at least five years, only 12, or 16 percent, have improved significantly since 2004, the Center on Education Policy found.
“Even in an advanced state like Maryland, that has tried to deal with these problems for a decade … we just don’t know what to do,” said Jack Jennings, president of CEP.

Advocating Teach for America in Wisconsin

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Editorial:

It’s exhausting work, the pay is low, the fruits of the labor are sometimes hard to see. But those facts haven’t discouraged thousands of America’s brightest college students from applying to work for the fast-growing non-profit Teach for America.
Wisconsin’s most troubled urban school districts might benefit from this program, in which new graduates from some of America’s most prestigious universities spend two years teaching in low-income schools.
State education officials, local administrators and the teachers unions should make reasonable accommodations so that no artificial barriers prevent the program from being launched in Wisconsin. The Kern Family Foundation of Waukesha, which has education reform as part of its mission, is pushing to bring Teach for America to the state.
Teach for America grew out of a senior thesis by founder Wendy Kopp at Princeton University. During its first year in 1990, the organization sent 500 people into six low-income communities. This year, 5,000 TFA teachers are working across the country, and the TFA alumni network numbers thousands more.
Teach for America recruits and trains recent graduates from schools like Dartmouth, Princeton, Notre Dame, Marquette and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The 2007 class has 43 UW alumni; nearly 500 from Wisconsin’s public and private schools have participated since the program’s inception. TFA trains the new teachers and helps them obtain alternative certifications; the schools pay their salaries.

Casting for Knowledge

Mark Coddington:

Jesus Reyes, a fifth-grader at Dodge Elementary School, stands in front of a green piece of fabric in the school’s library, reading a script he wrote about last week’s Grand Island sewer emergency.
As the camera on a MacBook laptop records him, an image on its screen replaces the fabric with photos Jesus took on a trip to the city’s wastewater plant this week.
Later, a classmate, Dayne Jaros, records an introduction to Jesus’ piece, handing his Internet viewers off to “our on-the-spot reporter, Jesus.”
The end result, an audio and video broadcast accessed over the Internet, is miles beyond kids fiddling around with their parents’ video camera for a school project.
In fact, increasingly elaborate podcasts like Jesus and Dayne’s are giving several area schools a medium for largely self-directed projects that provide a whole new realm to bring writing, reading and listening skills to life.
With podcasts, “learning becomes more than just a grade in the gradebook,” said Jamey Boelhower, who teaches English at Centura public school near Cairo. “It matches the culture and the world they’re growing up in.”
At Lincoln Elementary School, about a dozen students are working on a range of podcasting projects, most of them with only basic staff instruction, said Maura Hendrickson, the school’s integration specialist.

Anne Eisenberg:

These days, students who miss an important point the first time have a second chance. After class, they can pipe the lecture to their laptops or MP3 players and hear it again while looking at the slides that illustrate the talk.
At least two companies now sell software to universities and other institutions that captures the words of classroom lectures and syncs them with the digital images used during the talk — usually PowerPoint slides and animations. The illustrated lectures are stored on a server so that students can retrieve them and replay the content on the bus ride home, clicking along to the exact section they need to review.
When it’s time to cram, the replay services beat listening to a cassette recording of a class, said Nicole Engelbert, an analyst at Datamonitor, a marketing research company in New York.
“Students already have an iPod and they already use them all the time,” she said. “You don’t need to train them.”
Professors who know less than their students do about MP3 players won’t be at a disadvantage, because the systems require little technical skill to operate. “The best lecture-capture solutions simply require the speaker to turn on a mike and push a button to start the recording,” she said. “They are simple to use.”

Many young black men in Oakland are killing and dying for respect

Meredith May:

Along with the Christmas trees and family gatherings, there’s another end-of-the-year ritual in Oakland – a candlelight vigil for the murdered.
The body count is woven into the civic consciousness here – a number chased by homicide inspectors, studied by criminologists, lamented in churches, reported by journalists. Every mayor leaves City Hall on broken promises to quell the violence, and the killings continue. An additional 115 have been killed this year, putting Oakland on pace for another gruesome record.
In the last five years, 557 people were slain on the city’s streets, making Oakland the state’s second-most murderous city, behind Compton.
Most victims are young, black men who are dying in forgotten neighborhoods of East and West Oakland.
A handful of their killers, speaking from prison, describe an environment where violence is so woven into the culture that murder has become a symbol of manhood.

State Nudges Tennessee Schools Back to Basics

Jaime Sarrio:

Metro Schools Director Pedro Garcia’s legacy as an idea man has hit a snag.
The school chief once enjoyed strong support for his ideas on reforming Nashville’s public education. But after Metro failed to meet No Child Left Behind requirements for four years in a row — one of the first two Tennessee districts to do so — state officials have a louder voice in how the district is run.
And its leaders are listening.
Board members want to take the state’s advice and hold off on Garcia’s new ideas until the district gets a handle on the basics. The attitude marks a significant shift in the dynamic between the board, the director and the state Department of Education.
“Some things have come back to haunt us,” said District 7 board member Edward Kindall, who represents north Nashville. “I can’t totally blame Dr. Garcia or the administration. I think in some instances, we haven’t focused on the right thing.”
Amid the innovations, many of Metro’s students have been struggling to learn math and reading. Poor reading scores among Hispanic and black students and dismal math scores across the county prompted the failing marks under No Child Left Behind.
“Clearly the administration has tried to make a lot of big splashes with their innovation, but they haven’t always given a lot of thought to what they’re doing,” said Erick Huth, president of the Metro Nashville Education Association, the teachers union.

Are We Too Tough on Kids Who Commit Crimes? States take new look at push to charge juveniles as adults

Sharon Cohen:

A generation after America decided to get tough on kids who commit crimes – sometimes locking them up for life – the tide may be turning. States are rethinking and, in some cases, retooling juvenile-sentencing laws. They’re responding to new research on the adolescent brain and studies that indicate teens sent to adult court end up worse off than those who are not: They get in trouble more often, they do it faster and the offenses are more serious. Some states are reconsidering life without parole for teens. Some are focusing on raising the age of juvenile court jurisdiction, while others are exploring ways to offer kids a second chance, once they’re locked up – or even before. “There has been a huge sea change…it’s across the country,” said Laurie Garduque, a program director at the MacArthur Foundation, which is heavily involved in juvenile justice reform.

Unleash Online Schools

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:

The state Court of Appeals just handed the Legislature an important assignment:
Update state laws governing public education to take advantage of the opportunities presented by online learning in virtual schools.
Lawmakers should dig into the homework, starting now.
Virtual schools, which deliver coursework via computer to educate students in their homes, have great potential as a cost-effective alternative to standard schools.
But last week the District 2 Court of Appeals in Waukesha put the future of virtual education in Wisconsin in doubt.
The court ruled that the Wisconsin Virtual Academy based in suburban Milwaukee violates state laws controlling teacher certification, charter schools and open enrollment.
The three-judge panel also put the academy in a financial bind by ordering the state to stop paying for students who attend the academy when those students are not residents of the local school district.

Science Videos

Carol Fertig:

There are more and more groups of professionals who are committed to making information freely available to the public through the Internet. Many universities and scientists are willing to share their lectures and expertise. Instructional videos are available for students of all ages—elementary through graduate school.
SciVee is operated in partnership with the Public Library of Science (PLoS), the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC). It has a relatively new Web site that contains some material for elementary students and larger quantities of material for older students through scientists. Young people who are interested in careers in science will be fascinated by the various topics being studied. Just seeing what is going on at different universities may help students focus on their future objectives.
Examples of videos available at the sight include Where Does Water Go When It Rains? Dissections, and Freezing by Boiling. There is also much information on highly sophisticated topics that will be appealing for highly able high school students.

Just Another Big Con: The Crisis in Mathematics and Science Education

Dennis Redovich:

What is the rationale for all United States high students passing three advanced courses in math and science to receive a high school diploma? What is the rationale for “all” high school graduates satisfying the requirements for admission to a four-college program? There is none!
The United States is the uncontested leader of the world in scientific research in respect to published accomplishments, Nobel Prizes, volume of research and expenditures on scientific research. The United States is the leader of the world in technology and the unchallenged leader of the world in the global economy. The United States dominates the world because of its educational systems, including K-12 public education, post-secondary colleges and universities that produce the most highly educated, productive and successful workforce in the world.

A blow to innovation: The Legislature should ensure that online public schools can continue serving students in Wisconsin

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Editorial:

Wisconsin kids may be locked out of the virtual schoolhouse after a state Court of Appeals decision Wednesday that threatens the future of online learning for public schoolchildren. But the Legislature can fix the problem by crafting a law that makes clear that the state supports such alternative and innovative means of instruction.
Virtual schools offer parents a credible alternative for students who don’t do well in traditional settings. Judging from 2006 Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination scores, the kids attending Wisconsin Virtual Academy are thriving. They score at or above the state average in most subjects at nearly every grade level.
This sort of competition, also seen in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, has the potential to improve education in Wisconsin. The Legislature, as well as state Superintendent Elizabeth Burmaster, must embrace such innovation instead of shrinking from it.

Patrick McIlheran:

“They could learn a lot from our teachers about a new way of teaching,” Rose Fernandez told a radio interviewer.
She’s a parent at Wisconsin Virtual Academy, the Fredonia-based online public charter school. She was talking about the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the state teachers union whose slogan is, “Every kid deserves a great school.”
WEAC, not in a learning mood, had just gotten a court to outlaw Fernandez’s kids’ great school. About 850 children who attend the school are now left hanging after Wednesday’s Wisconsin Court of Appeals decision. The school will stay open while it appeals, but a further loss would endanger every virtual school in the state.
Why would the teachers union try to kill a high-performing public school?
Because, said a written statement from the union, laws written for traditional schools can’t be applied to virtual schools. We need new laws to “make them accountable.”
Accountable? Such as testing students and reporting results? They do that. The academy’s scores on state tests are just dandy – exactly in line with schools in Cross Plains, Mukwonago and Fond du Lac that the academy families I talked to would otherwise use. Ninety-two percent of the academy’s students score proficient or advanced in reading.
And if the virtual school doesn’t satisfy, parents can put their kids back in the school down the block. Yet it’s the virtual school that may get closed. Have you heard of the union suing to close any brick-and-mortar schools that are failing?
All irrelevant, argued the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. It sought, with the union, to close the academy. Whether the school successfully teaches is beside the point, said the department’s lawyer. Whether it fits the state’s regulatory model is what counts. The court agreed.
This makes Wisconsin unique, says Susan Patrick, who heads the North American Council for Online Learning. She used to head educational technology at the U.S. Department of Education. She says to her knowledge, no state has shut down virtual schools over a teacher licensing dispute.

The race is not always to the richest

The Economist:

Money and effort aren’t enough to impart the skills and knowledge needed in a cut-throat world
SPOOKED by the effects of globalisation on their low-skilled citizens, rich countries have been pouring money and political energy into education. In the United States, it has been proclaimed that no child will be left behind. Whether this programme, launched by George Bush in 2002, has raised standards will be a big issue in the 2008 presidential election. Next year Britain will introduce ambitious new qualifications, combining academic and vocational study. For the industrial countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), average spending on primary and secondary schooling rose by almost two-fifths in real terms between 1995 and 2004.
Oddly, this has had little measurable effect. The latest report from the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment shows average attainment staying largely flat. This tome, just published, compares the reading, mathematical and scientific progress of 400,000 15-year-olds in the 30 OECD countries and 27 others, covering 87% of the world economy. Its predecessors in 2000 and 2003 focused on reading and maths respectively. This time science took centre stage.

Studying math in high school = success in college

Andrew Freeman, via a reader’s email:

Encouraging teens to drive safely, honor a curfew, or simply make good choices is an enormous task. However, there’s something else parents should add to their list — something that can open many opportunities for high school students: persuade them to take advanced math.
Trust me. I know how hard it can be to convince high school students of the importance of taking a course they may not want, particularly when many seem to have an aversion to this subject. However, as a college admissions professional, I’ve seen the difficulties students experience without an adequate math background. I’ve seen how the lack of math skills limits their choices.
Chances are your son or daughter may not want to put down the video game remote to pick up a scientific calculator. They may even believe their deepest aspirations don’t require a lot of math. However, the reality is that more than 50 percent of students change their majors at least once. So, even if the major they choose now doesn’t require advanced math, the odds are good the one they pick later probably will.
And that’s not the only good reason for improving math skills. In high school, you get up to 40 weeks to learn the material. In college, you get about 15. Students who enter college without the necessary math skills are often required to take non-credit skill-building courses. This extra review could mean a crammed first semester schedule or an additional semester in college.
Math doesn’t have to be a teenager’s nightmare. Encourage them to ask questions in class, stay for help, find a tutor, access math Web sites, take advantage of WXXI’s Homework Hotline or find out if your school offers math-specific study halls.

Study maps brain abnormalities in autistic children

Susan Kelly:

Autistic children have more gray matter in areas of the brain that control social processing and sight-based learning than children without the developmental disability, a small study said on Wednesday.
Researchers combined two sophisticated imaging techniques to track the motion of water molecules in the brain and pinpoint small changes in gray matter volume in 13 boys with high-functioning autism or Asperger syndrome and 12 healthy adolescents. Their average age was 11.
The autistic children were found to have enlarged gray matter in the parietal lobes of the brain linked to the mirror neuron system of cells associated with empathy, emotional experience and learning through sight.
Those children also showed a decrease in gray matter volume in the right amygdala region of the brain that correlated with degrees of impairment in social interaction, the study found.

Making Better Use of Limited (Financial) Resources

Wisconsin Center for Education Research:

The Consortium for Policy Research in Education (CPRE) has documented a steady increase in per-pupil education funding in the U.S. over the past 100 years. After adjusting for inflation, education funds have risen on average about 3.5% annually. UW-Madison education professor Odden says the consistent rise in spending has not, however, been accompanied by a similar rise in student performance, at least over the past 30 to 40 years.
Current education goals are thus not likely to be met without determining how better to use school resources.
Today, about 60% of the education dollar is spent on instruction. Another 10% is spent on administration, 10% on instructional and pupil support, 10% on operations and maintenance, 5% on transportation, and 5% on food and miscellaneous items. Odden says this pattern is similar across districts, regardless of demographics and enrollment.
To align resources with strategies for improving student achievement, Odden suggests thinking of education spending as divided into three “portions”:

  • One portion for core instructional services, professional development, and site administration;
  • A second portion for instructional and pupil support services, which help the education system accomplish the goal of student achievement in the core subjects; and
  • A third portion for overhead (school operation and maintenance, transportation, food services, and central office administration).

Much more on Allen Odden. Related: K-12 Tax & Spending Climate:

A Vote for Latin: Roma urbs aeterna; Latina lingua aeterna

Harry Mount:

AT first glance, it doesn’t seem tragic that our leaders don’t study Latin anymore. But it is no coincidence that the professionalization of politics — which encourages budding politicians to think of education as mere career preparation — has occurred during an age of weak rhetoric, shifting moral values, clumsy grammar and a terror of historical references and eternal values that the Romans could teach us a thing or two about. As they themselves might have said, “Roma urbs aeterna; Latina lingua aeterna.”*
None of the leading presidential candidates majored in Latin. Hillary Clinton studied political science at Wellesley, as did Barack Obama at Columbia. Rudy Giuliani had a minor brush with the language during four years of theology at Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School in Brooklyn when he toyed with becoming a priest. But then he went on to major in guess what? Political science.
How things have changed since the founding fathers.

A School on The Brink

Kevin Cullen:

The kids at St. Peter’s School have started asking questions, and like any good first-grade teacher, Colleen O’Dwyer is a master of deflection.
“I tell them nothing’s been decided,” she was saying, as she and Courtney Carthas, a second-grade teacher, sat with seven kids for the after-school book club.
Technically, that’s true, as the final decision to close the Dorchester parochial school has not been made by Cardinal Sean O’Malley. But the stars and the numbers are aligned against St. Peter’s, and it is only a matter of time.
To describe St. Peter’s as a victim of consolidation in an archdiocese trying to stem a decline in enrollment in its urban schools is to completely miss the importance of the building and those who people it. Sitting on Bowdoin Street, at the foot of Meetinghouse Hill, St. Peter’s is more than a school. It is a haven, a sanctuary, four stories of red-brick proof that all is not lost in one of the city’s toughest neighborhoods.
St. Peter’s has 156 students, but with its after-school programs serves about 400 children who live around Meetinghouse Hill. One of them is Alaister Santos, a chatty, personable first-grader. When they were preparing to commemorate the first anniversary of the death of the great Barry O’Brien, the school’s biggest private benefactor, Alaister had only one question: “Where was he shot?”

MIT Open Courseware for High Schools

From ACM Technews
MIT recently announced the completion of its OpenCourseWare project, a pioneering effort launched in 2002 to digitize classroom material for all of MIT’s 1,800 academic courses. The course material is available for free online for anyone to use.
At the completion celebration on the MIT campus in Cambridge, Mass., university President Susan Hockfield announced a new portal for OCW, one specifically designed for high school teachers and students, called “Highlights for High School.” The portal’s home page provides MIT’s introductory science, engineering, technology, and math courses, with lecturer’s notes, reading lists, exams, and other classroom information. The OCW resources, including video-taped labs, simulations, assignments, and hands-on material, have been specifically tailored to match the requirements of high school Advanced Placement studies.
Since its launch five years ago, the data on usage has been impressive. On a 50-course pilot site, an estimated 35 million users logged in, with about 15 percent being educators, 30 percent students, and the rest being what MIT calls “self learners” with no education affiliation, says OCW’s Steve Carson. The recently formed OCW Consortium has 160 member institutions creating and sharing their own course materials sites based on MIT’s model.
One of the most surprising findings is that two of MIT’s course videos, “classical mechanics” and “differential equations,” ranked in iTunes top 10 videos, at number three and number seven, respectively. “This expresses, to me, the hunger in this world for learning, and for good learning materials,” says Hockfield.
OCW Consortium
Network World Article
MIT Open Courseware For High Schools

Wisconsin Appeals court rules Northern Ozaukee virtual school violates state law

Court Opinion.
Wisconsin Coalition of Virtual School Families Statement
WEAC (Wisconsin State Teachers Union)
Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction Statement
Top Wisconsin Lobbyists (2005-2006 Legislative Session) via the Wisconsin State Ethics Board (1.7MB PDF):

Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce $1,591,931
Wisconsin Education Association Council $1,533,186
Wisconsin Hospital Association Inc (WHA) $1,532,927
Wisconsin Independent Businesses Inc $1,103,747
Wisconsin Merchants Federation $1,088,632
Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation $1,084,664
Forest County Potawatomi Community $860,260
Arjo Wiggins Appleton Limited $843,677
Wisconsin Insurance Alliance $755,313
Wisconsin Energy Corporation $722,367
Wisconsin Counties Association $720,284

Much more on the Wisconsin Virtual Academy here.
Amy Hetzner:

A virtual school based in the Northern Ozaukee School District plans to appeal a court ruling that it violates several state laws and ask for a stay of an order that would prevent it from receiving payments for non-district students enrolled at the school.
The ruling against Wisconsin Virtual Academy “threatens every online school program in Wisconsin,” WiVA Principal Kurt Bergland said. “There’s thousands of kids and teachers and families in all those schools that are now involved with this, whether they realize it or not.”
The decision by the District 2 Court of Appeals in Waukesha, which was released today, overturns a previous decision by an Ozaukee County judge.
“As the law presently stands, the charter school, open-enrollment and teacher certification statutes are clear and unambiguous, and the District is not in compliance with any of them,” Judge Richard Brown wrote on behalf of the three-judge panel that decided the case.

Rick Esenberg:

There were three issues. The first two had to do with where the school was located and where the children attend. State law requires that the answer to both questions be the district that chartered the school, Northern Ozaukee. The school’s administrative offices are located there but its teachers work from home around the state and the students, who do their work at home, also live in various locations. The Court of Appeals held that the district is, literally, located wherever its teachers live and that its students attend at wherever their home happens to be. You can read the statute that way, but that reading is by no means compelled. It seems just as plausible to say that the school is located, and children attend, at the location where the administrative offices are located.

Millar: Improving education in math and science

Terry Millar:

Improvement in math and science education is a priority in Madison, as it is across the nation.
Science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) training is not only of growing importance to our technology-dependent society, these disciplines also represent esthetically compelling advances in human knowledge that all students should have the opportunity to appreciate.
Since 2003, UW Madison and the Madison School District have been involved in a unique partnership, funded by the National Science Foundation, to reform science and math education from kindergarten through graduate school.
Preliminary results are encouraging. This five-year endeavor, SCALE — System-wide Change for All Learners and Educators — has partners that include three universities and large school districts in Madison, Los Angeles, Denver and Providence, R.I. The NSF made exploring new forms of partnership its key feature.
Improving STEM education has proven resistant to traditional “you do your thing, I ‘ll do mine ” approaches. SCALE ‘s successes underscore the wisdom of NSF ‘s emphasis on partnership.
SCALE incorporates research on student learning and teacher professional development. SCALE puts premiums on increasing teachers ‘ STEM subject matter knowledge and boosting their teaching skills.
In one preliminary study, teachers showed a significant increase in content knowledge after attending SCALE science professional development institutes in Los Angeles.
SCALE partners believe the most important resource in a school is its teachers, an idea that has not always been central to reform. However, the final measure of effectiveness is increased student understanding and performance. In 2009-2010, a randomized study involving 80 elementary schools in Los Angeles will provide definitive data on SCALE ‘s impact on student performance in science.


Continue reading Millar: Improving education in math and science

December 12, 2007 HOPE (Having Options in Public Education) Meeting

All are invited to the monthly meeting of the HOPE (Having Options in Public Education) meeting on Wednesday, 12/12, 6:30-8:00pm at Escape Coffee House, 916 Willy St. [Map] Featured will be brief presentations by UW Professor John Witte regarding recent research on school choice and charters, and Bryan Grau of Nuestro Mundo Community School regarding what the NMCS Board has learned navigating MMSD.
Name Lauren Cunningham
Telephone 221-9338

2006 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA)

Education Week
U.S. Students Fall Short in Math and Science
Teenagers in a majority of industrialized nations taking part in a leading international exam showed greater scientific understanding than students in the United States—and they far surpassed their American peers in mathematics, in results that seem likely to add to recent consternation over U.S. students’ core academic skills.
New results from the 2006 Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, released today, show U.S. students ranking lower, on average, than their peers in 16 other countries in science, out of 30 developed nations taking part in the exam.

2006 PISA Report

Two Ways to Rate High Schools

Jay Matthews:

On Dec. 13, The Washington Post will mark the 10th year of the Challenge Index, my high school rating system, with our latest ranked list of all 185 public schools in the Washington area. Since 1998, Newsweek magazine also has been publishing its national best high schools list using the same method.
I am particularly excited this time because we have some competition. U.S. News & World Report, at the urging of Andrew J. Rotherham, my friendly adversary on this issue, has just published its own “America’s Best High Schools” list at I have long celebrated what I call the School Rating Scoundrel’s Club, composed of those of us who think that rating and ranking — despite their many critics — are useful ways to help readers figure out which schools are best for them. I admire the U.S. News college rankings and am intrigued by its new high school list. It is strengthened by Rotherham’s commitment to improving schools, but it is also too complicated for its own good.
The Challenge Index rates and ranks schools by just one number, the college-level test participation rate, calculated by dividing the number of Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate or Cambridge tests — college-level exams given in high school — by the number of graduating seniors. The U.S. News list mixes together several numbers. It looks for schools in the 40 states for which it has data whose average state test scores exceed statistical expectations and whose minority proficiency rates exceed state averages for those groups. Schools that survive that initial screening are then ranked based on a weighted formula that includes both AP test participation and AP test scores.
The essential differences between the two ways of ranking reflect the differences between Rotherham and me. Only 36, Rotherham has served as an education adviser to President Bill Clinton, has founded two education policy and research organizations and is a member of the Virginia Board of Education, the youngest appointee to that board in modern times. He is a policy maker. His high schools list is based on key factors in the policy process: test scores, minority achievement and college readiness as measured by AP participation and success. U.S. News and the statisticians at Standard & Poor’s, led by Paul Gazzerro, the director of analytical criteria for School Evaluation Services, have compiled the list using a basic policy-making tool–data collected each year by state government

English takes hold in Latino families by third generation, study says

Tyche Hendricks:

Almost all Latino adults born in the United States to immigrant parents are fluent in English, but among their parents, just fewer than 1 in 4 say they are skilled English speakers, according to a report released Thursday by the Pew Hispanic Center in Washington, D.C.
“The ability to speak English very well and the amount of English used increase sharply from one generation to another among Hispanics,” said one of the report’s authors, D’Vera Cohn. “The first generation speaks mainly Spanish and doesn’t speak English very well. The second generation speaks English very well but holds onto its Spanish. And by the third generation and beyond, English is universal and pervasive, and Spanish fades into the background.”
The results of the study are intuitive, but at a time of high levels of immigration and a debate over how well immigrants are integrating into American society, it provides a detailed snapshot of English acquisition over generations among Latino immigrants, who comprise the majority of foreign-born people residing in the United States.

The LA School District’s Public Relations Plans

Sandy Banks:

It’s too bad Los Angeles Unified School District officials didn’t make the first assignment for their new spin doctors spinning the news that they’ve hired spin doctors.
The district’s fledgling public relations effort stumbled this week, when news leaked out that Supt. David Brewer handed out contracts worth more than $350,000 a year to a team of consultants charged with improving the district’s public image.
Team leader and former Telemundo news director Victor Abalos says he’s a not PR man, but a broker of “communication strategies” for “target audiences” that will help the district get its good news to a disenchanted public.

OU study looks into how parenting affects teens


An ongoing study done by the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center is examining how parenting and other factors affect the long-term behavior of teenagers.
The “youth asset study” is being funded by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Researchers are looking at how 17 “assets,” including parental involvement and religion, factor into teenage behavior.
During the past five years, researchers have interviewed 2,200 Oklahoma City-area children and their parents, looking into risky behaviors and the level of parental involvement. The goal of the $4 million study is to determine which assets strongly correlate with well-adjusted teens and, conversely, those assets that don’t seem to affect teens involved in activities including drug use and sex.
“The most important analysis will be to see how these (behaviors) change over time … and how the presence or absence of assets contributes to those changes,” said principal investigator Roy Oman, an associate professor at the OU College of Public Health.

Complete Report.

Girls Make History by Sweeping Top Honors at a Science Contest

Amanda Millner-Fairbanks:

Girls won top honors for the first time in the Siemens Competition in Math, Science and Technology, one of the nation’s most coveted student science awards, which were announced yesterday at New York University.
Janelle Schlossberger and Amanda Marinoff, both 17 and seniors at Plainview-Old Bethpage John F. Kennedy High School on Long Island, split the first prize — a $100,000 scholarship — in the team category for creating a molecule that helps block the reproduction of drug-resistant tuberculosis bacteria.
Isha Himani Jain, 16, a senior at Freedom High School in Bethlehem, Pa., placed first in the individual category for her studies of bone growth in zebra fish, whose tail fins grow in spurts, similar to the way children’s bones do. She will get a $100,000 scholarship.
The three girls’ victories is “wonderful news, but I can’t honestly say it’s shocking,” said Nancy Hopkins, a biologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

More here.

Wisconsin Way Forum on School Funding

As all of you are well aware, one of the most vexing issues facing public education today is funding and 14 years of revenue controls that have been placed on Wisconsin schools, causing on-going erosion in programs and services.
On Thursday, December 6, 7:00-9:00 PM, 1919 Alliant Energy Center Way, Alliant Energy Center, Madison [Map], a community forum sponsored by the Wisconsin Way will be held to discuss the issue of taxation and public investment.
The Wisconsin Way is a non-partisan, grassroots effort to create a fair and equitable funding system that promotes excellence in education and public service. Area residents with different viewpoints are being invited to come together for a public conversation on taxes and possible solutions to the challenges we face in protecting and preserving Wisconsin?s quality of life and our great schools.
To learn more about Wisconsin Way, you can the website:
We are attempting to get a head count for turnout, so if you think you might attend, please contact me (even at this late date).
Also, if you have questions, don?t hesitate to contact me. Friends and neighbors are welcome as well.
Thanks much for your consideration.
Jeff Leverich Telephone 608 276-7711

Two Marshfield High Students Are Wisconsin’s AP Scholars

Joanna Pliner:

The students with the highest Advanced Placement exam scores in Wisconsin are both graduates of Marshfield High School.
Noah Elmhorst and Jamie Robertson, Wisconsin ‘s 2007 Advanced Placement state scholars, were to be recognized at a ceremony at the school, Assistant Principal Elizabeth Dostal said last week.
“We have had past AP State Scholars, but we have never had the top male and the top female in the same year, ” Dostal said. “We were just pleasantly surprised. ”
Marshfield High has 1,385 students and offers 23 AP classes, Dostal said. Elmhorst took 17 of the advanced classes, while Robertson took 13, she said.
Statewide, 25,020 Wisconsin students took 39,811 AP exams in the 2006-2007 school year. More than 68 percent of those students earned a grade of three or higher.
Nationwide, more than 1.4 million high school students took more than 2.5 million AP exams in 2007.

Montgomery County High School Black Students Pass 1000 AP Exams

Daniel de Vise:

Black students in Montgomery County high schools passed 1,062 Advanced Placement tests this year, making the school system the first, along with the New York City public schools, to cross the thousand-test threshold.
Superintendent Jerry D. Weast announced the results yesterday at a news conference. He challenged education leaders to engage in a “friendly competition” to increase AP participation among black students, who remain underrepresented in the college preparatory program.
In the District, the number of AP exams taken by black students rose by nearly 50 percent, though the number of passing scores rose only slightly, the school district reported.
Black students in Prince George’s County took 740 more tests than they did last year, a 34 percent increase, and about 100 more exams received passing marks. AP performance among black students in Fairfax County was essentially unchanged.
Montgomery, Fairfax and most other D.C. area school systems have posted tremendous gains in AP testing in this decade, part of a vast expansion nationwide in college-level course work in high schools. Although most school systems remain focused on overall AP results, some districts have publicly campaigned to raise the performance of black students.

Elvehjem Boundless Playground Fundraiser Tonight

Via a reader’s email:

LVM Dreams Big is working to bring the FIRST Boundless Playground to the state of Wisconsin by 8/8/08!
Join our effort to kick down physical barriers and raise a play structure that opens a world of play to all children.
Please help us build the dream so that children of all abilities can reach the highest heights and learn the lessons of childhood through play.
Since forming in 2005, the committee has worked to raise funds to support the mission of improving accessibility while also promoting physical fitness and increasing safety for all children.

December 4th 5:30-7:30 Great Dane Night! Spend an evening at the Great Dane Brew Pub [Map] – free food, fun and a very special guest! Donation Stations will also be available to help build the FIRST Boundless Playground in the state of Wisconsin!

Parents are the Problem (WEAC & Wisconsin DPI Sue to Kill the Wisconsin Virtual Academy)

Rose Fernandez, via a reader’s email:

On Tuesday of this week, in a Waukesha courtroom, the state governmental agency responsible for our public schools and a labor union came before the Wisconsin Court of Appeals and pleaded with the judges to keep parents out of public schools. Yes, that’s right. The state and the teachers union are at war with parents and I’m mad as heck about it. (Madder than heck, actually, but trying to keep this blog family friendly).
According to the Department of Public Instruction and the state teachers’ union, parents are the problem. And these bureaucracies know just how to fix it. They want to keep parents, and indeed anyone without a teaching license, out of Wisconsin public schools.
Of course WEAC, the state teachers’ union, likes that idea. Licenses mean dues. Dues mean power.
DPI likes it because ……..well, could it be just because WEAC does?
The lawsuit before the Court of Appeals was filed by WEAC in 2004 in an effort to close a charter school that uses an on-line individualized curriculum allowing students from all over the state to study from home under the supervision of state certified faculty. The school is the Wisconsin Virtual Academy (WIVA). The Northern Ozaukee School District took the bold step of opening this new kind of school in the fall of 2003 after DPI approved their charter. Hundreds of families around the state enrolled their children under open enrollment that first year and mine was one of them. WIVA has grown every year since and this year has more than 800 students.
In January of 2004, WEAC filed their lawsuit against the school and DPI who authorized its existence. Later that year in a stunning reversal DPI switched sides and moved to close its own public school. DPI alleges that parents are too involved in their own children’s education.
That’s right. They argue parents are too involved.
I’ve always thought parental involvement in a child’s education was a good thing. What do I know? I don’t have a teacher’s license.

This issue was discussed extensively by Gregg Underheim during the most recent Wisconsin DPI Superintendent race (April, 2005). Audio / Video here.
Much more on the Wisconsin Virtual Academy. Also check out

Teachers draft reform plan

Howard Blume:

In this education nirvana, teachers would decide what to teach and when. Teachers and parents would hire and fire principals. No supervisors from downtown would tell anyone — neither teachers nor students — what to wear.
These are among the ideas a delegation of teachers and their union officers are urging L.A. schools Supt. David L. Brewer to include in the school reform plan he will present to the school board Tuesday.
If Brewer passes on the delegation’s proposals, the union can go directly to the seven-member Board of Education. Employee unions recently have had success in getting the board to overrule the superintendent on health benefits for some part-time workers and on school staffing.
At stake now is the Los Angeles Unified School District’s effort to turn around its 34 most troubled middle and high schools. The data suggests the urgency: As many as three-quarters of the students in these “high priority schools” scored well below grade level across multiple subjects on last year’s California Standards Tests.
Whatever remedy emerges is likely to become a blueprint for widespread reform efforts. Brewer and his team are working on their 11th draft; the drafts have evolved significantly since September because of resistance inside and outside the school system.

More day-care programs going beyond holding pattern for kids

James Walsh:

Providing day care was once seen as a way to get low-income parents into the workforce, but now, using child care to pull future generations out of poverty is capturing the imagination of government and businesses alike.
From St. Paul’s North End to north Minneapolis to Wayzata to Blue Earth County, a number of projects aim to get more daycare workers introducing 3- and 4-year-olds to what they’ll be learning in kindergarten.
“Right now, we’ve got about 50 percent of our kids not ready for kindergarten,” said state Sen. Tarryl Clark, DFL-St. Cloud. “For many families, child care is today’s preschool. And with very high percentages of parents working, we can make a difference here.”

Group files lawsuit for disabled students

Maureen O’Hagan:

Jacob, a former Issaquah student with severe disabilities, used to love it when other students visited his special-education classroom.
His mother said it helped him learn how to talk to other kids.
So when Jacob, who has been diagnosed with autism and mental retardation, went to live at the state-run Frances Haddon Morgan Center in Bremerton, his mother expected similar success. For years, school-aged Morgan Center residents had attended Bremerton public schools.
But this year the district decided it no longer has the classroom space to accommodate them. Recently, the district reached an agreement with the state Department of Social and Health Services, which runs the Morgan Center, to open a classroom on the institution grounds.
On Wednesday, Disability Rights Washington filed a lawsuit saying that taking these youths out of public school violates state and federal laws against discrimination.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of eight youths ranging in age from 14 to 20, names the school district, the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction and DSHS as defendants, saying each played a role in the decision.

My Sorority Pledge? I Swore Off Sisterhood

Kelly Valen:

MY life’s greatest sorrow stems from my inability to feel close to other women. At 41, I’ve cautiously cultivated a few cherished female friendships. But generally I feel a kind of skittish distrust and discomfort when dealing with most women, particularly women in packs.
I want to remain optimistic. After all, here I am with three daughters. What am I to teach them? Cautionary tales about men’s harmful proclivities abound. But how do we help our girls navigate the duplicitous female maze? How do we ensure that they behave authentically, respect humanity over fleeting alliances, and squash the nasty tribal instincts that can inflict lifelong distress?

Wanted: Top Teachers

Alan Borsuk:

We can hardly get anyone to apply to teach at our school.
The crowd of about 400 Milwaukee Public Schools principals and administrators had gathered in late August for the annual school year kick-off program. Superintendent William Andrekopoulos was taking questions.
The voice – we’re paraphrasing his longer statement – belonged to James Sonnenberg, veteran principal of Westside Academy, a 650-student kindergarten through eighth-grade school in two buildings near N. 35th St. and W. Lisbon Ave. Westside is one of the more successful schools in MPS, with a dedicated staff and eighth-grade test results well above the district average.
But Sonnenberg told Andrekopoulos how few applicants he gets for openings at his school, how he had to push the central office to give him names of candidates to fill a teaching position last summer, how he offered a job to one woman who said she would have to check with her father about working there, and how he never heard back from her.

It’s past time to abandon assembly-line education

Gary Kraeger:

Wisconsin has the worst black/white achievement gap in the country. The Milwaukee Public Schools have big truancy, security and parental apathy problems. The system graduates about 50% of its students. How hard can it be to graduate from MPS with D’s, yet half don’t? Encounter an illiterate adult, and it’ll break your heart.
You’d think parents, the education establishment and politicians would be running around like their hair was on fire, but they’re not even cutting their bangs.
Don’t look to the teachers union for answers. They’re advocates for teachers, not kids. They just go with the slogan “Every kid deserves a great school” because it has a better ring to it than “We want more money.” The slogan also implies that they think MPS is great. They will even protect some bad teachers.

School Administration via Statistics

Winnie Hu:

Assistant school superintendents here are routinely summoned to a 10 a.m. Thursday meeting where they must answer for missing test scores, overdue building repairs and other lapses, which are presented in painful detail on PowerPoint slides. Excuses are not an option.
It is the latest evolution of Compstat, a widely copied management program pioneered by the New York Police Department in 1994. Paterson is one of a half-dozen school districts around the country that have embraced this confrontational approach, known here as SchoolStat, in an effort to improve school performance and overhaul bureaucracies long seen as bloated, wasteful and unresponsive to the public.
SchoolStat borrows the tactics of the Compstat program — regular, intense meetings in which police officials famously pick apart crime data and, just as often, their subordinates — to analyze police performance and crime trends, and to deploy resources to trouble spots. The school version taps into an ever-expanding universe of data about standardized testing and school operations to establish a system of accountability.
In Maryland, the process has been credited with reducing teacher vacancies and increasing student immunization rates in Baltimore schools. In Montgomery County, Md., it has pushed principals to come up with strategies like encouraging students to take the Preliminary SAT by offering a free pancake breakfast if they attend.

Prufrock’s Gifted Child Information Blog

When I took my first serious history course in college, the president of the university (a history buff himself) spoke to our class and encouraged us to submit our papers to various journals for publication. Being rather inexperienced, it had never occurred to me to submit anything I had ever written to anyone for publication. In my mind, I was “just” a student and couldn’t imagine anyone being interested in what I wrote.
Now it is possible not only for serious college students to publish their work, but it is also possible for serious high school history students to publish the papers that they have researched. The Concord Review gives young people this opportunity. The Review is the only quarterly journal in the world to publish the academic expository research papers of secondary history students. Papers may be on any historical topic, ancient or modern, foreign or domestic.
Many of these young authors have sent reprints of their papers along with their college application materials. Their research has helped them to gain admission to some of the nation’s (and world’’s) best universities.

Continue reading Prufrock’s Gifted Child Information Blog

Who’s the Old Guy in the White Nikes?

Nicholas Casey:

Late one spring afternoon last year, a mystery man sat in the back of a creative-writing seminar at Stanford. Evidently a student, he was much older than anyone else in the room. He was wearing a black blazer and white Nikes. He said his name was Phil.
As the days passed, the man’s identity gradually came into focus. The instructor “made several vague allusions to Phil taking off in his private jet,” recalls André Lyon, an English major enrolled in the class. And tales about Michael Jordan found their way into the man’s literary discourse.
After a couple of weeks, a rumor began to circulate that the old dude in the Nikes was Philip H. Knight, the billionaire founder of the world’s largest sportswear company.

‘Checkbook Math’ Increasingly Rare

Daniel de Vise:

In her final year at James Hubert Blake High School in Silver Spring, Amber Rountree chose to take consumer math, a course designed to teach students how to balance a checkbook and shop for a home loan. She rates it the easiest math class she has taken in high school but also the most useful.
Once a common course offering, consumer math is being phased out as school systems raise their expectations of how much math students should know when they graduate. Twenty or 30 years ago, Algebra I might have sufficed. Today, that course is regarded as an absolute minimum, a gateway to Advanced Placement study and college. Students routinely take it in middle school.
That leaves consumer math and other “checkbook math” classes relegated to a handful of schools, mostly in poor communities. College-bound students generally avoid the class, reasoning that it would look bad on a transcript.
“In a lot of places, this course has been a dead-end street,” said Francis “Skip” Fennell, president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics in Reston.
The gradual elimination of the course from high schools comes as lawmakers, corporate leaders and many parents are decrying the financial illiteracy of the young. Fourteen states, including Virginia, have created new mandates for personal finance

Young, Gifted and Skipping High School

Maria Glod:

As Jackie Robson rushed off to Japanese 101, a pink sign on the main door of her college dorm reminded her to sign out. There were more rules: an 11 p.m. curfew, mandatory study hours, round-the-clock adult supervision and no boys allowed in the rooms.
Jackie is 14. She never spent a day in high school.
Like the other super-bright girls in her dorm, the Fairfax County teen bypassed a traditional education and countless teenage rites, such as the senior prom and graduation, to attend the all-female Mary Baldwin College in the Shenandoah Valley.
The school offers students as young as 12 a jump-start on college in one of the leading programs of its kind. It also gives brainy girls a chance to be with others like them. By all accounts, they are ready for the leap socially and emotionally, and they crave it academically.
Last spring, Jackie finished eighth grade at Langston Hughes Middle School in Reston. This fall, she’s taking Psychology 101, Japanese 101, English 101, Folk Dance and U.S. History 1815-1877: Democracy and Crisis.

Online Courses Catch On in U.S. Colleges

Larry Abramson:

When today’s college graduates get together for a reunion someday, they may decide to do it by computer. That’s because right now, nearly one in five college students takes at least one class online, according to a new survey.
For professors, the growth of e-learning has meant a big shift in the way they deal with students.
Take professor Sara Cordell of the University of Illinois-Springfield: Her day doesn’t end at 6 p.m., as it does for some college professors.
Cordell sits at her computer in her campus office to chat with a half-dozen students gathered in front of their screens: One is in Tennessee, another in California’s central valley, another in Ohio. They’re all here to talk about Thomas Hardy’s 19th-century novel Tess of the D’Urbervilles.

New (Arizona) English learning law brings challenges

Andrew Natekar:

East Valley school districts are preparing for sweeping changes in the way they are required to teach children who do not yet speak English.
A new state law, set to go into effect in August, will require schools to segregate children who cannot pass an English exam into separate classrooms. Those students will take at least four hours of English language instruction, squeezing out much of their time for other subjects such as science, social studies and math.
It’s a big change: Currently, most English learners spend their school days in mainstream classrooms surrounded by English-speaking peers.
The rules will apply to any child who cannot pass the state’s new English proficiency exam, the Arizona English Language Learner Assessment, dubbed “AZELLA.”
The impending changes leave some educators uneasy. At a recent meeting of the Mesa Unified School District governing board, some members worried that English learners would graduate late because the required four-hour English lessons wouldn’t give them enough time to earn required credits in other subjects.
“If they don’t pass AZELLA, they can’t go into concept classes. Then they can’t pass AIMS. It’s a double-whammy,” said Superintendent Debra Duvall. “There is community concern about this one-size-fits-all mind-set.”

Unemployment Training (The Ideology of Non-Work Learned in Urban Schools)

Via a kind reader email: Martin Haberman:

For many urban youth in poverty moving from school to work is about as likely as having a career in the NBA.While urban schools struggle and fail at teaching basic skills they are extremely effective at teaching skills which predispose youth to fail in the world of work.The urban school environment spreads a dangerous contagion in the form of behaviors and beliefs which form an ideology.This ideology “works” for youngsters by getting them through urban middle and secondary schools.But the very ideology that helps youth slip and slide through school becomes the source of their subsequent failure.It is an ideology that is easily learned, readily implemented, rewarded by teachers and principals, and supporting by school policies.It is an ideology which schools promulgate because it is easier to accede to the students’ street values than it is to shape them into more gentle human beings.The latter requires a great deal of persistent effort not unlike a dike working against an unyielding sea.It is much easier for urban schools to lower their expectations and simply survive with youth than it is to try to change them.
The ideology of unemployment insures that those infected with it will be unable to enter or remain in the world of work without serious in-depth unlearning and retraining.Urban youth are not simply ill prepared for work but systematically and carefully trained to be quitters, failures, and the discouraged workers who no longer even seek employment.What this means is that it is counterproductive to help urban schools do better at what they now do since they are a basic cause of their graduates living out lives of hopelessness and desperation.
The dropout problem among urban youth–as catastrophic as it is–is less detrimental than this active training for unemployment.We need be more concerned for “successful” youth who graduate since it is they who have been most seriously infected.They have been exposed longest, practiced the anti-work behaviors for the longest period, and been rewarded most.In effect, the urban schools create a pool of youth much larger than the number of dropouts who we have labeled as “successful” but who have been more carefully schooled for failure.

Clusty Search on Martin Haberman. Haberman is a Distinguished Professor of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Longer school day appears to boost MCAS scores

Tracy Jan:

Last fall, 10 Massachusetts public schools embarked on an experiment: Lengthen the school day by at least 25 percent, give students extra doses of reading, writing, and math, and let teachers come up with creative ways to reinforce their lessons.
The extra time appears to be working.
As a whole, schools with longer days boosted students’ MCAS scores in math, English, and science across all grade levels, according to a report to be released today. And they outpaced the state in increasing the percentage of students scoring in the two highest MCAS categories.
The data, to be presented at a national conference in Boston on expanded learning time, is the first comprehensive look at the effectiveness of extra time. The promising state test results show that a longer school day, with more opportunities for hands-on learning, has had a positive impact on student achievement, educators said.

New! Improved! It’s School! – Marketing Schools

Peg Tyre:

In an age of media saturation and ubiquitous advertising, some schools are trying professional marketing campaigns to sell the notion that ‘school is cool.’
In most places kids may not be overjoyed to attend school, but they tolerate it. It’s a stepping stone, their parents remind them over and over, to better things, like college, an interesting, well-paying job and a stable family life. In other places, especially poor neighborhoods, though, kids don’t regard school as a necessary evil but rather as a burden. For a lot of kids in poor neighborhoods, school is definitely not cool.
“It’s no secret,” says New York City schools chief Joel Klein. “All you have to do is ask kids in these areas and they’ll tell you: school is not their thing. They don’t want to be identified as being good at it. Studying is not something they want to be seen doing,” he says.
So Klein is setting out to sell school achievement to schoolchildren—much in the same way that kids are sold soda, breakfast cereal or pop music. With the help of an as yet unnamed advertising agency, he’s launching a slick multimedia campaign complete with celebrity pitchmen, viral marketing schemes, free videos and give-away prizes aimed at “rebranding” academics.

Lawmakers Consider School Food Limits

Kim Severson:

Federal lawmakers are considering the broadest effort ever to limit what children eat: a national ban on selling candy, sugary soda and salty, fatty food in school snack bars, vending machines and à la carte cafeteria lines.
Whether the measure, an amendment to the farm bill, can survive the convoluted politics that have bogged down that legislation in the Senate is one issue. Whether it can survive the battle among factions in the fight to improve school food is another.
Senator Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa and the chairman of the Agriculture Committee, has twice before introduced bills to deal with foods other than the standard school lunch, which is regulated by Department of Agriculture.
Several lawmakers and advocates for changes in school food believe that an amendment to the $286 billion farm bill is the best chance to get control of the mountain of high-calorie snacks and sodas available to school children. Even if the farm bill does not pass, Mr. Harkin and Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, who is also sponsoring the amendment, vow to keep reintroducing it in other forms until it sticks.

Putting on Weight for Football Glory

Jere Longman:

When the Desire Street Academy football team plays in a Louisiana state semifinal playoff game Friday night, the Lions will feature three starting linemen who weigh at least 300 pounds and two others who weigh 270 and 280 pounds, reflecting a trend in which high school players are increasingly reaching a size once seen almost exclusively among linemen in college and the N.F.L.
High school football rosters reveal weight issues that go beyond the nation’s overall increase in obesity rates among children. Two studies this year, one published in The Journal of the American Medical Association and another in The Journal of Pediatrics, found that weight problems among high school football players — especially linemen — far outpaced those of other male children and adolescents.
Now coaches and researchers fear that some young athletes may be endangering their health in an effort to reach massive proportions and attract the attention of college recruiters.
“The old saying was, ‘Wait till you get to college to make it a business,’” said Rusty Barrilleaux, the coach at Hammond High in southeastern Louisiana and a former offensive lineman at Louisiana State. “It’s still fun, but if you want to get to college, you have to get that size. The pressure is definitely on.”

Teacher arrested in Web posting

Don Behm:

As readers of a conservative blog debated the subject of teacher salaries, a writer using the pseudonym “Observer” weighed in.
The West Bend teachers’ salaries made him sick, the person wrote, adding that the 1999 Columbine High School killers had the right idea.
“They knew how to deal with the overpaid teacher union thugs. One shot at a time! Too bad the liberls (sic) rip them; they were heros (sic) and should be remembered that way,” the writer said.
But police say the writer was a teacher himself – and the past president of a teachers union – apparently posing as a teacher-hater.

Matching Top Colleges, Low Income Students

Jim Carlton
Wall Street Journal
Last year, when Amherst College welcomed 473 new students to its idyllic campus, 10% of them came from QuestBridge.
But QuestBridge is no elite private school. It’s a nonprofit start-up in Palo Alto, Calif., that matches gifted, low-income students with 20 of the nation’s top colleges. In return, the schools — including Princeton, Yale, Stanford and Columbia — give scholarships to the students and pay QuestBridge for helping to diversify their student bodies.
The program is gaining in popularity because it addresses a growing interest of private and public colleges: increasing the diversity of their student bodies without relying solely on race. Since some states banned racial preferences in college admissions, many public colleges have begun focusing on income as a means to broaden the backgrounds of their students. Private schools, while not bound by the states’ restrictions, are also eager to admit more students from low-income families.
QuestBridge isn’t the only program that helps schools achieve diversity by focusing on the economically disadvantaged. The Posse Program, launched in 1993 by a New York nonprofit, specializes in sending groups of students who already know each other to top colleges. It got its start after the founder, Deborah Biel, discovered that several of the inner-city youth she had worked with in New York had dropped out of college. When she asked why, one responded that he didn’t have his posse with him.
Another program called Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement, or MESA, helps recruit low-income students for the University of California, California State University and other California colleges. Upward Bound, a long-running federal program, feeds low-income high-school students into colleges all over the country. And some colleges, including schools that are partnering with QuestBridge, have begun their own recruiting programs for low-income students.
The efforts come as diversity remains elusive, particularly at elite colleges. According to a 2004 study by the Century Foundation, a New York-based research group, at the 146 most selective colleges in the U.S., just 3% of the students came from families that ranked in the bottom 25% in income, while 74% came from the top 25%.

Continue reading Matching Top Colleges, Low Income Students

What Exactly are Kids Reading in those “Reading Blocks”?

Karin Chenoweth:

Whenever I hear about elementary schools that have cut out social studies and science instruction in order to devote 90 minutes or even two hours a day to reading instruction, my main question is, “What on earth are the kids reading for all that time?”
It’s a rhetorical question because I pretty much know what they are reading—they are reading folk tales, adventure stories, relationship stories, some humor (the author of Captain Underpants must be very wealthy by now). Sometimes they will read some non-fiction, but not usually in any kind of coherent fashion. The kids will read a story about butterflies and then one about bicycles and one about Martin Luther King, Jr. None of this is objectionable, but it is not providing them the real intellectual nutrition children need and crave—a carefully chosen course of reading in science and history that will allow them to understand those stories about butterflies and Martin Luther King, Jr.
The reading blocks kids have been sentenced to are not devoted solely to reading. They often spend an inordinate amount of time on “reading strategies,” which give me a headache just thinking about them—predicting, summarizing, outlining, making text-to-text connections, identifying the “purpose” of reading a particular work—the list goes on and on. Not that there’s anything wrong with any of them, but a little of them goes a long way. The countless hours that are being spent on reading strategies would be much better spent on building the store of background knowledge children need to be able to comprehend sophisticated text, including textbooks, newspapers, magazines, and all the things educated citizens are expected to be able to read.

Watch or listen to a recent Madison speech by Karin Chenoweth.

California schools move to the head of the class

Mitchell Landsberg:

California public schools dominated a national ranking of high schools released Friday, countering the usual depiction of the state’s schools as lagging behind their counterparts elsewhere in the country.
In a first-ever ranking of high schools by U.S. News & World Report magazine — best-known for its influential and controversial ranking of colleges and universities — 23 of the top 100 schools in the nation were from California, including 10 from the Los Angeles area.
No other state has as many schools on the list, although New York City and its suburbs, with 20 schools, have by far the most of any metropolitan area, and Massachusetts has the highest percentage of its schools ranked among the top 505 profiled.
The top-ranked school in California was Pacific Collegiate School, a charter campus in Santa Cruz, which was ranked No. 2 in the country behind Thomas Jefferson High in Virginia, just outside Washington, D.C.
Also in the top 10 were the Oxford Academy at No. 4, a college preparatory school in the Anaheim Union High School District that accepts students by examination, and the Preuss School at No. 10, a charter school under the joint oversight of the San Diego Unified School District and UC San Diego. The Preuss School is currently under a cloud because of allegations of grade-tampering, but that would apparently not have affected its ranking, since U.S. News relied on standardized test scores, not grades.
In the Los Angeles area, the top-rated school was Gretchen Whitney High in Cerritos, at No. 12. The ranking was the latest in a long list of honors for the school, and Principal Patricia Hager was both proud and circumspect.
“Well, I’d like to be No. 1,” she joked in an interview. “I’m very proud because this is a very special place, and I appreciate any opportunity I get to have that recognized.”
At the same time, she said, “It’s interesting how we define things like ‘successful’ and ‘top performer’ — what does it mean? As a public educator, it concerns me how we use those terms. Every school has something going for it, so in a way it’s unfair to other schools that don’t score highly on tests. Philosophically it’s a dilemma, but I won’t refuse the attention.”